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About the cover In about 1925, gathered around a table

at 54 rue du Chateau, drinking their tonic local brews, a group of artists and writers who would come to be known as the Surrealists (but who were then, Andr Breton admits, just adepts at the art of living) invented a new version of the old parlor game Consequences. In this new game, which they called Exquisite Corpse, collaborators took turns adding to an image or poem, without knowing exactly what had come before. The game of Exquisite Corpse celebrates the idea that our minds hold surprises we cannot alone imagine a persistent theme in this book. Here, four artists Melinda Beck, Meg Hunt, Bert van Wijk, and Kristian Olson invent two individuals capable of doing just about anything.


Copyright and Credits
This is a sampling of pages from The Good Life Lab. Text 2013 by Wendy Jehanara Tremayne. All rights reserved. Cover illustrations by Bert van Wijk (third panel), Grady McFerrin (inside front and back), Kristian Olson (bottom panel), Meg Hunt (second panel), and Melinda Beck (top panel) Illustration Credits: Rachel Salomon, 18; Julia Rothman, 5051; Kate Bingaman Burt, 114 Photography Credits: Holy Scrap, 115

To Live a Decommodified Life

The desire to consume is a kind of lust. We long to have the world flow through us like air or food. We are thirsty and hungry for something that can only be carried in our bodies. Consumer goods merely bait that lust, they do not satisfy it.
Lewis Hyde, from The Gift: The Erotic Life of Property

In 2002 the underground art community in New York City blossomed and grew. In a given week one could learn to sew and make a furry bear suit, learn about Central Parks edible plants, find out how to read a schematic, learn the Hawaiian fire art called poi, solder, or go on an unsanctioned historical tour of underground subway stations no longer in use. Consumerism and money were themes that popped up regularly in creative projects. Performance artist Reverend Billy founded the Church of Stop Shopping. With a real choir preaching the pitfalls of materialism, Reverend Billy and his followers performed in churches around the city, then the country, and then the world. The Billionaires for Bush were regularly seen around town dressed in tuxedos and fancy gowns. In character, they argued for the rights of the wealthy: to tax, to maximize profit, to increase power. I added my own contribution to the theme by creating a project called The Vomitorium: Make Room For More!, a theatrical production modeled after the opulent parties of the Roman Empire, where guests infamously engaged in consuming astounding amounts of food, vomiting, and gorging themselves again


and again. The play invited reflection on the fate that eventually befell the Roman Empire. It was a time of self-expression and self-reflection. Burning Mans gift economy and its DIY ethos were shaping a culture back at home. This culture helped Mikey and me recognize how commodified our lives were. We realized that instead of making the goods we needed to live, we bought them. We chose what to buy by copying others or by listening to advertisements. Wearing branded clothing, we were ourselves walking advertisements. Since we didnt make things, we also didnt understand how things worked. If something broke, we threw it in the trash. We were not privy to information that might lead to responsibility. We didnt know which fibers and materials decomposed back into the earth or what toll the production of goods took on the planet. This information did not come on care labels along with the washing instructions or in owner manuals paired with gadgets. We had never considered that most of civilization was made out of petroleum and corn. Both can be abstracted and turned into a plethora of forms. Petroleum is turned into plastics and synthetic fibers that are then used to make consumer goods. It is also turned into fertilizers used to grow industrialized food. Living in the city, a place defined by its reliance on goods produced elsewhere, we consumed things with a cost that could be measured in petroleum, in both the delivery and production of goods. And we learned that the processed food we ate, which took varied forms from sweeteners to fiber, was actually modified corn. Animal products like meat and dairy we learned to view as corn products because animals not meant to consume corn were being raised on it at industrialized farms. Our life cycle was a patterned loop of working to earn money to buy what we could have made ourselves better and more responsibly. Our creativity, our most precious gift, we traded for money. The results of our labor hardly contributed to making the life of the earth any better. Deep down, we felt this.
To Live a Decommodified Life



With newly opened eyes we watched the same food supply trucks pull up behind all sorts of restaurants. Its all the same, we said to each other while watching the same truck deliver to a run-down deli and then a fancy health food caf across the street. Documentaries about genetically modified organisms (GMOs), pesticides, and factory farming practices encouraged us to become food aware. We memorized the categories of goods that contained GMOs and avoided them. At the time the list consisted of cotton, corn, canola, and soy. Today the list is longer and harder to memorize. We dumped our televisions and turned to online news sources. We started making more of our goods ourselves. Instead of buying new things, we favored what could be trash-picked. We modified junk to fulfill our needs. Changes in habit helped us see the relationship between our choices and the world. We avoided participating in sweatshop and child labor, pollution, and the abuse of resources worldwide by not consuming and by living out of the waste stream. We started taking note of the things people did to reward themselves for the hard work they gave to their careers. They were things that Mikey and I had rewarded ourselves with all the time. Once out of our office cubicles, we had run off to fancy dinners and bought consumer goods and designer clothing. I held on to the pledge that I had made a year earlier after months on the road. With Mikey, I added a promise.

We will search for an uncommodified life.

To Live a Decommodified Life




Things of Value
The secret of madness is the source of reason.

Mikey hung up the phone and paced agitatedly in the kitchen. He had been talking to someone from his old job who had wanted to know why he was cashing out his 401k account. Mikey explained that he did not trust the stock market. Im going to use the money I have to invest in the life I am living right now, he told the befuddled rep. He thought I was crazy and wanted to help me find equity, Mikey said as he rolled his eyes. How does one find equity? It seemed so abstract. Equity is not unearthed from a tomb on an archeological dig; it does not emerge from a dusty box at a garage sale. You cant hold it. The banks made it seem as though it could be produced from thin air as long as you owned something worth money, like a home. A trick of the world of capital, we decided. A way to detach money from something valuable and make it, as they say, liquid. I figured equity was a code word that meant easier to steal. Bankers were doing this kind of thing with homes all over the country as people were offered giant mortgages and then foreclosed on. Not us, we vowed. In 2008 the market became volatile. We watched it rise and fall as it had done in years past, only now it was even more erratic, the changes more extreme. Sometimes its fluxuations were due to real circumstances in the world, such as a bone-dry rainy season in Florida causing a spike in the price of oranges. But all too often the swings of the market seemed tied to the mysterious workings of a world to which we were not privy. Financial products too complex to figure out (even, as would


later be clear, by those who sold them) shifted and re-formed the lives of real people, making some rich and others poor. Never did the activity make the overall conditions for life any better. Since the dramatic game does not make common sense, we opted out entirely: we took all the money we had and made it liquid. No more stocks, no investments. We put it in a plain old savings account that earned 2 percent interest. According to all the experts, the professional money managers, bankers, and the like, we did the dumbest thing possible. But when Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, Bear Stearns collapsed, and the whole economy went haywire, it didnt seem dumb to us. I thought of something Id heard the Sufis say: Life lives; only death dies. Well, the nations dying banking system had never contained life. In addition to getting out of the stock market and cashing in our retirement accounts, we decided to get rid of all the money we had by swapping it for things that we thought would have value in spite of economic conditions. Things that sustain life: land, water, tools, and equipment. Buy things that make other things became our mantra. While we still had some money, we asked ourselves, half jokingly, What do we need for a Mad Max world? The best blender! I decided, one night cozied up in bed with my laptop. Food was on the essential list, along with shelter, fuel, and power. I chose a model with a high-power motor that seconded as a hammer mill so that we could use it to make cornmeal and nut and grain flours. And I got one with a rebuilt motor and a lifetime warranty for half the price of a new one. We bought tools and materials to build just about anything: a concrete mixer, a mortar mixer, a welder, levels, a wood planer, electric weed whackers, a scythe, a paint sprayer, impact drills things that before living in New Mexico Id never heard of. We got rid of tools that had two-cycle gas engines and replaced them with electric versions that could be powered by the clean energy produced by our own PV solar system.

Things of Value


We crammed our new investments into a moderately dented metal shipping container that was no longer suitable for carrying international cargo but made an excellent shed, and remodeled a second shipping container into an electronics lab for Mikey to work in. Dreaming aloud, as we had promised to do from a hot tub under a star-soaked sky on our first trip to T or C, Mikey wanted to bury his metal lab in the yard like Luke Skywalkers home on Tatooine in the original Star Wars. Our water table was too high for that. Hed make do.

Our shipping container gave us 160 square feet of space for less money than a flimsy shed purchased at a hardware store. And it will last for decades.

Things of Value


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