Category Archives: Life

Wisdom Bound

My friend from high school went to Yale, as a teenager posed with the knowing smirk of youth under a poster that read “Broadway Bound.”

In from Chicago she emailed me, and I saw her the other day for the first time in 17 years. Still slim, beautiful, talented and funny. Married to an electrician, her work is caring for her sons.

A former film professor, someday she’ll take up her craft again. If she had not dropped acting, would we say we all knew she was destined for fame?

I for one wanted to high-five the woman I met yesterday right there in the cafe, who looked me in the eyes with the frank honesty of real-life happiness and told me she had married a true and honest man who deeply loved her.

Young people dream of fame, but fame picks only a few. Happiness, the real goal hidden from so many (!), is equally particular. 

It favors, blessedly, the wise over the beautiful. Being a sane, loved, actualized person of integrity, no matter your role in life, is an artwork (emphasis on WORK) decades in the making.  

Congratulations Amy! Gving up less happiness for more happiness is not a compromise. I didn’t give up my dreams either, I just set the more ridiculous and ill-fitting ones aside to step into the dreams of a heart that grew up.

College Newswriting 101

One semester of newswriting, six weeks of being a college news reporter, distilled.

When you’re done with an article, check two things: your lead for impact, and your first attributions.

Don’t write a word about something until you substantiate what they said/what happened. (I would not say I learned this the hardest way, but I did learn it in a way that was so hard that over a week later I am still catching up. Not to mention the gross factual error in my WPVM article. Substantiate, friends!)

Don’t get caught up in pre-writing questions for an interview. I am still figuring this one out, but today I noticed that my interview went fine with no questions prepared. We just talked, and I still got lots of the good stuff.

People do not realize what a complex process it is to produce even a college newspaper, much less anything larger. It is a group effort requiring, skill, communication and buttloads of hard work (that is infamous for not paying well). BTW, you’re welcome.

Don’t be shy. You’ll be sorry.

People really will assign shitty motives to you because you write the news. People will on occasion assume you are out to get them when all you want are irrefutable facts.

Even intelligent people with integrity can misunderstand important events and unintentionally mislead the person seeking fact.

Stories change like lives, like children, like traffic, like weather. Stories evolve and grow and disappear and explode. Therefore, have a good and understanding editor.

There are stories the mind wants to tell. You will want to see injustice when there is none, and lies when there are none because your mind wants story to have certain shapes the way your car seems to want to drive to work on a Sunday even when you are really just driving to the dog park. You will need to train yourself with real wisdom and discipline to tell the unknown, revealed story that the facts tell, not the pre-shaped one that your mind wants to tell. This is hard to describe but when you live it, you will know.

There are layers to every story. The more good strong, relevant ones you can process and integrate, the better your story will be. You can’t be perfectly objective but you can sure as shit process perspectives and be wise as to which ones shed light.

Rest of My Life, Here I Come

Science blog?

Music blog?

Knitting blog?

College blog?

Personal blog?

Writing blog?

Me and the blog just don’t know anymore. We decided today that this blog reads like a group blog from five different people. We thank you for sticking around despite this.

*****

As far as the garden is concerned, this is the very peak of summer. I wish you could see the yard.

butterfly bush (purple and white, crawling with a dozen species of butterfly & the monarchs are yet to arrive)

phlox (two shades of pink)

Japanese anemone (lovely pale pink-purple)

osmanthus (white)

nasturtium (orange)

dahlia (red)

oregano (pink)

mint (white)

freesia (purple)

sweet pea (pink and white)

gladiolus (pink)

black-eyed susan (yellow)

And all of it in bloom. My housemate stepped out of the house today with a look on her face of the kind of deep appreciation you give a large and delicious-looking plate of food that has just been placed in front of you. Having Julie here helps me see the place with new eyes.

Today I saw the first changing leaves, the leaves of some five-leaved weed turning a sunset red-orange. A harvest color. Harvest time is approaching, with its spiderwebs, crisp apples, cool mornings and skies of blue crystal. I do love early fall.

Rest of my life, here I come.

The Sound of a Lawnmower, Not Too Close

(The vase Kate gave me, full of summer flowers. This is my favorite vase ever.)

I love the mixed bag the seasons bring sometimes. Even a jumble can be beautiful.

Lately here in WNC it’s hot, but with cool mornings and evenings. The butterflies are here to coincide with the flowering of the well-named butterfly bushes. I saw the first hummingbirds of the year about two weeks ago, and the first hummingbird moths this week.

This week has also brought the year’s first tiger swallowtails. My blueberry bushes have put forth their meager crop (maybe a single bowlful all year), and my tomato plant holds (so far) a single huge fruit of a rich and shiny yellow-green.

The blue jays have called their rusty-hinge call in the back yard all day.

I had summer planned out pretty well, but summer’s such a complex operation when you’re a working student with three months out of the year to take absolutely everything off the back burner and try to get done what you can.

So as summer’s half over, it seems like a good time to talk about my summer so far.

I had my work plans totally in a row, only to see everything rearrange itself.

Fancy new tech client is experiencing “a bit of a lull,” which is no one’s fault but the instability of freelancing is getting old lately. My wonderful internship has been put on hold for more than a month so far, and I wonder if I’ll be able to complete it before school starts back. My main web content client is in Europe for the summer, and more power to him, but this means that more web work and my latest payment from him are both in a holding pattern. There’s no bad blood — ordinarily I don’t let late-paying clients slide, but this is a special situation and he probably had the trip planned for months.

So I’ve been on involuntary writing leave. I applied to work at my local yarn shop. I’m a little tired of the pitfalls of freelancing this summer.

I thought about pitching this and that, but in the end I just let the summer take over. I’ve been working in the garden, visiting sick neighbors and looking after the ailing Geniune, who had spinal surgery last weekend (herniated discs, doing fine but in a lot of pain). I’ve discovered AMC’s excellent (so far) original series Breaking Bad (might have more to say about that later). I’ve been catching up on blogging, guestblogging for my Colombian documentary filmmaker guys, dining out with friends…

But even some of my friendships have not gone according to plan, as the overworked Rowan is working an internship and a job waiting tables (on top of co-producing this year’s Laugh Your Asheville Off festival, which is now THREE DAYS LONG and the largest comedy festival in the Southeast). Heather was off in Bolivia for two months and is now home but back to work nannying, and no doubt still settling back into life in WNC.

Ah, I guess every summer can’t be like last summer. They really are different every year for me, summers, and this one is showing me how pitiful the strength of human planning really is. Even my poor new housemate, who has been here so brief a time I have not yet mentioned her in the blog, found herself stranded in Carrboro over the weekend with a busted radiator ($700). She’s unable to have her car looked at until Monday, unable to pay her half of the utilities until she gets home, unsure of what to do. I’d come get her, but we’d only have to drive back to pick up her car.

So I guess this is the summer when everything went wrong, but everything was OK anyway. I’ve still had lovely times with other friends, cooked TONS of homecooked healthy food,  and still look forward to this year’s river trip and a WEEK on Tybee Island next month — my first real go-somewhere vacation in years.

The garden is beautiful and I’ve had time to look after it again, weed it, water it, put in new plants like my first-ever dahlias (red) and gladioli (pink).

When my housemate Julie came to see the house, she was clearly utterly enchanted with the garden in a way that lets you borrow another’s eyes and see again for yourself the beauty you’d forgotten, all the more nourishing as you realize it is the result of your own hard work and skill. And I have worked very hard.

I do love a garden. It’s the place where so much of what I love comes together — the natural world, the natural world as befriended by the human, the fight against entropy and chaos, a place to sit on a porch on a warm summer day when the sound of a distant lawnmower is to your ears what the taste of chocolate is to your tongue. Reassuring and wonderful, something to get lost in.

I dearly love the sounds of summer. Birdsong and mowers and the occasional scattered crescendo of shouts from young throats that reaches me on the winds that blow over the neighborhood pool a block away. To me the ultimate sound of summer, one that makes me sink into feelings of sun and heat and white clouds motionless in bright blue skies, is a lawnmower, not too close.

Summer is totally here. Afternoons at 12 Bones, evenings on the porch, cool mornings at the computer doing what I am doing now, writing and reaching out into the world in this way that I love so much.

Next month it will all begin again (and I sighed as I typed that): school, grades, exams. Studying, up late, up early. But summer always comes again, literally and figuratively. Again and again and again and again.

I’m a Summer Science Screenplay Intern

Attention conservation notice: This is about my new summer internship writing science movies for NEMAC, a science outreach organization based in the campus of the college I attend.

From my NEMAC Student Researcher/Intern Project Description Form:

Jennifer is part of a 10-member team creating a series of all-ages educational science movies about water issues in Western North Carolina. Her team includes two animators, earth science profesionals, the French Broad Riverkeeper, a professional storyteller and an immersive cinema designer. Jennifer is a script intern helping create screenplays for four short films exploring WNC-specific water science and conservation issues including drought and the effects of runoff and impervious surfaces. This film series will be professionally voiced and animated and shown to people and policy-makers all over the area in an immersive half-dome cinema.

Check out the half-dome, yo:

Cool, huh?

The guy who designs these works not far from me. I have followed his career for years; my impression is that he’s really admired among Asheville’s technorati and new media types for running a successful and incredibly cool business involving the ground-up creation of immersive/unusual film experiences.

Check out his company’s amazing client list.

Anyway, he’s the one we are making the movies for in part, to showcase a half-dome cinema like the one above. We’re also educating people about water issues, a growing concern everywhere including NC where drought and record-breaking heat have hit us yet again, after a miserably droughty 2007. (We just went through a beastly bout of 90-degree weather that felt like the worst of August — and it’s still springtime.)

This internship started back in April/May when I was still in school, when I got an email telling me about an Americorps job working for The Media Arts Project, an Asheville new media organization that I have long admired.

But I couldn’t work full-time, much less at Americorps rates; someone with my level of experience deserves better pay. I deleted the email wistfully.

A few days later at school I decided to look over my required departmental competencies, a list of things students need to do or have before you can graduate that largely lie outside of taking classes. Stuff like having a portfolio and getting a two-week gig shadowing someone at work.

Lately my friends Rowan and Heather are really starting up the fascinating extracurricular things college students are SUPPOSED to do, but that older students make excuses to avoid. Heather’s doing medical volunteering and Spanish immersion in Bolivia; the world-famous Rosie is interning as the first person hired by a local hospital’s multi-million dollar alternative healing program, and came within a hair of traveling to Ireland to do research.

Me? I was planning to spend summer working and sitting on my ass in the evenings with a DVD and a string bag. It was time for me to do the things college students are supposed to do. All of them, like exploring new things and not getting paid much for it, all summer long.

An internship, a REAL one not taken to just check a box on my yellow competency sheet, sounded like exactly what I needed. I mean, traditional college students don’t intern so they can graduate. They intern to try something new, to go somewhere new, to see if they like something they think they might want to do forever. Without these experiences you might end up at the mall selling handbags. With them, you might end up blogging from an internet cafe in Bolivia about how now you are absolutely certain that medical outreach is what you want to do for the rest of your life.

I thought of The MAP and how they were hiring. I couldn’t work full-time…but did they need an intern?

I emailed the exectutive director of The MAP and said I was a professional freelance writer looking for an internship, and that my interests were in documentary screenwriting, scientific visualization and science writing. Her reply pretty much boiled down to “Have we got a job for you.”

When we watched the first movie the team had produced, it surprised me with how well-done it was. I had quietly expected local work to be sub-par, but it soon became clear that I was working with Asheville’s cool kids.

When I was in my early 20s a friend auditioned for a band. They were older than him and a lot cooler and a lot more experienced playing music. We called them “the cool dudes.” They tolerated my friend hanging around, but never asked him to play with them. At this meeting I felt like I had lucked onto the cool dudes, and they wanted me to play.

On my second day I met with the primary screenwriter, a professional storyteller. He knew so much about narrative and used intriguing phrases that made my mind explode with curiosity, like “charismatic image” and “involvement device.” At the end of our meeting he asked what I wanted to do and I said that I would just punch up what he was writing and since I wasn’t good at coming up with images, I would just write text.

He laughed. And he pointed out that people don’t do internships to stay in their comfort zone and do what they always do.

So that week I wrote my own screenplay draft, coming up with images, voiceover, the works. It was very well-received and everyone at the meeting loved it.

So of course at a later meeting my work was picked apart! No one was rude; I just got an honest critique of some very real problems with my work and got some serious insight about how not to present screenplay text.

It’s been awhile since I was an inexperienced newbie, and I was down all that day until I realized I was back at the start of a profession again, back to not knowing, fumbling, flailing, learning. And that there was no other way into these new things than to slog through ignorance, listen to others and ask questions, let myself be helped, be unexceptional.

At 39 I am an intern, a proper intern. I am being paid $10 an hour, having my picture taken for a bulletin board, turning in a bio, filling out a timesheet. I am new and I am allowed to be ignorant. It takes experience, confidence and competence to recognize that ignorance can be OK sometimes. This is one of those times.

I welcome my ignorance as part of giving myself a strange new skill in a strange new world where a writer is both robbed of her power by being forced to say less, but given a new and numinous tool: visuals. I am learning to write multiple streams for eye and mind and ear all working together.

I filled out my NEMAC paperwork with an absolutely beautiful tall woman in sandals who wore a long red scarf. She was intelligent and charming and genuinely concerned that I learn and experience new things. My whole intern experience has been permeated with a strange flavor that tastes of kindness and science and other new things I don’t always get to taste at work and had never expected to any more than I expected to find a $50 bill in my shoe this morning.

Walking out of the small NEMAC office it hit me what I was searching to understand, the strange new factor that was making this job so different: This is the first job I have ever had that is not driven by profit.

NEMAC must work to stay alive and thrive but its goal is not to further itself financially but to work with and impart scientific knowledge. The constant tension of money is here, but it’s not in every transaction of word and deed.

I walked down the hall of the chemistry department where NEMAC is housed feeling such a strong attachment to and happiness with the world of academia and nonprofit that for the first time UNCA started to feel like a forever place, like an intellectual base of operations one could base some of one’s life work out of.

I walked back to my car. Outside a summer downpour had begun, complete with crackling lightnings and such wet and pounding rain that it soaks the exposed part of my backpack not covered by my umbrella. The water rushes along the sidewalks and washes over my feet, covered only by flip-flops. As I walk, my pantlegs get wet almost to the knee from soaking up water from rivers of runoff I walk through, flowing over the campus streets and sidewalks.

I cross the street and stand in the middle of the road right on the yellow lines in the middle of a clear, shallow sea of rainwater that rushes at my ankles and thunders down the three storm drains I can see.

I am stilled here because the movies I am writing have let me know that the runoff that rushes down the drains is fast-tracked into my local river, the French Broad. This makes the river’s water level rise far faster than it would otherwise in a storm. Without the impervious surfaces of human life, rainwater falls on earth, leaves and branches and makes its way to the river very slowly.

But storm drains, the ones that choke down those silty orange rivers that flow down your street so deep you can barely drive through them, they send all that water to the river as fast as it can go.

Impervious surfaces and storm drains don’t cause flooding. They just give it a major artificial assist and deny the ground the water it soaked up for centuries before asphalt.

Knowing things I never knew before, I walk back to the car under my pink umbrella and drive home, kicking up orange rooster tails as I plow through the worst of the water, thinking of floods.

All-Asheville collaborators:

Klein Digital

Booksmuggler

David Novak, kind to interns

The Elumenati

The Media Arts Project

RiverLink

The Colburn Gem and Mineral Museum

Semester Grades Spring 2008

I’d be more upset about my first non-math C

if I did not know that knowledge was far more important than grades,

and also that while I like that guy IMO his quiz and exam questions need improvement.

Ah the peace of maturity

where the perfectionist realizes that perfectionism is a symptom of feelings of inadequacy

and that no one really cares what grades I make, so long as I learn and, eventually

graduate.

I did poli sci for myself as a treat, not because I wanted to pursue it professionally but because

at the end of the day

after long annoying classes of media ethics and international communication:

poli sci tastes just like chocolate.

It’s Never Too Late to Be a Happy College Student

The dogwoods are close to their peak. This time last year, a freak late frost and snow killed springtime. Crops were ruined (acorns, strawberries, apples) and yards and gardens took a brutal and lasting hit. Japanese maples were especially hard hit, with some dying and most just losing all or most of their leaves, and spending an entire year naked and dormant.

Scenes from last year’s spring:

A dogwood limb with dead flowers like dirty tissue draped over the branches.

null

My back-yard bleeding heart plant, frost-killed just as it puts forth the year’s first white blooms. The stems and flowers rotted and the whole thing eventually died back completely:

null

Scene from this spring:

This is a college student from good old UNCA, wearing shorts and a dingy t-shirt, relaxing in a tree full of spring blossoms. This pic was taken this past Thursday by John Coutlakis of the Asheville Citizen-Times.

I love it because it captures the ease that most of us seem to lose with age. We trade in the cargo shorts and string anklet for heels and hose and ties and a mortgage. There’s got to be some way to hang on to the right and the leisure to read books in trees. Why are experiences like these the purview of college students, and no one older?

Lately I’ve come to realize that the main hidden benefit of college may be the way it opens avenues to new experiences in new places.

A young woman I knew from last semester — the cross young copy editor, in fact — spent a transformative semester in Washington, D.C. working for women’s nonprofit groups.

She fell in love with the city. She fell in love with her work. She’s thinking of holding off grad school to explore herself and her life more as a nonprofit worker for women’s rights.

This is something college does well, and often at a key cusp-of-adulthood time — take us to new places and let us explore new selves and new interests. After college, we harden up, feel more tied to the sameness of our lives: the bills, the yard, the work, the pets. The routine. The familiar.

I think my next big college challenge is to find a way to let myself be like a traditional college student, and let myself, like a caring and involved parent, have some kind of wholly new experience that completely transgresses all my needs to stay tied to the life I built not completely out of growth and exploration but also out of comfort, settling and default.

Rowan canceled her trip to Ireland out of knowing she hasn’t the time to do research overseas and still graduate this year. An exciting trip to a beautiful place to do research in a discipline she finds fulfilling became just another pain in the ass to be avoided in order to Get Things Done in the sweet daily life she lives now.

Heather, on the other hand, is a glutton for punishment. Days after finishing out a rough semester of biology in early May, she’ll hop on a plane bound for South America and spend two months of medical volunteerism in Cochabamba, Bolivia. She’s going alone, leaving her husband at home.

What will she have to say about her experiences when she comes back to us?

I can’t wait to hear it all, both to know my friend’s adventures and to convince myself there are completely new experiences still waiting for me, ones that can show me unexpected things about myself and my world that in my safety I never knew and never had a chance to know. Never knew how to know. And then one day I was 39 and the cats were hungry and the car was making a weird noise and my deadline for the website was Tuesday…

I realized while talking with a friend that my main problem with the international studies program at UNCA is that it actually requires that one spend multiple semesters abroad, instead of, as the friend and I would have preferred, letting us learn about other countries from the familiar safety of our own town. How inconvenient of the program to ask me and her, women grown and well over 30, to pull up stakes for a whole semester. We didn’t have time or money, we agreed, for such a thing, no matter how interested we were in the program. No matter how interested we were in the world.

Seconds after speaking I realized the utter stupidity of my position.

Not that I live a timid life for nothing but money and work. But I have never spent a semester in Washington working for women’s rights. I have never gone to Ireland to research religious traditions. I have certainly never braved all my excuses not to jump, all alone, onto a plane bound for Cochabamba, turning my back on my own world for two months.

What would happen to me if I did?