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The Difficult Third Year

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

In one of my former lives, the most recent former life in fact, I used to have to write things called "User Stories". These are supposed to be the simplest forms of An Idea. A clear language expression of a future state of being, without any reference to how to get there.

Year One - Do Not Die

My mantra for year one was Do Not Die. There was never really any actual chance of this happening - I had sufficient savings to be able to buy my way out of any serious problems - but as a User Story, it was incredibly helpful.

I know how easily I can get distracted from one project to another. This doesn't mean that things don't get completed, it means that I don't think that any project is ever actually finished. Everything is in a transitional state of gradual (or sometimes sudden) improvement. My working style suits lots of gradual improvements across lots of projects.

If you are a on an unlimited time budget, this is a great way to work. But sometimes, it is more important to push one Thing further along than another Thing. A small improvement somewhere sometimes should not be followed by a small improvement somewhere else, but by another improvement in the first thing.

I kept myself focussed on this by constantly asking myself the question

is this thing I am doing now the most likely thing to keep me from dying?

An example: It took a while, and a lot of pain, but eventually, I got the well working. I won't bore you with the details, but it was problematic, expensive, time consuming and stressful. But, it has now been working perfectly for over 18 months, and I have clean fresh drinking water. From a well. Since then, I have been carrying water from the well to the loft in 20 litre jerry cans.

I would love to have running water, but as this table clearly shows, if you can chose one completed project out of "Availability of water" and "Having enough firewood", you should prioritise the chopping and stacking of firewood over the rather more interesting project of fixing the domestic water supply.

Year Two - Self Sufficiency

Year Two had a User Story of "Achieve Self Sufficiency". The directive from Year One - Do Not Die is still in force. I still need food, heating and water, but now I need it all year round.

All jobs, all priorities could be measured against the question of :

is this thing I am doing now most likely to sustain me for 12 months of the year?

One of my most enduring visions for the future of The Barracks is that I have a sauna. Probably heated from my own bio-gas farm. When I took my first batch of wood to the sawmill, I got a bunch of trees sawn into planks perfect for cladding it and building the benches. It is unlikely that they will actually ever be used for this purpose. They have been beautifully stacked for two years now, and are in the perfect state of straight-and-dryness to be made into a lovely, slightly decadent, Finnish sauna. They are almost certainly destined for other things. Or to remain stacked for at least another two or three years. No matter how much I want a sauna, there is no way I can justify building, or even thinking about building one right now. Especially not when I would really love to, and it's exactly the sort of thing I could lose a month to. Not when I need more shelves for more potatoes in the stores!

Year two was a success. I fed myself throughout the winter. I had enough firewood, even though we had considerably more extreme temperatures for a much longer time than we had last year. I used a lot of wood, but it was already dry and stacked.

I did not manage to feed the piggies. It actually looks unlikely that I will ever be able to feed them entirely from what I can grow here. This is a slightly depressing thought, and one I tend not to dwell on. It's more important to get on and try to achieve it, than to wonder if you ever will. As Elon said, just that something has a good chance of failure, it doesn't mean that you shouldn't do it. Other than that though - one human was catered for. Tick that box!

Year Three - A Search for Meaning?

From the outset, I had a better idea of what year 10 would look like than year three. I have always struggled with the User Story for year three. I played with "Thrive" for a while, but that is too nebulous, too vauge. There is no question that can be simply put to measure the usefulness of a task against to understand if it progresses "Thriving".

It seems to be "am I making things better". Well, if I am not, then I might as well hand in the keys to life, and go find a permanent parking spot in the basement. This is clearly insufficient.

I thought about increasing the soul-count. In either non-humans or humans. But that should be a thing which changes by evolution, not by plan. My life has for every been a vignette of the future, stumbled towards through the vagaries of chance. A Yes Man with A Plan. If people or animals come to me, then so be it, and I shall decide at the time.

I remember when I read the Seymour book that I was a little upset when he recommended waterproofing your chicken coop with "used fertiliser bags". I railed at both the use of artificial fertiliser and, even more so, the fact that he expected you to buy it. That didn't feel very "self sufficient" to me.

Complete Self Sufficiency is rarely attained. I'm actually doubtful that there is anyone who is surrounded by a capitalist life who has ever been there. Pushing harder for this seemed to be a target, but the difference between "Year Two - Self Sufficiency" and "Year Three - Complete Self Sufficiency" is hardly going to set the world on fire. And my form of modern Self Sufficiency is not based on a pastoral idyl which never existed, its fundament is the powerful belief that when society collapses, you, dear readers, are all woefully unprepared.

I went back and read a bunch of old books. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance reminded me of the search for Quality and the attempt to understand it. That just sounds like "Thrive" though.

Siddharta, The Tao of Pooh, J.L.Seagull, Plato's Republic, The Rise of the Meritocracy, Animal Farm all drew a blank.

So I retreated to my usually position. Do nothing and allow an answer to reveal itself.

Which, of course, it did.

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Jul 23, 2021

I agree that the quest for "100%" something is the way of dragons (as opposed to "mostly something with some minor fudges") - it's the area of too much effort for too little return and nature doesn't really go there (for good reason). Recently, I've been having to learn the technique of just asking the question without expecting an answer. The brain will tick away on it and things will filter through if you are able to listen. Maybe year 3 is about the question more than the answer. "Thrive" also sounds a bit like Aristotle's "excellence" (or whatever it was in the Greek), the importance being the emphasis on "habit" rather that "thing". Meaning always suggests an end while th…

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