“Life is a very thin wire between survival and disaster, and not many people can keep their balance on it.” – Hunter S. Thompson

[R.I.P. H.S.T.]

I am a Gemini.  I don’t know how much you, the reader, appreciate astrology, but I think it’s interesting to investigate the notion that the day on which someone was born might have an impact on their personality and their life in general.  That’s about as far as it goes for me.  Interested, but not highly invested.  As far as religion goes, I am a believer in a higher power.  I call it God, but you can call it whatever you want.  Either way, I have a hard time believing that there isn’t something bigger than us working out things that we could never fully wrap our heads around.  One of the aspects of faith that I’ve had more difficulty with is the existence of evil and specifically people who unleash truly heinous acts on the world.  Personally, I need to believe that the negativity we so often see in the newspaper(.com) creates opportunities for positivity to grow and spread.  It has to.

I’ve been going to Mass with my beautiful, amazingly witty and brilliant wife (who was raised Catholic) and the readings lately have, of course, corresponded to the Lenten season.  This past Sunday’s reading was about Noah and the Ark and I was interested to hear the priest discuss the part of the story where God promises Noah that he will never again flood the earth and destroy everything.  He, God, said that the destruction had allowed for new life to come through.  I liked that a lot and I feel like it sums up my thoughts on this particular part of this post.  Destruction begets Creation.  Negativity creates a void that Positivity can (and hopefully will) fill.  It’s a beautiful thought.

[One of my favorite parts of the Sandman series of graphic novels is when Dream’s brother Destruction gives up his helm and instead tries his hand at Creation.  It’s a remarkable piece as a whole and I encourage you to explore it at your leisure.]

When I say I’m a Gemini, I mean that I fit that Gemini archetype in a lot of ways. On the good side, I am dual-natured (not two-faced), adaptable, eloquent and youthful.  On the bad side, I do struggle with my ego, I can be inconsistent, and a few other things I’m not too comfortable discussing here..  I am a Gemini in so many ways that it’s hard to not wonder what effect Mercury’s retrograde might have had on the big life plans I have in the works.

The most significant realizations that I have drawn out of my 30 years of being a Gemini have had to do with cosmic duality and balance.  We are constantly exposed to opposing forces such as night/day, light/dark, good/evil, life/death, heaven/hell, happy/sad.  Our culture is saturated with ideological conflicts between whites/blacks, democrats/republicans, anti-this/pro-that, etc. but the trouble is that it boils down too many of the nuances that make being a human being special.

As a child, I had a lot of trouble with anxiety (I still do, but I used to, too).  Looking back, I can identify the on-going conflicts and ever-changing relationships between my mother and her brother and sisters and their mother.  Once, a bout between my grandmother and an aunt that my mother was not on speaking terms with sent that aunt crying into my mother’s arms and I can specifically remember saying to myself “I thought Aunt So-and-So was the bad guy.”  I felt like there needed to be that distinction between the people I could trust and those I could not.  I had oversimplified those relationships and oversimplifying human interactions is rarely a good thing.

On the flip side of the coin (pun intended, you’ll see), I am also reminded of the dangers of under-simplification that were present in the graphic novel Batman: Arkham Asylum written by Grant Morrison [who did some work on the Sandman series] and illustrated by Dave McKean (two of my favorites).  In the story, Two Face (one source has his birthday on June 12th, making him a Gemini) is a patient at Arkham and the therapists there are weaning him off of his notorious coin.  Instead of using the coin and choosing between two options, they transition him to a die (giving him six options to choose from), then I think a deck of cards (52 options).  I’m a little hazy on the details, but he ultimately relies on the I Ching to make his decisions, which allows for a completely unreasonable amount of choices for something as simple as whether or not to go to the restroom.  Spoiler alert: he winds up peeing on himself.  But this is progress! the therapists say and Batman is again forced to face another duality: “sanity” vs. “insanity.”

Two Face’s coin and the I Ching are two ends of a spectrum, as are many of the dichotomies we see in our culture. I sometimes wonder if we are inherently driven to boil down grand and complex thoughts and ideas into two simple options.  It certainly makes it simpler, but it doesn’t always make it easier.  Picking sides didn’t help me to understand my family dynamic, but would understanding more about this fairly irrational have made surviving it any easier?  That, I do not know.

All of this talk about duality and balance reminds me of what might be a metaphor from one of the Ancient Greek philosophers.  Or it might just be a lyrics in a Wu Tang song.  Either way, it has always stuck with me.  The idea is that moderation is an existence between two pillars of ivory.  You sit between them, but you never touch them.  You don’t not drink, but you don’t get drunk.  You don’t eat too much or too little. You’re balanced.

Duality is strange, but, like most strange things, it’s interesting.  Think about it.  And when you fall off of that thin wire, let disaster be and aim for survival.

– Glass

P.S. I have another interesting thought on balance that I would like to share.  I didn’t include it in the body of the post because it deals with a 3 not a 2.  I call it the Job Hunt Triangle.  I have looked for a lot of jobs in my life and these past few hunts have been exceedingly tedious because I am a father and a husband and we have a lot more stuff than we realize.  So I’ve noticed that the three main factors that affect which jobs I look for are: duties, salary, and geography.  For instance, my wife and daughter and I would love to live in the Northwest and I would love to have a job where I get to help people and not have a tyrant of a direct supervisor and I would love to make a hole bunch of money.  But, the odds of me finding a job that fit all three ideals is not incredibly likely.  So I have to compromise.  I can pick an alternative location, which there aren’t many of at this point, or I could take a job that doesn’t have the tangible, positive outcomes that I’d like to see, or I could make less money.  This explains why I’m pretty unhappy at my current job.  We aren’t in a location we’d like to be in, being a teacher isn’t what I thought it was going to be, and we don’t have a whole lot of money to work with.  If I was making more money or if we lived somewhere else, it wouldn’t be so bad, but we don’t.  And it’s hard.  Anyway.  More on that later.  Godspeed, – D. Glass

“The only true knowledge is in knowing you know nothing” – Socrates

[Socrates is a total trip.  I was first introduced to the Ancients in high school and continued to learn from and be amazed by them through my undergraduate Political Science work.  Their ideas are so grand in the sense that they encompassed such a vast expanse of life and thought.  More on that later, perhaps.]

I like to borrow knowledge from other people.  I think that’s where part of the knowledge’s power come from: transferability.  Or maybe communicability.  Some of the most powerful viruses are the ones that be transmitted from one host to the next with relative ease.  That’s not to say that knowledge is a disease, but more of a helpful bacteria like gut flora or the stuff in kefir.  Anyway, knowledge is great and I love to read.  I’ve put together a list of books that are really awesome non-fiction resources for self-reliance (see previous post) and I would fully recommend them to anyone who’s interested in being in control of more aspects of their life.  I have provided links to author’s blog when applicable.  I have also provided an opportunity to support your local bookstore and explore your local library by not including links to big-name retailers.  Here are the books in no particular order:

The Scavengers’ Manifesto

scavenge

My wife got this and the next book as a present for me on a whim and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both.  There were a couple of harsh reviews on Amazon about this one, but what I think is great is that it helps you to change your mindset on the economic cycle and our nation’s obsession with new stuff that is quickly discarded (but not very biodegradeable).  I think it’s worth the read, whether you scavenge it or not.  The writers also have a wordpress blog at scavenger.wordpress.com that it a great expansion on the book’s information.

Green Barbarians: Lively Bravely on Your Home Planet

green barbs

This one is a mind-blowing dive into the corrupt and misleading world of.. everything really.  The book is well-organized into sections like the “The Barbarian Body” and “At the Barbarian’s Table” which discuss the dangers of and alternatives to conventional deodorants and soaps to the disturbingly damaging effects of soy on the human body, “Barbarian Pets” and “Little Barbarians” which, amongst other things, discuss the dangers that our children and pets are being exposed to just so corporate fat cats can continue to wear their human leather and drink dinosaur blood or something (this last part is from my mind, not the book).  Definitely an informative and thought-provoking read.

Possum Living

possum living

One of the most ground-shaking non-fiction books I’ve read, Possum Living, is a somewhat-biographical passing of homestead knowhow and general information.  Freed is the name the author adopted after she and her father essentially went of the grid.  They lived relatively comfortably on just short of $1500 a year in the 1970s by raising chickens and rabbits, fishing, burning wood for heat, gardening and preserving.  One of the standout parts for me included cures for common ailments, most of which involve homemade spirits and a run.

Backyard Lumberjack

backyard

Backyard Lumberjack is awesome because it not only tells you how to cut down a tree, but how to identify what kind of tree it is, what it’s best used for, and what kind of axe you need to fell it.  There are also a lot of great tips on buying chainsaws and gear.  It’s good for a look and father-and-son team Frank and Stephen Philbrick did a great job organizing and writing it.  I even flip through it sometimes without purpose because the photos are fantastic.

Building With Secondhand Stuff

2ndhand

If you’re interested in the idea of re-claiming, re-vamping, re-purposing, and re-using salvaged materials, then, as the name clearly suggests, this book is a great resource.  Like Backyard Lumberjack, this book does a wonderful job of explaining the equipment that you need to get started safely.  It also helps you to become more familiar with the best materials to re-use and some good leads on how to find them.  Another similarity to Backyard Lumberjack that I enjoy is the stellar photography.

Little House in the Suburbs

littlehouse

This is kind of where it all started for me.  I saw this book at the library and decided to give it a whirl.  Turns out, this fascinating book contains a wealth of knowledge on all manner of topics like raising chickens, goats, and bees; gardening and composting; and making household and personal cleaning items and soaps.  It helped to me visualize the kind of long-term and perpetual projects that I would like to have once we’ve found somewhere to put down roots as a family.

I also want to mention:

The Urban Homestead

urbanhomestead

I am in the processing of reading the first edition of this book and I’m enjoying it so far.  I’ll come back when I’m done and elaborate if necessary.

I hope you get something out of one or more of these books.  Remember, knowledge is power and, as Self-Reliants, it is our responsible to be stewards and users of that knowledge.

-D. Glass

“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Self-Reliance

Self.

Reliance.

I wanted to open this post with a really cool (read with two thumbs up, of course) definition of terms but the first source I referred to defined self-reliance as “reliance on oneself.”

Wait, what?

I was always taught not to use a word in its definition, so this rubbed me the wrong way.  I had a picture in my mind of the word broken down phonetically like you see on motivational posters and whatnot, but this first definition failed to meet my expectations.  I then asked Google to “define self-reliance” (which made me laugh because that seems like a really profound and human thing for a search engine to do) and I was given almost the exact same definition:

  1. reliance on one’s own powers and resources rather than those of others.

There it is again.  A definition lacking in overall panache that would, quite frankly, look awful on a poster.

Then the irony hit me.  I was relying too much on the powers and resources of others to define a term for me which I clearly think that I already know how to define!  So I’m going to define it.  And I’m going to make it poster-worthy.

To me, self-reliance goes much deeper than just doing something yourself.  I think that there are copious amounts of power, trust, and love that accompany true acts of self-reliance, whether it be on the level of the “individual self” or the “family self.”  I’ve taken responsibility for a lot of the kind of smaller tasks in my life over the past ten years or so.  I tend to cut my own hair which I’ve gotten much better at over time. I drive a 1997 Chevrolet which I always try to troubleshoot and fix first before I take it in.  For the most part, the tasks that I won’t try to fix first are on the short list and usually required heavy machinery and a license to use it.

I think that this has been helpful to me on a level beyond the completion of the itself or the financial savings (which are large, especially when it’s something to do with the truck).  Oil changes are a really great example.  Overall, I save maybe a few bucks when I change my own oil and I don’t save very much time because I like to really let it drain.  But changed the oil on my (our) vehicle with my tools and my hands.  It’s really empowering.  It increases my trust in myself.  It increases my wife’s trust in the fact that I can effectively handle situations as they come up.  It shows my family that I love them enough to do the work myself and make sure that it’s done 100% completely and correctly the first time.  Again, that’s a huge return on a $20-25 and an hour tops.

That’s one of the most amazing parts of “family self” self-reliance.

Let’s take a quick look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a widely accepted explanation of human psychological development and the factors that drive our behaviors.

Maslow_hierarchy_of_needs (1)

Using my oil change example, I am fulfilling every one of those needs to some degree, except probably physiological.  My family are safe because I I did the work and can insure that it was done correctly.  It contributes to love and a sense of family.  I feel a sense of accomplishment and each time I do it, I grow and get better and feel more confident.  That’s some pretty powerful stuff.

I think the only problem I really have with the common notion of hardcore self-reliance is that there is very little that we can do entirely on our own, especially without being reliant on some external for maybe the most crucial tool for self-reliance: knowledge.

Say someone wants to go live in the woods.  He can go walk into the woods completely naked start from absolute scratch.  But how is he going to know how to make shelter and some sort of body covering without some form of prior knowledge.  Maybe he’s extremely crafty and he just happens to be able to figure out how to construct a substantial enough dwelling to survive (a) the climate that he doesn’t know about or (b) repel the wildlife that he also doesn’t know about.  And how is this person going to get food?  My whole point is that human existence thrives and perpetuates through interaction and the exchange of information with other human being.  You can save yourself a world of hurt by having someone else tell you that the X berries that grow in the Y part of the forest are poisonous.  Or that bears will come into your camp if you leave food out.  Or that you shouldn’t take the cap off your car’s radiator without letting the car cool down first.  Knowledge is what powers so much of self-reliance and so often it is gained from others.

I think that responsibility is one of the most amazing aspects of being self-reliant.  Not so much the responsibility you would find at a job, but the stewardship of something greater than yourself.  The shouldering of generations of sweat, blood, and tears and the channeling of that energy into your own individual or family’s self-preservation.  I think an interesting twist on the wisdom of Ben Parker (you know, Spiderman’s uncle?) would be that from great responsibility comes great power.  A power that you draw from within yourself and supplement with the knowledge of others.

That, to me, it the true essence of self-reliance.

So, back to my poster-worthy definition.  Let’s start with another familiar phrase: “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”  I reply: “It doesn’t matter what you make out of the lemons life hands you, as long as you make it your own.”  Make Thai basil lemonade or a homemade lemon wood polish.  Cure your scurvy or brighten your copper pots.  Plant the seeds, grow a tree and start handing out lemons yourself. Whatever you do, do it 100% and make it your own.  And be happy and proud of yourself for doing so.  It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

– D. Glass

P.S.- here’s the poster:

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They call me Mr. Glass..

My name is David Glass.  I am a husband, a father, a Texan, an American, a teacher, a student, a musician, an artist, a writer, a chef, and many other things.  But don’t let my name fool you; I am not as brittle, breakable, or unbendable as a pane of glass.  I will, however, try to be as translucent as possible.  I will be as fluid as glass in its molten form.  I will be as sharp as glass in a shattered state.  This House of Glass will be a home for things as varied as the list above and will hopefully be a place where others can come to learn or share or discuss or enjoy.

I welcome you, Dear Reader, and thank you for coming.