the good life lab

i love to read, but most days was so mentally exhausted from my job that i couldn’t even think about picking up a book. but lately, i’ve been reading with wild abandon. i like to read a few different books at once – usually something science-y, something spiritual, and something fun for me.

i struggle with retaining information after i finish a book. there’s always random big and little things that stick with me, but often i feel like i did back in college – information travels right through me. i learn by writing things down and putting things into practice. it’s never felt ‘right’ to me to take notes on a book while i’m reading, so i thought a nice little thing to do would be to write a short blog post recapping each book i finish.

this week, i read a book in three days which is typical behavior when i find something really riveting and i have them time. the book was titled ‘the good life lab’ by wendy jehanara tremanye, and it chronicles the writer and her partner’s transition from life in new york city working on wall street to life on a one-acre off-the-grid homestead in new mexico. the book focuses on the re-use of waste, building a strong local community, and the de-commodification of life.

wendy studied with sufi’s and she interprets her life through this lens of sufi philosophy which i found fascinating. a keystone idea she presents is that ‘nature is the truest book.’ she talks about the differences between accultured knowledge (that which we must learn through society, that which is not natural’ and natural knowledge, that which we learn solely through experiences and which needs no teacher.

this idea really spoke to me. i think back on entering the work force. despite the fact that i was college educated and raised by a upper middle class family, i had no clue what i was doing. my first few interviews were cringe-worthy because i was unprepared and did not yet understand the conventions of the working world. slowly, i learned things like how to conduct myself in meetings, how to write professional emails, how to bid out projects, how to negotiate between parties, how to train, hire, and fire staff, how to sell myself to employers and clients, and project management. i learned these things through mentors, by observing others, and by faking it til i made it. none of these knowledge came naturally to me and in fact even though i consider myself fairly good at most of it, existing in this world caused me a lot of stress.

on the flip side, when i first started hiking, i was surprised how much i was learning. by giving myself the time and space to be alone in the woods, all this knowledge started flowing from within me. i learned the peacefulness of solitude and how to quiet my mind; i learned which plants grow on north facing vs south facing slopes; i learned how good it feels to take care of your body through regular exercise. the beauty of sunsets and views of mountain ranges taught me that one of my purposes in life is to care for this planet with every action and thought i have. these lessons are invaluable because isn’t the goal of life to find contentment? in a way my entire story, with homesteading and permaculture and sustainability has been to learn nature’s book.

the good life lab also focuses on de-commodification and challenges conventional views of money. wendy talks about how money itself doesn’t actually guarantee us any sense of security or happiness in life. markets crash, corporations lie, etc etc. the cycle of getting and spending money on abstracted goods not only damages the planet but it damages our relationships with each other. instead, she proposes the concept of the gift economy, in which goods and services are given without the expectation of reciprocation.

this book came at a fantastic point in my life – i’ve left the traditional workforce after having saved what feels like a comfortable amount of money, and i’m trying to negotiate what the rest of my life will look like in terms of sustaining my existence. i have no delusions about never having to earn any more money in my life – i’m not at a point of true financial independence where i can live off passive stream of income alone. early retirement in this sense has always been a goal of mine, but not because i don’t have a desire to work. i have an insatiable desire to create and want to help others by teaching them skills that have changed my life. i feel deeply called to heal the planet and work for environmental justice. my early retirement goal was to  get away from having to spend 40 hours a week at work.

anyways, i’ve felt myself questioning my relationship to money since i stopped early steady bi-weekly income. i’m not so extreme that i have a desire to live without money, and though i enjoy homesteading and self-provisioning there’s so many time consuming things i would rather purchase from others. andrew and i also enjoy using money to support other makers and creators like musicians, breweries, local business and farms, artists, etc. but i do always feel guarded with my money. i get stressed out when i spend it and i hoard it. i practice letting this go but the scarcity mentality is deep-rooted. after all, i exchanged my life force (time) for the the money that i do have, and for that reason i’m very attached to it. sometimes when i make large purchases i can’t help but think of all the miserable hours i spent behind a desk acquiring the money that i’m using.

the good life lab offers up something that i just love – one of the best uses of money is to buy things that can make other things. i’ve always felt this way but never known how to express it! purchases like high-powered blenders and fancy water filtration systems have usually been guilt free, because i know i will put these items to good use. in that light, when i completed the book i reviewed all the large appliances in the house and picked out a few that are collecting dust – an ice cream maker, a pressure canner, and my bike. we haven’t made ice cream in years, so on sunday andrew made coffee gelato that was incredible. i’m going to can big batches of chickpeas and black beans (out most used beans) this fall that i’ll cook from dry. as for my bike, i hate riding it because the seat is so uncomfortable … so i’ll replace the seat and get back to bike-powered errands and joy rides in the country.

i found the book to be very inspirational and confirm that alternative lifestyles are possible. it got me excited about the adventure of building my own streams of capital (not just money) by using skills i have acquired.

this post was supposed to be short! it’s great for me to write though. book reviews have always felt awkward in my paper journal because it takes me so long to write by hand, i almost always give up.

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