Burning the Devil

Ahhhh the holidays. I suppose it’s not too surprising to find that the infection has spread to Central America. People running around like maniacs. Spending money they don’t have. Because… well, it’s Christmas damnit… and presents are clearly what that’s all about.

There’s this belief… that some people see reality for “what it is” and others don’t. Naturally, everyone of us believes that we’re members of the group that sees things as they are… wondering what’s wrong with everyone else.

I’ve never subscribed to that belief… mostly because I don’t see much evidence that any one of us… myself included… myself especially (I find it perfectly normal to live in the back of my truck) has more of a handle on reality than anyone else.

Yes… many of us follow scientific studies. Most of us take medicine. And pretty much all of us agree that when it comes to things like keeping planes in the air… routine maintenance beats happy thoughts.

But not too far beyond that stuff the agreements end and “reality” becomes what we want it to be. Meaning that our little lifeboat called earth is mostly guided by superstition.

I used to wonder about it… a lot. I mean how can we be so incredibly similar and yet still be so dissimilar… simultaneously.

And then the other night I’m having a beer with a very interesting American dude who’s lived EVERYWHERE on earth it would seem. And he ever so casually drops this bomb on me. Our brains didn’t evolve to understand reality on any deep level because… there’s no advantage to it. The brain cares about reproduction and survival… period. And you obviously don’t need a piercing view of reality to survive and reproduce… because none of us has one and we’re still reproducing like crazy. So… as far as the brains concerned… whatever your illusion… if you’re still alive… well, that’s good enough.

Why was I not smart enough to come up with that one?

I remember when we brought our son Wyatt home for the first time. It was like getting a new creepy looking, very demanding, non english speaking room mate, who was prone to severe lapses in his ability to control his motor skills. Kinda like some people I lived with in college. And then my new roomie let me know that his rental agreement included Malia’s breasts.

It was a rocky start.

But it wasn’t too long afterwards that I came to the conclusion that raising children would be the most important thing that we’d ever do.

The irony is that the most important job that we’ll ever do isn’t a paying gig. Which means that parents can’t focus their efforts on their most important task. They can’t afford to.

Being a good parent is sooooooo much more important to our world than being a good quarterback.

We’ve always got money for the quarterback. Money for foreign aid. Money to blow up other countries (that’s not defense). We throw money hand over fist into our ridiculous school system. Money to pay farmers not to farm. But we’ve got nothin’ for Ma and Pa Kettle.

So Ma and Pa instead dedicate their efforts to something like the fiftieth most important thing… making enough money to keep their tribe afloat. And with the remainder of their bifurcated bandwidth they try to will the kids to get good grades. Stay busy after school. Get their homework done. To make up for the time apart… to show them that they still really care… they buy the kids nice presents. Hoping that somehow it’ll all be enough.

But caring for a family financially is a lot different than caring for them emotionally. It takes a lot more than good grades, busy hands, and curved panel tv’s to properly equip a human being to deal with everything that life has in store for them.

There’s tremendous social cost when people fuck up the parenting gig… in the hundreds of billions of dollars huge. And the timeline is generational. One destroyed child tends to make more. Our society just overlooks that side of the equation I guess.

I thought of the times that our kids would lie in bed feeling scared and alone. I wanted to be there. I thought of the amazing things that they’d do. I wanted to be there too. Hell, I even decided that I wanted to be there for the really dumb shit they’re going to do… some of it anyway… mostly so I can drop one of those fatherly wisdom time bombs that goes off years later.

I want to help them with the heavy lifting of life for as long as I can. Not do it for them… just to be a good supportive team mate. But the way we had set up our life… that wasn’t going to happen. And so took a perfectly comfortable life and blew it to smithereeens. Stripping ourselves down to the bare wood. So that we could rebuild them around presence.

Today everything… and I mean EVERYTHING has a budget. We wear our flip flops until Jimmy Buffet himself would refuse them. Instead of buying new clothes we sew up our old ones. We literally own nothing but what we carry with us.

“The horror,” you say?? Yeah… you may have a point. It’s far from the perfect life. Malia and I occasionally find ourselves reminiscing about the budget free days. But then we look around and remember the point of our crazy experiment.

Lil Clunks

Mud Buddies

Our kids are happy… and unafraid. They were saved from school. No doubt they’re behind in math and history… but holy shit, the things they’ve seen! They’ve been to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Camped in the most remote places in North America. Explored EVERY major mountain range in the western US. Traversed the “dangers” of Mexico. And sailed in the Caribbean. Everywhere finding nothing but friends and adventure.


They can cook and clean and make repairs. They’re able to take care of themselves and each other. They’re independent and responsible. They can navigate… without a GPS. And they know… better than any of their former colleagues, that things and happiness aren’t related. They’re living their own legend… as the saying goes. Completely engrossed in their lives. Not wishing or pretending to be anyone or anything other than what they are.

Carson at Ram party

As for the “sort of” adults in our tribe… well, the same thing can be said of Malia and myself. We were saved from the rat race. We got beyond the hurdle of being owned by our things. And viewing our worth in terms of the bottom line on a pay stub. We too have seen many… many amazing things… together. (I think she’s mostly happy about that.)

Am I saying it’s been a total success? No. Honestly, how could I know? As the great Daniel Kahneman says in his excellent book “Thinking fast and Thinking Slow”. “People are often not only blind to the obvious… they’re blind to their blindness too.” To form a perfectly accurate opinion of our experiment we’d have to clone ourselves. Leave our other selves in our previous life… and compare the two.

Here’s another thing… impressing people and being impressive are two VERY different things. This isn’t an instagram story where we show only the best sides of our lives… trying to convince you this is how everyone should live. It’s mostly my unfiltered observations on a way of life… that I happen to enjoy.

We all still fight and threaten to kill each other. We live in a VERY small space. It still rains… A LOT. Mold springs up on every service that hasn’t been cleaned in a day. And I recently got fucking chikungunya.

But… and it’s a big but (that sounds funny – I’m leaving it), For the last couple of years we’ve given each other the gift of presence… and that has made all the difference.