Monday, February 28, 2011

Contest names revealed

Two weeks ago, I held the rather random "Some of my favorite people" contest. Here are the names of the many fine men and women who--I would argue--are worth knowing.


1. Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919). Our 26th president had an ironic relationship with nature. Despite playing a huge role in the conservation movement, he also liked to shoot and kill most any animal that moved. Roosevelt, himself, was shot while campaigning, but as an experienced hunter he knew the wound wasn't lethal, so he gave his speech anyway. I heartily recommend the first two books in Edmund Morris's three-part biography: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, and Theodore Rex. (I've yet to read the third, Colonel Roosevelt.)

2. Bob Marshall (1901-1939). Marshall was an avid outdoorsman, and one of the first to climb all the big peaks of the Adirondacks. He's rumored to have been able to hike forty miles in a day, but the speed of his stride was sure to have slackened when he trekked through the rugged terrain of Alaska's Brooks Range in the 1930's. He dedicated his life to forestry and conservation, founding the illustrious "The Wilderness Society." His two major works are Alaska Wilderness and Arctic Village--both about his explorations in the Brooks. Both are great, but I don't think I'd recommend them to anyone but conservation and Alaska aficionados.

3. Beryl Markham (1902-1986). West with the Night is one of my all-time favorite travel/adventure memoirs. The memoir is about Markham's life growing up in Kenya and her career as an aviator. (She's the first woman to fly over the Atlantic Ocean from east to west--a flight that famously ended with a crash landing.)

4. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). One of the giants in American intellectual history, he was also a friend and mentor of Henry David Thoreau. I haven't read a ton of Emerson (and, frankly, I find his prose difficult to digest), but I can say that Robert Richardson's biography, Mind on Fire, is superb.

5. Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922). He led the crew of the ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1914. The ship became packed in ice before reaching the continent, so Shackleton invented a new goal for the expedition: that all 28-men make it home alive. There are several reputedly excellent books out there on the expedition, but I've only read Endurance by Alfred Lansing, which is wonderful, as is the 2001 documentary of the same name.

6. Mardy Murie (1902-2003). Called the "Grandmother of the Conservation Movement," Murie played a large part in enlarging the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (or ANWR) and passing the very important "Wilderness Act" in 1964. She's written a delightful memoir about her Alaskan excursions called Two in the Far North.

7. John Muir (1838-1914). He was a wilder, more sociable version of Thoreau, who explored the Sierras and the glaciers in Southeast Alaska. He was also a persuasive and outspoken leader of the budding conservation movement, and a proponent of the national parks. I haven't read much of Muir's writings, but he plays a prominent role in Ken Burns's six-part documentary series called The National Parks, which is superb as is anything Ken Burns makes.

8. Aldo Leopold (1887-1948). Another member of "The Wilderness Society," Leopold's remembered for his travel/nature book, A Sand County Almanac. In it, he outlines his brilliant "land ethic," which you can read here. The gist of it can be summed up with this one line: A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.

9. John Brown (1800-1859). I must confess: I have a terrible weakness for historical fiction. Perhaps the best historical fiction--and perhaps my favorite fiction book of all time--is Russell Banks's Cloudsplitter, about John Brown's crusade against slavery. It's hard to make an argument for a bloodthirsty man-killing extremist, except when he's fighting for the freedom of an oppressed people.

10. Jack London (1876-1916). I don't care if his books are assigned to middle schoolers--I could read Call of the Wild, White Fang and his short story, "To Build a Fire," any day of the week. London lived a full life--as a writer, boxer, seaman, and Klondike goldrusher--even if it was a short one. Also worthy of one's time is Martin Eden--a novel by London loosely based on his life.

11. Thor Heyerdahl (1914-2002). He believed that the Polynesian Islands were not populated from the Asian mainland, but from South America. To prove his theory, he took a Balsam raft 3,770 miles from Peru to Angatau in 97 days. While his theories have since been rejected, many are still inspired by his journey, which he described in his book, Kon-Tiki.

12. Merriweather Lewis (1774-1809). Alongside Captain William Clark, Lewis led a group of 29 men on the "Corps of Discovery"--a trip from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean and back. A gifted naturalist, outdoorsman, and leader, Lewis was also a not-so-shabby writer. The Journals of Lewis and Clark is an entertaining read, as is Stephen Ambrose's nonfiction book, Undaunted Courage. I'm currently reading the historical nonfiction book, I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company, by Brian Hall, which is so far, so good.

DMT Scholarship Winner: Chanaye

Chanaye, a junior at Berkeley City College, has spent much of her young adulthood fighting for social justice. But in dedicating her life to the less fortunate, she has had to sacrifice her own wellbeing.

Although the idea of a political lifestyle is to fight for the oppressed, I find that it has begun to oppress me, in ways I was unprepared for. My mental and emotional health and peace, the innocence of my dreams at night, and most importantly, my spirituality and connection with the earth, suffer… when politics, conflict, violence and injustice occupy my time, thoughts, readings and writings. It is almost as if I cannot breathe.

But it wasn’t just politics wearing her down; it was also the city, and the disunion with the natural world a city represents.

It has become clear that in the city, in the “developed world,” the air is poisoned, just as our water, our food, our minds, our relationships, our perceptions, and our ability to care for one another. Cancer, the most metaphoric plague of the human race, awaits us in our bio-hazardous plastic bottles, our chemically enhanced foods, our toxic products and lethal air. Our bodies remain foreign objects to us, we are unable to read them, to care for them, and still we believe we are alive.

Chanaye wishes to see a different way of life—one where relationships (relationships among people, villages, the natural world) are still healthy and intact. To find it, she will go to the very “lungs of the earth”—the Amazon. And it is in the Amazon where she will learn “to read the skies and the textures of our plants like a language”; it is in the Amazon where she hopes to become a healer.

This journey is the farewell to politics, and the beginning of a reunion with the earth, and my ability to have a relationship with our plants and use them to heal. And so, when I leave Los Angeles, and all of my political books, I am also leaving, for some time, the political world, the tangible and visible world that has scarred me and stolen my innocence. And from it, I enter into a world that has been systematically hidden from me: the metaphysical world, our earth, its soils and all that grow from it: la Pachamama, which has always provided all that we need, as long as we learn to understand and utilize her secrets.

She will start in the Peruvian city of Iquitos. Then Tamshiyacu on the Amazon River. From there, she’ll venture out into smaller, more remote villages in search of a shaman who can teach her about “our earth, about perception, about our magical plants and innate abilities to heal.”

Ultimately, I will be entering the Amazon in a mental loincloth and stick, with humility and watchfulness. With a surrendering of all which was once believed to be true, and a realization that from the soil we come and to the soil we return, and so it clearly is the soil that I must learn. And what I learn is to serve all, but first my mother, who has dedicated her life to her offspring and endured unspeakable suffering. She is the queen of the tribe, who is to be honored and healed.

She will return to California with the knowledge to care for her ailing mother, who she hopes to bring back to South America “where she can live the next chapter of her life in a part of the earth that possesses so much beauty and power, it parallels only to that which she has shown me.”

(Chanaye plans to leave for the Amazon this April.)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

DMT Scholarship Runner-ups: Tyler

[I courteously request that readers withhold from issuing unconstructive political commentary; I love Tyler’s idea because it is bold and kindhearted—not because of an ideological bent.]

Tyler needed a break from college. So one day he quit and took off to Israel with neither money nor a plan.

I spent over six months wandering and hitchhiking throughout Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon, rolling out my sleeping bag on the floors and roof tops of dozens of new friends, working by their sides and learning about their history, traditions, hopes, and their struggles.

Now, Tyler’s back in school. His home is his car and he lives on $4 a day. He’s determined to graduate from college without debt so he can be free to embark on his adventure to Gaza—a place that he’s already visited, and a place that he feels compelled to return to.

Granted the Near East is plagued by its fair share of problems, none seemed as inhumane and dire as Gaza’s. I quickly learned that Gaza is a land of deficiencies. There is never plenty—not of figs or onions, school notebooks or petrol, water or electricity, cement or medicines. It seemed to me that the only thing there was more than enough of was hospitality and garbage.

Between his empathy for those less fortunate and a newfound sense of self-empowerment, Tyler felt that something had to be done. Hence his master plan:

My dream is to build Earthships in Gaza. For the same cost of the houses that are already being built, families would not be subject to freezing winter nights due to fuel shortages, electricity outages from limited diesel fuel and bombed infrastructure, polluted water from a very dwindling oceanic aquifer, or the inability to afford food in any given month of the year. Families could be free to live with fewer worries and hold their futures in their own hands. Furthermore, their existence would no longer be a burden to their already famished strip of real estate but instead bless and nurture it, doing so by recycling garbage as base building materials, being carbon zero, using water extremely efficiently, safely neutralizing and reusing waste, creating lush, green outdoor microclimates, and alleviating the strain on Gazas outdated systems.

[Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons]

An earthship is an environment-friendly, easy-to-make home that's made out of used materials (i.e. old tires). Tyler thinks earthships will give its new homeowners comfort, security, and—most of all—dignity.

There is a small group of Palestinians that will be working on this dream with me. Our vision isn’t one of institutionalized hand outs, as so often seen in Gaza and the West Bank. We want to experiment with the Gazans, to design something that will empower them—one family at a time. Our goal is to use as many Gazan produced materials as possible meanwhile making the Earthship as affordable as possible. We are going to start with just one building and go from there. Our hope is that this creation will be like a weed, a weed that spreads and is beautiful and pushes up through the concrete sidewalks of Gaza, evolving as time progresses. I like to think of it as a contained experiment. By the very nature of the 30 foot separation wall, there are thousands of people that are ready to imagine, dream, and create a new way of living with nearly no laws prohibiting them from doing it!

Tyler, this summer, will learn how to build Earthships in New Mexico. He plans to go back to Gaza after graduating in 2012.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

DMT Scholarship Runner-ups: Carolina

Have you ever gone to Machu Picchu? Have you seen the Nazca Lines? Have you been in Puno? Have you visited the Amazon or spend a day in the desert of Ica?

These are the questions that Carolina--a junior global affairs major from George Mason--is daily plagued with.

Plagued—because her answer is always a disconcerting, “No.”

She is asked these questions because she was born and raised in Peru, yet has never had the chance to see much of her country of heritage, let alone her continent. This is something Carolina is determined to change.

To rediscover her roots, she wants to embark on an exploration of not just Peru, but all of South America.

I want to do it the “right way”, which is from what I have heard, backpacking. I do not desire to have hotel reservations nor have a plan and know where I will be a week after I arrive there. My goal and desire is to go without a plan, and to go with the flow. I want to take a backpack with me with enough clothes to carry, my ID, a map and money, and get in a bus one day and just go to wherever the bus takes me. Go south, then north then west and then east. From Peru to Ecuador, from Venezuela to Brazil, from Colombia to Chile and then Argentina.

Everyone has their own “right way” of traveling, but Carolina’s mix of rugged transportation, touristic sightseeing, and cultural experimentation seems like an ideal mix to get as good a purchase as possible on a land and a people as large and heterogenous as South America.

I would like to camp in the mountains of Peru and the next day go to the Galapagos in Ecuador. I might feel like drinking wine in Chile and then go to Caracas in Venezuela. As I am doing this, I want to keep a blog of the activities I do during the day and where I am and post it at night for people to know what I am doing and where I am at, but never where I am heading, because I will have no clue either.

Whether or not her adventure will take place this summer isn’t clear, “but it is a dream that I am passionate about and puts a smile on my face every time I picture it happening.”

[Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons]

Sunday, February 20, 2011

DMT Scholarship Runner-ups: Alando

[This entry has been written by my friend and DMT Executive VP, Josh Pruyn.]

We have a winner. After completing the daunting task of reading hundreds of essays, we’ve agreed on one trip as our favorite.

But… we’re not going to share that little tidbit of information quite yet. Instead, we thought we’d first share the dreams of a few of our more noteworthy candidates.

Having to read over 350 essays (averaging 2.5 typed pages each—perhaps the equivalent of 3-4 books) seemed like an overwhelming task, but it was, in reality, a privilege. Deciding between our favorites was even more difficult. We requested additional information, created and scrapped rating systems, swapped favorites, and had many nights of “Let’s sleep on this.”

Despite all of this, we fully intend on offering the scholarship again. The dreams of our applicants were adventurous, creative, daring, and—most of all—inspiring. While we at first wondered if we would get any worthy candidates, we were pleased to discover that there were dozens of people who were qualified and deserving.

These essays were a pleasure to read. Such tales remind us of how remarkable it is to truly have a dream—how your mind and emotions swirl together and zero-in on the conscious imagery of often vague hopes—just the thought of which makes you feel alive.

Alando was one of our favorites.

At just 13 years of age, Alando—out dirt-biking with his 75-year-old grandfather—stared at a steep hill concerned about how to get over. His grandfather gave him a piece of advice that forever stuck with him.

“You just point your bike at it and attack that son-of-a-bitch.”

It doesn’t take long to realize this guy is, as Ken puts it, “bad-ass.” Alando is a junior, and, like most students, has already racked up some hefty student debt. Unrestrained by a false need to graduate on schedule, he is taking a year off from school to pursue a more worldly education:

In the summer of 2011, I will travel to New Delhi, India and then north to Shimla, Himachel Pradesh, on the edge of the Indian Himalaya. From there I will spend the next two months cycling north in the mountains through the Himachel Pradesh and into the Kashmir and Jammu provinces. A little more than halfway through the trip after arriving in the city of Leh, I’ll store my bicycle for two weeks and backpack through the Zanskar and Stok mountain ranges.

I remember my thoughts the first time I read that: “hole-lee shit.” It takes balls to decide to quit school for a year. It takes balls to go on a two-month cycling trip, especially in the Himalaya’s (where he’s never been). One of the mountains he is hiking to is Tanglang La, which reaches an altitude of 17,581 feet.

Any initial skepticism I had about him being able to handle this trip was put to rest:

Over the past three summers I’ve cycled around, through and across North America, including most recently a solo self-supported 3500+ miles trip from Brooklyn, NY to Vancouver, BC.

Bad-ass, indeed. But Alando is much more than that. His application was fraught with idealism and filled with goals—goals to make himself a more knowledgeable global citizen. He’s driven by the same curiosity to actually see for himself “what’s out there.”

[Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons]

Unfortunately with just one award to give, we were not able to help him reach such an incredible dream. When we told him that we couldn’t help, he thanked us for creating the scholarship and included these words of wisdom:

Each day in the news politicians are discussing educational reforms that will make the US more “globally competitive” by emphasizing math and science skills. While these things are undoubtedly important, I believe that a culture that is “globally competitive” is one that has a true knowledge of what's out there beyond the borders.

Add "wise" to Alando’s list of qualifications. It’s truly a shame we are not able to be a greater part in Alando’s dream. We hope that with the support of the readers of this blog, we’ll be able to recreate this scholarship and give future Alando’s the support to pursue their dreams.

P.S. Alando – we look forward to receiving a picture from the top of Tanglang La.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The "some of my favorite people" contest

The rules: Email me the names of as many of my favorite people as you can. The prize goes to whoever can name the most. If several contestants name them all, I will give the prize to whoever sends their list in to me first. If no one guesses them all correctly, I will give it to whoever can name the most. If there's a tie (for instance, two contestants name 8 of the 12), I'll give it to whoever emails me first. The deadline is Thur. Feb. 17th, 8:00 a.m. ET and my email is No crafty techno cheating! :)

Winner gets my copy of the recently released, The Money-less Man by Mark Boyle--who lived without money for a whole year in England.

Here goes...

1. Nature-lover and animal-killer, this guy filled the role of an important man who was shot in my home-city.

2. One of the first to summit all the big hills in the Adirondacks, he sought wilder terrain in Alaska's far north.

3. Amazing writer and adventurer who Ernest Hemingway lavished with praise before calling her a not-so-pleasant "bitch."

4. This guy once dug up his first wife's corpse just to have a looksy. Apparently this was acceptable behavior in the 1830's.

5. An Irishman who favored desert snow over his homeland's verdant green.

6. Spent her honeymoon on the Koyukuk River.

7. On his excursions into the wild, he'd wear a suit and tie, and always leave his gun behind.

8. Three of this conservationist's children were welcomed into the National Academy of Sciences.

9. Once lived under the shadow of one of the great peaks of the Adirondacks, he is better known for some of his more cutthroat exploits in states to the south.

10. Drunkard, boxer, and seaman, and one helluva writer.

11. This guy shares his first name with a well-known deity.

12. Virginian-born outdoorsman whose tragic death is the subject of controversy.

The prize.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The writing life

I have spent the last month and a half writing a book about the last five years of my life. I’ve written some 30,000 words and drafts for nine chapters. I’d say I’m about 2/5ths done with the book, but—as any amateur writer knows—the real work begins during the revision process. In other words, I still have a long, long way to go.

The idea to write a book came after I wrote my vandwelling article for Salon a little over a year ago. As it was being edited by Salon, I got a long email from a literary agent in New York City who’d learned of my essay through one of Salon’s editors. He said he thought the article might make for a good book, and that I should consider writing one:

Your “sixth sense” for cheapness as self-preservation. A perfect, if extreme, emblem of the necessary frugality many Americans have had forced upon them by external circumstances. A story about the emotional droughts and awakening purifications of solitude and material deprivation…

I do think a book elaborating your Thoreauvian themes would have broad appeal, to publishers and readers alike, and I would love to discuss the possibility of a book with you. If you email me your number I’d be happy to give you a call and bear the burden of the charge!


When I read this, I almost vomited. A book?! After the article published, within days, another agent offered her services, and a publishing company even inquired if I wanted to work with them.

At the time, I’d only written a couple articles for my hometown’s alt-weekly, and this blog was known to just a couple dozen friends, family members and strangers.

I’d never considered myself a “writer,” and now, all of a sudden, there’s talk of literary agents, proposals, and a book deal!?

My first reaction—other than the overly-excited, caffeinated, “I’m going to pee out of my asshole” sensation in my stomach—was to tell myself to slow down. Relax, Ken. Take a deep breath. Allow yourself to put things into perspective. I came here to Duke to learn, not to earn.

I thence re-focused on my studies, and shelved the book idea toward the back of my mind. Since then, the publishing world’s interest in me writing a book has dwindled. But mine hasn’t. More and more, I think I might have something useful to say.

I want the book to be 1/3rd Walden, 1/3rd Into the Wild, and 1/3rd Nickel and Dimed. I want it to be both timely and timeless. I want it to discuss socially relevant themes like student debt and the high price of college, but I also want it to be about something more universal—about choosing romance over restraint, dreams over doubts; how the journey can transform someone; and how things like nature and frugality and travel can help one “find himself.” But most of all, I just want it to be entertaining.

It’s a bold, grand, ambitious project, and it could easily become a bold, grand and ambitious failure. Given that very few books are actually published, my book could be quite a costly failure. That’s because I’ve chosen not to work so I can write the book. I’ve even decided that I won’t be working this summer so I can give myself time for the editing process.

Yet, my bank account continues to dwindle with each car insurance payment, cell phone bill, and van repair. (I had to pay $265 on my latest repair last week, leaving me with a meager $1,010 in my account.)

Where I’ll live this summer, how I’ll eat, where my money will come from—this is all up in the air. And quite honestly, it’s stressing me out. Because the monthly bills have been slowly bleeding me dry, I’ve forced myself—as much as it hurts—to consider selling the van after I graduate in May.

But I only have one way of doing things: and that’s to give it your “all,” or to give nothing at all. To accomplish great things, I think you have to expose yourself to the possibility of great failure.

I remember my football coach in 7th grade would encourage us to play with “reckless abandon.” “Reckless abandon,” he’d yell. “Make your tackles with reckless abandon!” It’s an awkward phrase, but it stuck. What he meant was that when you go to tackle someone, you should never worry about hurting yourself or the other guy—you must throw your whole force and being into him without caution, without worry. And that’s the only way to play.

This is the only way I can go about things. I can’t help but live my life grandiosely. I must always be embarking on some long journey or endeavoring to accomplish some difficult feat. The coach was right: to allow yourself to “let up” at the last second for fear of tomorrow is to miss your tackle of today. So while I could be, in a couple months, homeless, completely broke, with nothing but a flimsy, useless liberal studies degree worth no more than the paper it’s printed on, I know I must at least give the book my best shot.

So I’ve been writing. Writing a lot. Writing too much.

Sometimes I’m on the computer for 8, 12, 16 hours a day. I’ve developed eccentric sleeping habits, staying up till 4 a.m., and not waking up until noon. All day long, I wear my quilt as a shroud to keep the glaring sunlight from browning my dungeon-dyed pasty pallor.

The writing has caused my body to undergo a metamorphosis. My beard has become long and feral. My hair is always oily and tousled like I’d just been having sex for the past three hours (which I most certainly hadn’t been). I’ve worn the same pair of flannel sweat pants for nearly a month, and I’ve all but stopped washing myself. I must constantly shift in my chair because I’ve lost almost all feeling in my ass, and I have—from sitting so much—developed a grotesquely large pimple on my back—so big that you can see its contours under my shirt, like a condom in a wallet.

But my metamorphosis is as much psychological as it is physical. Since I’ve secluded myself out here in the country at David’s, I’ve begun having long, drawn out conversations with the chickens. Because I have no physical contact with animate beings—David being a man and Lily being a saucy little bitch—on my jogs up and down country roads, I embrace the dogs that chase me with an unchecked ardor, tickling their tummies with my nose, giving their owners cause to wear concerned expressions as they watch me from behind their windows.

I feel like I haven’t seen a girl in years. When David and I took a rare trip to town to dine in a restaurant, I found myself eying the obese, baggy-eyed waitresses as if I were a starving wolf who just awoke amidst a herd of robustly-flanked caribou. This past week, when I was visited in the night by a succubus, I began thinking that I really ought to get out more.

I couldn't help but glorify the writing life. I imagined myself wearing a tight white shirt in front of a typewriter, pounding the keys in a constant state of invigoration fueled by caffeine and nicotine. Perhaps—when the mood struck me—I’d put on a collared shirt, slacks and a fedora and head into town where I'd talk Balzac at a local cafĂ© with intelligent idlers. When people would ask me my "line of work," I’d proudly, beamingly, say, “I’m a writer,” before being lavished with “ewwws” and “ahhhs.”

But of course that’s not what the writing life is at all like. Pale-faced and bloodshot-eyed, sometimes I finding myself staring at the computer screen for hours without having hardly written a line. I’ll jump from one website to the next, checking my email every five minutes, frenetically scouring the web for some excuse to divert my attention. In moments like these, I can’t help but feel like the most useless being on the planet: doing nothing, producing nothing, good for nothing. In moments like these, I wonder if I’m ever going to be able to write again, and I think back—nostalgically—at those rare times when I felt like I could write for hours, days, and weeks without end.

In those fleeting moments of inspiration, I go into a writing frenzy; the words come so fast I must type feverishly as I’m hardly able to capture every flying thought from soaring into oblivion. But these are rare occasions.

The muse and I do not have a good, stable relationship. She is more like my sugar momma, and I, her booty call. She visits me only when the mood strikes her, and suddenly, instantly, she vanishes without a trace, leaving not a bra on the doorknob nor a strand of hair on my pillow from which I could have drawn more creative energy. Sometimes I can get her to come back with a hot cup of coffee, but she leaves as soon as the caffeine high does.

Part of the problem is balance. I most want to write after some unusual experience. When I travel, I feel this terrible, lingering, and constant urge to record my every thought, transcribe every conversation, and describe every scene in my journal. Without a page on which to pen my thoughts, I don’t think I’d even want to travel. Writing is not writing to me; writing is thinking. Writing brings order to my thoughts, makes me understand my most wild and unruly feelings, and helps me bring sense to a senseless world. Travel would be pointless dissipation to me if I could not extract some meaning out of it through writing. And without travel—or varied and vivid experience—I would have nothing to write. When traveling, there is a happy union between experience and reflection. You feel something new and you record something new and you share something new. And it’s all so delightful.

Now, however, as I write my book, I’m in a constant state of reflection, but experience very little that's new. And now that I’ve imprisoned myself behind this new task, my spirit has come back to life, screaming for everything I’ve forbid it. Oh how I can’t help but dream. I imagine myself trekking across distant continents, back atop of Blue Cloud, voyaging through rippling walls of black waves. Oh, the stars; the damn stars. When I see them, I doubt that even Mars could bring calm to my throbbing heart. How I can’t wait to leave it all; to again embark on some mighty journey—underneath a heavy pack and atop a pair of tired, doddering, trembling legs—on which I can rack up a fresh, smelly, smoking heap of experiences that I will, thereafter, be itching to transfer to page.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

DMT Scholarship Update

I just finished reading 373 scholarship applications (108 of which came right before the deadline, which was two days ago). My brain is officially fried. I had hoped to have the winner named by now, but figured it might be best to wait for the letters on the computer screen to come into focus again before I start handing out free money.

While the project has been daunting, it’s been an education in itself. Man, there are a lot of young people with dreams out there. Here are just a few:

— one guy from California State Fullerton wants to tour Europe, learning historic European martial arts (with swords and shields and stuff).

— a gal from UC Irvine wants to chase tornadoes and another dude from from the same school wants to swim with sharks off the coast of South Africa.

— a dude from U. of Florida Gainsville wants to retrace the route of Columbus, and take a sailboat across the Atlantic in a hurricane.

— one gal wants to track down her lover in Ireland.

— a gal from City College at Berkeley wants to fight alongside the Zapatistas in Mexico.

— a gal from Florida State wants to drive up to Alaska.

— a dude from Eastern wants to build earthships in Gaza.

— one guy wants to have a blood transfusion with a Bengal tiger!

— a girl from U. of Vermont wants to tour Australia, and a gal from Cornell wants to hug a giraffe in Africa, and another from U. of C. Merced wants to visit Russia.

— a guy from U. of C. Irvine wants to honor the memory of his father with a cross-country bike trip to Burning Man, and another dude from McGill wants to cycle down North America’s West Coast.

— one gal wants to start an NGO to help find missing travelers, and a “tiny” girl from Johns Hopkins wants to climb the New Hampshire “48”—all 48 mountain peaks above 4,000 feet.

— a guy from Florida State wants to take a boat down the Amazon and another from Florida State (what’s with all the Seminoles?) wants to go on a tour of WWII battlegrounds to see all the sights his grandfather used to tell him about.

I should admit that—for every great applicant—there were several… umm... not-so-great applicants. One gal wanted to use the money to clubbing in Vegas, several wanted the money to buy cameras, and another’s dream was to become a Victoria Secret model. I’d say more than half of the applicants were looking for money for tuition, missions, or study abroad programs. These are all undeniably good and honorable—but not what we were looking for.

Many wanted to tour Europe or go on a road trip across the U.S.—and while these dreams have the potential to be earth-shattering and life-altering—we favored something a little more rugged and daring. Others wanted to tour all seven continents and become world travelers—this was great too, but we wanted a dream that had some sort of developed plan and a more precise goal.

Needless to say, I was inspired. To have over 350 apply to this is encouraging--it tells me that there are probably thousands, (millions!) who want to break away from school and work and the status quo.

I tire of people who call my generation apathetic and distracted and complacent. Every applicant was so hopeful and optimistic and brimming with dreams. Each wanted to better themselves, help humanity, or save the planet. Give our generation a cause and the opportunity, and we will wow you—I am sure of it.

Anyway, I will announce the winner hopefully within the next week or two. I apologize to all those dreamers who I cannot help out, and I thank everyone who’s donated to make this scholarship possible!