accidental dropout (part 2)

December 22, 2006

Go to part 1

Where the dropout proper really starts is back in my first professional job. In 1997 I took a three month trip overseas (at someone else’s suggestion), I was very careful to make sure I had a job to go back to before I left but when I did get back I discovered what a dumb idea that was. I hated returning to the same depressing job so much that within six months I’d left again on another overseas trip. This time to Canada, with an English friend doing a climbing trip (We shot video of the trip which is what I have been editing this year).

The trip was notable because it was the first serious risk I had taken, not only was I a bit short of cash but this time I had no job to go back to. It seems pretty tame to me now but it took a horrible job with no apparent alternatives to get me going. As with most risks in our culture it was only a perceived risk and my life improved immeasurably when I took it.

The most significant event on the trip happened in a guy in Calgary when I guy we were staying with handed me a Noam Chomsky book. Suddenly everything fell into place, finally I had a decent explanation for the state of the world! It didn’t cause me to change my life right then and there but it did start me on a path that has lead me to here.

The other book that changed my life was Robert Kiyosaki’s ‘Rich Dad Poor Dad’.

I bet that’s got a few people scratching their heads but I’ll explain. I saw the book lying around at my parent’s place one day and picked it up after reading the blurb – which had me convinced it was piece of sociology about how rich people passed on their callous attitudes to their children.

I swear I’m not making this up. More importantly though, this was around the time that Karen and I had become engaged and I had finally started thinking about what I actually wanted to do with my life.

We sat down one might and sketched up a plan of our ideal house. It was the sort of thing engaged couples do but after that we drew again, this accounting for how much money we could raise for a mortgage. It was pathetically small (Architects in New Zealand earn diddly squat – another long story) and I knew we would need to extend it as soon as we had children and we were only planning to wait a couple of year’s at most for that.

It was at this point that I got this alarming vision of what my life was going to be like. At this time I was working for my second architecture firm and was fairly sure that it wasn’t what I wanted to spend the rest of my days doing. The thought that I would be trapped there for the next 25 years as we paid off a mortgage was incredibly depressing. I didn’t want to be one of those Dads who came home from work exhausted and grumpy but I knew that if we did things the normal way that is exactly what would happen to me.

It was after this terrifying vision that I read Rich Dad Poor Dad. I now understand that in the world of financial advice the book has nothing new to say but as the son of a teacher and a nurse the idea that regular jobs were an impediment to making serious money a real eye-opener.

A few days after reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad a friend of mine who had just moved to Raglan (which was half an hour’s drive to the west of Hamilton where I lived at the time) dropped in and told me about this piece of land he’d just seen out there. He wanted to buy it but it was too much for his family to afford. Apparently it was the right size to subdivide into four parts, it had water views and was relatively flat. In short it had development potential

This was my opportunity! My get rich quick scheme – or more accurately, my pay-of-the-mortgage-quick scheme. I was so excited I couldn’t sleep, I lay there nearly all night planning how we could make it work. We had no money but we did have comfortable middle class parents with nice houses that could be used as collateral. My father who had spent his adult life renovating and building houses on the side in an attempt to build capital was more than happy to help out. He wished he’d been as daring as we were. Now instead of working hard in the building industry only to see the profits going somewhere else I would be keeping that money in-house.

We signed for the land the day before our wedding and trucked the first home on six months later. With great enthusiasm we flew into the work of renovating the house, adding a deck and carport and redecorating the inside. It took a year before the combination of doing that on weekends and holding down a highly stressful job started to get to me.

We were also pregnant with our first child so naturally we extended the mortgage and I left my job. It was six weeks before our first child was due and I’d just told my bosses that I was leaving because working for them was bad for my mental health. I was tired but surviving on the buzz all of this gave me.

Now instead of being in an office all day I would be outside doing something physical, building, painting and digging (OK, I wasn’t so keen on the digging) with just a bit of office work thrown in for wet days. It was certainly a change and I like being more active but I have also learned that if I’m going to work it needs to be with people. In fact, not just with people, it needs to be about people.

I was so quiet as a child that I still find it hard to believe I have an extrovert type personality. I keep being surprised at how bored I get working alone but all those personality tests keep putting me out there so I guess it must be true. At least now that I was taking risks I was able to learn more about myself.

At last in my 30s I was finally figuring out who I was.

I count myself amongst the lucky to be at home while my children were young, it has I hope, saved me from turning into the distant grumpy Dad that you commonly find in suburbia.

What was really interesting too was that now that I didn’t have a regular job some of my beliefs started to change. Although I never liked my job and knew that my bosses’ desire that I help them ‘grow the business’ was nonsense I was still in a position where I had to stay in denial about the true tragedy of paid employment in order to get out of bed each day. Without the need to believe this nonsense I was able to see more clearly the lies I had been telling myself. Especially the lie that I had no choice but to kill myself a little bit day by day in exchange for money, prestige and security.

The flexibility of working from home also allowed for other things to happen. I’d discovered via Znet (which I had found while looking for Chomsky articles) a website for Alternative Radio. The website said that they gave their show free to community stations and I immediately thought ‘wouldn’t it be great if our local station would play it?’.

It soon became apparent that if I wanted it to happen I would have to play it myself and so I soon found myself on-air introducing the show and playing music in between segments. I had previously held no interest in being a DJ but I quickly found myself reading out news items, playing other alternative news shows, and filling out the entire 3 hour slot. Eventually I began conducting my own interviews on New Zealand based issues because there was no one else doing it and then syndicating the show to a handful of Low Power FM stations in Auckland and Wellington. For good measure I also set up my own low power station in nearby Hamilton, transmitting from the roof of my parent’s house 24 hours a day.

As well as this I began to get active in both Indymedia and the anti-GE campaign, the latter after being utterly freaked out by the thought of pharma-crops when I read an article by a prominent NZ anti GE campaigner. I think every second radio show was about GE for a while after that. I was getting a real buzz out of my newfound ability to have an effect on the world. It was also tremendously satisfying to be working on things I genuinely believed in for the for the first time in my life.

Another thing I noticed is that my music tastes began to expand again, I hadn’t been exactly stuck in one place like some of my old friends had been but leaving work seemed to shift me to a state where I was (and still am) in need of something quite different. I now like far more experimental music than the mostly commercial stuff I used to listen to.

Initially I was too scared to tell people I met through my activism that I was a property developer. It didn’t really fit my identity but eventually I started to state it outright and enjoy the bemused reactions. It did come in handy though, when our anti-GE group made a presentation to the local council. I was able to stand up and say “Hi my name is Aaron, I’m a property developer and I’m very concerned about release of GE organisms in the district”. I was not what they were expecting to say the least.

About the time our second child was born (and we’d moved the third house onto the property) my friend in Auckland who runs Radio Chomsky recommended a talk by Derrick Jensen. I was so impressed by the talk that I took A Language Older than Words out of the library and found myself reading another of those life changing books.

This new critique of civilisation coupled with an awareness of peak oil really started to change my ideas of what our future might hold. The development was coming to an end and although I didn’t know what I would be doing afterwards I knew it wasn’t going to be more of the same. The original motivator had been to escape the mortgage and now that it was gone I found that making money for it’s own sake to be kind of dull. Added to that it had gradually dawned on me just how environmentally damaging our building industry is and I wasn’t sure I could keep sticking used chemically treated timber in the ground and new chemically treated everything into a house that my family was living in.

I discovered Ran’s website one night while trying to research the abiotic oil issue after an on air argument about it with one of my regular guests and quickly warmed to his take on the anti-civ world. His conclusions suit me better than Derrick Jensen’s and I spent many an evening reading his old essays and zines. A few months later I found myself setting up a blog after mistakenly thinking I had to do so to comment on someone else’s site – I quickly realised I had plenty to say and enjoyed that initial buzz you get when people start to visit. Now I’m really enjoying the interplay between the various blogs that exist round these parts. All this from another chance occurrence.

I don’t quite know what will happen next, I’ve had a lot of fun since leaving work but the excess of enthusiasm has left me a little burnt out. We’ve sold out last house and we’re travelling around the country in bus visiting old friends and seeing the country one last time. We might visit a couple of eco villages along the way and next month I’m doing a one week earth building course in Whangarei.

I’m dead keen to get a community around me, I know a village is one way of doing it but we’ll have to wait and see how it pans out. Right now I need to chill out for a little while and let the experiences of the last few years wash over me before I do anything else. I may have left the working world behind but I still find it damn hard to sit still and relax.

One thing where I think I have been really lucky is that even though Karen is a few years younger than me and I’ve kind of pushed her into things faster than she would have liked we still haven’t had the sort of major disagreements that I see happening amongst other couples about life philosophy. Best of all we’ve always been able to turn in-ward for support when the external criticism about how we live our lives or raise our children gets too great.


One comment

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. It is nice to know that we all struggle with similar demons. It is hard enough to live in the mainstream world when you are “different” (as your dad would say), but it makes it harder when you feel you are different and alone. I am fortunate in that there are many others like me in my area, but not everyone is so lucky. You seem to be a trailblazer, so that makes for hard and tiring work. For those who follow in the path you’ve begun, it will be easier. I look forward to hearing what the future has in store for you.

    Posted by: Frank Black | 12/23/2006

    Trailblazer is a term I’m really reluctant to apply to myself but you’re probably right about it, I don’t know where it comes from and it’s a pain in the neck. The only thing I can suggest (and maybe this should have been included as well) is that my parents were the sort of people who made things happen as opposed to sitting round wishing things were different.

    Posted by: Aaron | 12/23/2006

    Aaron – it looks like you’re in no danger of forgetting, anymore, how precious your life is. I got a buzz just from feeling how happy you are now!

    I love reading men’s freedom stories because I think that men generally tend to perceive themselves as having so much less flexibility than women do, these days especially. I see women as having the ability to stay free and do what they love much more often than I see men seeing themselves as having this ability. At least in my circles, many women I know are quite willing to live with no obvious worldly goods to their name, so that they can stay free.

    These quotes of yours could have been mine:

    “The only conclusion that I can come to is that because I kept my head down nobody realised I needed breaking in, no one tried to crush my spirit (until it was too late).”

    “I was so quiet as a child that I still find it hard to believe I have an extrovert type personality. I keep being surprised at how bored I get working alone but all those personality tests keep putting me out there so I guess it must be true. At least now that I was taking risks I was able to learn more about myself.”

    “Initially I was too scared to tell people I met through my activism that I was a property developer.” Except that I’m not a property developer, but a female USAF veteran.

    “A few months later I found myself setting up a blog after mistakenly thinking I had to do so to comment on someone else’s site – I quickly realised I had plenty to say and enjoyed that initial buzz you get when people start to visit. Now I’m really enjoying the interplay between the various blogs that exist round these parts. All this from another chance occurrence.”

    I’m also finding chance occurences that are creating different realities for me! We really CAN let the universe take care of us, can’t we??

    Posted by: kim | 02/26/2007

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