Dream, Choose, Live: The Good Life

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live life deliberately.”

Henry David Thoreau

I think the first, most essential thing one must do to accomplish that is to build one’s own house as Thoreau did. He built from leftover scraps of an old shanty. We have many other choices.

The mere fact that when people come to the Village, they can’t buy a finished home means that every one of us shares that journey. The journey enriches each of us individually and collectively, as a community.  One’s home is the ultimate expression of self, one’s capacity to dream and do. Even if you hire a contractor and never lift a hammer, you will learn, mostly about yourself. So many choices, it can be overwhelming. In the process, you are forced to come to terms with your personal values. There is no faking it.

What is really important to me?

  • How big should my house be?
  • How much of my life, in the form of money that I have exchanged my time and effort for, should go into this house?
  • What portion should I allocate for other things that are important to me and my goals?
  • In my house, do I want to emphasize efficiency and low maintenance or esthetic beauty? What do those things mean to me? Can I have both?
  • Do I want my home to make a statement about me or is it enough that it satisfies just me?
  • If I am taking this journey with a spouse and children, how will we use this experience to bring us closer as we discover and satisfy what is uniquely us?
  • What can or should I do without to have the things I really want?
  • My home will be a refuge, but from what? From the noise of the city, or from the discomforts of nature?

The folks in this video made some highly unusual choices in an environment most people would consider extreme. Yet, their home is a creative expression of who they are and how they choose to live.  And it is beautiful.

As you watch this video, notice the many trade-offs they made. I like to think “sacrifice” is what you give up to get something better.  A deliberate life is one of conscious choice. If one knows oneself and chooses well, a personal paradise is the reward. That personal paradise is within reach of us all, but we must choose.

For those who love nature and the joy of sharing with others, the Village on Sewanee Creek has all the necessary elements to build your dream with a little help from some friends.


How many times have you heard people who lived through the great depression say that?

shooting marbles
I have heard that phrase countless times from my parents and many of “the greatest generation”.  What a blessed state of ignorance that phrase describes. It is a state of profound and pervasive lack.

  • lack of self-judgment
  • lack of social judgment based on material wealth
  • lack of material pride
  • lack of selfishness
  • lack of spiritual depravity derived from excess
  • lack of covetousness, that nagging need to have more than someone else
  • lack of NEED

It inversely describes a state of abundance, both perceived and real. An ABUNDANCE of:

  • Friends – Real Personal Relationships, not phony, material ones
  • Mutual Good Will and Generosity
  • Confidence that your friends and neighbors, who are in the same boat, are with you, care about you and are watching your back
  • Peace and a sense of Well-Being
  • Focus on things that really count

I’m sure both lists could be extended, but you get the point.

Yesterday, around the Village Thanksgiving table, I don’t recall a single reference to Black Friday or even shopping other than for basic needs or how to do it efficiently. Maybe I just missed it.

I think there is an inverse relationship between real wealth and the preoccupation with buying more stuff. The person who perceives no need is not needy. Regardless of the number of zeros in one’s bank balance, a person who can hardly wait to go shopping for the latest ego-boosting bling, gadget or fad is the one in deep need, and therefore, poor.

That is not to infer that Villagers are financially poor. We’re not, although I’m sure some have more than others. The point is, nobody seems to care too much about who has what. A community that doesn’t continuously focus on or remind us of things we want, either vocally or by the things they flaunt, gives us spiritual space to appreciate things that matter more and that cost little.

In the things that matter, I think we’re on balance, a very wealthy bunch.

Are we blissfully ignorant of our poverty? I don’t think so. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I would rather be intensely and joyfully aware of our wealth, but maybe it’s the same thing. As I often remind students in my marketing class at the University of the South, Perception is more important than. . .       NO. . . Perception IS reality.

Interesting People – Rich Life

From the outset, I have made it a point to target interesting people who will become not only Village neighbors, but the fabric of a lifestyle that makes life interesting and rewarding. There are many prepper communities emerging these days. They typically aim to fill their ranks with a comprehensive list of survival skills. Welder, blacksmith, gunsmith, military tactician, plumber, electrician, mechanic, hunter/trapper, tanner represent just a few of hundreds of basic skills. Important as these may be, they address only survival. For Villagers, life is about much more than survival.

I believe we have been successful in attracting a certain type of individual who is a cut above the mundane, normal, or average. So far, our small community boasts interesting people with distinguished accomplishments from diverse backgrounds.

  • Some have advanced degrees, like Tom who has a PhD in plant genetics or George who is a bio-chemist with deep experience in water quality systems management, mycology and toxic environmental clean-up.

But intellectual capacity doesn’t always require a high level degree or formal education. Street smarts are just as valuable and interesting.

  • Jeff J. humbly acknowledges a lack of formal training, while his accomplishments as a highly sought-after Hollywood film editor are impressive. Having worked on such famous films as Star Wars and Hunger Games among many others, his experiences, instincts and observations on life have brought great pleasure and growth to me and other Villagers. Knowing my interest in movies, a residual from my days at Blockbuster, he even contributed a huge library of DVD’s to the Village to enhance our movie nights, whether at our large screen home theater or the bigger one at the amphitheater.
  • Mike and Barb are accomplished singer/songwriters who infuse their art with the values we embrace as a community. Their music strengthens both the moral and social fabric of the Village.
  • Fred is our inventor / engineer / communications expert extraordinaire. I affectionately nicknamed him Mr. Inscrutable because his intellectual and scientific prowess often makes me stretch to grasp a point he is making. Those who attend a lecture he is giving at the University of the South on Open Source Ecology this Wednesday will likewise be stretched and enriched.
  • Jim has a deep, practical history with self-sufficient living. Now retired, he is an effective investor who loves tending his garden and chickens while experimenting with all kinds of projects from alternative energy to alternative construction. Jim donated many years of Mother Earth News to the online Village Library. His soft, engaging nature makes him a natural in group dynamics where he instantly puts people at ease.
  • Jeff P. and his three sons are all Eagle Scouts.  Jeff is CFO for his company and has been a scout leader for years.  His practical knowledge of outdoor life and appreciation for nature derived from scouting contribute to our mission in many ways.
  • Micah stopped just short of completing a PhD in philosophy, and deploys his prodigious intellect and work ethic in his highly successful internet business, helping America’s best and brightest choose colleges best suited to them. In his spare time, he raises goats, cattle and chickens for home consumption and has purchased several hundred acres nearby to build a cattle ranch with his brother.

The Women in the Village contribute to the richness of daily life just as much if not more than the men.

  • My dear wife, Becky, is known for her home-making skills that range from amazingly artistic quilts to the best home-made bread ever, made from home-ground flour, to fresh veggies and eggs from her greenhouse and mini-farm.
  • Judy cans, sprouts, sews, gardens, bakes and cooks some of the finest food you will find anywhere and tutors neighborhood children in math.
  • Stephanie brings her personal brand of wisdom to the Village. She is a counselor who listens attentively and serves up help to University students, meanwhile raising her two little boys with patience and love.
  • Linnette is an accomplished artist who excels with ceramics.  She created the beautiful tile work and fired the individual tiles in her large kiln for the sign at the entrance to the Village.  Her sons include a doctor, an architect and a business man.
  • Linda is a natural organizer-leader.  She runs the Meetup group, “Provident Living and Self Reliance” out of Nashville. She was instrumental in organizing Preparedness Fairs here in the Village and many other group meetings for Villagers as well as hundreds of other Self-Reliance oriented people throughout Middle and Eastern Tennessee.

I could go on. For the sake of brevity, I will limit the list, but you get the point. Beyond specific skills and accomplishments, most Villagers are well traveled, intellectually open and, as a result, qualify as interesting people who contribute at many levels. Because they are all focused on self-sufficient living, each one also contributes to the list of survival skills and the general resilience of the Village.

The work I do to attract and woo interesting people results in tangible value to people who move here. And the longer I do it the more valuable the Village becomes. That is why the value of the product Villagers buy into is less and less about the beautiful land and more and more about a rich lifestyle built on relationships with extraordinary people. For fans of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, you might recognize the Village as a kinder and gentler Galt’s Gulch.

It isn’t enough that we have many interesting people here. It is just as important that those interesting people each desire to share their knowledge, insights, skills and talents or we are just like any other upper-income neighborhood, filled with people who are busy, successful, and isolated in social silos. So we try to select people who love people. It’s implied in our motto, in harmony with nature AND PEOPLE. I believe we have also been successful in developing a culture of sharing.

And, while attracting interesting people who want to share is the essential foundation, it is only the beginning. As we continue to weave and expand this fabric of many colors and textures into a culture of interesting people with an interesting, rich life, I think it is not enough to simply have them here. We must continuously draw people out in interesting venues and situations where all can naturally benefit from such rich natural resources. We must enhance our natural human resources through activities, processes, customs and traditions that we all embrace.

  • Our weekly “Village Project” is one such tradition that puts talents and skills to practical work while creating an atmosphere for mutual, service, positive social interaction and sharing.
  • Our Monday “Family Home Evening” gatherings are a regular place for sharing on a more intimate, sometimes more intellectual level. We teach, share stories, play games, discuss world events, books, and movies, share treats, and plan together.
  • Our Monthly potluck is a time for reaching out to Village land owners who have not yet built and relocated here. It’s less frequent and allows them to travel from Nashville or sometimes more distant locations. It’s also a time to enjoy great food and casual conversation in an unstructured environment.
  • Since I have joined the staff at the University of the South, I am much more tuned in and do a better job of sharing the abundance of culturally enriching, and mostly free activities there. Lectures, discussions, plays, concerts are plentiful to overwhelming in their availability. We try to get Villagers together to share in many of these experiences too.
  • At less frequent intervals, we have made field trips to Nashville or other outlying towns, like the trip we made to see Les Miserable or recently to Athens to learn about earth-bermed housing.

As more interesting, sharing people join us, the opportunities grow exponentially along with the need for careful tending. I take seriously the responsibility of creating value for Villagers. But, I think everybody knows that it’s a group project, not wholly dependent on me.

Frankly, I’m not satisfied with the type and quality of activities we do now. We can do more and be more. I need all of your help.
Please share your ideas and your energy to bring them to life.

ETHOS: Left and Right are just arms and legs on the same body

Oops, too close for youtube’s comfort? Only hours after I posted this it disappeared. http://vimeo.com/24706064
Watch the video before you read the following:

“Our Ethos is all that we currently hold to be true. It is what we act upon. It governs our manners, our business and our politics.”
Howard Zinn 1922 – 2010

The left/right, liberal/conservative paradigm is meaningless. It is a smoke screen, a delusion, a diversion. I have to keep reminding myself of that because my thoughts and values are so steeped in conservative traditions. Harrelson, Zinn and others in this movie are icons of the left. Yet, here he is speaking intelligently to the same issues that have polarized the right against the left and reaching similar conclusions to mine on what to do about it.

One of the prime reasons for this Village is a reaction to a world gone berserk. 9/11 was the watershed moment that changed my world view and led ultimately to my decision to find another solution. It is a reaction to powerlessness against overwhelmingly powerful forces.

Most of the world has taken refuge in the very activities that perpetuate their surrender of freedom and meaning in life. Harrelson correctly points out that in the aftermath of 9/11, we were told the solution was to go shopping. And again, in 2008 when the economy crumbled, we were told that it was our duty to save the economy by doing what? “Go shopping”.

How ironic is it that I am now teaching “Strategic Marketing” at the University? Yet, Marketing, like the Internet, like a gun, like a drill press or a saw, is a tool, not inherently good or evil. It is simply a means of identifying and satisfying human needs and desires. Some enterprises use marketing effectively to pander to base human needs and wants. There is a BIG market for these products and services.

I do marketing to find and satisfy people who are looking for a means to improve their lives, to find meaning and joy. The product I am building is mostly intangible. It is community, harmony, security, connection to nature, creative and constructive work, a meaningful life. In this context and for this purpose, is marketing evil? Only if what I am selling is bogus or of poor quality.

Yet, while I agree with Harrelson’s prescription, it is only one element of a total solution for an empty, shackled life. “Stop shopping” or at least shop wisely. It’s positioned as an offensive weapon against an entrenched corporate enemy. Is that where it ends? In the unlikely event that this perpetual war should end, either in victory or defeat, what do we, the wounded and weary foot-soldiers, return from the battle front to? There must be something more, something meaningful to replace our culture’s obsession with consumptive living.

Sandy Hook is another 9/11 event. It is meant to polarize right and left. Masterful marketing used with malice aforethought, IMHO. Extreme polarization between left and right. Strident calls for disarmament from the left while demand for guns and ammo empties the gun stores and heavily armed and fortified communities appear in Idaho and elsewhere.

Left and right are just arms and legs on the same body.
Powers that divide, profitably conquer
while the masses, having lost their heads,
trade arms, legs, body and soul for fear and division.
– Grant Miller

In answer to this insanity, can we not respectfully explore and enjoy different perspectives and world views while we live peaceably within our means and “in Harmony with Nature and People”? That is my solution and my intent.

Walden Pond Updated – The modern “Good Life”

As a college student bout 40 years ago, I read Walden; or, Life in the Woods, by Henry David Thoreau. Like most people of my generation, I spent many years out of the woods, behind a desk, on planes, in endless meetings.  But, Thoreau’s message stuck.  From it, I learned ideas like

  • the importance of living deliberately
  • your stuff will own you, not the other way around
  • the true economics of Life
  • self-sufficiency is both possible and desirable.
  • the importance of living in and learning from nature.

After a career that paid well and exposed me to wealth and society, I have tried to live more simply and deliberately. In this excellent TED talk, Adam Baker does the best job that I’ve seen of recapturing Thoreau’s ideas for modern times. In the fragile, frenetic and uber-materialist world we live in, these ideas are more relevant than ever.

Inspiring experiences and memories are the rewards of a life well-lived. The stuff we accumulate gets in the way of real life.

If you are seeking to live “the Good Life” in the company of like-minded, well-informed, good and intelligent people, you might want to join us.  Inquire here

Post Election blues? Find security in self-sufficiency and community.

Over six years into building an intentional community called the Village on Sewanee Creek, it’s an interesting coincidence that we finished this video on election day and have just uploaded it to YouTube.  I hope it’s a comforting response to troubling times.

I actually went to bed early on election night before results started coming in.  I slept well, knowing that no matter the outcome of the election, I had done all I could or should.  I awoke early, as usual.  Like most of you, I found it fascinating to review the Facebook posts from last evening.   So divided, so extreme!

I have a few suggestions:

For those who are celebrating, partay on, dudes!

For the indifferent, get back to work.  Move along, there’s nothing to see here.

Then there are about half of the voters who are genuinely concerned about the state of the Republic, your civil rights, the economy and what happens when a President is re-elected, with no prospects or concerns for re-election and a history of trampling the constitution.  This is especially for those of you who have noticed that it doesn’t matter which party that President comes from.  For you, it’s time to take action to secure your future.  The system is broken.  When things are beyond a political solution, it’s time for a personal solution.   In this video, I speak on the foundational values of the Village on Sewanee Creek.    Self-Sufficiency, Personal Freedom, harmony between people and nature, adherence to the Golden Rule.

If you’re in the mood to reclaim a sense of peace and security in your life, you can inquire about living in the Village here.

Making Japanese Kaizen and American Individualism work together in the Village

If you have read my short bio, you know that I have some experience with the Japanese culture and speak fluent Japanese.  In the late 70’s, Japanese management philosophies were popular in America as our auto, electronics and optics industries were being decimated by Japanese competition.

Kaizen is a key word in Japanese philosophy.  A direct translation from the Chinese/Japanese characters “Kai” and “Zen” is “change” and “good” or in other words, to transform for the better.  As with most things Japanese, there is a deeper meaning, hinting of a unique, underlying culture.  To understand, one needs to add a few more words to the translation.  These would include patience, persistence, small, incremental and harmonious.
Deeply imbedded in the Japanese psyche is an understanding that perfection is achievable, but only in incredibly small, incremental steps, accomplished through cooperation.  Nothing great is ever achieved by a single genius in isolation or in one magnificent technical or ideological leap.

Dyed-in-the-wool American that I am, it’s hard to practice this philosophy.  By nature, I tend to be visionary, impetuous, strong-willed and impatient.  We Americans pride ourselves, above all, on rugged individualism, self-sufficiency, independence and personal initiative.  We idealize strong-willed individuals, while the Japanese idolize an amorphous group who toil upward silently in the night, never seeking or receiving personal credit but collectively achieving greatness through an uncountable series of small innovations.  That’s kaizen, or change(s) for the better.  While American heroes are individual people, the Japanese draw their heroes from nature – ants and bees.

Polar opposites, there is genius in BOTH Japanese and American world views.  Where quick, bold action is required, Americans win.  Where absolute excellence of quality, nearing perfection, is required, the Japanese approach excels.

Is it possible to practice both in a symbiotic balance?  That is the challenge of the Village on Sewanee Creek.  We are striving for a balance between opposites.
Consider our motto, “In harmony with nature and people” One might say it has a Japanese, Zen-like ring to it.  A number of Villagers even work together harmoniously to raise bees.       Bzzzzz, sounds like “nature and people in harmony”, doesn’t it?  I actually hadn’t thought of the symbolic nature of our beekeeping collaboration till just now.

On the other hand, a top stated value for the Village is self-sufficiency, independence and personal liberty.  One practical application of that value is the absolute requirement for private property ownership. Within one’s personal sphere of control, ownership begets personal accountability.

On yet another hand, we believe that collective, cooperative work optimizes effectiveness, efficiency and positive social relationships.  We observe this in action nearly every week when we rotate projects, one Villager sponsoring and leading the project and the rest chipping in.  A few weeks ago, it was my turn.  My project was framing up a new car port.  It is instantly clear as you struggle to lift both ends of a heavy beam into place, level it, and secure it, that a team of 2 or more beats a single laborer no matter how skilled or determined.  Where there is clear leadership and willing follower-ship, once again there is harmony as well as efficient achievement.

Both Leaders and followers are important in any task involving more than one person.  But, we find that achieving long-term harmony requires that all who want to lead must have a fair opportunity to do so.  By regularly trading project leadership, each participant grows and is built along with the building projects we undertake.  Each participant has an opportunity to improve their people and relationship skills including both how to lead and how to follow.

Each also has the opportunity to express their creative side on the property they own and control.  That brings out the best of our American spirit of ingenuity, vision, and can-do attitude.

One of the big lessons I have been forced to learn is that quality takes time and continuous improvement.  Through the contributions of many, both in physical labor and inspired ideas for improvements, each day is a challenge to make things a little better.  In the Village, we enjoy the pleasure of seeing our personal labors translated into physical improvements before our eyes.  No doubt, it’s nice to be able to call up a professional and order a nice improvement done.  But there is a special satisfaction that comes only by being able to say, “I did that”.  Even better if you can say, “We did that.”  At the end of a productive day, working together on something that will be yours for a long time, the tired smiles are priceless.

If this is the kind of harmonious, productive life you have always dreamed of, drop me a line here.