Thursday, October 14, 2010

North Carolina Missive, October Edition

Hi Friendlies,

I just wrote the below post, and decided that it was better to let it be its own thing and then I could write a cheerful news related post (that’s this one!).

I got a job! I’m going to be a Barista at Bean Traders, a charmingly coffee shop/hangout on Ninth Street, otherwise known as the street with the interesting and worthwhile shops. I have my first fullish shift this evening, after previously having only had a two-hour-information-overload-shift. It seems like a good combination of ease and interest. I like meeting lots of people who need coffee, and giving it to them. It makes me feel like I am generating happiness.

Our garden is sprouting! So far the radishes are in the lead with turnips and mustard close behind. The carrots and kale are just peeking above the soil and we hope that we’ll soon see beets and lettuce and leeks. It was lovely and warm the past few days, and then rained like crazy last night. In a few weeks we might have to break out the clear plastic and hoops, but right now, if I were a plant, I would be happy (I am happy, I’m just not a plant).

My roommate Eva’s sister, mother, and grandmother visited us on the weekend, and they brought a bunch of pumpkins that we carved! Mine is called Henry. He has small eyes, a big tooth, a bigger nose, and the biggest grin you’ve never seen. They also left our fridge stocked full of delicious farm fresh food.

I usually refrain from talking about how wonderful Dana is, but she is really wonderful. She has joyfully immersed herself in school, especially her entomology class. Her cyanide death jar has been the end of many interesting insects, including a huge praying mantis we found on our drying laundry and a cockroach or two that we found on our floor. We even took a day trip to a nearby river and collected mayfly and stonefly larvae. We tend to compound each other’s happiness, like compound interest.


P.S. I’ll see what I can do about getting some pictures on here.

Problem and Solution

I woke this morning to thunder and lightning and the feeling that today is a good day to write. The following is involving and self-involved. Beware.

I am not yet a writer. Carried along by the tides of circumstance and inspiration I have written things. But if I hope to sustain my physical existence with words (a fantastical notion when framed like this) then I damn well better learn how to do it practically, not just therapeutically (as a technique for equalizing the psychological humours), and doing it practically requires making a practice of it, which requires being able to do it when I don't want or need to, which requires being able to will it. And for me, that requires knowing why and how it is that I have come to be doing this thing in particular. Which brings us to one of my favourite locations of personal pondering:

How does one know how one knows what to do? We can pick a highest value, and proceed from there. We can become a chameleon, and adopt the values around us so as to know with a sense of belonging. We can live a day at a time, a decision at a time, never knowing how we know, respecting and loving the mysterious place from whence that comes. But if all highest values seem pallid? And if we gag at the world around us? And if then, too, we find that we do not only not know how we know, but we do not know at all? It becomes awfully complicated to decide what to have for breakfast (and without breakfast it becomes awfully hard to write).

The solution is to just do it, whatever it is. And if the act of knowing is the veritable pretzel of angst petrified in the above paragraph, then decide what to do by deciding nothing and doing something; eventually life will have happened and is just as likely to have been happy, significant and productive as a willfully determined life, which is bound to fail and stray. We humans are creative; the rightness will follow the doing. But I do not want to give up on the idea that I am special, that I have a particular gift and my life’s work is to make sure it gets shared (which might be the same as saying I don’t want to grow up (all prophets are children, and all children are going to save the world)).

The solution is still to just do it, whatever it is. And if you don’t know what it is, and you don’t know how to know what it is, and if you don’t know how to know how to know what it is, then the solution is definitely to just do it. And if you’re framing it in terms of not knowing whether or not it is a particular thing, like writing, then that is probably the thing to just do. So that is why I wrote this today.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Doing Nothing

I have been practicing doing nothing. By this, I mean something very specific. There is nothing that I have to do. Officially, I am doing nothing. But as I have learned from suffering through years of taking “doing nothing” literally, the key to doing nothing effectively is to actually do something. Just some something, not all something, because no nothing is not nothing at all. The nothing gains definition and a satisfactory aura of relaxation and repose when it exists in between somethings. It only occurred to me yesterday what a valuable life skill this will be for me, or conversely, how much unnecessary stress I have caused myself simply by being bad at doing nothing. Like any other taboo, doing nothing has a shameful aura that often prevents one from thinking about it directly.  The world needs a Dan Savage of doing nothing to liberate us from this oppressive brain fog, and if I weren’t so busy doing nothing, I might just do it myself.

One of the somethings I did last week was participate in two psychological studies. Though I am not at liberty to divulge the specifics of the experiments, interesting as they are, I can say that I answered a bunch of questions and did a bunch of menial tasks, and then they gave me money. Considering much of what I had to do felt like school – sitting, thinking, clicking, staring, performing tasks that give a sense of accomplishment that evaporates when examined closely – this recently de-schooled individual was happy to exercise those parts of the brain.

Another something that has happened over the last couple weeks is the creation of a garden bed. We bought a shovel, a rake, a hoe, and some bags of dirt and cow poo, and now we have a beautiful 20*5 ft. bed where there used to be sod. Plans exist to plant beets, chard, lettuce, and lots of garlic. We are thinking of adding another bed, since we all want to do gardening and one bed might not provide enough work.

When I came to Durham I brought all my stuff. Included in this stuff was an immodest amount of miniature swordsman, spearmen, militia, knights, cannons, mortars, skeletons with spears, skeletons with bows, skeletons with bows riding on skeleton horses, skeletons with spears and bows riding in chariots pulled by skeleton horses, giant birds made out of magically reanimated corpses, giant scorpions made out of magically reanimated magician corpses and huge things I can only assume are whale vertebra, magically animated statues, giant genetically modified future humans wearing giant future armor with guns, giant genetically modified future humans wearing future armor with giant flamers, giant genetically modified future humans wearing future armor and guns and chainsaws and future jetpacks, giant genetically modified future humans wearing slightly less future armor (they are giant genetically modified future humans in training) and guns and chainsaws, giant genetically modified future humans wearing even more giant future armor with even more giant guns, angry norse football players, human football players, wood elves, high elves, lizardmen, desert dudes with guns, orcs with bows, orcs with meat cleavers, night goblins with bows, night goblins with spears, night goblins with giant balls and chains, orcs with spears riding boars, goblins with giant crossbows, faux catholics with spears, faux catholics with holy hand grenades, faux catholic giant anthropomorphized steam and magic powered fighting machines with giant maces, faux catholic giant anthropomorphized steam and magic powered fighting machines with giant flame belching fists, some more faux catholic giant anthropomorphized steam and magic powered fighting machines with assorted giant weapons, and a whole bunch of time do play with all of them. :) I have successfully sussed out the appropriate gathering spots for like minded people with other, similarly impressive assortments of miniature giants so that mine and theirs might meet and determine their respective owners’ potency by engaging in a complex ritual in which the winds of chance and fate are represented by six sided dice and the whims of the aforementioned owners, respectively. It’s fun.

There’s a really good taco place here with eight delicious salsas. You can buy a container one of the salsas for three dollars and take it home, or you can get a two dollar taco, and cover it in as much of the eight salsas as you want – as much as you want! - for no additional charge. Something about that business model seems flawed to me.

I love you.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Seven Months Ago...

...I was arriving in Walla Walla, Washington. While there, I tried to write semi-regular emails reporting on the world that I found and my place in it. I will publish these missives here in concert with their North Carolinian descendants to facilitate comparison and contrastion. This email is from February 13, 2010, nine days after I arrived in Walla Walla.

Dear Friendlies,

Dana and I arrived in Walla Walla ten days ago, and a lot has happened since.

I got a sweet thirty year old Schwinn cruiser bike that will last forever. It has big wheels, a heavy frame, rides like a dream, and only cost me 150 bucks including lights, helmet, etc. I need it since downtown is four uphill miles from the farm, which is a really nice bike ride. Coasting home is pretty fun too.

The farm itself (West End Farm) is a lovingly cared for five acre plot of land, three of which are farmed for vegetables and flowers. The land has been lived on and farmed for 36 years by Bob, a seeker who rode the back to the land movement in the late 70’s (oil prices skyrocketing, American hostages: maybe we better figure out a way to unplug from the worldwide economy…) with a group of his friends who dropped out one at a time until he was the only one left. He is the groudskeeper at Whitman College, the local Liberal Arts establishment, where he went as a student. In addition to Bob, Dana and myself, the farm crew consists of the farmer Alice and her friend Jesse. Both Alice and Jesse went to Whitman as well, where they majored in Environmental Studies. We grow rare and heirloom varieties of veggies and flowers for sale at the Farmer’s Market in Walla Walla and by CSA shares. Alice has been running the farm here for three years now as Bob moves towards retiring, and this is the first year she has had live in, full-time help, and we should be able to really maximize the land. Part of that process will be building a hoop house (temporary green house) this March, so that we can get an early crop of tomatoes and a late crop of salad greens (the two most profitable crops for a small farm). Right now we are preparing the beds and planting the starts in the permanent greenhouse. I’m learning a lot here. It feels like I’m on full scholarship with room and board and a personal instructor in a place I love with a super-awesome interactive classroom. Already I’ve learned how to prune fruit trees (there are seven hearty apple trees and seven hearty walnut trees).

There is a public library (where I use the internet) with an excellently diverse collection of DVD’s. Already I’ve watched Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and the first four episodes of Glee, and have Rocky, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and Triplets of Belleville in my room.

The newest and currently most exciting news is that I got a part-time job working at an orchid nursery that is next door to the farm. The nursery, called Orchidaceae, is a quite impressive operation. They have a large (1 acre?) climate controlled greenhouse that feels like the jungle, where all sorts of orchids are in different stages of growth, culminating in outrageously decadent blooms of many different kinds. I mostly pot baby orchids, securing them in a mix of soaked fir bark and Perlite that will be their home for the 1-4 years it takes for the plant to bloom.

Being in the same place as Dana for the last five weeks has been one of those all permeating pleasures. Occasionally I forget or take it granted, and then it sneaks up on me again. It is a delightful dance. In honour of my newfound employment (that came from an initiative she took) we went out for a nice Valentine’s brunch this morning. 


Monday, September 6, 2010

North Carolina Missive

Today is my twelfth day in the vicinity of North Carolina. Last night I got back from my first vacation, an experience that always makes home feel more like home, and so I now feel home enough to write about it.

I live in Durham, North Carolina. It is in centrally located within the state, very near Chapel Hill and Raleigh (collectively the three cities are known as “the Triangle,” but if you are imagining an equilateral triangle, you are incorrect, for Durham is closer to Chapel Hill than Raleigh, and Raleigh is farther from Chapel Hill than Durham (so it’s sort of a 3, 4, 5, right angle triangle with Durham at the right angle)), and a quick stint down I-40 from Greensboro and Winston-Salem. There a big trees everywhere, all the houses are one story, and cicadas hypnotize the unwary. Other than that, it seems to be filled with people, pretty much like any other place except for the ones that aren’t filled with people. Some of the social stuff is different – the history of racial conflict can be felt if not seen – but really people are people wherever you go. We all have the same supermarket layout.

I live in a house with my girlfriend Dana Powell, and our fun and friendly roommates Tyler and Eva and their four Chinese Fighting Fish (kept in separate bowls: they are fighting fish). We have 1700 sq. feet of space consisting of our bedroom, their bedroom, a guest bedroom (and storage space), a living room (with fireplace), the study room (a barren place), the kitchen (with flower vase), and the unfinished basement (with mold and washer and dryer), and about 700 sq ft. worth of furniture. Happily, all the empty space is a nice hardwood floor. All the rooms have ceiling fans! We have a front lawn and back lawn and a crappy push lawnmower. We’re hoping to tear up some of the pointless grass and put in a little garden, at this point it would be garlic and greens.

Tyler is letting me use his mountain bike and I went exploring the area the other day. In Walla Walla, the bike into town was slightly uphill, and the bike home was slightly downhill. In other words, there was one hill. In Durham it goes up and down and up and down. It makes for a wonderful variety of existence! My bikeborne wanders led me to the local nerd shop. It seems that when I go to a new place and have a bunch of empty time I easily gravitate towards fantastical pursuits, but then that time fills up and I become all sober and responsible and wanting to use what little spare time I have for the careful doing of nothing at all.

Dana is going to Duke and learning cool stuff. She is taking an entomology class, which means I am taking a regurgitated entomology class. She has a little death jar full of cyanide into which she puts her unsuspecting specimens so that she can learn about them.

I am making a concerted effort to learn how to do stuff. So far I have learned (with the patient guidance of my roommate Eva) how to back bread and make granola. Neither is very complicated, but they are the sort of value added product that cost less than half as much if you make them yourself. I intend to add to that list bike repair and the telepathic manipulation of large birds and small machines, which can be quite expensive if left to a professional.

Overall, I think I am doing an admirable job of accomplishing my pre-move intention of relaxing for a while. A time will come when I will be full of angst and worry, and then I will get a job to fill the time and bank account (the steady emptying of which is a surefire way to accumulate angst), but for now I am doing what I need to in order to be able to do nothing effectively. This does not mean that I always do nothing – that can become oppressive – but I do just enough of something that the nothing feels proper and reasonable. I received confirmation of my relaxing skills on the vacation mentioned in the first paragraph. All four of us spent Sunday at Tyler’s family’s friends’ lake house in Virginia. Everyone was very impressed with my ability to do nothing. And I can’t think of a better place to be doing it.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


This blog will serve as a more efficient way of sharing my life and work with whoever is interested. I will also use this as a forum for publishing old and new creative writing, and whatever else seems like a good idea.

Though there are many self-reflective/self-critical things to say about writing a blog, I will settle with, "This feels weird." But since everything is weird on one level or another, and not everything is efficient, I'm going to go with the efficiency and ignore the weirdness.