Sense of Adventure Scale from One to We’re All Going to Die!

Ngorongoro Crater (picture by Jonathan Dunn)

Ngorongoro Crater (picture by Jonathan Dunn)

I’ve never been comfortable rating one’s sense of adventure. It seems that where a cross-state road trip ranks somewhere near a crocheting injury on the risk scale, swimming with baited sharks is…well…swimming with baited sharks.

While listening to the travel stories of friends and reading blogs of the ever-departing, one begins to invisibly chart that sense. The scale differs. Miles from home, unexpected dining experiences, exotic animal encounters, it all factors into the weight you give their adventuresome ambition.

But why?

Isn’t any adventure simply to stave off complacency?

I realize that it’s inherent to human nature to feel the need to compete. To good, better, best your neighbors and friends. I may not ever be able to rail a successful argument against that need, but as travellists (it’s a word, look it up), our competition should instead be with that complacency.

In my circle there is palpable wanderlust. Each day, my Facebook feed is the equivalent of a “what-I-did-this-summer” photo essay. It makes me jealous. I have gone further than 100 miles from home once  in the last 6 months and that was as an airport chauffeur for someone else’s trip.

This may be one of the reasons why my upcoming trip to St. Louis feels like a bucket list accomplishment. But more than the notion that it is an overdue vacation with my sister, leaving my daily life heightens my sense of adventure.

Wisconsin Polar Plunge

Wisconsin Polar Plunge

I’m a difficult person to travel with if you value things like sleep. I find little point in spending time in a new place doing something that can be done at home. I’ve filled my week in STL with experiences that can happen in no other place.

We are going to eat our way through The Godfather at Tenacious Eats. Sunday will find us at the International Horseradish Festival in Collinsville, IL for a 5k and celebratory Bloody Mary contest afterward. A baseball and, subsequently stadium food, aficionado we will be taking in an evening game at Busch Stadium and I’ve talked my sister into a picnic dinner while watching the Twelfth Night at the Shakespeare Festival.

Oh, and the arch, the Anheuser-Busch brewery tour, Ulysses S. Grant Historic Site, the City Museum, the zoo, the St. Louis Art Museum, the Scott Joplin House, the Cahokia Mounds, Molly’s in Soulard, Calvary Cemetery, Bogart’s Smokehouse, Left Bank Books..like I said, no sleep.

Flying planes off the Astoria Column.

Flying planes off the Astoria Column.

I know very little of St. Louis. I’m imagining Midwest sensibility layered with that certain Southern charm and inland Eastern grittiness topped with a dash of Left Coast hipster. It’s easy to say that you keep an open mind when travelling to a new place, but media, blogs, friends, and research have forced me to cull certain opinions.

I’ve heard STL is “scary” and “rough.” I’ve been told to avoid certain neighborhoods or, in fact, the entire Eastern part of the city. I know there’s a musically rich history of ragtime and jazz, two genres absent from any of my playlists. Growing up in Olympia and now living in New Glarus, I understand brewery towns on a small-scale, but the way beer tycoons can shape a city.

It’s these preconceptions and questions that are the fuel for adventure. I won’t climb the world’s tallest anything or collect passport stamps , but by getting in my car and driving 300 miles, I’ve topped out on that imaginary sense of adventure scale.

I’ll be blogging about my trip starting next week, so check back for updates on our adventure.

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Keeping it Simple: My Midwest Mayberry

Midwest Mayberry.

Midwest Mayberry.

 I live in Mayberry.

Hell, I’m a freckled redhead with the last name Taylor.

I AM Mayberry.

I once saw our small-town cop stroll up the block to break up a bar fight that had tumbled out the swinging tavern doors into the deserted street. We have 2000 people who every other summer weekend gather in a circus striped tent that closes main street to celebrate any and everything Swiss.

Things here are quiet and slow. More importantly, they are simple. And ideas that can further simplify life are lauded and loved. That’s why there was a collective, mild-mannered cheer when our small town organized a farmer’s market. A month ago, 4 pioneering entrepreneurs opened their trucks and unfolded their card tables, providing farm fresh produce and baked goods. I wasn’t able to attend in the first three weeks, but when I walked over this Thursday, the vendor count had more than doubled and now included tomato starts, woodworking crafts and pickled delicacies.

Farm fresh eggs

Farm fresh eggs

On my way down the block I caught up with my elderly landlord walking his high-strung, curl of a dog. I side-stepped a potential tangle of her leash as he filled me in on the latest town gossip, which included the exciting development of a local ice cream shop being renovated and slightly reinvented to 50s-style soda fountain.

We parted when we reached the railroad depot parking lot that is home to the market and I went on to find farm fresh eggs, a mini apple pie that had all the taste with half the guilt, and the most addictingly delicious herb and cheese bread that may have ever existed. Happy with my purchases and ready to get home to carb load, I bagged my finds and started back down the block.

Mini-pies from Bridget's Family Bakery in Evansville, WI.

Mini-pies from Bridget’s Family Bakery in Evansville, WI.

As I crossed through the middle of an intersection, quite literally right in the middle, I was stopped by a couple in a car waiting to turn.

“Are you from around here?”

I wasn’t sure how to respond succinctly, as technically I’m not FROM here but I live here now.

“Yeah.”

“How do you get to the Glarner Stube?” he asks, while she points to the ad in a local tourism guide.

“Take a right here, then another right at the next block. When you get to the main street, take a left and it’ll be right there on your left.”

“Is the food good?”

“Great.”

Now, what I really want to say here is, “They have the Midwest’s largest urinal and not that I’ve seen a lot of urinals, but it’s not THAT impressive.” But doing that ruins the moment. I’ve integrated myself well enough in this small town that I’m perceived to be a local. I don’t need to ruin it.

They make their right turn and I continue home, purse resting on my shoulder and mentally whistling the theme song of small towns everywhere.

Your Complacency Causes my Unicorns and Rainbows

I won’t ever apologize for my beliefs or for putting them into words. However, this post comes with an apologetic caveat. Included are generalizations presented in a far more aggressive tone than usual. I tried to edit it to lighten it up, but couldn’t manage to balance the humor and sincerity of the argument.

I’ve written a few posts now about the pessimism of people who consider themselves “realists.” They hold the idea that by being optimistic or hopeful, we are disconnected. And, quite possibly, naïvely think we are living in a world of unicorns and rainbows. I write these posts for two distinct reasons.

The first being the need. Not the need for it to be said. There have been disciples of these ideas for centuries, but the need for it to be repeated, reworded and read. What’s new is the individual perspective which ignites new theories and ideas on how to instigate the necessary change.

The second reason I continually write about my personal views on subjects like community or the responsibility of global citizenship is because I can’t see the incredulous faces you make when you read and disagree with it. I get those quite often when I choose to share my opinions in person  By posting, I’m getting to share my opinion without having to tactfully pretend I didn’t see the deep creases set in on your forehead.

I get it. I understand that my ideas constitute a certain amount of desire for tree-hugging in a communal neighborhood. Or that they are somehow considered on the fringe. But unfortunately I also understand the disturbing nature of the ability for people to classify issues with the encompassing blase scoff: “it is what it is.”

You’re right, it IS what it is. But it’s because you choose to respond to issues with that clichéd retort that they are. Instead of acknowledging that the situation is not fair or a disgusting invasion of human rights, you are content with complacency. You shrug and recoil back into your own life. While your ignorance is most definitely your bliss, your neighbors are dying in wars against perceived terrorism, drugs, and the economy.

Teaching empathy is difficult. It may be that it is something inherent and can’t be developed, but one thing that can be acquired is perspective. Challenge yourself by responding to issues. Question how it you can change it or what you can do to help, rather than consider it an ugly, but inevitable part of the world.

Beyond developing new perspective, constantly question the point of view you’ve already developed. How many of your established beliefs are a result of direct experiences in your life and how many are inherited from friends, family, or the media? I’m not promoting a decline to paranoia, but consider where your strongly held beliefs originated. It will be uncomfortable to confront these ideas, but the goal in life isn’t to reach a peak of thought and then recline in comfort. Instead it is a constant pursuit of knowledge. The insatiable nature of wanting to know more and to know why.

Responsible Reporting: The Importance of People First Language

At the close of last month, I wrote a post about people first language  in part to honor Autism Awareness month, but instigated by frequent use in the media of inaccurate terms that fail to place importance on a person rather than a special need. It’s difficult to change common vernacular, and as my sister pointed out, people first language can feel unnecessarily wordy when trying to convey a thought.

But it’s an imperative step towards eliminating discrimination against disability and creating a culture focused on the individual contributions a person can make rather than the limitations they may face.

We are all aware of the power that the media has in framing cultural trends. Society is a slightly skewed reflection of our media and, in reality, it also works in reverse. Journalists, however loosely you choose to interpret the term, have a responsibility to report ethically. I understand the business of journalism, but I feel strongly that these journalists should create with the expectation that they represent a community.

Last Friday, May 3rd, I saw an article on the NBC 15 homepage. (WMTV is the local NBC affiliate in Madison, WI). Tim Elliott, co-anchor of the Morning Show, does a segment called Tim’s Travels. I always find the pieces interesting and entertaining, as it highlights different areas and characters that make Wisconsin the proverbial life of the Midwest party. The May 3rd article featured Sam Brickman, a man with autism, creating an impact in his community through his art. The article was titled, Tim’s Travels: Autistic Artist.

Without revisiting the in depth argument for the importance of people first language, the idea that this man was being recognized because he had autism and not because he was an artist was frustrating. And because it’s me, I said so.

I sent the following Tweet:

nbc15.com/home/headlines/Tims-Travels-Autistic-Artist-205943691.html?mobile=yes … – How disappointing, @nbc15_madison. Sam is an artist with autism, not an autistic artist. Use people first language.

One can argue that because Twitter and other social media outlets have given the ability for immediate, opinionated voices to EVERYONE, it has caused us to have entitled expectations that we must be heard.

But because Twitter and every other social media outlet HAS given us the ability for immediate, opinionated voices we can make direct connections. Tim sent back this tweet moments later:

@the_otherlisa sorry lisa! hope you enjoyed the story though. it was a good one 🙂

And then followed it up by changing the headline to Tim’s Travels: Artist with Autism.

This isn’t a post to garner accolades or laud a triumph. And if you read on, you realize that there’s a point in this story where my foot has found itself firmly in my mouth…yet again. It’s simply a post to encourage. If you know something is wrong, speak up. It might instigate  change.

And it might instigate an argument, but at least you’ll have something to stand on.

So, the part where I didn’t know when to stop.

I didn’t recognize the change had been made and responded with another tweet a few hours later. Nothing nasty, just another strong worded diatribe from my soap box:

@thetimreport It was a great story, undermined by the lack of people first language. Media has a loud voice, it should be used responsibly.

Once I stomped off the box, threw my blinders in the corner in a pretentious rage, I realized that he had made the change.

Thanks Tim Elliott and WMTV, NBC 15 for recognizing the importance of people first language in the media (and politely ignoring my second, ignorant tweet).

And We Have a Winner…s!

As I lamented, for the second year in a row, I missed my opportunity to be a book giver during World Book Night. In each of these years, the book list has featured titles that I consider fundamental-to-life reads. In 2012, it was Octavia Butler’s Kindred and this year, Population: 485 – Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time by Michael Perry, a Wisconsin farm boy turned judicious small town scribe.

Though my inability to keep an accurate watch on such meaningful details ripped out the left corner of my soul, I wasn’t going to let opportunity run away with it. I purchased a copy of Population: 485, and encouraged readers to choose someone in their community who would benefit from a free book. Essentially it was World Book Night within World Book Night. Me giving a title to someone with the intent of in turn passing it along.

I received an underwhelming, in quantity only, three comments. Each had an individual, thoughtful reason for wanting to share the book (after first reading it, but who can blame them)? And it would be daft of me to fail to note that I actually personally know each of the people who commented.

So, I’ve decided to buy two more copies and give one to each.

I was immediately chided by my father for playing into our societies “everyone’s a winner!” habit, in which I slightly agree has created a generation of entitled’s who expect a ticker tape parade for the completion of every menial task. But I recognize that each of the recipients will benefit from the read in uniquely specific ways, plus the book givers get to give out 20 books, so it’s really not fair that I was only giving out one.

So congratulations, let your World Book Night duties commence. Read, dog ear, and then gracefully part with these, now, never-ending tales.