La Vie Bohème

Joseph Downing’s “The Abundant Bohemian: How to Live an Unconventional Life Without Starving in the Process”

By Rusty Pate

Photo: Joseph Downing’s new book, “The Abundant Bohemian” features stories and tips for living a fulfilling, creative life without starving

The American Dream remains one of the most romantic notions and pursuits mankind has ever devised. The idea of seeking a more fulfilling life, one full of passion and opportunity, stands as a pillar of the United States’ collective core beliefs. For some, it might be tied closely to material things: a bursting-at-the-seems bank account, a house on the hill or a fancy car. For others, it might depend more upon power: an important job, respect of peers or even striking fear in the hearts of men.

Sometimes however, the quest is more abstract.

Some skew material desires and scoff at consumer culture. They spend their hours creating music, art, literature and engaging in self-expression. While finding a way to chase one’s muse and still pay the bills can be difficult, the determined do whatever it takes to live the life they love and love the life they live.

Joseph Downing falls into the latter category, and his new book serves as a clarion call for like-minded individuals. “The Abundant Bohemian” is not quite a how-to guide as much as it is a collection of success stories of people determined to chase their passions rather than falling into a rat race.

Downing’s own experience qualifies him as somewhat of an expert on the subject.

He spent seven years in a law firm where he was a partner. It was a life many would envy, but Downing never felt fulfilled. He spent seven years trying to make it work, but everything came to a head one fateful day as he stared out a window.

A tedious meeting proceeded around him as he drifted away, watching squirrels and birds frolic in their joyous freedom just outside the sterile environment that trapped him. He decided that day to take a different path. He walked away from safety and so-called security, despite the advice of some of those closest to him.

“I did have people say ‘don’t do this, this is stupid,’ but I was just so unhappy,” Downing said. “It was following everyone else’s rules. Most of the money was going to someone else’s pocket. I spent hours in pointless meetings going over billable hours worked, billable hours paid, hours uncollected. It was just exhausting.”

Downing’s story likely is not unique. Every day, people work jobs they hate to pay for stuff they don’t need and grab for some brass ring they will never clutch. The world is full of figurative windows framing figurative squirrels and birds, entrapping figurative people. Downing’s desire for change did not set him apart; it was his action to change that many people find difficult.

He now has his own law firm, but takes on just enough business to allow him to pursue his creative interests. He found a renewed love for painting as well as time to devote to writing. He had written short stories and novels before coming up with the idea for a blog that explored how creative people find ways to create their art and still earn a living.

It didn’t take long before he realized that idea was more far reaching than a few blog posts could hold, and the material seemed a perfect fit for a longer form.

For the book, he spent four years interviewing creative folk of all types: painters, writers, dancers and entrepreneurs, to name a few. The more people he talked to, the more he started to see similarities between them.

“They have something that they’re very passionate about,” Downing said. “They do work very hard at it, but for them, the work is more like play. They don’t feel like they are just slogging away. They have a very high tolerance for risk and basically a lack of respect for the need for security.”

Naturally, Downing found some of the people right here in Dayton, but he said the nature of the book is much more global. Much of the book talks about what it means to be a Bohemian. While he illustrates points and defines loose parameters, it really is a collection of stories about people.

Dayton people in particular are featured prominently – people like Dayton Contemporary Dance Company veteran Sheri “Sparkle” Williams, artist and woodworker Shon Walters and husband and wife team Hamilton and Carli Dixon. These stories meld with Downing’s personal experiences and informal research to shape a framework for anyone wanting to make this kind of change in their own life.

There is no shortcut or magic potion to live a life such as this. Downing’s book provides motivation and inspiration but ultimately the desire for this freedom requires a leap of faith and a good bit of resilience.

“Go out and do your own thing,” Downing said. “Find a way to make it work.”

“The Abundant Bohemian: Live an Unconventional Life without Starving in the Process” is available in both print ($14.95) and eBook ($4.99) from Amazon,, iTunes or directly from the author at

Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at

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Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at

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