Since I was 18, I have dated only poor men. Men from the working class or below it, street-men, carrousers, druggies and alcoholics living in camps by railroad tracks or in transient hotels. I was exploring, experimenting: I thought these men might have an integrity wealthier, middle-class, “mainstream” men did not. In some ways, they did, and in some ways, they didn’t. They were, in the end, just humans (not gurus), like everyone else, living often difficult lives, and fighting the good fight.
At Napa State Hospital, it was OK to be weird. More than OK, it was a badge of correctness. The vast majority of us had no choice; we were at a stage in our lives* during which we flaunted our weirdness. My inner life was irresistible; it showed suddenly–shockingly–for all to see, like a jacket turned inside out. I let my inner life rip; I had no choice: Whoops! There it was (whether I wanted to blatantly reveal it or not)!
(*Some of us at Napa [not I] were there as semi-permanent inmates, returning again and again, during a life-time of “insanity.”)
I know for a fact that some of us enjoyed our own and other people’s fantastical displays of outrageous and creative behavior, if only for moments before slipping back again into our fugues.
I took the route Robert Frost wrote about: the less-traveled path. Buddhists say, “There is no path.” That’s true if you choose the untraveled way; then, you make your own path. This is invariably laden with thousands of completely unexpected and frequently devastating horrors: holes that one falls in, wrong turns, villains and perverts. A nightmarish tableau, but, for a true adventurer, this is the only way. Kudos to them who follow traditional paths, carrying on the culture. I have found that they don’t understand why some of us follow an original road.
Kali is the goddess of both Creation and Destruction. Both of these have dogged my life, and for years I have regretted the destructive path I have run. But this “negative” element of necessity accompanies the “positive” creativity which abounds in my life.
I have dropped four Ojai friends on this trip. Actually, it was mutual in all cases. I don’t like them anymore, and they don’t like me! Perfect harmony in dislike.
I am going on a small anti-Ojai diatribe now, but, believe me, in my heart and soul, I know all is perfectly balanced right now and in all moments. I just want to hear myself rave for a couple minutes.
My kind of folks don’t live in Ojai. The travellers here are all wealthy (or wealthy wanna-be’s). They play at spiritual pursuits (like the otherwise-awesome practices of meditation, yoga, and vegan-ism) because these are trendy and cool things to do. These folks don’t go out in the chaparral forest or the desert-like riverbottom land or into the mountains; they go from home to car to shops/their business, back to the car and home. Of course, that’s what most Americans do: a life lived indoors.
Ojai is a place to see and be seen. Many people here are “buying the stairway to heaven.” It’s one of those cool, little California hideaways that’s a (largely) Caucasian diversion from reality, as though this isn’t real life, but a play, theater, a facade. Ojai encourages not so much individuality as obedience to cultural norms, including blatant, outrageously expensive, unapologetic self-absorption and self-indulgence. In order to be SOMEONE here, you only need to think up a new recipe for a delicious, healthful smoothie to serve at the Oh, so trendy and cool local, super-expensive, healthy food dive or wear your hair in dread-locks (well, that’s getting old now), or whatever other public symbol marks one as in-the-know. Their conversations are often 85% bullshit. There’s lots of high-end manure in this here valley.
The Eagles’ song, Hotel California, in which they say “you can never leave,” applies directly to Ojai (and the multitude of similar California towns): great wealth creates luxury as a life-style, even for many of the poor(er) people who live here, and, by comparison, no place else measures up to it. It’s hard to go somewhere else and find the same amount or degree of material and physical pleasures. And that’s what it’s about, hedonism. A life of leisure.
I am an indulger: I live a life of leisure and pleasure. I am, after all, a “Global Nomad,” whatever the hell that is. I’m not an addict. I travel internationally (beginning in childhood). I have a bachelor’s degree from a reputable college. I have enough money to live on (which is generously given to me each month by the U.S. government). I am protected, even overseas; I’m healthy, self-confident, and privileged.
U.S. families like Jeannette Walls’ (see The Glass Castle, below) are not Global Nomads. They are people who are struggling in a society which has a strict social hierarchy that we aren’t allowed to acknowledge. Deadly class warfare is waged in the U.S. every day. The Walls were among the many casualties of these defacto skirmishes.
Bums, hobos, and tramps are three categories of “drifters” in the U.S.
“Hobos are people who move around looking for work, tramps are people who move around but don’t look for work, and bums are people who don’t move and don’t work.” (online at Seastick Steve)
Global Nomads are none of the above; neither are we Gypsies per se. We are also not traditional nomads whose lives are difficult and dangerous. We are a new breed, made possible by wealthy, exploitative societies (like the one that gave birth to modern-day Ojai, California) and by people, like me, who exploit the exploiter in new and creative ways.
The Glass Castle
by Jeannette Walls
(Release Date: January 9, 2006)
It’s easy to live in Ojai, with its idyllic climate and vast, gorgeous wilderness, and do nothing but think “good thoughts” and at least look like you are privately pursuing some higher, spiritual truth.
I would guess that most (certainly not all) of the folks here have never done a truly bold or daring thing in their lives. Even the simplest courageous act seems far beyond the average Ojai-an. Hell, even the thought of picking up an old lady hitchhiker like me is apparently scary to creatures whose main interest is in staking out and securing forever a blissfully ignorance. The insolence of a hitchhiker, who asks them to make an actual social decision ( “shall I help this person?”), is unforgivable in the context of this town. Twenty or thirty cars will pass by me, looking at me askance, as tough I were drunk and disorderly, holding a gun, and demanding their first-born child.
It’s easy to avoid and ignore another sentient being’s needs when one is entombed in layers of money and is socially secure. Many people here are concerned only with vain, selfish abstractions like “what shall I wear today (when I have so many things to wear),” “what shall I eat today (when I have so much food in my kitchen),” and “what shall I do today (when I can choose from so many wonderful things and I have so few worries).” Even “where shall we travel to on this next trip” is weird when people have excess money (“disposable income” is such a lurid phrase), a house and car (etc.) to return to, and are not travelling as a way-of-life, but merely as an adjunct to their “regular” lives.
I travel as a-way-of-life AND as pleasure and recreation. I have been building up to this way of living ever since I left my husband on January 1, 1974. It has literally taken me years to get my possessions down to what will fit in my quite average-sized backpack; I practiced this until I got it down to very little stuff. It was hard because we are so accustomed to thinking we need so much more than we actually do need. It’s a consumer culture: we are programmed to think we need tons of junk and extras of everything; we are made to feel insecure without all this stuff, even though most of us are surrounded by stores and can afford all the necessities of life.
So, I’m hitching and finally, one car will stop and therein will sit a genuinely moral person with a high social position. Many people with serious and important talents and skills are scattered among the larger population of self-important, upper-middle class riffraff of Ojai.
Most folks here were raised middle class, and like all middles, they strive, above all, to hold onto their status. Picking up a hitchhiker, being humble and compassionate when a stranger’s needs help, and being generous to a presumed social inferior are acts that only detract from the self-image of a slim, botoxed, self-consciously individualistic, overly-sensitized twerp. The Ojai bubble is solid and impenatrable.
I am leaving Ojai, as I have done many times before. And, once again, I feel like I am escaping a dismal, though enjoyable, version of the future.
“Nice gets you far,” said a guy this morning at the Ojai Coffee Roasting Co. Yeah, that’s like the book How To Win Friends And Influence People. It’s very sick, like business courses about “managing” people. Devilish. The ego running rampant and trying to profit from it. And proclaiming it GOOD (as in “ethical”).
In The Tribe Of Tiger, Elizabeth Thomas writes about how lions don’t make good slaves because they are “highly assertive” (unlike tigers who are “more tractable”). So, circuses and other people (who have wild animal prisoners) don’t want groups of lions “because cooperative aggression is not a quality people want in their slaves.”
What is culture? asks Thomas. It’s “a web of socially transmitted behaviors.” Animals as well as humans have culture (despite what Konrad Lorenz thought).
“Dictionaries usually assign this definition to (of having culture) to human beings only, but dictionaries are not the voice of God and will change their definitions eventually, as evidence unfolds.” (Thomas)
It must be awful to be old in Los Angeles. I have been sending out couch requests, and while, admittedly, my profile on Couchsurfing.org is way over-board (on purpose!), I am getting turned down left and right–especially by young men. Lots of people are on CS now who don’t participate in the project (they don’t surf people’s couches or host people). It’s changed.
But the age thing (my age) seems to really be turning off Los Angelinos. One young man actually responded to my couch request by saying, “I am turning you down because of your age.” Ouch!
Awards banquet coming up in L.A. at the end of Oct. for courage in journalism. It’s a women’s event, honoring several amazing women who are journalists in some dangerous spots in the world, like Palestine and Pakistan. Chelsea Handler is one of the presenters.
The full-page L.A. Times ad said that to endure abuse takes strength, and to fight against abuse takes courage. All these women journalists have done both: taken abuse and are now fighting it. Some have been beaten, received death threats, etc. And I think I’m brave! I’m just a beginner in that serious game.
NO FEAR! Even in the face of the soul-strangling competition that exists in all irreverent societies of small-minded people: I shall not fear. It seems like such an easy thing to avoid the merciless killing fields of competitive economic rivalry. So what if I am not good enough without ample money and territory? So what?
Nature and religion are the anti-dotes. I patronize both and they give me peace and contentment.