Forget #vanlife, what about #nomadlife?
November 6, 2017 11:16 AM   Subscribe

Miriam Lancewood and her husband Peter live a decidedly spartan nomadic existence. (slTheGuardian)

Caveat: article has a passage from the subject's book attached at the end.
posted by Kitteh (38 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
There was a pilot who told her he had recurring fantasies of pushing his wife out of his helicopter. Peter’s theory is, “Modern civilisation, the suburban life just doesn’t suit men’s nature. It leaves men feeling constantly unchallenged [....]"
Christ on a cracker.
posted by inconstant at 11:22 AM on November 6 [22 favorites]


And also,” she adds, passionately, “why do women behave so weakly, physically? As in, ‘I can’t lift that,’ ‘I can’t shit outside,’ ‘I can’t have my period in the bush.’” She thinks it’s a shame women are missing out.

It’s not that I can’t shit outside, it’s that I don’t want to. There will be time enough for all that when we’re living in our [politics redacted] post-apocalypse caves. Right now, I will enjoy indoor toilets, hot water, and not using twigs for tampons. Civilisation is so fragile, a thin crust of cities over the vast indifference of nature.
posted by betweenthebars at 11:44 AM on November 6 [30 favorites]


I hear an hour long conversation with Miriam on the radio earlier this year. I admire her.
posted by Thella at 11:46 AM on November 6 [2 favorites]


It must be nice to have government healthcare so you aren't shackled to a job on threat of dying.
posted by Megafly at 12:28 PM on November 6 [28 favorites]


Who smelts the iron for their pots and bullets? Who makes the nylon for their sleeping bags? I mean, kudos to them for going "off grid" if that's their thing, but let's not fool ourselves.
posted by conifer at 12:38 PM on November 6 [7 favorites]


I think there's a difference between a fully self-sufficient life and a low-impact one. They seem to be on the latter.

If anything, it doesn't sound like they're rejecting society (cf their desire to meet up with traveling Roma communities in Bulgaria), they're rejecting sedentary society.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 12:48 PM on November 6 [4 favorites]


That said, not for me either.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 12:48 PM on November 6 [1 favorite]


I am certainly not jealous of how extensively and how badly they think about other people. That is not what I want to spend my life and mental energy doing, for sure.
posted by Dashy at 12:51 PM on November 6 [15 favorites]


I posted this because it is bizarrely fascinating, if a little condescending in the way they seem to think of others. I mean, I loathe camping despite having married into a camping/canoeing/outdoors sort of family so no way in hell am I giving up hot water and toilets, but I have to admire the utter rejection of all that.
posted by Kitteh at 12:53 PM on November 6 [5 favorites]


I recognize that the way they're choosing to live only works because others haven't made that choice, but putting all that aside, these two, in particular Miriam, are VERY interesting and fun to watch. I think they're more likeable in interviews than in print.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:01 PM on November 6


It must be nice to have government healthcare so you aren't shackled to a job on threat of dying.

At the same time, even with it, if enough people were to decide they'd rather spend their time romping about, knowing that the public would pay for their health care (and housing, food, etc.) should they get into trouble, that support system would crumble. There's a lot of work to be done on things like universal basic income before societies can handle this sort of thing at scale.
posted by Candleman at 1:15 PM on November 6 [2 favorites]


He finds it startling that, with the advances in birth control, the majority of women still choose to have children. “I’ve met so many interesting women in their 20s, then along comes 30 and they succumb to the pressure. You think: ‘Why did you do nothing else with your life?’”

Ah, yes. When women become mothers they become boring to men. For as self-reflective as this dude thinks he is, I would recommend he spend more time unpacking why he thinks this is. I'll give him a clue: for many women, motherhood is way of breaking free from male domination and dependence, rather than evidence of them succumbing to it.
posted by scantee at 1:16 PM on November 6 [28 favorites]


Blair Braverman lives an amazing outdoorsy life and writes about being a woman outdoors without once pulling the "not like other girls" bullshit. Miriam's young yet. When she's not the lithe sylph her husband wanted, she'll suddenly find herself on the other side of the door. A man who associates women with having his nature being stifled is a poor long-term bet.

Humans did evolve in the wilderness, but they evolved to live with other people. Foraging bands depend strongly on human ties. I am extremely suspicious of a modern nomadic lifestyle (outside, of course, of camping and other temporary escapes) that is promoted with no reference to that.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:35 PM on November 6 [13 favorites]


I can't, on the whole, see him settling for slowing down. They talk about going back to some kind of base human state, but they're actually living in a way that generally would be reserved for only young healthy people who didn't yet have children--they rely on artificiality to make children not an issue. He derides other men of his generation for not being able to stay mobile, and I'd go for the idea generally that he's certainly very fit and that's a good thing, but--dude, clean living only gets you so far. I get the feeling he's not planning on using much in the way of services he hasn't been paying into--which makes me think that they've had some conversations about suicide, enough that they're both comfortable with the idea. She's going to move on; he's going to die. Being comfortable with death is a good thing, but at the same time, it's a weird play-acting of a "natural life" that can abide neither the natural beginning of a life nor the natural end of one.

I don't see him getting a younger model at this point; he's, what, about 70? His years of doing this are extremely limited and I think he's going to find himself unable to keep up long before that happens. This seems like they've set it up in a way that, well, they've got their flaws but at least it's mutually beneficial: She has a few years of adventuring before having an opportunity to go work out what her long-term life is going to look like, and he has a last hurrah. It might actually make more sense than if they were, say, ten years apart instead of 37.
posted by Sequence at 1:53 PM on November 6 [3 favorites]


It's so heartwarming how weak and pathetic she thinks women are, such a refreshing point of view in this day and age.
posted by poffin boffin at 2:05 PM on November 6 [31 favorites]


He finds it startling that, with the advances in birth control, the majority of women still choose to have children. “I’ve met so many interesting women in their 20s, then along comes 30 and they succumb to the pressure. You think: ‘Why did you do nothing else with your life?’”

This is interestingly the mirror-side of what I've seen in the performing arts, although it's not limited only to women. So many of us decided we couldn't have children in our 20s and 30s because what if The Industry came calling and we needed to be free, and then by the time we had either attained sustainable-ish careers or moved on, it was too late for a family. Many of my colleagues of both sexes have regrets about those decisions. So... potato/potahto?
posted by slkinsey at 2:07 PM on November 6


this is great stuff but I'm pretty sure that Bulgarian Roma aren't travelers. Roma culture varies greatly from place to place and I don't think the Bulgarian Roma have been nomadic in a long time, not just as a result of modern government interventions etc.
posted by girl Mark at 2:22 PM on November 6


I'd like to read her book. This was interesting, thanks for posting, Kitteh.
posted by theora55 at 3:14 PM on November 6 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I noped out with her novel hair washing routine. Best of luck to them, not how I would want to live and I am grateful I don't have to.
posted by Space Kitty at 5:44 PM on November 6


let's not go blaming all the sexism on the subjects when there's plenty coming from the Guardian! such as:

Interestingly, the women at her readings in Holland are usually aged between 40 and 50; maybe they are drawn to Miriam’s story because they see hers as the alternative life they could have led if only they’d been bolder and conformed less.


"could have" led. can't now, for sure! it's true, you turn 40 and just like that you're literally incapable of doing dumb bullshit for no reason. bad judgment is illegal, and women over 40 are too timid to break the law.

still, fuck the husband most. oh, is it hard to find women in their 60s who aren't sentimentally attached to accessible modern medicine and non piss-based shampoos? it's funny, because I completely believe that and yet it has no relevance to you at all because you are OVER SEVENTY. stop skeeving on the innocent young 60-somethings and start patronizing women your own age for a change.

edit: or just about 70, I can't add numbers. close enough.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:07 PM on November 6 [13 favorites]


I have a friend who was part of this hardcore outdoors club in college that would take them on week-long backpacking trips into the wilderness where people would get frostbite if they brought the wrong shoes, where they would squirm through caves they had to hike miles to, spending hours down in the darkness. and he still keeps a lot of this up albeit with a smaller frequency

it's a very different lifestyle than the one I lead and I think he approaches it in a healthy way - there's none of the 'I'm better because I commune better with nature and fuck civilization' aspect of it, probably the most annoying thing are all of the lovely pictures he takes out in the wilderness and the sheer delight he has in taking a picture of every single creature he runs across. camping is a part of his life as much as community organizing or exercise is a part of mine - and I think we are both comfortable with admitting that we do it because it helps us with our mental health issues and have been a major part of our own self-actualization

I mean, there's a lot of merit in what he does, too. there's really nothing like getting stoned out of your gourd, shooting the shit under a clear night sky, thinking and dreaming about the universe without perpetual reminders of all the responsibilities you are bound to back in complicated, systems-dense urban life. so I'm not surprised that some people would take that attitude and make it a central part of their identity; it's probably one part toxic masculinity, one part individualism, and many parts attempting to recreate the first time you really realized how tiny of a speck you are in the grand scheme of themes (or whatever stoned epiphany holds the most emotional resonance with you, lol)
posted by runt at 8:45 PM on November 6 [1 favorite]


A video interview with Miriam and Peter.
posted by Thella at 10:05 PM on November 6 [1 favorite]


metafilter: stop skeeving on the innocent young 60-somethings
posted by tenderly at 10:36 PM on November 6


seriously though! there's plenty of grizzled old ladies who I'm sure would enjoy setting out on a little off-the-grid death wish fulfillment, but the main obstacles are A. as noted in the article, the wild is full of dudes like this. relatively speaking. you want to be alone with nature and look a bear right in its eyes before whacking it with your whacking stick, running into just one "nomad" gentleman is one too many. men talk more than bears do.

and B. this is the kind of thing you decide to do when you're retired and sick of your boring grandchildren, and most of your 60s are a bit too young for that for most women.

the other thing is OBVIOUSLY women are going to get more into this kind of thing the older they get, because YES Miriam, you are correct about women's general lack of toughness insofar as nobody really wants to fashion their own tampons by twisting together coconut fibers they scraped off of coconuts with their fingernails, and the great thing about menopause is after that, you don't have to. I expect fashioning your own hip replacement out of ball bearings you picked from the ball bearing bushes is a great deal more rewarding.
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:09 PM on November 6 [10 favorites]


Sad to see the snide comments here. Why disparage people you don't know and who don't harm you? Their life is unique and in terms of mental and physical wellbeing living in the bush for a few months utterly eclipses whatever tepid and moralizing criticism this comment box allows for.
posted by dmh at 11:35 PM on November 6 [6 favorites]


non piss-based shampoos

"Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific, Or At Least Not Like Stale Urine"
posted by thelonius at 12:07 AM on November 7 [2 favorites]


Why disparage people you don't know and who don't harm you?

To be fair, Peter and Miriam spend much of the interview doing just that. Nobody likes being sneered at I suppose.

There's a good argument to be made that living insulated from the natural world in the way that so many of us do today is bad for us, that those who turn in most of civilisation and live in the wild like they do have access to parts of the human experience we don't even know we've lost. It's a fascinating way to live, it's a fascinating way to approach your life, I find it really interesting to read about that and if part of living this way involves washing your hair with urine then hey, your hair, your business.

I would have liked to have heard more about this, and less about disparaging others (and it is interesting to see when it's targeted at others specifically rather than modern civilisation as a vague oppressive whole; the women who conform and don't rebel and have children, ugh so boring why do people limit themselves so, vs the men who daydream about life without their young children and pushing their wives out of helicopters, oh how tragic look how suburbia crushes men's dreams). I would have liked to learn more about the practicalities of their day-to-day life, and more as well about the trade-offs they did and didn't make; I notice the interviewer mentions Miriam's unorthodox hair and dental routines, but also her shaved legs, why did she go with that? For example.

But, when you look at the extract from the book included here, it's.... Miriam rushing round doing chores while Peter sits reading a newspaper in the sun, and Miriam explaining both how he totally did offer to help but she wouldn't let him, and also how maybe there is great wisdom to be learned from his attitude, maybe we should all aspire to have the inner calmness of Peter and be less hung up about cleaning. Which, I don't know about you, but I can hear about that dynamic alllllll I like from a good half of my married, female, suburban, with-kids friends. ("Well, Dave does offer to do the laundry, but he's just so bad at getting it right and honestly it's like I find it more relaxing to do it myself, really, you know? Like it's my domain? Maybe it's a control thing?") Add that to Miriams *ahem* generous interpretation of how Peter's perceived insults to her are actually a valuable teaching method in self-reflection, and I feel like I already know a ton of Peter and Miriams already. You can take the couple out of the damaging dynamics of modern civilisation, but maybe you can't take the damaging dynamics of modern civilisation out of the couple.
posted by Catseye at 3:30 AM on November 7 [16 favorites]


You can take the couple out of the damaging dynamics of modern civilisation, but maybe you can't take the damaging dynamics of modern civilisation out of the couple.

I think the relationship dynamic here is an interesting one, but I'm not sure how to reconcile Miriam's amply attested well-being and agency with the conjecture that this relationship dynamic is somehow damaging.
posted by dmh at 5:37 AM on November 7


I know a lot of people who live alternative lifestyles, including my father, who travels the world, often living off-grid the way these two do, with just one backpack of belongings. The people I know who live this way are able to expound, seemingly very positively and easily, about why it brings them joy and happiness and why others should consider the lifestyle, without ever taking a massive shit on people who make more traditional life choices. Knowing that it is possible to live in extreme ways and be generous and understanding with those that don't live that way, you'll excuse me for not thinking that these two somehow deserve a free pass to be misogynists just because they happen to be thinking their terrible thoughts in the woods.
posted by scantee at 6:54 AM on November 7 [7 favorites]


there's plenty of grizzled old ladies who I'm sure would enjoy setting out on a little off-the-grid death wish fulfillment, but the main obstacles are -

Seriously, by the time you're an independent, gives-no-fucks grizzled old lady, grizzled old men are the last people on earth you'd want to be adventuring with.
posted by glasseyes at 7:50 AM on November 7 [10 favorites]


I'm not sure how to reconcile Miriam's amply attested well-being and agency with the conjecture that this relationship dynamic is somehow damaging.

Because I’m using ‘damaging’ in a broader sense than you are, I’m guessing, if you think “well she looks fine and she’s making her own decisions” is evidence against it. To clarify, I’m not suggesting he’s abusing her or that she’s living a life of misery. Nevertheless, power dynamics we have all of us unconsciously absorbed from the toxic civilisation they are keen to escape are not as easily jettisoned as shampoo.
posted by Catseye at 8:22 AM on November 7 [1 favorite]


people who make more traditional life choices.

plus also, hampering all your super fun exciting life choices by dragging a husband around with you to make everything harder is as traditional a life choice as a woman can make. though I do not suggest she should not be free to have made it. but if I wanted to shed the confining shackles of civilization, and I do, life partnership with certain sort of man is the first burden I would cast off.

He finds it startling that, with the advances in birth control, the majority of women still choose to have children


don't ever ask yourself why the majority of women, and one woman in particular, still choose to have husbands, Peter. you might startle yourself right into an injury.

What do the women who write to her tell her the book inspired them to do? “One woman said: ‘You inspired me to get a divorce.’


is that right.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:26 AM on November 7 [8 favorites]


Some more interviews with Miriam on her website.
posted by Catseye at 9:46 AM on November 7 [1 favorite]


Well, having read the article and then watched one of the videos I love her and think their lifestyle is pretty amazing. And I don't mind her negative attitude towards my type of lifestyle either - a bit of constructive criticism has never bothered me. I don't think I could do what they're doing for many reasons but that doesn't mean there isn't a lot of merit in it. I will probably buy the book. I don't really have an opinion about him except that if this is the person she chooses to be in a relationship with and she certainly seems happy then who am I to criticise.
posted by hazyjane at 11:56 AM on November 7


...would Peter really be here with a woman his own age? “I have never met a woman in her 60s who wants to live as I do,” he says.

It's not the lifestyle, Peter; it's you.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:40 PM on November 7 [4 favorites]


Why is she walking around with her bow like that? Does she think she's going to have to suddenly shoot something and won't have time to put it together?
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:42 PM on November 7


The best of metafilter, when you read the article saying to yourself:

Fair enough.
Jesus!
Fair enough.
Jesus!!
Fair enough.
JESUS.

(Also I am loving the comments.)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 12:58 PM on November 7 [7 favorites]


Knowing that it is possible to live in extreme ways and be generous and understanding with those that don't live that way, you'll excuse me for not thinking that these two somehow deserve a free pass to be misogynists just because they happen to be thinking their terrible thoughts in the woods.

Haha yeah indeed. Not sure if the smugness is something the reported played up or if they really are that smug, but it's really off-putting to read their ideas about how other people live, and on women especially, ugh, they make such ridiculous generalisations and stupid assumptions, it makes them sound like spoilt teenagers railing against the bourgeois lifestyle of their parents rather than people who are confident and content with an odd lifestyle they have chosen for themselves.

It's not even a particularly interesting lifestyle from a wider social or political perspective, it's entirely apolitical and individualistic, the choice they've made, so their criticism of society sounds so hollow and superficial. They didn't set up a self-sustaining community or I don't know anything with a social impact that would be truly inspiring or useful to others, they just live isolated for themselves so I don't see the point of their bashing everyone else who doesn't. Bit too defensive?

And ooh yeah the misogyny oozing from their words... That thing about women and "the alternative life they could have led if only they’d been bolder and conformed less", it made me laugh... they couldn't possibly conceive that of all the fun interesting truly bold and non conforming ways a woman could long for, maybe the most appealing choices do not involve living isolated in the woods with an old man who could be your father and no contact with anyone else, and no cultural and social interests to cultivate, and nothing to join and participate in and build and create with like-minded souls?

When I think of all the wonderful women who have contributed something to society and made choices that are truly inspiring for younger generations, even those whose choice was simply living a fully independent life and having lots of fun in the process, none of those were hermits in the woods living with no comfort and spending most of the day busy on basic tasks like providing for food... (While the man relaxes reading a newspaper, ha, soo bold and non-conforming really! Makes me think of those early Walking Dead episodes with the women doing all that laundry, only here it sounds like laundry plus hunting...)
This is interesting as a reminder that more civilization, not less, is what's needed for women to prosper and have more choices, not less.
posted by bitteschoen at 7:37 PM on November 7 [3 favorites]


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