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This Side Up

If only instructions for life were this easy: This Place Now. This Job Up. All Arrows To The East.

People often make overarching statements about the cultural differences between the West and the East in the U.S. – and generally, they’re talking about New York versus Los Angeles: one big city pitted against another.

But it’s not so easy when you’re comparing mid-sized Virginia towns to tiny Ohio villages to medium-ish Colorado towns. Or when the small Colorado town is one of the most isolated liberal bubbles in the state. Kind of a cultural blip.

What I’ve missed about Eastern Appalachian and mid-Southern towns: The kindness. The total lack of pretension. Lower food prices. Lower rents. Lower cost of living. Black people. Being able to rely on community. Generosity. Good hosts. The way people have a real sympathy for other people, even if they’re only acquaintances. The way people are really aware of other people, even if they don’t have sympathy. Mixed-income populations. Obesity. Ugly gardens. Ugliness in general. Conservatives. Manners. Better drivers.

What I’m going to miss about Boulder: Sunshine every day. The total lack of self-consciousness. The beautiful gardens. The beautiful houses. Not living anywhere near a Wal-Mart. Or a CVS. Intentional living. The intellect. My favorite coffee shop from over the summer. Big skies. Being able to hike at a moment’s notice. The big forbidding metaphorical mountains.

Anyways, I’m going to on a train for the next few days, and then driving for another, so I won’t be posting until I get settled in on the other side.

Wish me luck!

On Resolutions, Goals, and Playing Cards

“We must imagine the possibility of a more just world before the world may become more just. That’s something that poets do well.”

- Martin Espada

In the progressive artsy sector of the internet, it seems pretty well-accepted that New Year’s Resolutions are over-simplifying things, at the very least. Even Oprah thinks that keeping a journal is a better method for self-improvement than making some spastic once-a-year goals (and I agree). I also like Stephanie’s (aka Biffybeans’) guidelines for making manifestations instead of resolutions.

There’s something about Boulder the United States the Holidays that leaves me exhausted. And maybe that’s why people find the idea of New Year’s Resolutions so refreshing, like a deep cleansing meditation after a bad hangover. But the general sentiment from friends and fellow bloggers is that a feeling of “stuck-ness” is more than a matter of internal motivation. Unfortunately, there really are external factors that affect your success – a shitty economy, for one. A highly motivated, optimistic, and qualified individual is not guaranteed a job, at least at the moment. In fact just such a friend of mine is currently on food stamps.

One of my big-picture goals has always been to bring these larger systems up in conversations, especially with people who believe that the individual is 100% responsible for his or her fate. Having tried to live as a low-income person in a high-income city for the past few months, I can tell you that positive attitudes and initiative can only take you so far. Chance has a lot to do with it, and so does the willingness of luckier people to reach out to you. There isn’t a lot of outreach here in Boulder, and there aren’t a lot of opportunities for poor folks to mingle with the rich folks. Let alone different racial groups.

In 1994, the KKK held a rally in Boulder. When Boulder residents vehemently protested, a KKK leader gave a speech in which he identified Boulder as a model city for the KKK because (contrary to the image of being one of the most progressive cities in the nation) “it is impossible for a lower middle class family with multiple childeren to live here.” In fact, he congratulated Boulder on achieving 90% white demographics. It took a member of the KKK to give the city a wake-up call about privilege, to show them that no amount of Buddhist meditation groups and African dance lessons will create real diversity.

Having said that, I’m no fatalist when it comes to success and happiness, and I don’t think The Man can keep you down forever. Re-examine the cards you’ve been dealt: the privileges and the opportunities, the options and the limitations. There are a lot of people who don’t have the opportunity to save or invest money, and will never have the financial padding to move to a different city or switch professions. So heck, I feel real good about being able to miserably pinch pennies in order to move across the country (yet again). Miserable, sure, but lucky as hell.

I propose we think of the new year as reshuffling your deck. See if new patterns emerge, or if you’ve been trying to play the wrong hand for too long. (Is this metaphor still making sense?)

My Hand This Year

  1. Do whatever it takes to avoid being overwhelmed by job-searching. Take a day off to rest my brain, and ask for help if I need it. Indulge in self pity if necessary, but don’t be crippled by it.
  2. Fake the enthusiasm that I don’t always have. I know that my tendency is to curl up alone and read or paint, but that certainly isn’t going to make me friends or get a job.
  3. Spend money in ways that enhance my life. I will not feel guilty about going out to a restaurant if it helps me get closer to a new friend. And I will not feel guilty about ordering lunch, if it helps me bond with my co-workers. Sometimes not spending money can isolate you and prevent you from connecting with your workplace or hometown.
  4. Be strategic with the Great Flow of Information. Because damn, it’s easy to get lost in the internet. Instead of zoning out on forums and looking at infinite other artists, use that time to read tutorials on job-searching, or better yet – to actually paint something myself.
  5. Seriously consider whether graduate school will make me happier or more marketable. And if the answer is yes, get going on that.

Painting for a Beekeeper

I painted this for a friend’s mother who’s planning to keep bees this year. Watercolor on Arches CP, 12″ x 17″

I’m experimenting with image processing in case I ever want to produce prints. A big dilemma is the texture of the watercolor paper, which shows up in both photographs and scanned images and makes the final image seem much less clean. The tutorials I read recommended the Smart Blur filter in Photoshop, but I’m still getting the hang of it – especially with a painting like this which has little splatters and lots of texture. This one in particular still seems a little dark… back to the ol’ Photoshop I guess..

 

Top Posts of 2010

When I realized that all the blogs I follow are compiling their most popular posts from this past year, I figured I’d be a sheep and go along with the trend.

Popularity is a tricky thing on a blog like this one, which covers such a wide range of topics. Some people come here for the artsy visual posts, and others are here for the sociological rants. Whatever your reason for reading The Orchard this past year, I’m grateful for the support :)

  1. Hunting the MC1R Recessive Variant Gene
  2. Why Don’t Intellectuals Go To The Rodeo?
  3. Historical Hotties and Heroes
  4. Ink Sample Tests & Reviews
  5. Charcoal Gesture Drawings

So I guess this means that my rants tend to be more widely read than my geeky pen posts. Or maybe I’ve just tagged them more effectively…? New 2011 goal: be better at blogger-networking / online optimization. Also, rant more.

After those top five, the next most popular posts were: Review of my dad’s old Pelikan 120, Habana Notebook paired with Pelikan M400 White Tortoise, and my little Handmade Book With Clairefontaine Papers.

Best Reads, 2010

Sure, I may have increased my online involvement in 2010 (tweet, tweet), but I still found time for some good paper reads. …Except for Strong Motion, which I admit that I read on my iPhone Kindle application during my morning bus rides. Also, I left out most of my class-assigned reads from early 2010. These are my pleasure reads :)

Clockwise, from top left

  1. Midnight’s Children (Salmon Rushdie). A re-read; This is one of the few books that is complex enough to re-read over and over
  2. Infinite Jest (David Foster Wallace). 1100 pages of small-font heavily-footnoted brilliance. My theory is that the first 100 pages is just a test to see if you have the brains/work ethic to read the whole thing.
  3. Close Range (Annie Proulx). Remember Brokeback Mountain? This is the collection that contains the original short story. Some of the most stunningly beautiful prose I’ve ever read.
  4. Strong Motion (Jonathan Franzen). After reading Freedom (see #7), it’s clear that this is a younger, less-developed Franzen who’s writing.
  5. Spoon Fed (Kim Severson). The memoir of NYTimes’ food writer Kim Severson. She traces stories of eight cooks (both famous and not) who helped shape her life and career.
  6. Absalom, Absalom (William Faulkner). As an English major and a Southerner, I love/hate/love Faulkner. You know.
  7. Freedom (Jonathan Franzen). Brilliant, Read It Right Now, Enough Said. Also, note the similarity in cover design for this and Infinite Jest..?
  8. The Poems of George Herbert. Reformation-era poet who wrote “architectural” poems, both in the content and the structure of the poem. Super cool and geeky.
  9. Wieland, or The Transformation (Charles Brockden Brown). Family curses, religious fanaticism, vulnerable women, and madness! …Supposedly this is the first official American novel.
  10. The Journals of Joyce Carol Oates. Smart lady, moments of insight, but gets repetitive quickly.

Lunar Eclipse

No matter how much science you know, watching an eclipse puts you back in the days of Babylon, wondering if the world’s gonna end.

Quick and Dirty Pen Review – Noodler’s Flex

Oof, apologies for the lack of posts this week! I’m leaving my job and preparing for yet another big move. So there’s lots of reflection and a long to-do list on my part, but not a lot of blog-productivity.

Luckily, when my brain needs a break from job searching, I have the new Noodler’s flex nib fountain pen to play with. I bought this from Goulet Pens, and you can read Brian Goulet’s own review here. The unique thing about this pen isn’t a spectacular flex nib or beautiful design, but that’s it’s priced at $14.

Flex nibs for $14 just doesn’t happen, frankly. This is mainly because it’s incredibly difficult to mass-produce a flexible nib– it usually involves some hands-on work. Thanks, Capitalism, for leaving us with only vintage pens and expensive customizations as options for a flexible nib! And as far as I know, nobody’s quite sure how Noodler’s is producing these so cheaply. Brian’s hypothesis involves Oompa Loompas, and I’m just hoping that the secret is something like “patience and devotion to the craft” rather than, say, any exploitation here or overseas.

Although the flex factor isn’t drastic, this cute little nib definitely qualifies as a flex nib– as opposed to the nib on my Aurora Ipsilon, which most pen geeks would say “has some spring to it.” The difference is that when you’re writing regularly, the Noodler’s nib still responds to the slightest pressure change– whereas with the Ipsilon, you have to think about pressing down for flex.

Well heyyyy there. Hopefully you can see from my mediocre calligraphy skills that this flex is legit. In fact this is probably a great first pen for somebody wanting to get into calligraphy without the mess and supplies of a dip pen.

I tried to include three different writing styles so that you can see how this nib will work for varying handwriting. I saw the most shading on this third part, probably because I was writing faster and therefore the nib put down less ink on each letter. Compare this to the calligraphy, above, where I was writing more slowly and the ink color is fairly dark throughout. If you happen to write in all caps, a la The Pen Addict, you’ll get a bit of shading but will probably be annoyed by the responsive nib making lines widths inconsistent.

P.S. Credit goes to Rhodia No. 14 for the writing surface ;)


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