Monday, December 9, 2013

The Author Who Went Freegan in NYC for Research

The following article was written by Nathan Rostron for about an author who went all the way with research for his latest novel. Funpunkyg has not yet read the book, but would be happy to read it if it came across her path. :) The article is lively and thought-provoking, so enjoy!

"Dear American Airlines" author Jonathan Miles' new novel, "Want Not," began with garbage: "Having three children," Miles told Bookish, "I made great mountains of trash, and trash had become a significant portion of my life." Miles took his obsession further than most writers would. He studied not only the people who make trash and who dispose of it, but also those who (gulp) eat it: "I [spent] a little time with the 'freegan' community in New York, who eat out of trash as a philosophical statement." Miles spoke with us about what drives freegans to live off the grid and go "dumpster diving," and what it was like to follow their path while researching "Want Not."
Bookish: What are you most excited for about "Want Not"?
Jonathan Miles: I'm most excited to be finished with it. Writing this thing was like climbing a big mountain of razor blades naked. So the fact that it's a finished beast is an incredible pleasure. It's such a different creature than "Dear American Airlines," so I don't know what to expect.
Bookish: Do you have scars from that mountain of razor blades?
JM: Oh, yes. There is this idea that writing is supposed to be enjoyable--and it can be. For me, it's not terribly enjoyable most of the time. Maybe one out of 30 days you hit that little zone, that little space where things converge and you can sit for 12 hours and feel that no time has passed. So rare and beautiful, and [it's] enough to keep you going. That's enough to make it addictive. As for scars, I don't think [I have] any more than anybody else has.
Bookish: "Dear American Airlines" was written as an angry passenger's screed. Was there a big idea behind "Want Not"?
JM: The book has as its idea: trash. Having three children, I made great mountains of trash, and trash had become a significant portion of my life. I began thinking about ecological ramifications and [about how] I'm putting my trash next to other people's trash. I'm reading these little dossiers about these people through what they dispose of, and I'm thinking: This stuff tells stories. I can create whole characters just out of discards.
I was puzzled by trash as well. Taking the New Jersey transit train, you go through those little valleys, and the trackside is just strewn with all sorts of random trash--couches, bicycles and all that stuff. I don't understand it. I don't understand where it comes from, what the story is and how that couch ended up being thrown onto the trackside. So, I started spinning these stories in my head about where this stuff came from.
Bookish: Did you physically go through other people's garbage?
JM: Yes. It's fun. I highly recommend it.
Bookish: What are some of the things you discovered?
JM: All sorts of things I could've used for identity theft, and may have, but I can't confess. Some of the most interesting stuff I did was to spend a little time with the "freegan" community in New York, who eat out of [others'] trash as a philosophical statement. That took a little bit of courage the first time--eating out of a black trash bag.
Bookish: You did?
JM: Oh yeah. Bagels, mostly. There was one guy who would wait outside delis--the big delis where they have like 200 different dishes in those steam pans from all over the world--and at the end of the shift, they tend to just dump them all into one bag, which is horrid. But he would eat out of that, his reasoning being that it all ends up together in your stomach anyway. That's a tougher muscle than I have.
Bookish: Did the freegans you met have philosophical or economic reasons for eating rubbish?
JM: Both, and they were intertwined. The philosophical idea that really grabbed me about this was the idea of going off the grid--just disappearing--and how difficult that's become in our day and age. Just a generation ago, you could [disappear] in Alaska. Now, there is no place off the grid. There is no frontier left in the world. You can't disappear. So, what do you do to go off the grid? The only thing you can do to make yourself untraceable, to remove yourself from society, is to stop spending money. That's where you're tracked. To opt out of capitalism is really the only way to be off the grid in this day and age. [Freegans] are as off the grid as you can be.
That's what really fascinated me about these two characters as they developed, Talmadge and Micah, in the novel--Micah's father tried to go off the grid in the old-fashioned way, building a cabin Appalachia. That didn't work out very well. Now, she's trying to go off the grid in a different way, which is to completely drop out of the economy.
Bookish: By dropping out of the economy, you're also dropping out of citizenship, right? If you're not voting, you don't own property, you don't get governmental services like health care….
JM: Theoretically, yes. This is one of the problems of going off the grid, and why many people come back to the grid: That kind of absolutism is very difficult to make endurable, to make sustainable. The grid has its claws.
Bookish: Did you meet people who had succeeded in doing this? Did they feel freer to you, or did they feel more constrained?
JM: Both. Some did feel freer. Some really seemed to have a kind of philosophically idyllic existence, in that they didn't need employment. To go back to the question about economics, they could scavenge out of dumpsters, in front of grocery stores, squat and have a kind of untethered existence. Others seemed to be driven by an ideology, however noble. Any ideology tends to be a psychic job--it tends to be psychological work. So, they didn't seem too free, to answer your question.
Bookish: Did you invite your family to join you in any of these experiments?
JM: I asked my wife, but that was instantly shot down: no interest. But my kids were fascinated by it.
Jonathan Miles is a true chronicler of the modern human condition in a smart, accessible and utterly original way. His first book, "Dear American Airlines," was named a New York Times Notable Book and a Best Book of the Year by the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal. A former columnist for the New York Times, he serves as a contributing editor to a number of publications including Field & Stream and Details, and writes regularly for the New York Times Book Review.

Saturday, November 2, 2013


A reader of my blog has created this excellent short film for a contest and has asked me to share it with all of you. So give it a watch and share it around! Good luck, Lucia!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Resource

Sometimes I feel bad that I do not post on this blog like I used to. But we all move on from different things. However I will always have this blog as a proud possession.

Even though I do not update it very often, I am happy to have it available as a resource for people interested in Freeganism and other forms of alternate living. The pictures and information on this blog are available to all who want to use them as educational tools.

Peace out.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Earth Is The Message

I haven't had a lot of time to do much writing of my own (if you haven't noticed), so I would like to continue to share other people's writing that is inspiring to me. In honor of upcoming Earth Day, here is a cool blog post I found that doesn't take political sides, but has a strong message.

"The Earth And Our Message"

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Let's Live Without Loving Money!

Hello world! It's been over a year since my last post. I came back to share this grand website that needs some major views and comments. Be warned: (now you're warned).

Indeed, if only we could Live Without Loving Money!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"With A Little Help From My Friends..."

Though I have been too busy to post much these days, I have been continuing my freegan lifestyle and outreach, with such things as the dumpster rides, interviews, personal bin raiding, and my work at the Hippie Kitchen.

 In my last post, I mentioned that I would be leaving the LACW this spring, to hit the road once again. I'm excited to get back to the nomadic lifestyle that has shaped my adult life.

At the moment, my friends and I have a van as a living space, but we're looking for more. We don't want anything extravagant, but just a small trailer (10' to 14') that can be easily towed by our vehicle.

It's unusual for me to ask for anything, but I am aware that people often have travel trailers or campers rotting in their backyards. If any of my readers has access to such an item (like the one on my graphic wishlist below) that they'd be willing to part with for free or cheap for the sake of a few free spirited freegans, please contact me! Any response is greatly appreciated. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Long Month

Hello again. It's only been a month (not an unprecedented lapse in time between posts), but it feels like I haven't written on my blog for a year. A lot has been happening in my life in the first month of 2011. I've been sorting through emotional changes and decision making.

But I'm still a freegan. :)

The biggest change in my personal life is that I am planning to leave the LACW at the end of my second year commitment, which puts my departure around the beginning of summer. It's time for me to hit the road again. I am grateful to the LACW, my many friends and the city of Los Angeles for the fantabulous two years I have lived here. But I have to move on.

Another big change is that one of our hospitality guests, Michael Cooksey, passed away last week. It was the first close experience of death for many of our community members, including me.

I will expound upon these points soon, I promise. But for now I had to merely touch base.

Until next time,

And may the dumpster gods bless you. :)