Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Friday, March 23, 2012
Yesterday, I drove six hours of the Blue Ridge Parkway from the N.C.-Virginia border down to Asheville, North Carolina.
The Parkway--a 469-mile scenic highway built between the 1930's and 1980's--has been paved atop the Appalachian Mountain chain to afford its wheeled wayfarers with a windshield wilderness: forested valleys and ancient hills that can be ohhhed and awwwed at from the comforts of our cars.
Part of me felt as if I was driving atop a sacred burial ground, and that the rumblings of my tires were sure to have been disturbing the spirits struggling to sleep beneath. Part of me wished these Appalachian hills had remained unblemished of tar and tourist, so that the mountains could remain raw and vicious and inaccessible, radiating an uncommon beauty: there, but rarely seen.
Let the intrepid few have wild places so that they may be stunned by the sublime. And also, let the sedentary many view the hills from below and afar, where the mountains will take on an air of mystery, a wilderness replete with caves and mountain lakes, home to bears and beasts, seamonsters and sasquatches--all of which may not exist in real life, but they, if given a place to dwell, will at least populate and enliven our dreams. The quicker we Google-map the earth, the more we remove from it the opportunity for our native planet to evoke feelings of wonder and enchantment and love in its inhabitants. Earth, I think, should always remain partly unknown, partly undiscovered, partly unclassified, at least until we begin to push the frontiers of space, where we'll have a new galactic wilderness in lieu of the terrestrial one we've all but recorded and ravaged.
The country the Parkway meanders over--largely on account of the Parkway--is far from seeming wild, yet I can't deny how much I enjoyed the trip: the cavernous rock tunnels, the charming stone masonry of the bridges, the constant scent of spring sweetness, the cool dark air of the forest sashaying into my van's open windows, and the shadows of the forest draping themselves over the Parkway, a never-ending barcode of shade and sunlight.
I suppose beauty comes in many colors. Yes, I'll take a wilderness that I can never get to in favor of one I can, but I am not so haughty to spurn those places made accessible by the steel ax and dynamite stick. I'll look at nature from whatever angle it is offered, momentarily lowering my guard to give the planners and developers a chance to convince me that their vision was in fact inspired by the reverence they felt for a place that they thought okay to disfigure.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
|Credit: J.C. Rice|
What if we got rid of all student loan debt? This is the question Robert Applebaum posed to himself in the midst of the housing bubble and Great Recession. Robert's answer: it would create millions of new consumers who could then stimulate the economy.
Among student debtors, his idea, needless to say, was popular. He had over 300,000 people join his Facebook group. Over 660,000 people signed his petition that expressed support for a loan forgiveness bill. He's been featured in The New York Times, Huffington Post, and The Economist.
The idea has gained traction over the years and he's been working with Representative Hansen Clarke (D-MI) who has recently introduced legislation to forgive student loan debt on the condition that the debtor pays 10% of his discretionary income over 10 years. If there's any debt remaining after those 10 years, the rest of the debt is forgiven.
I recommend watching Hansen Clarke deliver his speech below, if just because it'll make my interview with Robert easier to understand. (Clarke misspeaks when he says that only "federal" loans will be absolved; private loans, under this legislation, would be absolved as well.)
Here's my interview with Robert, along with an abridged transcript below:
Why did you start the organization, Forgive Student Loan Debt?
Previous installments of "Interviews with the indebted"
#1 Interview with $200,000-in-debt grad, Kelli Space.
#2 Interview with Alan Collinge, student debt guru who wants to reinstitute bankruptcy protection for student borrowers
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Thursday, March 15, 2012
|(The road to David's home is lined with flowering pear trees. They only flower for a couple of days a year.)|
Here's the Garden. The perimeter of the fence is 400 feet long. It's 8 feet tall, and you can sorta see the fishing line I tied across the garden to keep aerial predators from attacking the chickens. I mixed in a dump truck-load of compost, hundreds of pounds of organic fertilizer (chicken poop), several bags of lime, and a bag of powdered kelp. The other big project I'm currently working on is creating an irrigation system, which involves a makeshift dam in a nearby creek. So far we've only planted onions and lettuce.
Patience is our last remaining chicken. Because chickens are social animals, Patience has had to find ways to compensate for the loss of her friends, namely by paying extra special attention to me: demurely rubbing her wing against my calf, stepping on my hands whenever I'm sitting in the orchard, and even holding still and presenting her tail feathers to me, coyly giving the okay to be penetrated. "She's in love with you, you know," David says.
The chickens are as much pets as they are egg-producers, so I can't help but feel sympathy for the poor girl. So it's our goal to fix our diminishing chicken population problem.
We tried to raise a few chicks on our own last spring, but they were killed by predator that had successfully broken into the coop. I gave the coop a thorough inspection, and found that a lot of the downstairs wire had rusted, rotted, and come apart, which probably made it easy for a raccoon or weasel. I decided to renovate. I decided to make it into an impenetrable fortress. So I removed all the old wire and triple layered some of the more sensitive spots with new wire, making sure to leave no gaps for predators of any size.
I also dug a trench four inches into the ground, filled them with rocks, and put even bigger rocks on top of them, to keep out burrowing predators. I double-dare any predator to try to break in. We will probably buy more baby chicks at the local mill later this spring.
The Abbey from the rear.
Squirrel scratching chest on deck.
Pear tree flowers up close.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Sunday, March 11, 2012
Because the book I am writing (which I'm still editing) includes plenty of natural description, I bought John A. Murray's Writing about Nature, if just to pick up a few last minute tips. The book doesn't deal with nature writing as much as I had hoped, but it is full of useful quotes and tips about writing in general.
Here are some of the passages I underlined:
- “The important thing, it seems to me, is not whether you keep journals, but, rather, whether you have regular mechanisms—extended letters, telephone calls to close friends, visits with confidantes, daily meditation, free-writing exercises—that enable you to comprehensively process events as they occur.”
- “Toward the end of his life, Twain relied more and more on a secretary, to whom he dictated his writings in the conviction that this produced more of the natural, conversational flow. Twain believed that preserving the spontaneity of the spoken word was paramount, in part because the origins of written literature were in oral narrative. He realized that any piece of prose that could be spoken effectively would read felicitously on the page.”
Quote from author,Gabriel Garcia Marquez: “One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph and once I get it, the rest just comes out very easily. In the first paragraph you solve most of the problems with your book. The theme is defined, the style, the tone. At least in my case, the first paragraph is a kind of sample of what the rest of the book is going to be.”
- “Above all, look for texture, color, lines, shadowing and movement in the same discerning way that an artist does. Search for those important details that make the scene singular. At the same time look for images that will make the scene familiar to your readers, both in the present time and in the future time (always remember to write for the future audience, for the person reading your book not tomorrow but a century from tomorrow).”
- “What many of us have discovered out there—as Peter Matthiessen did in the Himalayas, for example—is that you cannot escape human nature. The two are inextricably intertwined, and what our readers most hunger for are the connections between the two, the intersections which are revealed most clearly through dialogue and character.”
- “Metaphors are always more powerful than similes.” Metaphor: 'The full moon rose, a cream poppy over the fields.' Simile: 'The moon rose like a cream poppy over the fields.'
From my own experiences reading and writing about nature, I would add this: Keep it simple. It's difficult for the human mind to form images of elaborately-described physical landscapes. Tell the reader the basics: that there are mountains and a valley and a river, but let the reader fill in most of the details on his or her own. Don't worry about details; worry about tone. If your tone is inspired, your reader will automatically imagine an inspired landscape. If your tone is gloomy, they will imagine something gloomy.
Once we begin using complex geologic or geographic terms (precipice, escarpment, permafrost) and begin to name specific species of plants and specific types of rock (which the reader will most likely know nothing about and will therefore not be able to visualize), the reader will get confused and frustrated and bored. And I'd also say: be bold. The reader does not have the attention span for boring reverential, flowery descriptions.The metaphors should be juicy and fresh and grand.
Some more general writing tips from Murray:
Other wonderful books on writing: Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, Natalie Goldberg's Writing down the Bones; Annie Dillard's On Writing; and the granddaddy of all writing books, Robert McKee's Story.
If you have any nature writing tips, or writing tips in general, feel free to share in the comment section!
Friday, March 9, 2012
Alan Collinge went into debt. He took out a reasonable $38,000 to pay for his undergraduate and graduate degrees, but by the time he graduated, interest had caused the debt to balloon to $50,000.
Alan struggled to find work so he went into forbearance, which is a period of time in which the debtordoes not have to make payments (though interest continues to accrue). His debt had risen to $60,000 and Alan--still struggling to find profitable work-- requested another period of forbearance. Sallie Mae, though, put him into default. ("Default" is a nasty word for any debtor. If a lender puts the debtor into default, the debtor's wages can be garnished, the debtor can lose forbearance options, and late fees can be applied among other consequences.)
Soon, Alan would owe over $100,000.
Acknowledging the ridiculousness of having to pay almost three times the original amount of his loan, Alan tried to restructure a fair deal with Sallie Mae. Sallie Mae refused.
So began Alan's crusade to change the student debt industry. Until he and millions of other debtors get a fair deal, Alan has refused to pay back his loans. He created the group Student Loan Justice, and set out to learn everything he could about the predatory lending system that has ruined millions of lives. His research has been featured in The New York Times, The Chronicle for Higher Education, 60 Minutes, and he's written a book called The Student Loan Scam.
As a result of his research, he's become outspoken about the predatory lending system, noting how both corporations and the government profit when students going into default. Not only that, but the number of students defaulting on their loans is far higher than what the Department of Education says it is. (The Department of Education says the default rate is about 5 percent while Alan says it could be as high as 40 percent.) In other words, young people taking out loans are led to believe that 1 out of 20 graduates struggle to pay their student debts when it's actually closer to 1 out of 3.
Alan's solution? Reinstitute bankruptcy protection.
#1. Interview with $200,000-in-debt grad, Kelli Space.
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.” – St. Francis of Assisi, 1181-1226
Friday, March 2, 2012
Last May, when I was close to broke, I tried to sell the van. I put it up on Craigslist for $2,100. After two weeks, I lowered it to $1,800. Finally, I dropped it to $1,500. One guy--from somewhere in rural North Carolina--asked me if I wanted to "trade." "No thanks," I said," I'm flying up to Alaska; I don't need another vehicle." "Vehicle?" he said."I want to trade my guns for it."
Alas, I turned down his offer and asked David if I could park the van on his property until I figured out what to do with it.
When I moved back into his house in late January, I was glad I still had the van. Apart from it needing a new paint job, it's in wonderful shape.
I know it's just a big hunk of metal, but a vehicle affords its owner a sense of freedom like little else. No longer must I hitch rides and depend on the good will of others to get around. No longer must I plan my travels according to the rigid schedule of public transportation. I don't need to be scanned at airports or sit uncomfortably in a narrow bus seat. Yes, I now have a big, ugly, sometimes costly possession. And yes, I'm sort of destroying the environment. But my goodness, how it all feels worth it when you get behind the wheel of your own vehicle.
I needed to get out of Stokes County for a bit, so I put the van in vandwelling shape and spent a week at Duke to visit old professors and enjoy the numerous library privileges available to Duke alumni.
Here's the van before refurbishing.
I went to a Goodwill and spent about $30 on clothes, linens, pots/pans, Tupperware, and miscellaneous items. That's my old sleeping bag.
Brand new hamper.
Water jugs, cutting board, pot and pan. All in all, it cost me about $50-75 to get the van in shape for comfortable habitation.
I paid a local $50 to watch my middle pilot chairs for the year. Keeping them safe has been one of the biggest pains of vandwelling. I think I may just discard them eventually. David had an extra curtain, so I cut it up to make it fit as my partition.
There used to be a big open field behind the apartment complex, but now they're bulldozing to construct something big.
Duke has some impressive natural features, like 100-year-old willow oaks and magnolias.
In the basement of the library is "The Link," a labyrinth of high-tech classrooms and study areas.
There are many questionable usages of funds at Duke, including this video art.
This statue is called "The Scientist and Nature," featuring a camel and Professor of Zoology, Knut Schmidt-Nielsen. The sculptor meant to express the value of scientific curiosity. It says, more or less, "Tell me about yourself, Camel, that I may know myself."
Students camping for tickets in Krzyzewskiville for the Duke-Chapel Hill game.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
Some time ago, I was interviewed by four teenage girls--all young writers for Y-Press--about how to creatively come up with funds to afford college. I think it's wonderful that they're thinking about this and making other young people think about this.
2. Interview with "life-switch coach," Rebecca Tracy, over at her blog, Uncaged.
3. I wrote an article about Texas trail-riding culture for Go Magazine.