He's a vagabond who is not after creature comforts. But it's technology that helps him make a living and stay connected. Join Shonali Muthalaly to know about Artemis and his journey of self-discovery
He slept on a bench in Paris last night. “How cold?” he laughs, “Oooh. I don't know. Well, my breath is misting and there'll be ice on the ledges soon. But I have gloves. I have a scarf. Multiple layers of clothes. My biggest concern right now is my boots, which have a large hole in the bottom. Normally I just toss on a pair of socks and I'm warm and toasty.”
We're doing this interview over Skype. ‘Artemis' (his moniker of choice) might be homeless, but he's still connected courtesy his iPad and an MSI Wind u130 netbook. They're his only possessions, besides the clothes he has on, his passport, wallet, driver's licence and lucky Zippo lighter. “Because being able to make a fire is always important.”
Yet, Artemis is on Facebook and Twitter, maintains a blog and promptly answers e mail. And he prefers the term ‘vagabond.'
“Homeless conjures up images of a scruffy guy, who doesn't shower very often and lives on handouts. But it actually means — simply — without a permanent home.” He moves a step back so the webcam can capture his neat, scrubbed image. “As you can see, I'm relatively clean cut. I make an effort to keep myself clean. I don't beg. I do some charity work.”
“Being homeless doesn't typically mean poverty. It's a choice I have made. Yes, that means I sometimes do have to deal with poverty. There have been several days when it's cold, wet, rainy. Days when I've gone without anything to eat. But it's more to do with wanting life experiences that most people don't get because they isolate themselves with creature comforts.”
Growing up in America, he was a fairly unconventional child, by his own account, always on the lookout for the next big idea. “I started working at the local library when I was eight. By the time I was 15, I was employed by Apple as a Genius — that's just the guy who repairs computers. My mom then felt I should pay rent. We ended up having a rift and she threw me out of the house and took possession of my belongings.”
He left home, and over the next few years worked at all kinds of jobs, staying in various set-ups, with roommates, a girlfriend and on his own. Finally, two years ago, when a relationship ended badly, Artemis decided it was time to approach life differently. “I was in Monterey, California, doing live theatre with an old friend. I realised that today a physical address is not really required. As long as you have a grasp of the computer you can work anywhere. And if you have a good enough grasp, you can charge whatever you want.”
So he set out with his iPad, drifting up and down California. “I bought it the day it came out. It was either that or the Kindle. But since iPad also offered e mail, Skype, browsing, that fitted in with my rule — if it doesn't do more than one thing I won't buy it.” As it turned out, it's possible to live off just gadgets and imagination. “I did graphic design, magic shows, DJing… every once in a while I'd rent out a warehouse and throw an underground party… I've always done things that lie outside the bounds of society.”
Artemis' quest has been to “find some new way to define personal happiness.” Answers to life's big questions, he discovered, require mobility. “When most people are born they are taught they need to own certain things. We're all embedded in a matrix designed to keep people at work.” People, who admire his decision, always wistfully say, “I can't be that courageous. I can't be that brave.” He adds, “But I'm not much any of those things… I'm just a little crazy. It's a different mental place.”
A space that's proved instructive. “A day has not gone by that I have not learnt something new, or met someone interesting. I spend a good portion of my time finding out what makes people happy. For some people it's their kids, for some it's perfecting juggling, or finding a great jazz concert, or finishing a piece of art.
Why Paris is special
Paris, a hotbed of artists, many living in squats and communes, has proved an ideal base. “It's friendly to people who don't have a steady job. Who opt for a free and liberal lifestyle.” The Parisians have also proved to be endearingly open-minded. “Sometimes I'll be at a bar and start talking to some guy. As we're leaving, he'll say, ‘So where are you headed' and I'll say, ‘Turn down the street. See that lamp? I'm there.” And he'll say, “Oh that's cool. Why don't you crash on my couch instead.”
“There's Wi-Fi in a lot of places in Paris — cafes, parks. I need 20 Euros a month to eat – if you plan it out correctly you get enough nutrition. I buy fruits, vegetables, bread…” Artemis' money comes mainly from advertisements on his blog and freelance writing. He says he uses what he needs, and donates the rest to charities for the homeless. “I love hearing stories. I'm just a traveller. I'm not looking for money. Or charity.”
As it gets colder in Paris, he's thinking of heading south for winter. “Maybe Greece, Italy… or Africa. Being American I have fewer visa issues.” He adds with a chuckle, “Also, my moral guidelines are a little on the grey. Though I have to say I've not done anything illegal.”
(Follow Artemis on his blog www.VagabondParis.com or on Twitter, where he's @homelessipadman)