Do What You Want, Have Fun


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The things that are worth caring about and striving for don’t have to do with fads or whatever happens to be the current topic of conversation. Those constructs are largely illusory anyway. Most of the buzz on the street is no more than traffic noise.

 

George Orwell defined journalism as “writing something that somebody doesn’t want to see printed. All the rest is public relations.” Most of the messages we see are advertising, calls to shop. If we don’t want to fill our time with shopping, we’ll have to find something else with which to occupy ourselves. As you can see, I’ve gone to great lengths not to end that last sentence with a conjunction.

 

I enjoy writing both because I think I’m pretty good at it, and because I think I have something to say. Many people find writing a tedious activity and have little to say. I’m always happy when these people don’t write. After years of reading English Composition essays at the college level, I think there is no more tortuous activity that reading a commenting on the writing of someone who didn’t want to write in the first place.

 

One of the biggest disservices schooling provides is to demand that people learn to do things for which they have even less aptitude than interest. Even if they do manage to struggle through some required course work, they will never have any fun doing so, nor will anyone else enjoy the outcome. It will be purgatory on Earth, hoping for a payoff in the Great Beyond. This is folly, a transparent hoax, a confidence game to justify the existence of schools.

 

People should do things they enjoy, and in doing so they might please both themselves and others. Why this simple concept has eluded us for the last couple of centuries is a real mystery. The notion of mandatory public schooling probably comes from Northern European capitalism and the desire to train a compliant workforce.

 

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GIVING UP AS A PATH TO FREEDOM


In my country, people ask you “what do you do” in order to know who you are. They especially ask this of men, as certain women still feel comfortable describing how their husbands make a living in order to answer that question.

But when you’ve finally given or thrown away most of your belongings, sold the rest and moved across the world with a couple of suitcases in hand, chances are there is no answer to that question. At least there is no answer that would impress anyone in a casual conversation. Thoreau wrote about this in Walden. His neighbors were sharply critical of him for not striving to get anywhere, to fight for any cause, to help the unfortunate or weak. He was just taking care of himself! A sin, to their way of looking at things.

Can You Really Be Happy Anywhere?


Yes, and you can also be miserable anywhere, under any circumstances. Being happy is choice you make. It is, of course, much harder to choose happiness if you’ve recently suffered a loss, or are sick, or worried about money or a loved one’s welfare. The great opportunity involved in choosing to live somewhere new involves temporarily being released from things you’ve already decided are boring or oppressive. Of course, human nature being what it is, it’s only a matter of time before you form the same opinion about parts of your new surroundings and daily experiences. But here, you’ve given yourself a second chance. Take it, keeping in mind that no matter how beautifully the setting sun shines on the water, there is no smooth sailing off into the sunset, even if you bought a new home in what looks like paradise. The quality of your life will depend far more on the relationships you establish with ex-pat friends and your new neighbors, than on picture-postcard views of your new home that you can post online to share with your friends back home.

What This All About, Anyway?


WHY I WROTE THIS

I’m not trying to get you to do anything specific, nor am I trying to sell you anything. I found a wonderful, very affordable place to live in retirement, and I’m gung-ho on urging other people in my position to take small risks and do the same.

The hardest part was giving up on what I thought was some shred of security. Helen Keller, born deaf and blind, had this to say about security. “The reason nobody has ever experienced security is because it doesn’t exist. Life is either an exciting adventure or it is nothing.” And this came from a woman who started out with some significant disadvantages that most of us, including me, have not had to share. So if she could feel that way, I can, too.

It turns out that there’s a delightful, affordable, safe world out there that has little to do with the way we live in America. There are many places where a growing number of expatriates from English speaking countries mingle with the local populace. Places where those of us on even a small pension can live well.

For many of the people I know, living in America is like harboring a gambling addiction. You know it’s bad for you, but you want to hang on a little bit longer, in case you hit the jackpot. Besides, what if you quit now, just before the big payoff, why you’d never forgive yourself. True, most of the people you know are gradually sinking, but there are some success stories you can point to, people who lucked out on the timing of the real estate crash, or bought stocks just before they rebounded. It happens.

I used to know a lot of people who had moved to LA when they were young, hoping to make it in show business. One by one, they finally admitted to themselves that it just wasn’t going to happen for them. So they stopped waiting for the phone to ring and got real jobs. Some stayed in LA, some moved to easier places to live. After thirty years or so, only a fraction of them still live in LA, and only a fraction of that fraction still are waiting for their big break. As one guy who’d waited for most of his adult life for things to break in his favor to me “this is a town where encouragement can kill you. Every time you make up your mind to leave, a friend assures you that if you wait just a little bit longer, it’s gonna come together. People are talking about you. Don’t give up just before the miracle.”

For me, LA is the ultimate American city. But I spent most of my life not living there, but in Iowa, a state that has the image of a place that still offers a good quality of life for anyone willing to work and live a temperate life. I have news for you, that might have been the case in the past, and it still may be the case for some Iowans, but most of the ones I know are struggling just to get by. And it’s not getting any easier, as time goes by.

I don’t know what the future holds for anyone, least of all myself, but I do know that things weren’t getting any better for me in Iowa. And I don’t blame Iowa. Heck, I don’t even blame the US. But there comes a time when you can see the handwriting on the wall.

I’m not interested in proving anybody or anyplace wrong. I just want to have an exciting life and enjoy myself as much as possible. I bet you do, too, or you wouldn’t have read this far.