This week I’m talking about gender, being non-binary and gender stereotyping in a series of Pause For Thoughts for Laura James’ Early Show on BBC Radio Devon. There will be 7 in total, so stay tuned and remember – nothing’s binary.
Usually I’m the odd hippy in the corporate world, working as a university lecturer on Skype, living in a van/house-sitting. Now that summers on, I enter into being the odd Digital Nomad in the world of offline-van-dwellers and travellers. Alternative lifestyle blogs are unusual because people are usually either doing it, or writing about it, not both. As I know from my yurt days, it’s hard to get online when you’re off-grid.
A quick visit to any festival van field shows me a different world. Whilst my colleagues are often shocked to discover that my Vansion neither has a water tap nor fridge, rock-n-roll bed, nor toilet, this setup comes as standard for van-dwellers who self-build. Why would you want to replicate a house in a van? Fridges need power. Water tanks are a hassle compared to bottles. Fold out beds are for holiday makers, and lastly, when you live a in 65sqft box don’t poo in it!
What’s inspiring to me about chatting to the folks who live almost totally offline, is learning about the wide range of lifestyles available. It’s so easy to think that you need to be online to make a living. What’s rule one of starting your own business? Answer: get it on social media of course! That’s what we’re used to thinking anyway. Even during my £0 Challenge of 2014, I survived largely by making sure I stayed online. Yet there are alternatives.
As musicians go, they all outstrip me; of course they do. Full time buskers are hot as hell on their instruments because they play for hours per day. They don’t have space in their packs/vans for tons of sheet music, but they don’t need it because they are constantly learning new tunes from each other. I only have to sit with a van-dwelling busker for 5mins and they’ll teach me a song so we can play together. With that and seasonal work, they get by more than fine.
As travellers go, I met some super-tramps who can sleep anywhere without a tent, hitch-hike anywhere and get there before you, build their own benders at the drop of a willow, and skip-dive like their in Mission Impossible. I thought I was experiencing a collision of worlds when I realised how much more extreme that collision must sometimes be for offline hitch-hikers:
Me: Thanks for the great meal Jake. Lovely to have loads of veg after a few days travel where it’s hard to get it.
Jane: Yeah me too.
Me: You too? I thought you just travelled from organic farming community to organic farming community.
Jane: Well, yes but… via service stations.
This reminds me of the folk I met who were hitch-hiking and ended up stranded at a motorway service station for so long they set up camp in the woodland just off the carpark.
Jane, incidentally, who can survive in the wilderness for months on end using only stone age tools she has made herself, is soon to be flown to Germany to “perform stone age living” at an immersion project, in the strangest mix of modern and ancient worlds I have ever heard of. She also told me a secret: “I’ve got a smartphone now.”
There is a myth that the offline world doesn’t really exist. If you can’t google it, or there isn’t a photo on Facebook to prove it, did it really happen?
My income is online; I straddle two quite disparate worlds… and I like that (“I love my hybrid nature – no binary can contain me!” – Meredith Tea ). But it’s refreshing to see people making their way in the world through offline networks, or at least a real mix between the two. The online world isn’t as dominant and powerful as all that: whole worlds still function under its radar.
Over the past few years, I’ve given up so many things I thought I needed, and have felt freer each time. Being immersed in the offline world, even for a short time, inspires me to ask “What more I could free myself from?”… I’ll let you know when I have the answer.
Summer’s here and I’m finding myself drawn to the river more and more, spending less time in houses and more in the van. Partly, university has finished for the summer, so I’m not tied to a router for teaching (on Skype), and partly the weather’s great.
It’s time to set up the van more as a living area than purely the sleeping/storage area it was before. Thought I’d share my developments with you.
Over the weekend I visited a T4 with a proper conversion – pop top, running water, fold out bed. “Ah” I thought, “this is why my life doesn’t work so well”. In contrast, I’ve just got a short bed, and a set of cupboards. I do have a gas ring and leisure battery though.
Today I set about an improving on my already chocka set-up. But to my horror, I actually needed to add MORE stuff; to devote cupboards to food, kitchen stuff, 5ltr water bottles and other living items. How to make room?
In the end, I decided to give up a portion of the bed, leading to this conversation with a friend.
Will keep updating on how the new setup goes. I would still like to be able to find a way to wash myself or record music out here, but it’s been liberating to find that the weather is warm enough for me to use the world as my living room, for work/play/practice. Roll on summer!
There’s a saying in most businesses, you can have it: Good. Cheap. Soon… pick any two.
Ideally, you want all three, right? But seeing as this isn’t an ideal world, presented with that choice most people will quickly decide what their priorities are. If you have money to spare, you may as well choose Good and Soon. If you need it Cheap and Good, you’ll wait.
How does this relate to voting? Well, I’m not saying that these different options represent different political parties; the analogy is about decision making.
So why are we so angry with people who vote differently to us?
Reason 1: Different Priorities
Votes are just decisions based on priorities. If someone makes a different decision to you, i.e. votes differently, this might mean they have different priorities.
The only problem is, their vote also affects you. They are making a choice based on what they want, which means that what YOU DON’T WANT might happen. No wonder it’s easy to get angry about this! It’s like someone else deciding what you’re going to have for dinner for the next four years, only much more serious.
Reason 2: Different Information
However, the idea that votes are purely based on priorities is slightly flawed. What if people are making their voting decisions on largely incomplete information?
What if, someone doesn’t know that one factor exists?
It doesn’t matter which one, but let’s say “Fast”.
Well, they are obviously going to always choose Good & Cheap.
What if you then choose Good & Fast?
You can see this:
But, person who isn’t aware of Fast can only see this:
They will think you’ve pointlessly chosen Good but Expensive; the information you’ve based your reasoning on isn’t available to them. They will think “This person is an idiot!” and you’ll think they are an idiot too, for not choosing Fast when it was available and clearly important!
This is the reaction we have when we see people voting based on ignorance. Brexit especially brought this out, as people voted Leave on the basis of totally wrong information, such as that the UK would have more money and a stronger economy. The greater the ignorance a vote is based on, the more anger it generates. “Doh! You just voted AGAINST yourself AND me!”
But ultimately, voting is not a simple problem, it’s a complex problem. The Good/Fast/Cheap model works best for simple problems such as the procurement of some printed flyers. There are definitely measurable variables, and a definite measurable answer.
Reason 3: Different Morals
The final reason we hate those who vote differently to us is because they often hold opinions that we actually believe to be amoral. Some people believe in giving equal financial opportunities, and some don’t. Some are in favour of demilitarisation, whilst others are strongly against. In both the examples given above, it’s possible for both sides to see the other as not just wrong, but damaging. Take the latter: both could righteously say to each other “So you want a war do you?”
In truth, politics is a complex problem with no clear answer. We disagree. We get angry because we disagree. We get angry usually because of injustice, but we disagree wildly on what injustice is. We’re like the housemates who always fight about the washing up, because although everyone agrees that the house should be kept clean and tidy, everyone has a different idea of what “clean and tidy” means. This is why we are angry, but also, why we have government.
To quote my favourite stand-up philosopher Matthew Hammond, “Even if we were a company of angels, without government, war would descend. Why? One simple reason: I am not you.”
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The most common question people ask me is “how does it work being a Digital Nomad?” “Where do you do laundry?” and “Where do you live exactly?” are popular too.
On reason I haven’t fully answered this question so far in a post, is that I hadn’t answered it in my life! The way I live will continue to change and evolve, but up until recently there were still major problems I hadn’t solved. There was so much stuff in my van that I couldn’t use it as a room, I lacked places to record music, and the van bed wasn’t actually comfortable.
That mostly sorted now, so this is a practical post for those of you who like to geek out on alternative lifestyles, possibly with a mind to try it yourself.
Method: Creating a plan A & B for everything
When I started this incarnation of houselessness, 3 months ago, I’d worry if I didn’t have either a solution that would all the time, or a million backup plans. For example, when it came to internet access (VITAL) I thought I wouldn’t be happy unless I could get it in my van. As it is, I’ve never needed to use the internet from my van – there have been plenty of other spaces I can use.
So, nowadays I feel pretty secure with a simple plan A & B.
Plan A: Stick my few clothes in with a friends’ washing, in exchange for something or other
Plan B: Hand-wash / launderette
Although I feel secure knowing plan B exists, in 3 months I’ve hardly had to hand-wash, and never laundrette.
Having a plan B frees me from worrying about my needs, so I can focus my attention on the people in my life and our relationships. I love the way in which this lifestyle brings me closer to my friends and wider community, through asking and exchange, but I prefer the vibe that comes from me asking out of choice/preference rather than need. That’s why Plan Bs are important.
Plan A usually involves a person, whilst plan B is usually an independent solution. As shown:
Plan A: Use a friend’s house as an office.
Plan B: Wifi cafe / wifi in the van (v. slow)
Plan A is more favourable, fun and social, but plan B is also workable and fine.
So, here are my plan As and Bs for most aspects, which hopefully quells your curiosity.
A: Eat with whoever I’m docking with, and contribute in some way.
B: Eat out / supermarket picnic / in the van
I’m not in my van enough to justify stocking it with food, but I carry a food-bag containing non-perishables such as tins, cheese and hardy vegetables if I’m between van and “docking”. When travelling van-less I carry snacks in my Life-Bag, and my next meal. I’m willing to eat cold or raw food quite a lot, but cooking in the van is also possible.
A: Docking / Housesitting / Van
My “Sleeping On The Floor” experiments have helped me to become much more flexible about where I sleep. In this case, I’ve put van under plan A and B, as sometimes it’s a pinch to sleep in it, and other times it really is my number 1 choice, especially now it’s spring. I’m very lucky because so many people have welcomed me that I’m regrettably even having to turn down house-sits sometimes.
A: At someone’s house
B: At a service station / swimming pool / gym
Amazingly I haven’t had to use plan B yet, and the longest I’ve gone without a shower is 2 days. Prioritising staying clean is very, very important when you’re nomadic, trust me…
I have a 10min routine I can do each morning no matter where I am, but beyond that I haven’t got a schedule together yet.
A: At someone’s house
B: Outdoors / In van.
Now it’s spring, outdoor spaces are a wonderful resource, however houses are still better. The van is a last resort: I hate playing sat down.
A: At someone’s (quiet) house / studio
This is the only thing I don’t have a plan B for, and that bothers me to an extent. On the other hand, despite feeling insecure, I’ve actually been able to record enough. Guess we all need to feel vulnerable in some areas of life.
So there you have it. The only thing I’d like to improve on at the moment is finding more spaces to record. This happens so infrequently that when I do get to a space, I have to work very quickly, and this is hampering me a bit. But all in all I’ve been amazed by how welcoming my friends and community have been to me and my current way of moving through the world.
Also check out the Symphony For Happines Vlog
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It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted here, but don’t worry, I’ve been busy producing plenty of other content for you to enjoy in other mediums. Check out the Symphony For Happiness Vlog and Kimwei’s music Youtube to see what I’ve been up to in the last month, including my 7 day vlogging challenge, and plenty of new music videos.
In the past week, this original song which I recorded as a duet with Billy Bottle has been doing really well on Facebook, with over 6k in views and 100 shares. We created the video to co-incide with Exeter Pride (13.05.2017). It’s about being non-binary, but also celebrating LGTBQ+ as a whole. This goes out to anyone who seeks to be seen for who they truly are. When we accept each other, we love each other, and when we love each other we change the world.
We’ve been overwhelmed by the response and thrilled that the message has been so deeply received. We believe that expanding beyond the binary notion of gender is not just relevant to those who identify as trans, but to everyone, because we are all affected by the expectations of a society that sees gender in binary.
Now it’s time to take the phrase “Nothing’s Binary” even further. We want to put on events, entitled “Nothing’s Binary”, which are celebrations the full gender spectrum. We envisage a Post-Binary world in which anyone can freely inhabit any part of that spectrum and be seen, accepted and loved. Please get in touch if you’d like to be involved.
Please do keep sharing this video, whether on Facebook, Youtube, or this post itself. You can also view/share this info through kimwei.com. I’ve created a special “Nothing’s Binary” page at kimwei.com/nothingsbinary
THE SONG: Click HERE to download for FREE!
THE MUSIC VIDEO:
I’m proud to present my set of four Pause For Thought pieces from Jan 2017, available as a free download from kimwei.bandcamp.com
Am looking forward to doing more some time in the future.
- Good bed
- Bad bed
These terms are subjective of course – good does not mean expensive or bad cheap. A good bed is one that’s comfortable for me and a bad one isn’t.
Therefore, I think I have solved my sleeping problems thusly – wherever I am, if I like the bed I can sleep in it, and if I don’t like the bed I can always sleep on the floor and know it will be fine. Additionally, I can now potentially enjoy camping better and try sleeping on the van floor so I can be fully stretched out. The only problem I can foresee is whether someone would be really insulted if I slept on the floor instead of the bed they offered me? I suppose I could just put it down to eccentricity?In the past I’ve beed crap at getting a good sleep on hard surfaces, and jealous of those who can sleep anywhere. This is what my research has turned up.
Here are the key points:
- Lying on your back, no pillow, allows the body to support itself with no neck cricking.
- Lying on your side isn’t comfortable, but after a few nights the body gets the idea and stops trying to turn over.
The body adapts over time – so the floor that felt almost painfully hard on night 1 felt much more like it was simply a hard mattress by the end of the week.
Point 1 I believe explains why bad beds are worse than floors. Basically your body needs support, and a good bed will provide that, whilst the floor allows the body to support itself. A bad bed however, is one that provides some support but not enough, whilst getting in the way of the body’s natural posture that would allow it to support itself.
Finally, I’m interested in whether, through this practice of sleeping on floors I’m re-connecting with my oriental heritage, where sleeping on thin mats on the floor is cultural.
I feel empowered and freed by the idea that by sleeping on the floor I could sleep anywhere, and this reminds me that my mother did the same thing as a teenager. In fact, I might never had been born if my mother had not been willing to floor surf during her final years at school. Why? Because staying with friends was the only way she could find peace and quiet away from her chaotic, destructive parents and study. She excelled at exams, and was accepted on the UK nurses training scheme in the 1970s. Later, through nursing she met my father (who was having his tonsils out). None of this would have been possible if she hadn’t been able to sleep directly on hard floors. So in a sense, as I learn to do this, it feels as though I honour my mother’s determination and my history.
Also check out the Symphony For Happines Vlog
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After another bad night’s sleep in the van, on that dreaded piece of foam I found by the roadside on Crammond Island a few years back, I decided enough is enough: it’s time to take some action regarding the surfaces I sleep on.
Being a Digital Nomad means “sleeping around”: staying with friends, housesitting, van livin’ and more. I never know what I might be sleeping on, from the luxury master-bed, to cushions on the floor. I mean no disrespect to the hospitality of my hosts, who are always generous, caring and sharing, but I’m asking myself how I can take responsibility for making sure I have a good night’s rest each night, on a bed that suits me.
One age old traveller solution is simply to take camping kit everywhere, even if this means ridiculously rolling out your favourite camping mat next to the guest bed in a friend’s house. Why? Because it’s the bed you’re used to and will therefore sleep best on.
Yes, I could buy a top of-the-range lightweight inflatable mat, but maybe there’s another way to guarantee a comfortable and consistent sleeping surface wherever I am: to learn to sleep on the floor.
Let’s get this straight: I’m only going to do this if I find it comfortable. I’m a minimalist, not a masochist.
BUT, if I could truly get used to floors, they are everywhere. I’d have the most flexible sleeping solution possible, since they also have floors at airports, train stations, parks and fields. I could ditch the bed in the van entirely, giving me more space.
A quick google search turned up the following anecdotal info from bloggers. Sleeping on the floor can be comfortable if you:
- Sleep on your back with no pillow
- Spend a few nights getting used to it
There are claims that this can be better for your health and sleep quality than sleeping on a bed, but really, with so little evidence, the only way to find out if that’s true for me is to try it. Previously when I’ve had to sleep on floors it’s been unequivocally pointless on every level, but this could be because I habitually sleep on my side and use a pillow.
Let’s try this then.
Well, I can’t say that was a great night’s sleep, but actually, falling asleep on the floor wasn’t that hard. As soon as I lay down without a pillow I noticed that my head actually comes equipped with a flat bit at the back, seemingly designed exactly for the purpose. I was surprised to wake in the morning to find my neck didn’t hurt, and neither did my lower back.
The only problem was that I kept waking up every time I tried to turn onto my side out of habit. According to my research, my body could well stop doing this after a few days, so I’ll just keep persevering. Some parts of my back do hurt, but then those bits hurt before I even went to bed, having slept on that rubbish piece of foam in the van the night before.
So, the experiment continues. Will report back in 1 week to tell you the results.
Travel is a word that usually refers to a temporary trip, during which normal life stops and another sort of world takes over. In contrast, living in transit involves taking even the mundanities of life on the road, and our careers or life paths keep developing as we go along. Unlike gap years or extended holidays, there is no “I’ll do it when I get back”.
The question I asked myself before the week started, was “how can I come up with a sustainable method for travelling? How can I avoid getting exhausted or burnt out?” By the time the week was out, I’d realised there was no such thing as a sustainable “method”, only a sustainable “approach”.I’d intended to set boundaries to make sure I didn’t end up working intensely long days, with hours on public transport thrown in, get too hungry, or exhausted. The reality was, that too many factors were out of my control for this to be possible. I did work long hours, get overtired, skip meals, sleep in weird places and get a crick in the neck, but I also managed to take opportunities along the way to recover. The only full day I had to myself in London, I slept rather than seeing the sights, because I knew I couldn’t return home tired when “home” means “moving from sofa to sofa”.
The key is, to make the best of every opportunity, and find what you can do right this moment, rather than focusing on what you can’t do.
One thing I love about this approach is the constant presence of mind it requires. To move through the world in this way, I need to be constantly paying attention, and making the most of the opportunities each moment provides. For example, on the morning before my train back to Exeter, a great opportunity came up for my friend and I to cut each other’s hair, which turned a task which is usually a hassle, into a beautiful chunk of time to be close with them.
What did work beautifully was my new bag and kit setup. I’ve put so much time, thought and money into this system I was beginning to wonder if it was just another distraction or excuse. I mean surely you don’t need kit you just need an adventurer’s spirit, right?Well, an adventurer’s spirit is good, but the right kit has been a real game-changer for my travelling. It’s saved me time, pain, and money*. Check out my gear post.
This trip didn’t require any recording kit, so I had plenty of extra room in the bag to pick up groceries or carry food/drink. I was carrying more weight than ever, but with no back and shoulder pain, due to the more comfortable backpack. One place I stayed at required me to clear the room I slept in every morning. This was dead easy because my new bag is clamshell meaning you can access its contents without “unpacking” it. So moving rooms was as simple as zipping it closed.
So what’s my new approach to life in transit? To abandon ideas of routine, dicipline, making plans or forcing my will, but take available opportunities to meet my own needs, give to and connect with others. I’ve discovered that being willing to explain my needs makes people feel more comfortable with me in the long run. At the same time it’s important to be physically prepared with the right kit, and mentally prepared for lots of changes of plans. Something little like always having an extra snack handy and all my devices charged is enough to get me productively through a couple of hours of unexpected transport delays and come out fresh as a daisy.
In a nutshell, be mentally flexible, physically prepared, sleep when you can, and try your best to let go of anything else. Lastly, be present: it’s the best way to make every minute count.
*Actually I have no idea yet if buying kit has saved me money or just improved my experience. Probably both: investment in clothes that need washing less often, saves money on laundry; bigger more comfortable bag allows me to carry food and drink which is cheaper; lighter load means never having to pay for luggage when flying or get a locker; electric toothbrush saves on dentist fees (and pain); and so on…
Also check out the Symphony For Happines Vlog
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