Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Should You Give Up on a Non-Lucrative Dream?

Yes, you should give up on a non-lucrative dream.

You should give up on this dream for one reason: because it is not lucrative. You will not make any money, and you will waste your precious time and exertions on a ludicrous scherade that will end with you naked in a dumpster, sobbing and wishing you took that nine to five at Morgan Stanley with the benefits and the pension.

At the end of your life, money is the only important pursuit, no matter what anyone tells you. Especially if you decide not to have children so you can devote more time to your dream. No one will take care of you or think of you, and you will perish alone on the government's dime with your head drowned in a cold bowl of government soup, your pitiful life's work crumbling on a chair beside you.

Author Lionel Shriver once claimed in a 2013 article, "Had I a seven-year-old who declared that she wanted to be a writer, as I did at that age, I worry that I might spontaneously exclaim, 'Are you crazy?'" Even established authors with throbbing paychecks earned from book-to-film conversions think it crazy to pursue non-lucrative dreams. So this definitely means you should give up on your dream.

It's the same with grad school. It could reasonably be assumed that if you want to attend graduate school in the humanities you have a dream (even if the dream is just to have health insurance again for two years). But you should not be in grad school, because your dreams are crazy, and graduate degrees in the humanities do not earn you more money.

Yes, you should give up on your dream right now. Stop whatever you are doing and go make some money. Go make money in something that bores you so thoroughly you want to staple your pinky finger to your eyeball just to be entertained. Go sit at a desk in the frigid air conditioning and forget what it feels like to be outside, to sleep late on a Tuesday, to send a text without hiding in a bathroom, and to eat lunch for longer than a half hour period. Do this because you are making a paycheck, and will not die facedown in a bowl of (government-provided) soup.

Take note of what is around you, because it will be important later. Observe the corporate paintings on the walls and the elementary patterns on the carpet. Notice the lack of windows and the overuse of words like "benefits" and "breaks." Most of all, look at the people around you. Not all of them are there just for money; some of them like it there. These people are fine. They were never going to end up anywhere other than an office building anyways, and this is the correct place for them.

There are also people, of course, who have no choice but to work a stifling job. These people can't leave the workforce because it is harder for them to support themselves and their families. They certainly have dreams, too, but they aren't white, able-bodied, straight, middle-class individuals and they live in a terribly skewed world. Don't forget about these people, and don't go around bragging about your privilege. Instead, ask yourself if your privelege can be used in a positive way, so that the world has less oblivious, priveleged people who work boring office jobs and go home to the comfort of a Netflix account.

This latter group of people is the group that might have well-defined dreams, and the means to achieve these dreams, but gave up, because money was more important. Remember these people as you take notes. In the future, when you look back on the way America has changed since you were younger, you will think, What did we do wrong? Why did all the books disappear? How come I haven't seen a long form article in a magazine in twenty years, and all that's left is one sentence spasms on Twitter? Where did the artists go? Where are the crafters, and the painters, and the woodworkers, and the sculptors?

You will survey the landscape and make the obvious correlation that these people and these things are gone because people gave up. They listened to those who said to think about money, and they made the best decision for their lives.

As you eat your soup, remember that you, and many other people, could have made different decisions. You were priveleged enough that you could pursue a dream, but you did not. Now, the thing you once loved is gone because you forgot: the only way to preserve an art form is to do an art form. Perhaps you wouldn't have had to make the decision between money and your dream if so many others before you had remembered this at the crossroads of their lives.

If you had been told by others, Do not give up, Go to grad school in the humanities, Be an author, Be an artist, then maybe books would still exist. Maybe people would still be able to write more than one sentence. Maybe the crafters and the painters and the woodworkers and the sculptors would be able to get up in the morning and say, I'm going to live my dream today, and also make money.

But this is all just crazy talk. You should absolutely give up your dream, especially if your dream is a dying art form (it's like bison, remember them? Well, you don't have to, because you can see them today, roaming around, eating, thriving. Did anyone ever say, It would be crazy to preserve bison?) If you dont, you will not make any money, and you will die facedown in a bowl of soup.

Monday, July 25, 2016

In Progress #5

Writing a book is hard, guys!

Well, no, I should rephrase that. The actual "writing" isn't that bad. It's the organizing, and the designing, and the getting people to answer to your weird emails that say "Hi I'm writing a book about RVs." That and the panicked nightmares. (Last night I had a dream that the Wisconsin Gazette edited my book and changed it to something more "marketable" which included changing the title, and the entire layout.)

I'm reallllly hoping to finish everything by the end of my stay at the Wormfarm, but it is all dependent on other people getting back to me. This is a relatively annoying position to be in, because other people are generally incompotent (at least in my experience).

In the meantime, here's one last sketch to tide you over. By the next time I write I hope I'll be saying I'M DONEZO.

P.S. Thank again to all those who contributed to my Kickstarter! As you know I'm FUNDEDDDD. However, you may still order a book if you'd like by August 4th.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

In Progress #4

Thank you to all those who donated to my Kickstarter in the first week! I feel super cool to be over halfway funded in only a week's time. I have awesome people in my life! Please continue to share the project with friends until the deadline of August 4th.

In other news, I had a great interview yesterday that I'm very excited about. Here is a super short excerpt from a section called "Community," which will focus on a group called the National African American RV'ers Association (NAARVA):

"As I tried to get ahold of NAARVA to ask them a few questions, I had a serendipitous experience and accidentally ended up on the phone with the former president of NAARVA as she was driving across the country from Las Vegas, in an RV, to the national NAARVA rally in Eustis, Florida. I kid you not, this actually happened.

Anne Shearer-Seele was more than happy to talk to me on the phone even though she was operating her rig with one hand. She told me that if she saw a cop coming she would just hang up on me and put the phone down. I told her that was okay. I was just amazed that I ended up with NAARVA's most knowledgeable member on the phone after thirty calls to their headquarters in Charlotte, NC."

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

In Progress #3

Things are still beautiful and challenging on the farm. Last night there was a huge storm and we lost power briefly. It's going to be a hot week and we had the first day of heat yesterday. Mice, spiders, coyotes, cows, continue to remind us that they are our constant companions. But the work progresses! Here is an excerpt from a cool interview I did with some "green" RVers:

"What is one place that you have visited that you wouldn’t have been able to visit without your RV?

There haven’t been places we’ve been able to visit because we have an RV. If anything, certain places are harder to visit because of the size of our RV. Rather, if we weren’t living the nomadic lifestyle, we wouldn’t be able to visit so many places because we weren’t able to dedicate so much time to traveling in our previous lifestyle. We would have said, “We’ll go to XYZ when we have X amount of time.” But the reality of it is that there are too many places to visit and too little time. With our current lifestyle, we’ve essentially created more time and opportunities to travel. In the last year, we’ve been to enough different places to account for 20 years’ worth of 2-week vacations – in a way you could say that every place we visit from now onward is a place we could not have seen otherwise."

I have also launched a Kickstarter to help me fund the printing of my RV book. You can view the full project below. Thanks to everyone who helped me get off to a great start! I'm already closer to achieving my $750 goal. Share with anyone who you think might give a hoot!

Friday, July 1, 2016

In Progress #2

How long have I been here now? I have no concept of that. The days are really unimportant. I was shocked to find out it's almost the 4th of July. The only indicator of time is that I don't have to do farm work on the weekends. Otherwise it all sort of blends. 

I've come way farther on my project in the short time that I've been here than I thought I would. I've still got lots to do, though. I've been "designing" (quotation marks because I suck at designing) a book in Blurb, trying to put all of these words into an object that people might pick up and read. 

I've also conducted a few more interviews, and am realizing all of the holes that need to be filled in this RV story. Here's another short excerpt: 

"An RV is astronomically less expensive than a house. They run anywhere from $9,000 to $100,000, with only class A motorized RVs exceeding this price. There’s no typical customer. That day at the dealership I saw everyone from older couples to single women roaming around the lot, asking questions like, “What’s the best model to buy if I’m trying to take a trip to all the National Parks?” The dealer explained with his careful patience that there is no “best” model, but the smaller ones are better to start with, because they require less repairs.

A few customers were amazed at the spacious interiors. Even smaller models can comfortably fit three beds, a table with seating, a fridge, a TV, closet, a bathroom with a shower, and a microwave. At one point, an older couple with a robust and youthful enthusiasm joined us on a tour of a standard size travel trailer. I watched the wife pick up the fake flowers on the table, circling slowly around the interior, brushing the ugly upholstery with her fingers and whisper to her husband, “I think we can do this.” RVs are essentially tiny houses. Two people can live in one comfortably year-round if they wanted to, and there are many who do.

The dealer showed me around three more models, each one more luxurious than the last. I liked the homey feel of the travel trailers, and I could see how a couple or a family could have a fun time in their little home away from home, frolicking across the country in one of these models. I noticed that despite the cold, each one was cozy and warm inside, and I lingered longer in each to avoid the wind. After a while the dealer seemed bored so I thanked him for his time and told him I would continue to think about a purchase. On the way out I glanced at the used electronics store. There are worse things that people try to sell you, I thought." 

My last update is that I'll be launching a Kickstarter or Gofundme campaign shortly to help me fund the printing of this book. Are you prepared to support an esoteric project about mobile living?

Thursday, June 23, 2016

In Progress #1

So, as many of you know, because I've talked about it a thousand million times, I'm doing a residency at the Wormfarm Institute in Reedsburg, WI this summer. I'm here as a writer/artist...whatever that means. The solitude, peace, and quiet, in combination with the cathartic farm work, has already made it easier for me to write and focus on a few projects. 

The main project I'm focusing on while I'm here is a study of RV living and culture. I've been thinking about this project for over a year now and I'm finally starting to piece some of it together. The final project will be a book of some sort, although I haven't quite figured it out yet. Below is a sample chapter that will be the intro of the book. I'll be posting more samples of work in progress throughout the summer. Thanks for reading babes. 


One summer I lived in Yellowstone National Park working a minimum wage job so I could experience the wild and untamed beauty of America’s first park. While I was there, I was introduced to the absurd and intrusive nature of RV culture. I came to associate these so-called “recreational” vehicles with a dull ache in my head, an annoying buzz in my ear, and a subtle quickening of my pulse. I thought of them as nothing more than a rude disturbance of my tranquil surroundings, like an unwanted dinner guest or a suitor that won’t take the hint. I could not fathom why Yellowstone’s visitors would sacrifice the authenticity of their park visit by hauling along their usual comforts from home in a large, bulky cabin of metal.
            Once I was out of the park, RVs weren’t as vexing to me. I would pass them aloof in driveways, parking lots, and on the road, and I didn’t think much about them unless I saw one that was particularly corpulent, in which case I would scoff in disgust.
            A few years later, I was on a camping trip at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on an unseasonably warm Labor Day weekend. The RVs were ubiquitous and inevitable at that time of year, and I accidentally chose a campsite next to a behemoth RV that towered like a skyscraper over my puny tent. It left almost no room for walking or standing in the campsite, and some trees had to sacrifice a few of their branches to accommodate its bulk. At night, when I wanted to sleep under the stars, the electric fervor of incandescent light emitting from the RV washed out the comparatively feeble glow of the entire night sky. I chanced a closer look at the interior only to find in horror that its occupants were watching TV, and had even brought a portable satellite dish that they installed in the grass outside their movable fortress.
            My heart felt broken after this encounter. I wondered if I would be able to have an organic experience ever again—if RVs would steal my peace and quiet wherever I was in the world and follow me to every National Park, campground, and back corner of the woods until I would have to succumb and buy my own RV in order to escape the noise and light pollution from other RVs.
            In short, I became obsessed with recreational vehicles, and conceived the idea to write a scathing exposé on the widespread devastation they impose upon the world.
            To my surprise, however, I did not uncover a cult of emotionally unfulfilled sloth-humans like I expected, but a culture, and a community, and a few pioneers and artists along the way. I learned that almost everyone has an RV story or experience, and a few people even convinced me that RVs might not be fully evil. They could in some cases be neutral, or even, I daresay, good. I also realized I have my own RV experience: a 1970s mobile home that my family used as a cabin in Northern Wisconsin my whole life, parked on a slice of land that will always be in my heart. For the first time I considered that RVs can have roots, too, and can be repurposed as immobile living spaces.
            My overall affirmation, however is just an echo of that feeling I had on Labor Day weekend in Pictured Rocks: RVs are ubiquitous. At this point there might even be more RVs than humans; I’m not sure. Whatever the official count is, I know undoubtedly that I can’t escape them. But I have learned that I can coexist with them. For all the “bad” they put into the world, there’s some “good” in there, too. What more can I expect from an experience that so many people have in common?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Points of View

Because I was stationed at the corner of a busy street, looking as if I knew what I was doing, I got a lot of questions from curious passers-by.
“What’s going on? Is this some kind of festival?”
“What are they trying to sell?”
“What are these movies about?”
Each time I answered with a scripted response, not wanting to sound condescending or impatient.
“A group of artists collaborated with business owners on Mitchell Street to project videos on the outside and insides of buildings—for one night only.”
The best reaction I got was from a couple of girls my age, one of them holding a baby. They looked so excited, and full of wonder at the idea. “It’s just for fun?” they asked. I watched them from my post as they hopped from one video to the next, mingling with the regular Milwaukee art crowd. As they got in their car to leave, they shouted thank you from across the street and I smiled back at them.
Encouraged, I stood diligently at my post.
I came as a volunteer that day, wanting to be involved in an event that I hold in high esteem: Temporary Resurfacing II, an outdoor video event organized by a few industrious Milwaukee artists. The event aims to bring art to an area of the city that is often neglected, and also to repurpose some of the historic buildings in the area by projecting video onto them. This is the second installment of Temporary Resurfacing; the first one was held two years ago in the same location.
I offered to volunteer because I love the event and admire the scope of its vision. The only problem was, I had no exceptional volunteer skills to bring to the table; video projection is not exactly my area of expertise. In fact, a hired visual productions company even seemed a bit stymied by the process, making me feel as if this whole event was a bit out of my league. My job for the night, as an unqualified helper, was to guard the sound and projection equipment to make sure no one stole it. I was well aware that a skinny girl with a distracted look on her face was maybe not the best deterrent for thieves, but I was given one job, and I was going to do it, dammit.
My first post was in a clandestine alley behind a hair salon called “Taso's.” Yep, there I was: a white girl in a Latino neighborhood standing by herself in a dark alley (in a dress). “Taso's,” like many of the businesses in the area, is run by Latinos who seem to know each other quite well. They might have been a family; that was my guess. I felt the strangeness of the situation as various employees walked past me. I could almost see the question in their eyes: “What is this chica doing here?” The projection equipment didn’t even arrive until halfway through my shift, so my presence in the alley made no sense until that point.
A few other people, mostly men, saw me standing there as well. Two guys in a truck, and two Nigerian men who walked past me and cat-called in a foreign language. Although unwanted, these interactions were at least entertaining. Without the stealthy advances from men, there was nothing to look at, and nothing to do. I started to pick up pieces of glass from the ground just to throw them down the alley and watch them bounce away.
Eventually I was switched to another post on a busier street. Here I watched two of my friends up on the roof of their apartment building drinking beers and people-watching. Because I couldn’t move, I watched a piece by Ted Brusubardis, a chorus of his family members singing Bach, probably 50 times. I watched people watching it, as well. From a distance their eyes would light up when they saw the figures of his family projected onto two adjacent buildings. Then they would hear the harmonious tones echoing down the historic avenue and stop in their tracks to imbibe the entire spectacle.
A drone circled over the event throughout the evening, capturing the scene from the opposite of my own viewpoint. I’m sure he caught me on video a few times, swaying back and forth on my feet to ease my back, looking bored, or dancing to lighten the mood. I wondered if anyone else felt invaded by the drone’s watchful eye.
Finally, I was relieved of my duties and got the chance to wander through the crowd to see the videos. Some of it was a bit lost on me, as I was tired from the sun, the heat, and the standing. The crowd also made it hard to watch the videos intimately. I watched every one, but felt like I missed some of the details and the overall intention of the pieces.
Later on I ended up on the roof where I had watched my friends watching me a few hours before. Here I could see the event from a privileged viewpoint, and I felt like the drone from earlier. I could see some of my friends and the people they came with. I could see couples holding hands strolling through the alleys. I could see groups of college students laughing as they drank beers in secret. I could see the large piece by Ted Brusubardis without having to strain my neck. I could see the event organizers and the visual productions company hurrying around, doggedly attempting to make everything perfect.
What they didn’t know was, from my point of view, everything was perfect. The details that were lost on me earlier didn’t seem to matter as much, because I could see the whole picture. People from the neighborhood wandered among the visitors, all of them entranced by the abnormality of the evening. The commercial businesses turned off their lights and all that remained was the light from the videos, the passing cars, and the streetlamps. The historic buildings shined with a radiance they had in their prime. They were useful again, and that made them glow.
Under this glow, Historic Mitchell Street was, for one night, a vision of a surreal world that doesn’t really exist. In time, though, and with enough hard work, Mitchell Street could become a hub of artistic creation as well as a diverse and historic area with something for everyone to enjoy. Temporary Resurfacing is just one step towards this transformation. In the meantime, the most important lesson to take away from an obscure and complex event like Temporary Resurfacing is actually quite simple: always remember to look at the world around you from a different point of view.