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Jumping the Picket Fence

People have often questioned my life choices, or even assumed they were foisted upon me -- not being married, not having children, not choosing big-time, high-paying employment or a large house to rattle around in all by myself.

picket fence

My single status elicits four general types of responses:

The Neanderthal: "I can't believe someone as cute / bright / stacked as you isn't married yet." (As if the only reason I'm not married is that no one will take me.)

The Realist: "You'd better get married before your stock goes down." (A woman over 35 is useless baggage - a pathetic thought, though the metaphor is charming)

The Sympathizer: "Don't worry. You'll find someone." (See comment for the Neanderthal)

The Matchmaker: "Do I have the guy for you!"

My choice to remain childfree also elicits three general responses:

They're selfish: "Who's going to wheel your ass around when you're 75?" (How many kids do this anyways, and is this really a reason to have a kid?)

I'm selfish: "You're just selfish. You want to spend your life focusing only on yourself." (Kids are not the only thing you can spend your life on -- volunteer stuff, friends, work, the rest of your family. Having kids for the wrong reasons is selfish. At least I'm doing my part to solve the overpopulation problem.)

The Neanderthal: "Oh. You'll change your mind." (As if having kids is automatic and what all women eventually want. Besides, I got my tubes tied in 2008, so it's a bit late, unless I want to adopt an unwanted girl from China.)

Unsatisfied with what most Americans consider a fulfilling lifestyle, I would also like to live in an Intentional Community (or an ecovillage). For those unfamiliar with the term, an IC is a group of people who live in a neighborhood or plot of several acres specifically designed for community involvement -- several homes (some with families, others occupied by a single person or a group of unrelated people) built around a central space that all members share and contribute towards (both with time and money). This usually includes communal structures and grounds -- a library, activities or arts room, pool, park, etc. Many are conservation oriented and financially / ethnically diverse, though most who inhabit them are fairly liberal. Some have common goals or interests -- spiritual, artistic, environmental. They are an alternative to the isolated, materialistic, wasteful existence of so many Americans.

Though only a few people have heard my Intentional Community idea, I do hear certain patterns there too:

The Archie Bunker: "Aren't they all dirty hippies and cults on those things?" (Most folks are actually regular working stiffs, though their jobs may be more non-corporate than most, as mine will be. ICs are also not communes, as no one shares finances, aside from membership fees that go towards common areas)

The materialist: "What kind of loser can't afford his own house?" (In response to my desire to live with a few other friends in a larger home for a while. Aside from being able to have a nicer living area than I would otherwise be able to afford, I enjoy the company. It's also cheaper to rent a piano if there are two other musicians pitching in)

As someone who comes from a conservative, formal family, I am somewhat unsure of what to expect. But after living in or near a few environments (from conservative upper-echelon neighborhoods to Hollywood artist ghettoes) and visiting Europe a few times (where they take off several weeks per year and have three-hour lunches with friends in exchange for smaller incomes and less stuff cluttering their homes), I know what I would like in a community and a lifestyle. Pursuing these things against the current of American values and traditions is my right.

We are taught to value high income (an indication of intelligence and industry), a traditional family (spouse and children), aspirations toward a high-profile career, the nicest house and car and wardrobe possible, a fast-paced lifestyle and workaholic values (signs of a good work ethic).

I value an adequate income, a family of like-minded and complimentary friends, aspirations toward a meaningful career that reflects my values and interests, a simple environment that is not ostentatious or wasteful, a connection with nature and an environment that fosters that a simple lifestyle free of extra stress that allows for relaxation, creativity, volunteer work or time with friends.

People often complain of the following, yet do nothing to remedy their situation: long hours, our society's emphasis on "stuff," a fast-paced life that doesn't allow for relaxation or time with friends, having to "keep up with the Joneses," that professors and marine biologists make 1/4 of what greedy corporate execs and lawyers make, that they have to drive everywhere, that they don't know their neighbors, that there are no public spaces or parks around, that their jobs are meaningless or counter their value systems. It sounds like the American Dream is becoming the American Nightmare for several people. The lifestyle I am choosing is an attempt to circumvent these problems from the outset.

For more information on Intentional Communities, visit the links below...

Fellowship for Intentional Community
Cohousing Association
Global Ecovillage Network

One of my favorite literary type passages is from Thoreau's Walden, and it seems relevant:

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. ... Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify. ...

I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one. It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity! I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."