New Orleans is a city poised on a thick foundation of blazing character, clashing culture, and defiant uniqueness. I was only there for a day – but that much was apparent. But I also perceived, from my brief time in the French Quarter, a city frozen in the time-warp of tourism. No city ever stays the same, but when we make it a landmark in history, we threaten it’s authenticity. I admit – I was guilty as a tourist. I also recognize that I wasn’t there nearly long enough to comfortably make this assertion, but I felt it none-the-less. Maybe those of you who know the city more can counter me – I hope you can.
Category: General Thoughts
On my way to work this morning I fishtailed on the highway for the third time this winter. That’s more times than I’ve ever fishtailed in one winter before, ever. I’m in Pennsylvania… I grew up in Maine. Since I brought my car down to PA I’ve only grown increasingly more frustrated with the PA road clearing process. That’s the first problem: the state needs to get on top of it’s sh**. But also, the further away from Maine I get, the worse the driver’s are.
Why are we always in a hurry? We’re so intent on getting where we need to go we even skimp on cleaning our cars off. Do people not understand that cars are deadly, that by driving like a maniac you’re endangering yourself and everyone else? I hate driving in the snow. Even though I’m good at it (did I mention I grew up in ME?). I take every precaution I can to avoid driving when there has been a storm – but often I’ve found myself in the “don’t have a choice” situation. I keep wondering why that situation exists – what is more important then the safety of you and those around you, not to mention the state of your vehicle?
Especially today. Sure, there are jobs that people need to go to – doctors, for instance, emergency responders, etc.; but for the rest of us, much of the work we do can be done from home, yet we still head out in dicey conditions. Many (most) people who drive in snow storms don’t need to, making it even more dangerous for those who have to. I’m lucky to have a wonderful work place relationship with my boss, so we talk realistically about conditions and she trusts me enough to work from home when it’s bad out. I know that’s not the case for a lot of people. I encourage people who are bosses to have that conversation with your employees, let them know their safety is more important, and when they do ask to stay home – realize it’s not about being lazy. And employees, don’t be afraid to speak up for yourselves – it’s your life, be careful with it.
Stay home. Or pull out your skis, snow shoes, or… snowmobiles…
I’m lucky I’ve escaped this winter so far without a single scratch on me or my car. Unfortunately, every time I fishtail I instantly get ‘Jesus Take the Wheel” in my head, which is a recipe for instant tears…. but if that’s the worst that happens, I can settle with it.
Americans spend an average of 35 hours per week watching television. 35. That’s almost a 40 hour work week, completed after work. On an average work day that is 8 hours working, 5 hours watching tv, 8 hours for sleeping, and then a measly 3 hours to do everything else (talk to people, cook food, commute, take a shower…).
Let me just reiterate: 35 hours PER WEEK. On average. For all of America. NOTE: That doesn’t include the time we spend trolling the internet. And yet, we claim to be “so busy,” so stressed.
Now I could be one of those people trying to convince you not to watch tv, or at least watch less, or live entirely without one because you’re wasting your life and brainwashing yourself – but other people have done that, and I can’t preach what I don’t practice.
David and I don’t own a tv. First of all, tv’s are large. Second, they’re expensive. But third, they’re unnecessary… because we have a computer with Internet. So we really aren’t off the hook, at all. But for a month we were.
In the month of January, for various unimportant reasons, we were without internet. At first we embraced the concept – we had to go to coffee shops to check email, we didn’t have Facebook, we would have more time to do other things.
We’ve read many, many simple living blogs and articles that attempt to convince you that living without a tv will give you so much time to do other things (101 other things, oh my! – notice that #1-#4 still involve a screen…).
And we did, and do, a lot of other things. We’ve checked of most of that 101 list. We exercise (a lot), read, write, cook everything we eat, do lots of crafts, do yoga, visit with friends, etc. We call family members frequently and have cleaned, sorted, and flushed out pretty much everything from our possession we possibly can – there’s simply nothing left to simplify.
And guess what… we’re still really freaking bored.
When we got internet back (mostly because I telework and paying for cafe food got expensive really fast) we found ourselves, subconsciously, reverting to our old Netflix, Hulu, CBS.com habits (still under 10 hours per week – and we’ve gotten into documentaries lately, that helps, right?). I think that most of America feels the same way – we get bored, so we watch tv.
This fact has bothered me, pretty much every day, since December. I hate being bored. And I don’t want to succumb to the habit of turning to screens in boredom. But after two hats, a dog sweater, a huge scarf, two hand-sewed tank tops, and 8 pairs of earrings – I just don’t have the craftiness in me right now.
I’ve spent some time trying to figure out why we, people who truly embrace hands-on living, are falling into this “tv trap.” The reality is, we live in a tiny town, in a tiny apartment, with very few things. We have friends around and we see them often but we don’t like to spend money on going out, eating out, or other entertainment that costs money, and our friends aren’t available every single night. So, in order to make excuses for myself, and to try and get somewhere with this post… here are some of my theories as to why I’m feeling this way:
1. Living is too easy. We have outsourced much of our usefulness to technology. We have electric heating so we don’t need to cut firewood, haul water, heat water, or light lamps. Our clothes are ready made. We can type, we don’t have to write. We text so we don’t need letters. All of this might seem a little radical but it’s true. Technology has made our lives better, in a lot of ways, but things like washing machines, dishwashers, processed foods, iTunes, electricity, and oil heating have given American’s a ton of free time. So much so that even though David and I do a lot that the average American doesn’t: like cook all our meals from scratch, preserve most of our food, and create our own music (sometimes) we still end up bored.
2. Winter sucks. It just does; and with easy heating, snowblowers, and electricity we don’t have a lot of extra life stuff to do. You can’t grow food in the winter, exercise sucks unless you have the money to buy the equipment, and every two days it’s a snowstorm so you can’t make it out to see your friends (or maybe that’s just how it feels right now…). There’s a lot more free stuff to do for fun when you can get outside.
3. I don’t have responsibilities. I don’t have a pet, or a child. Those things take up time. So while I’m complaining now, I probably will look back and hate myself for it when dependents take over my life.
4. We’re moving. When you know you’re moving and you can’t take “stuff” with you it’s hard to start projects. We don’t have tools or crafting materials or other stuff that might make being creative easier. I like to make stuff, to build stuff, I’m not a big draw/paint kind of person. I sort of wish I was because that would be more transportable.
What I really want to know is: Are other people feeling this way? Am I alone on this one? Please – I would love some input on this, because it’s driving me insane.
Last year, around this time, the air was thick with the buzzing tension of a class of seniors stressing about their futures. Everyone claimed they didn’t want to talk about it, yet everyone still did. To a certain extent, I escaped the tension within myself (though I was still affected by everyone else’s stress). I knew where I was going to be. My farm job was secured.
Last night, I went to campus to see some girl friends in the current senior class – beautiful, talented, smart, and driven women who will all be perfectly fine. The tension was there, prevalent as ever, and this time (a year later) I’m actually a part of it. But as a graduate, I have a different perspective. I don’t have the stress of classes, extracurriculars, impending culture shock, theses and research hanging over my head – so things seem a little less bleak. I’m already in “the future,” so there’s a lot less to be afraid of.
I think that college students (including my former self) have the wrong outlook on what the “future” is. It’s scary because, unless you’re going to grad school, it’s the first time in your life that your life isn’t scripted. For most people, there’s no template for how your life should be laid out – you don’t need to be somewhere specific, or be at any one job for a certain amount of time, you get to choose what kinds of jobs to look for. You get to call the shots. You get to fully shape your life. That’s what’s so exciting, and so terrifying, about being in your 20s.
But under all the stress of being a senior, college students have trouble seeing the exciting – they only see the terrifying. They put too much pressure on themselves to find the perfect job and to have a detailed plan before May. What they don’t realize is that life won’t end if you don’t have a job by June 1st. You’ll just end up with more time to look for the perfect job, to move somewhere random, to travel, to do things you haven’t had time for, see people you haven’t seen – live a little, find yourself. You don’t need to find your career immediately, in fact, I’d argue you shouldn’t.
I can’t say that I’ve perfected this mind set. I still freak out, regularly, about my own future. But I am learning to put a lot less pressure on myself to know exactly what I want to do, where I want to be, and when I want to get there (let’s be honest, even if I had answers, they’d probably change before 2016).
If I have any advice for current seniors it would be to relax, to believe in yourself and what you’re worth. Don’t fear June, it’s just another June like every other June before it – it will come and everything will be fine.
When I was a kid I loved journals. My mother often took me and my brothers to the local bookstore and I would sneak over to the isles of fancy notebooks while my brothers picked out picture books, or more often, played with the trains. Gingerly running my fingers over their leather spines I imagined how it would feel to fill their textured pages with my words, thoughts and feelings.
Eventually my mom caught on and over several Christmases and birthdays I amassed a small collection of them – some leather, some embroidered, some enveloped with amazing photography. I treasured the books for years, but I never wrote in them.
Occasionally, I sat down with a pen and opened one. I explored the distinct coolness of its cover and the grains of its pages. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to write, imagining it unfolding across the page; then I put my pen down, shelved the book, and headed outside to play.
That was during my preteen years. Those years after blissful, naive childhood but before the grueling, time-consuming academics of high school. It was a time when I could still afford to be creative but was starting to forget how.
Children are born with unapologetic creativity. The kind of “creativity” I am talking about is the kind that strives to understand the world through engaging all six senses and a curiosity that doesn’t know the meaning of embarrassment. Kids dance, play, sing, draw, paint, without any reserve. I was definitely a good example. But there comes a time in a child’s education where the capacity for undisciplined creativity is lost. For me, I encountered that transition at the end of elementary school – when the concepts of perfection and order were introduced. By the end of middle school, raw and unrestrained creativity was all but shut out of my learning. There was no longer room for self expression, and more importantly, no more room for failure.
When I opened those journals I had an idea in my head of what the final product would look like; my handwriting, the format, the substance of my words. In those instances where the pen hovered over the paper the pressure of my own expectations frightened me. On the rare instances when I actually wrote something I never made it more than a few pages; I lost the pen I was using, I forgot the correct heading format, the words I was writing felt all wrong, or even, sometimes, I simply made a spelling mistake. No matter what the project and situation was, if it was no longer perfect, I abandoned it.
Sometimes I wonder if our education system is teaching children that perfection should be revered while failure should be condemned. This setup leaves no room for creative thinking or exploratory learning; in fact, it punishes children for these actions unless they happen to achieve perfection on the first try. For me, the lesson that failure is unacceptable seeped so deep into my world that it began to affect even the most private area of my life – personal journaling. If I couldn’t be creative there then I couldn’t be creative anywhere. I was setting myself up to live a life of constant personal disappointment.
Ultimately, I got extremely lucky. I landed several amazing, unconventional, teachers during those crucial years. In high school I joined a community theater, a place dedicated to reteaching children and young adults how to express themselves. While there, I forgot the stifling expectations of an accelerated high school experience by reminding myself daily that failure is the mode by which you discover who you are and how you learn.
But not all children will have the opportunities I had or be exposed to the same experiences. I don’t know what the answer is, or really how to define the problem, but it is something that merits attention. First of all, we can’t sustain a society on a fear of failure because it implies fears of experimentation and innovation which are the base of all positive change and problem solving. But almost more importantly, raw creativity and the exploration of self-expression are the two most beautiful ways to experience life, and no child should ever, ever be afraid of them.
The last week of strawberry season I worked the stand by myself most days. One particularly hot and slow day there were only a handful of people in the fields, one was an older couple that I couldn’t help but watch. They had brought buckets upon buckets to fill, the woman asserting that she aimed to make 100 jars of jam; “It’s an all day affair,” she confided. Through the early afternoon their laughs rang across the still fields like a pair of perfectly harmonized song birds.
The man came with his third round of strawberries. He set it on the table, breathing heavily and leaning on the table slightly. As I weighed up the flat and added it to their ever growing list he asked me about our raspberry fields. I repeated my well practiced speech on why we weren’t opening them for U-Pick this year.
“You know,” he said as I handed him his berries, “Black raspberries are so much better than red ones anyways.” He leaned closer and lowered his tone, “We used to have a ton of bushes but she made me cut them down, you know, so she could have a lawn.”
“I needed space for a garden,” his wife asserted, appearing out of nowhere, visibly affronted.
He jumped in surprise and turned towards her. They locked gaze for a few long seconds, his eyes narrowed, her eyebrows raised. Then he grunted in her general direction, and scuffled back towards the truck with his flat.
She signed and turned to me, “You know, we’ve only been married 35 years.”
I laughed, “I can tell.”
Her face fell and she looked flustered, “No I mean we’re best friends.”
“That’s what I can tell.”
Glancing off towards the truck where her husband was loading the berries, her face softened and her eyes took on a brighter shade of green. “My heart still leaps when I see him when I’m not supposed to… well, you know, when he surprises me.”
She returned to the present and realized she was talking out loud. A bit embarrassed, she grinned sheepishly and turned towards the fields. As she walked away I muttered to myself as much as to her, “That’s how it should be, what we all hope for.”