Just the sight of Wendy's book made me want to dive right in. I knew with just the first few pages that I'd be amazed...and to be truthful, amazed is an understatement. Wendy and her partner Mikey abandoned their busy New York City careers and moved to small town New Mexico where they completely reinvented themselves and became almost entirely self-sufficient. Wendy shares their courageous journey on becoming less dependent on money and more dependent on their own "mad skills."
After reading the book I was given the opportunity to ask Wendy a few questions about her fascinating life....
For those out there that haven’t yet read your book, why did you choose to leave your life in New York and start completely fresh?
You could say that my partner Mikey and I had arrived at our destination regarding our careers. We'd worked hard to obtain the jobs we had, but once having obtained them we noticed that we felt unfulfilled. We started asking why. We realized that we did things to reward ourselves for our hard work like eating out at fancy restaurants and buying designer goods. Taking a closer look we admitted that the expensive food we were eating was conventional (pesticides, GMOs, etc) and the goods we bought had a cost to life measured in pollution, waste, and sweat labor. We also noticed that the best of ourselves, our creativity, skill and hard work, was essentially being used to support the very system that was creating these problems. Mikey worked in IT at a Wall St. bank and I was in marketing. For my clients I promoted new gadgets and paired creative people with corporate sponsorship. We wondered if we could turn our creativity and skill around and become part of the solution. It seemed to us that one way to turn this all around was to make the things we bought (instead of buy them) and we tried to make them better and more responsibly. From this view the jobs we had appeared to be expensive because they took all of our time and creativity and prevented us from being able to make things. So we quit and turned our creativity towards creating a lifestyle that matched our beliefs.
What gave you the courage to change your life so drastically?
At some point if we wish to grow and make new discoveries we must make a leap of faith. Mine leap had to do with the question, is life essentially abundant? I didn't know the answer but I was willing to bet that life was abundant. I suspected that our modern way of living, our civilization, masked abundance from being evident. One thing I noticed is that civilization is based on a belief in scarcity, after all if everyone believed that the world was abundant than no one would bother to acquire anything. In an abundant world we'd all just wait until we needed something and then look around for it knowing it would surely be there when the time came. Living in a capitalistic society we believe in scarcity and we express this as consumers by hoarding and acquiring things we don't need. Today this is a form of poverty that I define as having enough and not knowing it. Today this has us devouring life rather than savoring it. The planet can no longer withstand our view of scarcity.I first explored this concept was by living from the waste stream, by being thrifty. We were living amid the largest surplus of waste to exist in the history of the world. Noticing this I reasoned that surely I could find anything I needed in the waste stream - abundance! I did find what I needed. Then I noticed that trend caused the excessive waste we see today. Trend assures that people consume goods they don't need and throw away goods that are still useful. It creates a feeling of need (scarcity) amid abundance. If you think about it, it is totally illogical for people to work hard to obtain goods that use precious raw materials and come at a cost to life and then throw them away quickly and while they're still useful. In contrast, nature offers us everything we need to live, free and enough for everyone.We also express scarcity through patents and copyrights. People are encouraged to hoard their good ideas as if they'll never have another one. Really we should give our best ideas away so that they can be contributed to and further developed by others. This frees us up to notice that we have many more good ideas and that essentially we are abundant with creativity.At some point we must try out our beliefs and see if they are true. In my case I discovered that the question that gave me the courage to change my life, is life essentially abundant?, was true. By following it, my life has changed.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
I'm constantly amazed at the range of skills I've acquired. When I had a career job my skill set fit on a short list. I had become specialized. But having set out to make all the goods I once bought, today I have more skills than I can list! I weld, do plumbing, electrical work, and build. I do stone work, exotic cooking and fermenting, and I wildcraft food and medicine. I could not have discovered that I had these skills if I did not learn to start every project in spite of not knowing how to do the thing I was setting out do. This was hard at first. In time I learned that although making things is messy and imperfect it is a lot more fun and each time I learn something new I realize that I am more than I had thought myself to be. Today I'm proud to be a generalist, I do a lot of things fairly well. I also found a few gems, things I'm really good at and that I love. Wildcrafting plants for medicine is on my list of "things I love."Wildcrafting reconnected me to nature which has changed my view dramatically. When I look at it as an accomplishment I am immediately reminded that one can never accomplish it. Nature is ever changing, and so we can not get a gain on it. It lets us in here and there and when our heart is pure and mind clear. This is a very humbling relationship. Now I know that nature is a source of wisdom. If I tune myself just right than in cycles, seasons, times of day, and changes to life there are lessons on how to live. This is important because it is our connection to the common sense. Without it, living in a culture that values only acculturated knowledge, we're marooned. If we accomplish only one thing in our entire lives it should be the gain of common sense.
What do you think is the most wonderful thing about your lifestyle now?
I changed from a lifestyle focused around wealth to one focused around abundance. Today I make exotic raw cheeses, fermented foods teaming with life and that are healthful. I make wine, and eat food that I grow. Whether it is textile goods, food, or a shade canopy in the yard, the goods I made are of higher quality than what I could buy and I don't have to compromise myself by doing work that is out of joint with my beliefs to obtain them.The shift I made in lifestyle came with other rewards like freedom from worry. This comes in two forms. I am free of the worry over how my goods were made. I no longer wonder about their cost to life. Also, my goods started out in nature or free from the waste stream. If I destroy something in the process of making it or if something gets lost or stolen it does not affect my life very much. I didn't acquire the goods with money that I earned by trading my time and energy. My investment is in the form of time, creativity and free materials. I will always have the memory of having made it, the experience, skill and the knowledge. These things will never be lost. The goods made are secondary.
Can you see yourself raising a family where you are now?
Mikey and I decided not to raise a family. We feel that the culture in this time is not supportive of families. Mothers and fathers, by necessity, leave kids with childcare or hire nannies so they can go off to work and earn money. Neighborhoods are filled with people who don't know one another and so leaving kids alone is a vulnerability. Children are raised by nuclear families who are overwhelmed by child raising when this responsibility could be shared by community. Today children have natural reactions to an artificial system (civilization). When their behavior indicates disagreement with the methods of education, instead of catering education to meet their need, we name their reaction to the system a disease and give them pharmaceuticals. This is science fiction come to life. It makes no sense. For these reasons we decided not to have kids and to instead work on shaping the world into one we can believe in. We hope that as people learn about the ways that a commodified culture diminishes life, these things will change.
If you could give someone advice who might not be brave enough to start completely over, but would like to make small changes, what would be the most important things to start doing that truly make a difference?
I started by making lists. I had a list of things I buy, and a list of things I no longer buy (this list is in the book). Slowly but surely I moved my goods from one list to the other. I started with toothpaste. As I learned to make things I called up friends and hosted little skill sharing parties in which I taught my friends what I'd learned. Begin where you are, start a list of the things you buy.Notice what is in the waste stream. See if you can live from it and from nature instead of going to the store. Resist trend like a plague!Throw away the TV. This will give you the time to make things.Wherever you live you can reconnect to nature. Try visiting a pretty spot outside every day. Show up in all conditions of weather. Let the rain soak you, feel the heat and cold, smell the air, and notice that you and nature are the same. You are made up of minerals - your teeth and bone are no different than the minerals in rock and the molten core of the earth. You are made mostly of water and so is the planet. Your body turns water into urine that provides nitrogen that supports the life of plants. The sun enables all of life. Your connected to its heat. The plants you eat photosynthesize. You burn a fever to kill bacteria that could cause you harm. There is only one air. By breathing you are a filter for the planet. Like trees you change the composition of the air. Once reconnected to nature you will naturally wish to defend it. The life of this planet is your life. You must not allow corporations, supported by governments, to destroy it. The Good Life Lab offers an elaborated version of these elemental contemplations.Be kind to yourself. Work hard to do things better but remember too that today our generation lives in paradox, we are the problem and solution at the same time.
What’s the next thing in store for you two?
I guide groups on three day long retreats that through contemplative practice reconnect us to nature. Those who retreat in this way discover the answers to the burning questions they have about their lives. People discover that the answers come from within. Often what is found is what one is meant to do, their purpose. This is very exciting. This is actually very logical. It's what happens when we reconnect to the common sense, to nature. I hope that the book will enable me to travel to communities to offer this retreat. If someone is interested in a retreat where they live they may contact me to make arrangements.I am also considering writing another book. It is an exciting time. There is much to do to make a beautiful world.
I hope you have an opportunity to check out her book.
It truly is inspiring...