Against this chaotic backdrop of great and difficult change, I lived and I thrived. Looking back, I feel that I managed to experience and accomplish a tremendous amount of which I am very proud, and for which I am even more grateful. Before I launch into that list, I want to take a moment to remind myself just how fortunate I am — by virtue of my class, my sex and gender, my skin color, my health — to have the freedom and the means to be able to craft my life as I see fit. I try not to take this for granted, and this awareness keeps me honest and engaged.
So, finally, what the heck have I been doing for the past 10 years? On the most broad and basic level, I have been striving for health and happiness. I consider these two criteria my guideposts and have used them to make all of the big decisions in my life, and in the past decade. For me, my living situation plays a huge role in both my health and happiness, so perhaps that is a good place to start. I basically split the decade between two states, Vermont and California, living in 8 different domiciles with 9 different housemates. Notably, at the tender age of 31, I moved into my own apartment for the first time. I don’t necessarily view myself as much of an “adult,” but moving into my own cottage in Oakland felt pretty damn grown up, and I still have the good fortune to live alone in my own glorious space.
Despite my domestic tendencies, the Aughts were a decade of global travel for me. I visited 9 other countries: Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, England, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Japan, in that order. Often my motivation for travel was to visit the sites of ancient cultures, something I find quite stimulating, and I managed to see quite a few: Macchu Pichu and Sacsayhuaman in Peru, Angkor in Cambodia, Teotihuacan, Monte Alban, Palenque, Chilula and Tenochtitlan in Mexico, Stonehenge & Avebury Henge in England (not to mention Westminster Abbey, which feels like an ancient culture to me) and many sites in Japan including the ancient Japanese capital of Nara and the Ryokan-ji zen garden in Kyoto. It wasn’t all fun and games, though. I did manage to get all of my stuff stolen in Oaxaca, Mexico. Aiy.
While I was home, I certainly kept myself busy. Primary among my hobbies was music. I played dozens of gigs and 4 different instruments (voice, percussion, synthesizer/electronics and guitar) in 5 different bands (The Helicopter Consortium, Ekis, Deep Soda, Leon Tubbs and The Real Numbers), not to mention all the one-offs and sit-ins with other bands. Most gratifying was that I began writing music in earnest late in the decade, as well as studying guitar and music theory, both of which had been a long time in the making. I also came to realize, after a nearly 5 year hiatus from performing, that I dearly missed creating music with others and sharing that music on the stage. I’ve come to accept that creating music on some level will always be a part of my life, irregardless of circumstances or outcomes. Music is the best.
Other hobbies? Sure, I had ’em. I made sauerkraut, which fulfilled a long-time dream of mine. At the very start of the decade, I built myself a computer from a hand-selected set of components. I converted a diesel mercedes to run on vegetable oil and proceeded to drive it 5000 miles across the country, 3500 of which were on scavenged oil. Of course, shortly after I moved to San Francisco I sold my dear Philly and have been living without a car for the 4 years since. To compensate, I built a fixed gear bicycle from an abandoned frame I found on the street one night in Oakland. Eventually, though, I bought a bike with some gears and began my initial forays into bike touring. And there was a bunch of other stuff, too: I started this here humble blog, I read dozens of books and discovered a deep love for graphic novels, etc., etc.
The Aughts weren’t all fun and games, though. I did have to earn a living along the way. Thankfully I was able to do so through employment that was, on the whole, fulfilling, enjoyable and meaningful. I’ve even stumbled onto a career of sorts. No small feat for someone never inclined towards the career track. I started the decade farming during the day and tending bar at a music venue at night. Along the way, I taught myself web development, graphic design, and basic database design, and ran my own freelance design business for 3 years. After packing it all up and moving out west, somehow I stumbled into the public sector. At StopWaste.Org I discovered the fascinating field of waste management which proved a practical application of my ecology degree and provided the opportunity to teach composting and gardening classes, among many other things. And now, I’m finishing the decade doing web marketing for San Francisco Department of the Environment. To be honest, I couldn’t be happier with where I am at professionally. If I gotta work, this is a great gig doing great work with good people.
Ah, people. None of this has happened in a social vacuum. Family and friends have been with me through the ups and downs of a decade. I welcomed a nephew and a niece and another niece into the world. With great sadness, I said goodbye to my last grandparent, Alice Dufford. I’ve watched my sister grow into a wonderful mother with her incredible husband, and went to AA meetings with my brother as he finally achieved sobriety, 5 years and counting, with the help of his own amazing partner. All in all, there were some seriously rocky times for my nuclear family, but somehow or another, we’ve muddled through it all with some deep breaths and gritty love. Mom and Dad, I haven’t said it enough. Thank you and I love you.
Beyond family, I’m truly blessed to have a very strong circle of friends whom I’ve known, in some cases, since the second grade and through high school, college and into adulthood. Leaving Vermont, I left that inner circle, although those people are still a part of my life. I’ve continued to meet many amazing people whom I’ve come to love and cherish, although I can’t help but feel that my social circle is shrinking. Perhaps it is me getting older, or perhaps it is a sign of the times, I can’t quite tell. However, this list would not be complete without also mentioning the fact that I have spent nearly this entire decade without a partner. It’s not for not trying — I have dated dozens of women, and experienced heartache many times over. I’ve kept myself open to possibility, though, and await with open arms what companionship a new decade will bring.
Finally, as this exercise winds down, I circle back to how I began, with health and happiness. The Aughts have been for me a time of experimentation, with diet, with exercise, with altered states. I attended my first 10 day silent meditation retreat at a Vipasanna center in Massachusetts. With a few lapses, I’ve been doing yoga on a nearly weekly basis for the past 10 years, and half of that time I’ve also been lifting weights with some regularity. I also began an almost yearly tradition of the Master Cleanse which I’ve done 4 or 5 times now. Of course, I’ve also had my fair share of sugar and caffeine and greasy, meaty binges, as well as stretches of malaise when I haven’t done much exercise at all, and periods when I was so pent up that meditation felt like a foreign country. You know what? I’m okay with that. I’m trying to trend towards good health and a calm mind, and that works for me.
And that might actually be the right note with which to wrap this whole exercise. There have been times in my life when I have gotten pretty down for not living up to my potential. In the end, I think I am a pretty energized person with many hopes and dreams and plans for my life, and for Life at large. However, it is always a constant struggle to recognize that I am just one person, and I have but one life, a century at the most, in which to live it. While I will continue to push myself to create, express, share, change and bring change, I will also strive for that necessary counterbalance, the ability to simply be, to observe, to feel, and to breath.
I don’t know what the next decade will bring, either for myself or for humanity. I have a dark intuition that it will be another challenging decade, perhaps even more so than the last, one that may force us all to confront a harsh reality and ask what we value most in our lives and in our society. However, with great change comes great opportunity. For my part, by being reflective and aware, I hope I am that more prepared for what lies ahead. In the end, that is really all I can do. And I’m okay with that.
So thanks, Aughts. And here’s to a new, more just and more peaceful decade. May all beings everywhere be happy and free.