One of my all time favorite trilogies is “The Matrix.” I was captivated by its message immediately, and it becomes more relevant for me as I get older and life gets to be more complicated. I find myself frustrated by the programming that is all around us, and I am more determined than ever to create a better, more sustainable life for my son and his generation than what we have right now. I know there has to be a better way of doing things, but I haven’t figured out all the details of just what that is yet.
When Jaden and I went to see the therapist last week, she told me that she sees a lot of potential in me and if I were to finish my degree in Early Childhood Education, I would be a great preschool teacher. At first, I thought, “YES, this is what I need to do!”.
Then I thought, “NO, that’s a stupid idea!”.
The issues I am dealing with are that so much of what is needed to secure housing, sustain even a modest lifestyle, put food on the table, etc, requires being plugged into the machine. That machine is made up of ideas and philosophies which say that success is measured by wealth and possessions, that intelligent and talented people must go to school and put themselves tens of thousands of dollars in debt in order to prove their worth, and we are all mechanisms for the smooth running of the larger machinations at work.
I refuse to believe there are no other options available for someone like me who has had ENOUGH, and just wants to live a simple life. We don’t need anything extravagant. In fact, it is absolutely my intention to teach my son how to live with far less than we even have right now.
Learning to live with less opens many doors, the primary one being freedom from slavery to the dollar and to the possessions that dollar buys. I have been learning more and more about moneyless tribes and eco-warriors who are refusing to play the game of consumerism any longer, and are finding ways to get what they need through means which provide those things for free. I would love to be part of something like that and to teach my boy that “waste not, want not” is not merely a cliche. But how to begin?
In 2007, when it was discovered that I had cancer, my whole world turned upside down. It was turned upside down and shaken, and everything that I valued in my world crumbled. I had to give up the apartment I had worked so hard to get. That apartment was a symbol of my independence, a symbol of finally overcoming the depression that had kept me living with my parents for years. I had finally conquered the beast, and I was living on my own and loving it.
The circumstances also cost me the ability to continue working at a job that I absolutely loved. I was working for a non-profit organization that helped uninsured people gain access to healthcare. I loved my job because I was able to interact with people who had been slogging through the muddy trenches of a life and offer them encouragement. I had been through some hellish things even at that point, and I knew a thing or to about staying strong and choosing to go forward when the going gets tough. I loved going to work every day!
When everything that seemed important was stripped from me through circumstances that came at me nearly too fast to process, I was forced to evaluate what identified me. What made Stephanie…Stephanie? It turns out, I had based much of my identity on my job, on my apartment, on my things, on my friends, my educational pursuits, and myriad other false notions of worth. When all the false identifiers we use are stripped away, we are forced to create new ways of identifying ourselves. But how?
I think the first step is one I’ve already started doing, which is to unplug from the Matrix. There is an endless deluge of messages sent to us every day, through every form of media, telling us what we are, who we are, where we need to be heading, and why we’re a failure if we’re not willing to fall in step with those who are doing things “right.” Our consciousness is constantly assaulted with empty messages which tell us that if we only had this or that, if we only looked this way or that way, if we only had earned our degree from this school or that school, if only…if only…
And the messages, when you get right down to it, are about control. If we listen to the Matrix and believe what it says, it tells us who we are to be, how we are to function, and what we are to think. It is my belief that this Matrix permeates every facet of culture, from the commercials we see to the sermons we here. Everyone wants a piece of us. Every institution wants some control.
I am frustrated because I am doing all I can to move Jaden and me into a more positive place in life, but I find the machine is working against me. As I haven’t worked in a number of years, my job options are limited. As I haven’t had money to pay many of my bills, my credit is shot, which in turn makes it more difficult to find a place to live. Everything in our system is designed to serve those who fall into step, and those who don’t meet that requirement will suffer for it.
Still, I refuse to plug in again. I refuse to accept that the only way to live a decent life is to resume my place within the machine, perpetuating the cycle of toxic messages. When I think back on all the jobs I’ve had, my favorite jobs were those in which I was doing the work that few others would want to do, whether it was setting up conference rooms at a hotel, or sorting cherries at the fruit packing plant. I enjoyed those jobs because my mind was at ease, I didn’t feel stressed, the job had a conclusion at the end of the day rather than leaving work with a bunch of loose ends to be dealt with in the morning. Those jobs were hard work, too, and I enjoyed it.
What is wrong with being happy with the simple things? If I am content to provide a life for my son and me that is simple, that is unpretentious, that is sustainable even when times get tough, who is anyone to tell me I need to do something differently?
The reality is, the experiment of turning our backs on the value of hard, “low level” work hasn’t turned out so well. We have thousands and thousands of people earning college degrees, putting themselves in debt, and then never using their degree for anything other than something impressive to hang on the wall. The message which told people that this is what they need to do to prove their worth and intelligence has been a toxic one, and we have a nation of students in crisis because of it.
“Dirty Jobs” host and creator, Mike Rowe, has commented many times that there are hundreds of thousands of jobs available for skilled laborers, but there aren’t enough younger people learning trades these days to be able to fill all the jobs. Turning our backs on the value of hard work and a simplified life is having dire consequences for us as nation. Somehow, we collectively came to believe that the only living worth pursuing is one that offers a short work week and very little “grunt work.” The phrase “work smarter, not harder” has been taken to its extreme, and we now have a whole lot of smart people who have no idea how to work as hard with their bodies as they have with their minds.
All of that, because of the messages the Matrix is sending out. When I told the therapist that I was having a difficult time finding work because of the toll cancer, old neck and back injuries, and so forth have taken on my body, her immediate suggestion was that I earn my degree so I can find better work. On the surface, that makes sense. After closer inspection, though, it doesn’t seem like the best move. Going into debt on a gamble that I will find a job to pay off that debt is foolish. I much prefer to find a simpler way to live.
It can be done. The more I turn off and tune out, the more my awareness is elevated, and the more solutions will come to me. I will not plug back in.
Wake up, Neo. The Matrix has you.