A lot of people who know me or know of me probably think of me as some rich, off-grid farmer, writing full-time and coasting on the glory of a few successful bestselling books. Well… the people who really know me know that this isn’t true but, then again, very few people really know me. The people who think I’m rich would be surprised to learn that for most of the last seventeen years, my family has lived significantly below the poverty line. That’s right, most of the people reading this wouldn’t be likely to survive for a single year on my average yearly income over those seventeen years.
This is where the terms “rich” and “poor” need to be defined.
We have never had much money, so if “rich” is defined as “having a lot of money” then I am the opposite of that. If being “rich” means having all the latest gadgets, money in the bank, toys, and nice vacations, then sorry… I’m not even close to rich. And what does “poor” mean? Long, long ago the word “poor” meant that you didn’t have or have access to the bare minimums necessary for survival and that you relied on others, on charity, or on artificial life-support systems in order to survive. A beggar was poor, a farmer was not. During the Industrial Revolution, the term “poor” was redefined to include anyone who either couldn’t or wouldn’t enter the debt-based consumer consumption system. Later, “poor” was redefined again to include anyone without running water and grid electricity. Self-sufficient and successful farming families were categorized as “poor” by the government based on two things they really didn’t require… income and grid based utilities. By modern standards and according to the modern definition, my family is poor. We laugh when we think about that.
We started our beyond off-grid life out here in Central Texas with almost nothing. Practically nothing. We lived in a tent at first and everything we’ve built we built a stick at a time. “A stick at a time” means that you don’t build the project all at once, and you don’t go into debt for it. Whenever you have some wood or materials (new or scrounged,) you put them where they go, working on the project when supplies allowed.
Our first garden fences were made from used materials and fence posts cut from our land as we cleared it.
When we had enough money saved up to build an unfinished small cabin (560 square feet,) my family of 6 moved in. The children slept in an old 1979 motorhome given to us by a friend that had a bad motor. My youngest child was only 2 at the time and my oldest was 12. It was another 5 or 6 years before we moved into our current cottage (750 square feet,) also built a stick at a time. Our “bathroom” is still an outhouse. We had no real shower other than a pallet set outdoors inside a room made out of tarps. We still have no running water
Why did we choose to live this way? Because we wanted to live a different sort of life. One where we were free from debt slavery and bondage and free from the clutches of the consumer based consumption society. We wanted our children to have more choices. We wanted to learn and teach our children that there is another way to live. We wanted to live deliberate, sustainable, independent lives.
We expanded our gardens and animal pens a little at a time, adding as we could, retracting when we needed to. We dug a root cellar and built a smokehouse by hand. We put up a tiny greenhouse so we could start all of our own plants and extend the growing season. We learned to grow, harvest, and preserve food according to the older, ancient methods that are more sustainable and don’t require electricity. We butchered our own meat and learned to make things like bacon and ham. We now make jams, jellies, cheeses, beer and wine. Almost everything we produce and preserve is made from materials we get from the land. We are now even growing tobacco and hops. We harvest, thresh, and winnow our own grains by hand.
Most of the time, we eat like kings!
I was talking to my 80 year old uncle the other day. He was telling me that people today would have called them”poor” back when he was a boy in the 30’s and 40’s, “but we ate good!” he said. Fresh milk, eggs, bacon, sausage, fresh vegetables right from the garden. All without chemicals or other bad things. That was at about the same time when the government and social engineers started trying to convince people that if they didn’t have flush toilets, gas ranges, a new automobile, and toothpaste in a tube… they were poor. Freedom was recast as poverty. It had to happen. The debt-based consumer society requires consumption and an “all-in” mentality. The majority of the people have to buy into it. If people aren’t buying stuff, that system falls apart. Bankers, middle-men, and industrialists need people to stop producing and to start consuming. That’s the way it works.
As for me and my family, we try to make sure we never get too dependent on the world. That’s how we do our best to stay free.
To this end, one thing we did every year, just to make sure we weren’t getting too reliant on the consumer system, is what we called “The December Project.” We called it the December Project but it usually lasted more than a month. It started out as just a month, but eventually it grew until it was two months long. Sometimes it was November and December. Sometimes it was December and January. One time it was even longer, stretching into February. During the December Project we did not leave the land. Did not go to the stores. Did not use the Internet. All of my communications were through snail mail, and I’d write letters every day. Sometimes I’d receive a dozen hand written letters in a single day, and I’d do my best to answer all of them. We lived off our stored foods, and whatever we could grow even in the winter. Frankly, it was awesome. Still is.
That was our practice for what the world calls “Apocalypse.” We know what Apocalypse really means, but to the world it has come to mean any earth-changing event that removes the JIT (Just-In-Time) system that delivers the consumer goods and services that mean the survival of the world. Most people agree that even a week or so without the JIT system and the world would have a systemic breakdown that would mean the deaths of millions. I think it would be worse, but that’s a talk for another time. Our planned, practice apocalypses happened every year from the time my children were very young.
Often, we’d have unplanned practices.
Those are the times when due to circumstances, we just wouldn’t have the money to go to town for long periods of time. Sometimes my royalty checks would be spent before the previous month even ended. When that happened, we’d have a family meeting and I’d say, “Well, this is going to be one of those months. No money. No going to town.” But nobody would panic. Usually the family would just shrug. Just another month on the farm. The way we live allows us to get by with no input from the world for long periods of time. Maybe indefinitely. And that’s the way we like it.
So we’d do without. Or we’d figure out how to have what we want by doing it ourselves. We’d harvest prickly-pear cactus fruit in July and August so we could have sweet drinks when we want them. We’d butcher dozens of wild hogs and make bacon and ham from them, so we wouldn’t suffer without those things come winter.
This year – 2015 – has been one of those times. Due to a lot of writing business decisions and obligations that involve helping others, etc., my income plummeted after the end of last year. And I knew I wouldn’t have a new book (Brother, Frankenstein) out until the end of April. The big, super launch wouldn’t be until early June, which means we (my family) wouldn’t be seeing any “regular” paydays until the end of August. That’s the way it goes in the writing business.
I was talking to the family the other day and telling them how, despite the fact that we haven’t had any money, this year has been a great one as far as I’m concerned.
I’ve written several books that involve individuals, families, or groups going through a situation where they have to survive on what is available to them at the time. These depictions come from real world experience. Texocalypse Now, The Last Pilgrims, and WICK all include real instances and things I’ve learned about how to survive without the store. The Last Pilgrims in particular shows a very realistic portrayal of our family, fictionalized into a plain family living in a plain community twenty-five years after a systemic destruction of the modern system.
We’ve basically been in a December Project for all of 2015. Money has been too tight. Few trips to town, and mostly we’ve only spent money on things we don’t make ourselves. We’ve increased our independence this year, which is awesome. We’ve expanded the gardens again. We’re harvesting wheat and processing our ample garden produce to provide for ourselves going forward. We’ve had chicks, pigs, and cattle born… and our herd has increased.
It’s our own private Apocalypse, and we’re just fine.