Linemen can be as invisible to the rest of us as the deadly electricity they work around every day. We look for them only when the light switches quit working.This was a fun story to report.
In a place like this, where family is everything, the start of school changes the environment. We went out to the lake the other night with a cooler full of beer and watermelon. A few weeks ago every turn-in and campsite held a truck and an RV. Families sat around fire pits on vinyl lawn chairs. Lord of the Flies-looking bands of kids marauded the beach carrying sticks. Jet skis and wakeboard boats skipped across the water.
But now we could park anywhere. The farmers had drained the lake over the summer and the beach expanded far past the tree line. We drove on the packed sand as far down as we wanted, then spread out an old quilt and, aside from a guy up in the trees listening to the Steve Miller band “Life’s been goooooood to me so faaaarrrr” from inside his camper, we were alone. Fish jumped in the still water. Clouds moved over us. The sun set.
A year in Nebraska really is the full cycle of life and the memento mori comparison fits. When you know the cold death of heavy winter waits it doesn’t take anyone much convincing to live while it’s still warm.
American Airlines sent me a letter informing me I didn’t have enough miles to buy a plane ticket anywhere, but I could subscribe to nearly a dozen magazines for free. I went for it. Harper’s, the Sun, Outside, Travel & Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, GQ, TIME, and, for Nammin, Health and Elle. Gifts for your brain. In the summertime we can’t keep up.
If most of the time I feel like I haven’t matured enough, I can take comfort in the conversation I had with Nammin while we sat on that blanket. We were talking about plans and the future when I did something I’ve never done with any girlfriend or roommate or anyone really. A lot of the advice you hear when you start writing is tips from jerks. Guys like Faulkner who talked tough, who said things like a writer needs to be able to steal from his grandma. There’s lots of advice about closing doors, telling people not to bother you. Just stop being nice to the people in your life and get the work done. But I try my best to treat people well. I took the door off my office a long time ago. I asked Nammin on that blanket if she would mind if I made a hard push to get a book done by next year. A lot of lonely, solitary hours. Time she would spend alone in turn. She said “no, I don’t mind. I’ve been wanting to make some art, too.” I never knew that about her, and I never would have known if I hadn’t asked.
I didn’t know what I would get paid to write this article. I didn’t ask. It doesn’t matter. It won’t make a tangible dent in paying the rent on my apartment in
If I’ve learned anything in my short time here, it’s that I have to pay attention to the signs. For instance, people I’m close to are talking about moving to the Pacific Northwest, all the interviews and essays that have caught my attention lately are about places like the Three Sisters Wilderness in Oregon or the canyonlands in Utah, and I am continuously pondering the value of wildness in both people and their surroundings. I see the theme. I’m not sure what that means for me right now, but recognizing my reality is the first step in realizing it.
Henry David Thoreau is one of those writers who you feel like you’ve read even if you never have. I’ve read Civil Disobedience, but not Walden. That’s going to change soon. Still, anyone can imagine turning away from the city and building a cabin in the woods. If Bon Iver did it so can you. In our technology-obsessed world Thoreau’s ideas are more important and relevant than ever. The survivalists already know this. I don’t put much stock in end-of-the-world thinking. But it’s true that the most tamed among us will be the most lost if the grid goes down.
As the cops in this country become more and more criminal, with weapons handed down to them by the military that they’re not trained to use, retreating to the forest continues to gain attractiveness. I’m not anti-government. I pay taxes. And I’m not joining a citizen militia. But I am disturbed by reports like this.
For now, I’m going to keep writing about life in Nebraska. Human Parts is curated by an editor I know from back when we both wrote for Thought Catalog. (Who paid me at the time.) The plan is to write an essay for them twice a month. I like the look of the site and it pays well enough. That post I put up here yesterday about the email conversation I had with a listicle website editor perfectly encapsulated what’s wrong with Internet publishers and editors. They try to sell young writers on payment in exposure. If you’re a young writer reading this, trust me: Don’t write for free. You’ll end up resenting the people who publish your work and you’ll be less motivated to do it. When you’re young you don’t think about your time actually being money. But when you get older, and time starts to take on a more finite nature, you start to think of it differently. Not only that, but writing for free sabotages all the people out there trying to pay their rent with words. Those are just a few of the multiple reasons that you should always demand payment for your work. Oh, and places that don’t pay you also don’t edit you and if you’re young you should be writing for places that at the very least will help you get better.
I’m stepping down. It’s almost, like in one of Adam’s best songs, five o’clock in America. It’s a Faulkner novel title and I have old friends in town to eat and drink with. Keep fighting.
Don’t let the internet do it to you
Real email conversation I just had:
Predatory website: Hi Bart!
I am contacting you on behalf of XXXXXX, a social blogging platform where users can create and share stories in the form of lists or listicles, as we like to call them.
At XXXXXXX, we have a new contributor program meant to expand the audience of talented bloggers and writers. We believe in giving new writers an open venue where their voices are heard and are not restricted by any editorial team or lengthy submission period. Being accepted to our program means that a writer’s content has the opportunity to reach over 500,000 visitors that we receive in a month. We understand how important it is for writers to expand their online presence by writing content for numerous outlets like Buzzfeed, Thought Catalog, etc. We hope that XXXXXX can become one of those outlets for you!
For more details about this unique opportunity, please check out the link on our website: XXXXXXXXXXXXXX
If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to e-mail me at XXXXXXX
Are you paying contributors?
Predatory website: Hi Bart,
Thank you for the interest. At the moment we are not considering paying to our contributors.
Let me know if you are interested. You can use XXXXXXX to reach more people and gain more followers for your stories.
Me: Not interested. I don’t work for free.
My generation continues to look for community — everyone does — but coming back to a place like small-town Nebraska, so many people have left, and of course you can make your own community, but in little places it’s hard to find people living on the same level, to find your people. So you spend more time on the internet because there are people like you there. But those people aren’t really there. My friends from high school went to college and most stayed gone. Those who came back took opportunities too good to pass up. Family businesses. Jobs in fathers’ law firms. Winning lottery tickets. They’re doing well, but they miss the city.
Everyone Knows This is Nowhere
"People think they know me because I grew up here. It’s a small town. You never really escape your past if you live in a place where people remember you. Where you encounter your former teachers on the street or faces you can’t put a name to. I see the family doctor who delivered me at the table next to me during dinner."
Read more from this essay of mine at Human Parts.
Holy cow! Check out this great cover story of us in Kansas City’s The Pitch! Huge thanks to David Hudnall and the Pitch crew!
August 8, 2014
We went up to the Sturgis bike rally last weekend. That’s where the pictures above are from. Sturgis is about four hours from here, and every year we get a steady stream of motorcycles coming through on their way up. Last week the sheriff pulled over some 30 Hell’s Angels for “failure to yield.”
It’s too easy to connect motorcycles and writers to Hunter Thompson. Especially when mentioning the Hell’s Angels. There are things about Thompson’s life and work that I respect, as I do any writer who fought hard enough to make an independent living, but I’m certainly not an acolyte. I’ve owned and enjoyed motorcycles, yet I wouldn’t consider myself a biker.
For a few weeks in August every year, the town of less than 7,000 people in the foot of the Black Hills becomes a packaged experience in biker culture. It’s a lot of fun to see all the bikes and the people on them, for sure, but even a counter-culture that thrives on liberty and rejection of institutions and norms can be unwittingly commodified.
We spent the day looking at the new models of Indians and Harley-Davidsons, sipping on beers in the bars that line the street while the bikes came in, and, more than anything, watching the people. The bars had girls in them who came in for seasonal work to dance for tips. The waitresses worked in their underwear. Butt rock ‘80s bands played free concerts. It was a perfectly cliched vision of a biker party, and it was the whole town.
At the Jack Daniel’s Loud American Pavilion the Jagermeister girls gave guys free shots if they could do ten pushups. The house band played loud, note-perfect country covers. I watched a 20-something couple — good-looking, dressed urban — expertly country swing all over the dance floor. The band played John Anderson’s “Seminole Wind,” one of my favorite tractor songs as a 13-year-old boy and I thought about how I had mostly rejected my rural background as I went through adolescence and young adulthood. I was never able to accept the world I had grown up with as enough. I knew there was more out there and I thought the only way I would ever experience it was to reject how I had been raised. Which is to say I was jealous they knew how to dance so well.
I saw a guy wearing a T-shirt with an outline of the U.S. that read “Fuck Off We’re Full.” I wonder if he wore that to Mt. Rushmore, where the next day everyone was speaking different languages. I found it ironic that at that great icon of American patriotism, I heard more languages being spoken, including Mandarin, French and Spanish, than I have since I was in the international wing of an airport.
As summer fades and winter could come to Nebraska as soon as September, I’m anxious to spend as much time in nature as I can. This interview has been haunting me all week. In fact, I’m going outside right now.