Sunday, April 24, 2011

Duke and the outdoors

My liberal studies "exit meeting" went well. Despite my reservations about the current state of my book, my advisor and department chair seemed to like it. I'll have the next couple weeks to revise.

I'll be in Duke for the next few days doing research studies. I've already done four and made $75. I have four more to do this week. I told the editor-in-chief of Duke Magazine about my participation in eight studies in nine days, and he thought it would be an interesting article. My first magazine gig! He told me I'd get paid $1k for a 2,000 word piece.

Here I am doing a study for people doing research for the GRE. (Oh GRE, how I hate thee!)

Duke has a 55-acre garden (called the Sarah P. Duke Garden) in the middle of campus, which never fails to impress me. Here are few shots.

Duke, amazingly, just started a student-run farm. They have 10 acres of land, but right now they're only growing stuff on one acre. All the food grown on it is sold to the business that runs the two main dining halls on campus.

Here's the one-acre farm.

And here's a community garden on campus that students and local are free to use. Wish I'd known about this before.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Last week at Duke

This afternoon, I drove the van to Duke for the last time.

In a couple days, I'll have my liberal studies "exit meeting" in which my advisor, department chair and I get together to discuss whether my book will cut it as my final project.

Since I was spending the outrageous gasoline costs to get here ($3.75 a gallon), I decided to stick around for a week because there are a whole bunch of MRI and research study opportunities. I signed up for seven studies in nine days, so hopefully I'll leave here with a solid $150-$200 in my pocket.

I renewed my gym membership, got the van ready for vandwelling, and asked David to cut my hair, which was getting a little feral as you can see below.

As usual, I'll be doing everything I can to stretch every dollar as far as it will go. Apart from rummaging for uneaten food, eating the rest of my vandwelling victuals--noodles, rice, beans, powdered milk--I also have a whole bunch of chocolate my mother sent me for Easter--an event that was never a small deal in the Ilgunas household. (If my memory serves me right, I was hunting down easter baskets my mother hid into my early twenties.)

Unfortunately, I totally forgot that the chocolate would melt in this ungodly North Carolina heat (86 degrees F today). My beloved Cadbury Eggs can now be ingested with a straw.

Speaking of eggs, I had trouble saying goodbye to my two new yet-to-be-named roommates, who think of me as their mama.

They've cooed me to sleep for the past two weeks. I proposed to David that we ration their food so that they stop growing and forever remain chicks. It's a crime that they'll one day have to look like this....

Thursday, April 14, 2011


In exactly one month, I will graduate. Soon after, I will leave North Carolina.

I am eager and ready to move onto the next stage of my life—whatever that is—though I must confess that I feel a nagging and overwhelming sense of anxiety about what the future beholds.

A large part of this anxiety results from my precarious financial situation. I have $330 in the bank and—thank god—a $692 tax return coming. That gives me a little over $1,000, plus whatever I get for the van if and when I sell it.

I could care less about having money. Apart from health insurance, I can’t think of one thing I want. What I do care about, though, is my freedom. And an empty bank account will severely curb my freedom, as I’ll either have to depend on others for help or—gasp—get a job.

I am obsessed with freedom. I am a freedom extremist. I’m not trying to sound grandiloquent; I have issues. I can sense the slightest abridgment of my freedom like a princess feeling the impression of a pea under 40 featherbeds and mattresses. I feel it when I’m in romantic relationships. I feel it when I’m given a gift. I feel it when someone holds even the faintest influence over me. And when I feel it, it comes in the form of rage—a heart-thumping roiling rage in the pit of my chest that feels so overpowering I have to talk myself out of rashly fleeing and separating myself from that which controls me.

I’m not in any way bragging about any of this. Frankly, I think of it as a curse—a curse that, for one, inhibits me from maintaining relationships that might otherwise prove beneficial. But this is just the way it is.

Perhaps I feel this way because I'd once felt enslaved by my debt. And if I were to go back into debt or the workforce or reduce my freedom in any way, I would feel like a freed slave who must seek succor from an old master.

This is where my idealism clashes with reality. Without money, I will no longer be able to enjoy the degree of freedom to which I’ve become accustomed these past couple years.

What am I going to do? In all likelihood, I will not get the book deal. I’ve tried freelance writing before, and I've never gotten paid more than $150 for a week’s worth of work—so making a living with the pen is simply out of the question.

I could go back into rangering or try teaching—jobs that I find necessary and honorable. Yet I know that—despite the useful social service I’d be providing—I’d feel like, as biographer Alfred Lansing described Ernest Shackleton when he wasn't in the Antarctic, “a Percheron draft horse harnessed to a child’s wagon cart.”

I feel a terrible need to do grand things—what those “grand things” are, I’m not sure. But I am beset, cursed, plagued by an unreasonable amount of ambition. I’ve been this way since my undergraduate years and I used to think that it would go away after a big trip or adventure; that a road trip or a mountain climb or hitchhike might somehow scratch my itch, calm my nerves, lull my wanderlust, granting me, finally, a peace of mind that would permit me to settle down and enjoy the simple life like any normal person. Yet, this has never been the case. I’m like a soldier who—upon completing his tour of duty—wants nothing more than to go back to the frontlines. In two months, I’ll be 28. When will it stop?

Where can one put these ambitions in this anomalous age—an age where there are no frontiers to settle, no honorable wars to fight, no continents to discover… Many—in my situation—resort to wild, extreme sports, like bungee jumping or sky diving or ice climbing. Yet those seem so sterilized to me—fleeting “rushes” that seem to function like an addict’s “hit.” What I wish for is some purpose or task or crusade to which I can dedicate my life—not just some cheap thrill.

What happens to someone when they have nowhere to put their ambition—does it just go away? Does it dwindle? Does it rot them from the inside out?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Acorn Abbey nature shots

Ah, summer's coming, or it least it feels like summer's coming. Things are blooming, bumble bees are buzzing, and the insects have begun to roil above standing pools of water. I, however, have--for the last several weeks--done nothing but sit on my sore ass.

I just finished the first draft of my book. (19 chapters, 65,000 words.) It's laughably rough, and I'm not exaggerating when I insist that it could take me another six months of editing before I think it's in presentable shape. I've been working double-time since the draft is due in a couple days.

Anyway, I finally got off my butt and did some work and took some pictures around the Abbey. This is a red bud tree. This one is owned by a neighbor of David's down the hill.

The Abbey has a small creek running through the woods.

These are called "May apples." Supposedly they will have berries come late summer.

David has a rocky cliff, good for reading and contemplating.

You can see the fishing line that I tied above the fence. Much to my chagrin, we had another hawk attack. I have no idea how it dodged the wire, but luckily no chickens were harmed.

Forest is turning green.

We got two new chicks. We were hoping that one of our three adult chickens would adopt them, but Patience and Chastity (the dark chickens) showed no interest, and Ruth (the red one) did nothing but peck one of them on its head. They have their own cage in my room.

Mr. Groundhog is back. We assume he has been hibernating in his hole since October.

We have a large garden now, so we needed to construct a fence within the fence to keep the chickens out of our crops. They're allowed to stay on the orchard side, where they can't do too much damage.

I also planted 25 asparaguses in this bed, which was a couple day-job since I had to dig a two foot hole, as asparagus have long roots.

Here's Chastity, enjoying a dirt bath.

Ruth, for whatever reason, will pose for hours on end if I have my camera pointed at her. I won't call her "photogenic," but she seems to like having her picture taken.