Saturday, July 16, 2016

Travel & the Tiny House

Tiny house in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Photo by Kimberlee. The copyright holder of this work allows anyone to use it for any purpose including unrestricted redistribution, commercial use, and modification.
I often fantasize about the future. I'm a dreamer ("I hope someday you'll join us..."). Fantasy lets a usually quiet, creative, and intuitive part of the mind out of its coop so it can wander in the yard to seek nourishment. (Someday soon I will have to explain my unscientific, untested, and unschooled theory of mind.)

My future fantasies revolve around two basic ideas that complement each other nicely: I want to travel around the world in a long chain of slow sojourns, and I want a tiny house. Although I'm a minimalist when it comes to possessions, I still have more than I can carry on a trip, and my ideal is to get on a plane wearing a sport coat and tie and carrying only what fits in my pockets: my boarding pass, passport, phone, a couple of batteries, charger, and a toothbrush. Though I'm a writer, I scarcely ever write with pen and paper anymore—lack of practice and ageing have reduced my handwriting to an illegible scrawl.

I think my modest pension would be enough to support me comfortably in much of the world—assuming I can find a place that isn't too volatile. I wouldn't mind teaching English as a Foreign Language in China or perhaps Taiwan. I'm not a Communist, but from a historical perspective I'd be fascinated to see the results of the Chinese Revolution plus sixty-seven years of history (including the dreaded Cultural Revolution). There are drawbacks in China though—you certainly can't talk about sex, politics, or religion, and large chunks of the Internet are cut off, so it would limit what I do. I'm not sure I could still talk to you.

On the other hand, in Taiwan I'd still have the benefit of Chinese culture, language, and history, and I'd have all the Internet. Conversation there is limited only by common sense and propriety, not by someone's dream of a utopia-turned-totalitarian seven decades later. I would also be able to manage my money and credit cards from Taiwan, but I'm not so sure about China. Managing my credit is important because ultimately that's how I will finance the tiny house and the land where it will stand.

Wandering around India and doing nothing but writing, seeing, meeting people, and eating would be great. Life in India is so cheap that I could probably live there on half my Social Security alone. India is relatively convenient for Europeans, but it is on the opposite side of the world from the US—ten-and-a-half hours ahead of where I'm sitting. It's a huge country that offers a variety of terrains from the foothills of the Himlayas in the north to desert and fertile farmlands. Though India and Pakistan haven't decided to which country it belongs, Kashmir is inviting according to Led Zeppelin. When I was in New Delhi last time, I was stuck in a Kafkaesque bureaucratic comedy, so I wasn't able to take the day trip down to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, and I must make up for that. In Tamil Nadu, the cool and misty Palani Hills watch over the vast broiling planes across which you can see for miles. There are miles of coastline along the Arabian Sea on the west coast and along the Indian Ocean on the east. If you would like a break from a British former colony, Goa on the Arabian Sea was a Portuguese colony, and Pondicherry (where the movie Life of Pi starts out) on the east coast has a delightful French heritage. There are many affordable French restaurants in Pondy. At a rooftop restaurant, I fed a party of three adults and two children a delightful meal that included all this:

1 Groover Bottle (wine)
1 Mineral water
A receipt from a French dinner at a rooftop restaurant in Pondicherry
1 Chicken Soup
2 Fish Soup
1 Fish Paté
1 Salad Provençale
1 Greek Salad
1 Steak Béarnaise
1 Coq au Vin
1 Omelette (with fries?)
2 Ice Cream
2 Crème Caramel
2 Coffees
1 Herbal tea with honey

The exchange rate has improved in favor of the US dollar, but this meal was quite affordable when we ate it on the 17th of September 2004—if memory serves, it was about US$37. Now the 1,842 Rupees (including the service charge) would convert to US$27.45. So you can see that, even with the occasional splurge, one could live quite well and happily on the pittance Social Security alone will bring me. India of course presents its peculiar set of circumstances—it's not for everyone, but I was thrilled by it. My choice of words may not be the best, but the best analogy I have yet found was that it was like a 24/7 acid trip.

Yet since I have these things that I cannot bear to part with, my plans include a tiny house. I don't need much space, and the minimalism in this fad for tiny houses charms me. For all practical purposes, I live in a tiny house now, because my room has roughly eighty square feet, and a tiny house spans between 400 and 1200 square feet.

There is one other possibility though. Computer equipment, I learned long ago, has a short life: rare is the computer that, if it is functioning at two years of age, isn't hopelessly outdated and incapable of running the latest operating system (this is particularly true of Microsoft, who apparently build accelerated obsolescence into their systems). So computer equipment is not worth storing. I have few nice clothes worth keeping, so it all comes down to thesis, diplomas, notebooks, and several books. In 2002 when I visited the US between trips to South America and Asia, I sold most of my 3000-book library. And as expensive as it might be to buy electronic editions of the books I want to keep, that expense might actually be less than the expense of storing these books even in a tiny house that I would build now. I also have many writer's notebooks that compose the next phase of my scanning project. Once scanned, I can destroy their physical counterparts yet mine their images in the Cloud for material about which to write from almost anywhere in the world.

I am, to tell the whole truth, revising my thoughts on the tiny house as I write this. So is it cheaper to digitize (by scanning and by buying ebooks) the remaining printed material in my life? Or is it better to build the tiny house now and store it there? Sooner or later I'm going to tire of travel or else just get to be too old to do so, but I could build the tiny house then. I anticipate as much as two decades ahead without stopping, so when I am ready to stop, who's to say where I want to stop. It seems presumptuous to build a house now, to say, this is where I will take breaks, this is where I will store (still more weighty shit), and this is where I will come when I don't want to travel anymore. I can't imagine stopping in Texas, anyway—I've spent too much time involuntarily buried here as it is. I used to jokingly say that it's too bad I couldn't buy Ted Kaczynski's shack in outback Montana, but I think the FBI converted the building to a modular unit that was quickly assembled in a court room. Besides, I may be so gaga by then that the only place for me might be staffed by a hundred underpaid LVNs.

In keeping with the idea of living in the country, on Amazon today (and possibly only today, so act now) an Urban Homesteading Box Set is free. Most likely the four-volume set on raising chickens, beekeeping, mini-farming, and a more self-sufficient lifestyle is a teaser to get me to buy more volumes on how to go about living simply and cost effectively, but I have no problem with that. If the books are useful, I won't mind paying for additional volumes in the future.

So now you too have spent a few minutes with me in the global travel & tiny house fantasy. I know we're trained by efficiency experts and other authoritarians from the occupying culture that daydreaming and fantasies are the mental toys of children that they should be put away, but I most disrespectfully disagree. I dislike someone telling me how to think even more than someone telling me what not to read. It's hard for me to imagine someone fully respecting themselves if they don't indulge periodically in some sort of fantastic revelry or daydream. Most importantly, that creative and imaginitive half is another being just like the thing we call "I" inside our heads. It's as important to take care of it as it is to take care of myself. Kept penned up, it will die.

Besides, didn't we have fun?