20 February 2011


We have plans for the rest of the year. Clearly defined plans for now, next week, much fuzzier plans for November, December. This change of focus (to continue with the imagery) is punctuated by a few signposts and events, some more flexible than others. Things to do, in vague order: "mum's birthday in April", "apply for a visa", "my birthday in June", "save some money", "finish painting the house" (we finally started painting the hallway yesterday!), "dad's birthday in August", "finish and submit this dissertation", "prepare to leave the country" . . . then: "arrive in the UK", "D's mum's birthday in October", "go for a walking holiday", "go WWOOFing", "find work and somewhere to live".


Possibly in preparation, possibly as a way of escaping the world of dissertation in my head, I have become a little addicted to reading the blogs of individuals and families who are travelling or changing their lives or merely trying to live in sustainable, green, eco-friendly ways. There are things about these blogs that I really appreciate - discussions of the practicalities of living this way, the ups and downs of a changing/travelling lifestyle, the feelings of freedom and of connecting with people and environment, the philosophies that drive people (some more fully thought-out than others).

One thing I've noticed, however, is that few of these bloggers spend time considering their own privileges: how they feel financially secure enough to take off for a year of WWOOFing and wandering; how their whiteness and heterosexuality means they encounter little harassment on the streets of the towns they pass through; how the exchange rate and their dollars or euros or pounds means they are incredibly rich in comparison to the people they are living with; how they don't have to negotiate being trans or being physically disabled or chronically ill when thinking about accommodation or work or travel. Sure, these things are sometimes mentioned in passing (and some financial aspects in more detail), but it seems that most political, ethical and philosophical thought is reserved for discussions of sustainability, environmental impact, green living.

In some respects this is completely understandable, but at the same time it makes it difficult for me to feel like I can be part of this imagined community - in some respects I am invisible, things that are of everyday practical importance to me are irrelevant, my kind of activism and ethics seems out of place. It reminds me a bit of discussions I've read about racism and classism in vegan/sustainable living communities. I start thinking, is it important for me to ask people to interrogate their own beliefs when they argue that we shouldn't need social networking sites, we should talk to our neighbours, to real people? Apart from enjoying the irony of blogging such thoughts, I feel like saying this devalues the immense importance of online connections to those of us who are marginalised by heteronormative, cisnormative, white privileging, ableist, capitalist, nationalist society. At the most basic, it is hard to talk to your neighbours when you are not sure if they will physically assault you because of who you are. Online networking allows us to find other people like us with less physical danger (if, of course, our domestic spaces are not ones of violence, and if we have access to a computer and the internet).

And I think, do the people who say living off grid is their ultimate goal understand how privileged they are to not need specialist foods, medicines, equipment to live their lives? I will probably never be able to live a life that is free from entanglement with international pharmaceutical industry (see Michelle O'Brien's essay "tracing this body: transsexuality, pharmaceuticals & capitalism" for more on that).

Do the people who want to live with mum and dad and two young kids on a totally isolated farm spare a thought for how they are going to provide freedom for their kids when they get older? I'm sure that these thoughts are there - the bloggers I read are not as irresponsible as all that. And of course, there are pros and cons to all lifestyle choices. But as a person who lived in an isolated house for the first 18 years of my life, relying on my parents to drive me if I wanted to go anywhere or see anyone . . . it can be alienating, suffocating. As a queer teenager, the country offered me very little in the way of support - and this is despite my parents being accepting, despite having queer family friends, despite knowing a couple of other queer kids, despite knowing that it was fundamentally OK to be queer. In some ways I am glad I didn't know/feel/identify as trans when I was a teenager, because I don't know how I would have dealt with that. [N.B. I would ask a different set of questions of parents who plan to live in towns and cities - there is no decision that's 'right' for everyone.]

But! I have gone off track. What I wanted to say is that this style of thinking is very seductive. The images of self-sufficiency and good honest work carry immense nostalgia - for me, some of this is bound up with my parents' own project of self-sufficiency, their (hippie) ethics, my dad's nostalgia for his grandfather's farm in New Zealand . . . it stretches way back. The possibility of living a low-impact life in the countryside gives off powerful feel-good vibes. The idea of being part of this back-to-basics, respect-the-environment community has its appeal. Perhaps my dreaming is in preparation for doing something similar one day.

But it's not as simple as following your dreams. In as much as we are following our dreams in moving to the UK (etc.), I want to be a bit more reflective regarding the political meanings, circumstances and implications of our decisions.


  1. There is a lot I identify with in this post. My parents are ten years too old to have been hippies, by the Summer of Love their small farm was well under way. It was their escape but our confinement. TV is the thing I always think of, they considered they were doing their kids a service by not having a telly, it took them a long time to realise that it just made us outsiders in the playground.

    So yes, at times I wonder when I encounter the New Greens too. Whether their credentials would wear thin on pumping out an anaerobic sewage digester in the November rain.

    It's left me with a bizarre streak of eco-guilt. Growing up in isolation made me a petrol-head, when I was younger my car was my most important possession. I must be the only petrol head for whom twisting the throttle comes with guilt alongside the thrill of acceleration.

  2. Yeah, we didn't have a TV, either - made it extremely hard to find things in common with other kids, and after a while I stopped trying that much because I knew that I was always going to be an outsider. I don't think it was a totally bad thing, because I read a lot of books. I have also always found it easy to see how mass media provides the oil for a lot of social situations to run smoothly, easy to analyse what is happening on a screen, easy to pick apart the things that lots of people take for granted - handy skills if you're a media/cinema/cultural studies student! But still, it was difficult to try to make friends with other kids when they were speaking a language I didn't know (literally - I didn't know what a care bare was, or a transformer, or "the footy")!

  3. p.s. as to needing a car, yes! sometimes i need to remind myself how necessary it is when you're not living in the inner city!

  4. Substitute Starsky and Hutch and I know the feeling. Yes, it made me a voracious reader too. Which has been rather handy in giving me a basis for some of what I've done for a living.

  5. Slightly off-topic, but I'd love to catch up with you when we are in the UK... and I wonder if you'd like a (beginner's, unpaid) hand in the orchard at some point? I'm always fascinated by your posts!

  6. You're on! And you'd be very welcome. Email in profile.

  7. <3
    (Inspired by your card to read this blog for the firs time in aaaages.)