Unqualified to Submit

I worked really hard writing this grant, and then found out I’m unqualified to submit it.

Some say, “school’s not for everyone.” But others say, “a college education is the only way to avoid dead end jobs, and poverty.” Back in 2005 I wrote an essay as a freshman at Seattle Central arguing that as long as rent is paid, and food is on the table, there’s no reason to scrounge for more money trying to pay for school. Soon after I handed that paper in, I quit school, and started temping. I greeted people, answered phones, made copies, and filed. I was following a dream though. The plan was to author one of the greatest novels ever written. Two zines, and a short movie later, I still had an unfinished novel. I put the novel on indefinite hold to travel to Australia to intern for a non-profit called Vibewire. I was desperate to be apart of a team of creatives. So, I jumped at the opportunity.

I’ll never forget volunteering at the 2011 Melbourne Writers Festival. There I was, sitting in a packed auditorium full of aspiring writers, listening to a panel of journalists, authors, and editors discuss their projects. I raise my hand and ask the question, “when exactly did your writing hobbies turn into careers?“ One by one, the writers embarrassingly admit that they had day jobs to pay the rent. It was as if I had blown their covers. I think most of us in that auditorium assumed that the people on stage were getting paid for their work, but they weren’t. So, after the last writer answers, the moderator chimes in, “If any of you think that you’ll actually be able to make money from writing, think again, most of you won’t.” I couldn’t believe he said that to a room full of aspiring writers who paid good money to sit in an auditorium to listen to the cream of the literary crop talk about their place in the industry. My heart fractured that day, and my dream was a little crushed. There I was, in Melbourne Australia, a UNESCO “City of Literature,” volunteering at the annual writers festival, I wasn’t getting paid, in fact I was unemployed and looking for work at the time because the writing job that I traveled 10,000 miles for fell through upon my arrival. So, when the moderator told all of us in the audience that we probably wouldn’t make it as writers, I thought to myself, “maybe he’s right. Maybe I’m wasting my life away chasing this dream.” I saw him walking out of the building later, and he didn’t look very happy. I wondered how he felt delivering the body of bad news. I suppose I’ll never know.

After a year of gaining life experience in Australia, I returned home to DC. I was grateful to leave Down Under after enduring all of the misadventures. I felt exhausted, numb, and uncertain of what to make of my time. I felt I had no direction, I had no idea how to follow the dream anymore. So, I didn’t. I worked odd jobs for two years, from barista, to personal assistant, to server. I was biding my time. On the rare occasion, I visited open mics around the city to share poetry, but for the most part I was heartbroken and waiting for something good to fall out of the sky. I traveled back to the northwest to try my luck out there one last time. I wasn’t able to make a connection though, and could not do like my peers and retire as a young person in Portland.

Towards the bottom of 2008, it seems that luck became scarce; however, it was glorious at the top. I landed a sweet temp job at The Allen Institute for Brain Science, in Seattle. That job afforded me the peace of mind that was needed to accomplish the larger goal that was creating my very first literary zine, and short movie. I was paid well enough to cover my rent, put food on the table, and create art. It was a dream come true really. I also made a lot of great friends in the process. I had a really strong run in Seattle for the most part. That is until the economy tanked. In November 2008 I exhausted my time with the Allen Institute. It’s actually illegal to temp for more than nine months for a company, and although I was a frontrunner to sign on with the Institute as a permanent employee, they explained to me that the temp agency was asking for too much money, meaning, The Allen Institute would have to buy me out from Parker Staffing. So, in November 2008 I was released from The Allen institute, and into the barren job market. A lot of work dried up; so, I survived by living off of credit cards, savings, unemployment, and help from my family. Surviving “the worst economic crisis since the great depression,” is not easy, especially for many artists who are just trying to follow their dreams.

It can feel distressing to struggle with your passion. We all want to succeed with our passions. So, maybe that’s why I’m at a crux. On the one hand there’s enrolling into school, with the objective to get a degree in landscape architecture; however, it’s very clear to me that my goals are becoming improbable to achieve. Committing to school is one thing, but 2 to 4 more years living at my parents house is quite another thing. I plan to move out before starting school, which probably sounds insane. Why not just live rent free, focus on school, and be done with it? Well, the truth is, nothing in this world is free. There’s a price to pay for all decisions. If you’re not paying one way, someone else is paying for you, and I don’t want my family to have to pay for my school. So, after much brooding, the idea to WWOOF emerges. Over the past 2 years or so I’ve been fantasizing about tiny houses, cob houses, eco villages, and organic farms. That’s the real reason I chose landscape architecture for a major. I want to be apart of these sustainable movements. I want to find a way to live eco efficient, at a low cost, and have more free time to properly care for my environment. Out of those daydreams springs forth the plan to travel the country for 6 months to a year working on organic farms in return for room and board. So, I place the following ad on Craigslist, titled Together we’ll WWOOF.

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? — it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies. -KEROUAC

On that note, I’m looking for a travel companion. Perhaps, you’re looking for me. If so, keep reading.

My name’s Jonathan, sometimes a nickname emerges whilst adventuring though. I just went by “J” towards the last portion of my last trip. The nicknames change, I guess it’s kind of a tradition now.

Something you should know about me is that I don’t drive. I never really learned how to do it properly, but that never stopped me from embarking on adventures in the past. I moved from DC to Seattle when I was 21, lived out there for 4 years, and when I was 25 I moved to Australia and lived there for a year. So, I’ve done my fair share of adventuring, mostly alone though. When I came back from my last adventure, I promised myself the next time I go on an adventure, it will not be alone. So, I’m deliberately seeking a partner to share the “vaulting world” with. Maybe you?

If you’ve made it this far into the ad, I’m guessing you know what WWOOFing is, maybe you’ve even WWOOF’d before. Well, for those who are just intrigued and curious, allow me to explain. WWOOF is an acronym for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (https://www.wwoofusa.org). From their website: “WWOOFers generally spend about half a day on a host farm, learn about sustainable agriculture, and receive room and board — with no money exchanged between hosts and WWOOFers.” I first heard about WWOOF while living in Australia. I was encouraged to WWOOF while I was there, but my schedule did not permit me to do it. Now that I’ve got plenty of time on my hands, and hopefully you do too, the opportunity is golden.

From what I understand, working on an organic farm can be quite laborious. So, the fainthearted need not apply. However, If you’re interested in learning about crop rotation, soil amendment, biodynamic farming, and permaculture then definitely consider responding to this ad. Serious inquiries only please!

I feel like now is the time to think outside the box, that’s why I posted this ad in the creative gigs section. Our country seems to be in a slump, what with all the unemployment and debt crises. Maybe it’s partly due to so many migrating to cities, aspiring to make a certain amount of money, and pay for a certain standard of living while here. Aside from those aspirations, it is evident that many of us actually aspire to discover certain things about life that money can’t buy. It’s not enough to work 40 hours a week for mere survival anymore, we want to thrive without the threat of poverty looming overhead. We must free ourselves first though, think outside the box, and lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.

So, if you’re interested, please respond. I get along with most people (which is helpful), but it’s always nice to send a few emails, and eventually meet, to check for compatibility. Ideally you’ll have a car, with a clean driving record. I’m actually working on getting my drivers license, and together we’ll split gas money. I have a WWOOF membership which gives us access to a directory of organic farms in the US that participate in the WWOOF program. It’s a $50 expense, but I got us covered. I’d like to try to WWOOF for an entire year, and document the experience. So, I’d like to team up with someone who can make a commitment of at least 3 months. So, we could start together, but if you need to part ways that’s understandable. Let me know how long you’d like to set out for, and I can manage to find another companion. You must be 18+, since WWOOF requires a parent or guardian to be with those under 18. I’m 29, and live in DC.

Per aspera ad astra!”

So far I’ve received encouraging words from friends who would love to go, but can’t because many of them are tethered to obligations that they just can’t escape. That is one aspect of this project that I will definitely highlight. I will interview people who struggle with a monotonous, mundane schedule for the sake of basic survival, i.e. working to put food on the table, pay rent/mortgage, maintain healthcare, as well as keep the internet, cable, and Netflix accounts active. I will examine what it means to be free in a society where many of us suppress our spirit of adventure by bonding ourselves to jobs(not careers) that afford us a version of comfort and security that is very intertwined with money, which has the power to free us from the “work to live” cycle, but only if one day we can have more money coming in than going out. Most of us are faced with that conundrum. I know I am. I suppose what makes me different is my willingness to experiment with my time, rather than lock myself into the “stable” system that most cling to. Although, if it weren’t for my family, I would be homeless, or probably working a dead end job that I hate. It is because I am privileged to have a family who supports me while I’m experimenting with how to move forward in life that I am able to try alternative routes to becoming the head of my own household.

I think we’d all like more time to spend with family, friends, and hobbies, but everyone’s time is awfully compromised. We spend most of our time working. Perhaps we should investigate and implement protocols of ephemeralization, the ability to do more and more with less and less, into society. I’m all for working hard, but working unnecessarily hard doesn’t make any sense to me. Especially when all of us just want to thrive. Every single one of us is striving to grow and reach our full potentials in some way, shape, or form. Even the homeless man begging is trying to improve his situation. It’s easy to judge, but falling on hard times can drive you crazy. So, as I explore the countryside, my goal is to document ways in which people thrive in a simple fashion. If I am successful in showing how basic needs can easily be met, for little to no money, the question then becomes, what exactly is poverty? If it’s possible to grow an abundance of food, and it’s possible to build a tiny house for under ten grand, and it’s possible to get most of your energy from renewable resources, then does poverty become more about legislation, and less about how much money one makes; more about status symbols, and less about necessities? If laws are stifling people to thrive by their own volition, should those laws be revised? I will get to the bottom of those questions and more as I travel the country interviewing farmers, families, artisans, builders, homesteaders, and other WWOOFers, as I take full advantage of the opportunity to work on organic farms.

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