It started with a question….

……a question that I nearly forgot I had asked. I was standing in the kitchen fixing dinner with the radio on, listening to a discussion about the economy. This was fifteen years or so ago during the recession of the early 1990s. My daughters were upstairs doing their homework; my husband was napping. The commentators on the radio made the observation that the generation coming up–my daughters’ generation–was the first in American history that could not expect a higher standard of living than their parents. All the things that represented success in America–a house, two cars in the garage, a secure job–were receding out of reach. “But what if they redefine the standard of living?” I asked–I asked it out loud to the radio–“What if they measure the quality of their lives in some completely different way?”

That question lay dormant for ten years, incubating like a virus. Occasionally I took it out and thought about it. I looked around at my friends, at the people I read about in the newspaper, at the stress and anxiety and isolation, at the environmental degradation, the degree of trashiness and shoddiness and destructive impermanence that we accept as the inevitable by-product of the American Dream, and I wondered what a better dream would look like.

Now I know at least one version of the answer. Five years ago I—53 years old, Smith College-educated, mother of two grown daughters, freelance writer for high-end decorating magazines—stepped out of conventional middle class American life and into an alternate future. The kitchen where I first asked the question is now the kitchen of a six-person anarchist collective. We make our decisions by consensus. We go dumpster diving for food. We share housecleaning duties and cook for each other. And we engage the world head on, working for change in a culture that looks increasingly chaotic and headed for disaster. In the end I traded financial success for time, prestige for a rich web of relationships, and stress for a daily sense of fun. I reconnected with my two daughters. I gained a son. I came to my senses.

And I did it all without leaving the house.

8 responses to “It started with a question….

  1. you have quite the amazing story, liz. i look forward to hanging out and working with you more in the future..

  2. manju

    roar! you make me want to take my life by storm all over again!

  3. I hope you write a book about your life!

  4. Liz, I am glad to know there are people like you in this world. There is little more sensible or important than trying to discover what it means to live a quality life, and yet so few of us actually try. Please keep writing!

  5. Laurie

    Hi Liz, I love your story and your blog…yesss! I too am glad to know you’re out there, and I hope to emulate your shining example one of these days. And as a Barnard graduate, I just may have the credential (just kidding about the credential part).

  6. Liz, you touch an exposed nerve in me…there is so much wrong with the world, and you show how it is possible to make it better by starting with yourself. Thanks for your inspiring presence!

  7. kanhai

    This really made me think about how the future is portrayed as dismal and dystopian, and how, thanks to brave minds such yourself and a lot of the 20-30 somethings we see today, that image should be re-imagined.

    I personally have trouble doing so: imagining a world that sees nothing but infinite potential in its future. A world that isn’t bogged down by fears of nuclear war, environmental destruction, economic collapse, and whatever else is staring us in the face. As a 24 year old male, I have spent most of my ‘adult’ life worrying about international politics and global warming, terrorism and invisible threats… my education revolved around the fallen hopes and dreams of humanity, and all too often I, and the world in which I live, have forgotten that our own limitations are those set by ourselves in our own minds.

    That question you so innocently asked that day, that was the inspiration that creates the necessary leadership with which the world needs. I happened upon your blog by chance, but I never the less was inspired by your inspiring moment of realization.
    Nicholas, Ottawa.

  8. Pingback: Time to realise I am not powerless, time to make a difference in the world « brightsilentthought

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