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A Letter to a Nation in Crisis

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Dear USA,

There is no denying that this in not our finest hour. We have struggled more than most with our response to the Coronavirus. Where other nations have been able to largely put the virus behind them, often with far less draconian measures, we have been unable to contain the virus. At a time when we had expected to be through the worst of it, caseloads are spiking.

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We are still suffering the economic damage from having essentially shut down our entire economy for about a month and a half.

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I mean, was this lack of traffic ever even theoretically possible

The damage will be even worse, as many of our biggest states, including California, Florida and Texas, are backing off reopening the economy. As parts of the world reopen themselves to visitors from some countries, we will find ourselves left off the list due to our high infection rate.

The world is also watching as we deal with issues of continued racial injustice. In response to several high profile news stories about the killing of unarmed blacks by law enforcement, protests have erupted all over the nation.

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Will this response to these events lead to justice and healing? Or will our problems continue or simply take on another form? Only time will tell.

One thing is for sure though. The U.S.A., the nation that I love and feel blessed to have been born a part of, is going through a tough season. We are struggling with self doubt. We are struggling with our identity. This is not the typical Fourth of July. The are far fewer crowds and celebrations. For many, the holiday is far quieter; more reflective.

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Perhaps more upsetting than the lack of travel opportunities and my general inability to live my life the way I typically do is our season of self-doubt. In the places I most commonly find myself, the pride I typically observe in people for this Nation feels to have waned. It feels unfashionable to show pride in the United States of America at this point in time.

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We all encounter periods in life where we struggle more than others with specific challenges due to our personality types.

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Different periods of time require different skill sets. A period of imminent danger requires a bold leader. It will be a period where a more sensitive type will naturally struggle. But, that does not mean that the ability to support others and empathize with them is no longer an important skill.

The same can be said for this period of time in the United States. We as a Nation tend to be bold, individualistic and skeptical of top-down authority. It is for this reason, we struggle with things like mask compliance, that naturally comes so easy to many other nations. Our skepticism of authority has made our struggles with COVID-19 worse.

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However, during these turbulent times, we should not lose sight of how much we have benefitted overall from the principles on which our Nation was founded. We are one of the wealthiest and most innovative countries in the world. Most of the top tech firms are based in the United States. We recently took a major step towards returning mankind to the moon and potentially to other planets.

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We have been at the forefront of most recent global cultural trends. It is here that jazz, blues, rock and roll and hip-hop originated.

Our revolution inspired others around the world to adapt a similar societal structures. Despite our current challenges and period of self-doubt, there are still far more people looking to enter than leave.

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Right now, it might be tempting to lose sight of who we are and try to emulate places that seem to be having a better time.

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No doubt, we need to grow from this. We need to do a better job with taking care of our health, possibly reshuffling our priorities. There is also without a doubt a need to improve the way certain racial groups are treated in this country. However, we need to do so in a manner that is consistent with who we are, at our core. Trying to be what we are not is not a path to long term happiness. Those who I see who are forced to live a life untrue to themselves suffer a kind of spiritual death that at times can feel even more painful than actual death.

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I want to offer this great Nation some encouragement at a time when it is most needed. Despite the extra pain it is causing in 2020, I love our skepticism of authority. Despite some challenges with too much emphasis on work, I love our free market economic system. Even though the calls for justice are legitimate, assuming those accused are innocent until proven guilty is one of our nation’s greatest attributes. Our problems don’t come from the philosophy on which we were founded and still are mostly oriented. They come from the incomplete and sometimes uneven implementation of them. Let’s grow from this tough season. Rather than become something different, something unrecognizable, let’s become an improved and more confident version of ourselves!

Love,

A concerned and still proud Citizen

A Day Observing Natural Phenomenon

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It was never the most ideal setup for a storm chase. The convective environment was not too strong and the storms were poorly organized. It ended up being a fairly major day for severe thunderstorms with strong winds in the Southern Plains, as well as Upstate New York and parts of New England.

However, traveling about 90 miles to observe what did happen in Northeast Colorado would only cost me half a day. It was also my first chance to hit the open road since COVID-19.

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It turns out, a panoramic view of several different storms is beautiful and inspiring even if it isn’t damaging property!

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Maybe it was the relaxed pace life had taken over the past two months. Or maybe it was the amount of time we have all started spending in front of screens during this strange period. This storm chase felt less like a mission to get to the best storm possible. It took on kind of an artistic feel.

It is easy to imagine the lone barn in front of an approaching storm, or the seemingly abandoned tiny town of Last Chance, CO with storm clouds gathered all around it as a painting or large photo hanging on someone’s wall for decoration.

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I would later catch up with the one storm that did produce large hail, which I would had to quickly escape to avoid car damage.

After returning home, another storm would pass right over my house right around sunset.

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As a child, weather was the first thing I became deeply fascinated with. The cycles of the seasons and the way the atmosphere moves around transporting warmer, colder, wetter and drier air impacts everyone. On a day to day scale it can often decide what people are doing with their day. On a longer time scale, it impacts business, food supply and health.

My pursuit of meteorology as a career ended up being kind of a disappointment. What began as a desire to investigate and understand the atmosphere scientifically got lost in a sea of equations, coding, and later egos and corporate buzzwords. Observing the weather through a screen caused it to eventually lose its luster. Seeing powerful lightning up close and hearing the raw power of the thunder put me back in touch with why I love the weather so much.

That evening, after the storms passed through, I took a walk through City Park.

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The orange-y lights shining onto a wet sidewalk adjacent the a lakeshore made me feel as if I were in a different place. I imagined the lake, which is not too big in real life, was the shore of one of our Oceans or Great Lakes. I imagined the high rise apartments nearby to be vacation rentals and I imagined crowds of people once again flocking to the beach.

I couldn’t stop staring at how the lights of different colors were sparkling on the water, gradually shifting with the slow movement of the lake.

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I wonder why I had gone years not noticing things like the way the water makes the light twinkle. Are our lives that out of balance? Maybe recent obsessions with things like yoga, meditation, low carb diets and workout “boot camps” are just our attempts to get our lives back into balance, ways to push back against all these forces in our culture that have lead to unhealthy lives. 

I think about all the beautiful experiences we have with the natural world and wonder if we are obsessed with technology. Technology has undoubtedly made our lives better. Technology has made the whole concept of storm chasing possible. However, I am not convinced all technological developments have been beneficial. To me, there is far more beauty in the air and in the clouds. There’s beauty in the smiles we give one another, the relationships we form and the feelings we get from experiences. There is beauty in love and passion. There is even beauty in things often held in less regard, like causal sex (when consensual of course), some drug related experiences (when not taken to a destructive extreme) and anger when it is born out of the passion associated with fulfillment (when it doesn’t lead to violence of course). At least those things feel more meaningful than staring at screens all day to me now.

Unlike many other people who are old enough to remember a world before people could pull a device out of their pockets and look up whatever they want, I am not “wowed” by technology for technology’s sake. I’ve seen plenty of people impressed by the latest technology, often doing things like moving data around and producing charts.

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Charts like this one, as is the case with scientific investigation in general, mean nothing unless something is learned and something is done based on them.

Technology has the potential to help us work more efficiently, improve our health and even form communities. But, let’s not forget who is in the driver’s seat. Technology and computers are here to enhance our experiences with the world around us, not the other way around. Thank God we occasionally have these moments, where thunder claps louder than any of our devices or when wildlife interrupts our travels, to remind us.

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A New Appreciation for the First Half of May

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This year, many of us suddenly found ourselves living our lives at a far slower pace. This period of partial shut down, with more time to just think and observe what is around us has now extended for long enough for us to notice the changing of the seasons.

What began as winter was breathing its dying breaths, still capable of icing over the streets for multiple days at a time, has now continued into the period where spring gives way to summer. Days grew long and warm as evenings became pleasant.

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The slow change of the seasons, the day to day differences and the gradual changes in the colors and energy around us is something we were once deeply connected with. As children, and often also and young adults, we would feel that energy and anticipate the holidays and activities associated with each season with excitement. Somehow, many of us lost that connection in a sea of schedules, deadlines, expectation and chores. Maybe we are doing it to ourselves. After all, over the past century we have managed to make busyness a new symbol of status. Some even argue it is a religion.

Over the past decade, I did not show much appreciation for this time of year. Last year, I made two out of town trips in Late April/ Early May.

This year, travel has not been advised. I have limited myself to short trips, mostly by bicycle.

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There has been more time to simply gaze at the slow progression of Springtime. I found myself, once again, as if reliving a much purer simpler time, anticipating things like the slow growth of the seeds that I planted.

Everything around me is looking livelier and livelier by the day.

The trees,

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Our rivers and streams.

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Our cities and towns.

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Even the turkeys.

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The first half of May is when many of us experience our first truly warm days. It is a period of beginning. It is a period of anticipation. It is a period of planning what’s next. It’s the start of a new job, a new relationship, a new project, forming a new community or even a new life.

It is that time period where the future of any endeavor just lies ahead of us, wide open, still manifesting primarily within our wildest imaginations. There has not been the opportunity for disappointment yet. No mysteries have been revealed. No unexpected limitations have presented themselves. No unforeseen conflicts have emerged. Everything is, if only for a short period of time, the perfection that it can only be within our imaginations.

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Whenever anyone starts anything anew, it is always tempting to warn them of what could potentially go wrong. This is especially true for people we care about, and want to see prepared for life’s challenges.

Who knows what this year will bring. It has already brought us some serious surprises. Last year, many of the plants I had placed outside would be destroyed by a hailstorm towards the end of May.

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It would also destroy the optimism exemplified by the colors of the trees, grass and bushes.

However, observing the first half of May at a slower paces has shown me how beautiful that moment in time, before there is the opportunity to even consider what can go wrong, at the beginning of any experience, truly is. In order to live our best lives, we should savor these moments when they do arise. We should allow ourselves, and those we care about, to live these experiences as the ideal fantasy they are at their onset for as long as possible. There is nothing like looking in front of us and seeing nothing but open highway- metaphorically speaking.

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The Slow Return to Normal

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There I was, standing in the Cherry Creek reservoir, feet in the water, wearing a bicycle helmet and a mask. It was quite the interesting way to spend what was likely the first 80 degree day in parts of Denver (there are no observations downtown and the airport reached a high of 79), and the first day of Colorado’s slow return to normal.

That morning, Colorado’s statewide stay-at-home order transitioned to a safer-at-home order. For me, little had changed. The City of Denver still has a stay-at-home order which was extended nearly two weeks beyond the state’s. The businesses I frequent are all still closed, the guidelines still strongly suggest minimal travel. There is also evidence suggesting that the danger related to contracting and spreading the virus, in Colorado and in Denver, has yet to dissipate. Essentially, Monday’s slight change in policy, like a non-binding resolution or loose talk among friends about big things, felt mostly just symbolic.

Still, like many Americans, I am quite antsy to get back to doing a lot of the things that bring me joy; specifically travel and social activity. My mind is a bit all over the place as I try to reconcile the hopefulness of hearing news about states planning to reopen their economies with the very real threat that still exists. It feels like a classic heart vs. head issue, with many different dimensions and complications. My response is to start small.

Sunday, the last day of the full stay-at-home order, it was a short hike, at a place not too far away, called Steven’s Gulch, with only three other people.

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It’s not the kind of hike that leads to the most spectacular views.

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In fact, after a 500 foot ascent, there is a 1500 foot descent into the gulch, where the trail was quite muddy, and, in places, there was standing water to contend with.

The hike itself, wasn’t about reaching some summit. The largest climb was the 1000 foot climb back to the trailhead (which was surprisingly crowded for a not too well known trail on a day with clouds and rain chances).

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The hike was about being outside, being in nature, being in the woods.

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After weeks of spending far too much time at home, in front of screens, just being in a place that looks like this, putting one foot in front of the other for a few hours is an amazingly calming experience. Having lived without some modern luxuries for the past six weeks, it almost felt somewhat reminiscent of a backpacking trip.

Meanwhile back in Denver, the anxiety was still there and the tensions were still mounting.

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There are so many different factions of people feeling and saying different things about the virus and our response to it. There is so much fear, depression, loneliness and the post-traumatic stress. All data on the true extent and potency of COVID-19 is so unreliable. It has become nearly impossible to know who to believe.

One of the few bright spots of this whole pandemic is workplace flexibility in many sectors where working from home is an option. Without the commute, the need to get dressed up and be physically in an office for a certain time period, it becomes far easier to do things like go on an extended lunchtime bike ride.

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The ride to the Cherry Creek reservoir from anywhere near downtown Denver is about 13 miles, mostly on a trail. Throughout this pandemic, bike trails have been quite busy. Perhaps this is because the bars and restaurants are closed and more people are enjoying schedule flexibility related to their employment. The sun was bright that day, and there were many more people enjoying the day, on their sail boats or with their friends and family at the beach.

There is no way to tell how the history books will look back upon the Spring of 2020. Each and every person has their own unique way of coping with this major life event. Personally, I hold on to the hope that, in the long run, something good will come out of all of this. I’ve long held the belief that the expectation that people spend 40 to 50 daylight hours at their office is limiting, and something we are now capable of moving beyond due to new technology. With many people putting all this technology to use out of necessity, maybe our work culture will change for the better, opening up many daylight hours for experiences like this.

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The Question We Are All Asking

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As this pandemic wears on, and people begin to speculate whether or not we have reached our “peak”, with respect to cases and medical needs, the conversation is increasingly turning towards how we go about reopening our economy and returning to our “normal” lives.

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The Parking Lot to the Colorado Mills Mall, completely empty

As is the case with all decision like this, there are inevitably people pulling on both sides. There are those advocating caution, warning that rushing to restart our economy could lead to more deaths. There are also those concerned about the consequences of waiting too long to get the economy going again.

We have now mostly all adjusted to this new, temporary, more home focused way of life.

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However, I can tell that people are getting antsy. Maybe we are not getting antsy to return to things like commuting to work. Plenty of people who are now questioning more than ever whether going into an office every day is even necessary anymore given the technology we now have (disclaimer: my personal sample leans heavily towards Colorado Millennials so you may be experiencing different conversational themes). For things like social interaction, travel, gathering and certain types of experiences, there is certainly a yearning for that which we are now lamenting we had taken for granted nearly our entire lives.

Friday, I decided to spend the day riding my bike, stopping by various people’s houses doing some bike-by “distance hellos”. The response was overwhelmingly positive!

 

 

I set out at 9 A.M. expecting to return home sometime around 2 or 2:30 P.M. My total cycling distance was just over 40 miles, only around the Denver Metro Area as to not take part in unnecessary travel at this time. I ended up not getting home until after 6:00 P.M. There were five planned visits, each one lasting a decent amount of time, as everyone I set out to hang out with from a distance seemed more than happy to have visitors at this time. I also ended up having two other unplanned visits. One was with a total stranger, who I talked with for 10-15 minutes. She introduced herself from her backyard as I was pulling into a parking lot in Golden. The other, with a friend of mine who had seen my Instagram post about these distance hellos and wanted to be a part of it.

On one level, the question we are all asking is quite straightforward:

What is more important being or doing?

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If “being” is more important, saving as many lives as possible is the natural priority. If “doing” is more important, the conversation opens up to questions like whether or not it is worth it to sacrifice a few (thousand) lives to avoid other forms of economic and social destruction.

However, as we continue to experience that which seemed unfathomable as recently as six weeks ago…

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Google Maps showing no traffic in New York, Chicago, Denver and Los Angeles

The question of being vs. doing becomes more nuanced.

Is our “doing” essential to our “being”?

For a long time, our jobs/careers have been an integral part of our identities. When we place our jobs at the center of our identities, it is sometimes referred to as “Workism”.

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Placing work, or a career at the center of our identities implies that doing is essential to our being. This current crisis call workism into question, but it was already being questioned. However, even those looking to move beyond workism place significant importance on some other form of “doing”. I personally don’t enjoy days with no activity, and mass inactivity has negative consequences for our economic and psychological well-being. The term “idle hands are the tool of the devil” came from actual experience.

There is a lot of speculation about what the world will look like after COVID-19. The only thing that seems certain now is that there will be some sort of change that will be clear this year. How things turn out on a longer time scale will depend on how we address the questions of whether it is more important to be or to do, and how our doing impacts our being.

Exactly What Was Expected

Sometimes in life, for better or for worse, things go exactly as expected.

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An average November produces only six clear days in Chicago, compared to 18 cloudy ones. December is even cloudier, averaging 20 cloudy days.

The weather I experienced, visiting Chicago over Thanksgiving and into early December was exactly what one should expect. With the exception of a few hours on one day, it was cloudy. There were stretches where it even got foggy.

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A couple of days, it rained. Temperatures where in the 30s (-1 to +4°C) pretty much the entire time.

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It could have been worse. Chicago is prone to cold air outbreaks, and while late November into early December is not the heart of winter, it is still possible for temperatures to drop down close to 0°F (-17°C).

Thanksgiving is not about pleasant weather, being outdoors or any specific activities. It’s not even really about the food or drink. It’s about gratitude. It’s also about spending time with friends and family.

The Thanksgiving feeling is that conversation, usually around the table, where everyone feels safe, supported and not judged. Everywhere we go in life, we feel the need to prove something. We are always trying to prove to our bosses that we are worthy of pay raises and promotions. We are often trying to prove to those in our social scenes that we are worth inviting to parties and events. With social media and smartphones, much of our lives have become trying to prove to people that we are interesting enough to warrant their attention. Thanksgiving, when done right, is a reprieve from all that!

Holidays are not without their struggle. Flights to visit family are often expensive and we are often forced to make tough decisions regarding visiting family at Thanksgiving, Christmas or for some other holiday. This year’s trip turned out really well, as my time in Chicago started on Thanksgiving, November 28th and extended about a week. I got to experience both holidays, as we had Thanksgiving dinner, but also were able to set up the Christmas tree, start singing Christmas songs and watching Christmas movies.

For many other reasons, the entire trip to Chicago ended up pretty closely aligned with expectations.

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When trips to visit friends and family fall in line with expectations, it is almost always a good thing. However, in other areas of life, sometimes what we expect is not what we actually want. This is technically true of work right now. Well more than half of U.S. workers are not happy with how their jobs turn out. As of the end of the 2010s, going into any job, one would have to unfortunately bet on a poor experience.

In every area of life, from personal relationships, social endeavors, politics, to just going to the supermarket, an experience can be typical or it could be abnormal. How anyone feels after a “typical experience” depends on three factors.

1. Personality

Specifically, this often relates to how open we are and how optimistic we are. Optimists tend to have high expectations. This is generally a good thing, but can be frustrating when some anticipated better than normal experience does not come to pass. People who are more resistant to change would likely be more satisfied having an experience that falls in line with what is typically expected.

2. How one feels about the current state

This one is easy to reconcile. If someone likes where they are in life, and feels things are moving in the right direction, then they will be happy with a typical life experience. However, when someone feels like something in their lives or what they are observing around them needs a change in direction, a “typical” experience can actually lead to some level of depression.

3. Recent events in our own lives

Both ancient and recent philosophical writings have described the need for some kind of balance between the predictable and the chaotic. Too much of the former can lead to stagnation and that nagging feeling as if something is missing. Too much of the latter can lead to that feeling that everything is out of control and nothing can be counted on. Experiencing exactly what one expects falls into the category or order or the predictable. For someone whose life has felt out of control, an experience that follows the order of things can feel refreshing. For someone who feels antsy and stagnant after seven identical weeks following a constant routine, another typical experience could just add to the frustration.

 

The Next Three Months

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It is hard to believe we have already reached this point. There are only three months left in this decade! Soon, it will legitimately be the “20s”. Although there is a reasonable argument to be made that there is nothing special about milestones somewhat artificially created by our calendar, there are seasons and cycles to life. This one happens to correspond with a need to reflect. At least that is how I feel about my own life as well as our culture as a whole.

My Personal Story

Saying my life has undergone some major changes over the past decade would be a rather generic statement. It’s ten years! Of course life has changed. The idea that someone is living the same life they were living at the start of 2010 indicates a level of stagnation that would make my head spin!

Some aspects of my life were quite different at the start of the decade. I was living in Chicago working at my first “real job”. At the surface, I was living the life one would expect a 20-something in Chicago to be living.

I also, for the most part believed in the system and the institutions that we had put in place (mostly over the 20th Century). I was fortunate that the 2008 market crash had remarkably little impact on my life.

It wasn’t perfect, but I was riding high. A couple of years later, I would move to a a different part of the country. I suffered a series of disappointments, primarily related to jobs. It caused me investigate and take a more critical view of the current state of our culture.

I still love to goof off and have fun.

However, my attitude towards a lot of things have changed.

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I see our established institutions, such as work, education and social expectations as in desperate need of an update.

I started spending far more time traveling and seeking experiences, particularly in the outdoors, as well as attending the types of events that inspire people to buck the trend and seek out something more from life.

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The 2010s

I can’t help but feel like when I think of the culture of the 2010s, the first thing that will come to mind will be a bunch of people staring at their phones.

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Social media and smart phones were a major disruption to our communication and social patterns we have yet to fully process. Over the course of the decade, we continued to embrace these technologies while simultaneously worrying about the consequences. We observed some alarming trends such as increases in suicide rate, opioid overdoes and violence, and have wondered whether loneliness and depression related to social media and smart phone distraction have played a part.

Our political discourse certainly went downhill. Despite a few trends here and there I find promising, I all but completely lost interest.

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The 2010s have, in many ways, brought some level of awareness. The sad part, for some, was the revelation of truth around people formerly regarded as heroes, like Bill Cosby and Lance Armstrong. Of course, this does mean a lot more people will get treated more fairly in life.

Also, in parallel with my own personal journey, a lot more people have come to the realization that many of our institutions, from work to education and social structures, could be improved upon to create a better human experience. In arenas such as TED talks, people are discussing what that future could look like.

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The Middle of an Uneven Transition

At this moment in time it feels like both my life and our culture as a whole is in the middle of a transition, with a result yet to be determined. New enterprises are re-imagining systems such as education, healthcare and transportation. More minor adjustments like flexible hours and married people maintaining separate bank accounts are more common. In general, though, we are still trying to define this transition, what the future state will look like and how we get there.

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My life’s path is in a somewhat similar place. I’m trying to get my life in alignment with my personality, values and interests. I am only part of the way there, and have encountered resistance of my own.

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My Plan For the Next Three Months

The last 12 months of my life have been exhausting.

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With the 2020 milestone coming up, and a need to better define the direction my life needs to take, now is a good time to stop and focus on the following.

  • Slowing down
  • Processing ten years worth of events
  • Meditation and Mindfulness
  • Reconnecting with my true authentic self
  • Gratitude and atonement
  • Finding some direction
  • Personal development
  • Determining how to help bring about the changes our culture needs
  • Being there for those that matter

This unfortunately means less travel and activity. However, I am hoping it sets me up for an amazing new decade and even better adventures to come!

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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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Off-Seasons and Wanderlust

We dream of adventures in far away places. The majesty of watching the sun set over an endless ocean from a tucked away campground.

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Of endless forests, whose trees stretch endlessly up towards the heavens…

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Of the quiet lake tucked away in the mountains…

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The wide open rugged terrain of Earth’s most pristine mountain ranges…

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Adventures on both land and water…

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And, in my case, the continuous smell of fresh air from the comfort of a bicycle seat!

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Sometimes, however, life, as in some combination of events both major and minor, forces our attention elsewhere. By elsewhere, I mean to other aspects of our lives.

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Springtime can actually be that time of year for a lot of people. The most common activities people take part in tend to either be winter activities, such as skiing, or summer activities that require consistent relatively pleasant weather. Springtime can be pleasant, but can also produce weather that is quite volatile.

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Our most precious resources can be crudely generalized as time and money. It has often been said that a person’s values and priorities can be revealed not through their words, but their actions, in the form of how they chose to spend their time and money. Travel, at lest the kind of travel featured in blogs, magazines, and on TV shows, tends to be quite exhaustive of both time and money.

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While there are people who value travel and people who don’t, even amongst people who value travel, there are times when these resources simply have to go elsewhere. I am in the midst of one of those time periods, where the large sums of money, and the large blocks of time just need to be used in other capacities.

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Fortunately, not all experiences require large sums of money and large amounts of time. While not everybody is lucky enough to live within a 45 minute bike ride of a place that can feel majestic on a warm spring day.

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There is something picturesque about everyone’s home town.

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Wherever you live, there is something to be admired, there is an experience to savor and a scene to soak in, at the right time, from the right vantage point, so long as we all stay mindful.

My “offseason” consisted of activities that are less exhaustive of both time and money.

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Some were bike rides to nearby places that had become so familiar, their beauty had become almost lost. Two years ago I had said that no matter how many times I ride the route 36 bike trail between Denver and Boulder, I would always stop at the Davidson Mesa overlook, even if I am not in need of rest. I broke that policy last week, which would later serve to me as a reminder that the familiar does not cease to be wonderful!

Others were trips to state parks within 60 miles, an hour’s drive or a three hour bike ride, of Denver.

On a day with unpleasant weather, I checked out the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit at the Museum of Nature and Science, technically walking distance from my home.

Nicer days brought me to places like the Cheyenne Botanical Gardens…

Or even just to my own back yard to plant a garden.

All, this, along with the other random activities I took part in around town

was certainly not enough to fend off the wanderlust, the ever present desire to get out and, see more places, witness more events, and travel somewhere new. However, an off-season, a change of pace of sorts, from time to time, might not necessarily be a bad thing.

According to Tony Robbins, there are six basic human needs.

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Travel is a great way to meet some of these needs, particularly variety, growth, and connection to nature. However, with the exception of the few people who travel for a living happily, some of us need to stick closer to home to meet the rest.

In particular, I can see how consistently being in a different place can actually be a hindrance, or an additional challenge, when it comes to making an nourishing friendships.

As well as growing professionally.

And, well, when it comes to developing a career (if travel itself is not the career that is), accomplishing something.

I can’t say I welcomed this season of my life, needing to direct my energies towards pursuits that feel less exciting and unique, and more like everyday life. However, after a couple of months, I now see why it is periodically necessary. The wanderlust isn’t gone. On the contrary, it probably gets worse every day. However, life is about balance, and when we get out of balance, bad things can occur. Just because I feel like far too many people have settled for the mundane, and less than I feel they are worth, does not mean it isn’t possible to fall out of balance in the other direction.