Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Dear Jack

As I sit here cramming for my linguistics final, the last final of my junior year of college, I'm struck so suddenly by how quickly time has flown by. Looking past my left shoulder out over the university quad through the library windows, my favorite song throughout high school - "Dark Blue" by Jack's Mannequin - began playing through my headphones. I was reminded of a time I thought the world was out to get me. Until I would listen to that song again, I thought nothing in life was in my favor. I had the pleasure of meeting a couple times the lead singer of Jack's Mannequin, Andrew McMahon. The first time I was so starstruck that all I could manage was a brief hello and very shy "Can I hug you?" Luckily I had a better chance the second time I met him in St. Louis to tell him a little more. I felt it was important that Andy know just how much his music was an anchor in my life, during my parents' divorce, during the tougher classes in high school, during the boy troubles - all of it. I told him simply as I walked away after our second encounter, "Your music got my through high school." I didn't think the comment would mean much, as I suspected he heard many sappy or ridiculous things in his long past as a touring musician, especially for such a wide teenage fan-base, though after I turned around and walked away, he called after me with such unmistakable concern on his face, "Are you all right now?" It almost seemed to break my heart. His music allowed me to put away so much anxiety, but the look he gave me that night was paramount to any feelings of release his music provided me over the years.

Andy was on my side.
And I knew undoubtedly that he meant his concern. I knew the struggles he faced by what was so keenly portrayed in the lyrics of his music. I knew the pain he endured as a survived cancer patient. I knew the support he was capable of not only with his music, but also his campaigns (e.g. the Dear Jack Foundation) for cancer research.

He was and still remains a huge inspiration in my life. Like Andy, I hope to write with my heart on my sleeve - or, more appropriately stated, my fingertips. I hope one day to write a novel that inspires another brave soul through the worst of times, whether it be internal struggles similar to mine, or physical struggles similar to Andy's. When one day a person comes up to me after he or she has read my work and says, "Thanks. You helped me through the bad times," I'll know, as I hope Andy knows, that I have succeeded in my life-long endeavors.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Overnight Outdoor Vigil Project

My final project for Nature and Human Nature class required that we students spend a night and morning from 6pm-6am out in the wild, with nothing but a tarp on which to sleep. We were completely exposed to nature and the elements throughout the night, and were told to document our experience in whichever way we saw fit. The following text is transcribed from my journal, written last night on the vigil:
Overnight Outdoor Vigil
La Plata, Missouri
3-4 May 2014
Start: 7:50pm, 3 May
I’m set into my designated spot for the vigil. I have a plastic tarp to lie on and a warm throw blanket from home. I have this small portable battery-operated desk on which to write the half-documentation, half-stream of consciousness narrative that is the final project for my Nature and Human Nature course. I have a running mind that is making it difficult to focus only on these menial descriptions.
7:54: Extremely strangely enough, I’ve only so far seemed to acquire a bittersweet peacefulness in this natural atmosphere. It hasn’t felt the same it did for me during my freshman year of college, wherein I took backpacking class, and the newness of the overnight outdoor experience provided me with enough enthusiasm to get me through the tougher parts, such as a storm and flash flood that late night in April 2012, for which my backpacking instructor had not anticipated. Now I feel only little sureness that I will be tackling tonight with enough adrenaline powered by enthusiasm to allow me to stay awake the entire night.
7:59: I’m finding I’m a bit unforgiving toward insects: I just spent a good minute trying to kill a tick that jumped on my tarp with insect repellant. I flicked it off my tarp with my pen and left it to die in the grass. I feel very little remorse as I continue to write – no sympathy for the parasitic creatures.
8:00: I’ve had a bit of a change at heart. Very recently I watched without distraction a bird picking its way through the brush toward me, just to my immediate left. I willed it to come as closely as possible by keeping myself still.
8:06: Now I’ve just seen a rabbit skimper away. The cottontail must have noticed my movements. I hope to get better at this stillness thing.
8:07: I do believe at this rate I could fill this journal solely with words about tonight. Without the distraction of modern devices, my mind is going a thousand miles an hour. I truly feel I’m just now discovering my potential. My creative mind has never felt freer.
8:09: So quickly these rural Missouri woods have grown on me. It even bothers me now that Alicia, my classmate closest in proximity to me, is so near to my right. I wish I couldn’t see her and the frequent shine of her light, despite the fact that I know my small light on this portable desk must feel a nuisance to her in just the same way. I’d prefer it if the only movements I were hearing right now were the movements of wildlife, as my main distraction now is the mere knowledge that I am placed equidistant from so many other humans. I find it odd that only fifteen minutes ago I half-heartedly felt I needed the proximity of other humans to get through tonight.
8:11: The sounds! I find it hilarious now that only last week I downloaded a white noise application for my smart phone. This app allows you to fall asleep to noises in wildlife. I was using electronic energy to fall asleep to a noise I could experience for free in the wild. So many little things can be accomplished simply every day if we were just to accept exposure to nature’s cure for them.
8:15: I’m now applying the first layer of clothing I brought: a light-weight dark green painter’s coat. If I remember clearly from the weather forecast, it should be about 62 degrees now.
8:16: I’ve applied so much insect repellent by now. I don’t know if I could ever see like Dr. Kelrick to go without any kind of repellent for a night out in the woods. I believe I may have developed a phobia for parasites after reading Scott Westerfeld’s Peeps two summers ago. All right, so other humans and ticks – those are my only current unwelcome concerns. Already I’m learning valuable things about myself.
8:17: I’m cautious now of some of the movements going on in the brush surrounding me. I want all of them to be movements of the wildlife, but I know how likely it may be that they belong to a human. I slightly regret that Dr. Kelrick did not place us farther apart.
            Though I know my creative mind will keep me up most the night, I wish I could use this night in the woods to recalibrate my circadium rhythm with the sun. I am excited to wake with the sun, but I wish to sleep while it too rests.
8:20: I didn’t know the train was so close here. It’s extremely comforting to hear, though. I imagine now this time last week. I was with my friend Tim, showing him for the first time the hidden treasure of the “train bridge,” located very near here. He absolutely loved it. I know there is something special about him, especially when I saw the way he reacted after the first real rush of wind hit us from the under-passing train. I felt the magic and reacted to it, too, just the same way he did, and when he later told me he wished he had kissed me there on the bridge, I wished he had, too.
8:22: The brush on my way to finding a good area for my bathroom breaks was very unhappily thorny. My experience here tonight would have been much less pleasurable had I brought any less heavy-duty gear.
8:29: The sun is a very dull glow in the skyline. I am facing south south-east, with my face pointed slightly right to catch its last dying breath here on the third of May, 2014.
8:31: I feel the need now to do more listening and observing and less writing.
8:38: It’s funny now to think I thought the university farm was nature. Now, in comparison to these woods, I feel it was too manicured at the farm – so touched by human hands.
8:39: I’m in a state of peacefulness I know I’ve never before achieved. I don’t want to spend my time documenting all this anymore – I just want to live it.
8:44: Knowing that the Mississippi River is so close by, being so close to a train, and sleeping on the forest floor in Missouri makes me feel like Huck Finn.
8:45: Time is going by so slowly. I can’t believe it’s only been five minutes since last I put pen to paper. I want to set aside time to do an outdoor vigil every year. Everyone needs to experience this recalibration of natural peacefulness frequently in their lives, and I know as a writer possibly fated with the lifelong task of writing indoors and at a desk it will be doubly so important for me to continue this vigil throughout my life.
8:51: I’m thankful for this clear night, and the knowledge that comes with modern science.
8:56: No matter if it is a void into which we are writing and talking – I think we continue to do so because it is all our species knows to do.
9:05: As I lie, the Big Dipper is immediately above me.
9:10: The train passes by every fifteen minutes. I wonder if it’s a nuisance for anyone. For me, it means comfort; it means home. It means Valmeyer, Illinois.
9:51: The stars are all so incredibly visible, though it’s difficult to see the constellations through the overhanging tree brush. I doubt I’ve ever seen a clearer night sky.
9:52: Some small creatures seem to be attracted to my desk light. There are positives to living in this particular part of the continental United States – one largely being the threat of large animals on a camp site.
9:54: The cold doesn’t seem to bother me as much as I thought it would. It should be about 59 degrees now.
10:39: The rabbits are incredibly enthusiastic this time of night. Their thumping is keeping me from napping. One is close by the head of my makeshift bed. Now is time for another run of the passing trains. The cold is finally beginning to seep its way through my clothing layers.
10:42: I just shined my phone light on an extremely close rabbit. It just stared. I may have just learned I am frightened by wild rabbits: Donnie Darko now comes to mind.
11:23: A RABBIT JUST JUMPED ON MY TARP AND SCARED THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF ME!
11:26: Still trying to catch my breath after the rabbit incident. Another train is coming.
11:44pm: For the past hour, I’ve been too wrapped up in my own diverse array of random thought to remember I’m out here in the great outdoors. My mind has shifted from what I plan to do this summer – see my Montana friend, take care of my great-grandmother, finish writing my book – to an earworm of a song called “The Rainy Season” by Hunter Hayes. Hopefully I’ll not recede into my mind too often the rest of the night.
12:04am: I’ve gotten up to pee three times and every single time the jagged silhouette of the dead tree at the foot of my tarp bed has scared me to death. I am glad for the view the glow of the moonlight casts on the trees. The shading contrasts provide a beautiful pattern of intricately woven branches, like lacework.
12:06: Still trying to get a nap in. My mind is running a thousand miles an hour.
12:55: Feet are freezing. My only regret is not having brought an extra pair of socks.
            The rabbits still have not settled down enough for me to sleep, even if my mind would allow for it.
            The stars are more beautiful than ever.
2:02: I’ve never been so worried about keeping my feet warm. My toes have gone numb. Took of my shoes a bit ago and brought my knees up to my chest to keep them as warm under my throw blanket as possible. They seem to be warming up little by little.
2:08: I started to feel a little lonely until a heard another train going by. I wonder how many different trains pass through here every day.
2:30: Still feel extremely cold. A story my friend told me about getting frostbite during our semester in Northern Ireland comes to mind. It’s beginning to seem completely unviable that Bear Grills does the things he does. You couldn’t pay me enough to subject myself to this more than once.
2:52: Another train. More peace from the restlessness.
2:53: I think again of Tim and the train bridge. I think of how fortunate I am to have these comforts.
5:52: I am finally beginning to feel hungry. I am comforted by the fact that we will be leaving the woods soon. My body aches a bit from contorting under the small blanket to fit my long body.
5:56: My visible right hand neighbor is waking. I was hoping to use the bathroom soon without paranoia of an audience.
5:58: Through the brush, I can see that my classmates are beginning to make their way back to camp.

6:00: I enjoyed getting to have this natural experience, to think as well as be out in nature for such an extended amount of time, and with such a brilliant stellar view. Not many people my age today have the privilege to say that. I encourage all who read this to do the same. See what you can get for ditching the American lifestyle for a bit. Just once.
End: 6:04am, 4 May