Sunday, May 30, 2021

Mulling over vanlife.

First things first: I was interviewed this week on NFReads. It was a great experience. Of course, I forgot to mention The Payoff (duh, Lynne) but I did provide some hitherto unannounced details about my Kindle Vella project, The Atherton Vampire. Click through and check it out. Thanks!


Dmitry Y. | Pixabay | CC0
A couple of nights ago, I watched Nomadland via pay-per-view. It won the Oscar for Best Picture this year, as well as a slew of other awards. 

The plot intrigued me. Frances McDormand won Best Actress for her performance as Fern, a woman who loses her home and her husband within the space of a few months during the Great Recession. She makes some improvements to her van, puts the majority of her stuff in storage, and hits the road -- piecing together odd jobs and falling into a culture of folks living what's come to be called #vanlife.

The reasons these people decide to live in an RV are varied. Some, like Fern, are forced to do it when their finances turn against them. Some would rather travel than be tied down to a house and everything that entails. A woman named Swankie, diagnosed with terminal cancer, decides to live out the rest of her life seeing places she's always wanted to see. (Most of the people in the movie play themselves; they were featured originally in the 1997 nonfiction book the movie is loosely based on. The only honest-to-gods actors in the film are McDormand and David Strathairn, who plays a fellow traveler who falls for Fern. But the real-life Swankie didn't actually die; in fact, she attended the Oscars ceremony as a guest of Chloe Zhao, who won the award for Best Director.)

All this has got me thinking -- again -- about tiny living. My place is already pretty small -- 500 square feet, give or take -- but I still feel a pull sometimes toward going smaller, although I don't know that I'll ever be ready to refit a van and move into it (and I hope my financial circumstances don't ever turn so bleak that I'm driven to that extreme!). 

But there's a certain feeling of purity, too, in ditching the life that society expects us to live -- the single-family house with the two-car garage and the stuff to fill it and the soul-sucking job to pay for it all -- and "living lightly on the land," as they say. Some of the folks Fern meets on the road are living as nomads for that reason. And in the movie, at least, it doesn't seem like making that choice would be the end of the world.

Back when I was involved in the simple living movement, I knew of a woman who retired from the military and set herself up to live on her pension -- which, if I remember correctly, was $500 a month. This was twenty years ago, when $500 went farther than it would today, but it still was nowhere near a fortune. But she made it work, at least for a little while. I lost touch with her when I dropped out of the movement, so I don't know how it's going for her these days.

Longtime readers of hearth/myth know I've been a sucker for tiny homes for many years. (For those just joining us, you can get up to speed by clicking here, here, here, and here.) My conclusion after years of research was that tiny homes are adorable, but they have some significant drawbacks: Cities in general don't want them (typically you can live in an apartment or condo with the same square footage as a tiny home, but a standalone dwelling of the same size is verboten) except as housing for the homeless; rural areas have begun to zone them out, with minimum square footage requirements and such; and because they're built of wood and not the superlight materials RV manufacturers use, you need a beast of a truck to pull one. I really like Eli, my Kia Niro hybrid, but I can't attach anything to him that's heavier than a bike rack. It's true that I could buy a truck to pull a tiny house -- or any other sort of trailer -- but buying another vehicle that I'd have to insure and maintain seems like it would complicate my life instead of simplifying it.

Motor homes have their own drawbacks. Most localities don't want you living in one of these, either; you're often limited by the number of months per year you can live in an RV, even if you own the land it's parked on. And they get terrible gas mileage. Considering we appear to be lurching toward a future of all-electric vehicles in this country, buying a gas guzzler seems like a bad idea right now. 

And I really like living in Santa Fe.

In the article I linked to above, Swankie is quoted as saying it took her ten years to transition to living in her van. In the movie, Fern put all her stuff in a storage unit until she was ready, emotionally, to let it go. 

I guess I still have some thinking to do.


These moments of vanlife blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!


Sharon said...

One of the "girls" I went to high school with is currently van living with her husband, and I envy their travels, especially when they're camping along the California coast. I'd probably be like Fern and put most of my stuff in storage. But the allure (as a writer) of not having a house to maintain, or a yard, is strong! All day to write instead of dusting, vacuuming, doing laundry and dishes! Or, on the flip side, nothing to use as procrastination to keep from facing that blank page! lol.

Lynne Cantwell said...

LOL! I hear you on the lure to do anything but write!