There was a time when I used to track every single one of my expenses—down to the penny. I was a little crazy. And I’d make a game of seeing how many days I could go without spending money. I patted myself on the back if cash stayed in my wallet. But, still, even if I loaded up on groceries and filled the car with gas on the weekend, I was spending money throughout the week—in the form of electricity for the lights in my house and other basic essentials. If I factored in those per diem amounts, it would be virtually impossible to spend zero in the society we live in—the society we are privileged to live in.
Not everybody lives like we do. Duh. We all know this. But I don’t think we really understand what it’s like (or what it could be like if we were born in different circumstances). That’s what inspired Chris and Zach, two kids (I’m in my mid-thirties so I consider people in their early twenties “kids”) studying environmental development to travel to a remote village in Guatemala and live like 7 out of 10 people there—below the poverty line. What does that “poverty line” equate to? A buck a day. Yep. That’s it. And, sadly, 1.1 billion people live on that amount. That’s so many people living on so very little.
The guys take 2 filmmakers (Ryan and Sean) with them on the journey. The 4 of them stay for 8 weeks and have $56 each to live on. To simulate the unpredictability of income for the people in Guatemala, they put dollar amounts on little pieces of paper and draw out one per day. Some days they draw a $9; some days a $0. That’s how people live there—they never really know when they will have money coming.
Most people rely on a service for the poor called Microfinance, which gives loans to impoverished people trying to get their lives on the right track. The guys doing the documentary use their $125 loan to pay for housing and a plot of land to grow radishes (their chosen business venture). Every 15 days, they have to pay back $6.25 on their loan or they default. That’s the reality of life.
In the beginning of their stay, the guys estimate that they’re getting less than 1000 calories per day each, in the form of black beans, rice, and bananas. Thankfully, they meet Anthony and Rosa, a couple in their early twenties who are already managing a household of 8 (including a newborn). Anthony and Rosa teach them how to make fires more efficiently, eat more substantially (lard is the key), and bargain better in town. Despite the daily juggling act of budgeting, compromising, and sacrificing, Anthony and Rosa (like many Guatemalans) are happy. As Chris says, “they have so little and they’re willing to give so much.” Their smiles are magical really.
That’s Rosa. See what I mean about the magical smiles?
What this documentary showed me was how simultaneously simple and complicated life is when you’re living on $1 per day. It’s simple in that focus narrows and life becomes about bare essentials. It’s complicated in that every small choice can have a big impact. Every penny counts, and must be pondered seriously. I’ll tell you what though—such tight constraints breed great creativity. For example, Anthony is part of savings club in which 12 members each save $12 and one person gets a $144 payout for something big, like a wedding or house repair. The club continues until everyone gets a payout. Pretty cool, huh?
That’s Chino, a young boy who has already accepted a future as a farmer because his family can’t afford education.
At one point during their stay, Chris gets both giardia and E.coli. He can’t afford medicine on his Guatemalan budget, so he uses antibiotics they brought in case of emergency. It begs the question: What do people living at this poverty level do when something unexpected happens? It can be impossible to come back from setbacks that many of us would consider mere “bummers.” In the end, Chris says he’s lost 20 pounds and he gets to go home and rehabilitate. What if the Guatemalan village life wasn’t something to rehabilitate from? What if it was your life? Feeling grateful much? I am.
Because $1 is such a big deal to most people in villages like the one Chris, Zach, Ryan, and Sean visited, it doesn’t take much for you to make a difference. With just a $200 loan, Rosa was able to start a weaving business. Many other women like her have used modest-to-us loans to change their entire lives. So here’s my pitch to you: Make a donation. Visit livingononedollar.org to learn more.
This post is written by: Kim Hooper | Writer
Before I met my husband, I had never been backpacking. I’d been day hiking and camping, and kind of lumped backpacking into the same category. Then we did a week-long trek through the Sierras and I realized it’s so much different.
With backpacking, there is no car packed full of supplies. There is no cell phone coverage. There are no toilets. It’s just you and the trail. Suddenly, magically, your needs get very basic. A tiny tent becomes home and everything that matters to you is strapped to your shoulders. You get to know every pocket and pouch of your backpack. You arrange everything just so—head lamp, toilet paper, trash baggies, bandaids, sunscreen, snacks. At first it’s jarring to live this way. But, after a day or two, there’s something so wonderful about it. It’s liberating. You don’t have anything to worry about but getting from point A to point B with those things strapped to your back. And you learn to look forward to something as simple as a warm fire at the end of the day.
When I started hearing about the tiny house movement, I was intrigued. It didn’t take long for me to understand the appeal of confining yourself and all your belongings to a small space. My husband and I have talked about how we love our small-ish 1,000-square-foot house because it limits our ability to collect shit we don’t really need. But, the tiny house movement is not about 1,000-square-foot homes; it’s about 100-square-foot homes, like playhouses you might see in the backyard of a McMansion owned by parents insistent on buying their toddlers the very best. I mean, 100 square feet is small, really small.
“Tiny: A Story about Living Small” follows the journey of Christopher and his girlfriend, Merete, as they build their tiny house. There are many months of building, some setbacks, lots of how-to YouTube videos, doubts, frustrations, and, ultimately joy. Christopher purchased cheap land in Colorado and built the home in a friend’s backyard. When it was done, he towed it to his land. And that’s that—home.
Christopher and Merete are not alone in doing this. There are lots of people living in tiny houses. It’s hard to count all of them because most are doing it secretly. See, it’s not legal to have a home this small. Building codes demand a minimum square footage. Why, you ask? Well, it has to do with money, as all things do. The housing, banking, and insurance industries profit by selling the idea that “bigger is better.” There’s not much money to be made on tiny houses. They’re cheap to build and often mortgage-free. Many people get around the building codes by putting their tiny houses on wheels so they’re considered “temporary structures.”
Jay Shafer is one of the loudest spokespeople for the tiny house movement. He says:
“The primary asset you get with a tiny house is freedom. The world gets a lot bigger when you’re living small. I can afford to do a lot more now in terms of cash and time. The whole world is now my living room.”
Here’s what other tiny house owners say about the beauty of the lifestyle:
“Less to heat, less to furnish, less to maintain, less to pay for. No mortgage in certain cases. All around, you’re kind of beating the system” –Deek
“Time is a nonrenewable resource that you don’t get back… Do you really want to spend your time working at a job you hate to buy stuff you can’t afford? One of the great things about simplifying is I have the freedom to make choices about my career. What I do for money now is fun…and I don’t think a lot of people can say that about their jobs” –Tammy
“I get this one shot at life and I want it to mean something…I wanted to be larger than the small person I was in my big house” –Dee (Side note: The New York Times wrote an article about Dee here)
People choose tiny houses for different reasons. For some, it’s purely financial. Others are passionate about having less of an environmental impact. Everyone, though, talks about an improved quality of life. Living small is about stepping back from rat race, simplifying so the mind is free to focus on what it really wants. Too often, we get so caught up in this idea of the American Dream—mortgage, marriage, cars in the driveway—that we lose ourselves. There is simply no time to dedicate to being who we really want to be. Just like with backpacking, when you live small, you have mental clarity. Suddenly, everything becomes meaningful because there is no excess, no distraction.
Of course, most of us aren’t ready to pack it all in and move into 100 square feet. Many of the people in the film understand that and say it starts with small choices. It starts with making a conscious effort to determine needs versus wants. It starts with focusing on what matters in your life. It starts with “editing”—deciding what should stay and what should go. The film ends with one tiny house owner encouraging all of us to “think of living as an experiment.” I think those are good words of advice. There is no right or wrong. Just remember, we only get to do this once (as far as I know).
“Tiny: A Story about Living Small” streams on Netflix.
You can learn more about the film at their website.
Want more? Check out another documentary “We the Tiny House People” on YouTube.
This post is written by: Kim Hooper | Writer
Fact: Over 70% of online daters believe in “love at first sight.” Fact: America has one of the highest marriage rates in the western world, but half of marriages end in divorce.
So, what’s going wrong? Do we go into love with unrealistic expectations?
“Americans in Bed” is an HBO documentary that tries to answer those questions by looking at one of the arguably-most-important parts of marriage—sex.
The documentary lets us visit with different couples—old couples, young couples, gay couples, straight couples, faithful couples, unfaithful couples—in bed. Yes, they’re actually in bed when they’re interviewed.
Helen and Red started dating when she was just 16 and have been married 71 years. While he laments, “Time does things to us,” she counters and says, “He still makes me feel young.” These two are legit, the real deal. And their sex life? Well, here’s a glimpse:
Helen: “We’ve had plenty of sex. Did I ever say no to you?”
Red: “Never. You never had a headache.”
Helen: “I never had a headache. Never had a back ache. I was always available. I’ve never refused him sex, ever. I had a very good lover and he taught me all I know. If there’s more to know, I’ll never know.”
Much of what they say about their sex life is past tense, but I didn’t get the sense they love each other any less. In fact, she said, “He cannot die until I die. I don’t want to be left on this Earth alone.” Yeah, I’d say they’re pretty solid.
Deanne and Guy are younger than Helen and Red, by about twenty or thirty years. She admits, “Our sex life is nil. We don’t have sex. It’s not available, so you just move on with your life.” See, he takes certain prescription medications that, as he says, “take him out of the picture in that regard.” She’s quick to say she has a vibrator. She’s just as quick to laugh. Do they seem happy? Yes. He sums it up: “We like to fight the world off together.”
Joe and Patty are in their forties, dealing with the usual distractions of having a family. They talk about how it was so exciting in the beginning and now they have to figure out a time and place to do the deed. Joe adds, “I gotta get you drunk now.” As Joe says, “they have three kids up our butt” and a bed-sharing dog he calls a “cock blocker.” Patty says:
“In my thirties, I was a lot more wild. Now it’s more of a chore… It’s not like, if we don’t have sex today, we’re gonna break up. We both know we’re busy, the privacy is an issue, or whatever…Sometimes, it’s a mutual ‘let’s forget it this week.’”
They laugh a lot, but get serious when they talk about the future, how they can’t wait until it’s just the two of them again. As Joe says, “It’s not about the sex… It’s about affection.”
But then there are other couples whose relationship seems to revolve around sex—and you have to wonder what will happen to them when they’re older and things no longer…work.
Leon and Blanca claim to have sex every morning and every night, and sometimes midday—so, yeah, that’s 2 to 3 times a day. As of the filming date, they had broken up and gotten back together 26 times. The main issue? Leon considers himself polyamorous. As he says, “Monogamy is painful to me.” Blanca is clearly not 100% on board with his ways, but she stays with him. It’s…interesting.
Randy and Julie seem proud of the fact that they can call their relationship “hot.” Julie says, “I think sex is the most important thing in a relationship.” She prioritizes the chemistry over the nuances of life—the boring stuff like sharing a bathroom together and paying bills together. They seem passionate…but also combative. They admit they need to work on communication and how they fight. Quite honestly, they seemed to have the most tension of any of the couples.
There are five other couples. Fatima and Kevin are working through the betrayal of him cheating on her. Antonio and Roberta have had similar trust issues over their years together. Linda and Margie are lesbians who seem like truly affectionate partners in this life. George and Farid are gay guys who waited to have sex for a while, had a “terrible” first time, stayed together anyway, and are parents now. Yasmin and Mohamed, in accordance with Islamic tradition, did not even hold hands until after their wedding, and maintain that waiting made everything more special. They were the sweetest couple, in my opinion.
So what did I learn? Well, every person, every couple, is totally unique. I think people talk about sex a lot (I’m thinking of my girlfriends and I at Happy Hour) in attempts to ascertain what’s “normal.” How often should we have sex with our partners? What kind of sex should we have? Are there certain rules we should live by? Are you noticing a common word here? Should, should, should.
“Americans in Bed” shows that there is no should when it comes to sex. What makes one couple happy may horrify another. What one couple considers a rule breaker may be a way of life for another couple. The real issue is: Are you happy with your sex life the way it is—however it is? If not, why? Can you meet your partner in the proverbial middle so you’re both content?
I’m of the belief that sex is not the most important of a relationship. At all. There are plenty of life things that matter more. That said, I think it’s important to see sex similarly to your partner. Someone who wants sex twice a day, for example, probably won’t work with someone who wants sex once a month. Someone who has a foot fetish probably won’t work with someone who insists on wearing socks during intimacy. You get what I’m saying. But, if a couple wants to stay together for the long haul, there has to be some acceptance of things changing over time. We can’t be necking in the backseat like teenagers for forty years. Or, maybe we can. I feel like Helen and Red just might.
This post is written by: Kim Hooper | Writer
While I think there are many great photographers out there, I rarely turn to other photographers as a source on inspiration. I think I’ve seen a danger in doing so brought to life with one too many awkwardly (in my opinion, anyway) assembled shots with things-found-in-my-purse where someone carefully lays out items they want you to think they carry with them at all times; fancy lotions, designer glasses, hip jewelry, and cherry red lipstick. You know what’s in my purse? An old bag of peanuts, a little plastic bag in case Jimmie poops, a crumbled tampon I would think twice about using but would be my go-to best friend in the event of an emergency, several old receipts, and – if I’m lucky – some chapstick. The point I’m trying to make is that the posed, the staged, and the fake does not appeal to me. And I’ve come to believe that when you can touch base with your inner you and find the things that move you, it will be those same things that will move you in the artistic sense too. It’s deeper than simply trying to recreate something you were “inspired” by (I mean that’s tricky, isn’t it? How often have you seen “inspired by” but come to find out it should actually say “copied from”…); it’s about finding something you believe in and applying it to your art.
For me, it’s authenticity. I suppose that’s a separate topic for a separate post.
One place I find inspiration is in film; specifically in documentaries. I only wish I had more time to give them as every time I watch one, it sets to fire that little spark that lives within. They fill my cup. And so, I’m starting a new series here: A Documentary Review, with reviews written by my super talented sister, Kim, because she has more time than I do, is willing, and is the best writer I know.
What are your favorite documentaries? I’ve seen quite a few lately that I’m dying to share here. I also find inspiration from music and find myself trying to recreate a mood a song has given me. What about you? What inspires you?
Doug Block knows a thing or two about weddings. He’s filmed 112 of them. He’s bonded with 112 couples, sent them their video, and never heard from them again. He got to thinking—what ever became of them? Did they stay together? What challenges were in their marriages? What did they learn? There was only one thing to do—track them down.
“112 Weddings” features eleven couples who hired Doug as their videographer. The film juxtaposes flashbacks from their weddings with present-day interviews. A few of my favorites:
Olivia and Dennis (wedding #49) lived in a hut in Mexico until they had their daughter, Lily. Lily was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 3 and now their lives revolve around caring for her. Dennis says, “There’s no real book on how to take care of a child who may be taken from you at any moment, and dealing with that fear. You’re thrown into a living nightmare that never ends.”
Jodi and Michael (wedding #28) wanted a huge family, but stopped after one. Their daughter has special needs, so Jodi put her business and medical degrees on the backburner to be a stay-at-home mom.
Janice and Alexander (wedding #111) had a partnership ceremony 13 years before deciding to do a legal marriage, with their almost-teenage daughters part of the ceremony.
Danielle and Adam (wedding #90) talk about Danielle’s depression and the effect of that on their marriage. Adam says, “I personally feel like you’re completely worth waiting for, for this to fix itself one day. And even if that’s never, I still think that I wouldn’t want to do this with anybody else, you know?”