In our hectic, ever-changing, let-me-check-my-calendar lives, it’s easy to forget what’s around us. Literally around us. Like, the tree next to your driveway, or the elementary school in your neighborhood, or the cat across the street that always watches you when you go to check your mail. And it’s no surprise that we do this. Everyday things don’t matter so much when they’re always there, and you’re always running around them trying to get those calendar tasks completed — swerving your car to miss hitting the cat, stopping for those pesky elementary school busses, etc. Slowing down is not usually in our schedules. But today, it was in mine.
Today I went somewhere in my city that I’ve never been before. You could call it exploration, and maybe it was, but this was different. As part of a community design workshop, I was told to go observe. To sit, quietly, and listen, and watch. To look at a place of my own choosing and think deeply about it. To really look at it. To examine my surroundings.
I was at a local park, one that is mostly abandoned and overgrown. The spot I chose was close to a former golf course, near the club house. I sat down near the building on a cement staircase, put away my cell phone, and took out a scrap of paper. I listened. I heard, first, the sound the branches of a nearby tree made in the wind. I heard birds chirping, and cars passing by on a nearby road. I looked at the shadows the trees made, and compared those to the shadows made by the handrails of the staircase.
I watched the journey of an ant across the step I was sitting on, and drew an ant on my scrap of paper. I looked at the boarded up building and thought about how I, sitting on this staircase built into the side of a hill, was looking at a small example of humanity. I could hear the buzz from one of the still-functioning security lights on the building, and when I walked over for a closer look, the sound from the light drowned out everything else.
I then made my way to the golf course itself, tramping through long tangled grass and pits of dandelions. Observing was different while moving, I found, but wandering through such a strange place and really looking at it still made quite an impact.
I also remember looking at the trees — how they had been, many years before, placed with golfers in mind. Today, they stand awkwardly apart; the maples and the cherry trees natural decorations of the past.
The last thing I spotted before heading back to the workshop group was a sign, placed far out into the wild, overgrown, dandelion plantation. Plodding out past the decorative trees, I came to the sign for hole 2. The painted map, faded and peeling from the weather, showed what the space use to look like.
Stumbling over more dandelions, I made my way out of the golf course, past the buzzing security light, and up the cement stairs. Only it wasn’t just an overgrown golf course anymore. It wasn’t just another park. It was different. I understood it a little bit better than I had before. I had given 30 minutes to this place and had taken away a greater understanding of not only that ant on the step, or that annoying light, but also about interaction with space in general, and how people tend to move through their lives without really looking.
1. If you find a project you want to work on, or a job you’d like to have, or a movie you want to be in — but for some reason, you can’t work on that specific project, or have that job, or be in that movie — make your own. Don’t give up or change your dreams or goals just because they are not readily available or simple or easy, and especially don’t rely on someone else to make them happen!
2. People are not going to live up to your expectations — ever — whether that be for good or for bad. That’s just part of what makes life so interesting… and also difficult.
3. Speaking of life being difficult (this is a cheery post, eh?)… You know those difficult situations/problems that arise in life, that you struggle to overcome, and once you’ve dealt with those things, you feel like a stronger person? Until, of course, you find yourself in the same situation again later, and realize you haven’t really learned yet how to cope with it. I guess that in itself is a learning experience.
4. I’ll admit it… sometimes the universe seems like it’s either playing a joke on us… or helping us out in major ways. Crazy, right?
5. Don’t feel bad for wanting more.
6. Write down the quotes, words, and/or blips of conversations you hear that mean something to you. Collect them. Keep them in a jar and read through them when you need to.
7. Do the stuff you don’t want to do first, that way it’ll be done and over with and you can get on with the stuff you like/want to do! This is like the opposite of what happened when you were a kid and had a pile of green beans left on your plate after dinner.
8. I’m an introvert, and as an introvert, I totally understand the not wanting to talk to people thing. It’s just so much easier to stay quiet and just listen. However I’ve come to find that talking to people is another way of listening — if you can get people to talk, they just might turn out to be an interesting story. I think introverts have the right idea — the whole not blabbing on the whole time thing — we just need to take that perspective and use it to interact with the outside world.
9. Bad things happen sometimes. A lot of times. Every day. But good things happen just as often, maybe more often. The trick is to accept that both the good and the bad are going to keep happening, and learn to live with this roller-coaster of a thing that is life.
10. Sure, your smartphone can tell you what the weather’s going to be like for your birthday in three years, and it notifies you the second someone likes that picture of your dog that you just posted on Facebook, but don’t let all that take away from how amazing it is that there are tiny cells in your body keeping you alive.
“It’s important not to rush through life so much that you don’t find time to do the things you really should be doing.”
“What things do you wish you’d made more time to do?”
“I wish I’d learned to drive a racecar. Learned to cook. Followed up with a certain young lady. I wish I’d read more. I’ve got this stack of books I’m going through now, but I should have read them 50 years ago. I’m even reading Harry Potter!”
Check out Humans of New York: http://www.humansofnewyork.com/
Even if your neighbors consider you too old to trick-or-treat, you can still carve scary faces into giant orange squash. Happy Halloween!
I had my dad pull over in a unfamiliar neighborhood and shouted “instagram sky!” as I snapped this photo. There may be conflicting opinions out there about Instagram, but we can all agree that because of it we pay more attention to the beauty around us.
I stood underneath the lip of the yellow and white striped tent, in shock and in awe of all that loomed around me. Auctioneers hollered out their fast-lipped spiel as old men flashed their buyer number cards, fingers, and nodded their heads to bid again and again on a huge assortment of items. Old cars, buggies, plows, shovels, rusty chains, farm equipment odds and ends, car parts, toys, baby strollers, furniture – all collectibles. The man who had amassed this collection had died, and now it was all up for sale.
“Auction! One hundred, one-fifty. We’ve got one hundred, now one-fifty. We done? Who’s buyin’? One-fifty, One-fifty. One hundred goin’ once. One hundred goin’ twice. You? No. One hundred. One hundred. Sold! One hundred dollars. Buyer number… 413!”
Two auctioneers worked at once, yelling into megaphones that were attached to speakers. People grouped around the action, not only to buy, but also to watch. As I stood in the clearing between the two masses of people, the noise was overwhelming. There was so much to see, so much to hear.
I was in Port Hope, Michigan. If you haven’t heard of it – it’s in the top of the thumb area of our mitten-shaped state. It’s a very beautiful place.
I hadn’t really wanted to go to the auction. Port Hope is about a three-hour drive from my city, and, on top of that, I don’t really like rusty old bits and pieces. I like to think of myself as a minimalist: Who needs all that stuff? I agreed to go, anyway. Why not? I like to view every opportunity that you don’t really want to take as an opportunity for adventure.
I am so glad I went. It turned out to be quite the experience.
Going to a estate auction is similar to going shopping at a thrift store – you don’t really know what sort of people you will find there, and you don’t really know what you’ll find there for sale. That’s what makes them both so exciting, right? Sure.
So, yes, the auction was huge. There was just so much stuff. And it was interesting stuff – not like those little angel figurines you find at your local Goodwill. Old Ford vans. Piles of what use to be cars from the ’30s. Shovels, rakes, other strange farming implements – all made of rust. Tents full of collectible children’s toys. Percussion instruments. Trailers, tractors, washing basins, mirrors, stools, chairs, baby buggies, horse carriages, hundreds of bicycles. So much stuff.
Oh, and there were Mennonites.
Now, maybe you’re more familiar with Mennonites than I am. That wouldn’t really be a difficult thing – I know basically nothing about them – or anyway, I knew nothing about them then. Like I said, you never know who you’ll run into at an auction. It was a very interesting sight to see: Old, farmer guys, young kids, people from the country, people from the city, cowboys and their little cow-children, and Mennonites, and me. The Mennonites stuck out because of the way they looked. It wasn’t just their homemade clothing (very cool – where can I get me a Mennonite-made shirt?), but their bodies, their hairstyles, their hands, even their language.
You could tell these people were hard workers. Their back and arm muscles were much bigger than the “modern” men’s that surrounded them. Their hands were big, and callused, from lifetimes of hard farm labor. One older man was missing his index finger. My mom guessed he lost it in a farming accident. Another had an (actual) wooden leg that made it difficult for him to walk. All the men sported beards, bowl-cut hair, and suspenders; all the women donned bonnets, aprons, and long dresses. I even spotted a little three-year-old Mennonite boy (so cute!), walking through the crowds with his father, wearing the same getup as the older men.
As for their language, yes, even that was different. I’ve no idea what it was – Wikipedia suggests some sort of German, or Dutch – but I will admit to scooting closer to two older gentlemen as they were conversing in an attempt to listen in. Little good it did me!
It was an amazing thing to watch: Mennonites and men and families and teenagers and city-slickers all bunched together, all mingled, all enjoying their auction visit together.
(I wish I had had my camera. Ugh! Don’t you hate when you don’t have your camera?!)
(Yes, ok, also, I eyed the Mennonite guys from afar. You would’ve too, ok!)
Honestly, standing there in the dirt with those suspender-clad men, I felt sort of worthless. I don’t do hard labor to support myself. I spend a lot of time on the internet. I don’t make my own clothes (with pants with double-pockets!), I buy them from mass-producing companies. I don’t raise all of my own food – I buy it from huge chain grocery stores for way too much money!
Should I be like the Mennonites? Should we all be like the Mennonites?
Maybe a little.
After that day, I was left wondering that. I was also left with the mental image of the modern people and the Mennonites together. It was like the old generation of Americans had stepped from the past into the estate auction. It was, to be descriptive, really neat.
Always do the things you don’t really want to do – you might have a good time, or learn something, or both!
Also, there was pie. Mennonite pie.
“quarter machine keeper”
When was the last time you bought something out of those quarter machines at your local grocery store? Next time you’re there – and I don’t care how old you are! – get something for yourself. It just might make your day a little brighter.