Bringing Innovation Into Local Communities

By Shazeen (UK), Collaborations with Ping TV (UK)

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Our globalized world has enabled barriers between nations to break down for the better, and promotes a oneness where we are interconnected. The world is on our doorstep through means of laptops, smartphones, the world wide web, and businesses

But how does this affect the richness of local communities, where once upon a time people rejoiced in their unique attributes and customs as a way of life and have now turned into products and showcases to be sold on a global sale? This takes into account fashion, music, language, and even talent.

People that are perfectly talented, who utilize local resources to cultivate innovative approaches to design, living, and experiencing life, seek to travel beyond their local communities to find a responding voice for their creations.

Globalization is a double-edged sword, and there aren’t specific negative or positive influences other than the possibility of bringing back to ground-level what has successfully impacted local resources on a grand scale. Thanks to global platforms such as the media, internet, and mobile phones, individualism as a form of self-identity isn’t exactly buried under the noise of the world and it’s prevailing definitions of interconnectedness. These platforms continue to give local communities a distinctive voice, to be heard and known. It enhances an understanding of communities’ narratives and identities. I’m especially intrigued by identities that strive to break the glass-ceiling, and enter unexplored territories for realization and growth.

In the Midlands area of England, UK, Beverley Nielson started a think-tank community known as Birmingham Made-Me. It is a five-day celebration of design and innovation, which showcases local talent to world-class businesses, speakers and thought-leaders. The celebration brings the limelight on exceptional product designs that are created in Birmingham city. However, the region isn’t often aware of the potential that exists in their own back yards.

Businesses who connect to emerging innovation, for instance the Birmingham City University – specializing in the arts, design, media, performance, technology, and engineering – can be connected with businesses instead of migrating to foreign countries to put their abilities to use.

Design isn’t only what is created, but requires a solid surface to stand on so that it may continue making an impact intrinsically and in the betterment of local communities. People who emerge from their designs can have an exciting place to continue tinkering their skills, collaborating with local enterprises and industries, and maximizing the experience of creation.

MyPing TV met with the founder of Birmingham Made-Me for a delightful conversation on her outlooks and ideas to shake up the Midlands region.

This Midlands’ TV channel captured her thoughts succinctly, that you can’t be mistaken about Beverley’s vision and how it’s come alive and kicking in Birmingham.

A mix of brands and businesses such as creative jewellery stores, or the Jaguar Land Rover are among industries that the relationship between emerging talent and industry has potential. You would think they only create what they show as their window-display products, however, each of these businesses rely on internet marketing and a range of other skills to maximize experiences with their customers, increasing brand awareness, and maintaining an exciting and unforgettable experience.

There isn’t a shortage of opportunities for skillful people to be involved with these brands. Birmingham Made-Me hooks industry with a diverse set of talent and creativity so that they can find out what else they want, which is available right here in their own city.

The most vital driving force of this celebration is towards the wealth-creating sector of society that is not only a stage for talents to perform, but also creates jobs and opportunities. Birmingham has an unlocked potential waiting to roar and create a wildfire of possibilities. The key is to bring sectors that don’t communicate as often as they should to converse with each other, mingle with each other, and find prosperous ways of collaborating. As we see our local communities building upon their diversity and working in close links, we will begin seeing a difference in terms of expression and opportunity.

Birmingham Made-Me promotes the excellence in Birmingham, but it doesn’t touch on issues of funding. Funding is a seemingly persistent challenge in Birmingham, however, it is a relatively affordable city to rent office and living space if you compare it with London. The networking potential can juice out a lot of recognition of skills so it’s easy to connect them with projects and industries. But access to finance still remains a challenge, and organizations like ART business loans, in which Beverley is a board member, are doing a good job in plugging some of the gaps that are in the portfolio of financial offers for emerging businesses. Beverley, who conversed with Ping TV, adds:

“I think it’s really interesting when you talk to people coming into this region, people like Professor George Feiger of the Aston Business School. He’s come from San Francisco and he’s particularly conscious of trying to help in this area to find more finance for our early stage businesses and work with graduates. Just like what we do, he’s focused on assisting graduates to start early businesses and find appropriate money to cater to each different venture. Each one has it’s unique challenges, so this is an area we still need to keep focusing on as a city, not take our eye off that ball, and really build up funds that deal with businesses at every stage of their development because financial requirements will become different as the business matures.”

A Beautiful Morning Mist of October

By Sean Savage (UK), Interviewed by Shazeen (UK)

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Hi Sean, thank you for speaking with us. Tell us a little about yourself? 

I am 47 years old, and only started taking photographs a year ago. I joined a local photo club and learnt a lot from the other members by going on photo shoots. I have a good eye for photos, but I try think about the photo I want to take before I go out to take it.

Did you study photography in an institute or on your own?

I have taught myself by learning the rules of photography and then making up some of my own techniques. I like experimenting with my camera and it’s settings. A photographer sees the world through his or her own pair of lens, so after learning what I could I let my own experimentation lead the way.

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Do you actually need professional taught courses to be a good photographer, or are there other ways of being good in this art?

I go to a camera club, which helps me so much with learning new techniques. We comment on each others’ photos to bring the best out in each other. I try to find an emotion or story rather than just take the obvious photograph. The best time of the day for me is early in the morning. When I wake up very early, I’m overwhelmed with inspiration and vision, which is when I take my photos.

Doing taught courses helps a great deal and I wouldn’t recommend discounting it. But there are other ways of becoming a good photographer. I have the willingness and desire to pick up my camera and take photos. I’m present with my camera and with my surroundings, and that’s where it all begins.

I just love taking photos. II like photos of just about anything. I try to work with what is already there. I take lots of photos, and I don’t be shy when it comes to getting the best spot to take a photograph. It take lots of photos to get to the right one. So it’s not always fun and games. Patience is required. For every fifty shots you take, one of them will be a keeper.

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What is the inspiration behind these photos you had taken this morning? 

I took the photos of the deer this morning at Studley Royal deer park near Ripon in Yorkshire. It has been an ambition of mine to capture the deer with the sunrise. I watched the weather to get the right conditions, and got up at 5:30am to get there in time. And everything dropped into place. There was a lot of luck on that very moment as if everything was precisely how I felt and want it. I got what I wanted. It was a beautiful, misty cold morning, and I felt part of the wildlife. I walked with the deer and tried to get them to move into the sunlight which they did. It was a great moment when you know everything falls into place, and all you have to do is hope you take the photos you want.

I know I had nailed the shots. I got exactly what I wanted. I felt as though lady luck was truly on my side.

Taking photos of nature is one of the most rewarding experiences of photography. You can feel the power and grace of these animals, and I hope that shows in my photos. The more you prepare for a photo, the more likely you are to get the shot you want.

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Sean Savage, Photographer

Life in Brazil Through The Eyes of A Photographer

By Flavio Emanuel (Photographer, Brazil), Passage by Marcos André Lessa (Journalist, Brazil)

Marcos André Lessa: “The beach is here. But I am not. Diverging from the obligation (or stereotype) of Rio, going to the beach is not in my regular habits. You will not hear any rebellious stance. It is more due to the pace of life of the metropolis than by anything else. Traffic, distance, density of a Sunday sun. There are several reasons why I do not relax and practice general contemplation in an ordeal that causes me rejection.

This does not mean that I don’t care. I miss reading Piauí magazine as I felt body heat and would fall into the water, then return to reading.

And perhaps my memory of beach days left me in a flash. I have a vision of the beach days like a framed picture. After swimming in a calm sea, which was also empty of other people in Arpoador, I would take a break, breathe, wipe the water from my eyes and look ahead. It was perhaps one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever witnessed.

With your feet through the sand, half floating, the water is like the days of the Caribbean Sea, and the sun’s reflection drawing on it. Finally, on the horizon, there are some buildings. And much, much higher than them is the Dois Irmãos – The Two Brothers. The Two Brothers is what mesmerizes me. These stones look like  one of the brothers are peeking over the shoulder of the other.

The blue sky, which for me is the most beautiful and unique that there is, involves everything. There are some green forests between twin rocks, the water of a combination of blue and green has a transparency, the sand is a warm color, and the colorful stalls. Can you keep the glimmer, the emotion and the presence of this place without the soul of these colors? Flavio, the photographer, proved so.”

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Flavio Emanuel: My interest in photography is about people and their habitat. I’m intrigued by the unnatural habitat we create, and the transformations we made on nature. In this photo, I captured a mix between nature and concrete. and people are in the middle of it. It symbolizes the dualism of Rio De Janeiro.

We are a very social animal and, like others animals, make changes in our environment to live better. But we can’t respect the whole structure of our home, and we exclude a lot of people that can’t afford this. They’re not invited to this space to have a sense of belonging. In this picture you can see the majesty of nature, people are interacting, and a lot of slums are in the background inside the mountains. This is one of the most expensive places in Rio de Janeiro, but we have a lot of slums together. What I feel when I see this photo – this is a big photograph, when printed – is the fight between humans and humans in a war for resources, and a fight between humans and nature.

We were born in a really rich place when you think about the nature of Brazil. We have abundant water, amazing and productive weather, we don’t have natural disasters, and a lot of another natural richness resides here. But we made an imbalanced society. We have too much poverty and a few millionaires. But the diversity is seen in the same space, such as sharing the same beach. This can be beautiful if you’re thinking about integration. We are a receptive people with a diverse set of outlooks and religions, but our poor people is very poor. And we don’t do a lot to change this.

We are a happy people. I think this could be because of the weather, because it’s often warm here. I hear my friends in other countries, especially in the UK, who talk about their love of the hot weather. It makes them healthier because they go out more, and take long walks. As a people, we love to celebrate life. And we are creative because we have to be. Each of us don’t have plentiful options. We don’t have a lot of money so we have to be creative to feel alive.

We have a lot of talented people. But we don’t have a horizontal community. Innovation comes from top to bottom in society. The value of innovation coming from ground-level effort and diversity to the top of the hierarchy isn’t so valued. We don’t share a lot of innovation with our industry, although we would like to. When we watch the way poor people live abundantly, even with their low-cost ideas of living, we can be better and more free. We don’t need too many things and this can be seen here. We can do a small damage to the environment when we understand this. But at the same time, the eternal gentrification push people to live outside of cities, or areas that don’t have a good quality of life. They don’t have many options. And the life there is not good. They don’t have basic needs solved. It’s not a healthy place. It’s not healthy for them and for the environment.

These photographs, such as all the others, are meetings. When I go out I try not to think in tell-a-story fashion. I let the meeting happens. Sure, sometimes I have an agenda, a determined way, but I avoid to format an idea before I found it. And I’m always surprised. I had the opportunity to face a less knowing angle of Rio de Janeiro’s beaches. Our social organization, the social exclusion and the space that the people occupy are constant questions to me and, because of these questions, I believe they are reflected in my images. During the photography act, what I think, what’s clear in my mind when I put my ace at the camera, are art and aesthetics. I think in composition, chromatic construction, attention points and I try to paint something interesting with the light. But my anguishes, yearnings, intimate and personal questions go together in the frame, in a very honest way – and without makeup, of course. This beach, specifically, was very important in my life for a few years. I lived nearby and I always surfed there before I would go to work. It’s a very crowded beach, with an interesting mix and a very different organization that is perceived in the streets. There are such rich businessmen and tourists as slums’ kids, beggars and some drug dealers. Everybody almost in peace and with the same rights. At that beach everyone are equals and the respect exists according to each one’s capacity, and not by color, age, sexual behavior or social class. Even with the distinctness of the crowd in the foreground, and the slums in the background, stuck on the hill, at the moment you see the picture you can’t see exactly what I say, but this always caught my attention. I always remember Rio when I look at it.

Let’s Talk About Depression

By Anthony AviceDuBuisson (Australia), Interviewed by Shazeen (UK), Photography by Flavio Emanuel (Brazil)

As a young South African teenager growing up in Australia, I found myself at a point in my life where thoughts of insignificance and self-loathing were starting to cloud my mind. If anyone has ever experienced depression, then they would know the overbearing nature of the demons that cloud your judgments each day. These demons constantly whisper doubt into your ears; manifesting themselves in the form of second guesses, pessimistic views and baseless worries. Initially the demons are mere nuisances, however, as the weeks march on the demons start to become more a burden. There comes a time when you do not wish to get up in the morning, nor do you wish to wake up at all. Every day begins to weigh down upon your shoulders.

Deep sadness, which is what depression essentially is, tears the veil of certainty from the individual and forces them to confront reality as it is.

In this respect, depression impacted upon my perspective of reality; it was my first awakening into a world devoid of illusion. To understand what I mean by “awakening” one must have had experienced depression for themselves, as the world is completely different once you have experienced it. For the first time I considered a world without my own existence. I thought no longer in line with being a part of the party that was going on around me, but I instead thought in line of how the party would go on without me. Depression erased my sense of worth; replacing it with a sense of loneliness – a painful kind of loneliness that never left me. Depression left me with a burden of self-doubt.

Were you able to make talk about your depression publicly?

For a long time I had the impression that Depression was something you kept to yourself. This impression must have come from my father, as he instilled in me the “march on” kind of mentality, where a certain weakness is attached to depression and other mental problems. You must realise that my father grew up in an environment that was privy to depression, as it was something you kept to yourself. This must have rubbed off on me because I never talked about my suicide attempt or my depression until more than a year had passed. I felt that talking about depression to people would create the persona of a “victim”, where people would expect me to be a naturally sappy person. It is because of this that I took the responsibility of outcasting myself. After I had regained my confidence, I told my parents about my bout of depression and subsequent suicide attempt. A year after that I told my closest online friends about it, and ever since then I have only opened about it to people I can really trust.

Did the world seem and feel different when you were overcoming this ordeal?

The world is different when you are confronting death. The tears that flow from your eyes clear your sight, allowing for you to see a world filled with illusions. Once you can see the illusions then you are given a choice: do you destroy those illusions or do you let them consume you? My decision was not made lightly, but it was forced out of me during depression. Many people never get to have the option to choose, as they are unaware that the options are available. Depression got rid of the veil hiding the choices and forced me to confront them. I chose the latter of the two options, but at a hard price. I could no longer look at the world in a strict positive light; I now was forced to look at the world with the illusions attached to it. However, I was more determined than ever to destroy those illusions where ever I could find them.

What challenges were you confronted with?

The challenges that confronted me had to mainly do with trying to find who I was. Here I am, I thought to myself, cast into a world without direction as to where I was to go – who was I to be? The journey of self-discovery began in that dark period of my life, where finding light was seemingly impossible. The moment I started to realise that there was no light to lead me out, was the moment I began to create my own light through introspection, reading and writing. I did not talk to anyone on a personal level, so my social life was practically non-existent. In some respects, it was better that I did not have any friends at that time. The road of self-discovery is something that can only be experienced on the individual level; and though there may be people on the way to help you, ultimately the journey is your own. We are born into this world alone and we all die alone; this is not mere rubbish, this is factual. Everyone is born as a single entity in this existence, when they die they die alone as a single entity.

I know you’ve identified yourself with idealism. How has depression impacted your idealism?

Reform is crucial for intellectual integrity. The honest mind acknowledges its faults and seeks to better them, well the dishonest mind seeks to hold onto those faults and pass them off as wisdom. I can honestly say that I was rather naive in my idealism before my depression. The thing that separates truth from falsehood is justification; and if there is no justification for something, then that something is simply false. When I was baptised in darkness, what was washed from me was my ideals of the world. It was as if my whole slate was wiped clean and I was given a new slate. My ideals were no longer rooted in the falsehood of unjustified belief and hope. Now my ideals were rooted in reality as it is, and seeking to reform reality well being within in it. In this sense, when the mirror of life is smashed in front of you and the shards begin to slice your face, it is your job to pick those shards up and remake the mirror. It is with this thought line that I began reorganising my ideals, and started grounding them in a realistic framework of reform. My idealism was reborn fresh and new.

In our previous conversation, you shared Carl Sagan, Christopher Hitchens, and Alain De Botton had given you strength through a study of their writings. Can you explain how they had an influence on you? 

The major influences on my life, the people I would recommend everyone read and at least know about, would have to be Alain de Botton, Carl Sagan and Christopher Hitchens. In that order. Each has a part to play in the current make up on my persona, which is why I may start off slow with Alain, the individual who introduced me first to philosophy.

Philosophy is a truly uplifting and interesting enterprise. What you have to do to be a philosopher is simple: think, reflect and understand the world around you. Though it may sound simple in theory but in practice it can be difficult thing to accomplish. There are many people who will read lots of books on famous philosophers such as Immanuel Kant, Martin Heidegger – lord help anyone – Jean-Paul Sartre, David Hume etc., and well reading the major philosophers is a noteworthy thing, the ultimate thing to remember is to understand the essence of their life and signature (Their ‘signature’ is what they leave behind that changed history). Alain de Botton was the first person I read that synthesized the philosopher’s life and ideas with poetic description and moving narrative. His book “The Consolations of Philosophy” is one of the best books I have ever read, as it gave me a necessary synopsis of philosophers such as Seneca, Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer and their ideas, but told their life like if it were a journey of trial and triumph. Alain, in this respect, is the people’s philosopher: the person who gives a voice to the value of philosophy in the modern world through the lens of the average person, on an average level. He changed the way I think about heartache, love and hope. For example, he taught me the value of individuality through the lens of Friedrich Nietzsche: one of the most inspiring philosophers of all time. Botton’s description of Nietzsche’ life resonated with me, as Nietzsche’s heartaches were in some way related to my heartaches and feelings. Seeing meaning and love through the suffering of life; embracing the suffering of existence and seeking to triumph over it, that is true inspiration. For this reason, Alain de Botton remains as a candle on my road to enlightenment. What still gets me is how much he does not get as much appreciation as he deserves, which is criminal.

Science lights a candle when other enterprises dare not to; it is the curious explorer ever hungry for discovery. I felt like I need to make a confession: I once thought science to be a boring enterprise. It could have just been how it was taught to me at school, the boring lessons on kinetic energy and electromagnetism may have just made me uninterested in science. However, it was not until Carl Sagan that I began to start to appreciate the value of the scientific enterprise. Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” series and his book “The Demon Haunted World” radically altered my perspective on the role of science in education, and the value science had as an enterprise. Never was I taught that science was a method of thinking about the world; never was I educated about scepticism or rational thinking. Sagan brought these valuable tools along with his education, which was a more general philosophical worldview than a mere slice of life learning. An element of optimism echoed through his works and his passion for teaching others about the world really inspired me. Sagan taught me to value each opportunity of life; never allowing smallness to define you and seeking to inspire others through the spreading of ideas. “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.” The power of ideas to inspire and transform the perspective of people’s lives are no more evident than in Sagan’s dedication to empowering people through education, which has since inspired me to take up the helm and do my best to reform education. I have since done my best to promote the notion that: “Education emancipates the mind from the shackle of ignorance and empowers the individual towards enlightenment.”

To be an essayist is to be a literary fighter actively defending one’s title. You have to have courage, honesty and a good deal of wittiness, or else you’re food for the dogs. Being an essayist is all about being polemic, analytical and blunt – to the point. I learned this lesson rather early in my writing career and in some respects I am still learning how to perfect it. This sort of polemic writing style was inspired by the late Christopher Hitchens, whose essays on politics, religion and social criticism were always lased with sharp wit, unapologetic scrutiny and brutal honesty; a formula that deters many, but inspires few…such as me. His writing style is like bullets being fired on paper: they are meant to hit hard at an opponent and stir an audience to action. It is in this light that I can thank Hitchens for inspiring me to first take up writing. The first ever book I read from him turned out to be his last, I am of course referring to “Mortality”. “Mortality” gave me a unique perspective of cancer and the dealings associated with an atheist author. Hitchens’ heartfelt description and courage to fight his disease, both in the public sphere and literary  sphere, allowed for the growth in my own mind of intellectual integrity, honesty and a courage to write what I thought. Hitchens changed the way I looked at mortality and at my own condition, and gave me a voice to fight on when all others would seek not to.

The lectures and speeches that I watched from him, namely his speech on “free speech” (2006), made me think about the world. Those lectures reorganised my own political philosophy, from a Marxist perspective to a non-partisan/empirical left perspective. What I mean by this is that I use to be a very anti-establishment individual in my political thoughts. I always had the Marxist view of the world: the struggle between the upper and lower classes, and the subjugation of the lower classes by the hegemony of the upper classes. It is only when I read hitchens essays that I started to think about key points and flaws in Marxism. Like, “what evidence is there of a ruling elite?” “Can life be so simplistic as to warrant a really elaborate control of society by an elite group?” etc. Eventually his arguments for his positions started to influence my political philosophy. Overall, Hitchens influenced my life and politics from his writings.

What creative pursuits are you currently working on?

I love to read philosophy, science and history books. I find that non-fiction is greater than fiction at stimulating and inspiring my writing. The real world is the basis of the fantasy world, which means all fictitious ideas are manifestations of some-aspect of real world elements. It is in this light I find myself getting the most inspired by, as the writer has the power to create worlds of desire in form of literary visualisation merely at the stroke of their pens. My current goals are to become a philosopher in the professional sense, and to try and gain reform in the educational departments of the world. In some respects, and not to sound too cheesy, I wish to change the world with my thoughts and writings. It is no easy task I assure you, but it is a task I have set myself to do and plan on fulfilling it in some way.

In society, what is not understood about depression? 

It depends upon the politics really and dominant ideology of a society.

In academia and other departments there does appear to be a systematic approach to mental illness. What I mean by this is that there is a lack of engagement going on between the analyst and the subject. Well the subject is being assessed by a psychologist, or psychiatrist, it is an assessment being conducted from afar; it lacks emotion and depth of communication. In this way they view mental illness with a combination of a patronising attitude and an ignoring attitude. Society is quick to diagnose people with mental illness; treating them with a high degree of caution than any other citizen. What I mean by this is that society is very quick to give pills to those suffering from depression, and treat the mental illness as a handicap. You know what I mean? Like the way they currently treat disabled people, with this patronising degree of caution that belittles them as people. “We need to make sure the world is safe for them…we need to give them privileges etc.” I want help, but I do not wish to be treated as a special case or a privileged individual; do not give that delusion to a mental illness sufferer. When a person suffers from depression, what they do not want to be is belittled; what they want is help and someone to talk to them. In this respect, every depressed person wants to be understood for who they are and what feelings they have.

Based on the following statement, was there a duality in this episode of your life? 

“The burden was a sadness and despair. But the gift was a capacity for depth and wisdom.”

I find the statement to be very true. It felt like a curse to have constant sadness, but ultimately it was a necessary curse to have. It taught me more about who I was, where I had to go etc. When I look back on those dark days there is an inclination in me to feel sorrow, but this inclination is soon clouded by the realisation of how lucky I am to be alive. Most of us do not realise the value of life we are able to have. If you are able to have a decent access to education, basic resources, shelter and the ability to express your views, then you are a part of the aristocracy of the world (25% roughly of the world). Depression gave me perspective, which is necessary for curiosity and courage. However, on the flip side depression also introduced me to a world of havoc and absurdity, where it is my goal now to make a better and more brighter world. It is a double edged sword at the end of the day, but a sword I would gladly fight with any day.

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The Narrative of Science and People

By Shazeen (UK) Reflecting on the British Science Festival (2015)

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Another summer deceased in the midst of crimson leaves scattered in our paths. I turned outside of the gates. It was a strangely pleasing experience as I pondered on what to write about. I did not expect a festival making a connection between humans and science would have a memorable impact on me and so many others.

I think we all might share a roving spirit voyaging on a quest for narratives. Perhaps through the subjective lens of others we find ourselves, or we rediscover our stories by drowning in our own turfs.

My journey of the past 12 months is marked by a desire to paint a picture of contemporary times. I sought stories that sketched twists and turns of fate, turning a miserable day into a sunflower of spring. It is in this very expression that the human narrative is a little bit more real.

Yet, being a radar for narratives sift me through passages I had least anticipated. When I said, “stories are everywhere”, I underestimated my own convictions.

They are everywhere.

I repeat, every-where.

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And that wrapped up a warm, informative, and awe-inspiring summer of 2014 with a ribbon and a signature of approval. It was my first time at an annual British Science Festival. There were several of them in the past, but I deem myself lucky to be an alumni of Birmingham University when the festival graced its presence on our campus.

I wish more people knew about it. I felt enthusiasm from friends who had no idea it was happening. They heard about it upon my announcements of workshops, discussion panels and an assortment of creative activities.

One evening I sat in my room, scrolling my email list, when suddenly I stumbled across an invitation to a particular science festival. I ignored it, assuming that it can wait. But I returned to the email. I took a closer look at the invitation, and my curiosity transformed from miniscule to mountainous. I was intrigued by the items on the list, which were drawing my attention to social, cultural, economical, and innovative themes, interwoven by the thread of science.

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The first word that came to mind was, “Narratives”.

Our lives are pieces of actions we gather to play a plot. After experiencing the deeper wells of our being, we return on stage, carrying our stories in words and in silence, from the gust of dawn to the street lights of dusk.

Our stories make our actions significant. To quote Donald Polkinghorne,

“Human beings exist in three realms – the material realm, the organic realm, and the realm of meaning. The realm of meaning is structured according to linguistic forms, and one of the most important forms for creating meaning in human existence is the narrative. (Polkinghorne, 1988: 183)

The stories we tell ourselves is, in part, based on how people and events narrate us. The language and genres that intertwine with our daily lives play a part in shaping our story.

This is true even in the sphere of science, which is an effective tool for modelling a selection of themes in our lives. The British Science Festival welcomes scientists, engineers, technologists, bloggers, creative people, artists, musicians, linguistics, performers, TV presenters, academics and many more talents and variety. They gather with the aim of expressing narratives of cutting-edge science to a national audience.

How does the audience gain from this? They can see their lives through the keyhole of scientific expression and break-through. Many things affect our daily lives. Mental health, cyber-security, mass media, finance and economy, education, technological advancement, robotics, music, and social relationships are only a handful of topics covered in the festival.

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This is a platform, which allows people to connect with cutting-edge discoveries in order to rewrite the human narrative. It is an opportunity to play a part, but more importantly, it is a reminder that we are already playing a part. Our views, contributions and actions play a greater part in the overall framework of society even when we least know it. I recall a panel discussion on women and science from the 2015 festival. They outlined personal and societal experiences of women as a vehicle of encouraging and highlighting women in the fields of science. I feel like science is part of a greater narrative of women based on their identities both conditioned, undone and reconstructed. And in return, the woman who chooses science makes her identity a part of something bigger. She follows her passion and curiosity to make an equal amount of influence in her chosen field.

Tim Boon, Head of Research and Public History at the Science Museum (London, UK), explained public engagement with science may seem like a modern preoccupation, but its roots run deep. It is about the nature of the relationship between scientists and the lay public. Gone are the days of ‘listen and learn’ – communication now is much more two-way.

Public engagement means different things depending on the observer. Some people want a dialogue, while others want an active voice in policy-making. Then there are people who wish to interact in some way with scientifically trained individuals, and I’ve noticed this is especially true when individuals attempt creating an interdisciplinary communication. The relationship between music and science, or acting and science, the arts and science, and journalism and science were examples of the kind of public engagement the science festival held.

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But it’s not only the public that want to engage. Scientists hold a great deal of excitement about their discoveries, and are ready to share it. People from various fields, such as educationalists or artists interact with this excitement in order to enhance the narrative of science in society. Artists may see science as a rich source of ideas and thinking, which allows them to explore peaks of discoveries within art itself. Scientists may appreciate artists for the novel connections they make.

Activities revolving around public engagement essentially bring science outside to play. I think both scientists and the public can continue benefiting from this, and together we can reshape the way we think about many areas of our lives that affect us everyday.

This year, September 2015, I touched base with the British Science Festival. It was held at the University of Bradford. Watch this space as The People’s Playground showcases some topics and conversations covered during the festival. I can’t be thankful enough to have had the opportunity of learning, engaging, and making new friends.

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The Smartest Kid in the Room: Knowing The World In Many Ways

Narrative by Paul Iannucilli (USA), Interviewed by Shazeen (UK), Photography by Saman. Ali (Iraq)

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Okay, before I get I to it, a handful of disclaimers.

No, this isn’t specifically about me. It isn’t about any one person. It is about the traits, ideas, actions, and processes that I notice people whom I consider to be intelligent engaging in on a fairly regular basis. The purpose of this writing is for me to document those things in a creative and original way, mostly so that I can make sense of them

I do try my best to emulate, and perform, these things in my own life, and in my interactions with others. As I stated above, they are behaviors performed by people that I respect. I also chose not to tag anyone, or call them out here. If I think you are intelligent, I have more than likely expressed this to you already, and if you are reading this, guess what, I think you are intelligent. Names aren’t necessary.

Since there exists no gender neutral pronoun in the English language I have chosen to use the feminine “she”. It makes it easier to write without having to switch back and forth, and also I know some really goddamn smart women, I figured the smart men I know wouldn’t mind at all. If this offends you, I suggest you go and have a long hard think about why it does so.

The smartest kid in the room doesn’t usually say a lot, but when she does, it is with confidence and conviction. She has spent many hours going over how she feels about certain things in her mind, and has come to her conclusions after a prolonged internal debate. She has weighed, and researched as much as necessary, and has discarded the arguments that don’t align with her cautious way of decision. This doesn’t mean that she forever more discards those arguments, quite the opposite, she stores them inside of her and uses them to weight new information as it becomes available. You see, the smartest kid in the room can entertain notions that go against her personal beliefs, she can recognize them as possibilities, even while refusing to ascribe to them. She isn’t bothered when people disagree with her, for whatever reason, because she has come to her own conclusions through a long process, and there is little that can shake those foundations.

The smartest kid in the room doesn’t call untoward attention to herself. You can usually find her out on the fringes, never in the center of things. She hangs back, waiting for something interesting to grab her attention. And when something does grab it, she learns as much as possible about it. She often does this quietly because it is sacred to her. The typical ways of learning hold no interest for her; she knows how best to teach herself, and does so fervently. The smartest kid in the room requires no praise, nor attention for this act, and she finds, often enough, that the loudest voices in the room, those that demand attention, usually have the least amount to say. She learns only because she loves to, and she unobtrusively shares that knowledge with those who will benefit from it, asking nothing in return.

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The smartest kid in the room has a wild and vivid imagination. She is intensely creative, and applies that imagination and creativity in novel ways to whatever field she favors working in. There is some carry over here, however. The best scientists and mathematicians were often the children who liked to pretend there were magic portals to other worlds hiding in their gardens when they were children. The smartest kid in the room still likes to pretend these things, finding a spark of magic in even the most mundane, and allowing her imagination to transform those things into something majestic. Solutions come naturally to her. Her mind is a playground, and it generates new ways of looking at old problems. Playing make believe is a part of this. You can usually find her wandering around in her own mind, always thinking of solutions to a problem. And figuring out how to make her imagination translate into reality.

The smartest kid in the room listens to her own heart and mind. She does listen to, value, and take into consideration, the opinions and thoughts of others, but ultimately she is her own best guide. The smartest kid in the room is comfortable with both logic, and emotion, knowing when to use each, and using the correct tool for the task at hand. She is able to gain great insight from those she interacts with, without really knowing how. She can also spot a fake from a mile away. She also does not allow herself to fall into the trap of dogmatic, or ideological thinking. She can see from multiple perspectives and points of view, and realizes that there is truth in all of them.

The smartest kid in the room dreams big. She isn’t happy or content with settling, or with feeling stuck. She knows she can change the world, and often starts doing so from a very early age. Even if these changes are only small. She does them because it is who she is. The smartest kid in the room is also quite concerned with the world in general. She wishes she could fix all of the problems that we are facing, but also know that she cannot. So she does what she can. This commonly leads to no small amount of frustration for her. She also has a difficult time understanding how people get so wrapped up in petty things.

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The smartest kid in the room is adventurous. She knows that travel and solitude are great and necessary teachers. She is willing and open to trying new things. She also isn’t afraid of making mistakes, knowing that she can learn a great deal from them, and using that knowledge to make herself better than she was before. Change does not frighten her either. She is always willing and ready to learn, and grow, and she accepts that sometimes this might be painful.

The smartest kid in the room has read enough of this, and is done. She has spent too long glancing over this, she already know all of this. And besides, she feels the tug of her imagination calling, and needs to go and change the world now.

Since you moved to Seattle and interacted with the local’s creative and artistic space, what were the different levels of smartness you discovered among them? 

There is an interesting mix up here. Creatives tend to be a widely varied bunch. The type that stands out the most is musical intelligence. This city is a rich musical history. Jimi Hendrix, and a lot of old soul and R&B from the 60’s and 70’s, to the “grunge” rock scene in the 90’s. It seems like every other person here is a musician, and the music scene is vibrant, and supported, and loved here.

There are numerous other artists as well. I mix most frequently with other writers. A lot of the younger generation is very intelligent about how they feel. They see a lot of injustice in our world, and they are speaking out against it. The most important thing here is that you aren’t afraid to speak in your own unique voice. So there is a lot of social, and emotional intelligence as well.

Smartness is commonly known by being able to think coherently, but there are other kinds of smartness that engages our senses and emotions. How important do you think they are in our social and personal lives? 

Everyone, excepting perhaps the most unfortunate of us, is good at something. This just expresses itself in unique ways. Knowing the process of repairing something is vastly different from actually repairing something for example.

All of it is important. And given the appropriate context they all shine through. The key element I see in any type of intelligence is imagination. Asking those important “what if” questions. This applies to practical solutions, as well as theoretical solutions.

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Have you met people who surprise with what they can do?

Constantly. As I said above, people are always smart about something, they only need to discover what that is, and be given the appropriate context to utilize it.

There are numerous traps we fall into as far as thinking is concerned. Ideological thinking is a big problem, and most people engage in it. It effectively blocks off the use of the imagination, and sticks a person into a dogmatic and single-minded worldview.

It is so easy to tell someone what to think. Teaching someone HOW to think is vastly more important. Even people who engage in ideological thinking are smart. But they limit their worldview and application of that intelligence in such a manner that there is little to no growth to be had there. I find it rather frustrating.

Our educational system needs to change so we can equip people to prevent this from occurring. Intelligent people can entertain a notion they do not agree with. Ideological thinkers can not.

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What are you currently exploring in your creative pursuits?

A million different things. The main focus is on finishing a novel. I hope to have it done by the end of the year. I have also been speaking with some independent publishers about publishing a couple volumes of poetry soon. Mainly just writing. I can crank out a poem rather quickly, and so I try to as much as possible. The main thing is to just keep writing.

Do you observe objects, collect particular things, or place yourself in surroundings that inspire you?  

I am always most creative late at night, and in the very early morning. I do not like distraction when I am writing. I draw inspiration from all over. I like riding the bus to just listen to people. Or sitting on a bench downtown to observe what happens. I pay attention to the stories people tell me. It’s all fodder.

What does the language of your work represent? 

My poems are like snapshots of moments. They tell a brief story of what I am experiencing at a given point in time. They are all honest. Stories are extremely important to me. I believe we discover ourselves in them, and that we are constantly creating our own personal story. The great stories, those that have lasted for hundreds of years, are the ones that give us a peak at the fundamental and underlying truth of existence, without trying to tell us what that might be. They allow us to figure it out on our own, and those individual reactions are all just as equally valid. It amazes me how varied interpretations of my pieces are. I had something in mind when I wrote a piece, and people interpret that how they like, or how it is right for them. A lot of times it is close. In that interaction, between creator, created, and observer, lies the truth of the matter. It is fascinating.

I just want to tell stories. I love doing so, no matter the form they end up in. And if they happen to allow another to discover something beautiful, or even ugly I suppose, then I have done my job, and we are all so much the better for it.

Truth exists in stories. The ones we tell ourselves, the ones we read or watch or listen to. The ones we write or paint or sing or direct. It is how we find ourselves.

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The Dog Rescuer: A Journey With Allie Rizzo

By Allie Rizzo (USA), Interviewed by Shazeen (UK)

“Our pets enjoy life. They give us endless love. We could learn so much by the simplicity of their happiness. Be kind to them and they are kind to you.”

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It doesn’t fail to amaze me when I stumble across beautiful and compassionate quests for a greater world pursued by people like Allie. She is a model, an animal rights activist, and the creator of Mother of Dogs, which is an organization that brings attention to shelter animals in the United States.

In 2013 Allie adopted a dog who at just 10 weeks old was scheduled to euthanasia because he was found in an area plagued by dog fighting. Her rescue of this dog resulted in her campaign to raise dog fighting awareness and encourage action against one of the most brutal forms of animal cruelty.  Again we believe spreading the word and shining light on these dark practices will encourage people to report these offenses and demand harsher punishments for those who are involved. Through the power of education we will  provide the information so people can make the right choice.

What are your thoughts on the importance of treating animals like we would a fellow human?

I think it’s our responsibility to care for things that can’t care for themselves. I always reference the Gandhi quote “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” To me it is simple, dogs represent the weakest among us. They are totally and completely at our mercy. Our treatment of them is very telling and says a great deal about how much apathy and respect for life we have.

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How did you develop or discover your connection with dogs?

I come from a long line of animal lovers. My Grandma was famous in her neighborhood as the woman who would take in all the unwanted pets. She has endless stories to tell about how each of her strays came to her household. This caring was transferred to my mom who had the same sympathies and love for animals. My entire childhood I was raised with pets and we treat them as family members, not possessions. When you teach your kids to respect all life – it makes them grow up into more compassionate people.

What’s the inspiration behind Mother of Dogs?

Like so many other people I had no idea how horrific the shelter system in this country is. There’s a dangerous misconception that shelter dogs are bad when in reality most are in them because their owners got bored with them or thought a puppy was cute but didn’t like it when it grew up. MANY of the dogs undergoing euthanasia are just 12 months old. They are condemned because they have just aged out of that puppy cuteness. Only when a friend started explaining the horrors of large scale breeders ( puppy mills ) and really laying out the amount of animals who enter the shelter system and never come out did I really start to open my eyes. When I rescued Sam, my first shelter dog, my concern turned into anger. He became a beloved member of my family and constantly reminded me that so many more didn’t get to come home with me. They entered a shelter and never came out.

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What is the mission of Mother of Dogs, and what can our readers take from this cause?

The mission is very simple. Spread the word! Educate people on how cruel the breeding industry is. How most dogs in petshops come from horrific backwoods breeding operations that result in tremendous suffering. It’s estimated there are 10 thousand puppy mills in the United States. There is a lot of money being made and a lot of suffering is inflicted to make it. There are no USDA “approved” breeders. There are USDA licensed breeders. A breeder that is USDA licensed means they sell their puppies to brokers or pet stores and you must only give minimum standards of care to achieve this status ( basically just keep the dogs you breed alive- nothing more)

No breeder with a love of dogs would ship off puppies to be sold to the first person with cash and not meet the owners in person. Even shelters have more of a screening process for adoption.

Simple fact is million of dogs end up in shelters by no fault of their own and while breeding dogs is such a booming and unregulated business the dogs who end up unwanted as soon as they become full grown will continue to be euthanized by the thousands. People need to understand the sickness that is breeding when we are facing a massive overpopulation problem. Every time you breed or buy a shelter dog will die.

How do you feel about including this cause in your life where you are also doing other things?

I’m very passionate about this cause because it has a simple solution! Don’t Shop, Adopt. If people are better informed the hope is that they chose to rescue a pet. If people get collectively upset at the breeding industry and say enough is enough, we could empty the shelters completely.

Which other ambitions are you pursuing?

My love of animals is not exclusive to dogs. I’m very passionate about the welfare of all animals and feel that their exploitation has gone on silently for far too long.

I happened to be in Africa on a safari the week after Cecil the Lion was killed. It was so interesting to speak to the guides while we tracked these amazing animals. They explained the poaching problem and how rampant it is. Two lions are killed a day by trophy hunters. The cruel and cowardly way in which Cecil was killed really just shined a light on a very common and disturbing practice. On a reserve we visited in Zambia they had just found a record breaking eleven elephants slaughtered for Ivory the month before. We have only 10 years or less with African elephants before they become extinct.

It’s the last decade of this fight and a complex issue to solve when the United States remains the second biggest importer of Ivory after China. Many organizations have different approaches to solving this problem but similar to plight of shelter dogs it’s all about educating people and shaming the practices that lead us to these points.

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How do you make time for engaging in your passions and activism, and what advice would you give others about maintaining a balance?

For me when I see things or get a call about an abused dog with nowhere to go and no prospects for a home it sparks me to be very vocal and speak up. I just make the time because I’m so upset with the scenarios. It angers me how much suffering happens and so few people seem aware. It should be in everyone’s face. If i become too immersed in sad stories and have a rough week trying to get dogs off death row and failing I will pull back. If it takes me to a very dark place personally I know I need to step away for bit. My activism is often spurred by my anger but you can’t lose your positivity while taking on a fight like this. It’s so important to do things with a hopeful intention and not become too dark and negative during the process.

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Could you describe a rescue story? 

Every single day I am asked to help with a dog and every single time you feel connected. Personally my rescue of – Sam had a huge impact on me. He was just under one pound and had been very cruelly placed on the side of a rural highway in Georgia in the middle of winter. He had a belly full of worms and was barely able to walk yet. An animal control truck happened to drive up that road looking for some lost hunting dogs and spotted him. He was taken to the shelter which was I’m told is one of the worst imaginable with no staff or funding..just dark cages. A local couple that spent weekends visiting this shelter to take pictures of the dogs and post them on petfinder hoping to give them some chance of adoption had spotted little Sam. They had decided to take him home. The de-worming had to be done multiple times and he was bottle fed until he gained some strength. He would never have been put up for adoption in town because it was plagued with backwoods dog fighting and they feared he would be taken a bait dog. Bait dogs are put in front of beaten pit bulls who are encouraged and rewarded for mauling them to death in order to train them to be fighting dogs. An activity that goes on far too often.

When I heard Sams story posted through a small rescue site i wasted no time in adopting him.

He became my mascot for this cause and a constant reminder of why it’s important to fight for this. There are four million other “Sam’s” waiting to be saved.

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To find out more about Mother of Dogs and to give your support in raising awareness and making this cause possible, visit: Mother of Dogs today! 

From Your Journey of The Past to Your Narrative of The Future

Written by Nahid Saiyed (UK)

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Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all – Aristotle

My journey to where I am today has been punctuated with so many unexpected and unplanned detours, that I would struggle to say where I am is where I planned to be. I do know for sure though that every experience has provided me with an opportunity for growth, to appreciate life and ignite in me a passion for humanity.

Having children has made me appreciate the preciousness of life, not simply by seeing fragility, hope, fear and love, but through experiencing the emotion and pull to want to protect,provide and prosper. As a mother I want, not only, to provide my children with all the comforts and opportunities I can to enable them to live safely and comfortably, but I want to show them, to let them experience other lives — lives that are not so fortunate, lives where there is struggle and unpredictability. To teach them the true meaning and value of life.

My work life has exposed me to narratives that are influenced by fear and it concerns me that we have young people growing up not knowing how to communicate with people who are different to them.

Over the past 2 years I have had the privilege of meeting some inspirational people (locally and Internationally) and learning about the different ways in which we can contribute to our societies and the impact each of us has on our current and future world. I have lived through times of uncertainty, changing relationships, loss of security and that experience where I was alone in a room full of people.

My personal and professional life experiences have also contributed greatly in getting me to this point. The impact world and local economics, politics, and conflicts have become a reality of our lives, exposing us to a narrative that asks the question where – are we going? But to begin to answer that question, I believe firmly we need to understand where we have come from, our journeys and history.

Hence the idea to create time and space to explore and learn about each other in constructive and positive manner, to create space to hear about, and value different journeys, celebrate what makes us different and share commonalities. In this space there should be the exposure to education that is needed to live, not just to make a living.

Whilst pondering this, and doing a bit of research, into what is currently available, I developed a sense that whilst there is a lot of activity in this area, much of it seemed reactive, and wondered if more proactive responses were needed to influence the course of the future, to be part of the group of people who are working tirelessly to design a different and better future.

We have a responsibility for our communities, society and the world in which we live. I want create opportunities for cross generational/cross cultural interactions facilitating value/issue based dialogue and sharing, facilitate a shift from a sense of individualism to community.

I believe it is when we begin to take notice of each other, to explore our deeper sense being and open ourselves to truly to see, experience and be present with unique qualities of humanity, that we can create a world that promotes values and belief systems that are conducive to creating a world that is uniquely representative and sustainable. Through sharing of journeys, listening to narratives and engaging in the beauty of creation we support each other to fashion a world that values individuals and their contributions to, promoting acceptance and celebration of our history as the norm. By noticing every act, every emotion we begin to enjoy the pattern we collectively weave.

These are some of the experiences that have influenced me to want to engage in projects that encourage communication between different people. I grew up around grandparents and elderly aunts and uncles, listening to stories of life in India, adventures of journeys abroad, of settling in England. I grew up spending weekends and holidays with cousins and friends playing in the parks and in the streets. As I grew older, I traveled overseas with friends and family, experienced different forms of communication and heard more narratives, saw how different people lived. I look back with a smile and gratitude. My children are growing up in a world that is so technologically advanced to the one I knew, a world where research and knowledge creates a environment that can become very isolated and isolating. Will my children recall memories that will bring a smile to their faces? Will they value what they have? I hope so. I try to provide as many different experiences as I can to expose them to different people, different worlds, different lives, to plant I them the seed of adventure and of compassion. I do what I can to expose my children to more than the education they receive in a classroom. I want them to be full of questions to be answered, to have the courage and passion to want to live life fully. I want this for all our children. This is what drives me to travel the road I travel. I don’t ever want to feel as though my journey is complete, but to keep turning the page, writing a new chapter!

And as I continue this journey, I seek to do so with humility, passion, compassion and a massive amount of good humour, and this is what I look for in those who I want to be surrounded by.

Seek the wisdom that will untie your knot. Seek the path that demands your whole being – Rumi

Do Ideas Live and Die Through The Viewer? A Story of An Artist

Written by Shazeen (UK), Interviewing Frederick Hubble (UK)

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What is your passion?

My practice surrounds ideas of human nature. When I’m making things or constructing a situation, it’s a way for me to think philosophically about individual ideas and the relationship between them. Romantically or poetically contemplative ideas fill me with the desire to sit quietly to ponder on them.

What language do you seek in objects, people, and events when you create art?

For myself I like to take a poetic approach to how objects come together or have ideas manifested in themselves. I like my pieces to remain contemplative, and there’s no intent to shock. It’s simply a manner of thinking or feeling for me. It’s important that ideas remain open. How we experience things interests me, so what I perform lives and dies with the viewer.

Humility and a sense of being genuine is interesting to me, coming from a romantic perspective, where the individual was championed as an ideal. I feel that I can test these ideas through deconstructing the ideal, and doing away with the aloofness that art can have attached to it. I want to talk to people on an honest human level.

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Could you describe the performance I watched, which is in this photo? What was the message behind it?

The piece is called La Mer and it started with a fascination with the sea, and the beauty and danger of it. The newspaper articles are all collected from my daily commute; they come from stories I found particularly poignant and interrelated. It was a hopeless resignation running through the melancholy of the piece that captivates me every time. I’m sitting and staring vacantly. Sometimes I raise my voice to read the newspaper article in my hands to play with the emotional distance between the viewer and the performance.

There wasn’t a message per-se that I wished to communicate. What happened in my performance, as you can see in my photo, is both reported fact and romanticism. I had been equally selective with the news articles I chose to show, as I have been exposed to chance by reading them in the first place. The absence within the work is equally as important as what is presented for me. All of these things are other people’s recollections or retelling of events. My hope was to arrange them so a kind of easy-going narrative that’s free from force occurred in the performance.

Why did you choose newspaper articles, a fan, lamp and a modern television in your performance? 

The choices came, as I said, a lot by chance. The newspaper articles display events, which move from a macro-cosmic perspective to a microcosmic perspective, or more importantly an astronomic perspective to a purely human, individual perspective. The first article, is written about the comet Ison, which was long heralded by amateur astronomers and scientists as an astronomical event that would be quite something to perceive. However, the comet reached it’s end before they could observe it. There is a poignant sadness, which lies in this idea that one can wait for something for so long only to be disappointed. But, for me the more interesting idea is that of the hope of the astronomers, sitting, waiting, just to catch a glimpse of some fleeting moment. The second article is when we move along to a natural sea-arch being demolished by a storm. In the art world sea-arches were a favored subject for the impressionists and romantic painters alike. Here they report that one has collapsed into the sea, and it’s life as a subject to be painted and observed comes to an end. The third and fourth articles move to focus more on the group, and the human experience. They talk about groups of people who have been drowned by the sea, in going to watch waves on a pier. And finally, the last article tells the story of a boy, who is alone, swept out to sea by a wave. The whole piece is a kind of condensed melancholy, at humanity’s fascination with nature, the stars, the sea, and suffering in the face of it.

The articles are blown up and down as a wave; this is achieved by using an oscillating fan, they mimic the waves on the sea. There is a single blue line drawn with a chalk line, which is revealed and concealed by the moving papers, just as the sea enacts the same process. The fan also becomes a device to show the ephemerality of news. Once one has read a news article, it is quickly replaced by the next one you encounter. Word of mouth, archiving or making the choice to remember the news you have read is all one can do to preserve a story. So these stories in particular are remembered through the piece.

The whole piece is heightened by Django Reinhardt’s musical rendition of La Mer. It’s purely instrumental, and the melancholy piece of music is amplified through a conch shell. I sought to play with the idea of using this object from the sea to acoustically alter the sound in the work. You are of course told as a child that if you put your ear to a conch you may hear the sound of the sea, when in reality it is the sounds of your inner ear you can hear resonating when the sound is amplified by the conch. It is the flow of the self rather than the sea. The conch is also a famous motif within Lord of The Flies, which is another reference I find interesting when considering human relationships.

The other piece is titled; On The Horizon that came from the experience of playing games. There is always an objective or achievement to be made in the activity of playing. However, this was something I wanted to explore, a conceptual artist playing a game, or a romantic playing a game. I went about it with the intention of playing Grand Theft Auto V, the franchise itself is infamous for your abilities to steal cars, blow up helicopters and run down pedestrians. I thought to myself what is the most placid, innocent thing you could do in the game, but also test it’s parameters through.

Getting a boat and finding the edge of the map seemed like a wonderfully romantic idea to me. Games often feature invisible walls or barriers to stop you from travelling any further through their limits. However, Grand Theft Auto V is a different monster altogether, when sailing out on the journey to discover the edge of the finite game world your boat sinks into the sea. You are faced with two choices. You either turn and swim back to the shore or you let yourself drown. In this decision I took the melancholy approach to drown myself, having reached as far as I could go. This decision is a philosophical one, a matter of will, which has fascinated philosophers and artists alike for time in memorial. It is also reflected in our relationship to the sea in reality. There was of course a time where monsters took up the edges of maps, no one knew what lay beyond them, and the same is true here. The limitations of reality are surrendered to the imagination. All there is left is the decision to swim back or drown in the pixelated sea.

Why was it an important piece to read for the audience?

The decision to read again comes from the idea of news, or reporting. I was reading as a kind of shipping forecast or news story. I compiled a list from various sources, which detailed incidents concerning ships sinking in the ocean. There are archives of lists dating all the way back to the 1400s of details of ships sinking and disappearing at sea. The delivery of the performance is a nod to Bas Jan Ader, a conceptual artist practicing in the 1960’s whose work became shrouded in his own myth after his disappearance at sea, he often confronted similar ideas concerning the romantic individual, and a sense of tragedy. I decided to take up the role of some forgotten soul lost at sea, the tattered fisherman’s jumper and battered boat shoes. I, too, was an element taken from or embodying these stories

The sheer number of ships and human loss at sea is so unimaginable that in its delivery it quickly becomes banal, as the viewer cannot accept the amount of information that is being given to them. It too operates like reading a newspaper; the older information is quickly replaced by the new.

What can the audience take from this?

The audience can take whatever they choose to take because that is the main concept of the work. It becomes about what they choose to remember, whether it is the articles, the lists of disasters at sea, the missing ships, the pure auratic sound from the conch, the moving wave of articles, or the horizon line revealed by the wave of the paper, or even if it’s just the overwhelming sadness that inhabits the compositions in their entirety.

Was there a different context or era in time that you wanted to relay to your audience when you designed your performance? Or was it intended for our contemporary times?

I try to talk to people on a human level, in that way you can remain humble. I do not wish to put myself in the romantic cannon as a narcissistic artist. For me it is to remain true. I think if you talk about things, which are human or eternal, then the context of time in the work is not overly important. However, I acknowledge that the news articles are of course tied down to specific periods and dates. But the essences of the stories are eternal, or they convey truths, which have the ability to transcend time.

What can you tell me about the power of newspapers and media over our perceptions as humans? How do they affect us emotionally and intellectually?

All I can say of newspapers is that they are other people’s reported experiences, which one can of course choose to read, or not to read. The only power they have over people is when one chooses to read them. One can be informed on news by any number of sources in contemporary society, whether it’s television, on the Internet, or being fed through social media, or the newspaper, which all have their own aims of influence.

A news article can stir a person, as equally as they can find it dull, or abrasive. Some people purely read the back sports pages first, or indulge in a crossword. News has always been a description of human events and activity, it can be used and manipulated by people to inform, move, or scare. It does have immense influence over a lot of people’s opinions. How they can keep informed on what is transpiring in the wider world. For myself it is not a primary concern. I find the idea of the ephemeral nature of news interesting, and when articles are put together they can construct narratives and even ideas.

What do you hope to do in the future with your designs and performances?

For myself it is not important to have a niche in my practice, because operating mainly conceptually I feel liberated in the sense that I can make art about ideas that interest me, and hopefully embody those ideas in order to share them with a wider context of people. It becomes a means of communication between others and myself. Whether they experience it emotionally in all of the forms emotion can take, whether they find it intellectually interesting, or if it prompts introspection on their part, I am just happy to be making things and exploring concepts and ideas with a nervous smile.

Thank you for speaking with The People’s Playground, Fredrick, and sharing your narrative with the world. I look forward to watching your space for more of your creativity and narratives in your area of work.

If you enjoyed Fred’s ideas and would like to see more of what he does, please visit his website: 

www.fredhubble.com

 

There Is No Place Like Away From Home: A Road Trip Story

Written by Shazeen (UK), Interviewing Lance Williams (USA)

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Being alone is being in the middle of a long-winded road or an ocean, and there’s nobody in either direction. It is just you and your thoughts, and between it is the vehicle that drives you on an unpredictable journey that exposes you to your vulnerabilities. But it is not without the discovery of our prized attributes that our vulnerabilities and fears are appreciated.

In the way that your shadow accompanies you, how could you not sharpen your pencil of bravery that re-writes your fears into a narrative of possibilities? How could you not have a longing for human touch without the strangeness that you leave behind in familiar faces, and those you cross paths with on the open road? How could you not wonder about the stability you want to return in, where open arms of belonging and clarity embraces your being, without aimlessly dancing on Earth?

Being alone is also about creatively losing yourself into your strengths and your weaknesses, and marrying them in a union that was divorced by what others insisted you become.

It was Steve Toltz who said, in “A Fraction of the Whole”…

“You experience life alone, you can be as intimate with another as much as you like, but there has to be always a part of you and your existence that is non communicable; you die alone, the experience is yours alone, you might have a dozen spectators who love you, but your isolation, from birth to death, is never fully penetrated.”

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I wonder how my friend, Lance, was doing on his journey on the open road. I happened to get a hold of him regardless that he didn’t always have accessibility to the phone or internet, and only able to offer chunks of his time across a month. I was intrigued by his road trip experiences because he was mostly alone.

Why in your opinion do people enjoy road-trips so much? Is there a quintessential quality attached to it?

There’s a quote that explains my thoughts on this question perfectly.

“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”

Christopher McCandless

How do you arrange your sleeping times, eating times, and places to stay along the way? Do you make plans or do you spontaneously make these decisions?

Currently I am an over the road truck driver. We can legally operate the vehicle for 11 hours. One doesn’t necessarily have to drive that many hours everyday because it depends on how far the pickup or delivery is and what is the appointment date and time. I live in the truck. It has bunk beds, a table and refrigerator, and storage spaces. It’s very accommodating and efficient. However, I do park the truck at rest areas and truck stops. My recent truck stop was in Las Vegas. It had a dentist office, restaurant, fitness room, lounge area, bar and casino, chiropractic care, laundry room and personal showers. They are very accommodating for professional truck drivers. Most drivers have reward cards, so every time you fuel up the truck you get so many points. It’s enough to have one free meal a day. You also acquire shower credits. Right now I have unlimited showers otherwise they cost $13. As far as planning my stops, I don’t really plan. If I see a sign on the road that says something is coming up in so many miles that I want to see, and if I have time to stop and check it out, I will. As for food, I usually get it at the same time that I’m fueling the truck.

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Have you come across obstacles along the way and if so, which was the worst and how did you deal with it?

I am working so the only obstacles I face are if a tire blows out. If something happens with the truck then I just pull over and call for road side assistance. I had two tire blow outs so far and some other issues. Nothing too serious happened.

What experiences affected your perceptions?

Out here you get to see a lot. When you think of California you think about beaches and sun and all that. But there are deserts and sand duns there as well. In Texas you would think about a hot desert and open land, which it is, but when you get to the southern most point it’s tropical. There are palm trees, and lush green landscapes. I also think about trade while I’m out here. Trade within the country for example, it is extremely easy to find produce in California to take to the east coast but very difficult to find something on the east coast to bring back west. That goes for food mostly. The west, especially California, has all the food to supply to the rest of the country.

What did it mean to you to have this spontaneous journey on the open road?

It felt like freedom and independence, and it’s not that I didn’t have freedom at my parent’s house. I always respect my parents, and my life in their home was trouble-free in the sense that I have always played by my own rules, and was accepted as I am. But there was a feeling inside me that made me know that hitting the road was the right thing to do. My fear drove me out of the house and married me to adventures that I had both expected and not expected myself to get into.

I was afraid about how my plan was going to pan out, and is this all I’m going to do for the rest of my life? I had little to no problems with my home life, but they often mistaken comfortable lives of people as free from internal struggles. It’s not always like this. I have my own struggles and my biggest struggle at this stage is what I want to do. That’s how I felt. I wanted to know who I was and where will I be, and I was afraid.

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How has embarking on this road trip responded to your fears?

It was pretty much the fear of not becoming anything and wasting my life. It wasn’t like I was homeless while I was embarking on my road trip. I don’t ever think that will be my issue in life, or I hope not anyway, but it’s more to do with the fear of not being anything. When you get to a certain age, you want to be established in life, and you feel you should be at a certain point in your life based on your culture and your country. I feel like I wasn’t at that stage I should be. I had a fear of never getting there. So if I did this road trip, I can work out what I was going to eventually do.

When I’m taking this trip, It feels like I’m doing something. This is a job but it’s technically not a job. It’s a lifestyle. There are no days off, no holidays whatsoever. My job is a truck driver, so everyday you have to be on your feet and keep checking your truck. It’s a lifestyle while being on the open road. It’s not like any other job where you remain in the same place. You are forced to move along and see new and different places, and sometimes you’ll see familiar places. I’m constantly preparing for the next day, so I always have something to do. When I was at home, I would have days off sometimes and it felt like I wasn’t moving. Doing a job while on a road trip is a trick that works because you’re doing something while moving and thinking about what your future plans will be.

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What distinguishes the road trip you are on from road trips that are planned and adventured by families or friends?

On a typical road trip you don’t really plan to the last detail. You just go out there and enjoy yourself and you want to stop in random locations for a dinner break or a hotel stay. And it’s quite funny because people think I’m having a purely spontaneous, chore-free and joyful life out here. But I’m still doing a job. My road trip is quite planned. I’m given assignments that I have to be at a particular place on a particular time, and when I’m given the signal to be somewhere else altogether, then I have to move along. So you have to plan ahead. I’m going to be in this area at this time, so I have to check out pretty fast, and squeeze in a couple of hours of touring and experiencing new people and places before I have to leave. You definitely get to see things. For example, right now I’m done with my work for the day and right across the street there are shopping malls and other activities that I can go and take a look. I also have fun talking to new people as I tend to be on the road alone most of the time. We all need human connection, even if it’s only strangers. I think that’s one of the marks of my journey. Human connection is vital.

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Do you feel you don’t get enough time to explore places in case you grew fond of anything?

Not really. I stop for as long as I need to and although I end up really liking some experiences, I’m ready to let go and move onto my next assignment and my next adventure. I won’t really stop somewhere very interesting if I don’t have enough time. I get a little picky in this regard. You have to be able to spend more than a few hours in a really interesting place, and when I know I can’t do that, I don’t stick around. In the back of my mind I tell myself that maybe I’ll return and hang out in these very interesting places.

It’s a never-ending bucket list. This goes against the point of being on an open road experience. But sometimes, normality catches up with you here too.

It’s not a routine. I’m seeing different things every single day. I’m seeing different sub-cultures of America every single day. It’s the way they talk, the way they use certain words that you only hear in this part of the region, and even the way they dress. Yesterday I was at a warehouse to get my truck loaded, and an employee was referring to the jam-packed vehicles as “this is a big clusterfuck over here”. I laughed because I haven’t heard this word in, maybe, 20 years? It makes me realize how commonly it’s used but just not where I’m from. It goes to show my life’s sheltered from the rest of the world, but also the rest of the world is sheltered from me. I feel this obligation as I keep driving on the road to remain here and connect both ends of the road like my life was perceptually meeting half way with itself.

Yesterday I saw a guy who had worn cow-boy boots, and a gun in his waist. I never see this in New Jersey, because there are certain things you can do there whereas here people are more free and transparent about particular things. When you go to the west coast you see people in shorts, and surfers. It’s these kind of variations you see from one region to another.

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How has being on the road so far helped you to understand where you want to be in terms of your career, ambitions and personal life?

I’m not looking at this lifestyle as a career, even though it’s my job right now. It’s giving me a chance to reflect on a personal level about everything. I’m not making decisions out here. I’m merely moving and exploring an open air feeling so I can think aloud about where I’m going with my life. Sometimes, you need a bird’s eye view to gain perspective about your own life. If you are reserved in the same space or environment for long periods of time, you can’t really liberate the perspective within you that is trying to give you answers. I’m seeing different people and places and realizing for myself how it feels to live up to certain perspectives that would have been foreign to me. Instead of someone else telling me about it based on their understanding of an experience, I’m right here in these situations to feel it for myself.

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I feel more secure on the road than at home. At home I didn’t feel stable or secure because I wasn’t necessarily doing all I could do. People love stability and feeling secure, so people will be baffled why this uncertain journey makes me feel at home because I’m more like myself here. Even when I returned home for a short while, about a month ago, I didn’t feel like I belonged there anymore. I’ve become adjusted to the open road. The first two days of leaving New Jersey was an instant reaction that there’s nothing there for me. I packed my bags, accepted the job offer and decided to hit the road. In those 2 or 3 days, I started to become unsure and contemplated returning home. But you have to cross that bridge, metaphorically speaking, although you can imagine me crossing the literal bridge until I notice I’m too far gone to turn back around, and then I became acquainted to a new life.

It didn’t feel right to me to just sit around when I had a seemingly infinite number of ideas that I wished to realize in my own style, in my own way.

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Can you tell me how you have felt a sense of stability while moving around?

I feel stable internally more than I do externally. As long as I carry stability within me, it doesn’t matter where I go from this point onward. I know I’m not going to settle down any time soon in the life I should at some point be living. And I know that by staying in one place I will never know either. It makes sense to me to carry home in my heart and keep moving with my experiences. Sometimes you want to make sense of the things you want without restrictions.

I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life because I do want to have a family, and a home life. Within the truck industry, most companies typically have you follow a certain rota and then you are absorbed in their lifestyle, which is almost nomadic in the sense that you have a couple of drinks here and there before you check at your newest location and drive to your destination. I want to eventually buy my own truck and do this job independently, so in this way I’ll have my own company. It will give me freedom to be flexible, and work as and when I want to. There are plenty of development prospects in it too, so I won’t necessarily be the one who is going to be on road trips. I will one day settle down and rejoice in my own family while I can still be connected to this adventurous lifestyle, but just not as intensely as I am right now.

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Do you ever miss your home life?

Not necessarily, because right now apart from my parents I don’t have anything to come home to. My parents are happy with seeing me once in a while when I decide to drop by, but it’s not like I have a family of my own that I have to return to everyday. The other day I was at a retail store and felt awkward because I saw many things I’d like to wear but I thought what’s the point of buying them when I’ll be working and driving all day long, and my clothes are likely going to get messy and creased anyway. So I stick with a few set of clothes and buy new clothes only when I really need it. This is the point I became vividly perceptive of my environment in a way I usually wouldn’t be, because I was seeing people aimlessly consuming items. For the first time, I felt we were living in different worlds. This is the difference between living on the open road and living to return to your home everyday.

lance

Can you tell me more about living the minimal life in comparison to the consumption you see around you as a society?

I just remember myself being like that because that’s the lifestyle I used to be in, and you become accustomed to it. But now I have been on both sides — the life of someone who will keep consuming what’s around him and the life of a nomad who will socially and physically go in and out of situations with the bear minimum necessities to carry around. It’s not effective to carry around too many items. You end up misplacing or losing them.

I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum, and I look at it from a different angle. People work all week and spend their weekend shopping. They live from pay check to pay check and work 40 hours a week. I look at it with a slight bafflement that people can have so little saving in their account yet are working long hours and days. I understand that how much you are paid determines how much you are left with after covering necessary expenses, but it’s also baffling to think that in a social culture that encourages consumption, there is less emphasis on how much we have saved in our accounts because we work and spend, work and spend, and then work more and spend again.

Sometimes it feels like we can have a whole bunch of things for nothing. However, I think people simply have different lifestyles. Some days I’m in the truck for an entire day so if I take a shower in the morning you won’t hear from me afterwards because I’ll be on the road all day, driving my truck, and I can get away with wearing the same pair of shorts for a couple of days.

But when you are living a normal life you aren’t going to wear the same thing for a couple of days. If you go to the gym you’ll wear your gym clothes. When you are going out you will change your clothes to something suitable. When you are relaxing at home you will wear something easy-going and cozy. When guests arrive at your place, you will change your clothes to make an impression. And the list goes on. But when you are living with the bear minimum, and are constantly on the move, you can get away with making exceptions.

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The further away you are from the “normal” life, does it teach you something about it? 

It doesn’t really teach me anything about the normal life. It only teaches me about the issues you can get caught up in when you have to deal with uncertainty, and how the stable life makes it so much more easy. If you get wrapped up in a problem, or are in a difficult situation, you start appreciating the simplicity of a normal life. At the same time, the longer you are away from the “normal life”, you become adapted to the new and uncertain life, so without it something feels empty and not quite stable. That’s the irony.

I think the great thing about adapting to this new way of life is being comfortable with uncertainty. I like to be at peace with the unknown instead of having answers quickly and easily.

Sometimes, a person can’t see themselves until something takes them away from their normal life and puts them on the other side. You see yourself in a different light, and though you want to return to your normal life, you also take value from the places you have been.

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Have you experienced anything unexpected along the way?

When I first started, I just packed a suitcase and I flew to California. I had my truck driver licence in 2007 but I never did anything with it because I went to college. When I arrived to California I was expected to drive a big truck — the kind I didn’t drive since 2007, and that was only for a little bit. So I was unsure about handling it. Will I be able to be trusted with this truck, will the company trust me to do it, and will I remember to start it up and drive it around myself?

In the first 3 days I was with my Indian friend who was accompanying me in the truck. We were driving around together and I felt reassured. But he soon flew out to India for a holiday and I was left to my own devices. I had to drive this truck around myself. I was frankly, nervous.

The company’s owner didn’t trust me yet and wanted to find a client that he and I can go to at the same time. If he could organize this then it means he can be with me and we can go to the same places, so if I needed help he will be there to cater to it.

I was sitting in a hotel room for 3 days. Everyday when you wake up there is a check out time and I was getting close to the check out time. I wasn’t given an assignment, and he didn’t call me yet. So I was thinking should I get the room again? Within the next hour I have to check out of my hotel room and if I did, I’d be left out on the streets without an assignment to go on.

So it hit me how I was almost becoming homeless. I was this close to being left in the middle of nowhere.

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When you had to check out, what happened?

I called him and asked him what I should do. Because I have to check out of my room within an hour. He responded, “just check back into the room for the day”.

That was a sense of relief because I know where I’m sleeping tonight as oppose to standing out on the street with my suitcase and not knowing where I’m going to sleep. He covered the expenses. It’s not like I didn’t have the money, but even though you have money, you want to know you have places to go while you are out there. You want to know where you’ll be going on different times throughout the day, and you want to make sure you can return to a hotel room or somewhere else to stay. As you keep doing this, you are spending money. So my fear of being left in the middle of nowhere and feeling homeless was my money running out. My job assignments keeps the cash flow coming in. This is yet another feature of having an open road experience. I know it’s a great adventure to contemplate going on and being wild and free, but you also have to think about maintaining yourself. It can take work and anxiety.

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Has the scare about being homeless changed your view about homelessness?

I do think about it. It must be very difficult for homeless people. If you are homeless for a while you pretty much have an idea where you will sleep. At the beginning of the transition of having a home to becoming homeless, it’s probably hard for them to accept the uncertainty of where they are going to sleep at night, and are they safe? Where will they get their food from? I felt like they are constantly worrying everyday, and it’s a form of survival. The state of anticipating threat even though it hasn’t yet happened is the life of someone who is homeless or surviving.

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What are your tips for saving money on the road?

My tips are to become a company truck driver and your only traveling expense will be food [laughs]. You barely have to pay for even your food because of the award points you get for fueling the truck. Think about it people — if you want to have an extensive road experience, don’t be afraid to work a little.

Have you ever returned home to visit your family?

Yes, I have. As I said, everything is stable and good with my family. But there’s a dark side that I want to share. Recently I went home for the second time to take a break from my road trip. A friend of the family is living in my old bedroom. So I’m having to sleep in the living room. My spot is taken. I went to my sister’s house and she was going to the mall, so she said, “oh I forgot that there’s no room in car. There are 3 car seats”. I had to either take my own ride to the mall or not go at all. So life has moved on without me. That’s how I felt.

I am the youngest child so I’m used to being spoiled. Beyond this is the realization that things have moved on, and you have to make your own way in the world.

I went through a feeling of abandonment. But I know the reality is that my family loves me and accepts me as I am. But when things change with or without you, then it is what it is. That’s life, right?

lance2

How has The People’s Playground accompanied you in your road trip journey?

When I have time to check the internet, I go to The People’s Playground and feel happy when I’m reading other people’s stories. I know Natalie talked about her move, I know Paul recently moved to Seattle and everyone else are talking about their experiences and plans. I like seeing other people making moves in their lives as they talk about it and obviously the similarities and interests we share among each other because we are a whole bunch of creatives or ambitious people. In this way, The People’s Playground has helped me keep a sense of connection with other people and the world while I’m on the road.

In fact, I have to share with you about my meeting with Julie along my journey on the road. We met in Virginia.

julie and lance

It’s great to connect with people from the People’s Playground crew online. She is a kind soul and went out of her way to bring me some Chinese food. We sat and talked for an hour. It was refreshing as I only see strangers everyday, but Julie is someone I see or read on on the regular in The People’s Playground.

Although I enjoy mystery, being unknown to strangers and spending time with them, I still feel connected to these strangers because we are all doing the same job and have a respect for each other.

My experiences are continuous at this point. There is a new adventure everyday. Hopefully, I get a chance to share a part two of my journey. I hope to meet more Playgrounders as I’ve spoken to a few of them who I might end up crossing paths with.

Lastly, but not least, I ran out of fuel at some point near New Mexico. There was an exhibit about cars, some kind of retro style cars, so I stopped to take a look.

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