Necessary for Survival by Christina Knowles

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In anticipation of the return of The Walking Dead series on AMC this October, I decided to make my “Necessary for Survival” list, not really for a zombie apocalypse, but just to survive the banality of everyday existence. Keeping in mind Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I decided to put basic needs first, and then move on to higher-self needs.

  1. Food and water
  2. Shelter, including an atmosphere free from danger in which to sleep
  3. Clothing
  4. Method of cleanliness/hygiene
  5. A means of protecting oneself from predators
  6. A method with which to obtain goods and services
  7. Peace
  8. Love/Social interaction
  9. Honesty
  10. Goodness
  11. Intellectual stimulation
  12. Meaningful and creative work
  13. Occasional distracting escapes
  14. Purpose (I mean on a deeper level than #12)
  15. Art (Poetry, Books, Music, Visual Arts, Film)
  16. Universal Truth

Numbers 6 and 16 are the only ones that give me any trouble. Number 6 is an unfortunate by-product of needing 1-5, 13, and 15. I am lucky enough to be gainfully employed, and it is meaningful and creative work, but it does not allow much time for numbers 8, 13, or enough of 15. Number 16 is always elusive.

Again I am reminded of The Walking Dead. I believe this show’s popularity owes its success to more than a great concept and good solid writing and characterization. The show represents our unconscious desire to abandon all but the basic necessities of life—that which is “Necessary for Survival.” Paring things down to the bare bones of living, returning to simplicity is the appeal of the show, I believe, for many people. WalkingDead

How many of us long to quit the daily, mind-numbing servitude to someone else’s dreams? To forget the house payments and credit card bills, forget that remodeling project, dump the textbooks in the trash, never ride another subway again? And I’m not even going to mention the freedom to embrace our own vision of justice as if we lived in the Old West, to handle matters as we see fit without the pesky interference of law enforcement or government agencies. We long to rid ourselves of the stress of modern convenience to which we have become enslaved.

But we are just too practical and too scared to do it. So we fantasize about a world that requires us to do it, where we have nothing to lose, no decision over which to agonize. It’s been forced upon us, but we imagine we are up to the challenge, not grown fat and lazy through civilization. We imagine that we can hold on to our humanity without the stress and complexities of civilization, so we root for those characters on The Walking Dead who refuse to completely lose their compassion, their civility, even while being free to be barbaric. It is today’s Walden. After all, we are not some hippie Transcendentalists. We want to be in control of our own lives, free to live how we want, not answer to anyone, get back to the simple things, but we are too ADHD to retire to a cabin in the woods, unless of course, there are zombies beating on the door. Maybe I should have added conflict to my “Necessary for Survival” list.—Christina Knowles

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Quiet Desperation–Okay, Maybe Not So Quiet by Christina Knowles

I’ve watched a lot of movies and read a lot of stories about people who have had a great awakening or an epiphany and completely rebooted their lives after finding out they have a terminal illness or after almost dying in an accident. I seriously want a reboot. Do I have to get sick or get in a major accident to do it? I hope not.

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If I found out I had a terminal illness and was told I had six months, or even a year to live, I would change my life immediately. So, why don’t I do it now? Why not live the life I want while I am still healthy and able to enjoy it? It seems I am in the majority with this one. The wisdom of Thoreau comes to mind. What’s the famous quote from Walden? “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

I don’t think I would go that far. In fact, for the most part I love my life. I think, herein, lies the actual problem. I should clarify–I love my home life. I want more time being with the people I love and doing the things that matter. You see, like many people, I am sick of my job. It is slowly, maybe quickly, now that I think about it, sucking the life out of me. It is overwhelmingly stressful. I am not exaggerating when I say that I think it is literally killing me. Isn’t that kind of like having a terminal illness?

That is a bit of an exaggeration. I don’t feel ill, and I am not in any physical pain, unless you count the anxiety attacks that keep me awake at night. I don’t have the emotional trauma of knowing how little time I have left. But even though I don’t have a doctor giving me a time frame, I could die tomorrow or next week. With my luck, it would be on a Friday right after work.

But the truth is that this slow death is not traumatic enough for me to take a risk. Why don’t I have the guts to live the life I want to live? Am I enslaved by my own comfort? Like many Americans, I work to pay for things to make me happy because my work makes me unhappy. It’s a trap. I have thousands of dollars of student loans to get an education, so I can pay back my student loans. Sometimes I wish I never had a college education and a career. Yes, I know. There are homeless and starving people who would love to trade places with me. Maybe that’s what I’m afraid of–I know my life could be so much worse, but is that any way to live? Afraid that things could be worse? Am I afraid to give up the material luxuries to which I’ve become accustomed to the point that I would kill myself working to keep them? How important are they that now my daydreams consist of working in a little flower shop and going home carefree to a tiny two-room house, riding my bike because I can’t afford a car that is likely to break down at any moment. And I will sleep well in my tiny house, nothing to panic about. Like Thoreau, I want to “live deliberately . . .and not, when I [come] to die, discover that I had not lived . . . I [want] to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”

But I am rudely awakened from this fantasy by the thought of health insurance and retirement accounts and veterinary bills. There is no such thing as carefree. Were we even meant for that kind of life? Isn’t it conflict and struggle that make us thrive? Or at the very least give us the contrasts that make us appreciate the good times? I mean, would I even love being at home so much if I hadn’t just left work? I don’t know, but I would like to try. It’s not like I want to quit working and striving. I just want something that doesn’t feel like it’s hurtling me at full-speed toward the grave.

So I again turn to Thoreau for advice: “I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” But I have never been good at taking advice.I find that I am not really a risk-taker when it comes down to it. Although I have intermittent lapses, I am practical and responsible. I also fear the unknown. Even if what I have seems intolerable at times, I suspect that the alternative is more intolerable. Maybe this is just a mid-life crisis, but if it is, it’s a little late. I see the hourglass emptying, and I know if I’m going to change, it has to be now. But I don’t have the courage or faith or maybe enough desperation, so I guess I have no choice but to go to the grave with the song still in me.–Christina Knowles

All quotes from Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden: Or Life in the Woods”

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