Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Beauty and the beach

Someone famous (the Internet attributes everyone from Albert Einstein to Benjamin Franklin, so who knows?) once said, "insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

I think about my daily life and its routine. I wake up, get ready, drive to work, work all day, drive home, get ready for the next day, go to bed, and do everything over again the next day and the one after that and the one after that. Occasionally my evenings are peppered with classes or dinners with friends, and on the weekends I like to the theatre or a sporting event. But for the most part, my life is predictable.

So as I wait (as I believe many young people do) for "the next big thing" to happen in my life, I shouldn't be surprised that something new and exciting is unlikely to happen to me by doing the same things over and over.

This week I'm on vacation. On this trip, as with any other I've taken, I find myself torn between relaxing and exploring. Catching up on sleep and packing as much into a day as possible. So while I relished the idea of a lazy morning, I was more interested in the unexpected. It was time for different results.

Though I like to think of myself as a morning person, those mornings rarely begin before seven. Today, however, I woke up at five o'clock and dressed by the light of the fireplace in my hotel room. I enjoyed a quick breakfast there as well, then grabbed my camera and headed out into the still-dark morning.

Now, I'm no sunbather, but I've always loved the ocean. I love the sound the waves make as they rumble along and crash into the surf and the rocks. I love the smell of the salt water, the briny air, and coconut-scented sunblock. I love sticking my toes in the cold surf, finding bits of sea glass, and searching for shells. So I chose this vacation spot to try to sneak in some time with the beach before the summer crowds hit.

When I reached the waterfront this morning, it was completely deserted. Not a single soul was walking or running along the beach, and the birds weren't yet awake. I breathed in the salty fresh ocean air and smiled. It felt incredibly indulgent to have the beach to myself and I took the time to drink in my surroundings. Here was the ocean, stretched before me (and only me): a deep dark line and a slightly lighter blue one, split across the horizon by a tiny strip of pinkish orange.

I took a hundred photos of that sunrise. As dawn broke brighter across the sky, joggers and dog walkers started to speckle the path along the beach. Most of them looked like they were engrossed in their own routines; I suspect I was the only tourist among them. And I wondered if they were appreciative of the beauty of the ocean and the sunrise, or if this was merely their own version of the same thing over and over again. If I spent each morning greeting the sun on the beach, would I feel as though I have achieved my "next big thing"? Or would that, too, become a piece of my day to day routine, easy overlooked and under-appreciated?

I like to think that not only can I do different things for different results, but I can do the same things differently. I'd like to appreciate the little things in my life that seem monotonous, but really do bring me a lot of joy. I love waking up to the sun streaming in my window each morning, and I'm forever grateful to see the Boston skyline each morning as I drive into work. I'm lucky enough to have colleagues with whom I get along, and a family that loves me. So while I try new things and pack in new experiences, I'm also going to make a new experience out of the routine. It's my hope that just by looking at things differently I'll be able to produce a few new results. That way, I don't have to wait for the next big thing to happen to me -- I can go looking for it.

Photos by Danielle E. Brown.

Choosing my own adventure: update

Following my request for everyday adventures, I received several suggestions from readers. I'll be trying several in the upcoming months, some for a day or two, others for longer periods of time. I'll be writing about a few of the experiments as they happen, and others I will simply recap after they've been completed.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Choose (my) own adventure

I want to live biblically, learn to salsa, eat nothing but pizza for a month, drive a race car, eat locally, and try out for a reality show.

Okay, not really.

But I do love reading about the way people live, and what I love more than how-I-grew-up memoirs, are George Plimpton-esque experiments that lead to interesting experiences and fabulously wonderful reading. Because of this, I’m hoping to embark on an interesting journey and then blog about it.

So, what should I do? I could try a social experiment like “paying it forward” to various people every day for a week (or a month, or whatever). I could try something with my diet – cutting out meat or carbs or eating a certain number of vegetables with every meal. I could try something with my spending habits – shopping locally, not shopping at all, buying only sustainable products… I could try something creative too, like pursuing a new artistic pursuit every day for a week or every week for a month. Or a feat of stamina – reading the dictionary cover to cover, walking some obscene distance, learning something new every day.

I do have a regular 9-5 job which would require some semblance of normalcy. While I could eat nothing but vegetables at work, for instance, I couldn’t arrive wearing pajamas or communicating solely through American Sign Language or answering all questions with questions. So my exploits would have to be easy integrated into my work day or able to happen solely in the evenings/on the weekends.

Faithful readers, it’s time to weigh in. What could I do that would result in both a novel experience for me and interesting reading? Leave your ideas in the comments. Poll your friends; tell them to join the site and leave their own ideas in the comments. I’ll keep you posted!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Root for the home team (but don't boo the competition)

This weekend I attended the home opener for the New England Revolution, where they challenged fellow Major League Soccer team Toronto FC. The game was great (after being down 1-0 at the half, the Revs came back to score four goals in the second half and won the game), but the fans were obnoxious!

Many Revs fans (not all of us, thank you) booed when Toronto took the field, jeered when a Canadian was injured, and hollered things like "you suck!" when Toronto players had possession of the ball. In return, Toronto fans hollered at the Revs (though they were much farther away from me, and tougher to hear). The overall atmosphere in the stadium wasn't the palpable excitement of opening day, but rather an undercurrent of malcontent and ugliness.

Don't get me wrong: I love a good rivalry. Give me a Red Sox/Yankees game, for instance, and I'm happy grumble about the "Evil Empire" and poke fun at its players, but I do so from home and all in jest. I would never go to a baseball stadium and scream obscenities at a player or team. It's rude and it takes away from the fun of the game. I go to the games to see my team win, not to watch the other team lose. People who do otherwise aren't respecting the beauty of the game.

At the Revolution game, I was upset to hear adults jeering at the opposition, but even more saddened to see clusters of children (some as young as six or seven!) and cliques of teenagers hurling hateful words at the field and being generally disrespectful -- throwing popcorn and drinks, swearing, and standing in front of people who were trying to watch the game. Where are these kids' parents? It's inappropriate to send your children to a sporting game without teaching them the rules of the game and the rules of good sportsmanship.

I'll be attending more Revolution games this season (I already have my tickets), but I'm hoping for a more refined crowd. Though I may not get my wish, perhaps I'll at least remember to bring some earplugs...

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Airline to charge for both checked and carry-on baggage

This afternoon's Bad Idea of the Day has been announced, with Yahoo News reporting that Spirit Airlines will "charge as much as $45 each way" for carry-on baggage. The charge is in addition to the fees passengers pay for checked bags (between $15 and $100 per bag, depending on the circumstance).

Yahoo reports that "Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza said having fewer carry-on bags will help empty the plane faster. He said the idea is to get customers to pay for individual things they want, while keeping the base fare low."

Fewer carry-ons will empty the plane faster, eh? Is that a big draw for people? Are travelers going to flock to Spirit Airlines for the prospect of getting off the plane three minutes sooner than with other airlines? Can people set aside the fact that they're being nickel and dimed by an airline? I can only imagine that Spirit Airlines has just committed a big ol' PR blunder. By charging passengers to bring luggage on the plane, the airline is letting its customers know that their needs aren't important, but revenue is.

If the comment traffic under the initial report is any indication, Spirit Airlines is unlikely to have many takers on its offer of "keeping base fares low", since nearly everyone travels with luggage of some kind. Comments range from "Wow, next they will be charging to sit or stand on a plane, " to "Well thanks, Spirit. You just made it easier for me to decide I WILL NOT be flying with you!" and "Sounds like a great plan... if you want to chase away customers to other airlines."

I can't say I disagree. While baggage fees have inspired me to pack lighter, I simply carry on my (fewer) belongings now, instead of paying to have them checked. I can say undoubtedly, that I would never fly an airline that would require such ridiculous fees. I prefer to do business with people who appreciate my patronage, rather than people trying to stick me with unprecedented charges.

What do you think? Will people stop flying Spirit Airlines? Will (far worse) other airlines follow suit and start charging for carry-on baggage?

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Prom problems? You must be kidding.

File this one under You must be kidding me.

CNN reported today that an Alabama teenager was suspended from school because her prom dress violated the school dress code. While revealing, the dress is far from risque. What's even more shocking, however, is that the girl, Erica DeRamus, had a choice of punishments and chose to take a three-day suspension over a paddling.

Pardon? Paddling? There are schools that sanction the use of corporal punishment against their students? I assumed, wrongly it seems, that paddling was an archaic method of punishment that long-ago faded away in the school systems. According to one human rights group, however, over 200,000 children were paddled in school in 2008. And in the case of DeRamus's school, 17 potential prom-goers chose to be paddled, rather than face suspension from school.

So while I shake my head in disbelief that this girl was punished for the look of her dress, I'm outraged that missing the prom (or being asked to change dresses) wasn't consequence enough and that the chosen punishment was paddling. According to the school's principal, Trey Holloday, 18 students violated the prom's dress code; all but DeRamus chose paddling over suspension. The principal states that young people make mistakes, and that school officials are "very patient when those [mistakes] are made -- including this -- but we're not tolerant of bad behavior or defiance."

It seems to me that Principal Holloday has several problems on his hands. First, he says he's patient when students -- like DeRamus -- make mistakes, but that he won't tolerate bad behavior; simply stated, he acknowledges that DeRamus made a mistake, but punishes her anyway, as though she was purposefully defiant. Secondly, his opinion of inappropriate dress is out of line; while DeRamus's dress was short, it wasn't a miniskirt, and the top was just as cleavage-barring as most prom dresses on the market. Thirdly, having to change clothes or missing the prom should be "punishment" enough for students who violate the prom's dress code; no additional actions need be taken. And finally, the fact that corporal punishment was even an option (and a widely-chosen one at that!) is barbaric and archaic.

People like Principal Holloday shouldn't be educators, nor should the folks who canceled 18-year-old Constance McMillen's prom after she asked to wear a tuxedo and bring a same-sex date to the dance. What, exactly, are these adults afraid of? Are they so scared by the fact that Constance is a lesbian that they're willing to battle with the ACLU and deprive kids of a major rite of passage? Does principal Holloday enjoy being a bully or exerting his power? Randomly subjecting students to punitive actions doesn't teach them anything; it merely gives the impression that people in positions of power get to be bullies, creating and enforcing rules arbitrarily.

It would be nice if kids were allowed to be kids. Put basic safety rules in place and let kids go to the prom in tuxes or dresses and with whomever they choose. The world has bigger problems than whether two girls go to the dance together or whether a student arrives in a cleavage-baring gown. Only once educators start focusing on what's really important will they truly be impacting the character and moral fiber of their students.

Writer's block

Earlier this week, the Boston Globe reported that March was the wettest on record. After excitedly writing about the beginning of spring mere weeks ago, it's been a little depressing to be surrounded by so much rain and gloomy weather. What's more, all the rain has caused flooding and damage to many of the homes and businesses of family and friends here in New England. The resulting exhaustion from cleaning up all that water and from dealing with all that gloom has made this writer at a loss for topics. In short, I've had writer's block.
This is not, of course, an isolated incident. Writer's block has affected me before, sneaking in before deadlines and sitting on my keyboard, taunting me. It's as if someone has crept into your brain, removed all its stories and funny anecdotes, siphoned away its insight and cleverness, and replaced it with mud. Instead of writing with my laptop I find myself distracted instead, playing The Sims or taking endless Sporcle quizzes.

Doom and gloom may have worked for Edgar Allen Poe (a favorite of mine), but I find it increasingly difficult to write anything of substance when the world outside is dark and dank. Perhaps I could channel the gloomy feeling into a mystery novel...

In the meantime, I've been having a blast writing for my new blog, the 15-Minute Party Planner. Things have been going very well, and there's nothing like a party to cheer me up and sweep away the doom and gloom. If you have a minute, go check it out -- the layout alone is enough to cheer me up, with its adorable retro banner and bright pink and white polka dot background. I'm also trying to read (if you can't go outside, you might as well be a book worm!) and find other slivers of inspiration to kick-start the writing process.

At the very least, I've gotten the proverbial pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as the case may be) and am shaking off the writer's block one word at a time. Though today's post may not be brilliant, I'm confident that inspiration is on its way back in.

'Til next time...