If I’m Livin’ The Dream, Why Does It Feel Like a Nightmare?

The other day Michelle told me over breakfast about a Facebook post she’d seen. It was one of those canned generic things that people like to repost. It was a photo of a cabin in the woods. I paraphrase but it said something along the lines of  …”Livin’ off the grid … no electricity bills … growing your own food … sounds pretty good to me.”

And we started laughing. Not in a nasty way (I could have used ‘pejorative’ but frankly I overuse that darn word), just a kind of ‘ah yes, the dream vs reality’ view of the world.

This started a number of years ago when we had a friend over and we had just toured the garden during a drought (yes, another one) and he looked around at the garden that did indeed look petty awesome from all of our hard work and said, “You guys are livin’ the dream.”

So anytime anything goes wrong this has become our mantra, said in a very sarcastic tone, of course …” We’re just livin’ the dream!”  On the day that Michelle was describing this Facebook post about how great livin’ off-grid and growing your own food is, we had just had a storm with tornado warnings roll through. We’d experienced an unbelievable lightning storm which had trashed our wind turbine … yes, again! It was at breakfast too…prior to us heading out to the garden for our 237th consecutive day of 100°F heat and no rain dustbowl drought conditions (okay I exaggerated just a bit here, but not that much.)

Which brings me to the point of the blog …yes I do have a point. Michelle and I are ‘focus grouping’ the title of our next book, and by default, by reading this blog, you’re in the focus group. Thanks!

So this is the title for our new book … “If I’m Livin’ the Dream, How Comes It Feels Like a Nightmare?” subtitled something like “Dispatches and observations on two decades spent living off-the-grid, growing our own food, living far from the maddening crowd” … or something along these lines.

So what do you think? Am I correct that it has “BEST-SELLER” written all over it? And film rights with a big pay-day. With Ryan Reynolds playing me … or Ryan Gosling … doesn’t matter, they’re both Canadian eh.

I know what you’re thinking, that it sounds like a pretty negative title. I agree. It’s more to attract attention and bring a huge payday for us … so we can buy some hummers, bling, a private jet … you get my drift. Most of the time our life here has been awesome. But I can’t tell you the number of times I feel like just flopping on the couch in November and vegging in front of the TV and I realize we’ve had some cloudy days, so I have to go out and check the batteries to see how low they are and decide if I should run the generator or not. And then if I do have to run it how I have to get up and check it constantly. I don’t HAVE to check it constantly, but I do, because that’s just how I am.

Turns out there’s more to living this ‘low carbon’ lifestyle than meets the eye.

If anything I think it may be a bit refreshing for people to get some of that perspective. Yes, I have NO Electricity Bills! But I have spent way, WAY more on my solar and wind system in the last 20 years than anyone reading this blog has spent on their electricity bills. FACT: Generating and transmitting electricity is really complicated and expensive. It is in fact not a right, but a privilege, and when you spread all those generation and infrastructure costs across a whole society, your electricity bills are outrageously inexpensive for the value of the electricity you receive and how it improves the quality of your life. If you doubt this, take a second and think about the last extended power outage you had. No lights. No fridge or freezer. Or stove. Or washing machine. Or internet. Or NETFLIX! Yup, it’s pretty amazing stuff.

We published “Little House Off the Grid” more than 5 years ago, so by the time this new book is ready there will have been a reasonable hiatus for us to revisit what it’s like to live the way we do. Things change. Circumstances change. Life happens. Time to revisit the whole little adventure we’re on here in the woods.

So what do you think? Sound like something you’d want to read?

Better yet, what do you think of the title? Too negative? Too misleading if we end up writing that it’s awesome more than not? Such an awesome title that it’s a heartbreaking work of staggering genius (thank you Dave Eggers for the best book title ever to slip in).

Please let us know. Feel free to post below or send me an email at cam mather…with no space… at gmail.com. (Hopefully the evil internet robots won’t figure that out.)

Thanks in advance!

9 Responses to “If I’m Livin’ The Dream, Why Does It Feel Like a Nightmare?”

  • Debbie Morey:

    We’ve been off grid for 3 years now, but, at the beginning of our build, we contacted Hydro One about “hooking us up”. They informed us that it would cost about $150,000 to connect to their grid. We made the obvious choice of going off grid and have invested about $30,000 in our system. (Self installed) 4 kW solar, dual 4kW inverters, a 2,220 ah battery bank and a 14kW propane fired generator as a backup. So far we’ve been living the dream not the nightmare.

  • From two people who are trying to follow your example, Tricia and I give the title 2 Thumbs Up! Consider a copy sold!
    Love you guys to bits.

  • Neil:

    I can of course relate to your point… though I would not want to give up living the off-grid “dream”, there have been those times when the dream has seemed too surreal, and not in a good way. Oh, and wish I had a dollar for every time someone has said to me a variation of: “hey, off-grid, nice life, no electricity bills!!” Well, yeah, true… no electricity bills, but when you are your own power company (aka “HydroNone”) when something breaks (or blows more like it) you’re on the hook. Actually, I wish I had $100 for every time someone has said that to me, then it might have helped pay for the replacement equipment 🙂

    Very sorry to hear about your turbine. You know my lighting story from last summer–I am done with wind generation, and sunk more money into additional solar instead. Best wishes and take care, Cam & Micelle, sounds like it has been a tough year!

  • Celine Britton:

    I like Jeff’s suggestion of “Living Far from the Maddening Crowd:
    Dispatches and observations on two decades spent living off-the-grid, growing our own food.” But the saying goes “Far from the madding crowd.” It’s from Thomas Gray’s poem Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751).
    Now…maybe you DID mean maddening crowd but I’m guessing people would comment that it’s not correct.

  • Jeff Marchand:

    I think its too negative. People will take away looking at just the title that living off grid is a nightmare and that you regret it.
    I like your subtitle better, but would flip it around a bit to:

    Living Far from the Maddening Crowd:
    Dispatches and observations on two decades spent living off-the-grid, growing our own food.

    I’d buy that book, probably not the one that sounds like it will tell me off grid homesteading is a nightmare.
    But that’s just me. Plus if its a follow on to “Little House”, it would be nice if it too had a literary allusion.

  • Denice Wilkins:

    Sounds like a great title to me Cam. Reminds me of the Erma Bombeck book, “If Life is a bowl of cherries, what am I doing in the pits?” The key is make it funny while sharing the facts – and you’ve got funny and facts covered so it will be great.

    I remember a very similar situation for John and I. We were out filming when someone said to us, “You’re living the life of Riley!” And just like you, when things went wrong, it “became our mantra, said in a very sarcastic tone, of course!”

  • Catherine:

    What do you think of, “Living the Dream–That Sometimes Turns Into a Nightmare”?

  • Musia:

    Great title as is!!!! Brilliant

  • Neil B. Orleans:

    How about “Living the Dream! How Come it Feels Like a Nightmare (sometimes)”.
    I say sometimes because if I reviewed all your posts, the “Living the Dream” ones would out weigh the “Nightmare” posts…just saying…

    OR “It’s so dry here, I can’t grow enough hay for a Nightmare”… 🙂

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Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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