Friday, August 25, 2006


A full day of busting our asses and the trailer is finally loaded. I have no expectation about where I'll be in a week, it's just too far from my current experience.

The strange thing is, I know when we actually arrive there this undefined potentiality will solidify into a banal day-to-day reality and life will continue something like it does now. Only, you know, completely different.

I love that feeling.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

South Dakota is the Moon

Or it may as well be.

We had a VISTA training last week in Albuquerque, NM, which was nicely coincident with a trip we were planning out there anyway. 5 nights at the MCM Elegante Hotel, where every fixture was held together with duct tape. Well, not really, but it certainly felt that way when the elevator got stuck for the third time.

There were about 130 other wide eyed VISTAs there, about 60% women of, say, 25 years or so (note to unattached male college grads: VISTA training is the place you want to be), the other 40% represented a very diverse cross section of people from all income levels, ethnic backgrounds and ages. At one table, I discussed the nature of poverty with a 50 year old woman who'd spent the last decade of her life on TANF welfare, a young woman whose father was "in the top 1% tax bracket" (her words), and a 23 year old anarcho-syndicalist recently emigrated from Mexico.

Oh, we DID figure out all the causes of poverty and quickly whipped up a couple of extremely simple and effective solutions that I'll be happy to share with the world for a mere $500,000. A price that I believe is quite reasonable. Leave a comment if you want to take me up on this.

Courtney and I seemed to be headed to the most "exotic" location. Most VISTAs serve in their own communities, or make a move across country to a place like Tuscon, Arizona, which is undoubtedly a change but not as dramatic as ours. I suppose I felt a certain smugness when, during introductions, our announced destination of was greeted by more than a few "whoa"s. We'll see how that smugness gets me through a lonely South Dakota winter, though.

After the general VISTA training, Courtney, myself, and two other girls had an extra day and a half of training specific to the National Society for the American Indian Elderly VISTA program. Of course, there was a lot of useful information about the Knowledge Preservation Project and the needs assesment that we will be initiating on the Reservation, but that's not what sticks out in my mind. No, what sticks out in my mind is this: Medicine dogs.

Oh, medicine dogs. See, part of our training in regards to the needs assesment consisted of a briefing by the head of the project, a professor at the University of North Dakota who is of Lakota birth. He told us about various cultural issues that we may encounter while administering the survey to elders in their homes: eat whatever is put in front of you; be willing to sit and talk for a long time; don't express shock at the living conditions; and watch out for dogs.

"Especially watch out for... well, we used to call them medicine dogs. See the families give these dogs a root in their food that makes them get real big and mean. I mean, they're still nice with their family and all, but they really run down intruders. I don't even get out of my truck if I see a dog on the porch, I just honk and wait for the person to come out. If they ask, I say 'I didn't want to get out of the truck because I thought maybe your guy up there might be a medicine dog.' I'd suggest that you guys bring a clipboard or something, something that you hit a dog with if he gets mean with you."

So, yeah. Medicine dogs.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Impending 2

And now, the whys.

So, we've been offered the opportunity to move 1000 miles away to the Pine Ridge Reservation, a place many would consider the middle of nowhere (300 miles to the nearest "big city", Aurora, CO, pop. 200,000). A place, I might add, with most of the same problems that third world countries struggle with: deeply rooted poverty; high infant mortality; extremely low life expectancy; a history of sometimes violent political turmoil, etc, etc. A place where we will be, for the first time in our lives, members of an extreme minority (Census data has the White population pegged at 1.12% on the Reservation, if you're keeping score), with historically uneasy, shall we say, relations with the area's majority. Quite a change.

Some of our friends have made it clear that they think we're insane. So, then, why are we doing it?

A number of reasons, but today I spent some time thinking about my inclinations in a more abstract sense. Here's what I've come up with:


Because the world is a big place, and it’s far too easy to forget about the parts you haven’t seen.

Stick it on a greeting card, people.

I also wrote some very rambly nonsense about heuristic judgements and a peculiar parable about a child and a dragonfly, but upon review I think that the above statement is perfectly sufficient in summing up my reasoning, as well as making me sound vaguely pretentious.

If anyone wants to hear the dragonfly story, I'll be at the Dog and Duck in two weeks time with a "Will Ramble On Pretentiously For Beer" sign around my neck.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


Let's start with the wheres.

As I mentioned before, we're moving to the Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Reservation, South Dakota.

(Quick quote from the wiki: Unemployment on the Reservation hovers around 85% and 97% live below the Federal poverty level. Average annual family income is $3,800 as of 1999[1]. Adolescent suicide is 4 times the National average. Many of the families have no electricity, telephone, running water, or sewer. Many families use wood stoves to heat their homes. The population on Pine Ridge has among the shortest life expectancies of any group in the Western Hemisphere: approximately 47 years for males and in the low 50s for females. The infant mortality rate is five times the United States national average.)

Specifically, we are going to be living in the town of Manderson a village of 600 about 45 minutes from Pine Ridge proper. We know very little about it, except a few pieces of advice from the former Vista worker who was stationed there before us:

"The people are open and kind," she said. "You'll stick out like a sore thumb, and everyone will watch you. Just don't get involved in the feuding families."


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

An Unexpected Mogwai

An unpleasant feeling: reading a story for a fiction workshop and suddenly realizing that it's a fanfic.

This has happened before.

On the one hand, I'm certainly not opposed to fanfic. People write what they want to read, and the craft is such that improvement comes through doing. Have at it, fanfickers! Dress up Sailor Moon any way you want! Enjoy yourself! But please, unless you're going to write a screenplay at some point, consider Pokemon Meets X-Files an exercise, something to share with your like-minded friends.

Because, you see, when a fanfic crosses the border from the insular Superheroes In Love community site to the outside world, well, its jarring for us. How, exactly, am I supposed to critique ideas unapologetically lifted wholecloth from another author's work? That's the problem, as succinctly as I can put it. A large part of the story is beyond criticism because it comes from a previously existing narrative. It's cheating. And hiding. And the fanfic authors aren't giving as much of themselves as someone whose ideas are meant to stand on their own originality.

Well, back to Gremlins VIII.