HOW I EARNED AN INCOME AND LEARNED TO SPEND LESS
[This is a section of a chapter from Nyerges’ e-book, “Squatter in Los Angeles,” available from Kindle, or as a pdf from the Store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]
I had no regular job during this period, though I earned $5 each week by writing an outdoor column for the Pasadena Star News. It wasn’t much money, but it seemed to add up when I got a check at the end of each month. It also got my name out there, and I began to get requests to give talks to local groups and to lead walks for schools.
Even though I paid no rent, I did have a utility and phone bill to pay, so I needed a bit more than $5 a week. I sought out part time work here and there which would still allow me to attend the various small classes offered by the non-profit during the week.
I found work doing such tasks as roofing, framing, writing magazine articles.
I landed a part-time job doing typesetting, which also led to my writing for that little newspaper, the Altadena Chronicle, owned by Sue and Rich Redman. I thought I was on top of the world with that income and my $5 a week income from the Pasadena Star News. I also ended up doing some framing and painting at the newspaper office when they remodeled.
In reality, I was on the edge of poverty financially, and yet I felt good, at peace most of the time, and loved to try new things and experiment. My primary source of mental stimulation was through my classes and involvement with the non-profit next door, and I believed this was the most important work I could do. In fact, there was no reason why I could not have gotten some full-time job like all my friends, or enrolled back into college full-time and gotten a degree that would enable me to earn a reasonable income. But somehow I convinced myself that -- for better or worse – my “free” lifestyle was more important for the solace of my soul, and for the salvation of the planet. Still, my soul wasn’t always solaced by my “lifestyle” because I always had a nagging fear anytime anyone came up the driveway. Furthermore, I constantly wavered between confidence and doubt that my way of life had any effect whatsoever on the direction the planet was taking.
My time was divided between my work, my studies and research with the non-profit organization that brought me to Highland Park in the first place.
I drove a Honda 90 motorcycle at the time that got 100 miles to the gallon so my transportation costs were very low.
I derived great pleasure from experimenting and learning all the ways I could provide for my daily needs, and even my wants, using things that I made, grew, found on the property, or obtained from discards. Had I been married with children, I believe this would have been an impossible pursuit, for obvious reasons. But I was essentially alone. Yes, there was a girlfriend who visited occasionally, and two “roommates,” and though our lives intersected, I was free to try things and experiment and live a very simple life.
Simple, but not easy, and basic, but not without its challenges.
I read Thoreau’s Walden Pond for the first time during this period, and found my state of mind frequently resonating with the basic themes in the book. Remember, Thoreau wasn’t a bum, or a drop-out, or an alcoholic. Actually, for that matter, he was no squatter either, for the land where he was given permission to do his “experiment” was owned by fellow writer and friend William Emerson. He built for himself a little house (a “shack” by most accounts), and did a lot of his writing there. He stayed there by himself, probably realizing even back then that many commercial interests in our society vie for our time and money, finding ever-more clever ways to convince us that we need objects which previous millennia of humans survived without. It would be accurate to say that Thoreau – like me – was profoundly interested in the very meaning of life and wanted to discover the point of all the rushing about to get somewhere. Unable to discover these answers in his town, Thoreau built and moved into his little shack in the woods and learned how to grow the food that he ate, and found it nourishing and satisfying. He also ate purslane, an import from the old world, which even then was common throughout the eastern United States in tilled soil. He wrote “I learned that a man may use as simple a diet as the animals, and yet retain health and strength. I have made a satisfactory dinner off a dish of purslane which I gathered and boiled. Yet men have come to such a pass that they frequently starve, not from want of necessities, but for want of luxuries.” Indians and trappers would visit and talk, and somehow through this unprejudiced intercourse, he found that all people were more alike then different, and a life lived for purely material reasons is a life wasted.
Now I found myself in a similar setting, though it wasn’t in the woods but a ruralish part of Los Angeles. There was purslane and chickweed growing right outside my door. I had no pond nearby, but I did manage to get over the Arroyo Seco which was as close to my personal Walden Pond as I felt I would get.
At night, thinking over the day’s classes and studies, typing up my notes and insights, I often ruminated over how life should be lived, and wondered why we take up so much time and waste so much of life on trivial pursuits. I felt that it was important to live simply, to grow food, to discover nature’s secrets, and to find answers through thinking and through research. I wondered why others did not think like me. And with the purslane growing right in my yard, I could eat it for lunch in my salad and fancy myself some sort of urban Thoreau as I thought over these ideas.
I did learn some years later when Thoreau was mentioned by the academics he was regarded as a brilliant intellectual who discovered the simple reality that was right in front of everyone. Be here now. Imagine. The kingdom is within. Which is why I naturally assumed that his own peers would have regarded him as a saint and savior. Wrong! I have actually spoken to descendents of Thoreau’s peers and they said that in the day, Thoreau was by no means universally respected. Rather, many regarded him as a bum, an outsider, someone who had rejected society to hang out with the Indians in the woods. I was starting to see that there were more parallels with me and Thoreau than were originally apparent.
So I did my best – though usually unsuccessfully – to not be seen as a freeloading bum who chose not to work and who just sat around listening to the birds and who saw secret messages in the clouds.....