Our local financial and political environment is so pathetic that I barely leave home lest I hang my head in shame among those who refuse to move themselves beyond denial. To them I am a loser, a worthless individual because only I am unemployed but I am also criminal—because despite our education and adaptability, despite being highly skilled and capable, we cannot afford car insurance. You see, we have this outlandish requirement that we survive in a sustainable manner. Were it not for the federally funded Lifeline service we would have no telephone. Remarkably, I have paid (yes, actually paid!) for the Lifeline service for five years through four different phone companies and never had a reliable phone. It finally got to the point where I can call out but incoming calls do not ring. And so, I cannot run ads for my skills, I cannot include a phone number when apply for jobs, or have a doctor contact me, all because the phone does not work properly. My doctor gave up (rendering my new Obamacare benefits useless), employers think I am irresponsible because they cannot call me, and self-employment opportunities are severely limited for someone without a reliable phone. No amount of contact with local representatives is able to solve the problem of making the phone service reliable.
Meanwhile, there is no money and everything is increasing in price. We don't need to worry about our lack of car insurance because my husband is well-established with the local police department. They know; they understand. We are not any trouble for them, but what if a new cop were hired, with a different attitude? This can happen at any time, and the new penalties recently enacted to discourage driving without insurance digs a deeper hole for us, one impossible to dig out of. Meanwhile, we must drive where we cannot walk, and the design of the place is such that most places cannot be reached on foot. New job opportunities might open up, if only our car were allowed to venture just outside of town, or if we could actually afford the fuel, the mandatory auto insurance or an actual working telephone. More importantly we must purchase gas to mow and trim our lawn. Keeping up appearances is more important here than anything else. A manicured lawn is a vane symbol, but it is also a legal requirement that is important for us. We are terrified of talking to the wrong person at the wrong time about the wrong things. Even though we are law-abiding citizens, we could easily become victims of more oppression.
I don't mean to sound depressing, but this is the reality. In spite of it, we do very well for ourselves. Occasionally, some neighbors will admit in private and outside of earshot that they look up to us. Some profess to envy what seems to them our ability to do as we please, feeling free of the constraints of this corrupt political and religious system hell-bent on oppression at every turn. They have to stretch their minds really hard to comprehend that we use newspaper in place of toilet paper, or that paper towels having been missing from our lives for more than five years, replaced by real napkins. Yet our adaptions are not a question of style but forced upon us by circumstance and pure necessity. We installed a wood-burning stove to reduce our enormous electric bill, not realizing we would eventually have to cook on it too. We are now gathering all the local wood for future fuel before we are have to compete with the neighbors for any that is left. Even so, it will become our most valuable asset. All those tiny twigs that everyone throws away in the trash: we break down every single one of them for kindling. It's tedious, but also it's commonsense and a constant reality check, though the now obsolete “modern” ideas and concepts continue to cloud my mind. Guilt and, sometimes, self pity rear their ugly heads when I compare my lifestyle to those nearby, who still lead “normal” lives even though my tomatoes, compost piles and essential supplies are far more valuable because of what is coming—for everyone.
Why is everyone still just babbling about these things? Don't they know they need to start now? Don't they know, like me, that they should read your lessons ten times over take careful notes because those lessons may not be accessible in the future? Don't they realize that gardening and growing one's own food requires years of practice and failure? Do they think that someone will provide them with free training instructions at no cost? Do they to think that reading about gardening is insufficient for success?
Whatever it is they think, it is a matter of time before they are bled dry and forced to join us. The utilities here are three times the national average. We live in a corrupt municipality that survives off these outrageous utility bills. It is using this free money to build a huge, gleaming new building to house the police and fire departments. The city strong-arms its residents into supporting their pet projects and pad their paychecks by bundling the utilities with the water (it is all or nothing) and maintaining zero tolerance for late payments. If we want to live within our means and not use electricity, we will have no water. Access to jobs here is controlled by cronyism—not education or qualifications. I complained about this years ago only to find unsympathetic ears and suggestions that I was making excuses. According to them I was not being slighted; I was just lazy. In truth, I was foreseeing being catapulted into a third world country and that is exactly what has happened in my area. I secretly look forward to a time when those same critics struggle to heat their homes. Will they remember me? Probably not.
“Your utility rates will necessarily skyrocket,” President Obama said recently. That hasn't even hit yet! And how will they pay for those sky-high rates? Only last year did minimum wage workers in Oklahoma get a raise to $7.50 an hour. Before that they were making $5.50, $6.50 if they were lucky. One woman working as a maid in a local nursing home began at $6.00 fifteen years ago, and has since received only one raise of $0.01 per hour, because she was adamant in asking for it. She finally got a raise last year to $7.50. Still, she brought up two children and sent them to college without a supporting spouse. Oklahoma holds a major advantage: it is already poor. What may devastate another society may only scratch ours. Some of our elders have raised their children in shacks with dirt floors and not having running water until the children were in their teens. But Oklahoma also has very few financial options, except in the metropolitan areas. That is to say, we have no cash.
But apparently it is just not yet time for Oklahomans to come together in action. Everyone has their own plan or is still in denial. While I feel alone, it is not because my poverty is an isolated case. I am lonely because I am one of the few here with a good education, but I remain indigent. But I will not be alone for much longer: mutual poverty will break the insecurity threshold that many uneducated Oklahomans have. I can profess nobility in deciding to prioritize staying at home with my two young children and abandoning any miniscule hope of ever paying off my student loans. I will stay under the radar as an indigent person, so that I can utilize that time to fully equip my children for survival in whatever world awaits them. It is difficult enough to teach them the methods; even worse that I must learn them myself first!
But even those who know the methods are being challenged by the destabilizing, rapidly changing climate. Were it not for the imported trees we would be in the middle of another dust bowl: our January through July average was the hottest in eighty years, frustrating even the most experienced and adaptable gardeners. Remember, we have wicked weather as a normal part of gardening, coupled with an inconsistent growing season. In spring or early summer, as soon as we provide makeshift shelters for our tomatoes under a thunderstorm or tornado watch we have to start covering them up for an unexpected freeze. These are normal adventures, but we are now forced to include methods of gardening in extreme drought rather than relying upon the local water supply. Hugelkultur helps, but it's backbreaking work to build it without a backhoe. Many are looking to move to more stable climates. I have no choice but to dig in.
Dmitry, as depressing as all this sounds I've never been more happy, more free or more content. I live the dream of actually raising my children, teaching them myself and providing for their spiritual needs. I do not need miss one single day of the sparkle in their eye or the necessary moments of nurture expected of a mother. Their two older siblings were not so fortunate. If I could do it all again, I would have remained poor for them too.
Thank you for your advice and outlook. I am now at peace with my decision to willingly accept poverty for the rest of my life, in order that my children may fare better. If I can learn to modify my soil, grow a garden and live at rock bottom, then anyone can!