Tag Archives: social

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.

Mud Season

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“Mud Season” is a term used to describe a time of year when a combination of melting snow and frequent rain can cause the ground to become muddy for an extended period of time.  The term originated in Northern New England to describe the first part of Spring in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, when rural dirt roads are significantly tougher to pass through.  It is now used quite extensively in the Rocky Mountains as well.  Here, “mud season” refers to the time period between ski season and the onset of summer activities; basically most of April and May.  With a drier climate, Rocky Mountain “mud season” is not nearly as muddy as its New England counterpart.  But, the lull in activity produces similar results.

“Mud season”, no matter where you are physically located, is the outdoor recreation equivalent of a matinee movie showing, a red-eye flight, or well liquor.  Those who chose to travel during this time of year are rewarded with significantly cheaper hotel rates, much less traffic to contend with, and campgrounds that are significantly emptier.  However, as is the case with any other off-peak event, there is reduced demand for a reason.  And, there are tradeoffs.  Matinee moviegoers are giving up greater opportunities than those who pay more to see a movie at night, a red-eye flight can mess up sleep schedules, and well liquor can produce significantly worse hangovers.

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The main reason camp sites are easier to come by here in the Central Rocky Mountains in late April/ early May is that, at 10,000 feet in elevation, conditions are still not optimal.  This past weekend, both Friday and Saturday nights saw temperatures drop below the freezing mark.  Camping in these conditions is far less comfortable.  It necessitates chopping more firewood, packing more layers, and sometimes even breaking camp with frost on top of your tent!

In my case, there were plenty of people around to handle campfire preparation.  This particular camping excursion was actually a multi-day birthday party.  And, at some point Saturday evening, there was around 20 people at the campfire.  It was a strange mix, being in a remote, secluded area away from civilization, but also being at a major social gathering.  We were out of cell phone range, miles from any town, and a significant distance from the nearest other campers, but also using battery powered speakers to play music at a significant volume.  It was a truly amazing experience!  I got to both be around a large group of people, but also wander into the woods and collect my thoughts in perfect silence, all in the same day!

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Social gatherings of these kinds are always somewhat of a balancing act.  At any social gathering like this, you will find people that will fit into the following three categories:

First, there are the people you are solidly friends with.  You have seen them sometime recently.  You have your shared experiences, your silly jokes and the like.  Most likely you have some kind of plan to see them again.  Maybe you coordinated rides with them, or even lost a silly bet on a basketball game several weeks ago.  That is what happened to me, and why I had to wear this silly sombrero for most of the weekend!

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In the second category are people who you know, but not terribly well yet.  These are the people you would typically describe as “friends of friends”.  You’ve definitely had some experience with them.  They showed up at the bar last weekend, or the last house party you attended.  You’ve hung out with them, conversed, danced, played games at various intoxication levels.  And, maybe someday in the future someone in this category will eventually be a good friend.  But, with people in this category, the next time you will see them will be at another event coordinated by your mutual friends.

And, finally, there are the people you are meeting for the first time ever.

A balance needs to be had.  I find it important to engage with people that would fit into all three of these categories over the course of the evening.  You need to enjoy your time with your friends, but also be open to letting more people into your life.  It’s about sharing in the activities you know, reliving the experiences you have had, and continuing the ongoing jokes you already share, but also trying new activities, exploring new ideas, and creating new jokes in your circle.

I dabbled in the old, as well as the new.  I even tried, once again, and failed, once again, at mastering the art of wood chopping.  That silly sombrero I had to wear did not help.

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Let’s be honest, my form here, it looks terrible, and look at all of those silly little chunks of wood that ended up splattered all over the place.  At least the activity kept me warm.

As is the case with any off-peak activity, there are some cases to take either side of tradeoff.  Someone who works a non traditional schedule may financially benefit from seeing a cheaper matinee movie.  A red-eye flight may be a more efficient use of time for someone capable of dozing off on an airplane.  And, well liquor could be a good cheaper alternative for someone whose plan for the following day does not necessitate being alert.  During “mud season” in the Rockies, hotels are cheaper and camp sites are far easier to come by.  It is also way easier to find both privacy and seclusion.  To get to a place that is truly peaceful, one must travel less distance, and often spend less time in traffic to get there.  Therefore, for those not looking to mountain bike, climb a tall mountain, or use muddy trails, it may be worth the trade-off to come up to the Rocky Mountains during “mud season”.  And, like the person who is capable of falling asleep on an airplane, or those who work non-traditional schedules, some are more adept at handling the cold nights of “mud season”.

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Like this Siberian Husky, who, if anything, feels at home in chillier conditions, there are off-peak opportunities out there for nearly any activity one engages in.  And, those who figure out the ones that are right for them, can save money, time and hassle.

Visiting the Past and the Future- Part 1

It was an average day that I suddenly found myself in a strangely familiar place. Wednesday the 22nd of April is a day where most people are simply going about their daily routines, particularly in suburbia.  But, on this day, I unexpectedly found myself headed west on 159th Street, entering the town of Homer Glen, Illinois. And, although I have not been here in nearly a decade, traveling this stretch of road brought back a flood of memories from my college years.

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Homer Glen is just over an hour away from both my parents house and my University.  I was never here for an extended period of time, nor did I come here on a regular basis. However, I had made several friends who were from this area, and ended up partaking in some social events here. There are plenty of other places I could go and encounter a similar amount of memories.  However, this visit came unexpectedly, and on a trip where I am already visiting a plethora of places near and dear to me, from past chapters of my life.  Maybe that is why the images from my past came back to me so powerfully.

Most of my memories from this place involve standard young people shit; drinking, debauchery, partying, etc.  However, some of them involve some specific experiences that remind me of the way my life truly was. One summer evening, we had used a friend’s house in this area as a meeting point, as we had on several occasions, particularly in summer.  We had all not see each other in around two months, which, for 20-year-olds used to being at college together all the time, seems like an eternity.  As a result, we spent roughly 20 minutes taking pictures.  I don’t even remember why we took so many pictures, but we did so until the one person with even less of an attention span than me finally had to put a stop to it.  His exact words were “I love you guys, but we need to do something.”

Looking around, I eventually realized that I was not even really in the same place that I had remembered.  At that time, the area between Orland Park and Lockport was called Homer Township.  It would later be incorporated as the town of Homer Glen.  Instead of the four-way stop signs I had seen throughout the area, signaled by red flashing lights in all directions, most intersections here now have full traffic signals.  McDonald’s is now accompanied by a bunch of other establishments, and an extension of Interstate 355 has been built just to the west of town. So, although some of what I saw looked familiar, and brought back memories, there is not way to avoid clear evidence that this is now a completely different place than it was a decade ago.

One mistake I tend to make is to associate certain past experiences with a specific location. Periodically, I need reminders that when I think of a set of experiences from my past, I am really looking back to a “chapter” of my life, which, unfortunately, cannot be truly relived no matter how hard I try.  College is a chapter of life, and one cannot return to this chapter of life by simply moving back to their college town.  Even those who chose to stay in their college town enter a new chapter of their lives when they graduate, one that commonly involves either graduate school or their first “real job”.

Not only is this physical location fundamentally different from the place I had all of these experiences, but I also, unfortunately do not have the same relationship with some of the people I had these experiences with. The different physical surroundings right in front of my face serve as a clear reminder that the chapter of my life, with all of the memories that I am suddenly flashing through in my head at nearly lightning speed, is unequivocally over. AlI I can do is smile, and remember with fondness the small part of my life this place once played.

For the entire week, I have been visiting both the past and the future.  We travel for all kinds of reasons.  Sometimes for business, sometimes for relaxation, and sometimes for pleasure.  Sometimes, we travel to places to attend specific events and visit specific people.  And, while some trips are primarily about exploring places we have yet to be, and about having experiences we have yet to have, others are about places we have already been, people we already know, and experience we have already had.  For me, this trip, which I will discuss more in Part 2, is turning out to be a hybrid.  On this trip, I am trying as best I can to balance relaxation with activity.  I am trying to visit as many people as possible, but also to have quality experiences, as opposed to simply rushing from one activity to the next. I am also, in a way, visiting both the past and the future, as I can see my life’s previous “chapters”, but also some of my life’s future “chapters” in the places I am going and the people I am seeing over the course of the week.