30 Day Project – Nature Dwellers

The capstone! It is complete! To be honest, I’ll probably keep working at it after I graduate because a couple of my subjects dropped out last minute and I’d like to expand the project a bit more.

I chose to do a photo essay, which is new territory for me, but I think as a first attempt I’ve done alright. I was particularly worried about cohesiveness because being disjointed is usually what causes photo essays to fail. It’s hard when you have many subjects and many locations to get the images to blend together naturally but still be unique. It’s a balance I struggled with, but I tried to keep it simple using shapes and framing to keep the essay from derailing.

To really tell the story I decided to include extended captions. My essay was about people who still enjoy the outdoors, either in work situations or hobbies, even in the modern age when there are more and more gadgets to distract people from exploring nature. I interviewed each subject to get a sense of why they enjoyed the outdoors so much, how they came to understand this passion, and how it has changed their lives. A few of my subjects also commented on the changing global landscape and how they think less time spent outdoors will affect future generations.

Enjoy!

Susan Hazelwood has been birding since 1980. Susan explained the difference between bird watching and birding is that birders have more expertise on the birds whereas bird watchers just appreciate looks.  She wears the title Birder with the utmost respect. But birding wasn’t always a great interest of hers, “Birding was something my husband did. I tried to ignore it, but it wouldn’t go away, so here I am!” Susan could only avoid it for so long; eventually the lure of travel and being outdoors convinced her to take it up as a hobby of her own. The farthest she’s traveled is Alaska, but she likes to go on many birding vacations with other birders around the United States. Her favorite bird is a Trogon, found in the southwest, which she proudly displays it on her license plate.

Susan Hazelwood has been birding since 1980. Susan explained the difference between bird watching and birding is that birders have more expertise on the birds whereas bird watchers just appreciate looks. She wears the title Birder with the utmost respect. But birding wasn’t always a great interest of hers, “Birding was something my husband did. I tried to ignore it, but it wouldn’t go away, so here I am!” Susan could only avoid it for so long; eventually the lure of travel and being outdoors convinced her to take it up as a hobby of her own. The farthest she’s traveled is Alaska, but she likes to go on many birding vacations with other birders around the United States. Her favorite bird is a Trogon, found in the southwest, which she proudly displays it on her license plate.

Ducks fly after being startled at Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area in McBaine, Mo. Eagle Bluffs is a destination for migaratory waterfowl birds, such as ducks and geese. There are many reasons why ducks and other birds form flocks. Being in a flock allows the birds extra protection, easier foraging, and better aerodynamic efficiency while they fly. Ducks also form family units and like staying together.

Ducks fly after being startled at Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area in McBaine, Mo. Eagle Bluffs is a destination for
migaratory waterfowl birds, such as ducks and geese. There are many reasons why ducks and other birds form
flocks. Being in a flock allows the birds extra protection, easier foraging, and better aerodynamic efficiency while
they fly. Ducks also form family units and like staying together.

Susan Hazelwood with her trusty binoculars.

Susan Hazelwood with her trusty binoculars.

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Deb Schultehenrich is a quail, pheasant, and duck hunter. Always trailing behind her is her dog, Gus, a German Shorthair pointer. Her family passed the hunting enthusiasm on to her at a young age. “Hunting is something I have always done,” says Deb. But her passion for the outdoors goes beyond hunting birds. “I like the fact that every time you go outdoors you experience something different than the last time you were outdoors,” says Deb. “Maybe there’s a turkey gobbling, or the first Dutchman’s Breeches are blooming, or the prairies have turned bright gold, or the snow is piled high on the cedar trees, or maybe it’s just the smell of fresh hay being cut. It’s the place I am most comfortable.” Deb’s noticed a decrease in environmental enthusiasm in the community however. “I am concerned this lack of interest in participating in outdoor activities is having an affect on the public’s relationship with the environment,” says Deb. “This disconnect with the natural environment makes them less likely to advocate for environmental causes or public land acquisition and protection.” Deb attributes this decrease in interest with the changing global landscape. Fewer and fewer people are growing up on ranches or farms, and therefore have less association with the land than people have had in the past.

Deb Schultehenrich is a quail, pheasant, and duck hunter. Always trailing behind her is her dog, Gus, a German Shorthair pointer. Her family passed the hunting enthusiasm on to her at a young age. “Hunting is something I have always done,” says Deb. But her passion for the outdoors goes beyond hunting birds. “I like the fact that every time you go outdoors you experience something different than the last time you were outdoors,” says Deb. “Maybe there’s a turkey gobbling, or the first Dutchman’s Breeches are blooming, or the prairies have turned bright gold, or the snow is piled high on the cedar trees, or maybe it’s just the smell of fresh hay being cut. It’s the place I am most comfortable.” Deb’s noticed a decrease in environmental enthusiasm in the community however. “I am concerned this lack of interest in participating in outdoor activities is having an affect on the public’s relationship with the environment,” says Deb. “This disconnect with the natural environment makes them less likely to advocate for environmental causes or public land acquisition and protection.” Deb attributes this decrease in interest with the changing global landscape. Fewer and fewer people are growing up on ranches or farms, and therefore have less association with the land than people have had in the past.

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Bradford Farm is a part of MU Extension that conducts research in agricultural and wildlife studies. They also offer educational opportunities to the community about how to manage their crops and land, and how to be as sustainable as possible. Tim Reinbott is the superintendent of Bradford Farm, and wants to help educate the public as much as possible about incorporating wildlife into their agriculture.  Tim came from an outdoorsy family with a father who taught him to appreciate the outdoors for what it is: our livelihood as citizens of the planet. Reinbott says he’d like to encourage farmers and landowners to be more accepting of wildlife and plant more diversified crops and grasses so that they offer better protection for certain kinds of wildlife that aren’t damaging to their land. “Wildlife is much more than pests to farmers,” says Reinbott. He thinks the best way to share this with the community is to hold workshops at the farm, particularly with 4-H clubs and their families.

Bradford Farm is a part of MU Extension that conducts research in agricultural and wildlife studies. They also offer educational opportunities to the community about how to manage their crops and land, and how to be as sustainable as possible. Tim Reinbott is the superintendent of Bradford Farm, and wants to help educate the public as much as possible about incorporating wildlife into their agriculture. Tim came from an outdoorsy family with a father who taught him to appreciate the outdoors for what it is: our livelihood as citizens of the planet. Reinbott says he’d like to encourage farmers and landowners to be more accepting of wildlife and plant more diversified crops and grasses so that they offer better protection for certain kinds of wildlife that aren’t damaging to their land. “Wildlife is much more than pests to farmers,” says Reinbott. He thinks the best way to share this with the community is to hold workshops at the farm, particularly with 4-H clubs and their families.

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Virgil decided from a young age that being outside and fishing was what he wanted to do with his life. It was almost everyone’s way of life in his rural, farming community.  But with age came more complications and distractions. “I went through the stages of schooling, and kind of forgot what fishing was about. Then came an opportunity for me to go fishing with mentors along the way,” says Virgil. His father died when he was six, so he had to find other adult figures to take him fishing. As an adult, Virgil would take friends fishing, and one of them suggested making a business out of it.  Virgil then became a fishing guide and outfitter, traveling through Canada and Alaska with small groups. His business eventually led to him traveling abroad, which he thanks fishing for every time he goes.  But what really matters to Virgil is camaraderie. “The fellowship people have when they’re hunting and fishing has lent itself to be the best thing that has happened to me.” His favorite job is to take families on trips, which to him makes it a special outing.  Virgil says there’s more opportunities now to get families out and fishing together, but people are involved in many things in the modern age, so trying to find time is hard for younger generations to get out into nature and explore it. “A lot of people find other things to do with their time than fishing, which in my opinion is not good, because any outing you do with your family and friends is pretty hard to beat.”

Virgil decided from a young age that being outside and fishing was what he wanted to do with his life. It was almost everyone’s way of life in his rural, farming community. But with age came more complications and distractions. “I went through the stages of schooling, and kind of forgot what fishing was about. Then came an opportunity for me to go fishing with mentors
along the way,” says Virgil. His father died when he was six, so he had to find other adult figures to take him fishing. As an adult, Virgil would take friends fishing, and one of them suggested making a business out of it. Virgil then became a fishing guide and outfitter, traveling through Canada and Alaska with small groups. His business eventually led to him traveling abroad, which he thanks fishing for every time he goes. But what really matters to Virgil is camaraderie. “The fellowship people have when they’re hunting and fishing has lent itself to be the best thing that has happened to me.” His favorite job is to take families on trips, which to him makes it a special outing. Virgil says there’s more opportunities now to get families out and fishing together, but people are involved in many things in the modern age, so trying to find time is hard for younger generations to get out into nature and explore it. “A lot of people find other things to do with their time than fishing, which in my opinion is not good, because any outing you do with your family and friends is pretty hard to beat.”

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One walk over 35 years ago led to Mike Jenner’s passion for rock climbing. Mike was a student at Mizzou at the time, hiking around Capen Park when he saw a couple of guys rock climbing. Curious, he stepped over to them and asked them about it. They were generous enough to let him make his first climb that day. Now Mike travels all over North America for climbing. He thinks that Boone County is a great place to practice his hobby, but his all time favorite is in the Sierras in California. Mike spends many resources and tolerates the injuries from rock climbing because it’s a great mix of skills. “Rock climbing allows you to focus, to drive everything else out. It takes strength, but it’s also a mental sport,” Mike says. You may be strapped into a harness but there’s a lot of courage involved in rock climbing according to Mike. Unlike many other outdoor activities, Mike believes that rock climbing is on the rise. He attributes this to indoor climbing gyms, but he thinks it’s a lot harder of a transition from inside to the great outdoors than most people think. “It’s a good thing that people are climbing more, but I also hate to be climbing in a crowd,” says Mike. Even though Mike wants some quiet when climbing, he usually climbs with friends that he’s met around the country. It’s a good idea for safety reasons, but he also just enjoys the company.

One walk over 35 years ago led to Mike Jenner’s passion for rock climbing. Mike was a student at Mizzou at the time, hiking around Capen Park when he saw a couple of guys rock climbing. Curious, he stepped over to them and asked them about it. They were generous enough to let him make his first climb that day. Now Mike travels all over North America for climbing. He thinks that Boone County is a great place to practice his hobby, but his all time favorite is in the Sierras in California. Mike spends many resources and tolerates the injuries from rock climbing because it’s a great mix of skills. “Rock climbing allows you to focus, to drive everything else out. It takes strength, but it’s also a mental sport,” Mike says. You may be strapped into a harness but there’s a lot of courage involved in rock climbing according to Mike. Unlike many other outdoor activities, Mike believes that rock climbing is on the rise. He attributes this to indoor climbing gyms, but he thinks it’s a lot harder of a transition from inside to the great outdoors than most people think. “It’s a good thing that people are climbing more, but I also hate to be climbing in a crowd,” says Mike. Even though Mike wants some quiet when climbing, he usually climbs with friends that he’s met around the country. It’s a good idea for safety reasons, but he also just enjoys the company.

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Jim Karpowicz got his start in filming from his family. His dad and brother were both in the television business and Jim spent a lot of time learning the ropes and fumbling with cameras. “As a little kid I was always drawn to the creeks and the woods, and I realized as an adult I’d have to cobble together some sort of career that paid money that would have something to do with the outdoors.” He decided that with his basic knowledge of TV equipment he could start his own business as a nature videographer and filmmaker. “I was able to take the skills I learned at the TV station and concentrate on the outdoors,” says Jim. He continues with a laugh, “I guess it sort of worked, I was able to put a few kids through college, pay a mortgage.” He takes his job seriously though, spending a lot of time while out on the job thinking about frames and setting up equipment, but he says even in that process he has to look up at his surroundings sometimes and admire the career he’s built for himself. He’s been able to travel all over from Nevada to Nicaragua, and is amazed every time that he’s paid to do something he enjoys so much.

Jim Karpowicz got his start in filming from his family. His dad and brother were both in the television business and Jim spent a lot of time learning the ropes and fumbling with cameras. “As a little kid I was always drawn to the creeks and the woods, and I realized as an adult I’d have to cobble together some sort of career that paid money that would have something to do with the outdoors.” He decided that with his basic knowledge of TV equipment he could start his own business as a nature videographer and filmmaker. “I was able to take the skills I learned at the TV station and concentrate on the outdoors,” says Jim. He continues with a laugh, “I guess it sort of worked, I was able to put a few kids through college, pay a mortgage.” He takes his job seriously though, spending a lot of time while out on the job thinking about frames and setting up equipment, but he says even in that process he has to look up at his surroundings sometimes and admire the career he’s built for himself. He’s been able to travel all over from Nevada to Nicaragua, and is amazed every time that he’s paid to do something he enjoys so much.

Don’t Abuse the Power of Pretty

I’ve met plenty a pretty person, and I think it’s good for beautiful people to have confidence and don’t shirk away from their attractiveness. But there comes a point when knowing you’re pretty can turn into an abusive power.

The type of power abuse I’m referring to is commonly known as a “tease”, “heartbreaker”, or a “flirt”. These have feminine connotations, but I have met a fair share of handsome gentlemen with the same tendencies as beautiful women. These power abusers know they’re beautiful, enjoy it, and like to see others reactions to their beauty. Often times I’ve noticed that it becomes a bit of a game to them, seeing the opposite sex (or same sex queer) squirm. It is an incredibly powerful feeling to not have to do much other than exist and smile to make someone melt. And like all other powerful feelings, it can become addictive.

Look at how many I have on the line!

Look at how many I have on the line!

The opposite is also true of beautiful people; they can also not like to address their beauty or use it per se, because they are embarrassed by the attention or it or would feel entirely too conceited for them to acknowledge it in any way, shape, or form. I used to be this way. And yes, if someone asks me now if I think I am attractive, I say yes. It is an objective quality determined by any number of things including general cultural cues, independent preferences, and moods. But if I think I am an attractive individual, for whatever reason, I shouldn’t be embarrassed to acknowledge it. Anything else would be demeaning. There’s a difference between that and modesty.

Modesty is important. If you do think you’re attractive, don’t make a point of bringing it up to people, or rubbing it in their faces. Such attitude would be what is known as a “sore winner”. Confidence is great, but crossing the bridge into braggart territory is just harmful. The abuse of power I’m talking about is another harmful effect of being a sore winner in the game of beauty.

I had a friend once, who was off and on in a committed relationship with a guy for several years. I thought for sure they were destined to be married (turns out they were, they are now married.) But she would always attract the attention of other people, guys and lesbians alike. When she was single she would flirt and smile and offer her attentions to almost anyone, leading them to believe that she was really on their side and interested. She had many offers to become romantic with these other people, but she always declined and ended up returning to her steady flame. What bothered me most was that even whilst she was taken she would continue the flirting and sending “I’m really interested in you” vibes to these other people that were quite obviously interested in more than just her vague friendship. I told her once that I felt she was leading them on and that it wasn’t very nice. She just looked at me and said, “It’s fun.”

While it was fun for her to see how many callers she could get from both sexes, it wasn’t as fun for the people who thought they had made a genuine connection with her. What a surprise when all that alone time she spent doting on them turned out to be nothing more than a mild entertainment for her. It usually left them confused, upset, and very down on themselves. Being played with like a toy isn’t fun for the person standing in as the “toy”- no matter what Toy Story leads us to believe.

I try to be wary of this. I’ve gained confidence since high school, but I want to be responsible with it. As much as it sucks, beauty is power to an extent. If a guy I don’t feel romantically inclined to or even physically attracted to asks me to do something like sit in his lap or hang out one-on-one in a romantic setting I turn them down. Better to let them know immediately that it’s not what you’re into than to lead them along and play with their emotions. That is just cruel. And you never know, you may be distracting them from opportunities to meet the real person for them.

Late Night Writing

Why is it easier to write late at night?
Or in the very early morning.
After the sun has long vanished
But hours before light reappears.

Are rays of light penetrating
To my mind’s inner workings?
Am I paranoid
Or just damn tired?

The thoughts come slower
But more deliberately.
With certainty,
Justification, and purpose.

They creep upon me
Like facts I had been ignoring.
But by computer screen light and darkness
Their honesty is striking.

Did the words decide to play this late?
Or did I beg them to
Because it’s easier being truthful
When there’s no one to reveal the truth to.

Nothing Inspirational to Note

Not all weeks are fantabulous, even when you use words like fantabulous.

So no, today I may not find anything particularly inspiring, encouraging, or plain old good. But tomorrow and the days that follow will bring something else. Let’s just hope this is rock bottom, because honestly this kind of emotion doesn’t jive well with the need to finish classwork.

Here’s to a hopefully better and more productive tomorrow.

Reporting Death

Death is not an easy thing, and it never should be. This week’s story about an Ashland teen who committed suicide is not easy for anyone involved. And while reporting a story of this nature is incredibly difficult, it’s not nearly as difficult as it is for the family of the deceased.

I know this from first hand experience. I too lost someone close to me at a young age. And I still keep the obituary saved as a bookmark.

Notice that none of my brother’s family is quoted. It’s true that Nathan See and Preston Turley were very close to Willie. But the immediate family side is not there. No, my brother did not die at his own hand, but if I were the reporter doing this story I probably would have wanted to get a comment from the family. I’m sure that the reporter tried, but I was 19 at the time, I don’t think I had really lost my “innocence” until then, and I certainly was in no mood to speak to a student reporter at the Missourian. I could barely even speak to my friends and family.

My parents were similarly indisposed. My parents didn’t answer many phone calls in the first couple days, only direct family and Pastor Ramsey at First Presbyterian got through. Losing someone at such a young age is not expected. It has an even more tragic effect since the deceased did not have time to complete their life. Willie was excited to become an educator and he was so close to graduating. He wanted to become a loving husband and father and grow more in his faith. He had so much potential ahead of him.

When those years are suddenly snatched away the question of “Why?” is always on the mind. I’m sure Jacob Meadows’ family is asking that question even more since he took his own life. They’ll never know for sure why he did it, and that will upset them for the rest of their lives.

I still grieve for my brother. More than two years later, I still think about him and burst into uncontrollable sobs. So when reporting about death, especially if the deceased is a youth, remember that the family is not thinking about how their loved one will look in print. But they will remember if you dishonor them in any way. My parents cut out newspaper clippings and I watched news videos online and saved that obit. It may seem a bit morbid, but it’s a way of remembering them, of remembering their death and not taking life for granted.

Don’t take it personal if the family tells you to go away or stop calling. They’re in no mood to be polite and personally I felt like I had nothing left to lose for the first couple days. It felt as if the world had ended and reason had abandoned us. It’s still important to do a good job. So finding those other sources, such as Preston and Nathan, is the next step. And if that doesn’t go through, simple is always best.

My brother, Willie, and I outside our house in Litchfield, Minnesota in 1995. It's okay to say he looks like Harry Potter.

My brother, Willie, and I outside our house in Litchfield, Minnesota in 1995. It’s okay to say he looks like Harry Potter. He does.

Privacy

There is no privacy on the internet.

I don’t even need a hacker friend to let me know that. It’s just the way it is now. If someone is determined enough they can find a way to access your personal thoughts on a blog, the rowdy pictures on your facebook, and sometimes even your personal information such as your address, phone number, and social security number.

It’s scary, but knowing that your thoughts and personal details are broadcasted across the interwebs (often by your own choosing) doesn’t have to be terrifying. You just have to be aware. So by admitting that you self broadcast or have friends/family/foes that have broadcasted you, you’re that much closer to understanding the true reality of things: the internet is becoming the reality.

Employers use the internet to see who you are outside of an interview. Family uses it to check up on you. And some lonely souls use it to see if you would make a decent significant other. The age of the “online persona” is passing. People see your profile before they meet you in person, but that doesn’t mean they’ll only judge the “in-person you” by what they see in-person. First impressions last, it doesn’t matter if they’re cyber.

XQ2UE

General Assignment Tales

Yesterday I had my first GA shift, which means basically I plant myself in the newsroom and have stories assigned to me or I generate story ideas. I got there at 8:00 AM, which is difficult for me, I am not a morning person. But when I arrived there was not much happening. So I settled in, ate some mac and cheese for breakfast (disgusting, I know but I didn’t plan out breakfast well this week) and started looking at stories and thinking about story ideas.

At 10:00 AM I was beckoned over to the editors’ desk by Katherine Reed, and she gave me a story about a fast food worker strike happening in Columbia the next day (today). I was thankful that it was a semi national story, with an exciting event and passionate people involved. Those often make really great stories, so I hopped right on to researching it. The research went fairly well, I just looked up the groups mentioned in the press release that were involved around the country and wrote up some of the figures and facts in relatable terms.

It was then that the waiting started. I had three different sources, the press release, a local reverend who was assisting in the Columbia strike, and a striker who I connected with through the person who wrote the press release. I got the reverend on the phone fairly easily and the person who wrote the press release, but then there was this long wait on the striker, because he was being protected by my connection to them. There was an embargo on the story and she didn’t want people’s names or places of business mentioned before the strike, so I had to talk it over with editors, and then we played phone tag for a while, but I’m happy I waited for the striker to be connected with me because he was the key stakeholder in the story. The strike wouldn’t be happening at all without people like him, and he was obviously very passionate about it. Passionate enough to reveal his name and place of work despite the risk. We did end up holding it until 6:00 AM because of the embargo, but it didn’t diminish the story at all.

So at 8:00 PM, after a 12 hour shift, I felt good about what I had accomplished and it was a great experience to talk to people who are willing to put their livelihood on the line because they’re that invested in a cause. It was refreshing to say the least. It made me wonder what causes I believed in enough to make a sacrifice such as the one my subject was possibly making. What causes would make you do something as risky as that?

And So My Watch Ends

Yeah, I am leaving off with a Game of Thrones reference. However if I were truly in the Night’s Watch this would mean that I’m either dead or a deserter. I promise you I’m neither. I was only contracted to be at Missouri Life for the summer, and Winter is Coming.

Ohhhkayyy. You’ve witnessed my obsession too plainly. So let me continue by generically saying I’ve learned a lot this summer. About photojournalism, writing, regular office hours, how to bring lunch to work, and even editing. And all of it just reassured me that this is the path I want to take. I like being whisked around to different assignments, using my judgment to select photos worthy of my editors’ perusal, and I really enjoy getting to see places I’d never even imagine going to on my own.

The traveling I did for Missouri Life reaffirmed what I’ve thought about journalism for quite some time: it’s for those of us who didn’t get to experience it firsthand. I don’t describe the juiciness of a burger or capture a smile for my own benefit (although it is fun), it’s all for the reader who relies on my image and my words alone to share the experience. And who knows? Maybe it’ll encourage one of you to go try the new Mexican place, or take a day trip to Glasgow. Essentially, journalists are here to serve. Whether it be the hard hitting news you need right away for safety or general knowledge of your community, or the fluffier stories that just give you some hope for humanity. Each has its purpose and that gives me, the journalist, purpose. Thanks for liking knowledge and new stimuli viewers! Without you I would be even more desolate and penniless.

Here are some photos from my most recent excursion to the southwest part of this grand state.

The last courthouse in my Unique County Courthouses story: Jasper County in Carthage, MO.

The last courthouse in my Unique County Courthouses story: Jasper County in Carthage, MO.

Nathan Boone Homestead, outside of Springfield, MO.

Nathan Boone Homestead, outside of Springfield, MO.

Mo' Beef in Springfield, MO specializes in Chicago style Italian beef sandwiches, but I had to try the chicken parmigiana sandwich. Om nom.

Mo’ Beef in Springfield, MO specializes in Chicago style Italian beef sandwiches, but I had to try the chicken parmigiana sandwich. Om nom.

You can’t tell me none of those places look intriguing. I’m a foodie and succumb easily to my vice, food porn, so just looking at that sandwich turns my stomach on full beast mode. It’s embarrassing; people can hear me.

What could also be construed as embarrassing is that I took my mumsy with me on this voyage. She’s close to retirement, and likes to ask off work, and I sure wasn’t going to drive 8 hours all by my lonesome. She’s also very reasonable, a logical Spock-like creature if you will, and she decided we needed to stay overnight and drive back the next day. Praise mumsy for that insight, considering how tired I was by the end of day one. It’s always good to have a road companion, they can help you with directions, argue you with you about where to eat, stop at ridiculous antique malls that require two people to go in and joke about everything they see, and they’re someone to share the fond memories with down the line.

So I encourage everyone to pick a magazine or newspaper, and read about what’s going on around you. It doesn’t have to be in your hometown, state, or even country. (I prefer space travel.) It’s just important to see the options available to you. Looking at a computer screen thinking about how bored you are isn’t hip anymore. There really is no excuse not to experience your community. And community is in varying degrees of distance, depending on your comfort zone, but test that zone every now and then. I’m happily surprised every time I do. And if you need a little guidance, just look to the articles, they usually point you in the right direction.

Attribution

Sometimes, we search for meaning. Oftentimes, we can’t find it, or we find something we didn’t particularly want to happen upon. These past couple days I’ve seen my relatives, friends, and strangers alike balk at the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Many are sad, outraged, and confused. Why would someone choose to do this? If we knew with one hundred percent accuracy why that man did it, we would probably have a scarily similar thought process to him. It’s beyond a reasonable explanation, which is what most people feel they’re entitled to. We’re curious people, and we feel it’s our right to understand everything going on around us. But really, most of it isn’t understandable.

I don’t know how I, as a person, came into being precisely. I’m not sure if it was genetics, the environment, or a particular mix of both that made me the way I am today. I certainly don’t know why the sun exists, why the first plants appeared, or why colors are a thing. It’s just kind of there, taken for granted. Many things are confusing to me, but many things are confusing to the most intelligent of humans.

Many times people replace their confusion with a blind sense of faith in some omniscient being. An example of such a person would be my mumsy. In the wake of this awful event, my mom has turned to the Christian god. She’s taken it as an opportunity to examine her faith and speak with me about it, since she knows I’m an agnostic. To her, my agnosticism is a phase I will grow out of. And who knows, maybe it is. But her lessons leave me less than moved. The lesson she chose to give after the shooting in Connecticut was short, but spoke volumes. She said that people have been treating each other horrendously for centuries, but as long as there are some good people who try to make change for the better, it’s evidence of the existence of God. If we’re saying God created everything and watches over everyone, we can’t limit his influence only to the good people in the world. There are many good agnostics and atheists in the world, and there are many evil worshipers of some sort of god. It doesn’t make sense to attribute goodness to God and evilness to man.

I believe in free will. Good people choose to do good, and bad people choose to do bad, in the simplest of terms. And lots of us choose to do inconsequential things. I’d like to think I do a bit more good than bad, but my decisions are still very complex. I’m not entirely good, and I’m not entirely evil. How can we separate man into several different aspects and say only a part of him is attributed to God and the rest is of his own doing? People come to be the way they are through many different means, but usually they play a role in it. I don’t think it’s logical to assume that part of a human is not under their direct control and the other parts are.

It’s usually beyond our grasp when we ask why the world is this way or what’s the meaning of it all. And it’s okay for it to be. It’s quite a chore to understand the motivations of everyone and everything on the planet. I think our time is better spent trying to enjoy what we do have. Instead of wondering why there’s evil in the world, be happy that there’s good too. Even if we all die on December 21st without understanding every last bit of this planet we inhabit I think it will all be okay. It doesn’t affect our happiness now or our ability to lead productive lives.

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