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– Freefall

August 27, 2012

I’ve been wondering lately, as living here seems to make me do, about decisions and choices. About the things we choose to do or the values we choose as our own, as well as decisions about how we all live our lives.
It’s weird and rather lovely because in living here we have the luxury of being disconnected from all sorts of influence. Advertisers and other media as well as the subliminal pressures of family and friends have a job to reach us. And so our thoughts can ramble and stumble over ideas as we are inspired by the smallest of things. I can see that this is probably one of the things which confirms for friends that life here is a bit scary, because being cut loose like this means that we no longer ‘belong’ to a type. We are lost in the context of our old culture. It must happen to everyone who lives outside their home country, liberation from conventions, but where does that leave the individuals? It feels as if layers of stuff were peeled off. I’m not sure what stuff but maybe labels, the shorthand that others use to identify what kind of people we are, which in turn, reflects back on us and confirms our identities. Like what values, interests, jobs, wealth, skills and such that others have become adept at reading. I wonder how we would be read now, after twelve years outside. Not that it worries me really because I’m enjoying the freedom, although it definitely was scary to start with. Imagine someone with no home, no job, no clothes with identifiable labels and living in an old van in a foreign land. Even we didn’t know who we were. But I think one of our ideas for leaving our old life was to start with a blank slate – well, blank in a way but still carrying with us our experiences and the skills we had accumulated. I don’t think we realised that in our old life all our decisions were heavily coloured by that cultural shorthand. But having got over our initial shock of being out of its reach we started to make our new life, suddenly realising that we could make it using our very own set of references. We were also in a new culture which had its own ones but, as we were foreign to it, we were excused from all those pressures. Having hauled up here after a long search our slate was definitely clean all we had to do was decide what to put on it. The question was where to start.

People often say that they couldn’t live like us and I used to think they meant without a toilet, but I’m starting to realise that they meant the disconnection. I know there are people who come on holiday here and actually download their favourite newspaper every day. I wonder what ‘getting away from it all’ means to them. Obviously they worry about missing something, maybe dropping out of the loop is such a big thing or perhaps they feel that their place in the world is so tenuous that to miss the news for a few days would make them slip out of their place in the scheme of things. Yes, maybe that’s it. If you have to keep touching your reference points, what would happen to you if you didn’t do it for a bit?

I’ve been enjoying reading Mapp and Lucia by E.F. Benson this last couple of weeks and the way the characters obsessively keep in touch with each other is a really funny version of this endless contact. Trotting round, exchanging little bits of gossip about each other every single day. It’s a primitive form of Twitter! It really would be suffocating to be under that pressure every day, but I love the stories and am drawn to the people who live in Lucia’s world.

But back to my thoughts about decisions in the context of who we are. Is it easier or more difficult to live without leaning on either a society with its set of fashionable values or those of a religion or philosophy? Sometimes I think that if we belonged to an ‘ism’ or some such, things would be simple, we wouldn’t have to work out all our own answers we’d just reach for the big book of rules and would find a reassuring and simple answer. But I know I couldn’t settle for that, I’d miss the challenge of coming up with my own set. As we wrestle to make our life here we realise that our personal values are the same as ever, like being vegetarians, passionate gardeners and cat lovers. In fact all those things have become more important now and sitting alongside them is our embracing of the frugal. Yes, a weird kind of pared down living which, rather than making us feel that we are suffering under the burden of things lacking, we have become spritely in our enjoyment of finding new ways of living on less. It certainly celebrates creativity and the pull of consumerism no longer holds it’s magic. We have felt impervious to the recent global media bombardment to buy an i-pad, i-phone or kindle. Although, the fact that we know what they are means that we aren’t totally out of touch! But, like Lucia we are able to keep modern inventions in their place and not let them become central to our life. Although, I do disagree with Lucia on one or two things, mainly with her annexing of the gramophone! In our wind-up, solar-powered life, a set of 78’s and an old His Master’s Voice record player would be amazing. Still, we have our wind-up radio and can cruise into Portuguese or Spanish radio at a whim. Not the same as a set of Beethoven records but still, better than nothing!

(the image is from the cover of Mrs Nibble Moves House by Jane Pilgrim)

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