Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark | Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Man Who Quit Money

Published in 2012, Mark Sundeen’s account of Daniel Suelo’s intriguing, humbling, and penetrating life is required reading – even if you just get around to an excerpt. For all of us who have stayed up fretting about the contents of our bank account, or have spent hours in traffic on the way to or from work, or have moved to a city or an apartment because work dictated such, then The Man Who Quit Money is the book for you. Your life doesn’t have to be the way it is; this is the essence of Suelo’s captivating story. He is the man who quit money –gave it up in 2012 and has lived without it ever since. Some days are hard, but most aren’t. Life without money is liberation, the ultimate freedom – at least as far as Suelo is concerned.

The Man Who Quit Money begins with three quotes, one excerpted from the Bible. Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or your body, what you will wear…Look at the birds of the air. They do not sow or reap or store away in the barn…Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

And this is who Suelo has become: Once a fundamentalist Christian, now a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Christian and a member of the Church of the Great Blue Dome. He does not hoard; he does not fret. A man can live for weeks without food. Wool stays warm even when it’s wet. Have faith, and the Lord will provide. The Man Who Quit Money made me a believer, not a born-again Christian but someone who trusts the earth a little bit more, and her capacity to provide, and protect.

The Man Who Quit Money isn’t organized chronologically; rather, each chapter addresses an element of Suelo’s life as a vagrant, a pauper. One chapter talks about food, and how he gets it – in dumpsters, in the desert, in the forest, and in the kitchens of friends. One chapter addresses sex and love – how does one fit romance into a life with no money? (Not very well, it turns out – the other person kind of needs to quit money, too, and it’s rare to find someone who wants to go live in a cave.) One chapter chronicles Suelo’s life before quitting money – social work, the Peace Corps, a few months in India tracking sadhus. The result of this arrangement is a slow teasing out of ideas – that poverty is accepted around the world, but not in America. That America’s greed, her addiction to material possessions and to wealth, has sickened her, maybe permanently. That we’re trained treat the poor with cruelty.

It’s impossible, pretty much, to live as Suelo does, and as Jesus himself did – penniless and ragged. Living without money is definitely illegal – you need to pay taxes, earn money, pay what’s owed. Taking up space on this planet costs dollars. Suelo lives the way he does because he’s educated, fit, clever, and single. He’s free in more ways than one; still, his lifestyle takes work, and he’s constantly explaining himself to those who so fiercely depend capitalism. Giving up money in this day in age makes you a slacker, a mooch. Once, though, we did live without money, and this is part of the book’s point – we bartered, we traded, we used the woods and our wits to feed and clothe ourselves. We were closer to the land, and all that the land had to provide.

Sundeen’s chronicle of Suelo’s extraordinary life is written with tight precision and acute description – and the pages glisten with hope. In between the narrative come flickers of what our lives might look like without money – our bodies would be healthier, worn by the land, the outdoors, and not the hunch of a commute or a cubicle. Our work would be valuable, tangible, and probably minimal – caring for the self, the family, the land, need not be all-consuming. Money is fake, the book screams. Money is not true validation; it’s an illusion. In the end, more stuff only leaves us emptier.  

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