Category Archives: culture

Frozen Dead Guy Days

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It is perhaps one of the strangest festivals one will ever encounter. In Early March, the town of Nederland, Colorado, situated slightly above 8,200 feet (2500m) in elevation, puts on a festival to celebrate an event or more accurately a series of events, that is bizarre, obscure and optimistic at the same time.

A man names Breto Mortol, who died in 1989, has a family who believes that one day it will be possible to return a well preserved body to life. When he died, his family had his body frozen to preserve it, and shipped from Norway to the United States, where it is preserved in a shed in Nederland, Colorado, awaiting the day when technological advances will start bringing people back from the dead.

The primary event at the festival is the coffin race.

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To commemorate the steps involved in preserving recently deceased bodies, teams of 7 race each other through a muddy obstacle course, with one person laying in the coffin and the other six carrying it. Each team is responsible for making their own coffin. They also dress up in unique costumes with a variety of different themes.

Overall, it is an event like almost nothing else ever encountered.

The festival features some other unique events like polar plunges and frozen T-shirt contests, as well as some more typical festival entertainment like live bands and beer tents. The entirety of the experience creates the kind of mix between the familiar and unfamiliar that make things interesting. After watching the coffin race, I had the desire to attend every unique quirky festival like this I could find.

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It wasn’t all pleasant though. As it is in the Rocky Mountains in the early part of March, it was both windy and muddy. For some people, depending on tolerance of conditions like these, as well as level of intoxication, weather like this does have the potential to tamper with the level of enjoyment of a festival.

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Nederland, Colorado is quite a quirky town. It is tucked away in the mountains, but only a 40 minute commute from Boulder. It is often the refuge of people who left Boulder because it was becoming too corporate and mainstream for them. It also attracts people who want to live in the mountains. This creates a quirky yet outdoorsy and individualistic vibe that is into alternative ideas and ways of living. It feels reminiscent of Vermont. From a sociological standpoint, it feels like the ideal setting for a festival celebrating a person who has been cryonically frozen for thirty years in hopes of being brought back to life in the future.

At times, life can be full of work, stress, and trying to protect our status. Sometimes we just need an excuse to party!

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I hang this National Day Calendar not because I believe every day someone declared, such as Open and Umbrella Indoors day needs to be celebrated. However, there are a lot of things in life that deserve to be celebrated but aren’t. We hardly ever take time to celebrate things like friendship, being heard, or some of the simple joys in life like our favorite foods or the people that impact our lives in subtle but important ways.

Uniqueness and optimism, the main tenants of the story behind Frozen Dead Guy Days are certainly worth celebrating. Not everyone’s dream is to one day resuscitate their deceased loved ones (and hope that someone will do the same for them when they die). Some of us may dream of a world where travel is easier, communication is better, or access to food is far easier. All of these dreams require both uniqueness and optimism. Most of the beneficial technological advances we currently enjoy are the result of a person or group of people exhibiting these traits in the past. It is for this reason I will gladly continue to celebrate optimism and the courage to be unique in whatever form it takes.

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A Phone Free Day Every Month

The last time you picked up your phone…

Did you intend to look at your phone at that specific time?

What prompted you to look at your phone?

How long did you end up looking at your phone?

Did you stick to the original purpose, or open up another app?

Did you get value out of the time you spent on your phone?

Did your decision to look at your phone cost you other opportunities?

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Having observed what many others have observed, regarding excessive smart phone use, and its potential link to poor mental health outcomes, I recently decided I needed to build a periodic mini digital detox into my life. One year ago, I decided to go without my phone the first Sunday of every month.

I figured that periodically going a day without my phone would help me become more mindful of how I use my phone, and reconnect me with how I would go about doing certain things in the pre-smart phone era. Maybe it would even give me some clues as to how smart phone use is actually impacting our society as a whole.

Since then, awareness of the impact smart phones are having on our lives has only increased. Apple added a feature to the iPhone that tracks and gives users the ability to limit their smart phone use.

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By the way, here is proof that I actually did shut my phone off for the day on Sunday.

Others have even resorted to creative ways to encourage less phone use. One hotel in Sweden began charging guests by how much time they spend on social media. Rooms at Hotel Bellora are being offered to guests for free if they can refrain from using their phones!

After experiencing twelve of these phone free First Sundays, I have concluded that…

1. It is not realistic, nor does it seem beneficial, for us to completely ditch smart phones.

There are some conveniences, such as using Google Maps to look at traffic, that are a significant benefit.

2. All smart phone use can’t be painted in one light.

Picking up a phone has different utility when used for different purposes. I am actually not too ashamed that I spend a significant amount of time on YouTube. Much of the content is either informational or provides entertainment value, which is value.

3.  The setting needs to also be considered.

What had originally prompted me to become concerned about smart phones is observing them having a negative impact on people’s experiences. Watching someone pull out their phone when I am trying to have a conversation with them frustrates me. I also see people miss out on what is going on around them because of their phones. However, what if someone is just sitting at home alone, or on the same bus they take to work every day, exhausted and just needing some entertainment?

4. Smart phone use needs to serve a purpose.

If we intended to look someone up on Wikipedia, reference traffic on Google Maps, or even entertain ourselves with videos or games, that is fine. This is why, even after this experience, I still don’t believe in blanket statements such as “less than two hours per day”. It is more appropriate to say we should pick up our phones for an intended purpose, and put them down when that intended purpose is done, whatever length of time that is.

5. It is hard to stop using our phones as a crutch.

I’m talking about those times when we are waiting in line, or when we arrive at a restaurant ten minutes before our friends. We can either face the fear of boredom and/or awkwardness or bury ourselves in our phones. After each First Sunday, I resolve to stop picking up my phone in these instances. I’m typically able to do so for about five days.

Every time we engage with our phones, we disengage with the world around us.

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We may be missing out o some important things; That person that would have started a conversation with us had we not looked needlessly occupied. Observing what is happening around us, in the natural world. Even the ability for us to engage our own thought processes. These are real costs that make it worthwhile for us to be more intentional with the use of our smart phones. Taking a day off from phone use once a month reminds me of the times I typically pull out my phone, and what I could be missing out on when I do.

 

When I Went to Cuba

 

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Okay, so it wasn’t Cuba, it was actually an exhibit at Denver’s Museum of Nature and Science.

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We travel to different cities, regions and countries to experience what we can’t experience at home. Sometimes, however, experiences from other places come to us. This is the case when a new restaurant, serving cuisine from the other side of the world opens, or when the stock show comes into town, parading livestock right through the middle of the city!

It is important for those of us that yearn to travel, share adventures, and learn about other cultures, but do not travel full time for a living, to take advantage of the times when experiences from other places come to us.

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It is human nature to be fascinated by what is not known. It is why children want to know what is in their parents secret closet, why many are fascinated by ghost stories and conspiracy theories, and why for our entire existence, humanity has speculated as to what exists beyond life and death.

Cuba is one of those places that, to Americans, is somewhat of a mystery. This exhibit brings that mystery to life.

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The main part of the exhibit is an area that is far more wide open than nearly all other museum exhibits. Cuban music, both traditional and modern are played, and performers jump on and off the stage. It is surrounded by some of the things that Cuba is perhaps best known for culturally; Cars built before the Cuban Embargo went into place in 1962, and outdoor produce markets.

Seeing the culture of a place in this format serves as a reminder that experiencing a place, whether it be a country, a region, or a city, is not just about going to landmarks. It is about the people, the day-to-day life, the music, the art, and traditions. It is hard for me not to feel as if traveling to a destination, and only experiencing the places listed in a travel guide causes many of us to miss out on what makes a place truly unique.

Of course, it is hard to write about Cuba without addressing Communism and relations between the United States and Cuba. As someone who believes that a free market economy is both the most efficient and most just manner in which to organize a society, it would be easy for me to simply dismiss and hate the recent history of Cuba. However, I am also a person who appreciates the complexity of every situation. What I dislike most about our present day political situation is seeing that which is complex and deeply philosophical reduced to catch phrases, jokes, and sometimes mean-spirited tribalism.

I had previously read about the complexity of the factors that lead to the Cuban revolution, and the fact that Fidel Castro did not declare himself communist until a couple of years after he took power. He may have only declared the nation communist to gain protection from the Soviet Union after realizing he would not have good relations with the United States.

Reflecting on this, as well as the U.S. interventions in Cuba prior to Castro’s revolution made me realize that there are two sides to every struggle and every revolution. There is the ideological side, which is often used to drum up support in cases like the Cold War. However, there is also a component of them that are just about power.

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The story of Cuba in the 20th Century is also a demonstration of the danger in tearing down what exists without a clear plan going forward. Many Cuban revolutionaries, and supporters of the revolution, ended up getting something far different than what they had envisioned. Reading about what happened to large segments of humanity in 1177 B.C., and then in 476 A.D., and even some modern day examples of revolts without an end game, the lesson is clear. Yes, we should be striving to make changes. But, it is often better to build on what already exists. If the system must be completely torn down, it is imperitive to have at least a framework for what replaces it.

The results of the Cuban revolution are also often judged differently by different people based on priorities. Cuba is far poorer than us, but in some ways more equitable.

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They have also managed to preserve nearly a quarter of their land for nature, and protect some species that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

Additionally, the agricultural practices developed on the Island after the collapse of the Soviet Union caused them to lose access to many pesticides and chemicals significantly improved the health of their coral reefs.

Cuba has endured many changes. An 80-year old Cuban has seen Fulgencio Batista seize power, Castro’s revolution, the U.S. embargo, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the opening up on the Cuban economy over the past ten years. The exhibit ends with a series of statements made by randomly selected Cubans about the future of their country. Some express hope. Some express caution and resilience. There were even a couple that stated they do not want what we have, described as “excessive consumerism.”

The majority just learned how to just roll with the changes. After all, regardless of who does what in struggles for power, life goes on. The will always be music. There will always be culture. There will always be people with dreams.

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What I learned in 2018

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As I outlined in my previous post, 2018 ended up being a pretty significant year for me, I started a new job in August which ended a nearly seven year long series of career disappointments. Through this experience, as well as observing people in organizations like TED and Start-Up week, and reading books, I have learned quite a bit.

1. The first wave is Internal

This is something I first read about in 2016, when I read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. We often get this wrong. People who are stuck are often waiting on someone else, or some kind of external event to bring their lives in a new direction. I feel like I was there for quite some time. Change must come first from within.

After changing my attitude, actions and expectations, I then needed to reflect those changes out to the world. This concept is best described in Belong, by Rhada Agrawal. When we show our true selves to the world, we eventually find ourselves in the right places and surrounded by the right people.

2. Maturity = Confidence + Resilience + Delayed Gratification

People are often told they need to “grow up”. For a long time, it was a pet peeve of mine. It felt as if anyone who had told me this was expecting me to give up on dreams, give up on what makes me unique, and accept limitations and the ability for others to determine my path.

As a result, for many years, I resisted the very concept of adulthood. I would rather stay in my fresh out of college partying days longer than become a generic middle-aged guy. However, I would later get exposure to mature adults who were living lives that I admire quite a bit.

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In addition to the authors mentioned above, I got exposed to authors and TED speakers such as Simon Sinek, Chris Gillebeau, and Jen Sincero, as well as many others in the local community who are doing great, interesting, and unique things with their lives.

I also saw the result of continued immaturity, primarily the political hysteria of our time.

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This was not what I wanted. I realized that I do want maturity, just defined differently, by what I would say is its true definition. The factors that distinguish the two groups of people I observed are not the mundane everyday things that most associate with “growing up”. They are confidence, resilience, and some form of long-term thinking.

3. There’s a time to be chill and a time to be ill

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Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life is perhaps one of the most challenging books I have ever read. It forced me to confront the fact that status and power struggles do exist in humanity. This is something that, for a long time, I had hoped to just ignore. Unfortunately, a lot of people do care about status, and there are people who want nothing more than to have power over others.

This is where we all need to assert ourselves when necessary. In my previous entry, I outline a bit about who I am and what I care about. There are a lot of people that want to define, or redefine that for me. We all face that same struggle. Nobody else should get to chose things like that for us, and when they try to, we need to calmly assert ourselves.

4. Not all escapism is a waste of time

This is something I feel truly bad about. For a long time, I was quite judgmental towards activities I deemed to have no value. This was primarily certain television shows, but sometimes even certain kinds of conversations and activities. As Pitbull put it years back “Everybody’s Going Through Something”. While it is irresponsible to completely avoid our problems, people do need a break from them from time to time. It was unfair of me to judge people based on how this break manifests. There is a big difference between becoming a drug addict and watching something like Say Yes to the Dress for half an hour.

5. Don’t avoid uncomfortable conversations

When uncomfortable conversations are avoided, the problems that prompted them only become worse. Towards the end of 2018, I had to have a few conversations that I found uncomfortable. They certainly did not make anything worse!

6. Sometimes our adversaries are people we need

I am someone that likes to push boundaries, try new things, and pursue ideas. There are people that are more cautious, preferring to stick to routine and only embracing change when it is absolutely necessary or when the benefits are clear. It is easy for me to view these people as my adversaries and visa-versa.

However, without people to vet ideas before a lot of resources are poured into them, a lot of time and money could be wasted, with little to show for it. Without people on my end of the spectrum, to pursue new ideas and push people, stagnation is inevitable. We need each other.

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Life is full of balances just like this one; idealism vs. realism, optimism vs. pessimism, big picture vs. details, etc. With respect to all of those balances, those that prefer one end of the spectrum need those on the other end to maintain that balance.

7. Laying around is not always the best way to rest

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It is certainly the most obvious way to rest. However, it is often not what we need when we feel we need rest. When exhausted from stress, what we need is to get away from whatever is causing that stress. This is often not achieved by laying around at home, which can mean continued exposure to news and other sources of stress through television and social media. The best form of rest can often mean something like camping in the wilderness, going or a bike ride, or the right social event with the right group of people.

My 2018 End of the Year Note

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It feels strange to be writing another entry that is not about travel. I did travel this holiday season, back to Chicago, but the primary purpose of the trip was to visit family, not to explore new places.

I have also already written about both visiting places I have previously lived and about New Years as a time of reflection. Now that I feel more grown-up, I want to provide what other serious individuals provide, a year-end summary.

2018 in Review

I will always yearn for travel and adventure. However, 2018 took my attention in other directions. The year started with some major trips, including Vegas, Whistler, and Death Valley.

After those trips, I really needed to get my career back on track. The five years prior to this one had seen tons of great adventures, which I catalog on this blog. However, they had not been too great for my career. We all have to earn a living, and it can be hard having to do so in places that are not the right fit.

At first I was going about it in the manner that most do in 2018, looking for opportunities online. By springtime, I decided that getting out there, networking, and meeting people would be a better way to try to create something new in my life.

I ended up catching a break. In August, I started a new job which is both in the field I had originally studied, meteorology, and provides a working environment that is both flexible and collaborative. Not too many people can travel for a living, and not too many people actually want that lifestyle. Having a job where the work itself is fulfilling, and is also flexible enough that I can pursue significant travel and adventure, is probably the best scenario I could have hoped for. Therefore, I can say 2018 was a hard year but also a great one!

Before starting that job, I did go on one more major road trip, in Early August.

Since then, my life has actually been quite busy. In addition to starting a new job with a significant commute…

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I continued some of the freelance work I had been doing prior to starting the job, as well as some of my involvements in professional organizations. There were some weeks, particularly in September and October, where there was very little spare time. I came into the holiday season quite exhausted!

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2019 and a New Sense of Self

In addition to getting my career back on track, I feel that I am coming out of this exhausting but fruitful year with a better sense of who I am than I have had for years. A lot of people talk about “discovering themselves”. I feel this is an appropriate, yet sad, way of putting it. What I “discovered” about myself is stuff that I had known all along. I had just lost sight of them because of some of the disappointments and negative feedback I had received at various points in my life.

I determined I loved weather and science by the time I was five years old. It didn’t take much longer for me to figure out what else makes me who I am.

I often do not match what people expect from me. A lot of people think they understand the world, and the people in it, based on rudimentary aspects of who someone is; race, age, gender, economic status, and partisan politics. It saddens me to see people placing more, not less, emphasis on theses things in the past few years. This is one component of today’s world I refuse to be a part of or encourage, as who someone is is more about what they value and how they treat people.

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For the first time in my life, I actually feel like I am in a position to help people, as opposed to being the one that needs help. With this spirit, as well as my new job and other engagements, I want to encourage the following in the world around me:

  • Bridging the worlds of science and enterprise. I believe this is the best manner in which we can bring the benefits of scientific research and scientific knowledge to the general public, in a manner that is fair and equitable.
  • Encouraging people to spend less time alone, indoors, and seated. There are a lot of mental and physical health problems in my country that are only getting worse thanks to things like people spending more time in front of screens and less time conversing with one another.
  • Creating a more flexible world, particularly in the workplace. This means removing outdated rules and assumptions which are costing many people the opportunity to be who they really are.

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This may not be what some people desire of me, but it is my life. These pursuits were determined by matching my interests, values, and expertise with a desire to improve the condition of humanity.

I personally learned a lot more about life the year, which I will cover in my next entry. In addition to traveling and exploring less towards the end of 2018, a few other areas of my life also ended up getting neglected, particularly my physical health and social life. While going to an event with a professional organization can be enjoyable and productive, I have realized that it is no substitute for taking part in activities with friends. As I start 2019, I plan to place a higher priority on…

  • Physical health and particularly getting active and moving
  • Creating and nurturing some kind of a community
  • Expressing myself, and my unique-ness at all times
  • Finding new activities, new restaurants, new ideas, and exploring new places

Thank you for reading- hope you all have great plans for 2019!

A Christmastime Message

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Christmas, and the Christmas season, is quite easy to understand as a child…

Time off of school

Family gatherings

Fun lights, decorations, parades and movies

And, of course, Santa Clause coming and bringing toys

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Maturity complicates things. For many, there is a lot of work to do, work that is not related to Christmas; shopping, decorating, cooking, event planning, etc. In college, the Christmas season often means the end of a semester, with final projects and preparations for final exams. In many work environments, end of the year projects and the rush to meet annual goals can create a busy month. Unfortunately, this stress can sometimes make it hard for many adults to actually enjoy activities like baking and putting up Christmas decorations. These activities, which were meant to be joyous, end up just creating more stress.

Another complicating factor is the nature of what it is we desire at different ages. What most kids want is something that Santa can bring down a chimney, or what a parent, friend or relative can wrap up into a box. What most adults truly yearn for is something that cannot be found at a shopping mall, or even on Amazon. True love, self-respect, acceptance, community, and many of the things mature people need for a truly fulfilling life, but often lack, cannot be achieved over the course of one day, or even one season.

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Then, for those who are fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to be of the more intellectual persuasion, there are all the questions and observations.

Should non-Christians even be celebrating Christmas?

Is Christmas even really a Christian holiday? Given its dubious historic roots, and current manifestation as largely secular and materialistic.

Is there too much materialism in the holiday?

What does it mean to be in the “Christmas Spirit?”

Does all the talk of snow in Christmas music make it too biased against those who live in the tropics or the Southern Hemisphere?

What would happen if someone crashed a Christmas Party, and interrupted “Let it Snow”, with the Lil’ Wayne & Fat Joe Song “I’ll Make it Rain”, while yelling “Climate Change”?

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It is also possible to observe people for whom Christmas is not a great time of year. People with truly dysfunctional families (beyond just different political views) may dread the holidays, and for people with no family at all, it can be a time of intense sadness.

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There are probably a lot of lonely adults wondering how a season that once brought them much joy has now become one of indifference, stress, or even worse, sadness. What is it that can be done this Christmas Season to create a more positive outcome?

There are three natural instincts regarding where to begin talking about the meaning of Christmas for adults.

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The first is to talk about the Christmas Spirit; compassion, generosity, warmth and understanding. There are, of course, reasons this is a good thing, but anyone who has gone through a truly tough time in their lives knows that not everyone has the capacity to be in this spirit at all times. The Human Spirit can change with circumstance and environment regardless of season.

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The next is to roll it up with New Years, into some kind of a prolonged period of self-reflection, where the events of one year are process and the goals and themes of the coming year are considered. Of course, it is quite self-evident how effective this is, given how few New Years resolutions are actually kept.

Then there is the cycle of life that is the seasons, with the Christmas season being the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. There is historical precedence for cycles of holidays or festivals that roughly match the start and end (and sometimes the mid-points) of each of the four seasons. For some, Christmas serves as an exciting start to an exciting season, while for others, it softens the blow of entering a difficult season.

The primary common thread regarding the reasons people value Christmas relates to taking a break from the normal progression of events.

Even those who truly love their jobs need to periodically take a break. While some jobs have prolonged time off, like summers for teachers, for most, Christmas represents the longest break period of the year. For some, it’s a time to rest. For some it’s a time to party. For others, it is a time to just slow down, stop, and observe the true beauty of their surroundings. Most importantly, regardless of whether someone’s circumstances in their regular day-to-day lives are fortunate or unfortunate, it is a chance to regroup, and focus on something else for a change of pace.

 

The Oregon Trail IRL

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We all remember playing the game as a kid. There was even a scene in the movie Boyhood, where the main character, Mason, is playing the game at school. Across multiple generations, it seems like nearly everyone, at least in the United States, has an experience playing Oregon Trail sometime between grades 3 and 8.

Strangely, I don’t recall the exact learning purpose. It seems like the game is about American History. However, nothing in the game requires players to remember historical facts. I bet that a lot of people play the game multiple times without even knowing that in the year it is set, 1848, James K. Polk was president and we were finishing up a war with Mexico. The game does seem to teach kids about geography, and some basic life skills like how to survive in the wilderness, plan a trip, and avoid disease.

The Oregon Trail IRL was a one time event, on a Saturday evening, at the History Colorado Center. It is only the third time I’ve ever consumed alcohol inside a museum, and is the kind of hands on event I would like to see more of at museums.

Don’t get me wrong, I do love all kinds of special exhibits, and the History Colorado Center had a great on on baseball at the same time.

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However, there is something about being able to physically interact with something like the Oregon Trail at a museum. As I had noted before, the permanent exhibits at the History Colorado Center are quite interactive, something I certainly appreciate. The Oregon Trail IRL, a one night event, is quite different a typical museum experience.

Participants took part in real life versions of the activities we all remember doing on the screen; fording a river, hunting, looking for wild fruit, and even fixing tires.

 

The only disappointment was that I sincerely expected to go to a room where we kill something like 2,400 pounds of bison, but are only able to carry 200 pounds of it back to the wagon. That seemed to always happen in that game.

It had not even occurred to me how much the event was about nostalgia until I entered a room called Ms. Frizzle’s Classroom Crafts.

 

Popular music from the late 1990s, such as Ricky Martin and Britney Spears were playing. There were old computers, overhead projectors, and everything people of a certain age range would remember about being in school. For a few minutes, I actually got quite emotional, remembering what childhood and being in school was like.

My mind instinctively turned to the good things, the things I wish I had more of in my adult life; Spending most of the day learning about a variety of different topics, and being surrounded by a community of people in the same situation as me (the class). Adulthood can be isolating, and many of us have jobs where we focus on one thing the entire day.

Nostalgia has its place. It is always fun to share fond memories with people. However, nostalgia can also be a trap. We often simplify the past, remembering experiences as only good or only bad, when the truth is far more complicated. I certainly long for the intellectual variety and the community I had during school. However, I would not want to return to an environment with all the social pressure and anxiety, where people are mean to those who do not conform to standards that in now way help anyone achieve success later in life. Like every chapter of our lives, this one had both positive and negative aspects.

Too much nostalgia can also get us too focused on the past. No matter how hard we try, the past cannot be re-created. However, the wisdom of these experience can help us make better futures, or, at the very least put into better context what we want, what we don’t want, what works and what doesn’t. The key is to not spend too much time dwelling on how much we miss our good times or how wronged we felt during our bad times.

At a young age, I recall hearing from a lot of older people that the music of “their era” was better. I started to recognize this as kind of a phenomenon, even though it does not have a name. It felt as if these people were culturally stuck, in a past era, 10, 20, or 30 years ago, however long it had been since their youth.

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I never wanted that for myself, because it feels like there is a connection between being stuck in the culture of the past, and being unable to adapt to a changing culture. As I get older, I plan to continue to follow whatever is new, culturally, as best as I can. In fact, despite the fond memories of the songs I heard in Ms. Fizzle’s classroom, I also remember that time period having some really bad ones as well. An idealized version of the past, in our heads, can prevent us from living our best lives in the present. Macklemore and Kesha, in their recent hit song Good Old Days, remind us that whatever situation we are currently in, is something we should be able to appreciate. This can’t happen if too much time is spent thinking about the past.