Like a half million of my fellow earthlings, I’ve become addicted to the latest YouTube journey of Martijn Doolard as he documents the last two years he’s lived in the Italian Alps. Many have written about his project, but it often consists of people trying to explain why people are watching it. But I think of it as an antidote to what ails humanity.
I’ve watched 36 of the 65 episodes so far, each of which is about 45 minutes long. It’s a time commitment, but you can get something from watching just one.
There’s nothing earth-shattering here or groundbreaking new insights. It’s just an opportunity to live vicariously through a guy that took several years out of his life to live in a way that is substantially different from most of us.
Here are some things that I appreciate about it.
We’re all bombarded by media that doesn’t just decide the stories we should hear, but also tells us how we should think and feel about it. It’s refreshing to have someone just doing things and narrating them. If the series changes your mind about anything, it’s not because he’s trying to persuade you or make you feel guilty about your life choices. Sharing joy and appreciation for things is more effective than preaching.
Each episode feels a bit like a guided meditation to me. Every task of his is an opportunity to focus on the moment, whether repairing a roof, baking bread, or walking in a rainstorm. People think of meditation as something you set time aside for every day, and it’s a constant tug-of-war to fit it in. You feel guilty if you skip it. Maybe you think it’s a waste of time. But you can do it with every task you do daily. Here, you can watch someone who does this all the time.
The word “thoughtful” literally means “full of thought”, but it’s often used to describe an action someone does as demonstrating they are thoughtful. But a thoughtful person carefully considers what he does or says. I feel like we talk too much and think too little, and I’m guilty of this as well. Martijn talks sparingly, but what he says has been given much consideration and isn’t pointless small talk. Instead of being so quick to jump into a conversation or social media thread, it can’t hurt to sit back and think a little first.
When it rains during the rainy season, Martijn celebrates it rather than seeing it as an inconvenience. It’s very common for even people who believe in climate change to only care about it when it impacts their lives. If it’s unusually balmy in the middle of winter, it severely affects plant and animal life, but humans may be able to get more done outside. If it rains, things grow and turn green and animals have water to drink. And humans have to put on a raincoat. It’s refreshing to see someone that understands the big picture.
Although Martijn has visitors a couple of times a month, usually to assist in his projects, he spends an amount of time alone that most people would find intolerable. But most of us are surrounded by people all the time and plagued by extreme loneliness. Mental health professionals have long articulated this problem, who talk about trying to be comfortable with being alone. But here’s a chance to see someone doing for years.
The world seems awash in testosterone nowadays, particularly in the US. Here’s a guy that appears to not give a shit about proving what a man he is. He’s not trying to break a world record or prove he’s got better strength, endurance, or intellect. Although he’s living off the grid, primarily due to the remoteness of his property, he sleeps in a camper in the valley on cold nights. He goes home for Christmas to The Netherlands. Fans mail him packages of useful (sometimes very expensive) things. He’s had a solid career, so he’s able to buy things. It’s hard to resist feeling like he’s cheating, but that misses the point. He’s not trying to prove anything, and that’s very refreshing.
Spending time on YouTube with someone who cares about quality in everything he does is therapeutic. We are awash in shit products and shit workmanship. You can reasonably argue that he goes too far in the other direction with his projects, but honestly, it’s better than not taking it far enough. The world would be very different if the places we lived in, the products we bought, and the tools we used were all created with much more care.
He often talks about honouring the history of a place and the people that were there at the time. Instead of knocking down two very old stone cabins, he feels it respects the land, the creatures, and the former and future inhabitants by working with what’s there. What he ends up with is more of a mash-up of the old and new. Sometimes modern tools are better, but sometimes they aren’t. He has the luxury of time and money to do things his way, but there’s nothing stopping people from at least considering history in their decisions.
I feel like half of the words that come out of people’s mouths these days are complaints, criticism, and whining about what is often called first-world problems. It’s exhausting. I realise I’m complaining about this, but sometimes I feel like if we have grievances, maybe we should just complain about the most important ones and keep the rest to ourselves. It’s depressing to be around a group of people when we could be having a nice interaction; it’s just people bitching about their lives. With Martijn, it’s refreshing to have someone that doesn’t gripe about everything and generally accepts the things he cannot change. There’s only one instance I’ve seen where he expresses genuine annoyance, and it’s over some mushroom hunters disturbing his work by wandering onto his property. But he notes that the property has historically been occupied sporadically, and local people don’t know this. So he puts up a small fence with some signs on it instead of trying to get them arrested for trespassing.
Even people glued to their phones will admit they need to disconnect more. What I love about this series is that you see someone doing what we all should be doing more of. He’s using the internet for his projects and to keep in touch with friends and family. He only stares at his phone when he’s using an app that identifies plants. Of course, we don’t know what happens when he’s not recording, but it’s nice to see someone not always staring at their phone.
He never talks about the news, and it’s kind of intoxicating. While it’s important to be informed about what’s going on in the world, it’s NOT important to know what’s going on every single waking moment. It’s not important to read about the last stupidity of some random person with some kind of political power. You don’t need to check the body count of the latest natural disaster every hour.
I realise the irony of saying this, but we must focus more on our lives instead of spending all our time reading about or watching others live theirs. You don’t want your gravestone to say what a full life you had observing other people having full lives. It’s easy to argue that Martijn isn’t putting a dent in the world by renovating some cabins in the Alps. But he’s giving something back to the world by sharing his life with 400,000 people. Most of us take and don’t give back anything to benefit others. He’s inspired me, and I think many others should consider bending the course of their lives at least slightly in a different direction.
The few articles I’ve read about this series, even those that love it, are full of judgments. He’s boring; he dresses like an Amish; he’s obsessed with minutiae; and so on. But he’s just this harmless guy having the time of his life. He’s a craftsman and a designer. There’s a term called freudenfreude that I love, a play on schadenfreude. It’s the notion that you can derive happiness from seeing the joy and happiness in others. You can practice cultivating this feeling by watching his series.
We’ve all heard the saying that you shouldn’t worry about things you can’t control. Well, here you can watch a guy do it in every episode. As a spectator, seeing how he handles things lowers my anxiety. He gets frustrated occasionally, but he generally seems to have an “it is what it is” mentality. And that goes a long way. If it rains ten days in a row when he’s trying to build a roof, that’s just Mother Nature.
It’s cliché to have this city guy from Amsterdam becoming one with nature and showing great appreciation and reverence for it. But after 50 episodes, it seems highly unlikely to be an act. When it rains, it’s not a monkey wrench in his latest project; it’s much-needed moisture for animals and plants. And it’s a time to take a break and work on something different.
There’s a difference between accentuating the positive and ignoring the negatives. It’s easy to watch this and get cynical when he tries to make lemons out of lemonade. Usually, it’s something that didn’t go as planned or something that turned out to be a massive dead end. Turning a failure into a learning experience sounds excellent in theory, but it’s nice to see someone reinforce that.
He takes frequent breaks to look at his fantastic view or the trees. He has the luxury of having no deadlines he’s working under, but it doesn’t take long to stop and appreciate what’s outside your head sometimes.
Even in the middle of a very messy project, he always takes the time to clean up at the end of the day, even though tomorrow will bring more chaos. It provides a sense of accomplishment, and there’s also a meditative quality to it. What seems like a waste of time is a moment of reflection on what you’ve done that day.
I appreciate that this Martjin Doolard fellow has shared several years of his life with hundreds of thousands of people. In a world dominated by quick snippets of text, images, and movies flying around the Internet, this is refreshing, even if it’s only a break before returning to the madness.