Category Archives: events

The Other End of the World

It started with a series of firsts.

My first time in Australia.

My first time flying Qantas, as well as my first time on what is considered a “domestic” flight in a country other than my own.

Finally, my first time in one of those time zones that operate in half hour increments.

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I wasn’t even a teenager the first time I looked at a time zone map and noticed these peculiar places on the other side of the world. After many years of only seeing this on a map, it felt strange to finally physically be in one of these places.

With respect to geography, I could not be in a place more opposite from where I live.

Darwin is in the Southern Hemisphere. It is tropical. It is coastal, and it is remote.

Rather than four, or two, they separate the year into six seasons.

The series of flights to get here, without the layovers, took a total of 21 hours. With layovers, and crossing the international date line, it was a three-day journey. There’s no way not to feel farther from home than at this point.

Yet, as soon as I arrived in Darwin, I found myself in a setting that felt strangely familiar. A Greek festival.

The Glenti Festival, in its 32nd year, celebrates the Greek heritage of Darwin. This aspect of Darwin’s history and culture is something I was unaware of before coming here.

The overall vibe here felt strangely familiar. It became easy to forget just how far from home I was geographically. I repeatedly encountered the types of attire, mannerisms, and activities I would typically associate with the more rural parts of the United States.

I ended up feeling like it would be impossible to find a county more culturally similar to my own. Other than the United States, I don’t recall anywhere else I saw as much soda sold at the grocery stores and as large of portion sizes at restaurants.

With the warm humid air, beaches, consistently seeing hats like the ones many wear in rural America, and streets like Mitchell St., it felt like a weekend at Daytona Beach, Florida.

I could easily imagine some of these places featured in an MTV reality show!

Many of the differences I did observe felt like slight differences within the same general framework.

In the United States, we contend with the way we uprooted our Native American population, with mixed results that include many failures we tend to gloss over.

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Australia has the Aboriginal population, who appear to be honored in ceremonies, but not fully integrated into mainstream Australian society. When the conference I attended in Darwin began, I was given a “welcome to country”, acknowledging the Larrakeyah population that was here thousands of years before British settlement. Yet, I am certain that the nation of Australia administers all affairs here. This feels similar to our often impoverished “indian reservations” across North America.

The influence from nearby countries in Southeast Asia can be felt in both the racial makeup of the population and the types of cuisine available.

At places like Stokes Hill Wharf, one of my favorites in Darwin, cuisine from Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, India and more can be found.

The wharf was one of several places to see a phenomenal sunset during the dry, or Wurrkeng, season.

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It also feels like Australia has a similar political divide. Without ever bringing up politics, over the course of the week I heard viewpoints ranging from admiration of President Trump, to envy for New Zealand’s progressive stands on certain issues.

There are still some obvious differences. Australians drive on the left side of the road and pronounce the last letter of the alphabet “zed” rather than “zee”. They also have a different perception of “cold”. Many lament winter temperatures in Sydney and Melbourne, mostly in the 5-20C (41-68 F) range. For most Americans, this is not cold.

The most culturally significant difference I experienced was how friendly people are.

I felt a kind of cultural warmth here. At the conference, I met dozens of people who would happily chat with me about both professional and non-professional topics. I also made friends with others at the penthouse bar at the hotel. Nearly every day, I was invited to join with people, who were previously strangers, for a meal or some other sort of activity.

One afternoon at a bar along Mitchell St., I noticed two people who were sitting alone, at separate tables. Despite different ages, genders, and races, they weren’t sitting alone for long; one invited the other to join. When a room is empty enough, we Americans leave an empty seat between ourselves and the people we were joining. However, any of the Australians I met, that would come join me at a session, would sit right next to me. I noticed them all doing it with each other. Even in a room with dozens of empty rows, there would be people sitting right next to each other.

I came away feeling that American culture is a bit stand-off-ish. An Australian woman I met on a ski lift at Whistler last year told me that people sitting adjacent to each other on a ski lift but not speaking a word to each other “would never happen” in Australia. Yet, we do these kinds of things all the time. We keep our distance from one another. We abruptly end conversations so we can get back to activities that involve work, making money, or personal development. Sometimes, our behavior even suggests that other human beings are mere commodities to be leveraged for personal gain.

Yet, it is important to remember that the values of our immediate surroundings are not the only ones that exist. With loneliness and depression on the rise in the United States, perhaps we can benefit from incorporating some of the values observed in a place that couldn’t be farther away geographically yet could hardly be more culturally similar.

One Cloudy Day in Sydney

The day started with fog. It wasn’t thick enough to cause major travel hazards. But, it was thick enough to obstruct views of the Sydney Harbor Bridge from the Central Quay train station platform, as well as the 25th floor of a nearby hotel. The hotel concierge would not recommend activities like ferry rides and bridge tours so long as the visibility was as low as it was.

Luckily, that fog would gradually lift over the course of the day.

This would give way to an afternoon that was just cloudy, with five afternoon hours to explore Sydney, as early June has some of Sydney’s earliest sunsets.

It ended up still being a pretty good day to walk through The Royal Botanical Gardens.

The low-level cloudiness of the day, if anything, provided a unique experience. The thick layer of cloudiness felt like it added an element of mystery to the trek through the gardens, with its variable, but often dense vegetation.

Embedded in the trees are plants from many parts of the world, some unexpected.

At the far Northeast end of the garden is Ms. Macquaries Point. There are several paths to get there, each with different vegetation. It is a large garden visitors could easily spend multiple hours at. The view of downtown, from across the bay, is perhaps the best one in the city.

The Sydney Harbor Bridge Tour is supposed to be an epic experience. However, it is expensive (~ AU$ 300), and probably would not have been cost effective on a day like this. Ferry rides to Sydney’s North Beaches, however, cost only AU$15 round trip.

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These ferries track right next to Sydeny’s defining skyline features as it connects downtown with communities like Manly Wharf.

Manly Wharf feels similar to many coastal communities in America, particularly in California. Despite less than ideal weather conditions, surfers ventured in and out of the waves of the Pacific Ocean all afternoon while coastal birds wandered among the humans looking for food scraps.

Over time, their presence becomes something everyone is just accustomed to, part of the background like the sound of the ocean waves or the humming of one’s kitchen appliances.

The great thing about venturing to places like this is the ability to imagine the day to day lives of people who live here. Central Quay is, of course, the most “touristy” part of Sydney. There is nothing wrong with being a tourist. Attractions are attractions for a reason; they are great places to visit. However, most of the other people walking around places like this are also tourists, not living their typical day-to-day lives.

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Here it is different. At the bars, people were cheering on their local team in Australia’s favorite sport- rugby. The shops along the wharf provide not only the kinds of services tourists need, such as restaurants and ice cream shops, but also grocery stores and gyms. Patrons at the bar would encounter others they are already familiar with. Living near this beech and taking a 30-minute ferry ride to work every day feels like an amazing life!

There were also plenty of families in the area, many enjoying the beech, and preparing to take the ferry downtown for the Vivid Light Festival. This festival runs for something close to a month at Sydney’s darkest period, with various light displays illuminating Sydney’s downtown buildings.

It was also quite well attended. It makes perfect sense for an event like this to occur this time of year in Sydney. Sydney’s winters are not that cold. Saturday was a chilly day with temperatures in the 10-15°C (50-59°F) range. This, although not cold from the standpoint of anyone that has lived in cold cities in the Northern United States, felt cold enough to encourage many locals to wear wintry clothing, including coats and hats. For the entire day, most people appeared dressed the way New Yorkers would dress for an evening in December with temperatures just below freezing.

One day stops are never a guarantee. This is especially true in places with variable weather conditions; mid-latitude destinations in wintertime. Travel is often a delicate balance, between planning and spontaneity, between maximizing time and finding time to relax, and between the desire to take part in everything and the limitations of the human body. It is possible to use perhaps the scarcest human resource, time, to its fullest while traveling by doing things like visiting popular destinations in wintertime for one day. However, it requires the understanding that not everything will always go exactly according to plan. Being aware of what is going on, weather and other considerations, while noticing events like like Vivid Light Festival and being open to trying them out will usually lead to a great experience regardless of circumstance. Sometimes, when circumstances require adjustments to be made, the experience can even end up better than the one originally planned.

That Town I Always Just Drive Through

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Everybody has that place in their lives; a town, a neighborhood, or maybe a specific restaurant. We always pass by, on the way somewhere, thinking “this place looks neat”. But, for some reason every time we pass through, we are, well, on our way somewhere. So, we drive by, time and time again, saying to ourselves that one day we will find a reason to specifically visit this place.

That place for me is Georgetown, Colorado. It is situated along I-70 50 miles West of Denver, on the way to many mountain destinations, including ski resorts Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, and Vail. The first time I saw this town from I-70, I thought it looked like the kind of village commonly depicted in a model train set, with its mountain backdrop and homes on multiple tiers. For years, I just drove past this town. I think I may have stopped there once or twice to pick up some quick food before going up Guanella Pass, but never spent any meaningful time there.

That was, until I found out about the Burro Races.

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I must admit that many of the events I attend are ones I get invited to with no prior knowledge. Some of my best experiences are when I just went along with someone else’s strange-ish idea. I am a big proponent of self-determination. However, that self-determination needs to be accompanied by some degree of openness. Otherwise, we get in ruts, going to the same places and taking part in the same activities over and over. An event where people race burros up and down a mountainside is certainly not what I would call “ordinary”.

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The event itself included a lot of other out of the ordinary activities. The most interesting was The Burro Poop Drop Contest. Participants pay $10 for a square. These squares are laid out over a city block in front of the starting line. The square that ends up with the most poop wins! I think there are prizes for second and third as well.

Mine didn’t win, but most of the good ones (in the middle) were taken by the time we arrived.

The event I did win at was the poop toss.

This event is essentially bags (or cornhole or bean bag toss depending on your regional dialect), with bags shaped like burro poop, which made them bounce in weird directions. I guess they really like to celebrate burro excrement at this event! I was able to win a $50 gift card to a restaurant, which happened to be located right at the finish line!

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We were able to eat our food while also watching the end of the race.

The main thing that surprised me about the race was the fact that the participants were not actually riding the burros. They were running alongside them, almost walking them like we do our dogs. I guess there has to be a reason for that, but I did not get a chance to talk with the participants long enough to find out.

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What I did learn was a bit about the town of Georgetown. Compared with more touristy towns like Breckenridge, Vail and Winter Park, it has way more of a traditional small town/ country vibe. While everyone was lining up for the race, the speakers played mostly country music. The town has one of those neat general stores that we still commonly see in small town America.

These are a blast from the past, the type of stores I encounter all the time on storm chases, bike tours, and other trips to rural parts of the country. In this cities and suburbs, we have stores that sell “everything”, but they tend to be large warehouses like WalMart and Target. When I encounter a General Store like this one, I feel like I am entering a different realm of human existence. A place where people don’t always feel the need to have every option available to them. A place where people have time to engage each other in casual conversation. This could be a place where people are okay with having a little bit less in exchange for a more personal experience.

The homes in this town also reminded me of the past. A few have a creek running through their yard, reminiscent of medieval homes, with moats for protection from invaders.

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One even had a hitching post.

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I’ve often wondered if people in places like this are happier. However, they probably have a completely different set of problems I am not even thinking about. At this one point in time, watching burro races and partaking in interesting events, I was quite happy, and it seemed like everyone else around me was happy. However, I do not know what life is like here on a typical weekday, or on the day when the frustrating spring snowstorm hits making it impossible for residents to get out of town. We live in an era of divisiveness, where people have short attention spans and often don’t take the time to truly understand others before passing judgement on them, whether that be one of envy or disgust. I feel like the only judgement I can make upon Georgetown right now is that they are at least fun enough to participate in an event that revolves around burro excrement once a year.

Boulder Start Up Week

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It would be hard for me to think of a group of people that I have more respect and admiration for than the Start Up Community. Entrepreneurs take risks the vast majority of people would never even dream of. They put a lot of energy into creating something new in the world, and, when successful, create something meaningful. Entrepreneurs, along with those that join them in building businesses and others that pursue ideas using a similar mindset, are the ones responsible for most human progress. They are also the ones that create most of the jobs that the majority of the population finds security in.

At the risk of injecting politics into a blog I specifically wanted to keep non-political, it often feels like these job creators go unappreciated in some segments of the American population. Sure, there are some horrible bosses out there, and corporations that don’t care about their employees. However, there are plenty who deserve their high level of wealth and status. There are movements that seem to encourage resentment towards all wealthy people. Beyond encouraging mediocrity and threatening the system that has brought us economic prosperity, they are unfair to those that are wealthy because they did a lot of good for humanity. This includes the entrepreneurial community.

Still, many people, like myself, revere this community. Start Up Weeks occur all over the country. Each Start Up Week is a series of events that help connect communities of people who build businesses, work in start up cultures, or just are of the general start up mindset.

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Boulder ranks in the top 50 US Cities for start ups by dollars invested despite being relatively small in size. Start Up Week in Boulder is, in a way, similar to Start Up Week anywhere else in the country. There are panel discussions, individual presentations, sessions where discussions are facilitated in groups, and even a “start up crawl”, where people can visit various start up business around downtown, network with people and engage their creative sides.

Discussions at Start Up Week cover a fairly wide variety of topics from tips for those who are starting a business, to workplace culture, technical discussions and even discussions on societal trends. At Boulder Start Up Week 2019, there was a panel discussion on psychedelic drugs, their potential health benefits and potential emerging businesses associated with them.

Events take place all over town, at a variety of different settings, from shared workspaces like Galvanize, to businesses, and even museums.

What I have always found, when attending a Start Up Week, is that the best way to get around from event to event is by bicycle. Although, in places where they have scooters, that could be a good option as well.

Events like Start Up Week, and TED conferences, help me re-orient myself. It is easy to get bogged down in day to day life. Things like paying bills, maintaining a home, and meeting deadlines for work can occupy our minds in such as way that the big picture, who we are, who we want to be and how we truly want to live our lives, can get lost. Start Up Week offers a different atmosphere, with people talking about big ideas, passions, trends, and how to make dreams come true.

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One thing that makes every Start Up Week unique is the culture of the place where it is held, in this case, Boulder, Colorado. This was reflected in some of the discussions and topics. The discussion about the future of psychedelics came right after Denver became the first city to decriminalize magic mushrooms.

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The local culture had an imprint on both in the selection of events and the direction some of the discussions went. A lot of events covered topics related to health, fitness, and even specifically training for a major event like a marathon. In the discussions about HR related topics, such as workplace culture, human capital and finding your path, undoubtedly more questions were asked about inclusivity based on gender, age, and race than would be in other places. These both reflect on who the people of Boulder tend to be.

I spent the entire week switching modes, back and forth, between attending events at Start Up Week and tending to daily work requirements. It almost felt like the pull and tug that is ever present in my life. My heart is in pursuing big ideas, and looking towards the future.

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Sometimes it feels as if there are forces around me constantly trying to get me bogged down in day to day affairs. However, one of things I realized, both at events like these, as well as at work, is that it is not about ignoring all the things we get bogged down in. After all, bills need to be paid, homes need to be maintained and deadlines need to be met.

It is really about staying mindful of how even our day to day lives and the kinds of things we get bogged down in fit into the bigger picture. We lose sight of that when we become too focused on the specific action of, say meeting a deadline, to the point where we are not thinking about it in the context of anything bigger and it becomes a means into itself. That is when we need a reminder of where we are oriented and where we are headed. This is something Start Up Week and other similar events help me do, even if I am not currently starting a business.

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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That Event You Always Find Yourself At

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We all have that one event in our lives. Typically it is somewhere in the general vicinity of where we live, but not in the same town. Year after year, we find ourselves there, despite never actually making plans around that event. For me, that event is the International Snow Sculpture Championships in Breckenridge Colorado.

I’ve been there while on weeklong ski trips with friends from the East Coast, staying at condos within walking distance of both the Riverwalk Center where the event is held and the ski lift.

I have been there on weekend trips, as was the case this year.

I have been there after day trips.

There have even been years where I was able to see the snow sculptures on multiple days, and while passing through town on the way home from destinations further away.

Of course, it helps that the event lasts ten days, right in the middle of the winter, in Breckenridge, one of the country’s most iconic skiing towns.

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It also helps that walking through the snow sculptures is not a huge time commitment. Even if one were to read every piece of information about each individual piece, the total time commitment would be well under an hour.

2019 was quite iconic. The event happened on an excellent weekend. Significant snow fell Thursday night, making for a fantastic weekend of skiing. Each portion of the day seemed to exude some form of picturesque natural scene, distinct from one another!

The sculptures themselves were amazing as well. Here are some of my favorites from 2019.

2017 was also a great year, with a lot of animal related designs.

2016 was also a great year.

2015 was the year that abnormally warm weather (several days with highs close to 50 in town) caused some of the sculptures to become deformed.

This year, the trip that found me in front of the snow sculptures was a weekend trip to Frisco, ten miles north of Breckenridge, and along I-70.

I love to stay in Frisco from time to time. There are a lot of amenities, but it is less crowded than many other places in winter, as there is no ski resort there. However, it is within about ten miles of Breckenridge, as well as several other mountain resorts, including Copper Mountain and Keystone.

The places we go, the people we see, and the activities we take part in have two origins. One are those in which we actively seek; the trips and activities we plan and the people we plan them with. The others are the ones we somehow get drawn into. The places our friends, family and co-workers chose for group activities. The people that show up at the events we go to. Events like this one, that always end up being where we are at the time we are there.

Some would advocate that we do all things with purpose, actively choosing every single action in our lives. That is quite exhausting, and nearly impossible. Instead, we must accept that some of the places we find ourselves and people we find ourselves around will be based on circumstance, and sometimes that circumstance will occur in repetition.

However, the nature of these circumstantial encounters is a good indicator of how well we have aligned our lives with our values and desires. If these circumstances habitually find us in places we do not want to be and around people we do not care to be around, it is an indicator that something about our overall situation is not well aligned with our true selves and true desires.

I am thankful to find myself around these snow sculptures year after year. They are a result of the activity that I did actively chose, skiing, as well as being around people who are up for wandering around to events like these.

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.