The first mistake you will make in understanding what a dirt bag is and isn’t, is assuming it’s an insult, that you don’t want to be a dirt bag. You do. Or at least, you don’t necessarily NOT want to be a dirt bag. You may be one and not know, or know some and not know what they are.
The wonderful thing about dirt bags is that dirt bags are wonderful things.
Dirt bags are smart people. Sometimes they’re highly educated (but never tell you about it), and sometimes they’re not. Either way they’re people who think deeply and perceptively about things without being told what and how to do that.
Dirt bags aren’t interested in money, even though some of them have some. A dirt bag will always be motivated by experiences before income, pursuing the things they want to do regardless of costs/benefits or simply reducing the costs by living an absolute minimalist lifestyle so as to have the time and freedom to dirt bag around doing awesome stuff. Legendary punk band The Minutemen coined the term “jamming econo” to describe this lifestyle, and there’s probably not a better description.
Dirt bags brought us #vanlife and punk rock and the theory of relativity.
Some dirt bags are better at marketing themselves than others. For example, the ski bum is a respectable character, cute in his or her poverty and devotion. Likewise the surf bum (often the same person), a person who rarely wears underpants and usually smells like coconuts.
Climbers play it straight. Dirt bag climber. This is a person who lives in a van, showers at campsites, and lives off instant ramen and the calcium they breathe off rockfaces. That’s a caricature, but also that person exists and is wearing a fleece with holes in the elbows right this second.
Every pro skateboarder, almost, is a dirt bag.
Dirt bags do amazing things, and that’s why many of them have sponsors now, so they can buy houses and travel more freely, even though they didn’t set out to do it that way.
It’s also worth saying that many dirt bags aren’t athletes or outdoors people. You’ll meet some engineer dirt bags. Writers. Artists. Committing to art is more or less committing to being a dirt bag. Not many doctors or lawyers. Zero politicians. Not a lot of executives, although maybe Yvon Chouinard (above) is a dirt bag.
The thing about dirt bags is that they are just differently motivated than the vast bulk of their fellow citizens and disinterested in playing the games necessary to advance up a ladder or through a career or whatever it is that everyone else is trying to do. We need dirt bags to show us other ways to live fulfilling lives. We need them to show us how to take life less seriously, while taking the vast opportunities life presents us very seriously.
The header image for this post is a portrait of Einstein, and that’ll leave some of you scratching your heads, because Einstein went through universities and taught and did things in what might look like a conventional way, but Einstein was a dirt bag, based on his motivations. He had these ideas, ideas that tortured him, and he pursued them in this single-minded way that betrays his inner dirt bag. He also came to see life (and time) in the same way a dirt bag views life and time, precious, disjointed, non-linear, absurd, mysterious, and thrilling.