He looked no different, really, than my writing mentor, Mark Sundeen, when the men walked into Maria’s Bookshop in Durango. Only Mark’s hair isn’t as shaggy and Daniel likely found his clothes in a dumpster.
Daniel gave up money in 2000. When Penguin books asked him to write a book about his story, he told them sure. But it would have to be written for free and given away for free, too. So the publishers called Mark, who once lived in Moab where Daniel resides in his cave.
I read a couple of early drafts of chapters while I was in grad school. On one day in particular, after I had sent Mark three or four essays in a row–on a mission to get my thesis done–he emailed a chapter back to me. Your turn, he said.
I was curious to see where the book had ended up, and there was good climbing outside of Durango. P. and I made the trip, visiting a friend of his in Silverton (they grew up together–hence, the kind of friend P. can talk, and talk, and talk to. His friend was still sitting on a chair talking at 1:00 a.m. The lights were out, and P. and I were both under the covers of the futon. Still, he talked.). We climbed, dealt with the dog after she rolled in human poo (some things don’t change?), and had beers with some of my friends from Minnesota. Then we headed to the reading.
I was nervous. I hadn’t seen Mark for a couple of years. What would he think about my new boyfriend after he’d watched me wrestle with life in my manuscript? Would he ask me why book wasn’t published yet? And most of all, what if we went out for beer afterward and Daniel was there?
I had no idea how to hang out with someone who doesn’t spend money. Offer to buy him a beer? Let him sit there, not eating or drinking while I imbibed?
Of course, the night wasn’t about me. Mark and I didn’t talk much about what I’ve been doing–when he introduced me to his friends, he just took credit for my decision to drop my “high power minneapolis job” and move to the mountains.
The night itself belonged to Mark and Daniel, who answered questions for two hours–and that’s where I got my biggest surprise. Daniel isn’t out to save the world or live outside of society. He simply believes that money is a poor way to value and judge our lives. He’s more interested in giving freely to others, and accepting freely, too. He hosts dinners in his cave, volunteers at the women’s shelter in Moab and house sits if he’s asked to. He loves music and really likes going to shows when he can get in for free. And he’s learned that when we give up struggling–stop pushing and pulling and trying too hard–the universe provides.
Daniel was thoughtful, articulate–everything I didn’t expect him to be. And he did go out for dinner with us, and because everyone was excited to meet him and spend time with him, he had plenty to eat and drink. I understand now that it was my mistake in the first place to think of him as a man who lives in a cave instead of someone who did a lot of soul searching and then made a lot of really big changes. I’m not ready to give up money (though I feel much more relaxed about it since hearing him talk), but I can relate to that. In that, there is a lesson for all of us.
Check it out. It’s worth a read.