Tag Archives: personality

Three Truths About Paradise

IMG_7012.jpgOur ever evolving languages can often lead to some complicated terms, and concepts that can often be difficult to both describe and properly comprehend.  One of those concepts is paradise, this concept of a place where everything is ideal, happy and worry free.  But, in various places within our culture, there are vastly differing depictions of it.

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Last year, I rode my bike through a place called Paradise Valley, in Southern Montana, along the Yellowstone River Valley.  This “paradise” is a calm, quiet, and sparsely populated picturesque landscape in the mountains.  When many people here in Colorado talk about “paradise”, they are commonly discussing places that meet this very description.

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A google image search for the word paradise primarily produces images of a tropical beach.  This is the image of paradise depicted in commercials for products like Corona.  In my observation, this is the most common way paradise is depicted in our culture, and for anyone that has ever spent a winter in the Midwest, it serves as a dream vacation.

And then there is the world of music, and its plethora of widely varying references to paradise; As a specific act of intense sexual pleasure (L.L. Cool J.).  As a hyperbole for a horrible life situation (Phil Collins).  Sarcastically (Green Day).  Detroit based rapper Big Sean comes closest to appreciating the true, complex nature of the concept, when, in his song, Paradise, he discusses his lifestyle as a whole, and the pride he has taken in earning it.

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I wasn’t expecting to find any inspiration here at Evergreen Lake.  I mainly came up here to free myself from the distractions at home, and also avoid the 90 degree heat in Denver, without traveling too far.  I did not know what to expect from this place.  I hoped to find somewhere I can alternate between walking and reading.  What I saw was a popular public place, with outfitters renting out paddle boats, stand-up paddle boards, and other strange water contraptions, families having picnics, and groups of friends just enjoying themselves in the areas surrounding the lake.

It felt like paradise- sort of.  In a way, it felt reminiscent of paradise, what it truly is and isn’t.  The concept of paradise is kind of complex, but lost in all of our songs, pictures, and conversations, are three basic truths about paradise.

  1. Paradise is not just a geographical location- it’s a setting!

It’s the time of day and time of year.  It’s who you are with (or not with), your situation, and what’s on your mind.  It’s a “setting”, in the full sense of the word, as it is applied to stories, plays, etc.  This can include not only the place a person is, but where they just were, where they are going, and how they feel about all of it.

  1. Paradise is different for every person.

Gazing upon people giggling amongst each other, playing games, paddling their boats and such, I realized that, as a true extrovert, my version of paradise is probably not this quiet retreat in the mountains, or an empty beach.  It probably falls a lot closer to Big Sean’s, a life well lived and earned!  But, also a place where people are interacting with one another in a manner that is enjoyable.

  1. We often don’t recognize paradise until after the fact.

I was inspired by multiple specific things I saw.  A group of older people playing bocce ball reminded me that life did not have to become dull and uninspiring with age (as I often fear).  There was also a group of younger people, cheerleaders, doing cartwheels and giggling about what had transpired over the course of their weekend.  Witnessing this reminded me of all of the times I had spent socializing with good friends over the past decade or so.  It was almost like a montage playing through my head.

I recalled the times I would be envious of people in a large group that seemed to be doing something more interesting than what I was doing, only to remember how frequently, I am on the other side of that equation, part of a large group, likely being obnoxious.  I recall in particular, one time, in Chicago, when I tried to replicate the experience of passing around a boot of beer, a German tradition also common in Madison, Wisconsin.  I found a place that served boots, and assembled a group of a dozen or so people only to realize that this was more of a family establishment, and not necessarily a place to go to recreate college type antics.  We still had a good time, and there may have been some that wished for that level of excitement out of their evening!

Of the crowd at Lake Evergreen, I wonder how many of them are like me.  I wonder how many of them are enjoying their own personal version of paradise, and, as I had so many times in the past, not realized it until a couple of weeks after the fact.

Ideas I Am Not Giving Up On

Ideas are powerful!  They can outlive the people, and even the places and things originally associated with them.  Rome was all but destroyed in the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries.  The people that created Rome, and the representative republic which governed Rome for the first five centuries were long gone.  Yet, these ideas made a resurgence in the 18th Century, when the founders of a new country called the United States of America created a representative republic in a new land far away.  The writings of ancient Roman authors, from those that formed the Republic after overthrowing a King of their own, to those that later tried to defend the Republican form of government from power hungry politicians, are said to have provided inspiration for the country’s founders.

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For all intensive purposes, Rome was a place that no longer existed.  Yet, ideas that originated from this place had found their way to a land that Romans had no idea even existed, at a time over two thousand years later!  Over the next Century, these ideas would proliferate, inspiring additional revolutions all over the world, and even counter-revolutions.  Roughly a century later, that idea would actually find its way back to the very place it originated, when Rome, now part of a nation called Italy, would adapt a roughly similar form of Government.

It is for this reason people are often more threatened by ideas than they are by specific people.  Today, when those of us look at someone like Osama Bin Laden, or any specific leader of ISIS, what we are looking at, and what we are threatened by goes way beyond a specific individual.  Even Bin Laden, long the subject of ire for many, needed the aid or cooperation of many other individuals to successfully carry out the attacks he carried out.  Simply put, for many of us in the United States, he became the face of an idea, and one that we largely found repulsive.

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We all have ideas.  Even those of us that do not consider ourselves creative, or inventive people, have ideas.  It doesn’t have to be world changing like the invention of the computer.  Maybe it is something as simple as the idea that it would be nice to have a train line or an additional road built to alleviate traffic.  Or maybe it is the idea that animals should not be mistreated by their owners.  Either way, as long as one understands the idea, why they feel the way they do about it, and has enthusiasm for it, the idea is worth pursuing and standing up for.

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I have a ton of ideas, and many do relate to how I feel the world should work.  Lately I have been hearing all the time that some people see the world as it, while others see the world as it could be.  I would consider myself firmly in the later group.  I commonly see some aspects of our society, and how it works, and think to myself (and sometimes say it to people around me) “we can do better”.  After discussion, I will often hear from others what has come to be my least favorite sentence of all time: “It is what it is”.  This is because, in many cases, I really see no reason it has to be that way.  Some people see this as the mark of someone who refuses to mature beyond a state of artificially prolonged adolescence.  However, I see it as refusing to give up on me, and what makes me unique.

I see an entire generation of people pursuing college education, and, more and more, post-graduate degrees, in interesting intellectually stimulating subjects just to join the workforce and be asked to perform menial, repetitive job duties and have their ideas rejected due to their low standing on the corporate totem poll.  We can do better to nurture and develop these promising young minds.

I see people not being true to themselves, in their actions, their behaviors, and attitudes.  We encourage one another to conform, to act like everyone else, and to live life according to a script written by and for a culture that no longer exists because many fear change and the potential loss of status associated with it.  But each person’s individual and unique way of doing things is part of what makes this world an interesting place.  We can be better about encouraging people to be true to themselves, and not being threatened by their unique way of life.

I see countless missed opportunities in the lives of countless people based on adherence to rigid rules and policies that do not make sense.  This is where fear takes it’s greatest toll on society.  Many take comfort in rules and structure.  However, why should someone who has completed their work, and has no other obligations (meetings and such) be sitting in their cubicle at 2:30 on a warm, sunny afternoon?  And, why should one person making a mistake with something lead to a law or ordinance preventing everyone from taking part in this activity?  We can stop taking comfort in rules, and start taking advantage of all the beautiful opportunities this world provides us.

And, I see people who have failed to make deep and meaningful connections with other human beings.  Many go through their lives feeling like they do not have the support system needed to get through the rough patches of their lives.  This is because we live in a society that does not place a high value on building social capital.  Many of us spend our days in work and social settings where we do not feel comfortable expressing our emotions and showing one another who we really are.  You cannot develop a meaningful friendship with someone that does not even know who you really are.  As is the case with the other ideas listed, we can do better on this one as well.

Periodically, I am pressured to give up on these ideas.  I admit nobody has ever specifically told me something like “don’t be who you are”.  But, I definitely feel it.  “You need to act more professionally”.  “Fireball: What are you?  Still 22.”  “Grow up, be a man.”  “You can’t just….”  These types of statements, and many more, come based on the idea that there are certain expectations of me that I do not believe need to exist.

There are even some that have given me sincere advice that I need to stop worrying about these overly philosophical issues.  After all, there are actual reasons for all of the things that frustrate me, and those that defend the current way we do things in this world probably have some valid points.  But, while sometimes I do experience frustration and rejection by acting the way I do, the alternative sounds way more depressing to me in the long run.  The alternative, to me, is giving up on who I am.

I would rather encourage people to pursue their intellectual ideas, even if occasionally their bosses come down on me.

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I would rather continue to show people who I really am, and continue to enjoy the activities that bring me happiness, even if I am periodically given negative feedback by judgmental people.

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I would rather take advantage of all of the great things this world has to offer, all of the wonderful places to visit, interesting ideas to pursue, and experiences to enjoy, even if that periodically earns me “reprimand”.

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And, I would rather occasionally get burned by someone who uses information about me for their own selfish ambitions than cease showing people who I truly am.

Essentially, I would rather get rejected as myself than be accepted by pretending to be somebody else.

We are all people of value, in our own unique way.  And, for any one of us, if we go out there in this world, and find a way to be the best version of ourselves, but still ourselves, we will naturally find people who like it, and people who see us as valuable individuals.  We all long for acceptance, but in order to be accepted in a true meaningful way, we need to overcome the fear of rejection, and stand up for our ideas.

The Last Chance Of The Year

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There is a saying that “old habits die hard”.  This is possibly an overstatement, and it might not apply to everybody.  But it is a powerful statement of inertia that applies to a large segment of the population.  A major stress factor, such as the discovery of a new food allergy or the loss of a job, can change people’s habits rapidly and decisively.  However, in the absence of some kind of major push, most people’s habits will change slowly or even not at all.  It is for this reason that bad habits like watching too much TV, engaging in frequent unprotected sex with strangers, and even smoking can persist for decades.

I would not consider the habit I am referring to as a bad one.  It is mostly just annoying to some people around me.  It all started in the 8th grade when I became somewhat obsessed with football.  A typically Sunday for me that fall I would not only watch a couple of NFL games, but I would also watch the pre-game show at 11 A.M., as well as NFL Primetime at 6 P.M.  On any given Sunday, I’d watch as much as 8 hours of football!

This also caused me to put off too much of my schoolwork.  Then one November weekend, I suddenly realized that I had a major Science project due and I was running out of time to complete it.  That Friday evening, I came home from school knowing that I would have to scramble to finish this project on-time, and calculated that I would have almost no time for anything else that weekend.  My parents were disappointed in me, and actually feared that my grades would suffer because of it.

That weekend’s weather was especially nice, with high temperatures reaching 70 on Sunday.  Sometime on Sunday my father reminded me that this would probably be the last 70-degree day until April.  As a weather tracker from a young age, this was a fact that I was already well aware of.  But, it was something I had not been thinking about through all of this.  At this time, my father was just trying to be a good parent, and inform me that procrastination had consequences.  But the sudden reminder, that it would be at least three, and up to five months before weather like this would return prompted me to go outside that minute, even though I knew all I could afford was a 10-15 minute break from my work.

The previous winter was my first in Illinois, and it was quite harsh!  Not only had I just moved from Long Island, New York, a place with milder winters, but that winter was harsh for Chicago area standards too!  Temperatures were significantly colder than their long-term averages, particularly in January and February.  I recalled seeing a snowpack persist for over five weeks, something I had never seen before, and school was closed a couple of days due to extreme temperatures (below -20).  It was quite a shock for me, and something I did not enjoy.  Feeling that fresh air, and knowing that these ten minutes would be all I get for such a long time made me regret my obsessive watching of football in a way I had never regretted anything before.  It was that day that I realized that I cared significantly more about activities that I personally participate in than watching professional sports (or anything on TV).  I did not completely give up on watching professional sports that day.  But, since that day I’ve have had a clear understanding of where my priorities lie.

The winter that followed would be modestly mild for Chicago standards.  But, it was still colder than the ones I remembered in New York, and there were still very few days warm enough to be enjoyable for outdoor activities.  It was enough to cement in me the lessons I learned that November day.  I would spend seventeen more years in the Midwest, in either Illinois, Indiana, or Wisconsin.  Only one winter season would be more oppressively cold than that first one (and I was in Wisconsin- a colder place overall).  Many of the winters would be milder, some significantly milder.  Still, I would rehearse the same pattern every fall.  Starting around Halloween weekend, any day where temperatures were projected to reach the 60s or 70s would basically sound an alarm off inside of me.  I would start planning ahead of time how to take advantage of these particular days, and bill it “the last nice day of the year.”  Sometimes, I would even have some “false starts” in this process, where I would be prompted to enjoy “the last nice day of the year” only to have another stretch (or even two or three) of warm weather occur before winter set in.

Now that I live in Denver, this practice is not necessary.  Not only do sunny and mild days occur quite frequently in the middle of the winter, but winter is one of the most exciting times to be in Colorado- due to skiing.  But, we are also not in an ordinary weather pattern.  Today’s highs will top out somewhere between 60 and 65.  But, after this, an abnormally prolonged period of cold weather is expected in Colorado.  It might even be too cold to ski, as highs between 10 and 20, and lows below 0 are anticipated for Denver.  It will be even colder in the mountains!  So, that alarm in my head triggered me to take advantage of this day as if it were the last chance I would have this year to go on a bike ride, which I did.

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Of course, one of the challenge in taking advantage of the last nice day of the year is that in November and December, the days are quite short.  Today I also had an added time constraint, as I knew the winds around Denver would pick up around noon, making bicycling much more unpleasant.  So, I stuck to a much simpler ride, down the Cherry Creek Trail to  Cherry Creek State Park, a 25 mile round trip.  Most of the ride is flat, or slightly uphill on the way out and slightly downhill on the way back.  The first major terrain feature is a large hill near Kennedy Golf Course, which is followed by the climb up to the reservoir.

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The Cherry Creek Trail is one of the best trails I have ever ridden!  It follows the river, through all of the underpasses, and avoids nearly all traffic lights.  This makes it a perfect way to get somewhere quickly on a bicycle.  There is some terrain climbing up to Cherry Creek State Park, but overall, the ride here only involves three “climbs”, and each one is only a couple of hundred feet in elevation.  Therefore, this would be a great ride for people who are only in moderately good shape, or not looking for a major challenge.

It will be too cold for bicycling in Denver to be enjoyable for at least another week and a half.  But, in all likelihood, this was not my “last chance of the year” to ride.  Therefore, I probably did not need to be too concerned about taking advantage of today’s weather.  However, I am also not seeing any negative consequences in taking advantage of a day like this.  I did not miss out on anything important, and everything I need to work on I can complete in the later part of this week when the weather turns awful.  So, this old habit is going to “die hard”, and probably won’t change much until it leads to a poor result.