In 1978, as a cocky 18-year-old, I wrote a book about how my dad and I lived a rich and happy life in a middle-class neighborhood with only an occasional part-time job. We gardened, raised rabbits and chickens in the basement, and bought bulk food at a feed and grain store. The book was chock full of ideas for frugal living that worked so well, we lived on the equivalent of $5,800 a year in current dollars. We joked that if possums could live without a job, so could we, hence the title.
It's been decades since I lived the full possum life, but its principles have given me tremendous confidence. I went to college with only a 7th grade education and lot of reading in the library, became a NASA engineer, switched to environmental education, was a college professor, and started my own business.
Ironically, I now see the same fears and problems occurring that prompted me to write the book in the first place — a staggering recession, worries about job markets, and concerns about natural resources.
And as I've gotten older, I find myself turning more and more to my possum ways, verifying that even if you can't go the full possum, so to speak, being part possum can be comforting and prudent. Reprinting Possum Living seemed like a good idea.
In Possum Living, I spoke of the merits of cheating on taxes, made fun of several major institutions, and suggested that people eat euthanized cats and dogs. For good measure, I also explained the making of illegal moonshine and mentioned how to intimidate annoying people.
It is true that I wasn't completely serious about the dogs and cats (I love my dog and cats and would never eat them), I don't make enough money to bother cheating on my taxes, I've renounced the concept of any good coming from terrorizing people, and I haven't made moonshine in years — all of which I cover in the new afterword. Still, it seemed wise to keep the pen name for the reprint. After all, just how many IRS audits and crank calls do I need?
But there's a problem with using pen names today. Some newspapers like the New York Times got burnt by reporters simply making up stories, so now they won't print interviews unless real names are used. I think this is downright wrong. I imagine Benjamin Franklin rolling in his grave at the very thought of not respecting pen names. These papers didn't use fact checkers properly in the past and now they are not using them properly in a different way. In the long run, this policy will diminish public discourse.
Of course, I could be wrong. What do you think?