Enough clutter. Enough confusion. Enough complications.

26 October 2011

A Tribute: Outside Magazine

I have often credited New Belgium Brewery with being the pivotal link in the chain of events that led to me deciding to pursue an extended experience of living and working in the developing world. Toward the end of my third-year and over the summer that followed I was working on applications for a variety of jobs— as a consultant, as a statistician, and as a research assistant— but very few of them were ever turned in. Mostly because I didn't really want them. It got so bad that I felt physically sick when I tried to write a cover letter. Then, one afternoon, I read about New Belgium Brewery: their work philosophy and their incentive scheme to encourage healthy living and environmentally friendly commuting. I liked the idea. Not just a job, but a life. The magazine in which that article appeared was Outside.

Outside has long been a fixture in my family. Good writing. Great gear reviews (I almost always buy my trail-running shoes based on the previous year's Gear Guide best buys... they're cheaper). Content that nails my interests, and, on top of it all, beautiful photography. You can always count on the writers of Outside to provide something to dream about (that heli-ski trip in Alaska or the ridiculously expensive adventure lodge in Chile), something to think about (Urban sprawl, upheaval in the Middle East, the future of green architecture), and something to act on (the best adventure races near you, quick outdoors getaways in your city). Whatever your mood— dream, think, or do— Outside has you covered. 
This past spring, my grandma bought me a subscription and every month she and my mom send me the newest issue. When it arrives it usually sits in the post office for a week or two, waiting for someone to pass through Ocotal headed for Jícaro (a two hour trip). Sometimes the magazine takes a detour. One poor issue (September 2011) sat in the post office for a week before being picked up by my friend Paul, who held on to it until one of my bosses came through the following week. My boss got it from Paul and tried to come visit me, only to be turned back by a roadblock protesting one thing or another. The magazine then went to Managua, where it stayed until one of the other Peace Corps staff members visited my friend Lexi, who gave it to me as I hopped on a bus to go to Esteli. Sadly, I left the magazine on the bus when I got off and it continued its journey into the unknown. (Outside, upon hearing the story from my mother, sent me a new copy, which has almost completed its journey to Jícaro.) When an issue finally gets here, I invariably spend the following Saturday in my hammock, leaving only to walk to the corner store and buy coffee. Sunday, I pass it along to my site-mate Natalie. All of us look forward to a new issue making its way to Nueva Segovia.
The reason I so look forward to each issue of Outside is bigger than the magazine itself. One of my major struggles during Peace Corps has been feeling unbalanced, feeling like only some parts of myself and my personality are being expressed. I miss standing on top of mountains in the middle of the night, jumping of cliffs into lakes, the sense of anticipation you get eying up a ski run, running without being chased by dogs or laughed at, and hanging out at the bar after a long week just chatting with my friends. They aren't just activities, they are expressions of self. Every month when I get my new issue of Outside, those parts get a little attention. What I read injects something new and different into my daily life. The fresh look at things helps me me put my current experiences into perspective or makes me challenge something I used to think. Aerial photography of development in the west helps me think about urbanization and infrastructure development (Nicaragua is urbanizing at a rate of 2% per year). A ranking of the 19 best towns to live in (for the outdoors/adventure inclined) lets me ponder how such places and the establishments in them have come to be and why they exist in some places and not others. Then, of course, there is the yearly Best Places to Work issue... we've already seen what that makes me think about.

In Nicaragua I spend a lot of time developing new aspects of myself by playing with little kids and working with small farmers. I also spend time deepening other aspects, patience and flexibility, also my already impressive ability to drink coffee and ponder things. When I leave, they will demand a measure of attention just like the parts of my personality that currently feel out of place. That's the price you pay for stitching together a self from so many different places. Thankfully, there's always something like Outside Magazine waiting to help you make sense of them all.

Next up: Need I really say it? If you're allergic to nostalgia better start running...

14 October 2011

A Tribute: Crooked Still

There are many things that I have come to associate with Nicaragua. Rice and beans. A particular shade of green. Sentences that start with “fíjese que” and end with “gracias a Dios.” But twenty years from now, long after I've taken my leave from Jícaro, it will be the fiddle solo from Crooked Still's Undone in Sorrow that instantly sends my heart back to the days of riding old school buses down muddy roads through rolling hills.

I first saw Crooked Still play in Charlottesville, VA in the spring of 2010. I was making a last trip to C-ville to see some friends and ended up tagging along to a show on the downtown mall. Something about that night struck a chord that is still ringing. Maybe it was just the fact they are wonderful musicians. Maybe it was walking out into the cool VA night with my best friends and the words, “I'm young, the world is wide” still ringing in my ears. Or maybe Some Strange Country just sounded like the perfect album title for someone moving to Nicaragua for two years, but whatever it was it was immediate and it would prove to be lasting.

Now, Nicaragua is a beautiful country with a great poetry/folk-music tradition so maybe I would have continued my journey with Crooked Still regardless of where I was assigned after training. Then again, my musical interests had been few and fleeting since I gave up the saxophone freshman year of high school. As fate would have it, Peace Corps sent me to live here, with this man:

a banjo-wielding Agriculture volunteer from Michigan's UP as a site-mate. The first time we talked about music I mentioned Greg Liszt— Crooked Still's banjo player— and Kyle says, “yeah I've met him” and launches into Little Sadie. Music was soon cemented into my service. I started to learn guitar and a bit of banjo. Soon, Natalie (a Health volunteer from Iowa), arrived toting a mandolin and fresh off her own pre-Peace Corps Crooked Still concert. For the next year I wandered through a world of new experiences, full of highs and lows, sometimes feeling right at home and sometimes tremendously far from it, but with Aoife O'Donovan's voice smoothing things out and keeping me connected to that night in Charlottesville, in my other mountains and my other home.

In July I made my first trip home in 15 months. Of my six days in the States I spent two in New York getting my visa for my brother Tim's wedding in December. As it happened, Crooked Still was playing one of those nights at the Rockwood Music Hall, an amazing, tiny little venue in Brooklyn. I sat on the balcony with my brother and a good beer (family and good beer, two of the things I miss most), with a big smile on my face as everything that I'd experienced between my two Crooked Still shows flashed before my eyes. . Corey DiMario's double-bass— the first time I came down the hill into Jícaro— Greg Liszt's banjo— my shoe-shine boys and their friends drawing with my colored pencils in the park— Tristan Clarridge's cello— swinging in my hammock with a cup of coffee watching the rain— Aoife O'Donovan's voice— a class full of 16 year-old's in blue and white uniforms— Brittany Haas' fiddle— sunrise in Nueva Segovia. Sadly, (though deservedly) they are taking a break from performing in 2012 so I won't be able to book-end my Peace Corps service with Crooked Still concerts, but that night in New York everything was perfect.

Thanks guys.

Next up, Outside Magazine

Mid-service writer's block

I've been struggling through my mid-service writer's block for the last month. Writer's block is tough on me as my writing is my preferred way to process what's going on around me. While I was waiting for it to pass, I started to reflect on some of the things that have helped me deal with the past 17 months. There was, of course, my family, who received a brief hat-tip a few posts back, and some other things that I've picked up along the way like my hammock, stack of books, and my guitar. I thought briefly of including my camera (the Canon G11 definitely deserves a hat-tip, it's amazing), but I have a love/hate relationship with pointing it at things. I also thought of all my under-6 friends in Jícaro and sunrises with the cows out in the mountains, but they are part of life here and I was looking for something from the outside, a tribute to people/places/and things that have no idea they've been playing an integral part in my Peace Corps service. What resulted were the three tributes which will appear over the coming weeks. Keep an eye out!