Connected by Nuts and Bolts

 

A while ago I had the opportunity to walk through a construction site on the community college where I work. The structure is compiled of concrete flooring and metal beams. Bolts, screws, and broken stones littered the pathways. As I listened to the guide explain where everything was going to be, it was amazing to envision what this blank building will look like in a few months.

What remains most vivid for me was something the guide said. He noted to a section where beams intersected. He said that this one bare section had been put together by multiple hands. Each section of the building was viewed by multiple engineers, inspectors, etc. The process of putting a building together draws complexities and connections far surpassing what we see in a finished product.

In the same sense the way we as individuals are connected to a place is drawn upon how we connect with one another. Oftentimes a place, or tradition, has meaning not from the very act or scene but rather from the individuals that inhabited those moments and connected memories to the place. Knowing this, could our sense of place or connection be magnified or hindered based on the people we surround ourselves with? Personally, I would say yes.

I don’t want to go off on a soap box with the whole ‘we are connected to one another and must support each other to make the world a better place’ speech. That’s not my intention. What I’m trying to say is all of our actions impact others whether we see it or not. There was a Native American man who spoke at my work a few weeks ago and one thing he said was that as a culture they think of every action as to how it will affect up to the 7th generation.

Can you image what our world would be like if each individual considered the impact their actions had on the future? Just like the structure of that building, we all impact and compose the minute parts of life. While one of the most obvious ways this concept could be implemented is sustainability and the future of our planet, what if we considered the connections we make with strangers, cultures, and values? Could not the values we treasure be things to protect and oversee, along with protecting the rights of other cultures and values? We live in a diverse world. Rather than being afraid of that diversity what if we worked together with one another to accept the differences and build upon it.

Each part of that building I saw was composed of different sections. And in each section multiple workers had to combine their talents to put together a sound structure. Each section appears insignificant but as a whole the structure stands and continues to be built. Is not humanity capable of the same?

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Seasons of Change

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Fall is my favorite season. The idea of leaves changing colors and the crisp autumn air has excited me since I was little. Since moving to Arizona this has posed a problem, since the Phoenix area really doesn’t have a fall. The few trees that do change colors usually do so around Christmas. That being said the northern part of the state, namely Oak Creek Canyon, has always been a touch of New England for me in the fall.

Life’s circumstances have prevented me from journeying north for the past four years. Thankfully, I was able to go with a few friends a couple weeks ago and explore Sedona and Oak Creek for the day. We pulled off the road and had lunch beside Oak Creek. Leaves were starting to litter the water, gently being pulled downstream. It hasn’t gotten cold enough for the leaves to fully turn yet. November is usually when the foliage is best in that area; even so, there were a few trees that showed scatterings of yellow and red. That’s a big difference from Massachusetts. Usually by October most of the leaves have turned and taking car rides into the mountains, or even farther north—Vermont and New Hampshire, was the norm.

One thing I greatly miss from Massachusetts is the fall: the sweet smell of apple orchards and the prickly stems of pumpkin patches; the hayrides, and allergies; and the cliché red barns with fresh cider, and crafts. Not to forget apple picking, and eating as many as you could, all while filling the basket. Each region of the country has its own cultural perspectives on the seasons and customs, and while most can be somewhat interchangeable there are certain aspects that each region cannot fully embrace—no matter how much displaced persons try to change it. (Just an FYI when I say displaced I’m referring to how I or a person connects to an area. For example, I am a displaced Massachusettsan. While I’m from there I still may not belong there, yet I don’t fully belong to Arizona.)

Fall is just a season, and may have no meaning or connotation to it—but for me the changes of the seasons have always brought with them their own excitements. Each season possesses its trademark beginning: the first robin or flower of spring, the first hot day, the first snowfall, and the first tree to turn colors. So how does one mark the seasons when the indicators are so different from one region to another? For me I still decorate for fall, and I always try to add a touch of New England to the décor. When I first moved here I got cornstalks—this year it’s a hay bale with pumpkins and mums on and around it.

It may sound silly, and maybe it is, but sometimes we need things to remind us of what’s consistent in our ever altering world. Tradition is what keeps societies knit together and moving forward.  As one professor told me, “Tradition is the creation of the future from the past.”

For me, celebrating fall the way I used to in Massachusetts is preserving tradition for the future.

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Phone Addiction

Modern technology. I love it—my phone in particular. I will not deny that I have a bit of a phone addiction; ok, I have a major phone addiction. But I’m trying to quit, just deleted my Facebook App from my phone. Should cut done phone usage by half. J So what does this have to do with the theme of this blog, in being connected to a place? Well here’s a question to consider. How does your perception of a place change when you have your phone, etc. on you?

I’ve often been in restaurants and have noticed couples sitting across from one another waiting for their dinner. Rather than talking both are engrossed with their phones or tablets. Another example is with parents. Their child is across from them and the entire time they are focused on their phones. Now again, I love my phone, so don’t think that I’m against using modern technology.  I’m just wondering if we’ve considered the ways that modern technology is affecting our interaction with the environment and each other. Or more importantly, do we even care if phones, ect. are changing the way we interact as a society?

When our connection as individuals is altered by modern technology do our interactions become enhanced or diminished? It depends how it’s used. While the use of cell phones, tablets, ect. might interfere with dinnertime or conversations, these same resources have been responsible for national revolutions. People across the country can communicate via Skype. Social media has caused individuals to reconnect. I even have a few friends that I would say are closer to me via social media and text that live across country, than those that live five minutes from me. So is it really modern technology that hinders our human interactions, or is it the way we interact with the technology that hinders us? Ok so maybe I’m going overboard here, but hey it’s something to ponder.

But there are those that are fighting the distractions of modern society. Phone stacking in restaurants is becoming popular. The idea is to have everyone stack their cell phones on top of one another and whoever answers the phone first has to pay the bill. This idea proves that people are becoming aware of the influence that modern technology causes with human interaction.

What about with nature? I know for me I find myself hiking and seeking nature, and yet I pull my cell phone out and check for a text or my email. This is sad, because I purposely want to be in nature in order to escape from the pressures of my life and modern society, even for a few minutes. Phone usage has become an addiction for some people, and it’s time we set up boundaries. Would our modern society even be able to survive if our apps were taken away from us?

Consider this final thought: Societies in the past have had less technological advancement and comforts, ways of entertainment, or even down time. And yet those societies as a whole had less stress and a greater sense of enjoyment in everyday life than we do today. Maybe we need to stop and consider what we as a society have lost.

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Considering Sense of Place

“Love makes you see a place differently, just as you hold differently an object that belongs to someone you love. If you know one landscape well, you will look at all other landscapes differently. And if you learn to love one place, sometimes you can also learn to love another.”

― Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces

The above quote was used in my defense paper for my college thesis. It comprised four short stories that tackled the themes of connection to place through family and the environment. When I finished the stories and defended my thesis I honestly felt that was the end of the topic for me. I mean I always planned on reworking the stories, but I felt I had delved into the topic of connection to place enough. However, after going on my adventure back east I found concepts from my thesis following me everywhere I went. It was to the point that I seemed to live out my thesis. I can’t tell if my stories came alive to me because of the trip or if the trip came alive to me because of the stories I’d written.

An example was in connection to people and place. Meeting my relatives in New York and seeing their connection to the area brought up my own disconnect to the region. The Strusienski’s have lived in Buffalo for at least four generations. There is even an old restaurant in the area called Strusienski’s (my great-grandfather was born in this building actually). So there is a strong “sense of place” for my family. However, for me it is nonexistent. While I enjoyed New York and liked meeting everyone, I didn’t belong there—I wasn’t connected to the environment or place. But I was and still am connected to the area by family and the connections I share with them. I saw places that my parents had mentioned about their childhood, and while I have no personal connection to these places, I feel a connection through my parents.

In juxtaposition, Massachusetts had a sense of connection to the environment. While I have been gone for nine years the length of time did not diminish what I felt with the area and the memories that certain places held. While on the beach at Cape Cod I saw the erosion of the sand dunes from recent storms. I couldn’t help but consider how the changing of the landscape could affect the local wildlife, along with individuals connected to the land and the potential impact that these changes could have on the future of the area. Of course, I can’t help but wonder that only I would be walking the beach and start thinking about these concepts and how I can write a story about them.

What I’ve come to realize, is even though I’ve turned in the papers and received the grade the knowledge that I began digging for in my academic studies will continue to follow me now as a post-grad. But that’s not a bad thing. Potentially one of the greatest dangers that any person can embrace is an unwillingness to learn and grow. So I’m choosing to keep learning and investigating these concepts, not to complete an assignment, or to come out on top, simply to discover.

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Contemplating my Journeys

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I find myself thinking over the events of this summer and the journeys I have taken. I graduated from Arizona State in May and then went on the trip of a lifetime; or at least for my lifetime. This trip took me to New York to visit family, back to my home of Massachusetts, and on an unexpected trip south to Tennessee and Virginia. Each phase of the trip held meaning for me. New York was about connecting with family, Massachusetts finding myself, and Tennessee and Virginia a combination of adventure and balance. As I look back a month after returning to life in Arizona I’m astounded at all I experienced in only six weeks.

New York was probably the greatest challenge for me as I reconnected with family. While this may seem like no big deal, most of the people I met were complete strangers to me. The few relatives I did know haven’t seen me in over twenty years. So why did I chose to go back now? I felt it was time to put aside the petty differences, and distractions that have prevented us from knowing each other all these years and try to form connections. Looking back, I think this was accomplished. I had the opportunity to get to know these relatives and the one consistent feeling I received from all of them was acceptance. I suppose that was the main thing I learned when in New York; that even though time and distance had prevented us from meeting before, there were people who would accept me.

I took the train from New York to Massachusetts; will NEVER do that again. But despite the fact that the train kept breaking down and the trip took about five hours longer than needed I did love seeing the Massachusetts countryside. It was the first time back to Massachusetts in nine years. I’d always threatened that if I ever returned I wouldn’t come back to Arizona—I almost kept my word. Standing on Sea Gull Beach on Cape Cod, a place filled with more memories than probably anywhere else in Mass for me, I realized that I didn’t want to go back. Most of the adventures in Mass were done on my own; but I liked it that way. It was so weird going back to Southbridge and realizing how little had changed over nine years, even with the horrid economy. Remembering roads that I’d never driven, yet finding my way to Framingham and Natick from childhood memories in the passenger seat. Every time I think about my connection to Massachusetts I think of a quote from L.M. Montgomery that goes along the lines: “My soul was tied to the land and I did it a great violation by removing myself from it.”

The unexpected trip south turned out to be one of the best parts of my adventure. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to Tennessee, but I loved the Smoky Mountains. Between the massive height of the mountains to the crystal streams and waterfalls; there is a peace there, one that comes from untouched wilderness. It was the same with the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Driving through the Blue Ridge and seeing the Shenandoah River materialized childhood memories of singing “Country Roads” in the car with my mom. One thing that I felt in both these places was balance. Not just the balance I desire to attain in handling work and enjoyment, but in everyday life. The areas we stayed in weren’t rich, but you could see that the people were happy, and yes the place is beautiful but that doesn’t promote the happiness. There was a balance, a level of contentment that the locals displayed—taking pleasure in the everyday occurrences. 

Now that I’m home the real adventure begins: how to maintain all that I learned on my journey into my everyday life.

 

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“To strive with…

“To strive with difficulties, and to conquer them, is the highest human felicity.” Samuel Johnson

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