Please Don’t Find Your Park.

Over the past year, I’ve noticed a big push to find your park.

I find this absurd.

As an Eagle Scout and avid outdoorsman, I’ve spent the better part of the past two decades exploring national parks. I was blessed to have parents who took our family to national parks every chance they had. Our national parks system is one of our greatest assets. One that I truly do believe is underappreciated.

I’m all for individuals finding adventure. I believe it is instrumental in developing the human spirit. But the notion of finding your park creates a mentality of takers.

The idea that individuals should find their park inherently implies that the park is theirs. It encourages them to treat it as if it belonged to them. This is all at a time when parks are already struggling. Over the past few years, our national parks have surged in popularity, which is putting a strain on the parks already limited resources.

The statement “find YOUR park” leads individuals to explore these parks as if they were their own. It implies a sense of ownership. It leads individuals stray off of marked trails, litter the woods, and deface natural artifacts.

The slogan also reinforces the notion that one’s experience at a national park should be catered to them. Instead of being mere observers, visitors have come to demand

What happened to staying in quaint cabins?

higher expectations. They expect accommodations and dining to meet commercial standards. In order to cater to these growing demands, companies like Xanterra, have stepped in to provide fine lodging and concessions within the parks. No longer are the accommodations in national parks basic cabins, they now rival luxury hotels (with prices to match).

All I’m saying is let’s not Disney-ify our national parks. Let’s not tear down forests so visitors can have better coffee. Sure let’s make them accessible for all to see, but at the same time be conscious of the footprint we leave. Let’s keep them pristine. Let’s leave them as we found them, not as we want them to be.

So please, don’t find YOUR park, rather discover OUR parks.

 

P.S. if you ever have any questions on how to adventure in the wilderness without leaving a trace, please don’t hesitate to message me.

Lessons Learned: One Year of Sailing

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine pointed out that I’d hit my one year anniversary of sailing with the UT Sailing Club.

In that time, I’ve learned a couple things (I know most of you didn’t think I was capable of that). Number one, if someone is yelling at you…just duck.

Things Break. Be Ready:

The first time I ever went sailing at UT, a few members managed to break a sailboat in half. Somehow, I was convinced that this was the group of people I should learn to sail with.

We’ve had numerous parts break on us at inopportune times. Sometimes it’s just poor luck and sometimes it’s our own incompetence (hint: it’s usually the latter). Instead of fretting and freaking out, you quickly learn to calm down and figure out how to improvise until you can fix it (or duct tape over it until the next person finds it).

Find a Sport:

As someone whose athletic claim to fame is scoring on my own soccer team in fourth grade, I never really understood the appeal of sports-ball competitions. I never understood how people bonded over flailing balls and pucks at each other.

After getting involved with J24 racing (the type of boat we race) it finally clicked. I understood how sports build camaraderie. The shared spirit of wanting to accomplish something. The coordination required to do something as simple as tack (turn) into another direction. The panic when things go wrong, it all just made sense.

I’ve probably inhaled just enough fiberglass while working on Jolly Bevo (our beloved J24) to shave a few months off my lifespan (how’s that for dedication), woken up sore every morning for a week after a regatta, and spent a too many hours in cold water, but somehow it all makes sense.

I have found a newfound respect for athletes and for my fellow professional Netflix connoisseurs, maybe give another sport a try.

What my parent's think I do when I say I'm sailing.
What my parent’s think I do when I say I’m sailing.

Everything Makes Sense. Except When It Doesn’t:

When I began sailing I floundered around in the water. Pulling on the mainsheet (the line that controls the sail) and messing with the tiller. More often than not I found myself in the water with the boat upside down. I didn’t understand what was going on and decided that sailing is essentially magic.

In the past year, I have learned more about sailing that any sane person should know (the amount of sailing knowledge I have has gone from nothing to being well informed, and has now peaked at nerdy). Generally, things make sense. I can read and react to the wind. When things go wrong, I can ascertain what I should look for. Once you know what you’re doing, sailing becomes a lot less like magic and a lot more like science. It’s a nice reminder that behind all the things we take for granted, there’s a lot more happening behind the scenes. At least for me, it has led me to become even more inquisitive (this was probably my elementary school teacher’s biggest nightmare).

But every once in a while, things just do not make sense. You can be sailing next to an identical boat doing the exact same thing as you and they still manage to surpass you. In those cases, I have decided to accept that sailing is still magic.

Bonus – Boat Puns Are Great:

I haven’t a clew where this fits in, but I have a newfound appreciation for boat puns and dad jokes. Maybe I’ve been pier pressured into appreciating them or maybe it is aboat time I started growing fond of them.

That is all.

End Notes:

One year in, I’ve been grateful that I somehow got roped into sailing. If you ever want to sail (regardless of whether you’re a pro or have never sailed before), let me know and I would love to get you out on the water (please note, you will be subjected to boat puns).

 

 

Why The 21st Street Co-Op?

One of the first things I was told once I moved into the 21st Street Co-Op was “This place will eat you alive and you’re going to love it.”

But let’s take a step back. How did I end up here in the first place? While always adventurous, my housing experience had always been pretty traditional. I’d spent most of my first 18 years living at home and then proceeded to live in a dorm my freshman year. After landing an internship in Austin over the summer, I needed to find a place to stay until I moved into my apartment in the fall. And that’s the start of how I ended up in the belly of the dragon.

For those of you do not know about the 21st Street Co-Op, it is the first structure built to be used as a cooperative living space, which is about as accurate a description as saying Brittney Spears is a wholesome (side note: is Brittney Spears still culturally relevant, because she’s still the only music I listen to)

In reality the co-op is cesspool of filth, drugs, and alcohol who use the ideals of communal living as a means of discovering and expressing themselves.

It really is a place where you get to see the best and worst of human nature. At the co-op, you see the power of democracy when structures are built in a day and you see the pitfalls of democracy when something as simple as purchasing a first-aid kit takes hours of debate and weeks to implement. Every day, the structure of the co-op is pushed to it’s limits and miraculously it manages to get by every time.

So to answer why I am at the the 21st Co-Op, the answer is simple. I don’t know when the next chance I’ll have to meet strangers and experience the human condition in their raw state (both figuratively and literally). Now that I’m here, I’m sure I’ll be a 21st MF for life.

 

 

Post High School Thoughts

A while back I watched Paper Towns, a movie which I would have loved had I been a 16-year-old girl. This is a fact that can be validated by the fact that I watched it with a friend, who believes that it is socially acceptable to have a Hello Kitty case on her iPhone, who seemingly enjoyed it a fair bit more than I did.

For those who have not seen the movie it is set within the last few weeks of high school and the adventures that ensued. I could go in more depth about the plot, but I think for our purposes any mental image you construct will suffice.

At the conclusion of the movie I started to realize that that whole chapter of my life is over; the experience of being called a soccer-mom for driving around an old minivan, the anxiety of finding a prom date had been experienced, the post-graduation road trip across the country had happened.

I also realized that I was probably one of the oldest guys in the theater. That is when it finally hit me that I was no longer a kid in high school anymore and that chapter of my life was over. It is a weird feeling and I don’t know quite how to describe it.

And then last night I saw Ferris Bueller’s Day Off once again, which for those of you who don’t know is  a heartwrenching tale of how a gorgeous Ferrari 250 GT meets its fate.

I realized that on various occasions I had missed school to do every single one of the things that Ferris does on his day off. Maybe I did get what I was supposed to from High School after all.

What Happened to Summer Camp?

So this morning I started to wonder what happened to camp. It seems to me that summer camps in general have just disappeared. For a moment I considered the theory that maybe the ghost who live in the abandoned cabin did really take all the campers away and now there are none left, but for some reason I was not 100% convinced that theory would hold up.

Now let me be clear, when I say camp I mean real camp. The kind of summer camp where you sing cult-like chants that were written before the invention of a dictionary and where clothes end up getting burnt to ashes (ask me about that later). The kind of summer camp where you made crafts that only your grandma could appreciate and where you would inexplicably find yourself in the water rather than in the canoe you were supposed to be in. What I do not mean is math camp or science camp where kids sit in a classroom doing the same exact things that they would be doing during the school year, but because it’s “summer camp” they eat their lunch on the playground instead of in a cafeteria.

I can say this is true because I still get mail from summer camps who still don’t know that I am an adult, admittedly an adult that still enjoys eating Fruit Loops every once in a while. All of the mail I get for summer camps are academic camps, which to me is a way to trick kids into going to school over the summer.

Now I have a few theories on why summer camps have disappeared, none of which are factually sound but indulge me anyways:

First off there’s the theory that kids are just more advanced nowadays and they are capable to skip straight to the soul sucking part of education without having to “waste” the first few years of their lives learning how to play. Now this may seem true to all the grandparents who believe that their three year old was born a genius, but this buzzfeed post seems to prove otherwise.

Secondly, there’s the theory that parents are trying to be protective of their kids. They make sure that their kids never touch anything sharper than a the side of their pencil case or dirtier than the handle of a tennis racket. This also is quite true and also the reason that cups of coffee at McDonalds now have warnings that the contents may be hot. I envision at some point in the near future parents setting locks that prevent their children from going to the backyard the same way parents currently lock their iPads to limit screen time. As a 19 year-old with no kids, I must give my expert opinion that while it may be great to protect your kid from every scratch and inkling of foul language, at some point they will experience these things and will be woefully unprepared. The kids I know who have grown up using knives and playing with fire have a much better understanding of how to stay safe compared to those who encounter them later on and don’t know how to safely handle them.

Lastly, there is the theory that parents feel that they are giving their child a leg up by making them well rounded. But the truth is that we need (and colleges look for) well rounded human beings, not students who are semi-versed in every subject. We need kids who are willing to design and build things by themselves, not follow directions that tell you how the pieces fit together. We need kids who will ask questions themselves, not just answer multiple choice questions. We need kids who will read stuff that they find interesting, not just books that they were assigned by someone else.

Now this next bit that is going to make me sound like an old fart. We NEED camps, because without them we end up living in a bubble of a society. I’ve grown up knowing my fair share of brilliant kids who are socially inept and I fear living in a future where everyone is like this.

So here are my thoughts, the thoughts of an 19 year old individual with no knowledge about parenting or child development, let’s bring back real summer camps and thank you to the adults who helped make going to summer camp possible.

 

Rehabilitating Our Prisons

This is probably one of my more serious posts. I know that many people will not read until the end of this post, so before I truly begin I want to make it clear that I am not in favor of being easier on crime. Rather I believe that our current prison system is ineffective at actually rehabilitating prisoners. Secondly, I am not criticizing our judicial system. Though that is because to do so would be moot and it is much more effective to focus on areas which we can easily improve on.

Regardless of how we cut it, an astounding number of individuals go through our country’s prison system. Irrespective of how those individuals ended up in the prison system, we must recognize that a good number of them will be released at some point in time and they will return to society. Furthermore, many of these individuals will return to society not having been rehabilitated; they will be unprepared and incapable of living in regular society.

These are facts. You can go to whatever source you believe credible and these statements will be supported. Now for the bit where I interject my own humble opinion and attempt to connect the dots. Many of the former prisoners return to society incapable of providing for themselves, thus a fair number of the return to prison. In other words, we have  a high recidivism rate. While I cannot say with 100%certainty that the high recidivism rate is due to inadequate rehabilitation, it is certainly a major factor.

So, how do we solve this?

One solution is to change the judicial system so that it fairly and more effectively deals with criminals and offers a more expansive set of options. But of course that is quite unlikely. Our judicial system is an area of great stagnation, though considerably adaptive compared to our legislative system. Realistically the place to look for change is within the prison system itself.

Considering that prisons are often managed by private non-government organizations, we see a chance to reform how prisoners are treated within the prison system.

I make this call not as another social justice plea or idealist fantasy, but rather as a business proposition.

Let’s build private prisons that profit based off of their ability to rehabilitate the prisoners they manage. At the crux of it, why not align the incentives for prisons and their prisoners.

Part of the process would involved more expensive cognitive  therapy up-front. But once these individuals are past any physical or psychological issues they may have, they are now a blank slate with a great deal of potential. For the remainder of their sentence they are both an asset to the prison as well as an opportunity to gain skills that can be applied in the real world. Why not invest into treating their existing conditions and providing them with vocational training early in their prison career. Then having them gain experience and develop those skills while working for the prison. The profit earned during their work sentence is then dispersed in part upon their exit and then in part monthly as a basic welfare program. This would provide the prison management company a large source of capital which they could then manage and also profit off of.

Of course these are just ideas for a better prison system, one that fails to even address some of the fundamental problems inherent within our legal system. But keep in mind that any improvement, even a slight one would make a tremendous impact on the millions of individuals who are part of the prison industrial complex.

Let’s discuss, what are you’re thoughts? Comment below or shoot me an email! Either way I would love to hear what you think.

The Window Seat

A few days ago I flew back from Austin to Chicago. For all intents and purpose it was a very normal flight. It was as normal of an experience as traveling at a few hundred miles per hour in a flying pressurized metal tube could possibly be. During this almost magical process, I spent my time by taking a nap, drinking a coke, and getting through a few episodes of Breaking Bad.

As usual I had selected the aisle seat when checking in. Now any experienced traveler knows how sacred the aisle seat is. It is about as much freedom as you can get on an airplane, especially now that SkyMall is gone and we are no longer free to buy a toilet paper holder iPhone dock (feel free to look this up, it was a real thing at one point).

But something interesting happened on the first leg of that flight which reminded me about how great flying is. The airplane was more than half empty; in fact my whole row was empty. So during takeoff, I slid over to the window seat so I could get a better view. Side note; in the event that American Airlines sees this post, this is not an admission of guilt…please don’t charge me an additional $732 dollar fee for switching seats while aboard a flight.

Regardless, this made me consider why I stopped sitting in the window seat to begin with.

Over the past few months I have flown more than my fair share. In the last five months I have been on around fifteen flights. While this pales in comparison to consultants who fly on a weekly basis, I have been “randomly screened” one too many times to truly enjoy flying.

Similarly, I gave up taking the windows seat and the awe that comes along with it in exchange for the practicality and freedom that the aisle seat affords.

I think one grows up the day they no longer seek the window seat on an airplane. The day that the practicality of the aisle seat outweighs the desire to stare out of the window in wonder. All I can say is that for the second leg of that flight I took the window seat and I plan to the same next time.

Airplanes, Roller Coasters, and Cruise Ships….Thoughts on Childhood

A few months ago, I sat down to find some portable cell phone chargers that we could sell as a fundraiser for DECA. I found myself up on alibaba.com.

Before long, I got distracted (something that occurs quite commonly with me). I moved from looking at portable cell phone chargers to looking at used Boeing 747’s for sale (that is the power of the internet folks). All of a sudden, I felt a sense of giddiness which I hadn’t experienced in a while (I last experienced that same feeling when I found myself in moon jump). Looking at the cost, I found that a working jumbo jet would cost much less than even a basic home in the city where I live. Instantly I began to think about the idea of having a plane as a home; not as a practical matter, but as a mental engineering feat.

Soon enough I found myself in an endless cycle trying to find some of the craziest things that I could purchase on the internet. This included roller coasters and cruise ships which could be bought with the click of a button.

In that moment (and in the following days where I spent much time thinking about this), everything seemed possible once again. These childhood fantasies of having a plane/living in it or having a roller coaster in your backyard now seem within reach (at least to my adult self). But my mind kept on wandering back to the idea of living in a plane.

Regardless of it’s impracticality it could be done. Of course there are many logistical challenges that I have yet to even consider, but I spent the next hour frantically reading up on every aspect of turning a jumbo jet into a home. I had a passion to learn more that I have not quite felt in years. It was a state of bliss where I lost track of time.

I talk about this experience because it disproves a commonly held belief. It disproves the idea that more information is always better. But to quote George Orwell out of context, sometimes “ignorance is bliss.” Having just enough knowledge allows us to dream. It allows us to distort reality and see things differently. It allows us to ask questions that others would never dream of.

As kids we cannot wait to grow up so that we can do the things we want to do and as adults we wish were kids again so we could be ignorant.

What this random jaunt on alibaba.com reminded me is that every once in a while it is important to ignore reality for a bit and simply dream.

 

P.S. To all those who have entertained this idea in the days after I had, regardless of it’s impracticality, thank you.

 

A Post About the Fourth

This post probably should open with the obligatory fireworks and USA chants. Seriously though, if this post ends up being much more than a rant on America’s greatness I will be pleasantly surprised.

I have to say that the fourth of July is probably one of the best holidays of the year. It combines food and fireworks…two things that all American’s must love and unlike New Year’s takes place during a time of year when the weather is not chilly enough to give a yeti hypothermia.

It’s weird that we are the “greatest nation on earth” (cue fireworks) and yet we are so fucked up.

We live in a state where our health care system is in shambles (the Surgeon General is unable to comment on the exact state because he has been on hold with his health insurance company for the last 6 months trying to figure out whether is bi-annual dental checkup is covered, our education system is so bad that there is no individual educated in the United States who understands the statistics that the Department of Education puts out (that is a 100% accurate made up statement), and our prison system is so bad that the Department of Justice is considering turning Georgia into a penal colony again (which would elevate the state’s status from being completely useless to semi-useless and be the first worthwhile institution in the state).

Admittedly on the fifth, we found out that Greece voted no on their referendum and is now going to plunge into a state of economic turmoil that even Keynes would be hesitant to touch. I guess regardless of how messed up things get we can always say that at least we are not Greece.

I imagine President Obama being briefed on the fourth of July and the conversation going something like this.

White House Staff: In today’s news the stock market has dipped 40%, we lost the key to all of our prisons, China has declared war on the United States, OPEC has banned all oil exports to the United States, and we have lost track of Joe Biden again.

President Obama: At least we aren’t Greece. *Sips home-brew beer (fireworks go off in the background, the Star Spangled Banner plays, and a Bald Eagle swoops across)

So there we have it. America is the greatest country on earth and will remain to be simply because every other country is just slightly more messed up than us…that is unless you live in Best Korea.

 

On Being Behind

So here I stand, one month in with fewer posts than I expected to have at this point. In fact I have exactly 30 fewer posts than I expected to have at this point. This leaves me in an interesting predicament because there is nothing binding me to my goal of writing a post a day; therefore I am left with two options. I can either give up on the goal of writing a post a day or I can start buckling down and write two posts a day to catch up.

Admittedly I am not as behind as it seems to be. There is a good number of posts waiting to be published sitting as drafts, but there is something to be said about not having published any posts.

But this is not my first time being behind. Having been through high school, I have spent my fair share of nights spent trying to bullshit my way through weeks worth of missing work.

So here we go, attempt number two. See you on the other side….hopefully with 60 posts under my belt.