Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

December 1, 2003 Report to the Trumans on problems of becoming a nomad

I sent this to the Truman Scholars listserv today it seems to do a perfect job of summing up where I am so far:

-----Original Message-----
From: Joy Hecht [mailto:jhecht@alum.mit.edu]
Sent: Monday, December 01, 2003 10:01 PM
To: TrumanScholarsAssociation@yahoogroups.com
Subject: RE: [TrumanScholarsAssociation] Travel guidance for Joy

Hi Wendy,

I'm not traveling around the country yet - that won't actually start until February or March, after five weeks consulting in southern Africa and then finishing the edits on my book, which I should have done ages ago.

At the moment I'm trying to wrap up my job, while also sorting through my stuff, selling my furniture, giving away scads of things, and dealing with the complex logistics of trying to organize life without a fixed address for an indefinite period. This country does not exactly make it easy to be a nomad! One has to pretend to live somewhere, and tell some gentle untruths to the DMV, the insurance agents, the voter registration folks, the tax collectors, and many other institutions, at least if one wants to drive a vehicle, vote, and stay legal. Hmm, how can you have to lie to stay legal? Something is wrong there! Some parts of the society make it possible to dispense with a residence - my cellphone bills and internet bills will come electronically, and I should be able to stay in touch with my consulting clients via email. I believe I can get my Technology Reviews electronically, too. But I doubt that The New Yorker offers the same option, nor any of the do-gooder organizations I'm a member of.

Getting rid of my possessions is quite an experience too. I would love to be able to live with just what fits in my van, but that is definitely beyond me. I'm trying to keep to a minimum what gets stored, but it's very hard - especially since I do own a house and the friends who rent it are totally accommodating about letting me fill up the basement with cartons - and possibly the garage with my Prius, which I'm thinking of not selling. To my surprise, I have sold much of my furniture already, and I'm trying to get friends and colleagues to feel that it isn't cheap on their part to simply take unwanted books, dishes, silverware, pottery, hardware, spices, food, appliances, and dozens of other things.

This is part of trying to live more sustainably. We all have so many material possessions, and we don't need most of them. But what's worse, we all think of buying a new thing when we feel a need or desire for it, instead of seeing if we can reduce our material burden on the earth by using something someone else doesn't want any more. I'm trying to do my bit to reverse that, by giving things away instead of throwing them away, especially materials that will never recycle and will simply sit in a landfill forever. But of course who thinks of taking someone else's plastic tub to sort silverware, or dish drain, or tupperware, or other uninteresting items? The pretty pottery bowls are easy to give away - after all, Christmas is coming up - and I've already given some toys to groups collecting them for children. Being at a university, a lot of people at least say they are interested in the books, and if they don't take them perhaps the library will. But the mundane things are just that - mundane - and no one wants them. Perhaps they will end up at the Salvation Army, but will anyone even want them there? I don't know.

So I guess that's the news on the 21st century nomad front - not quite a travel experience yet, but I'm finding it quite as interesting as exploring the country!


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