You’ll remember that my two rules for my life (resolved at the high school level) were 1) if it comes to a choice between adventure and security, choose adventure, and 2) if it comes to a choice between money and education, choose education. I’ve been true to these rules, even if I made them up in retrospect.
More than that, my closest relatives and the majority of my friends and colleagues are also poor. I’ve been poor all along, except that when I was in the ministry or with Bob Scriver, the clientele (as you might put it) was often very rich. Generally those rich folks have been generous about extending a few luxuries.
My brothers are far from rich. My closest cousin was doing well until misadventure wiped out everything. She says it’s rather a relief not to have to dress up, entertain, provide a front. Some of the less compatible cousins are prosperous (not really rich) but that’s part of the incompatibility: they remain convinced wealth is important.
Rather than yearning for new cars, a big house, or new clothes, I tend to get attached to the old familiar things. I far prefer getting my little pickup fixed to buying a new one. Though I’ve discovered that some of my guests are appalled at my little house and scruffy yard, I really enjoy them. (What? Only one bathroom? No dishwasher?) Now that my clothes are baggy from weight loss, I almost like ‘em better! They’re for comfort, not glamour.
I never wanted to have children for fear of neglecting or abusing them. I find intimate relationships, like a man I might live with, are just too much trouble and distraction.
Whenever I had money, I bought books whether or not I had time to read them and I spent whatever was necessary to take them along. I don’t even need electricity to use these books! They are not novels to read and discard: these are working books to continue studying and possibly to use as reference. I find that some of them are out-of-date now: for instance, feminist theory and theology have changed drastically. (Some are more vital now than they ever were earlier.) But this is an advantage in a way, since I can sell them and there are still people who want them. Also, I have time to review books, which is a way to acquire them free, and the local library -- though its stock is limited -- is happy to order through Interlibrary Loan.
My television antenna fell down and I find it is small loss due to the advent of Netflix, where I roam the far shores of art house movies I’ve always wanted to watch and, again, have time to review them with the excellent resources of imdb.com at hand. Anyway, you think I’ve aged badly? Consider the networks!
One of my major nonessential expenses is the two cats. I could have gotten by with one, I suppose, and they didn’t turn out to be the friends and supporters of each other that I thought they might though they’re littermates. I’m too generous with cat food but thanks to the invention of cat flaps for doors, I don’t have to maintain a cat box. They are a HUGE comfort.
Along the way I’ve developed Diabetes 2, but as soon as I cut out all sugar, all white flour, all corn syrup, and as much processed food as possible, my food bill dropped, my weight dropped fifty pounds, and my need for meds was almost eliminated. (I take one metformin and one benazipril a day. My “numbers” are excellent.) Of course, now Medicare pays for some things -- not all. I never eat out, not even fast food. When I go shopping in GF, I buy a tuna fish sandwich at a truckers’ service station and that’s my lunch. This is a return to high school years when that’s what I had for lunch every day.
I think these changes came soon enough to narrowly avoid my death or serious damage from a heart attack, which is what killed one of my brothers. (The other brother eats very much as I do, just because he does. He’s a notorious penny-pincher who hasn’t had to work for years because of investments.)
Since commercial and academic publishing are ravaged, I’ve turned to the other side of the digital coin, the advantages, and am building up a stock of self-printed books to promote and distribute via the Internet. This gives me freedom to write material and ways I never could if I were controlled by publishers.
The INTERNET and my MAC!! Ah, there lies my biggest source of salvation, though I COULD write with pencil and paper if I had to. But as Donna Livingstone, the new director of the U of Calgary Press and I hope a new “friend for life,” points out, I can write what I do in part because of the ease of researching things like cassowaries in a few minutes, though I’m far from any research library. I value highly reading the steady stream of up-to-date articles and parts of books that are online, but rarely follow political “news.” I’ve acquired friends -- people I never see but “speak to” regularly, lives that form networks around the globe, 24/7, as they say, people who would never show up on my doorstep in Valier, Montana, and who might rather intimidate me if they did. Distant relatives and the children of beloved friends have found me.
National Public Radio has been a receding friend ever since opera left Saturday and went to Sunday evening. Even the news and talk shows are more trivial, less useful all the time. The ones I used to admire, the counter-culture and ecology people, seem to go in circles, afraid to offend or experiment. Maybe just afraid. There are still moments that are gripping. I still sometimes sit with eyes closed, listening to music, but this is an instance where I’d love to have my own CD’s and a BOSE system. It would be too bad not to have yearnings!
The Blackfeet are nearby, a reservoir of memory and story, and now we don’t shake hands when we meet. Now we embrace. How can I feel deprived? I made the right decision to retire early and write, even knowing it would mean poverty.