Tag Archives: alternative living

Living In Transit

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Finding happiness on the road all depends on which road you take!

What’s a week away from home when you’re homeless (houseless) anyway? The past week has brought home to me the difference between travelling and “living in transit”. I’ve been away from Exeter, the main city I nomad around, for a trip which included work, play, misc and a total of 3 cities including London.

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”.

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Yup – I’d got that tired again that this was the only way I could guarantee to get off the train will all my stuff

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?

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…and yet the rule is, no matter what bag you have you’re going to try and max it out beyond capacity.

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.

-Kimwei

*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…

Related posts: My Houseless HerosMy Year of Travelling as a Digital NomadHow To Pack Light For A Week’s TravelDigital Nomad Tips – Work, Play, Travel

Also check out the Symphony For Happines Vlog

… and connect with me @:

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Music @:

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We’re better off together believe it or not…

https://www.yahoo.com/style/does-anyone-borrow-cups-of-sugar-from-neighbors-85225150926.html

When’s the last time you borrowed a cup of sugar from the neighbour, and then hey, you got chatting, turns out they’re single and so are you, so they invite you in for a cuppa, and hey, the rest is history? Never? Guess why – because there’s a 24hr store selling sugar just down the road, so why ever speak to your neighbours?

My last post on The Pros & Cons of Being a Digital Nomad mentioned this theme, which both has links to travelling and to non-monetary interactions.

When I saw Mark Boyle (Moneyless Man) speak a few years ago, he pointed out that money allows us to have transactions with people without even seeing them – it disconnects us. It also means that we can use money to distance ourselves from each other – if we’re rich we don’t need favours.

There are a few alternative ideas, such as a barter economy, or a gift economy. A barter economy returns us to having many communications and negotiations with a number of people in order to exchange something we can offer for something we want. A gift economy on the other hand, relies on people giving away their surplus stuff and doing favours. The idea is that if everyone acted this way, no-one would be in lack.

In many ways, I can see why people were relieved when money was invented – it meant all the faff of all these negotiations could be over. But what’s also lost along the way is the necessity to have a lots of interactions. In our current “Isolation Age”, isn’t more interaction what we need?

But how to start? My £0 Challenge in 2014 made it public that I was open to more barter and gift type interactions, but many people don’t have a doorway in like that. My first instinct is always to try and offer someone a favour or a gift, but people are so unaccustomed such things that this often freaks them out.

The key is to be the one asking for the cup of sugar. Believe it or not, asking a favour feels more vulnerable, so people are less willing to be the first to do it. I’ve noticed that many people are much more willing to give first and ask second. Asking someone for help actually creates quite a strong bond, but only if they feel they’ve genuinely helped rather than been taken for a ride. It can be the doorway to creating more barter/gift interactions in your life and this can lead to all sorts of new and unexpected connections and even friendships.

One college housemate I had used to knock on my door once a week to borrow my washing basket so he could do his laundry. I had no idea why he did this when we lived on the same street as Poundland where he could have easily bought one, but nonetheless, every week, he borrowed mine instead. Maybe he was skint? But you know what? – as a result of those weekly laundry basket encounters, we talked more. We got the idea that it was ok to knock on each other’s doors.  Of everyone who I lived with in college, he’s the only one I ended up stayed in touch with.

-Kimwei

Also check out the Symphony For Happines Vlog

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Pros, Cons & Unexpected Benefits of Being a Digital Nomad

I get the impression that many people think being a digital nomad is like being on a never-ending holiday… which is sort of is, but sort of isn’t. The transition has been a huge learning experience for me, even though I’ve not been touring the globe. I work as an online tutor on a music BA and have travelled in the UK and rural France.

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Here are some of the pros, cons and unexpected outcomes of living this lifestyle.

Pros:

  • No more travelling to work: Actually, it’s likely you’ll still spend a lot of time travelling, from one city or one country to the next, but this feels more meaningful than running back and forth to the office every day.
  • New experiences: When you do new stuff, it leads to more new stuff. Meet new people, see new places. It’s said that people who try new things are happier, even if they don’t always like what they try.
  • Work from anywhere: I’ve had some completely amazing experiences whilst still maintaining my teaching schedule work hours. If I had a regular job, I’d be waiting till the holidays for these opportunities and even then they might never happen. I even rejoiced at being able to help my friend in Wales insulate her living room. Instead of having to say “sorry I’m working that week”, I simply ducked out to change my shirt and do a couple of tutorials.

Cons:

  • Reliant on Internet: At first I’d envisaged myself as a permanent van traveller but that’s not possible because mobile-internet isn’t strong enough for my needs. Getting to a fast connection, in a quiet room, preferably where I can Ethernet connect my laptop is a restriction. I believe you should NEVER let a nomadic lifestyle compromise the service you provide in your work, so I worry about arriving in a house, only to find the router is unreliable. Having said this, it hasn’t happened yet.
  • Constantly moving my stuff: Some people are psychologically rattled by constantly having to move. I’m not really, but it sure is a pain moving all that stuff! I’ve obsessively read one-bag-travel blogs to see if I could cut down to that, but I just can’t without giving up music, which I obviously won’t. Having said this, I’ve already minimized more than I ever thought possible, and realized the existential value in that, as well as the logistical flexibility. Many people purge quickly, but I find it takes me time to learn to live without something.

 

Unexpected benefits:

You’ll get your work life balance sorted!: Many over-workers comment on how much they would love my relaxed lifestyle, but guess what – you take your baggage with you! If your work life balance is off, making your own schedule will only accentuate it. The good news is, being a digital nomad and designing your own timetable can give you the opportunity to examine this and change it.

I’m a recovering over-worker, and my big challenge is to be able to relax and do something else even if there is still more work to do that day, or even that week. At first I tried to do the week’s work (apart from scheduled online tutorials) the start of the week, but this plain didn’t work. Now I do a little every day AND do something creative every day.

For me the key is FOCUS FOCUS FOCUS – to be truly working when I’m working and truly playing when I’m playing. I never force myself to do anything anymore, I simply wait until I’m excited about it and then get started. The result is, I’m much more productive in everything I do, and enjoy it more, which was a complete revelation!

IMG_0123Overcoming feeling displaced: Although I don’t really experience displacement, that’s partly because I’ve got some strategies to combat it. It helps that I’ve got a van – a mini-room in itself which can feel like my own space. It’s not big enough to live in, but it’s a constant.

Since I have few possessions, I interact with them often and they become my portable environment, which helps me feel grounded. It may surprise you to know, that even as a minimalist, when possible I travel with my own knife, spork, mug and bowl, because these little things help me feel at home anywhere. If I’m on a shorter trip with just a backpack, I still bring my meditation mat – my smallest portable environment.

Coming out of my shell: Although the requirement for a strong internet connection stops me from buying a big van and moving in, it’s forced me to seek housesitting opportunities, which has led to meeting wonderful people, seeing more new places and generally being out in the world more. What I’ve learned is that although it seems like we might be safer and happier keeping ourselves to ourselves, in my experience the opposite is true. This is a big topic (which I’ll do a full post on soon) but it stands to say, a nomadic lifestyle challenges your ideas about what you’ll need in your life to feel safe and happy.

So that’s it. For me, the pros clearly outweigh the cons, and the unexpected benefits can’t be measured. However, I wouldn’t say it was easy – I welcome the challenges because they are part of my choice to live this way.

Kimwei

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The Wooden House

 

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Wooden House living room

I’m writing from a farmhouse in the Loire Valley, just having completed a 10 week house sit in a beautiful self built eco Wooden House just 30mins from here. Our host and friend arrived yesterday for a handing over of the keys, welcome meal and an afternoon’s unpacking and rearranging before we headed on, van packed to the gills.

 

At 10 weeks, this is the longest house sit yet, and although I’ve been calling it a “sit” that’s not truly accurate, because I don’t honestly think this friend needed their house occupied for that time period – it was more of a favour/exchange. It’s been the most ambitious house sit yet, being abroad in France where I don’t (yet) speak the language plausibly. It’s also my first try at being a true digital nomad, in that over 95% of my income for the period was from online work (Skype teaching).

DSC01545.JPGAs you can see from the pictures, we have been exceptionally lucky with a gorgeous location and beautiful house, however I wanted to write mainly about the challenges presented by a longer house-sit abroad and what I learned from them.

Van: I travelled without breakdown cover, because it would have cost £200 and I was advised that in France garages are plentiful. There were two problems in 10 weeks (that’s the type of van I own!). One non-starter – the local garage came to fix it, and one flat tire – I actually managed to drive to the tire-shop without creating further damage.

IMG_0056.JPGHaving no cover is quite high risk and I do still feel uncomfortable with it. Because I didn’t speak French, it took me two weeks to get the van fixed in the first instance, meanwhile cycling 14miles back and forth for food shopping. My bike was my “breakdown cover”. If you’re thinking of travelling without cover, it’s best with spare food, a bed and a bike in the van, not to mention never leaving the house without your phone and wallet. I learned that the hard way.

DSC01573.JPGHouse Care: With a longer house sit, it’s much more difficult to remember to put everything back in its original place. You might move furniture, or hide away precious ornaments you feel nervous about. I took reference photos, but even then it was tricky – which cupboard was that cheese grater originally from? I’d also ended up leaving my own stuff in many different places in the house without even realizing – a pain for packing up. If I did it again, I’d be stricter! I also wish I could travel with less stuff:

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My things. Music stuff on the left – recording studio, keyboard, guitar, flutes, live kit including amp. On the right, my personal possessions including cycling stuff (bike in van). May not seem like a lot but feels that way when you have to keep moving it. Sadly I’ve actually used all of it, so what can I discard?

DSC01578.JPGBeing in a house for longer there’s also more chance that something might break. I’d never broken anything during a house sit, but this time there were two broken glasses, a joint snapped on a chair and the plumber needed calling out when the toilet leaked. This panicked me! I prefer to leave a house just as I found it if not better, often cleaning, clearing or sorting some corner as a thank you to my hosts. Although we did plenty of that, I was still terrified. In the end I just had to accept that these things will happen from time to time.

IMG_4483.JPGFrance: The house sit was located in rural France, meaning that for the whole stay I really only spoke to 5 people besides shop staff. Although I wasn’t lonely, I felt very exposed, lacking the recourses of a more populated area. If I needed something, it wasn’t always possible to buy it. As a result, I joyfully found that the few neighbours were extremely collaborative. One picked me up from the rail station an hour away(!), after my train was delayed and the busses had finished. Another neighbour I took to work when her car was totalled. A culture of lending and giving freely was engendered by this isolation, despite the language barrier. Amazing!

Being a Digital Nomad: Focus focus focus! Many people must be imagining me leading the French lifestyle, a man of leisure, never having to go to the office. Whilst it is pretty idyllic, of course I go to the office, or rather the office comes to me. IMG_0087.JPGRight now, this is my view, sat in my van working. I’ve just had a Skype call with a colleague discussing a student’s essay draft, and look forward to writing up my lesson reports this afternoon, and preparing my tutorials for the evening. My schedule is different every week, but the most important thing is to be focused – both to be working when I am working and to play when I am playing. I’m still learning this and will write a post on it soon.

Hope this post has been useful to anyone thinking of trying house sitting, digital nomading, or other alternative lifestyle ideas.

-Kimwei

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Infectious Minimalism (Guest Post)

My Minimalism has somehow become infectious. It inspired my best friend to have a major clearout, and then write this article. Thanks Katie!

“Minimalism seems to have made it into the mainstream, in parts thanks to the New York Times No. 1 best selling books by Marie Kondo. Their success comes from understanding that our relationships with our possessions are not just practical but emotional too; and although I began my journey towards minimalism because I just want to be able to keep track of what I had, it quickly became a way of an emotional decluttering too.

belongings as art

Here are my beautiful bags, all lovingly altered/made for me by my friends and family.

Less Choice is More Freedom

 We spend our day making constant choices about small or unimportant things – what to choose from the menu, or in the supermarket, what clothes to wear in the morning, which books we read. When I began getting rid of stuff this was something that concerned me – what if I want to read that book again? Or wear this skirt ? What if at some point I desperately need this automatic avocado peeler and slicer? (Okay, I made the last one up….).

emotional things packed away

Box-love. Finally, I can actually find things in their rightful places, and even the boxes they are stored in are things of beauty.

 

But although there have undoubtedly been times I have felt a pang of absence for something I no longer have, there is a bigger payoff: an absence of what I call ‘mind-clutter’. To chose between 6 pairs of trousers and 10 tops creates needless choice. As Neil Gaiman says “the main reason I’ve been wearing more or less the same thing for about 20 years is so that I don’t have to think about what I’ll wear”.

Removing these constant tiny choices has stilled my mind and allowed me to chose what I focus on, like my underlying thoughts and feelings, or the world around me. And having less choice makes me appreciate the smaller choices I do make – which cup of these two to use, which of my two scarves to wear, where to sit to be in the sunlight. Consumerism teaches us that constant choice gives us freedom, but it often just shackles the mind. There is a joy that comes from these small choices and even a joy from having no choice at all.

The Spark of Joy

And joy is what Kondo’s second book is all about. Every time we see something we react to it – often on a deeply subconscious level. For me a large part of choosing what to keep was bringing these reactions into the conscious level. Kondo has a simple but effective way of determining what to keep – if it doesn’t bring a ‘spark of joy’, ditch it.

For example, I had a big stash of clothes I couldn’t wear anymore because I’d put on too much weight. I kept hanging onto them because I did not want to let go of the thought that I am not that person anymore, and did not want to think I might not be her again. But the truth became that every time I saw them I felt sad, and guilty and bad about myself. When I gave them away I also gave away these feelings.

Sometimes the emotional reaction to things is not that simple, for example, there were some things from my ex that stirred fond memories in me when I saw them. But at the same time it was bitter sweet because we’re are no longer in contact and I am sad to have lost him. Some things I got from him I gave away, some I kept but put in storage. It’s important to remember the past, even the sad bits, but to be constantly be reminded of it by your possessions can encroaches upon the present.

Be Friends With Your Pen

stationary sparks joy

I actually can barely physically write because of problems with my hands and use a dictation program most of the time. So on the rare occasion that I am able to, it feels good to have a special pen.

The anthropologist Robin Dunbar suggested that humans can only really have strong connections to about 150 people in their lives. I think that this is also true of our belongings. Every time you see or use something your own it is an interaction, like a human one, it demands our attention, even if it is only to pick up a pen and paper to write a letter. My possessions are now like friends – each one needed and wanted.

I started my minimalist journey because I had 4 rulers but everything was so cluttered I couldn’t find anything. I now have one ruler and can find it most of the time! But it has also been a surprisingly spiritual journey. I understand more now why nuns and monks give up their possessions on entering the religious life. I thought it was all about self denial, but it is as much about freeing your mind from negative relationships with the world around you and there by giving you the space to be more aware of your inner self.

  • Katie Moudry

http://lookingthroughcracks.blogspot.com ”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Make Your Dreams Reality (By Playing Yellow Car) Part 1

I’m writing this post from a beautiful 4 bedroom wooden house in rural France. It was lovingly built by its owner and I’ll be here until spring. This marks my first outing as a digital nomad. I’ll be mentoring on a Music BA over Skype through the blended learning project AMBA. It’s a dream come true and I’m very grateful to everyone who helped it to happen!

DSC01595So how did I get here? Many people make the transition by going independent in the same job they’ve had for years, such as photography or journalism. Others simply ask their employer if they can work remotely. Since my income came from music performing, teaching and lecturing, as far as I knew, there weren’t any options for working from home.

I brainstormed lots of ideas, including becoming a busking minstrel, running a mobile recording studio (which I still do, and am currently making albums with 2 clients) and working as an illustrator.

Then, quite out of the blue, a company I used to teach with called me up and asked if I would be the main Skype Mentor on a blended learning Music BA they was setting up as a new venture. I was in the middle of the £0 Challenge at the time and was therefore totally unemployed and free to take up the offer. I’ve now been working with that project for a full year and have never enjoyed a teaching role more! Lucky? Yes, but there’s more to it than that.

There are many “how to” guides out there on how to become a digital nomad, and lots of advice on how to “make it happen”. This may just be my personality, but trying to make things happen doesn’t work for me. The way I see it, everything exists somewhere on the planet, so if we tune our minds to it, we start to spot it. The path of my life has come to me by focusing on what I want, then allowing it to happen by saying yes when opportunities come up.

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By co-incidence I do actually have a yellow car, which came to me when I was housesitting in rural Devon and noticed a neighbour washing it in his driveway. He said he was preparing it for a Gumtree ad, so I bought it on the spot.

It’s like the game Yellow Car. I’m sure you’ve played it – spotting this rare car colour on a long drive. Although yellow cars are unusual, it’s amazing how many you see when you’re looking out for them. Someone might ask “How many yellow cars did you see today?” and you’d be able to tell them easily. But, if asked “How many red cars did you see?” I doubt you’d have a clue.

I believe the same can be true with opportunities. We can set our yellow-car-lense to “digital nomad” or “free firewood” or “size 14 denim jacket”. It doesn’t necessarily mean these things will immediately appear, but once we are tuned up to look out for something, we can’t miss it when it comes along. On the other hand, if we’re not focused on what we want, those opportunities could whizz by like red cars without us even noticing.

That’s the overview, but there are other stages to this process too (there are even more stages/aspects than list here so I might do a follow up article).

Really figure out what you want.

It’s important to boil your dream down its key components. When I was a kid, my dream was to earn a living backpacking through the lake-district as a watercolor painter, selling my work to local galleries. As an adult, I’ve boiled that dream down to a few key things – freedom, creativity, needs met, sense of adventure, and gravitated towards opportunities that offer me that.

BUT many times I’ve had to let go of a dream because it no longer brought me those things. Two years ago I planned to busk around Europe in a van, but so many restrictions appeared that I abandoned it. I widened my dream to “I want to have new experiences whilst enjoying earning my living”, which has led me to where I am now.

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My space in the wooden house, mezzanine level.

If your dream is to own an expensive sports car, boil it down to what you want. You can do this by asking yourself what you would experience if that dream became reality. It might be simple: “I’d enjoy driving a fast car. I’d feel exhilarated.” Fine – save up and buy the car, or if your priority is purely driving, you could hire one. If you can afford neither, you might have to give up your attachment to the racing car but might find exactly what you need by seeking other experiences that you find exhilarating.

But if your immediate answer is “I’d be accepted by my peers” or “I’d feel successful”, some further digging could lead you towards a deeper dream. You might be lacking a circle of close friends who don’t judge you on your income, and could re-orientate yourself towards cultivating that. Then you could buy the car anyway if you still want to.

Our true dreams are usually fearless and naturally draw us to be giving towards others.

If it’s not working, do something different.

There’s no point looking at the world through your “yellow car” lens if you’re not even near a road. Sometimes it’s not obvious whether we’re in the right place for an opportunity to come to us. My approach is: if in doubt, do something different.

A new experience or approach has merit simply because you’ve not done it before. You could meet someone new, gain a new skill, see a new place and this could be the key to getting you onto the road and finding your “yellow car”.

I often hear people say “then I was sat next to this guy on a train, and it turned out he had a flat to rent/cocoa farm for sale/kitten who needed a home, and it was just what I was looking for!” Sounds like a co-incidence, but in a way it’s not that far fetched. When we focus our yellow-car-lens, we think about our yellow car all the time. When we talk, we can’t stop talking about our yellow car. Soon, all our friends know we’re looking for a yellow car, and they might mention it to their friends, one of whom might just have a yellow car. But if they don’t, it doesn’t matter. We just keep on talking about that yellow car to every new person we meet, until eventually someone says “hey, I’ve got a yellow car – do you want it?”

-Kimwei

Follow up article: Make Your Dreams Reality Part 2

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Interesting Parenting Idea To Teach Kids About Money / My non-mis-spent youth

Pocket_money_640x360-600x360My parents did a very unusual thing when I was 12. They decided they were going to give me an allowance, but it was a different kind of allowance. Instead of giving me a certain amount of money to buy what I liked with, they sat down and worked out exactly how much money they were currently spending on me, and then gave me that money on the first of each month. This didn’t include groceries or family meals out, school clothes or textbooks, but it did include other clothing, recreational books, magazines, movies, art materials, school lunch money and school bus fare.

Amazingly, as a 12 year old I took to this idea straightaway and began to budget. I never had a month in which I ran out of money, probably because I took my parents totally at face value. It was implied that the allowance would be taken from me if I failed to buy the essentials with it. I didn’t want that to happen, because I knew that if I could get that stuff cheaper than my parents could, I would have more money to spend on what I really wanted.

One reason this worked so well was that my parents were quite inefficient with money. Before they gave me an allowance they used to buy my non-school clothes quickly on a busy Saturday, without shopping around. They were also hooked consumerists, and insisted on replacing things more often than I thought necessary. With a bit of thought, it would be easy to get things cheaper, and spend the extra money on sweets.

The first thing I did was shop around for clothes. I was amazed to find that a t-shirt in M&S cost the same as a Red Dwarf T-shirt mail ordered from leaflet in the back of the video. No contest! I bought a few of those (too big so I wouldn’t grow out of them) and wore them to death. I refused to replace them when they got holey from tree climbing. This bothered my mother but she kept quiet. I used the cash saved to buy books, magazines and art materials. An instant winner – now I had clothes I really loved, and money left over for entertainment!

Soon it became like a game – the more aspects of my spending I could cut down on, the more I’d have left for what was important to me. False economy quickly showed itself too. My first t-shirt purchase had taught me that buying something that lasted two years instead of one, meant I could spend twice as much on pens. It also meant I took really good care of my stuff to make it last longer.

A few years later I had discovered charity shops, and was making my own clothes with my mother’s sewing machine. I suspected that my parents would cut the allowance if they noticed me skipping lunch to save money, so I never tried that. Instead I started secretly cycling an old beat-up bike to school, leaving the house after my parents so they wouldn’t notice. Yet I was still being given bus fare!

I used some of the extra money to maintain the bike, but now I was saving up for musical instruments. In retrospect, I my parents must have realised I was ripping them off at this point, but kept quiet. Why? Because it was a win-win situation. They were giving me bus fare even though I cycled to school, but at least I wasn’t pestering them to buy me musical instruments, or in fact, to buy me anything at all. Overall, they were still making a saving, whilst teaching me important lessons about budgeting. My parents showed restraint by never making a judgement on what I bought, even when at times, I wasted money on tat. They just let me learn the lessons.

I still got Christmas and birthday presents of course, but because of this scheme, for my entire teenage-hood, my parents and I didn’t argue about money. Not only that – my allowance never raised and I never asked for it to be. By the time I finished school it was the same as it had been when I was 12, even though by that time I was also using it to buy school clothes, and for days out to Oxford and London.

Over the years I have hugely underestimated the value of this leap of faith my parents took, letting a 12year old handle money in this way. By the time I left home I was excellent with money. During university I watched my friends splurge on nights out and then struggle to pay bills. But I’d having already had 6 years of practice taking care of the essentials before buying the fun stuff.

I’ve often wondered what made me conceive of the £0 Challenge which I took in 2014, and hugely added value to my life. In a sense, I was refreshing and deepening the ideas that I learned about as a teenager. My parents hadn’t needed to be good with money to teach me about it – their allowance idea was all the teaching I’d needed. I’m not saying every parent should try this – maybe I was an unusual kid… but it’s worth a thought…

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What Makes The Perfect Gig?

For years I’ve been searching for the perfect gig and last week, I experienced it.

Don’t get me wrong; there have been many brilliant gigs in my career, but what makes a perfect gig? Is it about getting hundreds of people to turn out? Is it about getting paid a wadge of cash and getting M&Ms in the rider?

Actually it’s quite simple:

  • Everyone involved enjoys the music and each other.
  • The organiser, venue and performer get paid enough.

This means I enjoy performing and the audience enjoys and engages with the show. In other words ‘people get it!’ They get the music and ideally I can get to know them too.

In order for the gig to be viable for the organiser/venue, enough people need to attend to make it financially viable. This means I too get paid enough to represent a fair recompense for my effort.

Last Friday I was lucky enough to play at The Jellyfish Productions Gallery in Buckfastleigh (Devon), as the sole performer in a gig organised by Ami Lee of the captivating acapella trio The Hummingbirds.
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Let me tell you some of the wonderful things about this gig. 15-20 people attended which was the perfect amount for the beautiful gallery setting. I got to meet each of them before I played and chat to them afterwards whilst browsing the artwork. I knew who I was playing for. Two long time fans had made requests, which I practiced especially and performed. The space was just right to play unplugged and the whole audience were just so responsive it was unbelievable, even singing along unprompted. Almost everyone who heard me for the first time that night liked the music so much they walked out with a CD. It was a wonderful night!

In 10 years of performing there have been gigs with no good side. I wasn’t paid, the audience would rather I wasn’t there because they wanted to talk to their friends without having to shout over some music, and the venue held me personally responsible for low turnout. These are bad gigs. Why? Basically because the music may be good but all the relationships are either negative or disconnected. At Jellyfish Galleries all the relationships were brilliant! The gallery owner, gig promoter, performer and audience members all respected and appreciated each other hugely. They connected and shared personal ideas, opinions and feelings.

But even a gig where one thing is out of place can be a horrible experience. Being well paid but musically ignored is demoralising, and having a warm fuzzy gig which sets you back £50 in fuel with no payment, simply leaves a panic about how to pay bills. Even a gig in which they audience is suitably impressed but fails to ‘get’ the music can feel a little sad.

So, my message to frustrated musicians out there is that the ideal IS possible! Jellyfish Productions was actually not my first nor my only perfect gig since I made the decision to create gigs that have the potential to be wonderful evenings for all involved. After years of oscillating, I’ve pretty much given up noisy pub gigs or anything where I’d be considered background music. Instead, I’ve focused on unplugged environments and listening spaces. It’s finally paying off, because when people listen, they hear.

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Trapped By An Obsession With Freedom?

What I take on short trips where I'd need stripped down live kit and recording studio as well as general luggage. Wouldn't it be great if that were all the stuff I ever needed?

What I take on short trips where I’d need stripped down live kit and recording studio as well as general luggage. Wouldn’t it be great if that were all the stuff I ever needed?

For the past year I’ve been obsessively paring down my stuff, and eliminating consumerist spending habits from my life. Essentially, I’ve become a minimalist. It’s freed me in all sorts of ways; given me more time for music and for the sweet and simple things…yet I’m still not satisfied. Recently I’ve been considered the 100 thing challenge, the project 333 or 10 item wardrobe etc etc…but then I realised something about minimalism – it’s about freedom from stuff. What good is becoming minimalist, if I spend so much time obsessing about being minimalist? Isn’t that simply being trapped by stuff in a different way?

The weird thing is that since the criteria for these challenges is quite wide, I already qualify for all of them. I thought people felt free after completing these processes, yet I still feel trapped! Why? Well, partly because I hate dealing with stuff. I suppose I could cut down to owning only what I can carry? Wouldn’t that be ultimate freedom?

No, in my case it would just be silly. I’d have to give up the things I use to do what makes me happiest; my recording studio and musical instruments, The other reason I feel trapped must be in my head. When I set myself a goal I put all my efforts into fulfilling it, even when that defeats the object of the exercise. This in itself is what makes me feel trapped. I feel enslaved by the target, without even knowing why anymore. But life is simple when you can pretend that it’s about reaching an arbitrary target. It’s a way of holding onto something solid in the world. So many of us fall into that trap. This isn’t to say that aims and goals are a bad thing.

It’s said that people are happiest when they are doing something that they find difficult, but that’s important to them. We can challenge and express ourselves by doing something that we believe in. We are happy when our goals reflect what we believe in, but unhappy when we’re asked to meet targets that mean nothing to us personally (“I want that report on my desk first thing tomorrow!”)

“Having minimal stuff” has been a good target for me. It allows me physical freedoms (travel, less tidying up, being able to afford experiences), but it’s important not to confuse that with my own inner sense of personal freedom.

It’s also important not to think “I will be happy when my next goal is completed”, because that’s like saying “I’ll never be hungry again after my next meal”. It doesn’t matter whether you think “I will feel free when I have a paid off my mortgage in full” or “I will feel free when I own less than 100 things”… it’s time to give it up!

Freedom or happiness are not defined by these arbitrary goals, but are fluid and reside within us. Targets are measurable and external. We cling to them because we are terrified by the idea that happiness is not a solid object: we can’t build, buy or define it. Over and over again we strive to achieve targets, only to find that all we achieved was the target, not the ultimate happiness we imagined would come along with it. It’s time to get re-alligned.

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Are You A Boy Or A Girl? (The Myth Of Binary Gender)

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For years I’ve been asked “Are you a boy or a girl” by strangers, but really, it’s a question I should have been asking myself.

A 9 year old asked me:

“Because you’ve got short hair, does that mean you’re a boy?”

I thought for a moment… what’s the easiest way to say this?

“Well”, I replied, “the truth is that I AM a girl but often I’d rather be a boy”.

“What, like George out of Famous Five?”

“Yes”

“Oh ok.”

It was an easy conversation, but the child’s mother felt the need to apologise for her son’s question. Apparently it’s offensive to mistake people’s gender. This is probably why the trans community are often so sensitive – it’s difficult when people can’t see which gender you plainly are.

This is the first public statement I’ve made of the following: I identify as transgender.

Although I don't choose to "pass" as male, sometimes I like to see how I might look if I had a male body. Photos like this help me to imagine it.

Although I don’t choose to “pass” as male, sometimes I like to see how I might look if I had a male body. Photos like this help me to imagine it.

I’m comfortable with this, but have been reluctant to be public about it so far. But now it seems important to talk about it in order to raise awareness.

In this day and age, most people have got to grips with the fact that some people have a sex change (gender re-assignment). People can just about cope with this because fits within the mainstream ideas of binary gender. Yet, being transgender simply means this: my gender identity does not match my assigned sex. Those like myself, who neither identify as male or female and whose gender identity isn’t constant, open up a whole new can of androgen worms.

In the late 40s and early 50s, The Kinsey Reports made waves by showing that rather than people being simply gay or straight, a spectrum of sexuality existed. It turned out that people were straight, bi-sexual or gay, to varying degrees, with blurred lines and overlap. Why should the same not be true for gender?

A debate on gender-spectrums is tempting, but I will discipline myself into putting it aside to give my own personal account. Here I’ll explain why and how I identify as mid-gendered.

To start at the beginning, I was born into a female body and understood from a young age that I had a girl’s body. Therefore I set about learning what girls did and did it. By the age of 6 it seemed abundantly clear to me that there had been a mistake, because of course I was a boy.

I knew what boys did and switched instantly to doing those things, insisting on wearing trousers. Spelling “Kim” backwards I found “Mik” and for a while signed all letters as “Micky”.

Completely aware that I had a girl’s body, I realised that if I were to be seen as a boy I would have to act exactly like one. I tried football (badly), wore a baseball cap and bomber jacket. By the age of 11 I had abolished crying or showing emotions that I saw as feminine, especially excitement. I was totally aware that a boy could cry and still be a boy, but since I was a girl trying to pass as a boy, I could never be caught doing anything “girlie”. (I wouldn’t recommend giving up crying to any child, as I am still trying to undo its effects)

Unfortunately by the age of 12, my breasts had fully developed. I realised that I wasn’t going to pass as male anymore. Reluctantly I set about finding out how to be a woman…

…I was rubbish!

After struggling for over 10 years, I met someone who was putting himself through a rite of passage. He decided that to become a true man he would have to set himself challenges that he associated with being strongly masculine. In his case: physical ordeal, walking new ground, hunting and farming. I realised I could do the same thing, by challenging myself to double my physical strength. I managed this within 3 months of weight training. Finally I was strong, like a man and had the androgynous body to match my insides! Then I was set on a course to discover how I could express my gender identity, within the confines of my physical body.

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Beard experimentation. Again, I don’t think this felt tip would convince anyone, but I was touched when after I’d explained that I’m transgender to someone, they asked if they could draw this goatee onto me to help them better understand my gender. A request like that could have seemed offensive, but this person’s intention was good so it wasn’t.

Strangely enough, I never felt the desire to have a sex change or to live as a man. I also don’t feel comfortable simply being labelled as a “strong woman”. I have cried with disappointment to look in the mirror and see a woman’s body, but not frequently enough to want to change my physicality. I see myself as mostly-male, but inside a woman’s body. This means I experience myself as mid-gendered. It’s important to me that those who I’m close to see me this way.

Wait a minute; doesn’t this mean I’m expecting people to accept me as transgender, without even trying “pass” as male? Is this too much to expect from the general public? I don’t think so. People are getting the hang of gender fluidity. I’ve had “the talk” with all my close friends most of whom have seen it coming anyway. I’m not willing to go back to “pretending to be male” by mimicking what other men do/wear/say, just like I did as a kid. I’d certainly be seen as transgender if I did that, but I wouldn’t be myself so it defeats the object. I wouldn’t recommend, “pretending to be male” in this way or “pretending to be female” to anyone male, female or trans.

By the same token I’m not going to start billing myself as a transgender singer-songwriter; it would be false advertising because my voice is female and defines the recordings.

I’m lucky because Kimwei turns out to be an androgynous name. It’s possible to change my title to “Mr.” by deed poll, so that’s my next step. It seems like just the right balance for me to have a female body and a male name. I’d rather be a husband than a wife or a dad than a mum.

If someone you know identifies as transgender, ask them about it – since how they identify their own gender and prefer to be treated will be different for each trans person.

Amnesty International currently have 2 transgender cases in their Write For Rights campaign. I’d encourage everyone to send at least one Write For Rights letter/card this Christmas as it’s a truly effective at helping those who receive them. All their causes are extremely good ones, not just those concerning gender. The letters do more than lift morale – people really do get treated better/pardoned/released from imprisonment as a result this kind of support being sent.

Thankyou for reading

Kimwei

Listen to Kimwei’s original acoustic music at reverbnation.com/kimwei

watch at youtube.com/kimweidotcom ,

interact at facebook.com/kimweidotcom & @kimwedotcom

everything at kimwei.com

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