G’day from Lake Tooliorook,
First post. Here we go.
At present, I’m sitting in my caravan at Lake Tooliorook just outside Lismore, Victoria. It’s raining heavily and I’ve got thick woollen socks and slippers on against the linoleum floor. I tore all the carpet out of it yesterday when it was 30 degrees (86 Fahrenheit) and am partially regretting it now. My dog, Ruben, is curled up in blankets on the bed behind me.
What to say…
It’s only been two weeks, but it feels like a lifetime. First of all, there hasn’t been as much time for writing as I originally foresaw. Living in a caravan, everything is harder. I mean that in a good way. You have to be more precise, more intentional.
If I want a coffee, I have to boil water on my outdoor camp stove (because, for some reason, the gas line to my internal stove doesn’t work). Solve: do this once a day and pour the boiling water into a thermos to use for each new cup of coffee.
When I set out to do this, I wanted to see how minimalistically I could live. Strip away all the assumptions we have about modern life and ask the fundamental questions of myself.
What is required? What is necessary?
To that end, I’m succeeding. I started with what I thought was the bare minimum and whittled it down even further. Let me give you an example:
I’m a vegetarian, or at least I try to be. For lunch, I usually go three eggs, half a can of beans and half a can of diced tomatoes with some cheese and maybe fajita spice. Estimated cost: $2.50. Estimated prep, eating and cleanup time: 15 minutes.
Solve: buy a 555ml tin of baked beans and eat it cold with a spoon from the can. Estimated cost: $2.50. Estimated prep, eating and cleanup time: 1 minute.
If I can minimise time and effort (which I can then dedicate to writing or going on a hike with Ruben), and not sacrifice taste entirely, then I do. At this point in my life, food is fuel. Nothing more.
Other than cold baked beans, I’m doing tuna and crackers, canned baby potatoes (without heating them), spoonfuls of peanut butter and hazelnut spread (right out of the jar), and cans of pumpkin soup and minestrone. That’s pretty much it. I swear if it wasn’t for soy milk or wet dog food, I wouldn’t even need a fridge (which isn’t a fridge at all, but a cooler I fill with ice every few days).
If that sounds repulsive to you, you’re in good company. I’d say a good 75-80% of people I talk to about this say they couldn’t live this way, let alone indefinitely. For me, it’s perfect.
It’s freedom. Total, unencumbered freedom.
The less I need to be happy, the easier happiness is to achieve. If I need a shower every day and a hot meal and access to mains water or electricity, then if I don’t have those things, I’ll be disappointed or distressed.
If, on the other hand, I can fill up water tanks and unroll a solar blanket to charge portable battery box… if I can wear clothes multiple times before hand-washing them… if I can make do with a rinse
Nietzsche has a quote about a concept he refers to as amor fati, a love of fate:
“Not merely to bear what is necessary, still yet conceal it, but love it.”
Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius often circle this theme in their work. It’s something I’ve found incredibly helpful, encapsulated perfectly by the title of Ryan Holiday’s book, The Obstacle is the Way. The difficult thing isn’t just an impediment, or a hurdle. It’s something to contend with and be made stronger by, like a wrestling opponent. Something to be relished.
One of the main reasons I’m doing this, apart from writing full time, and even apart from living in a minimal way, is that life was getting too comfortable for me. Too easy. I saw the next ten years unfolding much as the previous ten years had, only becoming ever more convenient, ever more luxurious, as technologies got better and more efficient.
To find any kind of suffering against which to test myself, I had to actively seek it out. While this might sound counter-intuitive (“Why on earth would you actively seek out suffering?”), I contend that it’s our suffering that matters most.
Happiness requires no guide, but suffering can be tricky to navigate. And, looking back over my life so far (I’m be turning 29 in July), I can see that the times when I suffered most intensely preceded the periods of my most fruitful growth. Taking a more philosophical approach to suffering has enabled me to recognise these potential moments for growth more quickly (sometimes even as they’re happening).
Itinerary: If you’re not interested in my actual travels, you might want to skip this bit…
I left the Mornington Peninsula on 1 March. It was pretty emotional for me. I was crying as I drove away, knowing I wasn’t going to see my family for a good five months. I’d sold my business, loaded everything up and wouldn’t be back until August, when my brother is turning 21 and my sister is having her engagement party.
Me and Ruben headed north through Melbourne, stopping off at Princes Park, where I used to walk him I lived in Carlton North. I drove past that apartment and another house I lived in in Ascot Vale, for old time’s sake. I’m sentimental that way.
Next, it was west to Geelong. We spent three nights in a caravan park outside the picturesque port city as I slowly got my bearings, dealing with a faulty camp stove, the caravan coming off its jockey wheel, all the food falling out of my fridge en route, tearing the table out of the caravan (which left a hole in the floor) to make more room, and generally adapting to nomadic life. One afternoon, I hiked over a small hill and found a huge, sweeping valley with an old quarry at the centre. Underneath the sunset, it was absolutely stunning. I went back the following day. On the last morning, we hiked the You Yangs, which always looked to me from my home on the other side of the bay like distant pyramids. Something like what the biblical Israelites might have seen after crossing the Red Sea and looking back.
I was planning to make my way around the Bellarine Peninsula, but everything was booked over the long weekend. I can’t believe I hadn’t figured this out before leaving, but there are a bunch of spots where you’re allowed to camp for free. This is provided you’re mostly self-sufficient in terms of water, power etc, but a lot of these places have toilets. Some even have showers (as I was very grateful to find here at Lake Tooliorook after three days bathing in Lake Colac).
The first such place I went was a lookout in Stieglitz (which reminded me of Hugo Stiglitz from Inglorious Basterds, one of my all-time favourite movies and a huge influence on what I’m doing now). An old guy in a bus parked next to me, telling me stories from his own travels. That could be me in fifty-odd years. We’ll see how this pans out.
After that, I headed south to Inverleigh, a beautiful historic town founded in 1854. A lot of bluestone buildings and great riverside walks. I ended up staying here for three nights, during which time I ran out of water in my caravan, bathed in a local river, bathed again at a basin in a disabled bathroom and fought off a persistent cold. When I realised there was a massive, gaping, unresolvable plot hole in my (at that point) current work-in-progress, I decided it was time to move on. Clear my head.
I only stayed in Winchelsea for a single night, but I met a very friendly couple who ran the local caravan park. The husband reminded me of Dennis Farina. He told me the story of a local man who introduced rabbits to Australia back in the early 1800s. They spread so widely and rapidly that they’re now regarded as a pest. A bit of a Pandora’s Box situation. I charged my battery, filled up my water tank, had a shower (maybe the best shower of my life) and hit the road, but not before getting a new idea for a book.
By the time I reached a bush camp in the Otway Ranges, I was ready to go. My brother, Toby, had helped me land on the current book I’m working on now. Previously, we’d been using a system to generate story ideas that we just called “the bag”. It was how I came up with the story I was formerly working on (the one with the giant, gaping plot hole). What we did was we listed every genre we could think of on a piece of paper, then we cut them all up like lottery tickets and put them in a plastic sandwich bag (hence the name), then we’d draw two slips and try to come up with a story that employed both genres. It was a good exercise more than anything, but we used it (via text, him drawing slips and me responding) to land on “historical heist”. This led me to return to a few old ideas that circled the same thematic drain.
The Otways camp was lovely. Got a few good bushwalks in. Only stayed one night and moved on. Headed up to Meredith Park campground at Lake Colac. One of the most beautiful places I’ve seen so far. Took my breath away, just like the quarry I discovered in Geelong. The town of Colac was no less picturesque. Birds nesting in the reeds along the foreshore. Groups of pelicans floating on the current. Bats hanging upside down in the Botanic Gardens. A friendly gentlemen walking his dog clued me into a scenic route I might take south through the Otways. Ruben made friends with another dog named Flo, while I chatted with her owner. I went for a swim each day in the lake – actually, not so much a swim as a ‘lying-down’ in the water, which was incredibly shallow. Still, better than no shower at all. On the third day, Ruben came in with me. He’s getting pretty brave when it comes to water.
The second morning, we left the caravan and drove out to Red Rock for sunrise. With a panoramic view over Lake Corangamite and the grassed-over caldera of an old volcano in the west, and the fog through the trees and rolling hills in the opposite direction, I felt like I was in Braveheart or something. Magical. By this point, I’d starting taking an old Canon DSLR with a telephoto lens everywhere I went. Everywhere was so beautiful, I couldn’t be without it. If I forgot it back in the car, or back at camp, I cursed myself. I wanted to remember everything in high resolution.
I packed up the caravan this morning – got it down to a fine art now – and headed north to Lake Tooliorook. There we are. Now you’re all caught up.
What I’m working on: Sword & Sandal is currently at 8,321 words. Part I is complete. I’ve been a bit worried about striking the right tone (between comedy and drama, horror and humour), but my younger brother and collaborator, Toby, seems to think it’s pretty spot on. We have similar tastes, so that’s a good sign. He’s also something of a musical prodigy despite having no formal training, and has been composing the “film score” to this book. I love what I’ve been hearing from him so far and can’t wait to share it with you.
What I’m reading: There are a few books I read a passage from every morning: The Daily Stoic, the Enchiridion by Epictetus, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and Calendar of Wisdom by Leo Tolstoy. I’ve also recently discovered Allie Esiri’s great daily poetry books (A Poem for Every Day of the Year and A Poem for Every Night of the Year), and her more recent Shakespeare for Every Day of the Year. Shakespeare and poetry have been intimidating to me in the past, but as I’m trying to read more of the classics, they’ve been invaluable in giving me an accessible entry point. I’m also working my way through the King James Bible (currently up to 1 Kings). There’s a year-long reading plan in the back, so if I keep marking off my passages, I’ll be through the whole thing by January 25th 2022 (that’ll take me back around to Leviticus).
What I’m watching: I just discovered Solar Opposites on Disney+ and think it’s absolutely fantastic. Whip-smart and funny as hell. If you like Rick and Morty, it’s basically that, but in a new iteration. The guy who voices Rick (Justin Roiland, co-creator of both this and Rick and Morty) voices the main character, Korvo, who’s just an alien version of Rick. It might sound derivative, but more Rick and Morty is never a bad thing. Shame there’s only four episodes.
What I’m listening to: I listen to film scores while writing, then podcasts and audiobooks while I’m walking/hiking. Really enjoying Daniel Pemberton’s score for Steve Jobs lately, and anything by Johann Johannsson.
Tim Ferriss just released a great podcast with Steven Pressfield, whose book The War of Art was foundational for me in choosing to pursue writing without compromise. He also has really great interviews with the biographer Walter Isaacson, Joyce Carol Oates, Yuval Noah Harari (author of Sapiens, another foundational text for me), Jerry Seinfeld, Hugh Jackman, Matthew McConaughey and Chuck Palahnuik (author of Fight Club, whose book on writing I found really interesting).
I listened to Jordan Peterson’s new book, Beyond Order, which was phenomenal. Some truly great insights into how we do, and ought to, live. I also listened to Hunt, Gather, Parent by Michaeleen Doucleff. It contains a lot of really helpful information about how traditional societies raise children, and what we in the West can learn from them. On a totally different register, I’m really enjoying Three Secret Cities by Australian author Matthew Reilly. He got his hooks into me back in high school with his Raiders of the Lost Ark-meets-Mission Impossible-style books. I don’t know why they haven’t been made into films yet, possibly because of the sheer scale and budget requirements. It’s a lot of fun.
Anyway, that’s all from me this week. They won’t always be that long. This being the first post and also covering the first fortnight (whereas the newsletter will be weekly going forward), it was always going to be a big one.
I’d really love to hear from you. Hit reply to this email and let me know what’s on your mind.
Until next week…