Thursday, March 17, 2011

Back at Duke

I came back to Duke to attend the second of two “final project seminars,” in which liberal studies students in their final semester share excerpts from their final projects.

This means that I’m back in the van—at least for a couple days. When I first got in, my first thought was the common refrain: "What the hell is that smell?" It was an awful garlicy, oniony sour smell. And it was everywhere. I figured another mouse had expired in my van's ceiling, but after a thorough search, I gave up and laid in bed. That's when I got a whiff of my armpit, and realized the smell wasn't the van; it was me. (Explanation: So I don't have to buy another bar, I've been rationing my usage of this one by applying deodorant only once every three days.)

After mysteries of mice and smells were solved, I realized: Oh—how I've missed my dear, darling Econoline! Last night, I slept in ideal vandwelling conditions—a brisk not-too-cold, not-too-warm 45 degrees, perfect for bedding beneath my unzipped sleeping bag. This morning I awoke to a squirrel running across my roof, warm breezes blowing through my windows, and songbirds frolicking in my neighboring blooming bamboo forest. (Why there’s a bamboo forest here is beyond me.) This past afternoon, I laid on my bed for three hours, doing absolutely nothing except contemplating the Milky Way and reading Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes. (I'm trying to spruce up on the "memoir" genre.)

As lonely as Duke can be, it is a refreshing change of pace. Most of all, it’s just nice to be around members of the female gender. Having lived in seclusion with David, his cat, and three chickens for the past three months, I'd almost forgotten what a woman looks like. I find myself eyeing them all amorously, falling in love with strangers 50 times a day (especially now that they've packed away the rather unbecoming “leggings” and “Uggs” for the season).

Sadly, my vandwelling days are drawing to a close, and I will only be able to enjoy a few more nights in what has been my home for much of the last two years. Between car repairs and insurance costs, I’m running out of money. (I have only $450 left). I’ve had to cancel my cell phone, and I don’t even have enough to renew my ($34) gym membership. (Though—with the help of one of my professors—I’ve been getting in for free at the faculty gym.)

So—as much as it pains me to say it—in order to financially stay afloat I will sell the van at the end of the semester. I say that with sadness, but also with excitement. It's time to plant myself in a bigger flowerpot—it's time to move on.

Thoreau said he found it hard to say goodbye to his Walden cabin, but left because "it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one.” I think I could live in the van quite contentedly for years to come, but I suppose that I have “more lives to live,” too. What those lives are—I’m not sure quite yet, but I look forward to a life full of new experiments and daring endeavors—each, a trail-marker, not leading me to a particular destination, but keeping me on a never-ending journey and my eyes always fixed toward the direction of my dreams.

Van or no van, I can say that I’ll always be—till the day I die—a vandweller in spirit, as I believe that a simple existence is conducive to a happy existence. And while I may come to reside in homes without wheels, I will not fritter away my days filling them with frivolous stuff.

My graduation date is May 14. That will be the conclusion of my loan-free college-degree experiment.


Michael said...

Congratulations! I hope you find another van and become a modern nomadic professional like Glenn and his "To Simplify..."blog. Both you and he are demonstrating the Modern Structure of Work as I've written about here:

TYoung said...

Hey Ken, welcome back to the gothic wonderland?! Let me know if you want to grab a beer sometime while you're in town.

JR said...

how much is the van?

Unknown said...

Moving on is always difficult, but I think it's great that you can look at it as a new adventure rather than a major loss. That's probably the hardest part--opening yourself up to new things instead of clinging to the old ones.

Ken said...

Michael--I don't see myself getting another van anytime soon. I really want to do away with the repairs/gas/insurance costs which really bled me dry this last year. Nor do I want a house or apartment for that matter; I think I'm fantasizing about a more peripatetic existence.

TYoung--Thanks! I'm not sure how long I'll be in town, but maybe.

JR--Excellent question. I doubt it's worth much more than $1,500--the price I bought it for. But it's in great shape and I just put $1,000 of work into it, so I'm hoping to get somewhere around $2,000. The main thing working against me is that horrid dent/scrape I put on it two winters ago. That might severely lower the value of the van.

Constant--Indeed. The van has sentimental value, but I just really need to "lighten my load" and reduce my belongings to what can fit in a backpack and suitcase.

Natalie @ Scarlett Notions said...

Congrats on a successful endeavor! What's next for you? Look forward to reading about it...

Anonymous said...

What do you think you'll do post-van?

Ken said...

Natalie--I still have a couple months before I can say I'm finished with this goal. But thanks nonetheless. ;)

Anon--Great question. I plan on continuing to work on the book this summer. After that, who knows? I'd say it's largely dependent on if I'm published. If the book's published, I'll have money, and would love to embark on some adventure or travel a continent other than N.A. (Not that I have anything against N.A; it's just that I haven't done much traveling outside of it.) If the book doesn't happen, I'll wallow in despair for a couple months while seeking temporary work, as I'm sure I'll be absolutely broke by the end of summer. I have lots of travel magazine article ideas and even a couple book ideas, but the pursuit of those will also be dependent on my financial situation. As you can tell, I'm getting preoccupied with my dwindling funds, and am not looking forward to jumping back into Career World.

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