My heart hurts. Another school shooting, another reason for our kids (and parents!) not to feel safe, and another bunch of nothing gets fixed.
Aiden has to do school drills to practice being safe if something terrible happened. In my day, drills were for tornadoes – natural occurrences that you can’t control. Our parents had bombing drills, and we all decided that hiding from nuclear weapons wasn’t a thing we wanted to do. Hence: arms control.
Today, drills are for something we can control, but fail to do anything about. It’s silly.
Glad to see the Florida students shame our politicians, and (hopefully) many Americans who feel our kids aren’t worth protecting.
I’m pro hunting, pro owning a shotgun or a handgun – but also pro safety and controlling these killing machines from the crazies. We can have both.
Most of all, I’m in favor of kids over guns. It should be an easy decision, America.
This time of year is tough: resolutions, winter time blues, Fat Tuesday.
Apart from resolutions, I think about habits – either starting new ones or trying to get back into old ones I’ve let slip.
Take meditation. I had a decent mindfulness practice for almost 10 years. But with kids and moving and new jobs, I let that habit slip. Or fitness: my workout regiment has come and gone for years. After the glut of the holidays, I always have to kick-start that habit after the new year.
Even my photography habit goes into hibernation this time of year. I always have to give myself a project to wake it back up again.
The trick is to not feel bad about letting habits lapse. They come and go, and that’s natural. I could feel guilty about not working out, or taking more photos – or I could just get moving and start forming those habits again.
Every year this cycle starts again. And every year I have to remind myself: it’s okay.
It’s amazing: if you build a community place, a community will form, even if it’s a transient one.
Over the summer, we stayed at a Courtyard hotel – nice place, pool, convenient location, etc. And, as the name says, it had a courtyard in the middle of the hotel with picnic tables and trees and little walkways. Our hotel room had a porch that looked out on the courtyard.
The whole thing caught me off guard. Hotels, as I had experience them, were private places, where noise was kept down and you rarely saw the people in other rooms. But a courtyard? Where you could see people? Whoa.
And what do you know, people gathered there. A family brought a six pack of beer outside and sat on the picnic table to chat. People strolled by on their way to the pool. Kids ran around and played kickball. It was like being back in college, only with a more diverse crowd. It was great. We sat on the porch and watched the whole evening take shape.
If you build it, they will come, the saying goes. In this case, it was true. The evidence was gathering in front of us.
That made me think of the “courtyards” I’ve encountered in my online life: Twitter, my old Apple Newton blog, photography groups.I would still rather chat with someone in person about their (or my own) weird hobby. The nice thing about the Web is, you can have both in-person courtyards and online meeting places to talk about what interests you.
Make a gathering place, and like-minded people make a community. If you’re generous and open, those communities become stronger and closer.
We all knew, years in advance, that this day was coming. Our attention spans are short, so we only really started preparing – with the glasses and the filters and our lunch plans – earlier this summer.
So we took the kids, the grandparents, our fellow students, our co-workers, and we all went outside for a bit this afternoon. Novelty glasses in hand, we looked up, and we saw our sky change.
We watched young and old, rich and poor, conservative and liberal, natural born and immigrant go out into the fading sunlight and watch and wonder. See how the light changes? See how the shadows shift their shape? See that funny cardboard contraption the astronomy students are wearing on their heads?
See how everyone, regardless of background, came outside and shared an experience?
Astronomers have our solar system down pat. They know where the sun and moon and Earth will be in relation to each other from now until Rapture. Barring an unexpected astroid, the future is predictable, thanks to models and observation.
We Americans think we know better. Sure, we show up at an appointed time expecting a celestial show. But when it does happen, we don’t think that makes the scientific method any more reliable. We question and we “fake news” everything, still, even when the heavens dance around us, as predicted.
We rarely get the larger message – in plain view there in the sky, in front of our own filtered eyes – just as we rarely think about eclipses a decade down the road.
We don’t have to “believe” in the eclipse; it happens with or without us. We don’t get that message, either.
Last summer, at our former house, we noticed something more and more: of all our neighbors, we were the only ones who spent any measurable amount of time outside.
Whether for grilling, or for playing on the swing set, or going for a simple walk around the block, our family was largely alone. We didn’t see some neighbors for weeks. Others only went outside to mow the lawn, or get in their car and leave. My wife and I would sit in the backyard, after putting the kids to bed, just to read and drink and watch the birds. Again: all alone, all by ourselves.
Granted, we lived in a rural neighborhood, and most country folks stick to themselves. But we couldn’t shake a thought: how weird that other people in our neighborhood weren’t enjoying the lovely Michigan summer. So far, it’s been the same story at our new house.
Maybe a lot has changed since I was a kid (“Go outside and play!” my mother would shout, and we did – all day long). There are a lot of new time suck options, from Netflix to Facebook, even in rural areas. Given that more people (especially children) are spending less time outside, my values probably differ from my nation’s.
On the other hand, it’s easy to fall into nature worship, and praise fresh air so much that you become annoying. I’ll admit that not everyone craves Thoreau’s “tonic of wilderness” like I do. We sent our son to a nature center for preschool, and he spent most of his school day outdoors in the woods. That’s not for everyone.
But, I do think that if you have a yard, you should spend time in it. If you live on a road, you should walk up and down it from time to time.
And if you’re a photographer, getting outside should be a part of your practice. Take your camera, grab your kids or pet, and go outside to see what the season has accomplished.
There are institutions, professionals and organizations that would like you to believe that you don’t have much choice in the matter.
They want to take away your agency, because it makes their job easier or their profits higher.
But you have more choice than you know.
In our recent move, I’ve twice dealt with corporations and utilities that have made me feel like I have no agency. Most recently, Apple Support left me hanging on an Apple ID and iTunes issue. Apple! A company I’ve supported each of my adult years!
Call support centers are a form of capitalist nihilism. There’s no reason for any of the decisions made except to make the company’s situation better, and to help you feel powerless. It’s rare that a support interaction has a positive outcome – so rare, that we marvel at Creation when it happens.
My Apple interaction was especially galling. From 2005-2008, I purchased a bunch of music under an old Apple ID. From 2008 on, I’ve been purchasing music from a different Apple ID, unaware of the consequences, so now I have a bunch of music in limbo. The support center’s solution? “Switch Apple IDs each time you want to listen to that music.” Helpful! And silly. What they don’t tell you is that each time you switch Apple IDs in iTunes, it locks the previous Apple ID for 90 days.
Three months! Unacceptable. And completely arbitrary.
So now I’ll be sticking to downloading my music from companies with fewer arbitrary restrictions (as Godin writes, keeping the “ability to shop around”). It’s one of the reasons I don’t rely on subscription-based music services. There is, by definition, no agency involved in that transaction. If you unsubscribe, all the music goes away.
The larger point can be applied to creativity and photography, of course. There’s creative agency – that sense of not being held hostage by expectations and self-imposed pressure. On the technology side, by submitting our work to Instagram and Tumblr, you’re giving up a bit of agency. And if something goes wrong, your only recourse is a faceless call center, if that.
My one weak spot: Flickr. I rely on Ol’ Reliable for so much of what I do, including image hosting for this very blog. And I have a lot of time and infrastructure wrapped up in that website. If something goes wrong, I’ll be in a bit of trouble. It won’t be catastrophic, but it certainly won’t be fun.
When we keep our agency, in the form of hosted, backed-up websites and blogs, we have a bit more say in the matter. We can always pack up and put up our tent somewhere else.
For those that have never purchased a home, house hunting can be a long, grueling process – especially if you’re selling a home at the same time as trying to buy one. Lots of waiting, making pro and con lists, weekends spent wading through strangers’ lives, cleaning up the house to show it. It’s stressful.
And the idea of packing up and moving is never my idea of fun. I moved a lot (no really – a ton) as a kid, so I equate moving with hardship. Staying in one place helps me feel secure.
Relocating does have benefits. We’re moving closer to town, and closer to family. Our work commutes will be shorter. Trips to the grocery store won’t take as long. Living back in the city means we can be more involved in local culture and politics.
As you can see, the new place has great natural light coming in. The yard is nice, and there’s a bit more room. It’s a good house in a good neighborhood, with lots of opportunity to make it our own. And it’s a quick walk to the local park system, ice cream parlor included. As I said: benefits!