My transformation happened slowly and then all at once. It was 2018 and I was living in Portland, Oregon, in a fourth-story modern studio flat on a trendy street above bars, corner cafes, boutique pet stores, bakeries, and the like. I ironically called my apartment building the "Hipster Prison" because its front was adorned with metal grates that evidently helped filter incoming sunlight on its south-facing windows, thereby improving the building's efficiency. What they actually did though, was made the building's occupants feel like they were living in a trendy prison.
I adorned myself with the latest and greatest fashion, ate at trendy restuarants, and had a high-paying corporate job to pay for these privileges. My aesthetic mimicked the tenets of the minimalism trend that had become so prevalent in the 2010's—white walls, simple furnishings, open floor plan, and five to ten books about how to live your best life, all in such pristine shape that any sane person would wonder if I had ever opened them. I was on the path to self-actualization. I believed that if only I worked harder and bought more expensive, beautiful things, I would "make it".
But then, something curious happened. Out of nowhere, it was as if my mind rebooted. An engineering project of mine ended and I was left without work for a period of a couple months. Having worked so hard my entire adult life and having saved enough to subsist on for awhile without working, I dared to ask: What would it be like if I pressed the pause button for a bit? What if I didn't try to find work and got to know myself?
So I set out on my own. This time, I wasn't trying to start a new business, find a new gig, or actually accomplish anything at all. I was going to become a scholar in the art of doing nothing.
What I discovered was a whole world of writers, philosophers, filmmakers, and musicians who espoused the great gospel of doing fuckall. There was Bertrand Russell's In Praise of Idleness, in which he brilliantly refutes the idea that work is virtuous in itself. The Big Lebowski is the Coen Brothers' take on a modern slacker whose life ethos has become a bona fide religion. And The Idler magazine is a bimonthly trove of musings on why laying about is preferable to toil, and what to do with all that time.
You could say I was hooked. I realized my upbringing had left me neurotic, overworked, and incapable of stopping to smell the proverbial roses. But if I wasn't going to take the time to smell roses, then why exactly was I working so hard?
I immediately began to make changes. I filled my apartment with oddities. Strange fabrics, kitschy art, and junk I found in dumpsters. I diffused patchouli oil and started shopping at thrift stores, finding their contents to have so much more character and soul than the wares they were peddling at the boutiques on the high street. I discovered new locales—parks, quirky cafes, dirty alleyways—which my mind's eye had suddenly invigorated with renewed meaning and beauty. I learned to play the ukulele—not because I wanted to start an exciting new musical career, but for the sake of itself.
For so long I had worshipped at the altar of the bourgeoisie. I believed whole-heartedly in the false salvation of material security and was ignoring my deeper, God-given propensity toward creativity, spirit, and contemplation. Our culture is organized around the idea that industry and productivity will save us. They surely have their place. We've got to eat. But our willingness to craft our entire identities around our job titles and cars and houses and watches and handbags and brands has diluted the rich broth of nutritive authenticity that simmers beneath our hardened façade.
Bohemia is a region in present-day Czechia, but the term bohemianism has come to mean a set of values and a lifestyle which rejects the bourgeois ideals of wealth accumulation, conspicuous consumption, and arbitrary social protocols that stifle our true natures. It values creativity over brute power, thrift over lavishness, contemplation over action, and appreciation over dominance.
Bohemianism can save the planet, our relationships, and ourselves. By realigning our values away from consumption, competition, and conformity toward creativity, collaboration, and eccentricity, we begin to live a more dignified life. We reclaim our personal power and become true to our will. We see that our accumulation of status symbols was a complex mask covering our own perceived inadequacies. And we can begin to heal the planet from our hubritic pillaging in the pursuit of false grandeur. To become whole is not to adorn ourselves with lavish accessories, but to fortify our spirits with deep appreciation for life as it is.
When we shift our values in this way, we see that most of our previous efforts were bound to be futile. The promotions, the vacations, the designer clothes, the extravagant meals out were never going to lead us anywhere but to a deeper sense of dissatisfaction because our satisfaction was always a conscious decision, irrespective of our circumstance. We see more clearly that the good life is one born out of our deep creative power and requires little more than a room, some healthy food, modest clothing, and good friends.