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The Good Life Lab

Radical Experiments in Hands‑On Living

by Wendy Jehanara Tremayne

the good life lab
The Good Life Lab
This is the true story of how (and why) one couple ditched their high-pressure lives and moved to rural New Mexico to make, build, invent, forage, and grow everything they need to live self-sufficiently.

Above: The Good Life Lab features beautiful illustrations throughout.

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Welcome: A Letter from Wendy

cover
The Good Life Lab cover features illustrations by Melinda Beck, Meg Hunt, Bert van Wijk, and Kristian Olson.

You are on an adventure.

If you don’t already know it, take a minute to consider that your adventure began the moment of your first breath. Like you, I can’t remember the start. Then, as I grew older, I considered that there would one day be a last breath. When I did, I took to heart the way that I’d been living and asked if my lifestyle matched what my heart felt. I weighed my actions against my ideals.

In time I noticed that I am part of the first generation alive to witness the whole world for sale. This realization started a new adventure. I mulled over a question, Am I limited and mechanistic, a consumer? Or am I unbounded and creative, a creator? Good contemplative questions can’t be answered in a flash. You cannot turn away and pretend you didn't see them. At the time when I stopped to ask what the question wanted from me, I was the creative director of a marketing firm in New York City. Today, having followed the question like a cookie crumb trail, my life is less entangled with money, and I live on an off-grid homestead that I created in southern New Mexico. I learned that homemaking can be a revolutionary act. My journey is what I have to share.

We each live our own unique adventures, but some things about adventures are the same, and these things are worth telling. After all, we share the same taproot. I put what I learned in my new book, The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living. I hope you enjoy it. Perhaps one day I will learn about yours. In the meantime, play nice, make mistakes, and remember that life is your university.

Wendy Jehanara Tremayne, July 2013

Reviews

“Stop whatever you’re doing and get this book.”

Hack a Day, hackaday.com

“This is not a story about going ‘off the grid’ and living in isolation from society, but rather returning to the interconnectedness and social values that have characterized humanity pretty much since there have been humans.”

Doug Rushkoff, author of Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now

“Wendy and Mikey set out to find a state of happiness that could not be bought with dollar bills. By trial and error, with faith and vision, they built a new life, a life of work and play and celebration under the vast desert sky. This fascinating book tells their story.”

Pia Zir Inayat-Khan, PhD, President of the Sufi Order International

“A must read for any maker who fantasizes about stepping off the consumer-centered treadmill and into a life that is connected to nature, unhurried and meaningful.”

Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools, kk.org

Read more reviews

Details

The Book

  • The Good Life Lab
  • Wendy Jehanara Tremayne

Description

This is the true story of how (and why) one couple ditched their high-pressure lives and moved to rural New Mexico to make, build, invent, forage, and grow everything they need to live self-sufficiently.

Formats

Paperback

  • 324 pages
  • Full color
  • Smyth sewn binding
  • $18.95

Ebook

  • Kindle and ePub 2
  • High resolution color images
  • Enhanced for modern reading devices
  • $12.95

About the cover

In about 1925, gathered around a table at 54 rue du Chateau, drinking their “tonic local brews,” a group of artists and writers who would come to be known as the Surrealists (but who were then, André Breton admits, just adepts at the “art of living”) invented a new version of the old parlor game Consequences.

In this new game, which they called Exquisite Corpse, collaborators took turns adding to an image or poem, without knowing exactly what had come before. The game of Exquisite Corpse celebrates the idea that our minds hold surprises we cannot alone imagine — a persistent theme in this book. Here, four artists — Melinda Beck, Meg Hunt, Bert van Wijk, and Kristian Olson — invent two individuals capable of doing just about anything.

About the binding

Books are printed on large sheets of paper, each sheet containing numerous pages. The sheets are gathered into groups, folded, and trimmed.

For this book, each folded group of sixteen pages, called a signature, was individually sewn together with thread, and then the signatures were sewn together into a whole, called a book block. This binding style is called Smyth sewn and is the highest-quality book binding available as it is more durable than glue and lets the book open flat, making it easier to read.

Covers are almost always glued around the book block. Instead, we have exposed the book’s spine so you can appreciate and understand how the object was made.

smythsewnbinding
The exposed Smyth sewn binding on The Good Life Lab shows a part of the bookmaking process that’s usually hidden.
tgll-cover
Download high-resolution image (1.5 MB)

Contents

Author

wendy
Download high-resolution image (318 KB)

Wendy Jehanara Tremayne

Biography

Wendy Jehanara Tremayne was a creative director in a marketing firm in New York City before moving to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, where she built an off-the-grid oasis in a barren RV park with her partner Mikey Sklar. She is the founder of the textile repurposing event Swap-O-Rama-Rama, which has spread all over the world; a conceptual artist; a yogi; a gardener; and a writer. She has written for Craft’s webzine and Make magazine and, with Mikey Sklar, keeps the blog Holy Scrap.

Media Requests

Contact Sarah Armour at sarah.armour@storey.com

Online

Events

Catch Wendy on the road during The Good Life Lab tour.

Albuquerque, NM

  • July 13, 2013, 1PM
  • Barnes & Noble
  • 6600 Menaul Blvd NE

Albuquerque, NM

  • July 14, 2013, 1PM
  • Bookworks
  • 4022 Rio Grande Blvd NW

Santa Fe, NM

  • July 15, 2013
  • Collected Works
  • 202 Galisteo Street

Durango, CO

  • August 06, 2013, 6:30PM
  • Maria’s Bookshop
  • 960 Main Avenue

Boulder, CO

  • August 07, 2013, 7:30PM
  • Boulder Book Store
  • 1107 Pearl Street

Denver, CO

  • August 08, 2013, 7:30PM
  • Tattered Cover
  • Lodo 16th Street

Fort Collins, CO

  • August 10, 2013, 2PM
  • Old Firehouse Books
  • 232 Walnut Street

Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, NM

  • August 13, 2013, 1PM
  • Los Poblamos Historic Inn and Organic Farm
  • 4803 Rio Grande Blvd NW

Albuquerque, NM

  • August 19, 2013, 7:30PM
  • Kimo Theatre: Film Opening & Panel Discussion; Spark: A Burning Man documentary
  • 423 Central Ave NW

Albuquerque, NM

  • August 24 & 25, 2013, 2PM
  • Albuquerque Mini Maker Faire
  • 4401 Alameda Blvd. NE

Las Cruces, NM

  • September 6, 2013, 6PM
  • West End Art Depot | REshow: REpurposed + REcycled Art Show
  • 401 N Mesilla St

New York, NY

  • September 15, 2013, 6PM
  • Leaders in Software & Art
  • TBA

New York, NY

  • September 16, 7-9PM
  • Bluestockings
  • 172 Allen St

Brooklyn, NY

  • September 19, 2013, 7:30PM
  • Makeville Studio Presentation
  • 119 8th St, Unit 208

Wappingers Falls, NY

  • September 21, 2013, 3–6pm
  • Chapel of Sacred Mirrors
  • 46 Deer Hill Rd

Queens, NY

  • September 21, 2013
  • Maker Faire NYC
  • New York Hall of Science

Queens, NY

  • September 22, 2013, 1pm
  • Maker Faire NYC
  • New York Hall of Science

Northampton, MA

  • September 23, 2013, 1PM
  • Smith College
  • 7 College Ln

South Hadley, MA

  • September 24, 2013, 7PM
  • Odyssey Bookshop
  • 9 College Street

Cummington, MA

  • September 25, 2013, 7PM
  • Old Creamery Co-op
  • 445 Berkshire Trail

New Lebanon, NY

  • September 26, 2013, 7:30PM
  • The Abode of the Message
  • 5 Abode Rd

Hopland, CA

  • October 12, 2013, 3PM
  • Solar Living Institute | Transition To Permaculture Conference
  • 13771 S Highway 101

Sebastopol, CA

  • October 14, 2013, 7PM
  • Copperfield's Bookstore
  • 138 North Main St.

San Francisco, CA

  • October 17, 2013, 7PM
  • Mentorgarden
  • 410 Precita Avenue

Santa Rosa, CA

  • October 19 2013, TBD
  • Wells Fargo Center for the Arts | Maker Faire Santa Rosa
  • Mark West Springs Road

Oakland, CA

  • October 20, 2013, noon
  • Park Day School & Studio One Arts Center | East Bay Mini Maker Faire @ Swap-O-Rama-Rama
  • 365 45th Street

Oakland, CA

  • October 20, 2013, 3PM
  • Park Day School & Studio One Arts Center | East Bay Mini Maker Faire @ Homesteading Stage
  • 365 45th Street

Oakland, CA

  • October 20, 2013, 7PM
  • A Place for Sustainable Living
  • 1121 64th St.

Atlanta, GA

  • October 26, 2013, 1:30PM
  • Atlanta Mini Maker Faire | Tech Green at Clough Commons
  • 266 4th Street Northwest

Truth or Consequences, NM

  • November 2, 2013, 10AM
  • Black Cat Books
  • Main St.

Truth or Consequences, NM

  • December 13, 2013, 6PM
  • January’s Shop
  • Main St.

Contributors

A community of creative individuals made The Good Life Lab what it is. Visit their websites and learn more about what they do.

Illustration

Foreword

Co-Conspirators

Extras

Videos, podcasts, and more Good Life Lab extras.

Listen to Wendy discuss The Good Life Lab on the Blog Talk Radio podcast.

www.blogtalkradio.com

Originally aired: July 23, 2013

Listen to Wendy discuss The Good Life Lab on the ConsciousTalk podcast.

www.blogtalkradio.com

Originally aired: July 25, 2013

Wendy had a great interview with KASA’s New Mexico Style Book Club!

Originally aired: August 13, 2013

A local video collective recorded Wendy in Fort Collins, Colorado. Over an hour, but worth it.

Recorded: August 10, 2013

Sample

To Live a Decommodified Life

The desire to consume is a kind of lust. We long to have the world flow through us like air or food. We are thirsty and hungry for something that can only be carried in our bodies. Consumer goods merely bait that lust, they do not satisfy it.

— Lewis Hyde, from The Gift: The Erotic Life of Property

In 2002 the underground art community in New York City blossomed and grew. In a given week one could learn to sew and make a furry bear suit, learn about Central Park’s edible plants, find out how to read a schematic, learn the Hawaiian fire art called poi, solder, or go on an unsanctioned historical tour of underground subway stations no longer in use.

Consumerism and money were themes that popped up regularly in creative projects. Performance artist Reverend Billy founded the Church of Stop Shopping. With a real choir preaching the pitfalls of materialism, Reverend Billy and his followers performed in churches around the city, then the country, and then the world. The Billionaires for Bush were regularly seen around town dressed in tuxedos and fancy gowns. In character, they argued for the rights of the wealthy: to tax, to maximize profit, to increase power. I added my own contribution to the theme by creating a project called The Vomitorium: Make Room For More!, a theatrical production modeled after the opulent parties of the Roman Empire, where guests infamously engaged in consuming astounding amounts of food, vomiting, and gorging themselves again and again. The play invited reflection on the fate that eventually befell the Roman Empire.

It was a time of self-expression and self-reflection. Burning Man’s gift economy and its DIY ethos were shaping a culture back at home. This culture helped Mikey and me recognize how commodified our lives were.

We realized that instead of making the goods we needed to live, we bought them. We chose what to buy by copying others or by listening to advertisements. Wearing branded clothing, we were ourselves walking advertisements. Since we didn’t make things, we also didn’t understand how things worked. If something broke, we threw it in the trash. We were not privy to information that might lead to responsibility. We didn’t know which fibers and materials decomposed back into the earth or what toll the production of goods took on the planet. This information did not come on care labels along with the washing instructions or in owner manuals paired with gadgets. We had never considered that most of civilization was made out of petroleum and corn. Both can be abstracted and turned into a plethora of forms. Petroleum is turned into plastics and synthetic fibers that are then used to make consumer goods. It is also turned into fertilizers used to grow industrialized food. Living in the city, a place defined by its reliance on goods produced elsewhere, we consumed things with a cost that could be measured in petroleum, in both the delivery and production of goods. And we learned that the processed food we ate, which took varied forms from sweeteners to fiber, was actually modified corn. Animal products like meat and dairy we learned to view as corn products because animals not meant to consume corn were being raised on it at industrialized farms.

Our life cycle was a patterned loop of working to earn money to buy what we could have made ourselves — better and more responsibly. Our creativity, our most precious gift, we traded for money. The results of our labor hardly contributed to making the life of the earth any better. Deep down, we felt this.

MakeItBetter.ai

Illustration © Julia Rothman, from The Good Life Lab

With newly opened eyes we watched the same food supply trucks pull up behind all sorts of restaurants. “It’s all the same,” we said to each other while watching the same truck deliver to a run-down deli and then a fancy health food café across the street.

Documentaries about genetically modified organisms (GMOs), pesticides, and factory farming practices encouraged us to become food aware. We memorized the categories of goods that contained GMOs and avoided them. At the time the list consisted of cotton, corn, canola, and soy. Today the list is longer and harder to memorize.

We dumped our televisions and turned to online news sources. We started making more of our goods ourselves. Instead of buying new things, we favored what could be trash-picked. We modified junk to fulfill our needs. Changes in habit helped us see the relationship between our choices and the world. We avoided participating in sweatshop and child labor, pollution, and the abuse of resources worldwide by not consuming and by living out of the waste stream.

We started taking note of the things people did to reward themselves for the hard work they gave to their careers. They were things that Mikey and I had rewarded ourselves with all the time. Once out of our office cubicles, we had run off to fancy dinners and bought consumer goods and designer clothing.

I held on to the pledge that I had made a year earlier after months on the road. With Mikey, I added a promise.

We will search for an uncommodified life.

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