Why This Blog, and Why Now?

The idea for this blog came after I read a couple of books by people who had survived the Great Depression. As a history major and former historical re-enactor, I became very aware of two things: history is getting ready to repeat, and we have lost our collective wisdom on surviving hard times.

Scott's Run, West Virginia. Children of employed miners at Miller Hill, March 1937. Photographer: Hine, Lewis.When the Depression hit, many people were already living in poverty or were subsistence farming. As a great-aunt said, when asked what she remembered about the Depression: “We were so poor, we didn’t know there was a Great Depression.” But even among the people who were solidly middle class when the Depression hit, almost all of them were just barely removed from poverty. Either they had grown up poor and climbed their way up the economic ladder themselves, or their parents or grandparents had been poor (possibly immigrants) and had slowly elevated the family over a generation or two.The vast majority of Americans either knew what it was like to be very poor from first-hand experience, or their parents or grandparents had told them (or were still around to tell them) what it was like growing up in poverty. They had knowledge and skills they could dust off and put to use to survive the Depression. And even if they didn’t personally have that knowledge, their friends and neighbors did.

In the Laura Ingalls book, The Long Winter, there comes a point when their kerosene is running low and snow storms have blocked all commerce; there’s no more to be had and none incoming for a long time. Ma makes the comment that she could make a light if she had some oil or grease; they didn’t have “new-fangled” kerosene lamps back when she was a girl. She ended up making a “button lamp” from some axle grease, a button, and some scrap fabric for the wick. This is an example of someone from an older generation having knowledge of how to survive when the most modern tech of the day ran out.   

Scott's Run, West Virginia. Shack Community Center, March 1937. Photographer: Hine, Lewis.

As I read stories about people making dandelion salads and putting cardboard in their holey shoes, it dawned on me that the vast majority of Americans don’t know what it’s like to be poor. And I don’t mean poor as in you’re eating bologna sandwiches for a week until payday, or your electricity has been cut off and you can’t get the money together to turn it back on for a few days. I mean no power at all. No running water. Eating weeds out of the yard to have something to eat. Collecting coal on the railroad tracks to have enough to heat the house for the day. Using cardboard and newspaper to cover holes in the walls in the winter. Going barefoot in warm weather rather than wear out a pair of shoes that can’t be replaced.

Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother, Nipomo, CA (1936)

Poor-poor. The kind of poor my grandparents’ generation knew when there was no electricity, no running water, no indoor toilets—when the only food you had to eat was what you grew yourself—when the only clothes you had to wear was what you made yourself from flour or chicken feed sacks. My fear is that this country, which is clearly following the same path as Rome did in its twilight years, is going to become poor-poor. And because the vast majority of us don’t know what it’s like to be poor-poor, there is going to be a lot of needless suffering until enough people figure out survival techniques and the knowledge spreads so that everyone can adapt and benefit from it.

I’m of an age that I learned a little bit from my grandmother, who was a child during the Depression, and then who lived under rationing during WWII as a young married woman. I’ve also been interested in this period of time and have read and watched quite a bit about it, so I have accumulated knowledge, even if it’s not first-hand. I also spent nearly 16 years doing medieval re-enacting where sewing your own clothes by hand and living in a tent and going without power or a proper bath for a week was considered a good time. And additionally, I’ve spent several years prepping—both in terms of accumulating physical products needed to get through rough times, and also accumulating the information vital to surviving in a complete grid-down scenario.

My hope is that I can share useful information to people so if they fall on hard times, they will know what to do to cope. A lot of the information I intend to share on this blog will be practical in nature, such as making salads from common yard weeds, how to downsize to a tiny house or move overseas where the cost of living is much cheaper, or side hustles you can do to make some extra money. But some of the posts will be aimed at making you think outside the box.

For a long time, the middle class in America has followed the same formula: get an education—preferably college—get an office job, get married, buy a house and a couple of cars, have 2.5 kids, work until your sixties, take a big trip or two, then spend your remaining years puttering around the house and providing free day care for your grandchildren who are being brought up to follow the same path.

Row of men at the New York City docks out of work during the depression, 1934. Photographer: Hine, Lewis.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with this life plan, but unfortunately, the times have changed and this life plan is increasingly out of reach for many people, although they desperately cling to it, financing it with more and more debt, not knowing what other plan to follow.

Whether you see us as a collapsing empire, a la Rome, or in the midst of an epic Fourth Turning, or you have some other theory about why our standard of living is declining year after year while inflation is rising, the times they are a’changing and you need to adapt. The life your parents and grandparents led may not be possible for you and your children. And even buying the illusion of it using credit cards and student loans is no longer sustainable. People have to change their ideas about education, employment, housing, and what it means to have a nice, comfortable life. Increasingly, it seems like people don’t even know what a nice, comfortable life looks like. Even if they have what they think they need to have to be happy, they’re not happy. More and more people are chasing the end of the rainbow, only to find the pot of gold empty. There’s something sorely lacking in many of our lives and it’s not money or a new gadget.

So I hope to show you all some new ideas for organizing your life and pursuing goals that maybe you didn’t know existed, or it didn’t occur to you that maybe living in a different way would fill that hole of sadness that you’ve been shoveling money and possessions into without success. If it’s an idea that’s not mainstream, or an unorthodox method for doing things, I want to try to feature it here. Many of the things I want to cover will be old knowledge and ways that just went out of fashion or were made obsolete by technology. Other things I will cover are commonplace in other cultures or communities, but they’re not standard for middle-class America (but maybe we need to make them commonplace).

Hopefully you will learn something that will be of great value in your life. I want us all to survive and thrive in the hard times that lay ahead. And I most especially want all of us to live somewhere other than in a box.


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