Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tax Return

This past weekend, I received a whopping $1,600 tax return. Between the golden ticket that Uncle Sam was kind enough to slip in my bank account and my weekly wage from my part-time job, I can confidently proclaim that my financial worries are over.

You’d think that I’d be jubilantly celebrating the end of my destitution, but the truth is, I’m not. Rather, I feel strangely uneasy about the whole thing.

This past week I went on a week-long field trip for my class, “Biodiversity in North Carolina.” Knowing that my tax return was coming, I slackened some of my strict spartan standards. I bought a case of beer, I dined at a restaurant twice, and I slept in a heated room on a comfortable bed.

I couldn’t help but feel guilty. It was as if I had cut some corner that I promised myself I wouldn’t cut.

One night—beleaguered with self-reproach—I dragged my sleeping bag out onto the grass and slept under the stars where I felt much more at ease.

I remember thinking: I didn’t need these things: the beer, the food, the bed. And looking back, I don’t think I even wanted them. I simply slugged a few beers, and ate a fancy sandwich because I could.

Before I enrolled in grad school, I decided not to take out loans because I knew that if I allowed myself access to easy money then I would again fall victim to the consumerist trap. I’d be indiscreet with my money; I’d begin to pay for and rely on things that I thought I needed, but really didn’t. And worst of all, I’d lose perspective.

We work because we think we must “make a living.” But “making a living,” now, entails buying impressive vehicles, lavish homes, heat, air-conditioning, and a million other “staples” that are all things that you do not need to live. Yet we believe that 4/5ths of the shit we buy is necessary. This is because we have lost perspective. And in order to pay for these unnecessaries we sign up for years of onerous labor even though the things and comforts may do us more harm than good in the end.

Radical living has been an absolute success. It’s been easy. Too easy, in fact. This is a tad disconcerting because 1. Living in a van has not tested me as much as I hoped it would and 2. I can’t help but feel that my experiment’s unchallenged success may forebode doom in my impending future. Am I destined to have a run-in with campus security? Robbed by a bum? Or will a tornado whisk the van and I off to a parallel universe?

Now that I have money, the thrill of my enterprise has waned. No longer must I think of innovative ways to make meals, wash clothes, or sustain myself—I can just pay for it.

When I worried earlier about making my tuition payments, I suffered from spells of anxiety. But I was also exhilarated. Now it’s as if somebody’s slung a giant safety net under the tight-rope I’ve been bravely walking along.

For the first time in my life, I’ve thought about giving all my money—or at least some of it—away, to reassert my commitment to voluntary poverty. Prudence (or cowardice), however, cautions me otherwise.

There is no question that radical living has been an absolute success, practically speaking. I’ve made my tuition payments, received a semester’s worth of top-quality education, and have upheld my high standard of health.

But the novelty of my experience is beginning to wear. I think I liked it better when I precariously skirted along the edge of bankruptcy. Perhaps this just means I need to take it the next level. What that is—I’m not sure. An official vow of celibacy? A tent in the woods? Self-flagellation? We'll see.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Images of resourcefulness

When my pots and pans drop below-standard, I take them to a secluded bathroom to wash. I knew it was time when something began spawning out of the spaghetti sauce crust on my pot's rim. (Please--no need to comment on the fruity shorts.)

I put some duct tape on the roof of the van because I thought the leak was sneaking through one of the cracks. This is more pathetically inept than resourceful. My ceiling still leaks during heavy rainstorms, but it has yet to cause me any grief.

I bought this to combat the smell in my van. I'm happy to report that the smell is gone for the most part.

I've learned the ins-and-outs of campus pretty well. I found a classroom that is open all hours, 24/7. I use it after the library closes on weekends because I don't want to use the van's interior lights for a number of reasons. I get wi-fi in here, plus it's outfitted with a TV and DVD player. Here I am watching The Man Who Would Be King.

My parking spot. During the day and most nights I feel as if I'm in my own little world. I have all the privacy I need. On Friday and Saturday nights, though, the party-crowd comes out and goes to the nearby bars. A couple weeks ago, while lying in the van, I heard Amber cry her eyes out to her friend because Shaun just dumped her. I park it under the light so I can see when I'm cooking and slicing up vegetables.

I left my shirt in the sauna at the gym while I worked out, hoping it would iron itself. Unfortunately this did not work, but I give myself credit for the resourceful thought.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Throwing up in the van

I must preface this entry by acknowledging that throwing up in a van isn’t much different than throwing up anywhere else. I’ve decided, however, to add my tale to the already voluminous canon of throw-up stories because most any throw-up story, I feel, is a story worth telling.

My friend Josh—in the comment section of one of my “Eating” entries—motioned to create a pool to determine “how long [it’ll] take Ken to catch a stomach virus from his fork.” Because I doubt any such pool was created, I’m afraid to proclaim Josh, in lieu of an official winner, as victor.

My tale of throwing up began earlier this week. While it may have begun with some of my less-than-sanitary eating arrangements, I believe it was triggered by several factors.

Due to an over-abundance of school work, I pulled several all-nighters, drank copious amounts of coffee, and put a halt to my regular work-out routine, only visiting the gym to take showers. By giving my schoolwork precedence over my physical well-being, I’m fairly certain that those bodily defenses assigned with guard duty—overworked and sleep-deprived—abandoned their posts for a night on the town, permitting the enemy to slip past my immune system.

It’s my general belief that sickness is for the weak. If one keeps a sturdy body, scoffs at minor ailments, and cultivates a hearty constitution, I think it’s okay to be a little less cautious with trifling matters like a dirty fork, an unwashed pan, or a two-month old bottle of squirtable butter.

I still generally agree with the above statement but I’ve since taken a few precautions. I threw out the two-month old bottle of butter which has been subject to the wavering North Carolinian temperature changes. When I used it in a meal last week I noticed that it had taken on a new form—no longer was it thick and cream-colored, but thin and piss-yellow. I also bought some grapes this past week which I neglected to wash because of inconvenience and laziness. I instantly noticed some sores on the roof of my mouth after eating . For that reason, the grapes, which I’ve also discarded, are my top suspect.

On Thursday my condition rapidly deteriorated. My sinuses became plugged and my stomach grumbled. Hoping to compensate for my lack of physical activity, I went to the gym and played in four competitive games of pick-up basketball. Vigorous activity, I’ve found, curbs, if not totally eradicates illness. Yet afterwards in the library my head began to throb and menopausal hot and cold flashes made the hairs on my arm rise and fall like fast-forwarded footage of flowers responding to the sun. I became dizzy and delusional. Before things got worse, I decided to zigzag my way back to the van in hopes of sleeping the sickness off.

As resilient as I like to believe I am, I remember thinking if I had to permanently live in such pain, I’d decide—pretty quickly—to blow my brains out. Between aches in my head and stomach I eagerly awaited my moment of solace. You know the moment—the moment right after throwing up when the world suddenly becomes a much more habitable and friendly place.

And then it happened. I positioned my wastebasket next to my bed and christened it with a few introductory heaves—a mere preamble to the story that follows. Then, my throat—like a fire-hydrant uncorked by a group of inner-city and over-heated juveniles—discharged the entirety of stomach’s contents in one impressive blow. Unsure if I was feeling better or worse, I plopped my sweat-soaked head on my bed and passed out.


Fictitious ascetic, Robinson Crusoe—a ship-wrecked sailor who lived on an island all to himself—had a severe bout with sickness as well. When he was revived, he had a fresh outlook on life. No longer depressed with his unusual circumstances, he embraced his newfound solitary existence. I can’t say throwing up has ushered in a new dawn of Ken, but I am reminded of the need to take better care of my body.

The body, I feel, should not be pampered and coddled; it must be pounded into submission. Rigorous exercise and a disavowal for hedonistic pleasures are staples of the spartan way of life.

A healthy mind and spirit are secondary to a healthy body. Never should I compromise the health of my body for the health of my mind. It makes no sense to do so. The two are inextricably linked. Any damage to my physical health is, by nature, damage to my mental health.

With that said, I’m still stubbornly adhering to my no-wash policy for forks and dishes. I’d like to believe that this illness was a mere fluke and not a serious drawback of vandwelling. But I’ve been wrong before and I’ll be wrong again. If you suspect that I’ll once again fall victim of my own hubris, please feel free to start up another pool.