Saturday, March 8, 2008

feed yourself!

If you scroll to the very bottom of this blog, you'll find a humble little link there for people who subscribe to news and blog feeds. Because I don't update regularly, why not establish a feed so you don't have to check every day? There'll be days when I'll post more than once, and there'll be periods when I won't post for a couple days. Save yourself the headache of unnecessary checking!


a word about money

I. Donations versus Purchases

The human world, like it or not, requires money to go 'round. While the romantic part of me would like to reject all monetary contributions, the hard fact is that this Walk won't go very far without help from the readership.

As mentioned in the FAQ, you, Dear Reader, can help out by sending money via PayPal (the donation button is on my sidebar), or you can visit my CafePress store and buy a product or two. I make a few dollars off each CafePress purchase.

For me, accepting donations is somewhat awkward because I can't shake the feeling that I haven't earned the money. I realize this isn't the point: people donate out of the goodness of their hearts, not because they're measuring one's worth or work. All the same, when someone purchases a CafePress product, I feel as though I've actually given something back to the purchaser: it's a transaction, a two-way street. I'm the one who made the design that appears on the CafePress product, and the buyer can enjoy that design.

Truth be told, I'm likely to receive less money through CafePress purchases than I am through direct donations; anywhere from 75% to 90% of the listed price goes to CafePress. But when you make a CP purchase, I'm giving you something in return-- something tangible. Not to sound crassly materialistic, but isn't it occasionally nice to receive something that has heft?

So yes, donations are always, always welcome and deeply appreciated, but you'll be doing yourself a favor if you buy a CP product. Like my book.

II. My Finances

I'm not particularly secretive about my finances, and don't quite understand why we Americans act so territorial about them. Are we that status-conscious? Revealing the state of one's finances isn't quite like stripping naked in front of an audience.

Is it?

I've never been rich, and somehow doubt that I ever will be. No one has ever accused me of being a financial whiz, and with good reason: I'm not. If I had lived a different life, a fiscally wiser life, I would have self-financed this Walk instead of burdening you with my petty requests.

As a teacher at a university in Seoul, my take-home pay isn't impressive: until recently, my net monthly pay hovered around the 2.1-million won mark (roughly $2200, US; we expats often joke about being millionaires in terms of Korean won). A few months ago I was suddenly appointed "coordinator" of my little corner of our English department, which meant a W200,000/month increase in pay (about $200/month, US).

I say all this not because I'm one of those over-confessionalistic freaks who appear on daytime talk shows, blabbing about how proud I am that my wife is also my sister. I mention this because, if I'm permitting myself to receive donations, it's imperative for you, the reader and contributor, that I be as open as possible about where all the money is going. So at the risk of making you feel awkward by being so open, let me lay things out for you.

I currently have about $2500 in my US bank account, and about $400 in my Korean account. The Korean account normally isn't this low, but I just purchased my one-way ticket home (for me, home is Alexandria, a city in northern Virginia), which has set me back about $1030. I also wired $1450 home last week (hence the total in my US account). So: $2500 in the US account.

On March 25, I'll be paid about 2.3 million won and will send $1450 of that to my US account. In April, right before I leave, I'll receive my final payment of 2.3 million plus a 1-million won bonus-- i.e., 3.3 million won. All of this, plus most of my remaining Korean money, will be wired home. Once that's done, my US bank account will have about $8000 in it by the end of April.

Along with this, I'll be receiving-- sometime between now and late May-- money from two pension sources: the Sookmyung proprietary pension system and the National Pension System. I taught for about six months at my previous job before switching over to Sookmyung; having paid roughly $100/month into that pension fund (a number matched by the language school), I should have-- at least in theory-- about $1200 coming back to me from National Pension. I've been paying into the Sookmyung pension plan for 36 months, which means roughly $7000-8000 coming my way.

In other words, by May of this year, when I start my Walk, I ought to have about $16,000-$17,000 to my name, minus the monthly debt of about $600.

Let's talk about that monthly debt, now. It's entirely scholastic: I eliminated my credit card debt at the beginning of 2007, which meant freeing myself up from a millstone that weighed around $500-600 per month. If I still had credit card debt, I wouldn't be thinking about this Walk. Let me tell you, the sense of relief after eliminating that debt was almost intoxicating. There's no burden quite like a credit burden.

But I still pay $177/month to Sallie Mae, and $300/month to Sun Trust Bank for a loan I received in 1999 to help me pay for part-time grad school work. This, plus a $12 maintenance fee, an automatic $50 transfer to a savings account, puts me at a $549/month debt (I count the $50 transfer as a debit because it's no longer in my checking account). Add miscellaneous expenses, and the total is right around $600. So despite the lack of credit card debt, I still pay a goodly sum out to creditors every month.

III. What All This Means for You and Me

Let's say I begin this Walk with, pessimistically, about $15,000 of my own money (as you see, I'm starting off with a conservative calculation, because if there's one hard and fast law of the universe, it's Murphy's Law: unforeseen expenditures can nibble away at the best-planned budgets). My scholastic/miscellaneous debt, which will be with me until I'm old and decrepit, will run me about $600/month for the duration of the Walk (and beyond). I obviously don't expect you, Dear Reader, to be my Sugar Daddy and pay off my debt for me, so I have no plans to divert your PayPal contributions to my scholastic debt.

If $15,000 divided by $600 comes out to the number 25, then I will have roughly two years' (approx. 25 months') worth of money to pay my debts, and only my debts. This is relevant if the Walk ends up lasting two years. I'm hoping to finish sooner-- before I turn 40 in 2009, to be specific-- but one never knows.

But let's say the Walk lasts 18 months, with me incurring certain expenses along the way: replacement batteries for a digicam, a new pair of shoes every other state, a winter coat or new camping equipment, replenishment of first aid supplies, paying a fee to stay at a campsite for a night or two, etc. Trying to anticipate these costs is a mite difficult. What if they come out to around $300-500/month? I realize that's a big "what if," but this is the hypothetical that highlights the importance of your purchases and donations, to wit:

If the Walk lasts 18 months and my actual expenses amount to roughly $1100/month (I'm praying they will be far, far less than this total, given my hopes for free lodging, food, shower/laundry, etc.), then an 18-month walk will run me 18 x $1,100 = $19,800 (that's scholastic debt plus other expenses). If we subtract that total from our conservative estimate of $15,000, this puts me at about $4,800 in the hole. Let's round that to $5,000.

So now, having "thought out loud" here on the blog, we have a concrete number-- a fundraising total, if you will, to shoot for: $5,000 is approximately what I'll be needing to get me through an 18-month walk. Maybe I should set up one of those trite thermometer graphics to indicate how far along the fundraising has come, eh? (I jest, but I do plan on keeping fairly open records. I say "fairly" open, because I know some contributors would rather not have their names mentioned publicly. I do plan to protect people's privacy.)

As far as I'm concerned, money I earn through CafePress purchases is mine to use as I see fit. While the buyer might be specifically trying to help out the Walk (thankee), I won't feel guilty about using that money for other reasons, such as buying myself an electronic gadget that makes documenting the trip easier.

On the other hand, I have a very heavy conscience regarding donations, and have no plans to keep any money left over after the Walk is finished. So I'm telling you now: whatever money remains after the Walk is completed will be given to one or several charitable causes, and I'm willing to discuss with my readership just what those causes might be. We'll have to determine how trustworthy such causes are, but I'm sure we can arrive at a mutually agreeable solution.

Whew... money is a complicated thing.


humble thanks

My good friends Dave and Andie were kind enough to send a very generous contribution to the Walk via PayPal. Thank you so much, guys.


Friday, March 7, 2008

what's the big idea?

I'm going to be asking you folks for a lot. In this post, I want to explain what, exactly, I'm going to need from the people I meet as I make my way eastward across America.

One recurrent question has been, "What's your route?" I thought long and hard about whether I should be planning my route in great detail, or whether I should "put myself in God's hands," going where the wind blows me.

I've decided that, given the Walk's religious theme, I'd like to try putting my life into the hands of the people I meet. This is a concept I'd had long before I had heard about Mark Boyle, a plucky, mid-20s Irishman who had done well in the business world, but then decided to rely on the compassion of his fellow human beings as he made his way-- with almost no possessions-- from his native land to Gandhi's birthplace in Porbandar, India.*

My concept, though, isn't nearly as radical as Mr. Boyle's. I plan on having a backpack. I'm hoping to be prepared for whatever weather I might encounter, based on geography and season. And I'm going to be a bit more forward than Mr. Boyle about my expectations, because I want my route to plan itself for me.

I'll be starting my Walk in Coquitlam, British Columbia, a city not far from Vancouver and not far from the US border. I'm starting there because I'm lucky enough to have a good friend out yonder who is not only excited about this Walk, but who has very kindly offered to help me get through the Walk's first baby steps.

Say hello once again to the inimitable Nathan Bauman.

As I wrote in my FAQ post, the Walk is to be a kind of "connect the dots" between various religious communities and centers-- churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, ashrams, and whatever else I might encounter along the way. I'm hoping that the space between the "dots" will be no more than 20 to, at maximum, 30 miles.

But in order to connect the dots, I need some dots to connect! I want this to be a path not of my planning: once the first house of worship takes me, they'll be the ones to point me on to the next house of worship.

So what I need is simply a house of worship within a 30-mile radius of the previous house of worship (or religious center, or whatever label is appropriate). Well before I arrive, the previous "dot" will pass along to the next "dot" the fact that

(1) I plan to stay just for a night (two maximum, depending on how late in the day I arrive, though this might change if inclement weather becomes a problem), that

(2) I want to talk with the laity and/or clergy for a few hours (say, 2-4 hours, if they want), that

(3) I'll need a place to sleep, shower, shave, etc., and that

(4) giving me food is purely optional. I can sleep on their building's grounds if they want, or if there's a nearby residence (owned by a member of the laity or clergy), I'll gladly spend the night there.

ALSO: people need to be willing to be audio- and/or video-recorded during the discussion, and I need their permission to be (a) written about and (b) displayed on the walk blog. I have zero intention of badmouthing or otherwise acting ungrateful toward any of the people I meet, so they shouldn't worry about negative publicity from me. Recorded conversations will be posted in their entirety on the site so I can't be accused of editing unfairly.

Another thing I need from that community will be guidance as to where I'm going next. This can take one of two forms: someone can walk with me to the next spot, or they can draw me a map that guides me to the next spot, including as much detail as will be necessary to get me there safely.

Finally, I want a promise from each religious community that they'll keep in touch with the next (and previous) place(s) I visit. Example: after I leave Spot B, I want the B people to remain in touch with spots A and C. Hopefully, A and C will represent different religious traditions from B, and that will be the groundwork for some sort of interreligious praxis.** If not interreligious, then interdenominational.

Another question I have gotten from several sources is, "What about travel companions?" --or I've gotten its variant, usually delivered as an incredulous, "Are you doing this alone?"

This may be a good time to wax a bit religious:

You're never alone.

Various traditions deal with this question in different ways. If you see the world as the meeting-place of big and small powers, of sprites and fairies and djinni and elementals, of ghosts and demons and deity-pantheons and fantastic beasts, then how can you ever feel alone? Or: if you believe in one personal god who created all things, who breathes life and love into the very flesh and bone of reality, then how can you ever feel alone? If you see the world-- yourself included-- as a roiling, flowing network of process and interconnection, with each place and moment like the strand of a spiderweb, vibrating the whole whenever a single part is plucked, then how can you ever feel alone? Even if you believe in none of these things but hold that human beings, animals, plants, and the entire good earth form a biotic and abiotic whole, how can you ever feel alone? By rights, aloneness shouldn't be part of anyone's worldview.*** It's unfortunate that it is.

So, no: I'm not doing this alone. I'm doing this with you.

But having given that rather abstract answer, let me now turn to the more practical dimension of the question: what about travel companions?

Because I'm a rather pronounced introvert, you might say I'm predisposed to not wanting all that many travel companions, but this isn't to say that I'm a damn hermit, either. For introverts, the right travel companion can make a long walk a true pleasure, but the wrong travel companion can rapidly turn one's heaven into a hell. While having the wrong company along might be considered, by some, a good opportunity to practice virtues like patience and humility, my inner pragmatist tells me that this Walk, a once-in-a-lifetime thing, needn't become a theater of self-abuse. So let's just say that I'm open to the possibility of travel companions, but that I might be a bit... selective.

Then again, who knows? I'm generally of affable demeanor, and I try to see the good in those I meet, so having a companion or two might actually be quite a good thing, something I might thoroughly enjoy. Can people grow to despise each other in the space of thirty miles? ...Nah.

The ideal, I think, would be to have, at most, one or two travel companions who accompany me from their starting Point A to the next religious community at Point B. The people at Point B would welcome all of us with open arms, we'd eat and talk and spend the night together, and then, in the morning, I'd continue on to Point C with new companions (members of the Point B community), while the Point A people would head on back to Point A, perhaps accompanied by another delegation from Point B. The result of these little interactions would be, I hope, the blossoming of a new relationship between and among the connected communities, a chain of interreligious flourishing. That is, after all, the small promise I want kept by every community with which I come in contact.

Does this concept seem sound to you? Feel free to leave comments. And if you want to help Nathan out, please offer him suggestions as to where my very first "dot" should be.

I'll be writing more later on this Walk of mine, but I hope you can see the basic idea behind it now.

*Mark's been having some major difficulties, as one might imagine, but I wish him well.

**The boldface section of this post is a reedited version of an email I sent to Nathan a while back.

***I realize there's a distinction between "aloneness" and "loneliness," where the first term might or might not have a negative valence whereas the second term is always negative (who wants to feel lonely?). I admit I've conflated the two concepts a bit here, but not by much: when we say "I feel alone," we're usually saying the same thing as, "I feel lonely." So I crave your understanding.