It's kind of astonishing how often money comes to mind. If you don't have enough of it (which none of us do), we spend endless hours every day calculating what we need, can afford, should allow ourselves to indulge in, at what price to ourselves; if we have more than enough (which all of us might actually possess), we stil crave a little bit extra, a litte more pad in the pants. From the time we have our first pink piggy banks, we're saving, hording, dreaming of the future. That this whole monetary system is a man-made concoction of assests is something we usually overlook. (There, hovering placidly just above your bank, is a blue sky and some clouds that do not give a shit.)
Mark Sundeen's THE MAN WHO QUIT MONEY is a fascinating non-fiction examination of Daniel Suelo, a middle-aged American who gradually decided over time to give it all up. His passport, his bank account, his money -- the whole deal. This might make him sound like your everyday 'bum' (which, truth be told, a good many folks have decided is exactly the case). Yet, from his point of view, it was a calculated, soul-wrenching decision earned over a good many years, a process, a whittling down of philosphy until he found the right blade. His lifestyle demands: Is it possible to truly live without coin in modern-day life? Can one barter and scavenge and still consider that existence? Or we could invert the question and gaze instead at ourselves: Do we consider our lives of consumption the be-all-and-end-all of what we want from this time that we must spend together?
Daniel Suelo's almost-primitive approach to living is not for everyone, or probably anyone, at least those of us who consider ourselves to be 'first-world' attendees. Having spent a good part of the last ten years in third-world countries, I do find myself sickened at times by what wealthy folks throw away -- both in terms of physical, material goods, and also related to their own sense of self. (This kind of judgement runs the risk, I know, of being some hippie-dippie load of shit, but I include myself in the caste of those I kind of despise.) Poor people are not necessarily more noble, or even humane; lack of a working economy leads to crime and corruption, and in such desperate circumstances the darkness of our hearts tends to devour the light.
I get that. There's just something, if not enlightening, at least disturbing, about quietly witnessing how others -- without all the flashy adornments of life -- manage to make it through the day with the occasional smile, while I scoot back (with a scowl) into the consumer madness that encapsulates how must of us co-exist. That sort of parallel view of humanity's have-and-have-nots sticks in your craw over time, an almost tangible gob in the throat that is both sweet and sour, and such a confusing, palpable aftertaste of upchuck makes a life-story like Suelo's less crazy-sounding over time. Makes me wonder about what we all need to explore. Not so much a 'back to nature' movement, but more of a stripped-down, inward tilt into what we truly want and require from ourselves and each other.