Our lives are busy and stressful and we have developed all manner of coping techniques: time management, yoga, annual holidays, productivity techniques. These all undoubtedly have merit, but instead of trying to boost efficiency or enjoy temporary retreat from the nightmare, why don't we learn to worry less and embrace Bohemia?
Bohemia is a state of mind: a threadbare but vibrant Utopia in which one can prioritise the tenets of creativity, love, merriment, experimentation and arousal of the senses.
What often comes to mind is the archetypal Bohemian of history: the Nineteenth-Century starving artist, living in a drafty Parisian garret, prone to flights of Romantic fancy and fits of over-indulgence. This is a fair image but these attributes are symbolic of the above-mentioned tenets and Bohemians can be found throughout the Twentieth Century (the Surrealists, the Dadaists, the Hippies, Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation, William S. Burroughs, George Orwell in Paris and London and possibly the Punks) and surely in the present day.
The Bohemian can come from almost any walk of life: she can be male or female, rich or poor and from any ethnic background. What they universally turn their backs on, however, are the ideals of the Bourgeois: tedious middle-class pomp, etiquette and triviality. Whether a Bohemian has originally come from the lower, middle or upper classes, she must eschew the petty values of the Bourgeois: that money, property or status are anything to do with the content of one’s character; that professional success and widespread celebration have anything to do with talent. What is of value to the Bohemian instead is spiritual integrity and creative freedom. The Bohemian would sooner live in the most abject poverty than submit to an undesirable job.
This belief in integrity and the intense desire for creative freedom often leads to a threadbare existence. Perhaps this material poverty (or ‘simplicity’ as Thoreau would say) leads to the archetypal Bohemian, wild at heart and empty of pocket.
There is no reason, however, that a Bohemian needs necessarily to be poor. It is simply that she has turned her back on the acquisition of property and social status. It’s just that money tends to go out of the window when you decide to reject these things. Money in its own right is worthless and so the Bohemian is unlikely to submit to the Bourgeois Protestant work ethic simply to make money. Instead, a healthy level of frugality is recommended.
In the interests of love, the Bohemian is usually of a merry temperament. She would favour a low-budget and high-spirited party in the name of community and friendship and collaboration. Bohemians often pool their resources. For its avoidance of material possessions and social status, Bohemia is anything but a retreat from society.
Adopting a Bohemian mindset allows one to:
1. Embrace entropy
One absolute truth about the universe is that things fall apart. Worrying about this is a Bourgeois trait and distracts from pursuits of real value. Learn to enjoy the dust and dirt. Learn to find beauty in imperfect or malfunctioning things. Allow your beard or leg hair to grow. Allow your bare feet to touch the grass or the dust today. Spend less precious time and energy trying to tame nature.
2. Combat Status Anxiety
If you knowingly divorce yourself from the status symbols of Bourgeois life—cars, white collar employment, brand names, daily newspapers—it no longer feels like a failure when you do not to have the best examples of these things. You'll spend less energy keeping up with the Joneses and eventually forget about status anxiety altogether. Stop competing. Adopt Bohemia and leave status anxiety behind forever.
3. Live cheaply and work less
The Bohemian life is, by necessity, cheap. It costs very little to engage in truly Bohemian pursuits. You don't need to save up lots of money to become Bohemian and you don't even need to have regular income. You can begin today by turning down the volume on the Bourgeois command system in your brain. By living cheaply—by lowering your overheads to the absolute minimum—you can probably afford to work part-time instead of full-time or put less stress on your own small business.
4. Embrace mindfulness and experimentation: the keys to happiness
The Bohemian does not usually believe in an immortal soul. In many cases, the Bohemian will keep a human skull on display somewhere about the garret as a reminder to live for the moment. With no gods and few Christian morals, the Bohemian is largely uninhibited and prone to experimentation.
By rebelling against Bourgeois and authoritarian ideals, you can celebrate (through living) free thinking, love, creative freedom and spiritual integrity.
Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist: a periodical dedicated to white-collar workers with escape on the brain. The ideal of Bohemia is explored more fully in Issue 5 of New Escapologist: the Bohemias Issue.
Image: Portrait of an Artist in his Studio by Theodore Gericault