Monthly Archives: November 2011

Everyone’s a Critic (Including Me)

Writing a blog, unlike being a rock star, isn’t a self-esteem boosting career.  Now before you all start feeling overwhelmed with pity and sending me notes about how much you like what I write, let me clarify what I mean.  What I mean is that even if, and here comes a list of some majors if’s: you write like TS Eliot (I don’t), you have piles of readers, you have constant inspiration and you get a steady stream of fan mail; you’re still subjected to constant criticism.

The reason for this isn’t that blog readers are a group of online trolls who delight in the meaningless abuse of hapless authors, but more simply that everyone has their own tastes, or perhaps on a more basic level, their own needs.  One reader comes seeking entertainment, one inspiration and another, information. I actually strive to provide some level of all of these, but I’m more likely to find the Holy Grail than a balance that pleases everyone.

The criticism doesn’t stop there either.  Another thing I often hear is something along the lines of “shouldn’t you be producing something?”  or in other words “shouldn’t you have a real job where you make something worth money?”  My gut reaction to this is to try and list all the things I do accomplish, but the fact is there are those who are a good deal more productive than I am. I’m not a doctor providing lifesaving care for African villagers, nor am I busy blistering my hands building houses for the homeless.

That said, using ones productivity to measure one’s contribution to society ignores half of the equation.  To be a real benefit to the world one has to give more than one takes.  For example, if I make 10 apple pies a day, but eat 12 I can’t really make a claim to be doing my neighbors a lot of good, even if being inferior bakers they only make 5 apple pies a day.  In the end our consumption counts just as much as our production.

Of course, most of us like to think that we simply spend the money we make and things work out at least balanced.  Sadly, things are a bit more complicated.  Thanks to complex economics and our ability to rain a fiery death upon those that oppose us, westerners are able to consume roughly five times the amount they produce.  Even worse, the things we consume are often produced by slave labor which mercifully, at least for us, we aren’t forced to see.  (For those interested in taking a peak behind the curtain, I’m posting an online quiz that allows you see where and how many slaves you have working for you.  It’s the most fun you can have ripping apart your own life habits.)

Now I’m not going to sit here and lecture people about how they should start running barefoot since shoes are made by children in China: I prefer to keep my blog focused on the positive side of life which receives far too little attention.  Even so I think a little self-awareness can go a long way, that and I wouldn’t want everyone thinking that blog authors are the only members of society in need of a little criticism.

Click Here to see how many slaves work for you

I'm not sure how this relates to my post, except that it makes me want to consume massive amounts of candy.

Categories: General, Words | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Differences in Scale

It’s a strange thought to think that I covered more mileage in the few relatively stationary months I spent in the US than I did in my nearly constant wanderings of Europe the sixth moths before. That of course was made possible by my fossil fuel friendly switch from bikes and legs to planes and cars. While I could have biked from New York to California, I had returned to the US to spend time traveling with close friends who don’t find biking a thousand miles through the desert their idea of a good time. Come to think of it, eight hours of scorching heat to go between two gas stations isn’t really my idea of a good time either.

Aside from showing post-Ironman lack of motivation, this also highlights the enormous change in scale  experienced when moving from Europe to America. To put things in perspective, the distance between my parent’s home in upstate New York and my sister’s house in Phoenix, Arizona is very nearly the same as the distance between Lisbon and St. Petersburg. That distance I covered with a plane, but even my weekend road trip of Phoenix-Las Vegas-Los Angeles-Phoenix, covered nearly the same distance as my bike trip from London to Madrid.

Aside from distance, however, those two trips had about as much in common as Mother Teresa and Mick Jagger. Unlike the steadily populated French countryside, the southwestern US offers vast stretches of barren wilderness. Las Vegas rises like a great, neon mirage out of a seemingly endless desert wasteland and even the vast urban sprawl of Los Angeles is signaled by little more than a road sign before the traffic congestion begins.

You know you’re in the middle of nowhere when a dam is the most exciting thing around.

The cities themselves differ as well. Las Vegas is a theme park for adults complete with its own miniature Venice and tiny Eiffel Tower, almost as if the cast and crew of Jersey shore had been tasked with building a European city. Los Angeles is far more complex, but equally different. Whereas European cities are generally small and compact, LA is vast and sprawling. The average daily LA commute takes longer than a trip between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Finally Phoenix, a city larger than Milan or Munich, has grown up on a scorching desert plain without even a good source of water.

My next trip covered even more distance, but I think I’ve rambled on long enough for one day, so until that story comes along I’ll leave you all with neon lights dancing in your heads…

The country may be bigger, but the Eiffel Tower is smaller…

Categories: General, Travel, United States | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

Finding My Voice Again

I owe all of you an apology.  Without warning I went from writing once or twice a week to not writing at all.  I should have warned you, but then again, I never planned to stop writing for so long.  In fact hardly a day went by that I didn’t think about sitting down at the computer to pen my next masterpiece.

So what prompted this spontaneous departure from writing?  I’ve spent the better part of the last week trying to think of an explanation.  My first justification was that I was taking a break, a vacation from my permanent vacation.  It’s certainly a convenient excuse as everyone needs a break sometimes, even when their “job” is traveling around the world and writing about it.  Still, the truth is I didn’t need a break.  The Ironman and trip through Europe left me energized and invigorated.  Ok, next excuse: maybe I had less to say, because I wasn’t traveling to new and exotic places.  Sounds good, too bad it’s a total lie.  Since I’ve been in the US, I’ve been to both coasts and covered mileage that would fizzle the small scale European mind.

So on and on I went trying out one excuse after another, some probably are partially true, others simply justifications.  In the end I decided the main culprit was something surprisingly subtle, I just haven’t been feeling like a writer.  That may sound like a simplistic truism, but take the following analogy: when we go on vacation the first day or two often don’t feel right; we’re not in the right mindset.  It takes time to adjust to life outside the office and the worries and concerns of “normal” life burden our minds.  Yet a few days later as we rest in the sand we begin to transform.  We find a different part of ourselves and begin to do things we would never normally do: to seek adventures, to party more, to open up to strangers, to try new things.

I’ve been going through a process like this.  Like the unhappy keyboard monkey who returns to the office after a week in paradise, I’ve returned to my home country.  I may not have the punishing office schedule that I used to, but all the concerns about bills, family, friends and responsibilities real or imagined, have pushed their way back into my mind.

Writing is an art.  A true master may be able to write on command regardless of circumstances, but I am no master.  It is humbling to realize how dependent I am upon my environment and circumstances.  Like most people, I like to think of myself of an autonomous individual, more influencing than influenced by the world around me, but that simply isn’t true.  Like most of us, I am largely a product of my environment, immensely influenced by everything from the ambient air temperature to the number of sprinkles on my ice cream cone.

Still, if I’ve learned anything this past year it’s that change and improvement are always possible.  If I can push myself to run, I can push myself to write.  So here I am.  That said, I have the added advantage of being on my way back to Europe.  Still, I owe you all some stories from this side of the pond, so look for those to be coming soon…

Categories: General | Tags: | 3 Comments

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