While walking through our favourite neighbourhood in Toronto, the writer and I strike up a conversation about bohemianism. I contend that he could “never be truly bohemian. Never just get up one morning, pack two bags, and leave.” By which he responds – “I could if there was a list and a plan” (presumably written before bed the night before this fictional exodus.) Precisely. True bohemianism is hard work for those of us tied to things. It is difficult just due to the virtual connections we have established throughout the last decade. Purchasing cell phones and beginning email relationships with family members has complicated the ideal of the road. To travel with two suitcases, sans electronic equipment, is absurd. To be untethered from technology seems impossible, even though it was the norm ten or fifteen years ago. It would certainly be liberating to unplug, but also scary as it denotes a trip into the unknown. Joblessness, low funds, and repossession may be the only facilitators of this life that used to be something to aspire to. With age comes containment and debt ties us to an address.
So how would one do it? Disconnect from the grid and the money system and be a drifter. Can drifters be married to one another? Or to non-drifters? Can drifters have computers or would the typewriter come back into fashion? What about phone communication? The world has been accelerated in such a way that it seems nearly impossible to not be “online”. But, being offline, if only for a short time, may be a soothing change. Being unreachable, except by home phone or letter would be refreshing. However – being a “true” bohemian is about doing what one wants to do regardless of societal norms. It isn’t about running from debt or unplugging, but just being.
If this is the case – to just be is the goal – how is this achieved? What of those that are perceived as bohemian, but have an address? Those that are professors, but still have the mindset of a free spirit? How is bohemianism rationalized within society and, more closely, in the realm of education. Without bohemianism we would have no art or music teachers. Without the free spirit streak we would lose poetry and prose and have to learn how to be content without the arts in our lives. After a few generations, this would be normalized, but in the interim it would be a sad state of affairs. Living through the removal of the arts in the public school system, I can see this trend beginning. Creating little beings that are only trained to work for others and never even know about the life of the mind. Training children to simply strive for money and not worry about the “frivolous” things such as art, dance, music and such. Bleak future.
But this is not how it has to be. We can keep the bohemian ethic alive in our public life. Being bohemian isn’t about how you dress or act. Being bohemian is a state of mind. Do you care about the future of art, literature, and culture? Do you want to live in a world that is full and rich, where people are able to be free from the chains that bind them and move forward with love and trust? How can we keep this feeling alive? How, in the midst of gentrification in the name of neighbourhood improvement, can we continue to save our culture from sameness?
In Buffalo, we have a bohemian atmosphere that continues to surface and thrive, despite the push toward yuppie values. The bohemian ethic thrives in neighbourhoods that tend to be lower income and once those neighbourhoods gentrify, the bohemians move elsewhere. We need to find a a way to retain the bohemian element within a gentrified land. Buffalo is changing rapidly, and if we don’t find a way to retain the bohemian mindset, it could go the way of disco. A fad of hippie idealism that dissipates with the wrecking ball. Hoping that this will not happen is not enough. We need to push forward and continue to keep the bohemian community alive through art, music, culture, and coffee. This is the only way to hang on to the diversity and spirit that comes with the bohemian ethic. Otherwise, Buffalo will be a sanitized yuppie heaven without style and tradition. Keep Buffalo weird!
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