Gypsy Dreams: A Van Down by The River
In the anthology, Against Civilization: Readings and Reflections, one sentence caught my attention. Simple yet profound, an explosion of insight came roaring through my mind, like a floodlight flipped on in a dim room. Deep feelings of confusion and conflict found reconciliation and understanding through one line:
“Will we come to understand that consciousness can only exist out of context for so long before it rebels against its unnatural exile?” from the essay, The Search for Society, by Robin Fox (1998).
I’ve been toying around with the notion that civilization, as we know it, is an abomination for some time. I’ve read Daniel Quinn, Derick Jensen, and others (surely, I’m on some government watch list). I’ve joined the anarchoprimitivist Facebook site (the irony!). Basically, I’ve come to the same conclusions the rewilding movement has. I did so independently, but anyone that gives it any thought begins to see the fabric of civilization unravel before their eyes. In fact, the twelve major health problems in the world are considered “diseases of civilization.” In other words, they exist as a natural consequence to life lived within the confines of the civilized world (Ratey & Manning, 2014).
According to Daniel Quinn (1999) in Beyond Civilization, we operate under the wide-spread delusion that, “Civilization must continue at any cost and not be abandoned under any circumstance” (p. 47). Essentially none of us ask, is there another way to live? We just assume this is it. Civilization and its destructive consequences are the only model for living, and so we trudge on with willful ignorance.
What else is there besides working our lives away for a yearly two-week paid vacation? Obviously, it’s to buy a lot of plastic stuff, to be used, tossed, and replaced with better plastic stuff. Maybe we take a loan out for a car or house, reinforcing our servitude to corporations through work and debt. One of Western civilization’s most pervasive memes (as formally defined) is: something is inherently wrong with you, and you are incomplete. If you buy our product you will find wholeness and fulfillment. I’m not a big conspiracy theorist (I know, shocking, right!), but this core belief drives our behavior; keep working to buy self-worth and success through material goods. I know I’ve found a lot of fulfillment through my Amazon.com shopping ritual (subversive books, dog poop bags, and plant-based protein powder, oh my!). Let’s be clear, I’m no perfect anti-consumerist angel. The problem of Western culture is its parent, Western civilization. Enough said, this is a larger topic for another post.
Currently, I work for a mental health treatment center owned by a very large parent corporation. I’m grateful I’ve learned through this experience, that I don’t count for shit and I have no value outside of my role; just a bottom of the barrel entry level therapist. I’m expendable and subject to the whims of an administrative hierarchy. The shit rolls downhill from there. In fact, I’m relatively sure they don’t even know who I am or what I do for them. But, as a boon, this experience has provided perspective and stoked the urge to “unfollow” the prescribed mediocre dogma for living. Daniel Quinn (1999) asks if you would still be doing what you do if you had a million dollars? I would have to answer with an incontestable, “HELL NO.” I’m curious, how would you answer?
It began as a joke with some coworkers, the van down by the river. There are many days exasperation overtakes us. On one of these days I decided that I would like to quit life and head out in a livable van with my three dogs. I’d travel around the Southwest, be close to nature, visit friends, run and explore a multitude of trails. My coworkers decided to join in on the daydream. We’d create a therapist gypsy “care-a-van” called the cult of the van down by the river. They were mostly playing along, but I was semi-serious. After all, I’ve had a relocation problem for a while now (Check out A Slow Death (part 2).
I’ve always assumed my “moving addiction” was pathological; a character defect. My mom calls me a gypsy, and my parents use up entire address books trying to keep up with me. I’ve been to therapy, but the cause has yet to be determined. Lately I’ve been thinking, “maybe it’s time to make peace with myself; maybe moving is an inherent part of my disposition that doesn’t need fixing.” Just because it isn’t the norm, doesn’t mean it’s pathological. Maybe it’s my consciousness rebelling against its unnatural exile and finding its expression. Perhaps I’m learning to listen and follow my own internal beacon for living. And, just maybe, I’m heeding the call to escape the miasma of civilization and its plague of domestication; head for the hills, trot my way through the desert, relax by a stream, SAYONARA SUCKERS! I’m off to be a dirtbag-fastpacking-trail-running-van-living-vegan-gypsy. Somehow this dream feels more real. It’s fitted to my disposition like one of Hilary Clinton’s custom-tailored pant suits.
Let me be clear, I don’t think we should return to the days of hunting and gathering. I don’t think we could with our current population, but we should consider, search out, and find ways to live that don’t regard life as a commodity to be exploited for profit. The escape from civilization doesn’t mean everyone needs to live in lean-tos and eat moss. I’m just saying the way we live now totally sucks and I don’t want to be a part of it. If you feel the same, come join my care-a-van or find your own way. I urge you to do your research, read some subversive books and get creative, but most of all be true to your free spirit.
“I don’t wanna live my life in circles
I just wanna find an empty road
Let’s get away from here, let’s go”- Lyrics from Kygo, This Town