The Life Review Essay is more than just an opportunity to look back at what has lead you to this point in your life… it is the very foundation on which all future work (be it, this project, the entire diploma process or the entirety of your future life) rests. The Life Review is so valuable, it is something I recommend doing at the start of any major life decision.
It is easy to run away with this process and end up spending a lifetime writing the story of your lifetime. The point is not that you express every detail of your past life but that you drill down on the most important aspects of what you feel has shaped who you are today the the choice you have made to take on this diploma project. It is for this reason that the Life Review Essay should be kept between 2000 – 3000 words. Short and succinct, the life review should really hone in on what is important from your past and how that contributes to your future.
Theron’s Life Review
I was born, and spent much of my youth, in Northern Idaho among Ponderosa Pines, crystal clear lakes and snow capped mountains. My family went through some rough times during my early childhood. Struggling with mental illness, divorce, drawn out custody battles and deep economic strife, my family faced some serious challenges. These challenges, and my family’s responses to them, would help to shape the rest of my life.
My brother and I were put into the foster care of my Aunt and Uncle while I was still just a tyke. Three years older then me, my brother had been caring for me while my family struggled. In the house of my Mother’s sister we had an opportunity experience a relatively healthy childhood that would have otherwise been largely inaccessible to us.
The Influence of an Amazing Woman
My Aunt is a most amazing woman. In my youth, I hadn’t really considered that the way she sought to lead her life and raise her family was anything unusual. Now I realize how fortunate I was to have had such a positive influence on my young life.
My Aunt gave her all to live an abundant and homespun lifestyle. We were four hungry and rambunctious kids, my two older cousins, my brother and myself. With an expansive garden, chickens, dogs, cats, horses and several other animals, we were edging on a small farm. Aunt Chris would roll her own noodles, make her own preserves and peanut butter, and grew a good portion of the food it took to feed the whole family.
I’m often surprised at how much of an influence her love for this type of livelihood would have on me. But there was more to this time of my life than just observing how she lived… in fact, as I mentioned, I was far too young at that age to even recognize there was anything special about it. I was more concerned with playing with my siblings in the vast natural playground that surrounded our small homestead.
I’ve been blessed to spend my youngest years in close contact with nature. Climbing trees, building forts, exploring dense forests, riding horses, talking with the plants… all the opportunities that every child deserves.
I feel very fortunate that family turmoil led to an opportunity for me to experience and explore my natural environment. But it is still important for me to reflect on the struggles of this period of my life as well.
With the timber industry on the decline due to mounting environmental pressure, and a number of tragic accidents that would see many close friends and family severely injured or killed, the options where running out for my father. Having finally secured himself enough to take my brother and I back under his roof.
Being a single parent in a declining local economy, in a line of work that was highly dangerous, my father was determined to improve our quality of life. He was in the last years of putting himself through collage as we sheltered in a trailer that should have been condemned. Ice crawled up the interior walls in the winter and the roof bowed under the heavy snow. It was the last winter we’d spend in that tiresome place.
The Great Urbanization
I was 8 years old when my father was offered a job at a chemical plant just south of Houston, Texas. My life was about to change dramatically!
We packed up the old rusted out Chevrolet truck and headed south. In my 8 year old imagination I pictured cowboys riding horses wearing huge cowboy hats and lassos. The reality could not have been farther from the fancies of my young mind.
Arriving in Houston I saw, for the first time in my life, what a big city really looked like… and I felt a sinking feeling. Not only was it not what I expected, it was far worse than my imagination could have ever conceived.
The school I enrolled in was packed full of kids I’d never met. The grade I was in had a higher student count than the entire elementary I was from. Not only had I never met these children before, I’d never met anything like them. I felt like I had just arrived from another planet… and I didn’t like anything about this new world.
Image obsessed and media saturated 4th graders. I had no context for which to connect and so I withdrew. Eventually I made a few friends and my discomfort with my new environment settled down. But I could never over come the sense of loss from the natural world of my early childhood.
Another Great Shift
We were living in a rather industrial and low income part of La Porte, Texas. As I aged, I started mixing with the wrong group of kids. What started out as the same kind of outdoor adventures of my early childhood eventually shifted into gangs and glorified violence. Already in my early teens I knew this reality was only going to get worse and I appealed to my father to send me back to Idaho to once again live with my Aunt and Uncle.
Again my life took a dramatic shift. This time it was in a very positive direction. Living with my Aunt and Uncle, my grades were improving and I was finding myself back in the environment that made me so happy as a young child… now equipped with the context to truly appreciate the natural beauty of the space I once again called home.
My cousin at this time was heavily into outdoor sports. Rock Climbing, Mountain Biking, Snow Boarding, you name it…
Following the influence of her passion, I found myself excelling at climbing. I was healthy, fit and happy, and again spending a great deal of time in natural environments.
After my freshman year of High School, I went to visit my father in Texas. Expecting only a one week trip, I had already begun making plans for when I would return. When I arrived in Houston, my father informed me that I would not be returning to Idaho and that I was going to be enrolled in high school there. I protested, but it was of no use. As it turns out, my Aunt and Uncle found themselves in a difficult financial episode of their life. They were in the process of selling off their business, selling the beautiful house we had all worked together to build, and finding a more simple life.
When it was time for me to enroll in my new high school, I found it very troubling. Right from the beginning it was clear that the administration had no concern for my personal education. How could they? There were far to many children for them to deal with already… what was one more child from some state on the other end of the country to them?
Transferring credits was the first sign of indifference toward the welfare of their student body. I lost a significant number of credits due to this apparent apathy. As the year progressed, it became obvious that the administration was far more concerned with dress code and conformity than education. Again I found myself withdrawing.
I waited until I was of sufficient age to earn my General Education Diploma and I skipped out on the rest of the game. I was eager to get started pursing a real education, a self guided education. By this point, I had already spent many years researching Psychology, Sociology, Behavioral Science and Nuro-Chemistry trying to gain a better understanding of the mental issues my mother had been trying for many years to come to terms with. I was also discovering a new passion in computer science and information technology.
Life On My Own
After high school, thanks to the help of my brother I got a job at Compaq Computers working in their testing devision. At 18 years old I was making a better wage than many of my teachers who, only a few months before, had told me I would never find a job if I didn’t graduate high school.
Now living in North Houston (nearly another city altogether) I was, for the first time in my life, completely independent! I had an apartment, I bought my dream car and life was looking pretty bright… but my life still felt empty sitting behind a desk.
In less than a year, Compaq went through a round of layoffs and my head just happened to be on the block. I was a contract worker in an expendable department, there was nothing I could do… my first job ended as suddenly as it began.
Fortunately I had made a connection with someone who was working at a small Internet Service Provider. ISP’s were booming around this time and they we looking for some phone support operators. I got a job making a much lower wage than I had become used to but with the help of friends, I managed to get by.
Within a few months at the ISP, the systems admin left for a better opportunity. Before I knew what was happening, I was managing a call center and running an ISP. I began hiring friends and we made a dynamic and creative workforce… under a former Norwegian ship captain, who was the owner. He didn’t quite understand our methods and didn’t trust our motives. The environment became toxic and I saw that it was time to move on… over 80% of the workforce followed.
It wasn’t my most shining moment. I’m sure I could have handled it more maturely but I was young and full of fire. I was ready to move on to the next adventure.
Coming Full Circle
I returned south and took working for a computer repair and consultancy business. As I studied for my Cisco certification I was starting to become aware that the road I was embarking down was not truly satisfying my inner self. I was spending much more time in stressful situations, not eating right and found myself longing to break away from the city life. This is when I first came in contact with permaculture and suddenly my attention shifted.
After passing my Cisco Certified Network Associate test it was already clear to me that my life needed another dramatic shift toward something more fulfilling. It was at that time that a friend proposed we quite our jobs and hit the road. No destination, just wide open road.
On The Road
I sold my dream car, put together my savings and packed up the ’84 grande marque I would call home for the next four months.
Self-discovery. Across 9 states, taking advantage of every free camp site and complimentary service in our path we traveled, seemingly aimless. The destination was not some physical place on a map but to find our true selves.
Ah, back in the fresh air of natural surroundings. It was clear to me then… I was done with my technological fascination. Nothing could bring me more joy than the silent observation of nature. I had returned home… while homeless.
After 4 months my companion tired of the road and we were headed back into the big city of Houston, Texas. I now saw this place with a completely new frame of mind. A city I knew well. I had seen it’s underbelly on more than one occasion. It was a facade laid over a lonely bayou the people had all but forgotten. And this time, I was only passing through.
…Or so I thought. Somehow, the vortex of that city sucked me in one last time. My car, after traveling thousands of miles without a hiccup suddenly began to fall apart at the seams.
I needed to cash my 401k to get myself back on the road… but by the time the money came in, it had already been spent. I needed a job. I refused, for a little while, to return to IT… but the opportunity to make a decent living and build savings to get back out on the road required more than delivering pizza.
I got a job working for Yahoo! and learned a great deal about online commerce. Decided it was the ideal way to make money on the road. I started up a venture with a few friends and headed back to live with my parents as I built the business.
I got a job at a nursery and landscaper within walking distance of my parents home. The idea was to spend as little money as possible, save up and build a business I could travel with.
After a month or so working at the nursery I realized just how incredibly happy and fulfilling the work was. There was no other feeling like it.
After the first orders on the online store came in it became clear that the complications of attempting to run an online business from the road was not going to be ideal. The financing and partnership arrangements were also beginning to fall through. It was time to reassess.
My road trip companion had, in the mean time, moved to Austin. I got a call from him one day and he offered me a place to stay rent free until I got on my feet. I knew this was an opportunity to get out of Houston, once and for all. Even if it meant it would set back my plans for travel I couldn’t pass up this opportunity!
The Move to Austin
Next thing I knew, I was in a 900 sq foot house with 6 other people near central Austin. I had no job and very little money… but I had everything I needed. I exchanged work around the house, of which there was a lot, for meals and a place to sleep. I had just been invited to California to talk about alternative communities and permaculture as this had become a deep passion of mine.
I came alive in this house. I realized the incredible potential of the human spirit when given the space and freedom to explore its true nature, not wasting away in 40 hours a week of meaningless work. But the household was beginning to fall apart and I was forced back into finding paid employment.
Finding Meaningful Work
My first job was working 12 hour graveyard shifts at a CD/DVD manufacturing facility that would later get raided and shutdown by the FBI for copyright infringement. This sudden loss of income meant I needed a quick replacement. I got a job at a little Deli and worked part time for a few months before it burned down.
By this point I was ready to find something that fit my ethics a little more closely. It wasn’t enough any more to just avoid the ethics of the technological work places. I needed something that worked for the betterment of human beings.
With my new found sandwich making skills, I applied at Austin’s only food co-op: Wheatsville. I wanted to stay part time so I could enjoy my life and continue pursing my interest in permaculture and engaging the community.
I sat for a short time as Vice President of Crude Awakening, a local peak oil awareness group. I help to draft a resolution to Austin City Council to create a task force that would begin to address issues and potential dangers with peak oil. The resolution passed unanimously and resulted in many positive public policies to follow.
Within a year I was applying for a management position at Wheatsville. Much to my surprise, I was offered the job. Shortly thereafter, I ran for a vacant seat on the board of directors. That too was offered. Before I knew what happened, I went from a part time job to a salary position with volunteer time thrown on top.
I couldn’t be more happy. I found engaging, meaningful work that was in line with my ethics. I was traveling for national conferences and training seminars, making the best wage I had made since my first high tech job out of high school, and found a community of amazing and inspiring individuals that supported me.
As if the 50 plus hours a week weren’t enough, I still pursued my interest in permaculture. In fact, after taking a Radical Urban Sustainability Training course with the Rhizome Collective and finally a Permaculture Design Course in early 2009, my interest only intensified. By this time I was making enough money to rent a cottage on my own. I was gardening and testing my skills in permaculture at the nearby Sunshine Community Garden and I started my first project after my PDC, the Sideyard Garden.
On a chance meeting at an urban farm tour, I met Kyle Amato. He had ridden his bike from Fort Worth to Austin to submit a proposal to take over a 10 acre brownfield site managed by the now ailing Rhizome Collective.
Cultivation of a Community
Kyle, Chowgene (another friend from Arlington who I met at the community garden but had since lost touch with), and myself got together and pulled several all night sessions to compile a proposal. We determined at that point, even if we failed to win the proposal, we together had the energy to do something amazing.
Thus was the birth of Community Cultivators. We didn’t end up winning the proposal… but in the end, we won something much greater. Community Cultivators took on a life all it’s own. Potlucks, permaculture, community, neighborhood transformations, inspiration and the involvement of hundreds of people.
Now in Dallas, Fort Worth, Arlington and Austin, and linked with several other inspirational organizations, Community Cultivators is making urban permaculture accessible to everyday people through the “cultivation of mind, body and soil”.
In September of 2011 I finally got back to my travels. I signed up for a 10 week internship program at the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia from October to December. Along the way, I stopped in Hawaii and met some incredibly inspirational people restoring the native land management systems.
After the Internship at the PRI, I traveled to Thailand to help start a permaculture education and demonstration farm and community. Rak Tamachat Permaculture is a burgeoning site in rural central Thailand that has the potential to bridge permaculture into the Thai way of life!
What comes next, is what this Diploma is all about!