Saturday, 12 December 2009

Urban Survival; Unschooling and Unworking

UNSCHOOLING & UNWORKING: Confessions of a stay-at-home family (Part 2), by Myra Eddy

Found at Ran Prieur's site;

The most important aspect of schooling is control. Without permission, you may not stand, speak, urinate, quench your thirst. You may not disagree, and a lot of times, you may not ask questions. As Grace Llewellyn writes,

“School controls the way you spend your time (what is life made of if not time?), how you behave, what you read, and to a large extent what you think.… There are lots of good reasons to quit school, but to my idealistic American mind, the pursuit of freedom encompasses most of them and outshines the others. If you look at the history of ‘freedom,’ you notice that the most frightening thing about people who are not free is that they learn to take their bondage for granted, and to believe that this bondage is ‘normal’ and natural. They may not like it, but few question it or imagine anything different.”

And what does school prepare you for? Work!

To me, most work I’ve done has been incredibly boring at the least, and equally soul-sucking at times. I’ve been working half of my life, in various so-called skilled and unskilled jobs. I was employed full-time for many years, for no apparent reason that I can now discern. Although I was making what I considered to be a lot of money, I accumulated a lot of debt. I accumulated a lot of stuff. I spent all my time working and consuming. And all that time, I was trying to figure out what was missing from my life. It turns out my whole life was missing. I was stuck in this very rigid routine that was incredibly unsatisfying. A few random happenings, most importantly my daughter’s arrival, have led to what we have now: a stay-at-home family, a beautiful, rich life (just not rich in money).

A few months before I quit my job to be unemployed for two years and two months, I read a book by Michael Fogler called Unjobbing: The Adult Liberation Handbook. It’s a fairly straight-forward book, asking people to think about the sad fact that “in a large sense, life = job.” Although it seems like work-consume-die is our millennial mantra, he reminds us that for 99 percent of the time that humans have been on Earth, “people have lived communally, in tribes and villages. The kind of life we take for granted and is normal today—big cities where adults and children leave their single-family homesteads all day for work (or schooling) in large institutional settings—is only a very recent phenomenon. This has been the case for less than one percent of the time humans have inhabited Earth.”

Fogler asks people to do some figuring. Start with your take-home pay and divide it by the hours you work. Lower than you expected? Just wait! Now, figure out the time you actually spend for work. This may include your commute, time spent getting ready to go to work, your lunch hour (which isn’t really your own time), time needed for you to unwind from the job, and any other time, paid or unpaid, that is sucked up by your job. Then let’s think about expenses. Add up the money you spend for work. These expenses can include clothing and dry-cleaning, petroleum (if you wouldn’t have a car except for work, include your car payment & insurance in that cost), child-care, lunches out (and dinners out because you’re too tired to cook), medical care, etc. Deduct this amount of money from your net salary, and now figure out what you really make per hour of job time. Is it really worth it?

By Kid Khalia, age 6
Just to tell you my example, when I did this experiment, I was at my peak of earnings, almost $13 an hour. When I added up all the time I spent at my job and all the “real” money I was making, it brought my wage down to $5 an hour. Suddenly the cd I was buying for $15 was not worth three hours of my life. Suddenly many things were not worth my life to pay for. Suddenly my job and my jerk boss were not worth keeping if I was only making $5 an hour. Fogler writes about the growing trend of two wage-earners per family and states that “many of these couples are discovering that the spouse with the ‘second income’ is typically spending (for clothing, transportation, meals, childcare, timesavers, higher tax bracket, etc.) as much money—and sometimes more—because of the job than he or she is making from the job.” Shocking what we can learn if we really think about what we are doing.

Fogler writes that perhaps what is missing from our lives is community. “Actions which save money, improve one’s health, and help the environment quite often increase the amount of community in one’s life.… Community is an important ingredient that seems to be universally desired. It’s interesting that the lifestyle choices which are expensive and taxing on the environment have also resulted in a decrease in community among people. Our society has definitely suffered from this decrease in community.” What got us through 99 percent of humanity’s time living on earth has been community. The nuclear family and all its accessories are not an adequate substitute for sharing, with tribe and community.

Bringing up practical matters for people interested in unjobbing, Fogler asks people to think about the money they spend on specific items, such as: housing, food, car, newspaper and cable television, clothing, travel and entertainment. Fogler suggests, and I can attest that it helped me, that keeping track of every expense is a good idea. It can be shocking to realize where and how quickly the money goes. For example, we found that our mortgage payment was half the rent we paid at an apartment complex ($250 versus $525). We started buying unprocessed food—that is, we bought grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits, and cooked everything from scratch. We ate vegan for a while (not microwavegan) and had our food budget down to $80 a month. We found that we were spending about $4000 a year on our car, between car payments, insurance, gas, and maintenance. We realized that even if we bought three junkers a year for $1000 each, we would be saving money. We were fortunate enough to be given a car that needed some fixing up. We sold our new car for what we owed, and delighted in the world of no car payments and just liability insurance. And now, that clunker will be the last vehicle we ever own. I know that buying petroleum is not in line with my values and is not worth my life energy to purchase.

Back when my husband had health insurance, we were appalled at how much we were spending on this “benefit.” We could never afford to go to the doctor because we couldn’t afford the deductible and co-payments. After keeping track of expenses, we realized we were spending thousands of dollars a year on insurance. We quickly canceled it and then were able to go to the doctor when we needed to see one. The weekly chai apiece became a $300 yearly investment that I was unwilling to make. We don’t ever buy newspapers, and we haven’t owned a television in this century. We seldom travel, just to see friends and family, and usually only spend money on the transportation to get there. I have found that I rarely succumb to impulse buying because I rarely go shopping anymore.

Ahh, the chains of the law have been broken, if they ever existed. If material possessions no longer possess you, making (more) money will no longer be a guiding force in your life. As Fogler writes, “The more you can lower your expenses, the more freedom you will have to be the person you truly want to be.” I’m sure not many of us are excited to be “a clerk”, or whatever your job title may be right now. It’s depressing to think that what our job title happens to be becomes what we are. I remember reading something a few years ago in which an African-American man states that upon meeting a white person, the first question he was usually asked was, “What do you do?” Why is it so important? Because full-time workers spend their lives pushing the levers of the Leviathan instead of living in their communities?

As the CrimethInc. (ex-)Workers’ Collective writes in their book Recipes for Disaster, “There are plenty of good reasons not to sell your labor on the market. Perhaps you don’t like what that labor is being used to do: transform forests into landfills, perpetuate meaningless busywork as a way of life, centralize wealth in the hands of a rapacious few. Perhaps you have a better idea of how that energy should be employed, and no corporation or organization is offering you a salary to do what you think needs doing. Perhaps you’re one of those dangerous hedonists who have somehow gotten it into their heads that life is supposed to be fun and exciting.”

Fun and exciting sounds a lot more interesting than getting up by an alarm clock to make sure I look like everyone else, dropping my kid off at daycare, and heading to work every damn day. Indeed, it is. Reclaiming my life, the life of my family, and in large part, our community, seems to be where it’s at for us.


Myra Eddy is a midwestern anarchist artist housewife with a passion for nourishing plants, people, and community; she is already living in the next paradigm and hopes to see you there.


Word to mother,

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