Thursday, August 12, 2004

The "Your Money or Your Life" Formulas

I often use a shorthand formula to measure my relative freedom & wage slavery. Its a very simple formula.... a simple ratio of time (in days) spent working to time (in days) spent free from work. And by work, of course, I mean work-for-money.

By my figuring, Thoreau had a magnificent ratio well over 1 to 8. For every day he spent day-laboring, he earned enough to live another eight days without working. My own figure is not nearly as impressive. Since going to Japan two years ago... I have achieved a ratio of 1:2. I worked 6 months in Japan... and earned enough to live another year without working (which included money for buying a van and for travelling around SE Asia).

When I finally needed to make money, I managed to make enough by working from 12-18 hours a week.

I highly recommend this little formula as a way to analyze just how much of your life you are frittering away- enslaved to someone else's priorities and schedule.

Another very good calculation is the one used in the book "Your Money or Your Life"... a formula for determining your real hourly wage. First you start with the generally accepted figure... in one column write the average number of hours you work per week.... in another column write the amount of money you typically make in a week.

Then, begin to add all work related time expenditures.... How much time do you spend, each week, on commuting to your job? Add that figure to the "hours worked" column. How many hours do you spend getting ready for work (dressing, grooming, etc.)? Add that time to the "hours worked" column. How many hours a week do you spend "de-compressing" from your job... too tired to do anything but watch TV or vegetate or sleep? Add that time. And add any other time that is wasted/spent as a result of working your job.

Next, do the same with money. For example, how much money do you spend, per week, commuting to work (gas, car maintenence, bus fares, etc..)? SUBTRACT that amount from your weekly income. How much money, pro-rated to the week, do you spend on clothes, tools, etc.. related to your job. Subtract that from your income. How much do you spend on expensive lunches or other expenses you wouldn't have if you weren't working? Subtract those. Subtract the cost of "mindless entertainment" used to de-compress from the job. Subtract the cost of childcare. Subtract health care and medicine costs- of illness brought on by job-related stress. Subtract the costs of on the job injuries. Try to capture all of the expenses related to the job.

Now total up the true weekly income and the true number of work-related hours... and divide income by the hours. This, then, is your true hourly wage... and it is probably much lower than what your W-2 says. This formula is a great tool for discovering what you are really trading your valuable time for. It is also a good tool for evaluating different jobs. A job with a higher salary may, in fact, pay a much lower real hourly wage-- if it requires, for example, a long commute, new clothes, unpaid overtime, and lots of de-compression time.

Unfortunately, most Hobopoets have to earn an income occaisonally. Our most practical goals are a) to work less while enjoying more freedom... and b) to get the highest real hourly wage for the least amount (or most pleasant) work possible.

A Large Dose of Sanity

At times when I am overwhelmed by petty concerns, anxieties, and the like... I time and again return to one author for a centering dose of sanity: Thoreau. Thoreau is the archetypical American Hobopoet... our American Lao Tzu. He is, in my opinion, the greatest American writer (that I have read). And so again, this week, I returned to Walden... and again I find my mind calmed and clarified by his words. Here are a few quotes that, on this reading, particularly resonated:

Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly the need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add in his toes and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumbnail...

Instead of three meals, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion...

Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry. men say that a stitch in time saves nine, and so they take a thousand stitches today to save nine tomorrow. As for work, we haven't any of any consequence.

News & Current Events
And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in Winter,-- we never need read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications? To a philosopher all news , as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea. Yet not a few are greedy after this gossip.... shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths, while reality is fabulous.

House Building
There is some of the same fitness in a man's building his own house that there is in a bird's building its own nest... shall we ever resign the pleasure of construction to the carpenter? I never in all my walks came across a man engaged in so simple and natural an occupation as building his house. Where is this division of labor to end? And what object does it finally serve? No doubt another may also think for me; but it is not therefore desirable that he should do so to the exclusion of my thinking for myself.

Vagrant Scholarship
"But", says one, "you do not mean that the students should go to work with their hands instead of their heads?" I do not mean that exactly, but I mean something which he might think a great deal like that; I mean that they should not play life, or study it merely, while the community supports them at this expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end.

With a little more deliberation in the choice of their pursuits, all men would perhaps become essentially students and observers, for certainly their nature and destiny are interesting to all alike.

Bosses and Wage Slaves
As for the Pyramids, there is nothing to wonder at in them so much as the fact that so many men could be found degraded enough to spend their lives constructing a tomb for some ambitious booby, whom it would have been wiser and manlier to have drowned in the Nile, and then given his body to the dogs.

Business & Trade
But I have since learned that trade curses everything it handles, and though you trade in messages from heaven, the whole curse of trade attaches to the business.

Doing Good
As for Doing-Good, that is one of the professions which are full. Moreover, I have tried it fairly, and, strange as it may seem, am satisfied that it does not agree with my constitution... What good I do, in the common sense of that word, must be aside from my main path, and for the most part wholly unintended... There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted. It is human, it is divine, carrion. If I knew for certain that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life, as from that dry and parching wind of the African deserts call the simoon, which fills the mouth and nose and ears and eyes with dust till you are suffocated, for fear that I should get some of his good done to me, --- some of its virus mingled with my blood. No, -- in this case I would rather suffer evil the natural way. A man is not a good man to me because he will feed me if I should be starving, or warm me if I should be freezing, or pull me out of a ditch if I should ever fall into one. I can find you a good Newfoundland dog that will do as much. Philanthropy is not love for one's fellow-man in the broadest sense...

Often the poor man is not so cold and hungry as his is dirty and ragged and gross... I was wont to pity the clumsy Irish laborers who cut ice on the pond, in such mean and ragged clothes, while I shivered in my more tidy and somewhat more fashionable garments, till, one bitter cold day, one who had slipped into the water came to my house to warm him[self], and I saw him strip off three pairs of pants and two pairs of stockings ere he got down to the skin, though they were dirty and ragged enough, it is true, and that he could afford to refuse the extra garments I offered him, he had so many intra ones... Then I began to pity myself, and I saw it would be a greater charity to bestow on me a flannel shirt than a whole slop-shop on him...

Philanthropy is almost the only virtue which is sufficiently appreciated my mankind. Nay, it is greatly overrated; and it is our selfishness which overrates it. I would not subtract anything from the praise that is due to philanthropy, but merely demand justice for all who by their lives and works are a blessing to mankind... [A man's] goodness must not be a partial and transitory act, but a constant superfluity, which costs him nothing and of which he is unconscious...

I believe that what so saddens the reformer is not his sympathy with his fellows in distress, but, though he be the holiest son of God, is his private ail. Let this be righted... and he will forsake his generous companions without apology. If, then, we would indeed restore mankind by truly Indian, botanic, magnetic, or natural means, let us first be as simple and well as Nature ourselves, dispel the clouds which hang over our own brows, and take up a little life into our pores. Do not stay to be an overseer of the poor, but endeavor to become one of the worthies of the world.

American Houses
Many of our houses, both public and private, with their almost innumerable apartments, their huge halls and their cellars for the storage of wines and other munitions of peace, appear to me extravagantly large for their inhabitants. They are so vast and magnificent that the latter seem to be only vermin which infest them.

Safety and Danger
The old and infirm and the timid, of whatever age or sex, thought most of sickness, and sudden accident and death; to them life seemed full of danger, -- what danger is there if you don't think of any-- and they thought that a prudent man would carefully select the safest position where Dr. B. might be on hand at a moment's warning..

The amount of it is, if a man is alive, there is always danger that he may die, though the danger must be allowed to be less in proportion as he is dead-and-alive to begin with. A man sits as many risks as he runs.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

A week in Maine

I just spent a week in rural Maine. Most people, if they have been to Maine at all, will have trek in as far as Bar Harbor (and Acadia National Park) or the outlets in Freeport.

But not the Bentleys. My relatives gather in Maine every couple of years, every time one of the previous generation turns 50. Eight years ago, when I had just graduated from college, we gathered on Moosehead Lake to celebrate my fatherís half-century. This summer, we were celebrated 50 years for my Dadís sister Ellen. My girlfriend Lisa agreed to come along and participate in the Bentley event. We took a series of cabins on the western shore of East Grand Lake, near Danforth. On the other side of the lake was Canadian soil, the province of New Brunswick. Regardless of which country you were in (and border conditions were pretty lax, in spite of the current (yet again) orange ìhomeland securityî alert) it wasnít so much civilization as wilderness. As we drove in (Lisa + my dad, step mom, brother Scott, and sister Alison) we saw a moose grazing in the swamp on the side of the road. It was the first of several excellent wildlife encounters in an area both rich in wildlife and deficient in people. We also saw weasels, bald eagles, hummingbirds, fish, snakes, crayfish (caught by my nephew Hunter), and the wildest beast of all, Zoe, the bichon frise owned by my Uncle Gary and Aunt Andrea.

The week was defined by swimming, boating, fishing (on the part of my brother Connor, nephew Hunter, and uncle Pat), reading, talking, and eating. I interviewed my aunts and uncles about the semi-mythic Uncle Jack, in preparation for a future essay. I snorkeled in the lake with Patís dive gear. I read a half-dozen magazines and a couple books. I walked around with Lisa. I talked with my cousins and uncles and aunts.

I was really impressed with how empty Maine is. Lisa and I drove up to Houlton (45 minutes on the road) one day, and encountered a scant ten or so cars. I couldnít believe how light the traffic was, especially coming from a place like DC. I asked Ellen what it was like to live up there. She said it was great in terms of people and wilderness, but indeed it was rather cold in the winter. I mulled over the possibilities of finding a community college teaching job there.

Got home to DC last night. Glad to be home. In spite of the traffic and terrorism threats, itís nice to sleep in my own bed. Photos are online at