RK No Moss

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Published in Muff Issue 1: Stuff, 2018. Photo by Rachel Elizabeth Barringer. 

Everything RK owns fits in their backpack. They’re sure to keep a change of clothes, a few hygiene products, “self-affirming” sex tools, and a chunky ring on each finger, but other than that, their material life is shared. They sleep at friends’ and strangers’ places, night-to-night noting the different firmnesses of pillows, or making spots with their hosts’ laundry. RK calls themself “glamping”. In the past couple years they’ve bounced between Richmond, Columbia, Asheville, and mountain towns in Colorado, having stomach fed, traveling and making art at the whims of the universe. 

I met RK last year when I became interested in cases of people who challenge the divide between home-having and homelessness. At the time I was totally broke and barely scraping together rent (it actually felt momentous when I found dimes on the street...). The housing crisis was raging around me in the East Bay; everyday my commute was more crowded with lean-tos and over-full carts. A collective of homeless activists called First They Came for the Homeless occupied City Hall in Berkeley, pitching twenty or so tents at the highly visible public building to protest conditions for the local homeless*.  With average studio rent spiking to $1,600 per month, it felt to me that eviction was an epidemic coming for most of us. With housing realities shifting so quickly, I wondered if we might get insight on what’s next for urban housing by looking outside the traditional capitalist private home model. Could we learn something, I wondered, from looking at homeless communities’ practices of recycling materials and sharing resources?

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say homlessness is the pariahhood of our country. When panhandlers walk by on the train, commuters shrink into their headphones. Baristas exchange nervous looks when a person without a home walks into a cafe to use the bathroom. As First They Came for the Homeless puts it on their Facebook page, “On a good day [unhoused people] are told to ‘move along’ by the local police — on a bad one their meager belongings are confiscated or destroyed and they are ticketed or arrested”. Alienating the homeless population, however, we’re forestalling collaboration on a problem that affects us all.

I put out a call on Instagram to talk to people living on virtually no money, and in true manifester form, RK  showed up in my DM feed — proud, beautiful and excited to talk. 

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RK doesn’t have a home or many things, but exudes abundance. They’re quick to laugh, smile, and throw around words like “radical” and “gratitude” as liberally as most of us talk about being stressed and overworked. Vital to RK’s story is that this abundance has  correlated inversely to the amount of money and stuff they have: the blessings have blown in since they let everything go.

Two years ago RK had a steady home but fought depression. The monotony of  adult routine was eclipsing their zeal for work and relationships, dormant mental illness began to show up and they coped by drinking and doing drugs. “It became harder to accept the life I built for myself,” RK remembers, “I began to fold into myself.” With a flash of inspiration, RK sold all their stuff and set out on a personal journey. “I wanted to stretch my comfort zone,” RK shares, “to expand my network and become more in sync with the cycles of the universe”. 

Since then, they’ve survived without possessions, personal space, or income.  As RK hoped, the nomad lifestyle has tuned them to the universe in a couple of key ways: first, being dependent on human generosity for food and places to sleep, RK has seen themself become a much more helpful person. They’re continually surprised and excited by the goodness of people, and in turn want to give back. Second, working harder for their own survival, they have less time to feel anxious. Between securing meals and shelter,  RK remarks, “I honestly don’t have too much time to sit and listen to my intrusive thoughts or act from a place of paranoia”. 

RK’s journey hasn’t been without challenges — equal and opposite to the kindness they’ve encountered have been intentions of exploitation, and they’ve had to get themself out of several tough situations with predatory people. Still, the overwhelming outcome of their journey has been spiritual expansion. They speak effusively of “beautiful, queer people” they’re meeting in South Carolina and are excitedly juggling dinner invitations and offers of collaboration. For RK, there’s a lot to be thankful for. 

As income disparity climbs and urban home ownership becomes a pipedream even for middle income families, it’s important we understand there are alternative ways of living and owning.  RK’s story is no doubt very different from that of most of the displaced and houseless people in my neighborhood, but it still serves as a hopeful case study in the positive psychological impact that nomadic living and sharing resources can have.

RK’s next stop is Charleston, SC, where they grew up. “I’ll have to do a gratitude ritual to my ancestors there”, they remark, “and reassure them I’m gonna keep on living.”