Below is the last of a three part series in which I interviewed author and record-holding hitchhiker Irv Thomas. See part one of this interview if you haven’t read it yet.
In this final part of the interview, Irv and I discuss how life itself is moldable, and we touch on some subjective reality concepts and how they relate to travel. Irv also gives us straightforward, practical advice on how you too can drop out of the system, just as he did all those decades ago. We also talk about the true meaninglessness of age and why Irv is a “Boy Octogenarian”; and we wrap up this in-depth interview with a prediction from Irv about where the world might be headed and some encouraging trends he sees as we head into the future.
Irv Thomas Interview
Part 3: Living & Travelling Subjectively
64. Let’s start to wind it down. What advice would you give to people who want to exit the system or “drop out” as you did? I’m sure the way you could do that has changed a lot since 40 years ago.
That’s probably true. And you need to have people you can rely on as fallback. Today, I found my little travelling address book that I used back then. It’s just a little looseleaf wallet-sized binder; but it had everything, all the people I connected with, in every state. With this book in hand, I could go anywhere in the country and find people I knew. It’s a wonderful resource.
You essentially are relying on your connection to other people. And you have to be a good friend maker, and not press people. Don’t push yourself on people, which I did at times. And I found out only later that I was a little less than welcome in some places.
65. And you would have been in your 40s, right?
Well, more like my 50s or 60s by this time. This took a while to grow. I started out with a backlog of $500 that I didn’t want to get below or I’d go looking for a job, just to be on the safe side. And each year that was $100 less. And after 5 years, I was comfortable having no backlog at all!
66. Wow, an adjustment to your comfort zone, wasn’t it?
Yeah. So you just gradually get used to this way of living, and you’re learning all the time. And one of my key ideas was that if you can live as though something is true for 3 years… it becomes true. That was my time limit for something like that.
67. Do you think that’s how long it took for your belief to change then?
Well, that could be equated to creating your own reality. I was learning these things way back then. Why it ever surprises me now, I don’t know. I guess I fell out of it eventually just like eventually I fell back into it. You can create your own reality as insecurity, just as easily.
68. That’s true. You can create a situation where you’re miserable. You can create a situation where you don’t think you can create your own reality. You can use it against itself!
And I think that our world is changing.
69. Any other advice for people who want to exit the system? Support structure is huge. Changing your beliefs about money sounds like is another crucial aspect to it.
Yeah, that’s true. And just in general, realize that life is moldable. It’s not a stable, static thing.
70. No, and that’s one of the things that you write about in the newsletter that I really like. You often talk about how objective reality interacts with our minds, that there’s this complex relationship between ourselves, others, and the universe… Maybe that description is a bit too hippy, haha!
No, because I know enough people and try to interact as well as I can with all of the people I know, at least long enough so I can put myself across to them and understand who they are. It’s marvelous just to pay attention to the people you know and learn who they are as you’re showing them who you are. To accept them. To just live with the differences.
71. The core of empathy…
I think a lot of my incentive, which I figured out later, came from the fact that my world dried up of friendships in the time that I was married. They just got shallower and shallower, and I need people. I just need people to interact with, to validate each other’s reality.
72. We talked before about how one of your old girlfriends considered your subjective framework as an “unproductive” way to live, but that doesn’t seem logical to me. I mean, aren’t you still making stuff? From the consistent work you put into the newsletters and revising your books, you seem pretty productive from my side.
Yeah, but both of us, you and I, are still on the minor fraction of the country’s consciousness.
73. What do you think makes us different?
Well, I tend to think you’re more representative of your generation. I think that that’s a part of your capability of living in the world as it is. I’m not a part of your generation. I’m intruding on it… or I’m trying to borrow from it or learn from it, perhaps.
74. Well, you’re invited here.
Yeah, but I’ve gotten so far stretched from my own generation that it’s become pretty loose and filmy. I mean, my connection with your generation isn’t really strong enough for me to ride on.
75. Although when you first dropped out, you were out of synch with that generation, as well, weren’t you?
Yeah, there was but it was close enough that I could make the leap. And the one following that one… I’m not even sure if that’s even your generation yet.
76. Probably not, haha. I’m part of Generation Y.
Okay, yeah. Well, the boomers are in their 60s. And the ones in their 40s, I can still manage. And the ones in their 20s, which is you… boy, I don’t have much connection with. But you’re one of my few guides to it.
77. Well… I’m honored.
Well, you dropped in. And I sometimes wonder why you did! What brought you here?
78. You mean when I visited Seattle almost 2 years ago?
Yeah, what brought you here?
79. Well, I told you. I saw your posts on Couchsurfing’s discussion boards, and you seemed like a fascinating person. I remember responding to some of your threads, too.
That’s been my only source of connection to your generation… Well, I actually took a class at the U in my department late last year. And I could connect with a couple people there, too; but only briefly. But it’s like they faded out just as fast as they faded in.
80. Yeah, my generation can have severe attention deficit disorder… which I try to write toward, haha!
How many people on your mailing list?
81. Oh, the newsletter is still relatively new, so not a ton yet. The thing I look at is how many people I’m affecting, how many visits I get; and that’s been growing consistently. As long as I continue to get better at what I’m doing and providing more value to more people, I’m happy.
And I did want to say one thing about my generation: while many of Generation Y do have attention deficit disorder, as easy as it may be to fall out of talking with them, I think you’ll find it’s just as easy to fall back into talking with them.
Okay. Well, I know people on the web in your generation, but certainly not in person much.
82. Anyway, during the West Coast trip, I wanted to visit Seattle and then I realized, “Hey, I know someone in Seattle!” And I sent you a Couchsurfing request.
That’s the magic of Couchsurfing. One day you could be reading someone’s thoughts on the discussion board and the next day you could be crashing on their couch. Perhaps you even realize things that you have in common that you didn’t think you had in common with anyone else. While you hosted me, we had conversations where I was thinking, “Is this guy really in his 80s?”
Yeah, I’ve always had a problem with “being my age.”
83. But is that anything more than just an expectation, a social construction?
Well, sure it is, but we all have them. We all have them personally, and we have them societally. And that’s the problem. Because you obviously have an image of somebody in their 80s since you’re making the contrast.
84. Sure, but you’re not the only person I’ve met in their 80s, either. So, I guess my surprise was your energy. And you’re much more open minded than most people in their 80s that I’ve met!
I kid myself about it. You remember when I signed myself “Irv Thomas, Boy Octogenarian”? Hahaha!
85. Haha, that’s catchy, like a superhero name.
The thing is, I’ve always been a kid in my head.
86. Maybe that’s not being a kid though, maybe that’s just the way we are, and we somehow lose that.
Well, that’s what I finally figured out. This was me when I was a kid, this was me when I was middle-aged, and this is me now… and it’s the same me.
87. Mmm hmm. Maybe that kid thing, maybe that playfulness, curiosity, and energy that we associate with childhood is really just… being human.
Well, it’s hard for me to realize that all these other people around me have grown old and died. And of course if I look in the mirror I can see that I’m among them, but if I stay away from the mirror I’m fine.
88. Stay away from the mirror, Irv!
Yeah, I should do away with mirrors in my house.
89. To start wrapping this up, I’m going to ask you a few “future vision” type of questions, because I think it’s fitting:
What do you see for the future, Irv? Do you think hitchhiking will go away? And also what do you see for the future generally? Feel free to elaborate… Just an easy question to finish on, of course.
Haha, yeah a simple question. I think things are definitely going to change, and it’s going to be caused by the realization that our society isn’t going anywhere. Maybe it’ll go bankrupt, I don’t know. In fact, I just got word today of an organization called October2011.org and they’re setting up an action for October 6th in Washington, DC. You should try and get to it if you can, because it has a lot of big names already signed on to it. And the reason they chose October 6th is because it’s the 10 year anniversary of the war, I think. And they’re going to say, in effect, this isn’t what we want. We want a different world.
90. We don’t want war…
Don’t want war…
91. How is that different from what happened in the 60s?
It seems like the current movement is what it seems like. It seems like this year’s 1960s. That’s the feeling that I get. Check the website out, and you’ll get a feeling for it. Other than that, even if it’s not done on a level of revolt, it’s being done at a level of community organization. We’ve got a good one going here, and it’s a replica of one that was started in England: the Transition Town Movement. And these are popping up all over.
92. What is that, exactly?
Neighborhood community organization getting back down to basics in interactive community in what they can do with and for eachother.
93. Sounds like a Twenty-First Century Tribe.
Yeah, composed of people older than the youngsters were then, floating on both sides of the boomers.
94. It takes all ages… Wow, there’s so much good stuff in this interview, Irv. I may have to break it up into two or three articles.
Well, I won’t fault you for that.
95. I’m looking forward to it! And that about wraps it up.
You know, it’s been good talking with you, and we should do it occasionally now that we’ve got this link.
96. Yeah, now that Skype is up and running. And thank you so much Irv for doing an interview with me today.
Well, thank you for bringing it up and making it happen. I appreciate that.
97. Yeah, I had this gut feeling that it needed to happen soon, so I made it happen. Thanks again, Irv!
A big thanks to Irv for agreeing to do this interview. If you missed the first or second parts of this interview be sure to check them out for valuable context.
More on Irv can be found at:
- Irv’s LiveJournal Blog
- Irv’s book Derelict Days
- And his mostly-abandoned website.
Thank you so much for sharing your interview of Irv Thomas. I really had fun reading it! He is indeed an amazing person. I love these three-part interview posts!
Saw this post and then went reading the first and the second parts. Irv Thomas truly is a fascinating person. Thank you for the interview.
Awesome interview, really enjoyed this different perspective.
I especially loved this insight into cutting your ties from the system: “You essentially are relying on your connection to other people.” So true. Once you start marching to your own beat, I feel that the relationships in your life take on a much more important focus.
And the importance of relationships is definitely something that won’t change, 20, 40, 100 years from now. Thanks for that reminder.
Great to hear from you. Really glad you enjoyed the interview. He’s a pretty awesome person and quite courageous to set his own path as he does.
I’m sure I’ll write more about relationships in the future. Lately, I’ve been thinking more and more about how environment (and specifically social environment) usually overpowers habits. Therefore, if we are very conscious in choosing our environments wisely, we can support the habits we want (or make new habits) MUCH more easily. In fact, I wrote a post about this called “How your Couchsurfing Host’s environment can Wreck You (or Heal You)”
Again, thanks for letting me know you enjoyed the interview. It’s the first one I’ve done in years, but I had a good feeling about this one. Spread the word if you like it, Jeamin! It helps a lot. 🙂
Fantastic Interview, I agree with Jaemin. Nothing is more important than the relationships in your life.
Thanks for the interview. Everything we do is based on relationships.
Love Irv! He’s an amazing man. I like this interview. Andrew, it’s clear that you have an open and engaging life, one that adapts well to adventure. Irv refers to adventure in the same breath as hitchhiking. A couple years ago, when I was thinking about my own hitchhiking experiences back then (in the 60s and 70s), the word that came to my mind was ‘adventuring’. Hitchhiking — or adventuring — was like a game. Very different. All the time. Always new, always leaning towards stepping back, letting go.
Thank you for your kind words, Georgina. Interviewing Irv was a singular treat and I’m quite pleased at how this interview series turned out, especially since it was my first one. It is a lot like a cosmic game isn’t it?
And around here, Adventure is the name of the game. 🙂
I really had fun reading your interview with Irv Thomas. Yes, don’t push yourself on people. Just be friendly enough.