Hello friends! I'm thrilled to bring you the first post of my new blog series, Living on the Fringes. I've reached out to many people over the past couple of months to collect a variety of stories. The first is an interview with "Sun" about her experiences living as a nomad. Enjoy!
V: Tell me about your experiences living on the fringes and what motivated you to live that way.
S: I was motivated to live this way out of conscious rejection of capitalism, a way of death that oppresses all forms of life, and in preparation for a future in which modern luxuries like electricity may no longer be available. As one of my friends who squatted houses often said of people who cling to modern life, "What are they gonna do when the lights go out?"
V: What were the positive aspects of living this way, if any?
S: A large sense of freedom. Freedom to move where you want, be where you want, do what you want, and relate to others in a compassionate, sincere, intimate and spiritual way. When I first started living with homeless people, I was actually in San Francisco interviewing as a finalist for a college scholarship. During the day, I was expected to wear ironed plain colored pantsuits and relate to people in a professional, intellectual way. In my free time, I could wear anything, including a rainbow hand painted jacket, and related to people in a deep way, so deep at times that my own sense of self or ego completely dissolved. My interviewers gave me cash and fancy catered food, while my homeless friends gave me precious stones, food, took me to musical events, and gave me love through group meditation and genuine emotional expression. My interviewers gave me name tags, my homeless friends created their own unique names for one another.
V: What did you do to prepare yourself for living this way?
S: I did not do anything to prepare and this was beautiful in some ways. However, keeping few material possessions is very important because it helps you become detached, and being generous with what you have is essential. A few good things to have are a tent, blanket or bed roll, warm jacket, warm hat, good hiking boots, and possibly a knife, though some people I met said it was better not to have weapons in case the police tried to charge you or falsely accuse you. Portable food is also key, like dried fruit, jerky, protein bars, and a water container, like a glass one. A portable stove, cookware, and a water filter like a charcoal filter can also be useful. Waterproof or near waterproof clothing can also be good. And don't keep very much clothing. Remember you should be able to carry everything with you. Spiritual items like stones, singing bowls, Tarot cards, drums and musical instruments may also be useful. However, groundscores and kick downs as they are called are inevitable. So many things come to travelers this way, from blankets to tents to Persian rugs to Afghani jewelry to clothes to guitars to vans to portable stoves to cookware, etc. Letting go of possessions is very important to receiving new ones.
V: Any wisdom, advice or suggestions for others who might want to live in on the fringes or in alternative dwellings?
S: Keep in mind climate and culture when opting for an alternative way. California, specifically the bay area and northern California, is probably the best place in the US to be homeless. Las Vegas is probably one of the worst places.
When hitch hiking, trust your instincts and do not hesitate to refuse rides. Keep any belongings right next to you, never in the trunk. Do not fall asleep when hitch hiking, or in front of anyone you don't know or reasonably trust. I have definitely woken up to people attempting to rape me in my sleep. Not a pleasant thing to wake up to.
If squatting a building, be prepared with a back up place to sleep in case something happens like a police raid.
Do NOT share bedding with people you just met. The biggest downside to street life is the fact that some street kids do have lice and/or scabies, which are both communicable and hellish. I know street kids who cover their hair with a cap at all times because they have learned the hard way. Wearing a cap while sleeping is also a great way to keep warm. And even people with short hair can get lice. This is also why some drivers will refuse hitchhikers, out of fear of infestation.
V: Did you document your experiences or take a lot of photos?
S: Except for these two, I actually don't have any photos, and that is very intentional. I had a camera before I began traveling, and I found that it only distracted me and caused me to evaluate things too much from a third person perspective instead of becoming one with them and letting things unfold organically. I am also very turned off by the numerous attempts to document homeless experiences, and find it in many cases to be fake or objectifying-- as if homeless people were already not objectified enough! Our experience should be special, unique and raw, and there is something very special about something never recorded on film. I also feel that people act differently when they know they are being observed. I have also learned that documenting something can lead to police prosecution, something people living outside of conventional society must always avoid for their survival. America is incredibly ignorant and not understanding of alternative choices, and clings to the notion of private property and wage slavery, and locks up more of its own people than any country on earth, even more people than Stalin imprisoned. I am also reminded of the documentary about squatters in the NYC subway tunnels "Dark Days" and the fact that the residents were soon forced out and put in shelters and housing projects, which are very restrictive, especially after the freedom of expression they were used to.
Thank you Sun for helping me launch this series! We'll be back next week with another interview/story.
If you'd like to write a guest blog post or being interviewed, please fill out the contact form on this site. and I'll get back to you shortly.