Is Media making us Loose Touch with Reality?

Is Media making us Loose Touch with Reality?

After a busy day and the pressure of a lot of work still to be done, I often find myself taking a short bike ride at dusk. There’s a place where I often end up stopping to watch the sunset. It’s at the top of a slight hill where the view opens up, clear of trees and buildings, and I can watch the panorama of clouds and sky changing as the sun descends.

Yesterday, I found myself in that spot again. My bike parked on the sidewalk, I sat in the grass and let everything slip away except for an immense awareness of the present: the tension in my lungs from the ride, the slight chill to the air, the songs of robins, the pulsing heat of the sun’s light. The sky was all clouds except for a few inches just above the treeline where the sunlight emerged in an intense orange. It seemed to take forever for the sun to descend those few inches, but I waited and watched it with my full attention.

I heard the skid of wheels coming up the path behind me and then a voice called my name. “I thought that was you. I love that you’re just sitting here watching the sunset,” the girl said as she stepped cautiously into the grass with her inline skates.

It struck me that there was a certain nostalgia implied by her comment. To take the time to watch the sunset, one is assumed to be in a state of Zen and total awareness. It’s very Buddhist. It’s very hipster. But for me, I wasn’t conscious of all that; my initial reaction to her comment was Of course, I am. What else would I be doing? I could not even consider that I could be somewhere else doing any multitude of other things because this was where I felt I was supposed to be at that moment.

As we chatted, she made some comment about how unsuspecting that a view of the sunset and such peace could be found squished between a giant parking lot and a busy road. I knew that I was looking over the parking lot at the sun and that there was a road filled with the traffic of the evening commute behind me, but I hadn’t even thought about it. I had been focusing on the colors dancing in the clouds to the accompaniment of a robin’s chorus.

I realized that I wasn’t being fully aware of the present but rather creating a mindset to match that of a different location. The peace and nostalgia I felt watching that sunset was how I feel when I’m in the Appalachian Mountains. In an attempt to escape the city, I had found a connection to another place through the sunset. The sun and moon and stars have the power to teleport your soul to anywhere in the world if you’re open to it because they rise and set and shine everywhere around the world.

I didn’t watch the sunset in order to “feel at peace,” but I think that’s what such experiences have been diluted to in our times. In the psychiatrist’s office, you’ll find framed landscapes of remote lakes and mountains and brilliant sunsets with the clouds placed just right. The patients look at the images and find a sense of peace because that’s what the image was meant to portray. The lens doesn’t capture the days where it’s so cloudy you can’t see the sunset or let you feel the brisk wind or the chill of rain or hear the buzz of gnats, but these are all part of the place of these images.

With our world progressively moving to the internet and other forms of media, we’re presented daily with images. Images of people, images of places, images of items—all depicted in a way to frame the way you see them and induce a reaction. The picture of a perfectly symmetrical plant in the therapist’s office aims to calm you. The homeless children and abused animals look up at the camera as emotional music turns not just your ear but your heart. Images do not represent reality in its entirety. They are created with intentional blinders to create a tone and therefore invoke a specific reaction.

However, with some images becoming so iconic, the media has conditioned us to think we must feel at peace when watching a sunset, to feel moved to help when we see a homeless person, to take in that stray dog. But for most people in the real situation, that’s not how they feel or are moved to act. When you’re stuck in traffic and late for dinner, you don’t even see that stray dog on the side of the road. When you’re a young girl alone in the city, that homeless guy can seem more of a threat than a person in need. When we’re in the present, we put on our own blinders. We pay attention to certain things and ignore others and that process is what creates our mindset and determines how we feel and act.

When I’m in the city, I must consciously shift my focus to see the beauty in the buildings and people because my initial focus is on things that build my anxiety rather than create a sense of awe. Likewise, people in the mountains watching a sunset may be too caught up shivering and swatting mosquitoes to really feel a sense of peace.

Images have made molding our mindsets too easy. Images tell us what to see. Because of that, I wonder if people are just looking at things right in front of them expecting that what they are seeing is what they need to see. I wonder if they’re looking at reality at all.

Smartphones have made it easier than ever to capture a moment, a place, a feeling. But there are times when I’m so moved by what I’m experiencing that I know that I can never capture it in any form of art because the reality is too complex, so I don’t even try. I leave my camera lens shut and leave my heart and soul open. When we take a picture, we’re reframing the experience and often diminishing it because it’s difficult to capture so much in an image. Even film that can capture visual and audio senses still has a limited, focused view and lacks the complete feeling of a real experience.

Though images represent parts of reality, they can never fully capture the experience of being in the moment. But even when a person is in the moment, they will frame the experience by focusing on certain elements over others. The ability to be conscious and choose how to frame your view and therefore choose your experience is something that images and other media don’t as easily allow.

I chose to watch the sky and listen to the birds, thereby transporting myself into my former experiences in the mountains and my dreams of being there in the future. When the girl sat down beside me, she also chose to watch the sunset, but she saw it differently than me. She was still conscious of the parking lot and the traffic noise, so she saw a glimpse of natural beauty in the mundane routine of the city.

When the girl decided to leave and continue skating, she thanked me for making her stop and look at the sunset. But it wasn’t me who stopped her or made her see. It’s ultimately up to the individual to decide what they will focus on and therefore how they will react to what is around them.

Are People Apathetic About Sustainability?

Are People Apathetic About Sustainability?

A fellow student contacted me with an interesting question. We go to Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan and while our campus advertises being environmentally sustainable in many ways, the more you get into the issues you realize that we could be doing much more. My fellow student was working on a class project related to social and sustainability issues on our campus. She noted that many students are not living in a sustainable manner (even just as simply leaving lights on), and she asked if this may be because students simply don’t care about environmental sustainability.

While I can’t speak for each individual, in general I would say that Calvin College students are not apathetic to sustainability specifically.

I think that a lack of information and understanding is the main problem that ends up looking like apathy, but really people just aren’t aware of the issues. To combat this it is important to inform students and Calvin has a lot of programs in place to attempt to do this–such as Kill-a-Watt and Mad Farmer Food Fest and the Faith and International Development Conference and student leadership Sustainability Coordinator positions in the dorms and apartments. A lot of courses also have a sustainability focus. (Specifically in the Geology, Geography, and Environmental Studies Department and Biology Department. I also know of some economics and engineering courses with a sustainability focus. There’s even an environmental writers English course offered some January terms. There’s usually a handful of January courses having an environmental or sustainable focus, including at least one or more options for the required freshman course: “DCM”.). And there are also several student organizations with sustainability aims from food to political issues. My club, the Environmental Stewardship Coalition, addresses a wide range of environmental issues depending on what our participants are interested in.

However, these programs often have the dilemma of attracting people who are already interested in the issues, and while it may enlighten a few “new-comers” to the sustainability world, it is difficult to attract new people because there are so many other opportunities vying for each individual’s time, and they’re most likely to choose to do something they already have an interest in.

I think the most successful way to inform people is not just through programs that preach sustainability but also by personal conversations and individuals living in a sustainable way sharing their knowledge with people they interact with. I don’t think that there is a lack of these people on campus, almost everyone I know is concerned about the environment and interested in sustainability issues. But, I think that we often stay in our own circles, so sustainability-minded people don’t interact much with people that don’t know much about it.

There’s also a bit of a hesitancy when newly introduced to sustainability issues because it goes against our current systems so much. The very basis of our American (and possibly world) economy is market-driven with the only aim to grow profits without any enforced conditions or concern to protect people or the environment. While there have been laws put into place to try to protect people and the environment, there’s still a lot of cutting corners and illegal action because the media and economy promotes money above all else. And there’s a lot of skepticism encouraged by the media and businesses because they want people to buy more and being sustainable means buying less. There’s so much skepticism in the public eye on Climate Change, not because they haven’t heard the scientific facts, but because the oil industry and many other would be threatened if action against climate change was enforced and they have convinced the public that it is a hoax. The public doesn’t believe science, they believe media. But more than media, they believe family and friends, and that’s where we can get in and start changing people’s perspectives.

These profit-driven narratives are so present in people’s lives and worldviews that when introduced to sustainability that pursues balance rather than continuous growth, it is a dramatic shift of perspective that they must undergo to understand sustainability issues and practices. And since sustainability is so different than our current systems, it’s a challenge to live in a sustainable way. I honestly believe that it is impossible to live in a completely sustainable way today because there are so many issues (many hidden by the media and market) and all things are intertwined so tightly. Going vegan or vegetarian may protect a few animals that you may have eaten otherwise, but all of the substitutes and high-protein foods you need to consume instead are still surrounded by unsustainable practices.

I think the second biggest problem is a lack of convenience. Especially when people are used to the current systems, they’re unlikely to put in much effort to change. It’s a rare person that would carry an empty can around until they find a recycling bin if there are no recycling bins and a plethora of easy-access trash cans. Even in my apartment, my roommates stopped using the compost when we moved it to the porch, but when it was right beside the trash in the kitchen they would use it all the time (unless it was already full, because they would not walk all the way out to the compost site to empty it–too much effort, apparently). If sustainability was easier to do, more people would do it, no doubt. And especially if there was a reward (especially an economic reward) more people would do it. That’s why sustainable low-energy appliances have grown popular and common, because it saves money.

I would say that Calvin is on the right track to make students more sustainable, but the college has to stick with it and continue pushing the informative programs (especially in all courses and fields to reach all students) and making sustainable systems more efficient and convenient to get students into sustainable habits.

But I think the issue is beyond Calvin–it’s our economy, it’s our whole world. Until we change the basic systems underlying our lives to be sustainability-driven rather than profit-driven, sustainability is always going to be a challenge and a struggle.

Layers of a Breakdown

Layers of a Breakdown

Breaking down, whether that means crying or simply not keeping up with the busy world, is seen as something to be ashamed of (at least in the USA). Breakdowns are seen as showing your weakness, and in American culture, everything is about confidence and pride. You’ll hear whispers now a days about embracing emotions. Support systems for counseling, therapy, and suicide hotlines are not judged as harshly, but those constructs about weakness still permeate the minds of many people, including my own.

When you feel your world starting to crumble, when stress is overwhelming your strength, and your endurance is failing, do you ignore it, run away, give up? Or do you let yourself break down? If we allow ourselves the time necessary to go through a break down, we are likely to come out changed for the better. It is only through being torn apart that we can be put back together stronger (look up the Samurai sword analogy). When we stop ourselves from breaking down and delving into ourselves, we stunt the opportunity for self-awareness which helps us grow in self-understanding and love. When we recognize the issues at our core, our life struggles beginning to make more sense. When we see our true selves, then we’ll be able to start seeing others for their true selves and relate to them.

Through my own breakdown, I labeled these layers. (I purposely use the term layer instead of “steps” because this is not an instruction manual. It is up to each individual to find their own way to reach each of these layers.)

Layers of a Breakdown

  1. Build Up: stress builds up in your subconscious over time
  2. Trigger: an event, or slowing down to think, brings that built up stress to the surface of your conscious
  3. Breakdown: a physical and psychological reaction to that stress (different for different people)
  4. Denial/Social Constructs: society has conditioned our responses to breakdowns and to specific types of stress/issues. This is where many people try to pull themselves out of the breakdown. They hear society’s whispers of weakness and try to run away and hide. Society says it’s embarrassing and rude to cry in public so we try to get away and take care of ourselves. Some people heed a social construct to explain or fix their stress. If you’re so stressed, suicidal thoughts creep into your mind, you may heed society’s advise that you need help (aka counseling, therapy, hotlines). But there’s still that contradictory construct that if you can’t take care of yourself, then you’re weak–which will make some people bulk up and stunt the breakdown or make them feel even more helpless and weak (poor self-image).
  5. Dig Deeper: If you can identify the social construct that is blocking or feeding your breakdown and get past it, you can identify the true source of your stress/fear. Sometimes, the stress was just a social construct that had its talons in you. Other times, it’s a bigger issue. Sometimes, we need help with this step by talking with friends or counselors or praying. Others may have another outlet that allows them to express themselves and look deeper, such as art, walking in nature, or writing. And usually, there’s a combination of methods to really uncover all that’s been buried in you.
  6. Self Awareness: When you’ve identified the issue that’s really bothering you, you can ask yourself why it bothers you and learn more about yourself. This may bring an awareness so that you can recognize the issue faster next time, or just know that this is something that bothers or moves you. Possibly, this revelation may bring a change in the way you act or see the world.

To give an example of how this process played out for me:

I had been struggling with self-doubt and friendships for a while, but today the stress of all the assignments I had due and the anxiety of not being able to complete them built up (Build Up). I was sitting in a cafe trying to read my assignment before class and couldn’t focus because I found the reading and the class pointless in the larger scheme (Trigger). I felt the tears coming and quickly left the cafe and marched back toward my apartment trying to stay composed and imagined avoiding friends if they should pop up. And of course, a friend did pop up in passing to say hi. And as I tried to answer her simple question of where I was going, I snapped. “I’m skipping class,” I said and growled at the tears rolling down my cheeks (Breakdown). She hugged me, and I knew that’s what I needed. She talked to me for a bit, which made her late for class, and made me feel guilty. But I would do the same for her. I went back to my apartment and sobbed in intervals as I fought against it, trying to stop (Denial). I had too much to do to pay attention to my needs. But finally, when I found that the tears wouldn’t stop, I took up a pen and started writing how I felt and what was bothering me. I filled four pages and came to realize that a lot of what was bothering me at the surface was actually something else at the base. The most pressing concern was that I couldn’t take care of myself, couldn’t control my emotions, couldn’t succeed in things that others did. And my initial response was trained, “It’s okay to cry. Don’t compare yourself to others. Try your best. Don’t give up” (Social Construct). But I found no comfort in these lessons. They’re mottoes we hear as kids but they don’t really fix anything. And then there’s the social construct that you have to take care of yourself or you’ll fail or die. And if I was breaking down, I saw that as not taking care of myself. Conditioned response: “You’ve committed to too much. You’re just stressed. Take time for yourself” (Social Construct). I wrestled with that and tore it apart and threw it aside to reveal the true reason I didn’t want to breakdown, why I didn’t want others to see.  I always feel others’ pain, and I didn’t want anyone to comfort me because I didn’t want to burden them (Dig Deeper). To recognize that was the reason and not because breakdowns are seen as weakness (which was also a minor issue), was revealing and comforting. I had been pushing others away because I thought I was selfish to desire their attention, but it turned out that I was being selfless because I didn’t want to hurt them no matter how much I was hurting. But it’s their choice if they want to care about me, and I shouldn’t deny them that (Self Awareness).

This full process can take a lot of time. Digging Deeper may take hours to days to years. But when you feel yourself starting to breakdown, your first thought shouldn’t be to stop it or ignore it or run from it. Allow yourself time at that moment  to do what you need to do to Dig Deeper and grow in Self Awareness. No matter your other obligations, taking time to care for yourself is the only way you’ll be able to grow and become a better you.

Finding Places for Creative Thinking in a Busy Life

Where do you get your best ideas? Where do you go to make sense of the world? Where do you find inspiration? Maybe you’re traveling some place beautiful in nature or to a new city or landmark. Maybe you’re completely alone or maybe there’s lots of people around. But no matter where your place is, there is a commonality among all people’s “thinking” places. These are places where thoughts come freely, where creativity speaks to us.

For me, I’m lying in my cozy bed, the lights are off, I have nothing left to do for the day except sleep, my body relaxes and my mind races. Images from my day flash before my eyes, I start to linger on memories of things that happened, and then, as these subconscious thoughts rise to the surface, I drift into a land of dreams where imagining comes freely. I’ve heard that dreaming is your subconscious processing everything that happened during your day that you didn’t give yourself time to think about. I have really busy days and lots of strange dreams, so maybe there is something to this myth.

My sister has her best ideas while she’s showering. She often ends up writing lists and ideas on the shower walls with her daughter’s bath crayons.

I also do a lot of thinking in the shower, during car rides, and during church services. What’s in common with falling asleep and listening to a sermon and scrubbing shampoo into your hair? You’re trapped in a place with a simple task.

It’s true that some places can be very inspiring or relaxing, but does your creative thoughts flow there? I have more ideas taking a shower on a busy day than I do during a week of leisurely camping. For the mind to be active, the body must be active. I have to experience and learn new things in order to imagine and create my own ideas. But, there is a balance. Busy people often get stressed out because they don’t take the time to listen to their own thoughts and process what is happening around them. When there’s too much to do and too much happening, it becomes nearly impossible to pause and think about one thing for a while.

So many Thoughts
“So Many Thoughts” from Bigstock.

For busy people, it’s hard to find or make time to sit and meditate. People often think that they need to get away from everything in order to let their mind be free, but I don’t think it is absolutely necessary to leave. I’m sure that I’m not the only one who has tried to escape from stress by going for a walk only to come back with less time and no less stress. Meditation and allowing yourself time to think is an important part of relieving stress, but trying to schedule time to do so goes against the very point of doing it in the first place. Listening to your thoughts should be a part of how you live. Self-awareness should be integrated in everything you do. If you process life as it comes, you can prevent it from building up and overwhelming you.

You should take time to think about what needs to be done, but you shouldn’t be repeatedly stressing yourself out about the future. If you focus your thoughts in the moment rather than in the past or the future, you can think about so many other interesting things. That’s the difference between lying awake at night because you’re thinking about what you didn’t get done that day and everything that needs to be done when you wake up versus thinking calmly about whatever comes to mind because all you’re really focused on at the moment is going to sleep. Creative ideas come from the subconscious, so you can’t actively think; you must listen to your underlying thoughts.

My advice is to find parts in your day where your attention is unnecessarily diverted in too many directions and try to focus more on your inner self. When you’re riding or driving in the car, a simple thing like turning the radio off can help you hear your own thoughts. You might notice that the corn is getting higher or that a new store is opening, and at the same time, you can reflect on how you are feeling without blocking it all out with whatever is on the radio. I’ve heard of people listening to books or language lessons in the car, and while it is good information to learn, I think it further proves that people are trying to cram too much into their days.

You don’t have to leave to escape from the business of life, and even if you go somewhere else, you won’t find peace until you learn to listen to your thoughts.

The Girl Across the Room

Glasses of water and wine circled the table, laughter and conversation drifting over the rims. I was sitting with my friends, talking, enjoying the evening, when I noticed a girl across the restaurant staring at us.

She looked lonely, a desire to join us flashed behind her eyes. I smiled at her, and she smiled back but it was the type of smile that comes out looking more like a cringe. We locked eyes, until finally I looked away.

I tried to forget her and enjoy the time with my friends, but I couldn’t help occasionally glancing over just to check if she was still watching, and inevitably, unfailing, she was always there. Her eyes locked on us with a jealous longing and a look of misery and pain consuming her face. The sight of her was nearly revolting, and I found myself becoming angry that my pleasant evening was being ruined by some creep in a back corner booth.

As our spaghetti arrived, so did hers, and we slurped up noodles at the same time, though we sat separated by the expanse of the room. The conversation at my table quieted as people filled their mouths and stomachs. The girl across the room looked slightly pleased, perhaps she had just been hungry. But every time I glanced her way, she still had one eye on our table.

The dishes were taken and replaced with conversation once more as we waited for the little chocolate mints that would accompany the bills. And again, that girl sat staring at us, mulling and brooding over some dark, depressing thought it seemed. Her looks alone bothered me, but whatever she was thinking about was enough to deeply disturb me. Her stare crept under my skin, behind my ears, and to the tips of my fingernails. I realized my nails were digging into the bottom of the table.

When, finally, my party was ready to leave, I stood up—maybe with too much haste. I needed to be rid of the stare of that creepy girl. She looked like she wanted something, something from the world, something from me. But what could I give her?

But as we stood and adorned our coats, she too stood and put on her coat. As my group walked toward the door, she crossed the room and walked directly towards me.

I turned to meet her, unsure if I should greet her or confront her. As she approached me, she stopped.

She said nothing. I said nothing. We each stood there staring at each other.

Then, her face began to change into an expression of confusion? Anger?

I started to say something but she opened her mouth, so I stopped. No sound came out.

She lifted her hand as I reached out mine, and our fingertips met in the air. Her skin was smooth and hard and cold.

Then, the girl’s face reddened in embarrassment as I realized I had been looking in a mirror the whole time.

*Based off of a dream/daydream

Tribute to the NPS Centennial Summer

 

Camping on all sorts of soils, hiking winding wildernesses, and exploring the National Parks are some of my best and earliest memories. The parks that I’ve visited have become a part of my identity. An image or mention of one of the parks brings back memories or bestows dreams of future travel. This is not just my experience, but the experience of many families, explores, hikers, campers, and people of all sorts who have visited these beautiful parks over the past 100 years.

August 25, 2016 is exactly 100 years after President Woodrow Wilson penned his authority creating the National Park Service. The NPS is calling this year the “Centennial Summer,” and many parks are incorporating special programing for the occasion.

In celebration, here are some interesting facts about the National Parks.

FUN FACTS

Yellowstone was the first National Park.

America has over 400+ National Parks.

Several parks were established before the 1916 Act, including Yellowstone, Yosemite, and a few others which have been protected and managed as early as 1872 and 1890.

IMG_2545.JPG
Acadia. Photographer: Stephanie Bradshaw

Delaware was the last of the 50 States to get a National Park with the establishment of the First State National Monument in 2013.

The land of Acadia National Park in Maine was almost entirely donated by private residents and some private property still exists within boundaries of the park’s circumference.

307,247,252 people visited the National Parks in 2015.

PEOPLE

President Ulysses S. Grant and President Woodrow Wilson:

Both signed acts that started the preservation of land for National Parks.

President Theodore Roosevelt:

Being a big hunter, President Roosevelt grew concerned about the decreasing amount of game animals and other species. During his time as president in the early 1900s, he created the Forest Service, established new National Parks, and preserved many other locations and signed acts for conservation and management. During his time in office, Roosevelt protected around 230,000,000 acres of land.

John Muir:

The late 1800s writer, naturalist, and scientist spent significant time in the Sierra Mountain wilderness that is now Yosemite National Park. Muir’s inspired words drew attention to the beauty of the landscape and encouraged the preservation of the land. The Sierra Club is a remnant that continues Muir’s dreams of protecting the environment.

Frederick Law Olmsted and Olmsted Jr.:

While the Presidents passed the legislation to protect the land and Muir admired and shared the natural beauty, the Olmsteds shaped the land of many of the parks. As two of the major figures in the field of landscape architecture, the Olmsteds shaped the roads and trails of several famous parks: Yosemite, Acadia, Everglades, and the Great Smoky Mountains.

John D. Rockefeller Jr.:

The Rockefeller family enjoyed their cottage on Mount Desert Island and contributed a lot of land to Acadia National Park, including 57 miles of carriage roads and 16 stone bridges constructed of local granite. These carriage roads prevented much of the island from getting cut up with roads. Motor vehicles are prohibited on the carriage roads, providing vast, safe spaces for hikers, bicycles, and horseback riding without the sound and air pollution cars create.

COINS

I love all thinks National Parks, but I also enjoy coin collecting. The convergence of my passion with my hobby has me maybe spending more money than I should.

National Parks Quarters

2014-National-Park-Quarters-490x147
National Park Quarters 2014

While USA coins have traditionally featured past presidents, political figures, and historic figures and places, they have been branching out more. The series of State Quarters were very popular among the population, but many people have yet to hear about the National Parks quarter series, entitled “America the Beautiful.” The National Parks quarters can be distinguished from the State quarters by a ring border around the picture on the tails side of the coin with the name of the National Park along the top and the State and Year of print along the edges of the border.

Starting in 2010, the mints release five quarter designs—featuring a National Park, Memorial, Forest, Lakeshore, etc.—each year until 2021. The America’s Beautiful National Parks Quarter Dollar Coin Act of 2008 determined one National Park from each state to be featured on the coins. U.S. House Representative, Michael Castle, introduced the idea for the State Quarter series and the National Parks Quarters.

2016 holds the release of: Shawnee National Forest (Illinois), Cumberland Gap National Historical Park (Kentucky), Harpers Ferry National Historic Park (West Virginia), Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota), Fort Moultrie/Sumter National Monument (South Carolina).

100th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Set

Centennial Collection
National Parks Centennial Year Collection

Congress determined that the US Mints should produce $5 gold coins, $1 silver coins, and half-dollar coins featuring images in honor of the National Parks for 2016. The surcharges for purchase of these coins goes to the National Park Foundation to continue protecting and improving the parks we love.

Both sides of each coin feature iconic images of the Parks’ history. John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt look out from the gold $5 coin. Old Faithful bursts her timely geyser blast from the silver $1. A hiker explores a mountainous landscape and a child discovers a frog on the half-dollar. The National Park Service emblem is engraved on the reverse sides of the coins. And you may wonder who the woman is on the back of the silver dollar. She is a Latina Folklorico dancer, chosen to depict the many cultural experiences one discovers in America’s National Parks. More descriptions can be found on the usmint.gov website.

 

Get outside this summer and celebrate 100 years!

Find Your Park!

http://findyourpark.com/

To Explore More:

https://www.nps.gov/aboutus/history.htm

https://www.usmint.gov/mint_programs/commemoratives/?action=2016NPSCentennialCommem

http://www.parkquarters.com/

https://www.nps.gov/aboutus/faqs.htm

Where’d You Get That Shirt?!

You’re walking in the mall, admiring the window displays, when a voice from nearby addresses you.

“Ah, Ludington. It’s beautiful there. You from there?” the stranger asks.

“Oh, no, but I visit there pretty often,” you reply.

When you wear souvenir t-shirts, or a t-shirt with anything of interest on it, you’re sure to get some comments. I have a few articles of clothing that unfailingly draw comments and small conversations.

My Michigan Upper Peninsula hat is a simple brown hat with a white outline of the upper peninsula on the side. When in Michigan, I’ve gotten calls of “Upper!”, “UP?”, “I love that Mackinac Island fudge,” and always— “You from there?” or “You been up there?” If the person who’s taken notice of my hat is not from Michigan, they stare at the design, turn their head sideways, and eventually ask, “What’s on your hat?”MI LOVE

T-shirts and bumper stickers featuring state outlines have grown in popularity for souvenirs. The “LOVE,” where the V
is actually the state of Michigan turned sideways, has become extraordinarily popular. When driving in Michigan, you could easily see every other car with a window decal that incorporates the shape of Michigan. Other states have picked up on this trend as well. Because people identify themselves with places, they find pride in their geography and advertise it as a way of identifying themselves to others. In the same way, clothing functions as a way of showing how we identify ourselves and what we find pride in.

Moon Wolves Collage T-Shirt
The Mountain

Wolf t-shirts are another big fan drawer. I have about five t-shirts that feature large prints of wolves in fantastical scenes with waterfalls, mountains, dreamcatchers, and moons.No matter where I go, no matter what time of year, I will always get at least one, if not a handful of comments, about these shirts. Comments range from as simple as, “I like your shirt,” to desperate interest in how to find such a shirt down to the brand name of the designer. Wolves, tigers, lighthouses, castles, and dragons are just a few iconic images that spark interest in people. Icons are often exotic or fantasy images that arouse a sense of adventure in people and reflect their imaginations and dreams.

Then, of course, we have the souvenir t-shirts. “YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK” stretched across a backdrop of picturesque mountains with a bald eagle soaring up the shoulder and a bison standing on your hip. It’s no surprise that shirts like these will draw attention, and isn’t that the point. You buy souvenirs for yourself, to have something tangible to represent all of your good memories, but you buy souvenir t-shirts to show other people what you’ve done. If you didn’t enjoy the place or are not proud of having been there, you wouldn’t buy the shirt. With tourists, certain places become ways of ranking you as a traveler. Yellowstone is a very popular park, most people have heard of it, and you’re considered privileged to have been able to go there. Disneyland—no major fan would pass up getting a t-shirt and wearing it proudly to show that they’ve been to the “Happiest Place on Earth.” I’ve heard many people who go to a popular place say determinedly that they must get a t-shirt before they leave because they’re seen other people wear them, and now that they’ve been, they want one, too.

I have a lot of t-shirts from places that I’ve been to all over the United States, but what surprises me most about the comments that I get is the lack of introduction to the topic. I wear t-shirts almost every day, so I don’t always remember which shirt I’m wearing at a given time, yet people start right into a conversation without mentioning my shirt, and sometimes without mentioning the place. I’ve had people randomly say to me, “Did you like it there?” and I glance around to affirm that they’re talking to me and then wonder what on Earth they’re talking about. It happens so often, that I’ve stopped asking, “Where?” and just glance down at my shirt. I think this happens because people are so visual in their experiences of life. If I can see something, you can see it, is their mindset. Some people are often so caught up in their own thoughts, that they forget that the person they’re addressing was probably not thinking about their shirt at that moment. Sometimes, I have been proud of a particular shirt and know exactly what the person is talking about when they address me and can go the whole short conversation without glancing at my shirt. Then, a friend I’m walking with will say something like, “Did you know that person?” or “What was that all about?” and I reply, “I don’t know them. They were talking about my shirt.”

I get comments from strangers passing along the sidewalk, the cashier at the store, the lunch-lady serving food, and people who I wouldn’t have even noticed if they didn’t start talking to me. It’s these friendly, little, surprise conversations that lighten a day and keep me aware of the people around me. Besides proudly advertising the places I love and liking the designs, I like wearing these t-shirts for the community they create and the conversations that would never happen without them.