Trying to Survive These Challenging Times
By Cam Mather
We published “The Renewable Energy Handbook” in 2003 as a personal project. At that time, Michelle and I were earning a modest income from a variety of sources. We were doing some electronic publishing for corporate customers. We started up a magazine called “Private Power” and after successfully encouraging Bill Kemp to write an article for the magazine, we were then able to convince him to write an entire book on the subject of renewable energy. As book sales grew and we added other titles our “hobby” began taking more and more of our time. Eventually we cut back our electronic publishing business to serve just one main customer near Toronto, and we put all the rest of our energies into publishing books and DVDs about sustainability.
By about 2007 Aztext Press seemed like a viable business on its own and we made the decision to go “all in” and make it our major focus. We recognized that we needed to devote more of our time and attention to the business in order to be able to promote the books and DVDs and get them out there. We knew that by getting important information into the hands of our readers and viewers, they would be able to make the changes in their lives and in their homes that would have a positive impact on the planet. It was a dream come true to be able to earn our modest living publishing books and producing DVDs that promoted sustainable living. Well it was actually our second dream come true, the first being our move to 150 acres off the grid.
It was a huge step and not one that we took lightly. The reality was that while we were earning our modest income from one main customer, it was destroying my soul. I had to drive through the Greater Toronto Area about once every 4- 6 weeks for meetings with my client. Time and again I was faced with the reality of a sprawling, urban nightmare that kept swallowing farmers’ fields as quickly as the bulldozers could plow them up. It also meant keeping plugged into the “real” business world. Doing catalogs. Updating websites. Producing corporate videos. Trying to act interested in seeing constant, unending, cancer-like economic growth. It didn’t help that I had a major personality conflict with my main contact at the company.
So we finally decided to cut the umbilical cord. And for a while it was awesome. Being able to focus entirely on our books and DVDs was wonderful. Then reality hit. With the economic collapse in 2008 came a dramatic hit to our book sales. We sell about 90% of our books in the U.S., and people very quickly realized that books are a luxury. If you’re underwater on your mortgage or concerned about the stability of your job, then suddenly buying a book about putting up solar panels doesn’t seem to be a priority. I understand. I don’t blame people for making the right decision. Our book sales are about a third of what they once were. And so now we are scrambling to try to find other ways to earn an income. While our needs are small, we still have taxes and some expenses. So I understand the disillusioned feeling that many Americans have today. How did this happen to me? What did I do wrong? What happened to the concepts of having a job for life, pensions, stability and ever-increasing house prices? All the things we had come to accept as the norm were suddenly out the window.
It was probably easier for me since I was partially the architect of my own economic demise. I had a choice. I could have taken the safe route and kept driving through h*ll to see my customer and kept being a complete phony pretending I cared about their industrial products. I could have just shut up and kept quiet and kept taking their money. Not only did my work for them compromise my worldview of us all needing to have less, but also I had to drive 3 hours each way to get there which made it even more soul-wrenching.
So now I have my pride and soul intact, but I’m poor. Much of the time this seems like a really stupid move. Security? Retirement? Stability? Nope, they’re all out the window for me. Self-imposed poverty. But then there are the moments where it seems like it was the right thing to do.
Michelle blames me for writing a book called “Thriving During Challenging Times.” You want challenging times Cam? Well here they are! How you do like them now? Yes, it served me right, but it has given me a huge new perspective on the plight of so many Americans. I do not believe the official U.S. unemployment rate of 9% since if you don’t find a job in 6 months you’re not counted as unemployed. I think it could be as high as 25%. Only 47% of working age Americans has full time jobs.
Nearly 15% of Americans or 46 million Americans are on food stamps!
Holy crap! What happened to the American dream? Well, all I can say is that for the last few years of my life I have some appreciation for what these people are going through. I’m certainly not that badly off, but I can empathize somewhat. I know how disorienting it is. How easy it can be to get discouraged. And as if wasn’t bad enough to have our income drop off a cliff, Michelle got breast cancer last fall just to kick us in the head while we were down.
But I’m starting to try and scratch my way back up through the storm clouds and see some sunlight again. We are infinitely grateful that all of Michelle’s treatment went well and she has a clean bill of health. And thanks to our exceptional healthcare system in Canada, Michelle’s cancer treatments didn’t put us into massive debt. I am starting to reorient myself to a whole new reality of living with less. And this is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact from an environmental point of view, it’s essential. I think most people, including environmentalists, have trouble with this. We all need to buy less stuff, and do less stuff, and stay home and spend less money. In our case we were already headed in this direction, and now we’ve just taken it to the next level. And it’s not that bad.
And from adversity comes inspiration. Ever since we moved here we’ve been talking about using the guesthouse as a retreat for people to come and learn about sustainable and independent living. And now we’re doing it and have started to generate a small income from that. It’s pretty great to get paid for something you’re so passionate about.
Suddenly we’re celebrating earning the smallest bit of income. Coming home from selling vegetables in town with $200 is like winning the lottery. And it’s pretty cool. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to afford a new car, but heck, I made $200 selling stuff I grew! How great is that!
And I’m happy to say that all the things I recommend that people do in my book “Thriving During Challenging Times” works. Michelle and I are able to survive on a radically altered income because we used all the strategies in the book. And I’m pretty proud of that.
So there you have it. People don’t usually like to talk about their income. This is a personal thing. Admitting that your income has tanked makes you look like a huge failure. Well I’ve taken an early retirement, but I just forgot to have any money set aside for it. And I’m scrambling to find a way to earn an income that doesn’t force me to drive back and forth to a big city and do soul-destroying work that I don’t believe in. So, if you order a book or a DVD from us and there is personal note in it telling you how much we appreciate the business, we really do. It makes a huge difference. Thank you!
I will continue to write about the realities of country life, both the ups and the downs. I believe that my personal economic reality is one that most of us will face soon as the converging challenges of peak oil, climate change and the ongoing economic collapse continue. I hope to try and continue to share tips and strategies for dealing with this reality. I have a whole new first person perspective on it.
If you enjoy my blog, have ever learned something from it or read something that made you smile, I hope you’ll consider using the “Donate” button on the right-hand side at www.cammather.com. I will be appreciative of any amount you care to offer. Let me assure you that the money will be well spent. It will not be going into a midlife crisis sports car. It’s more likely to be used for more hose for my drip irrigation system to help my garden make it through the drought or a new four-pronged cultivator for the berry patch, to save me the 5-minute round trip walk to and from the main garden to retrieve the one I have. Using a cultivator that I really like is one of the little pleasures that make life so great, and I shall continue to share the joys that we experience daily here at Sunflower Farm.
Thanks for listening. A blog is better than a therapist. And way cheaper!