Part 1, Packing

I’m trying something a little new with this post, which stemmed from some anxiety as I prepare to move from home to Lafayette. This post is kind of poem-like, and is intended to be read aloud and accompanied by a song. Please listen to the song either before you read, or as you read.
– Thanks

 

I’ve spent my whole life living here.

10881 N CR 925 W
Gaston, IN 47342

This spot. In the country. Near the SR-28 exit off I-69. But still on a chip-and-fill road with no lines.

I remember when I was a child, and my older sisters graduated, leaving for their futures. I remember thinking about how far away that point in my life seemed, when the stretch of time from then to now was so long it was silly to plan for.

And yet.

Here I am.

Twenty-two, and trying to find a way to pack my past into boxes. (Jesus, that sounds cliché, doesn’t it?)

But the truth is, it hurts to realize I’m leaving this space—and part of my life—behind.

Maybe it’s just that I’m trying to write too close to this event, and I haven’t allowed for time to meditate over it, to emotionally distance myself from it, but as I try to write this, I can’t find the right words.

I wish I could tell you my past in this farmhouse.

I wish I could ground you, dear reader, with vivid descriptions of a childhood in this bedroom, still covered in yellow, marching-ducks wallpaper.

I wish I could create in your minds an all-encompassing series of images, painting my experience and memories with a careful precision that leaves you with a sense of knowing.

I wish I could tell you what it was like to grow up in the mud and dirt and animal shit of farm life, but still feel fulfilled at the end of the day by the strength, support, and warmth of my family.

And I wish I could compare all of that to whatever future is coming.

But the truth is, this is something entirely new.

And it’s been a long, long time since I’ve experienced this kind of unknown.

 

…I’ll keep you updated on how it goes.

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Summer and Writing, Writing and Summer

My semester is done.

Graduation is done.

School (for the foreseeable future) is done.

So…what comes next?

The biggest thing to tackle is just my writing habits in general, which–if I’m honest with myself–are about as bad as my eating habits. With this in mind, I’m setting a minor writing schedule for the summer.

  1. Five handwritten pages, three days a week.
  2. Reading one book (hopefully) a week.
  3. And, last but not least, blogging at least once a week.

“But, John,” you ask, “why do you feel the need to set a schedule like this now? You never have in the past.”

True. This will be the first summer with a rigid writing/reading schedule. Usually, the three month period of time between semesters is filled with farm work, video games, and enjoying a break from academia in general.

However.

This will also be the first summer without the beautiful, ironclad structure of an academic year following it and preventing me from feeling guilty about my laziness.

So.

That means all bets are off. It’s time to put my money where my mouth is, pull my writing self up by his bootstraps, dust off as many cliches as possible, and improve my writing habits.

I’m excited.

But I’m curious, few followers, is anyone else setting a writing schedule for their summer? Let me know in the comments down below.

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The Good, The Bad, and The Farm

If you’re looking for a book about farming that does nothing but sing praises of the beauty and simplicity of red barns and white farmhouses, then by all means, disregard this post.

On the other hand, continue reading if you are one who would prefer a text offering a more complex look into farming, family, and Place, asking questions such as: What’s it like to simultaneously long for and run from the place we call “home?” What exactly do we mean by “home,” and how does it—and the people that live there—shape us?

Debra Marquart, writer and professor at Iowa State University and native of rural North Dakota, explores these questions in her collection of essays, The Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere (Counterpoint, 2006).

The Horizontal World by Debra Marquart

Throughout her collection, Marquart draws on a connection to her family and land that runs deep in her writing like an alfalfa taproot on the Dakota plains. In essays such as “Things Not Seen in a Rearview Mirror,” “Between Earth and Sky,” and “On Lost and Crazy Sisters” we are given an intimate lens into her family and its history in rural North Dakota. This is contrasted, however, with essays like “The Horizontal Life,” “Great Falls,” and “To Kill a Deer” that focus on her efforts to escape the countryside as a touring road musician in her youth, and later as an academic.

These two perspectives—one positive, one negative—of rural life serve to give the reader a unique and complete image of growing up in rural North Dakota. Never does Marquart over-romanticize or over-demonize her small town of Napoleon, but instead juxtaposes the good and the bad to illustrate an honest, full character of both her home and herself.

In her essay, “Between Earth and Sky,” this dichotomy is summed up with the questions, “What makes a piece of land go solid under your feet? How to explain this nostalgia for land that overtakes otherwise pragmatic people?” While Marquart may not directly answer these, she gives us a perspective that has the ability to shift between beautiful and gritty. To her, the flat land described by her great-grandmother as “all earth and sky” is more than just a setting to be described or an environment to shape her time there. It is a world with a constant connection to her, both positively and negatively, no matter where life takes her.

What’s my verdict in the end? This is a must read for anyone interested in writing about farming, family, or Place. Marquart’s collection stands out as uniquely honest, offering the reader a FULL perspective of life in the country in all its good, bad, and ugly parts.

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Favorite Design Resources Roundup

Since I’ll be briefly speaking at the East Central Indiana Social Media Group this week about visual design and layout, I thought I’d share a roundup of some of my favorite design-related resources.

Fonts & Typography


Colors

  • ColorSchemeDesigner – Really good, basic website for creating effective color schemes
  • swatchspot.com – A random color scheme creator, really useful for generating ideas
  • Design Seeds – A website devoted to creating color schemes based on photographs, also great for ideas
  • 0to255.com – Great tool for finding different shades of a color

Coding

  • Codeacademy – One of the best ways to learn how to read and write HTML, CSS, and even JavaScript
  • Mozilla Thimble – Really great tool for writing and seeing what code does
  • Learning Web Design – Fantastic beginner’s guide for HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and web graphics by Jennifer Robbins

 Miscellaneous and General Resources

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Ecological connectivity: What You Do in Your Garden Affects Your Neighborhood

The Hungry Gap

No matter how small your garden, it will always affect your neighborhood, in ways you may never know and on a scale you may not be aware of.  Even the smallest garden carries with it a set of consequences for the world around it.  With a bit of effort on your part, you can expand and optimize those consequences.  Your garden is always more than you think it is.

As some of my readers know, our small city property is a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat.  This is one way to expand your garden’s impact on the larger world.

This brief video (Part of the Life TIB Project – Italy)  shows (with great beauty) why you are always doing more than you think you are, and affecting the world in ways you may never know.  I hope it will encourage you to take a broader view of your garden…

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Dealing With the Crunch Before Finals – 5 Things

I try not to blog about my student life too much, but since it’s nearing the end of my last semester, I thought I’d blog about something I’ve been thinking about lately: dealing with final projects.

1) Make lists, lots of lists.

I’ve found that one of the best ways to manage busy weeks is to plan them out using lists in my agenda. As I complete each item and each day, I cross everything off that I did.

For example, here’s this past week from Monday:

list_before

And here it is today, on Thursday:

list_after

First and foremost, lists get things off my mind. If it’s on paper–and not in my head–there’s less for me to think about. They also give me a delicious sense of accomplishment when I look back on them later and see that everything is crossed out (the more violent the crossing out, the better).

2) When you make the lists, over-plan.

When I create the lists, I make sure to schedule everything as if it’ll take me more time than it really will to complete. Not only does this give me the illusion I have tons of time to finish, but it also gives me elbow room if I fall behind. I think of it like a self-created buffer. Because of this, it takes stress off of me as I work, and gives me relief if I don’t work fast enough.

3) Use good music like a pre-epic movie battle speech. 

When I’m in a crunch and really stressed out, it helps to have good music to turn to to keep my head up. Usually this helps take my mind off the stress, as well as get me motivated and positive.

Here’s some examples:

“Hold Your Head Up” by Argent

“Under Pressure” by Queen

“Fooling Yourself” by Styx

4) Take time to relax.

Along with having good music to get me motivated, it’s also helpful to have something relaxing for slowing down. When the workload gets really heavy, it’s easy to feel hurried or caught up in a rush. Taking a moment to close my eyes and listen to some kind of white noise or nature soundtrack helps keep me centered when projects pile up.

Two of my favorites:

5) Know when to stop.

I used to work on projects without stopping until I finished. I never pulled any all-nighters, but I was in the habit of staying up until four or five in the morning–and getting little sleep–to complete assignments.

This was a problem.

It took me a while, but I eventually realized it’s better to stop working on a project, get sleep, and start again early in the morning, than trying to plow all the way through it in one night. Now, I try to get at least five to six hours of sleep, even if I have a lot on my plate. This (plus a cup of coffee) helps me feel refreshed enough in the morning to finish whatever I started the night before.

Further, if I do get in a situation where I have to stay up absurdly late, it’s easier to do after several nights of decent sleep, than several nights of little sleep.

What about you?

I know I’m just one person, and everyone has different habits. So, I’m curious, what do others do in the crunch before finals? Let me know in the comments down below!

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Wendell Berry: Eating Responsibly, Pt. 5: The Economy and Technology of Industrial Food

The Hungry Gap

wendell berry pt_05

In his justly famous essay,The Pleasures of Eating, Kentucky farmer, poet and essayist, Wendell Berry lists seven things we can all do to eat responsibly–even if we live in the big city.  I will highlight one item each day for seven days, with the hope that some readers may be inspired to read the entire essay.  It is a foundational text in The Hungry Gap.

Number Five:

Learn, in self-defense, as much as you can of the economy and technology of industrial food production. What is added to the food that is not food, and what do you pay for those additions?

Yes, this takes some time and effort . . . and it’s not all that easy to know what’s what:  opinions everywhere; facts hard to sort through.

If you don’t know where to begin, start with Michael Pollan . . . and move out…

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