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"Into this endless race for property and privilege to be won - we must run, we must run, we must run."
Bright Eyes

Because we believe, deep down, that we are only worth as much as we own; because "time is money"; because thousands and thousands of advertisements daily tell us we ought to; because President Bush elevated it as "strategery" for fighting terrorism -

We must run.

Because "money makes the world go 'round." 

Seems obvious enough, doesn't it? And most people living in post-industrialized societies like ours take this truism for granted. Indeed, I noticed last fall - in the midst of a particularly dry financial spell - that I was suffering from what I termed "existential vertigo". But this was also some months after having joined the NYC freegans and just before attempting Really Really Free Guitar Lessons around the city. 

Still, something occurs to me now that I had not yet fully realized - it wasn't the real world that was spun by money; it was rather the hamster wheel of consumerism. And I had jumped off. Though my mind was yet swimming in a spinning world of confusion, I was free.

The vertigo has since settled and I now live, work, play, walk, even run in freedom as I watch so many of my peers running endlessly, aimlessly. This blog documents my journeys as I explore the world beyond the hamster wheel.

 
 
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I just published this article in Shoestring, a magazine about traveling on one. My kind of magazine! Click here for the full magazine... enjoy! 

In October 2010 I tapped a talented friend and colleague, Lauren Rogers, to design the promotional poster for the impending Eagles & Snowbirds Winter Tour 2010.

"I don't really have any great ideas for what I want. Probably something cartoon-y, featuring birds (eagles at least) and possibly old people on the beach?"

For the past few weeks I'd kept busy organizing this tour with a couple Florida natives, Noah and Amber Eagle - the former a young singer songwriter who dons a strumming mandolin, sharp wit, and great sense of humor; and his older sister, a free spirit and perpetual smile, volunteered herself and her vehicle to drive us around between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And I, a singer songwriter, busker, activist, and performance artist based in New York City - I was the snowbird.

I had met the Eagles a few months prior via couchsurfing as I planned my summer tour. Amber brightly offered to host a show at her house in Cocoa Beach, FL, which turned out to feature both me and Noah, the two of us having comparable DIY sensibilities. So when I set out to find a Florida-based tour partner - someone who would play living rooms, thrift stores, and fireside shows, someone who would couch surf, dumpster dive, busk, and/or share minimal expenses with me throughout our journey - Noah was a shoe-in!

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As we began booking shows for late November and most of December, we hoped to play as many as twenty southeastern US cities within three weeks and a fluorescent orange Dodge Neon. So there was no taming our excitement as we looked over our 24 city itinerary, sharing vegan pastries at the venue just hours before our tour kickoff show in Orlando. The legwork - booking, fund-raising, couch searching - was largely behind us; up ahead was the open road and nearly a month of adventure.

We had raised funds via Kickstarter, an online platform for creative people, with the objective of piecing together a tour documentary. We hoped to explore an alternative world where money, power, and privilege are not the chief aims, achieved by violence and (ironically) apathy; but instead to document a DIY movement marked by generosity, hospitality, peace, and responsibility. We could use CouchSurfing.org to find free lodging. We could seek out the help of remote musicians to set up small shows with local support in distant towns. The Kickstarter platform itself would enable friends and fans to financially support our mission directly. And we could make our own contribution by playing free shows (donations encouraged) all around the country, giving away our recorded music with a smile, sharing meals with our hosts, washing sinkfuls of dishes, and capturing all the action on video.

So we kept the camera rolling as we talked with the above people, ate local food, listened to those remote musicians, danced around campfires, and engaged in all kinds of other shenanigans.

All in all, the tour was great fun! We three travelers became great friends and made many more along the way. There was only one city where we had trouble securing lodging (so we spent the night jumping on hotel beds in Middle O'Nowhere, Tennessee) and all of our scheduled shows went off without a hitch (or at least no hitches worth remembering).

Still, there were lessons - profound existential truths - to be learned and still more questions to be asked.

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We learned that folks in post-industrialized societies like ours seem to have developed unhealthy - even counterproductive - dependencies on technology. From day one we battled with devices that anyone with a "smart phone" would consider obsolete - a digital camcorder and comparatively outdated PC laptop - even though these same gadgets would have been groundbreaking only, say, a decade ago. We found them to be unrelentingly distressing yet totally necessary to complete the promised Kickstarter documentary. Perhaps we would not have struggled so much, perhaps we'd have done just fine, with more up-to-date gadgets. But then where would this cycle of obsolescence, innovation, and consumption end? And is it environmentally, financially, or even socioeconomically sustainable? Are we only digging societal graves for ourselves and for those who slave over our consumer goods in developing countries? And, ultimately, who even cares to learn about this world we sought to document?

On the tour we saw that the "real world" we live in day-to-day is either ambivalent to or simply not-yet-ready for the subject of our documentary. Otherwise CouchSurfing, freeganism, and busking (playing music publicly for donation) would not be the kinds of marginal side show activities that they tend to be in today's culture.

Moreover people would support DIY music and artists.

It was a great shame that many of our scheduled shows were so poorly attended, that Noah and I played our cherished music night after night to only two or three other people, Amber included. It was also a huge struggle to raise money via Kickstarter, even though we offered great rewards and planned to play free shows in the cities where most of our supporters were located. It is doubtful that we would have reached our all-or-nothing goal without an incredible donation from one friend who could not come to any of the shows and wanted no rewards in return (an angel from our fabled world?).

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The questions again cropped up. Was there something we did wrong or just too little? Why wasn’t FREE a good-enough pitch? What would it take to garner support for DIY music and art? What would it take to awaken the imaginations and passions of others? And how could we be the change we sought in the world?

Even six months later I continue to wrestle with these questions and learn these truths. They are among the most important questions we can ask ourselves and each other.

As for me, I refuse to let the questions go unasked. I’ll make videos, write songs and blogs, plan DIY tour after DIY tour, and otherwise bust my hump to bring these issues to the fore of our collective consciousness, so that Lauren’s vision for our tour poster will be the perfect representation of what we’d set out to do on the Eagles & Snowbirds Tour. She suggested “a picture of some old people enjoying the beach and then this giant eagle swoops down at them like RAAAHHH…"

 
 
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I recently finished a new album, an EP called Protest Songs (Are Dead) which is available for free download on NoiseTrade, a great resource for independent musicians such as myself who are trying to expand their fan base and get their music "out there". I want people to have it free of charge. Remember I'm a freegan.

Still, I've received a number of comments from people who actually want to support my music and refuse to download it for free. I get it, we're not all freegan. And you want to support me.  

That's really awesome! 

But I'd still prefer that you guys download my music from noisetrade rather than from iTunes. Here's why:
  1. Noisetrade is awesome and deserves your support!
  2. For every 99 cent purchase you make on iTunes, the artist only gets (at best) 70. If you're going to spend $5 on my album, I'll get all  the money if you leave it as a tip on NoiseTrade! On iTunes I'd only get 3.70 (or something like that.. too tired for math).

Seriously. Try noisetrade.. neither of us will be disappointed!

The album is a cross-section of my oeuvre for the past 1.5 years (now also on iTunes!) and tackles some heavy topics. Be sure to wear your thinking cap!

Despite the ironic title, this album would likely be regarded "protest music" by most people, since it touches on a number of contemporary hot-button issues such as homelessness, immigration, consumerism, exploitation, war, violence, poverty. But it should be noted that the songs don't protest anything. They're not about issues or politics. There really is no social comment (excepting Protest Song and Pax Americana, but what we find there is still not quite protestant in nature). Instead, the songs on this album tell stories about people - a homeless man, an immigrant, sweatshop workers, civilian casualties.

As a songwriter I consider this my primary aim, to tell stories: fiction, non-, and perhaps mostly the space in-between. The songs on this album tell such stories - mostly tragic - of the poor, oppressed, and marginalized, the people and stories that are all-too-often overlooked.
So I consider it among my primary roles as an artist to hold a mirror up to society, revealing some of its faults, some of the places that we are failing to bring hope, peace, and justice to all, especially in times of such great economic hardship.

But holding up a mirror often leads to awkward situations. It's like pointing out when a person has a piece of something stuck in his or her teeth. Nobody likes having an ugly piece of something in his or her teeth, and they hate having it pointed out. It's embarrassing. But it's for this same reason that we are often thankful that a friend will point it out to us. We need to be made aware of the problem so that we can address it.

I've made a similar point about dishes: everybody wants a revolution; nobody wants to do the dishes. They just pile up higher and higher and we refuse to take care of it because "they're not all my dishes!" We fail to realize - or perhaps in our stubbornness refuse to recognize - that it doesn't matter whose dishes they are. What really matters is that there's a sink full of dirty dishes, they're piling over onto the counter and stove top. They are everywhere, they belong to everyone, and sooner or later, somebody's got to deal with them.I believe this is also true of addressing real social maladies. We all want a revolution - or the romantic idea of it - but we don't want to engage in the difficult and sacrificial actions that reconcile us to each other, those things which are truly revolutionary. We are often too lazy, ambivalent, stubborn, or sometimes downright ignorant of the real problems. So we never address them and we don't make any progress.

My new album is a picture of the sink of our society, flowing over with dirty dishes. It's a mirror showing us the broccoli stuck in our teeth. 

In Protest Song I invite my listeners to "boldly look the devil in the face and bring hope, peace, and love where there is violence and hate." In other words, we need to take a long hard look at the sink, put on our gloves, and get to scrubbing! We need to grab a tooth pick or brush and take that itty bitty bit of broccoli to town… except that it's more like we have a whole head of broccoli stuck in our teeth, some really monstrous problems to deal with! Weneed to be the changes in the world we want to see.

These songs are very important to me because they represent a time of great growth as a writer and artist. In the course of the past year and a half I've really discovered what I am called to as an artist. I've discovered that I have a special kind of perspective on the world, that I can see the world in a way that most people can't (or won't) and I've learned how to reflect this world to people in a more constructive way. This has been a difficult learning process. I've engaged many tough conversations with close friends, relatives, fans and supporters that have critiqued my new work and my overall approach in addressing the issues tackled in my songs, especially those on this album. I maintain that there's nothing wrong with pointing out the dirty sink or the piece of broccoli. But I've realized that simply pointing out the bad things in society doesn't get us too far. 

Hopefully it opens peoples' eyes to injustice and increases their capacity for compassion… but does it give them a vision for a different kind of reality? does it inspire them to positive action? are people galvanized and mobilized for the greater good? 

This is where I can really make an impact as an artist in this society; this is what I hope to work toward: to inspire and unite people under an alternative vision for the world and its future, a vision of peace, hope, and justice for all; then to empower them to move forward in solidarity.

This is what I hope to do. This is why Protest Songs Are Dead. I do hope you enjoy the album, always wearing your thinking cap, and beginning to dream up what such an alternative vision might look like! 

Looking forward to dreaming with you and as always wishing you
Peace,
Gio

 
 
I invited readers at my portfolio blog site to ask thoughtful questions about freeganism, to join the discussion. A dear old friend was up to the challenge. From my blog at gandollo.weebly.com:

What kind of a difference exactly are you trying to make? I know what you're trying to change, but how does a "freegan lifestyle" contribute to that change? ... Is there any way to go about making a difference without such radical life changes, or are we so far gone that the only way out is to completely change our lives?

These are great questions! Let's do this people!

Let's start with the real difference freegans are making from day to day. I would cite:
  • Rescuing viable food, clothes, furniture, energy, TIME from the waste stream
  • Feeding ourselves and hungry people in our communities (homeless or otherwise)
  • Educating people about waste and other inherent problems with capitalism, materialism, corporatism; holding up a mirror to these realities which are so deeply engrained and normalized in us
  • Liberating minds and consciences from the hamster wheel of consumerism
  • Otherwise building sustainable community with our neighbors
The truth is - none of these are really a big deal. As my interviewers have been quick to point out, rescuing a few bananas from my local grocery store doesn't stop the deaths of thousands and thousands of hungry people around the world. Showing people the ills of our economic systems - of systemic injustice and waste - won't lead to justice and sustainability.. 

Or will it?

Many people dismiss freeganism as futile because they don't see a direct connection between our activism and the injustices we are reacting to. They don't see it because it isn't there. There is no direct connection. But does that diminish the value of what we do or what we hope to accomplish? Not at all!

This brings us to the real difference we are trying to make, that which freegans really hope to accomplish: to increase the collective consciousness until we determine as a society that
  • The waste is unacceptable
  • Injustice and inequality are unconscionable
  • Our current economic systems and consumptive lifestyles - ostentatiously indulgent and wasteful, built on unchecked exploitation of poor people and the environment - are unsustainable
  • Running the hamster wheel of consumerism is a futile waste of time and energy, but the best things in life really are free!
  • We need each other
To be perfectly clear, one does not have to be a freegan to hold these values, work towards this kind of world, or possess this kind of consciousness. So to answer your final question,freeganism is only one solution, the one that some of us have subscribed to in response to the points above. There are certainly other solutions. Regardless, I can guarantee you that as you embrace the values listed above and respond to them in ways that make sense to you, your life will radically change. You will see that it is impossible to live the way we are expected to live - the way "they" want us to live - while still following our consciences. 

And this is all I really ask of people, that they obey their own conscience. I promise that, in doing so, you will also free your mind, your spirit, your imagination. And we'll gradually become the change in the world we wish to see.
 
 
I awoke this morning to the "Busking and Street Performing" CouchSurfing group's weekly digest e-mail. Folks were discussing the way that buskers ought to present themselves to society... I just had to weigh in myself... the whole discussion struck to the core of what busking is all about:

The expression of it (music, art, juggling, what-have-you) is really just the medium. The message is, "I'm going to interrupt your oh-so-busy life and make you smile, sing, dance, laugh; I'm going to bless you right now!

To read the rest at gandollo.weebly.com, click here.

To support my own busking efforts, please download my newest song on noisetrade and feel free to leave a tip! Thanks =)
 
 
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Commenters on the HuffPostFood article insinuated that women aren't lining up to be with me, a freegan. I humbly suggest that perhaps it's only a matter of time. As the US government quibbles over which programs it will cut and/or whether it will raise the debt limit or default on its loans; as the two remarkably similar sides attempt to distinguish themselves from each other to  keep the farcical melodrama going; as we are continually distracted from the real moral crises we face, being bombarded with political trivialities; as the middle class becomes poor and the poor are forgotten; as we continue to fight needless wars abroad (how many now?) and spend 1.4 TRILLION dollars this year alone on the military; as we feel the real effects of climate change and environmental degradation, having overstepped so many ethical, technological, and ecological boundaries; as the desperately and abjectly poor around the world produce our goods for pennies a day while we are increasingly unable to afford those same goods ourselves…

Three things are happening:

1) The fat cats are getting fatter and cattier.
2) I'm eating (and in many other ways living) for free.
3) This lifestyle isn't looking so strange to most people anymore.

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You see that paragraph above? It's only the tip of the iceberg. Western Civilization (as we know it) is plummeting into oblivion. Our consumerism has got the best of us, as every single one of those problems is directly caused by corporate greed, government collusion, and consumer complicity via ignorance, apathy, and/or ambivalence.

Well. Starting around June 2010 it was my conscience - not consumerism - that got the better of me. I refused to be complicit any longer. After having tested the waters for about six months, I dove head first into freeganism. 

I saw very clearly that something had to give; if corporatism and consumerism were causing our ship to sink - if these are, in fact, the source of most problems our world currently faces - then why not throw them overboard? With an abundance of good food, clothes, furniture, even suitable housing going to waste, why not live off it?

So here I am just over one year later, along with freegan.info, still doing just that; more and more people join our ranks. 

"But," some have protested, "if everyone became a freegan, then there wouldn't be any food left for you." OR "You hope for waste to end. If you attain your own goals, you'll have to quit this lifestyle yourself, for there will be nothing left for you to consume for free!"

My answer to such objections is as follows:

If/when 

1) everyone becomes freegan (note: this does not simply mean eating food from the garbage; there is a certain consciousness and ethic involved with freeganism) 

and/or

2) all waste is eliminated, 

then (and only then?) will we be living in a society quite different from the one in which we live. 

In such a society, the people would...
  • ...no longer be held in bondage by their own materialism, consumerism, and debt. Generosity would spring from deep within their souls and overflow with abounding abundance to any who should ever have need.
  • ...love and serve each other regardless of race or gender (I need not mention nationality or class, since nations and classes would not exist), precluding any need for war, competition, institutional health care or housing. None would be homeless, sick, hungry, thirsty, or lonely.
  • ...have no need for governments at all, since governments were only ever needed to protect power and wealth for the privileged few (it should go without saying, I guess, but since we're so used to it… privilege does not exist in this society either).
  • ...interact with their ecosystem(s) only in sustainable and compassionate ways.

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What I've described here is what many tribal people have called home; what humanists have called Utopia, what so many others have called Heaven, what Yeshua called the Kingdom of God

The Hebrew Prophets alluded to it; the Church has clumsily tried its hand at instituting it all these years; and I tirelessly work toward it every. single. day. 

Still, I get the feeling it's a long ways off, and unless or until this society (be)comes, I'm sure there will be more than enough unnecessary waste for me to consume, compost, reuse, and/or recycle (something must be done about the waste, it represents in itself a very serious problem).

So don't worry about me. Go back to that first paragraph. Join me in worrying about all of that, working to change all of that

We've got a lot of work to do!


This is the last entry for the freegan series following the HuffPostFood article published last week. If you have further questions or comments on these issues, please subscribe to this blog! I will continue to discuss freeganism, busking, volunteering, and my musings on how and why we ought to reject the global economic empire whose idealogical cornerstones are exploitation and greed and to submit instead to a God whose kingdom is built on peace, justice, and generosity.
 
 
There were hundreds upon hundreds of questions and comments generated by the HuffPost Food article published on Thursday, July 28. I'm answering them in a series of entries, each addressing a different recurring question/comment. Please keep in mind that I do not (can not) represent the whole of the freegan population. I represent only myself and my own views/motivations/concerns. 

Many people ask whether I would still practice freeganism with a wife and kids, with my family. The truth is, I don't know! I get the feeling that's still somewhat far off. Nevertheless, I can say that ideally I would remain freegan and they would join me.
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I can't speculate what will happen in my romantic future (if anything), I can only say that the kind of woman I seek is the kind that shares my concerns for the poor and oppressed people of the world, for the environment, and for the ethical treatment of animals. Freeganism is a worldview I've stumbled upon that most comprehensively and adequately addresses these concerns. As such, my conscience is clean and I can sleep at night. My future wife need not be freegan yet (or ever) but hopefully she would see with time and experience that it is, in fact, a remarkable way to respond to such concerns, even if she chose not to adopt it herself, for whatever reasons.

Commenters have joked sarcastically that the women must really be lining up to be with me. They are right in assuming that women do not line up to be with a freegan, especially in a materialist and consumerist culture like the US (further amplified in the Empire City). But I don't base existential and deeply spiritual decisions on whether women will line up to be with me. There's a greater God that I aim to please and follow. When I find a woman who is also passionately following God, working towards peace and justice, living a radical generosity and discipleship without regard to what other mere humans think - if we can call commenters on the internet human - then, and only then, will I have found the kind of woman I seek.

Some of those same commenters have suggested that women have no interest in freeganism or freegans. This is simply not true. There are far more females involved with freegan.info than males and I've met many other freegan woman (including Christians) who are as passionate about these issues as I am. Some of them are married, some of them have kids; they've made freeganism an important aspect of existential and/or spiritual praxis within their family.

As for my own family: whether my children will live and eat freegan will depend on what agreements my wife and I make regarding their rearing. If we are teaching them our same values, then I see no reason why they should not also live as freegans until old enough to determine for themselves whether it is a lifestyle they wish to keep (they may have to find their own work to provide for themselves in such a case, ha!). Some may find this to be negligent or otherwise harmful. Such accusations are utter nonsense. The food that I eat is nutritious, healthy, often organic, well-cleaned-and-cooked; many fruits and veggies, soups and salads, whole grains; I hardly ever eat junk food, fast food, drink coffee or soda. Indeed, I dare say that I eat much healthier than those criticizing me and accusing me of negligence to my own body and future family. Eating food off the shelf or restaurant plate doesnot guarantee food safety or purity. Conversely, food found in garbage bags is still food. It is just as likely to make me sick as any other food I might venture to eat. Safe preparation and cooking is what guarantees health. Surely I would employ such practices as I provide for my wife and children.

I consider freeganism a mark of God's provision for me, a great blessing, and it would similarly be a blessing to any family including my own. I understand that there are some ideological complications here. Some thoughtful commenters have correctly recognized that I live off the same waste that I condemn. They see this as hypocrisy. While I appreciate these observations, they do not present a real intellectual stumbling block for me; I've long reconciled my ideology and practice. I will thus address this seeming contradiction and delve deeper into the ethical implications of freeganism in the next entry!


If you have further questions or comments on this particular issue, then I encourage you to subscribe to this blog, where I discuss freeganism, busking, volunteering - where I continually learn how and why to reject the global economic empire whose idealogical cornerstones are exploitation and greed and to submit instead to a God whose kingdom is built on peace, justice, and generosity.
 
 
There were hundreds upon hundreds of questions and comments generated by the HuffPost Food article published on Thursday, July 28. I'm answering them in a series of entries, each addressing a different recurring question/comment. Please keep in mind that I do not (can not) represent the whole of the freegan population. I represent only myself and my own views/motivations/concerns. 

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First things first. Let's nail down this "freeganism" business. What IS freeganism and what exactly is a freegan?

I was a little annoyed that the image at the top of the HuffPost article is that of a presumably young person doubled over into a large dumpster. 

1) That image is not of me.

2) Though I am not opposed or averse to diving in this manner, this is not how "dumpster diving" is typically practiced in NYC. 

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The simple fact is that such dumpsters are quite rare in the city. Grocery stores, delis, bakeries, and pharmacies typically leave their trash bags in piles on the curbside, right in front of the store. We do not dig through municipal trash, leftovers, or rat-infested-anything. On the contrary, the food that we rescue in NYC is quite clean, healthy, nutritious, delicious, and often sealed, shrink-wrapped, or otherwise still in its original packaging!

That being said, it is also important to acknowledge that freeganism is not merely dumpster-diving, and dumpster-diving is not necessarily inspired by a freegan worldview. Many people living in abject poverty eat trash not because they are reacting to a capitalist, corporatist, consumerist economic system that they regard as exploitative and immoral. They do so because they are helplessly poor, starving, and have no other choice. 

Freegans on the other hand generally do have other options. They are typically not financially forced into a freegan lifestyle, it is rather their own economic and ethical choice (read my blog entry from Thursday to get a grasp on why I became a freegan myself). But freeganism does not pertain only to the ways in which one acquires food. We consider bicycling, gardening, composting, reusing, couch surfing, and recycling as other means of living out the freegan way. Basically - any activity that consciously minimizes waste and avoids consumption could be considered freegan. Note that it's the consciousness that makes the real difference.

Some more extreme freegan practices might include squatting, hitch hiking, freight hopping, and/or refusing work. I'm certainly interested in these and have dabbled in some, but perhaps the one that most disturbed my week-in-the-life readers was my refusing work in the form of a conventional job. Instead, I spend my time busking, creating, engaging in activism, or volunteering. 

The assumption by many was that I must be a drain on society if I'm not earning my keep. The fact is that I earn enough money busking and doing odd jobs here and there to pay my minimal expenses. Any other needs or wants are met by the communities I serve: my church, the freegan.info group, the gym and book store. I do not have health insurance, but I've been fit as a fiddle for years and years. If ever I feel under the weather, I self-medicate. I've only seen a physician once in the past four years, and this was very recent. The prognosis: I'm fit approximately as a fiddle. Commenters have speculated that surely I'm sick and/or I'll be a drain on society when I become so. I hate to pop their Tea bubbles, but I've been eating this way for over a year and a half and I seem to be doing A-OK! So no, I wouldn't say I'm much of a drain on society at all. I certainly give much more to society, free of charge, than I take out.

Indeed, I decided last November that I no longer wished to sell my time, my effort, my art. I refused to continue regarding these as commodities. How could I put a price tag on that which I regarded as priceless? I began teaching Really Really Free Guitar Lessons. It's been all downhill from there. I frequently offer my music for free download online, play free shows wherever I go, volunteer my time and service wherever I'm needed, and I hardly ever charge. The real kicker and perhaps the part that most confused my readers: I don't expect anything back from society. 

Here's the thing. Ultimately, I'm not doing this for society. I'm not doing it for the planet and I'm not doing it to be a "good" person, whatever that means. I only hope to obey my conscience, to obey God. I trust that God will provide my needs in return, especially through the generosity of my friends, family, and supporters. 

S/he has been very faithful thus far.


If you have further questions or comments on this particular issue, then I encourage you to subscribe to this blog, where I frequently discuss freeganism, busking, volunteering and where I continually learn how and why to reject the global economic empire whose idealogical cornerstones are exploitation and greed and to submit instead to a God whose kingdom is built on peace, justice, and generosity.