My Great Grandparents

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Up until a few days ago I had never seen a photo of my great grandparents. I didn’t think I’d ever see a photo of them cause, well if I haven’t seen one so far in my 36.5 years I doubted I’d come across one now. I don’t know much else about it (date? their names?) but here they are on their wedding day. I’ll dig more into this as time goes on, but for now a few things stand out to me:

I see A LOT of my mom in my great grandma. It is like they are carbon copies of each other. Here are a few photos of her over the years that stand out to me…I see the resemblance in their eyes:

I also see a lot of my son Finn in my Mom, so it is very interesting to be able to connect these threads FIVE generations back now. Wow.

It is amazing to think about where we came from, and it is even more amazing to see this in a photograph. All of this couldn’t have come at a more interesting time for me, with the recent news being dominated by my home country’s immigration ban. Because of that this photo isn’t just a photo of my relatives to me. It is a reminder to me that we all come from somewhere. It makes me see how a positive and welcoming approach is what is best for our world. We should welcome others with open arms, give them a chance, and who knows…some amazing things may happen.

The Next Few Years #sharegoodstuff

Don’t worry: this is not a political post. I don’t care who you voted for, and I don’t care to discuss politics with anyone.

What I’m gonna talk about is the next few years and what I believe to be one of the biggest things all of us in this country (and the world to a greater extent) need to practice and learn more about: how to be kind to each other, how to listen to each other, and how to make real and positive changes in our world.

I believe that all of this starts in our heads and in our hearts. First, we must be willing to see the positive parts of our daily lives. When we see those, we see hope and love all around us. Our world changes and instead of being a place where the day-to-day slog happens, it becomes a place of opportunity.

Once this is established, we can have better interactions with other people from day to day. They can be kinder and more focused. We can have the patience to listen to each other and try to understand each other. When we try to understand each other we contribute to a bigger picture: a kinder and more understanding world.

Every action we take creates a ripple. If we act in a more positive and understanding way, I feel like the sum of all of these actions will add up to something great. It is a big thing to think about, but I believe in it. I believe in it because I’ve seen it daily in the public libraries where I have worked. The sharing and borrowing of information creates positive ripple in the world. When you say the world library, most people smile. They see it as a safe and welcoming place. It took years and years of these positive actions to build up those smiles. These positive ripples work.

I’m just one human being, but I promise to be kinder to everyone I met. I promise to listen more closely to everyone that I interact with. I promise to take more actions to make real and positive changes in our world. I promise to #sharegoodstuff.

 

Play Video Games With Your Family

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My son Finn turned 8 on January 17 and one of his gifts was his very own copy of Animal Crossing: New Leaf. My wife Haley and I have been playing the game for over three years and haven’t stopped enjoying it. In those three years, Finn has created his own character in each of our towns and dabbled in the game here and there. As he got older and started learning how to read, one of the things we told him was that he could get his own copy of the game. His eighth birthday seemed like the perfect time to get him his own copy: he’s a pretty great reader, he’s got his own Nintendo 2DS, and it just felt right. We snagged him a copy of the new Animal Crossing: New Leaf Welcome Amiibo game and last night dove into starting up a new town for Finn.

He decided to call his town “Finntopia” and that his in game character would be known as Finnix because “I just like the letter X.” We cozied up on the couch as a family (minus his younger brother Aero, as he went to bed and this was a special Mom/Dad/Finn night) and helped him through the setup process of getting into his own town, finding where to put his house, and more.

Once  all of the setup was complete, Finn opened his town gates and invited Haley and I into his town. It was like the “Mom and Dad, I’d like to invite you to my first apartment/home” moment, but this time it was when he was 8 and it was in Animal Crossing. He showed us around his town, pointed out that he had some pear trees, and introduced us to some of his villagers. We then headed back to the train station but before we left did the parent thing and left him with some gifts and money to help him start his new life in Finntopia.

After playing for about an hour, it was 10pm and we told Finn we were getting tired. He said he was getting tired too. But he had a glow on his face that I will never forget: he finally got his own Animal Crossing town and he also got to spend some time with his parents playing video games. It was a great night where we all got a chance to enjoy something fun, learn something together, and best yet….hang out as a family.

Video games can be awesome family and community building tools!

I’ve written about how fun, learning, and community can happen during gaming in the past. You can read all of those here or head on over to Medium and read this collection on Nintendo games.

2016 Year In Review

PAST YEARS: 2015, 2014, 2013

Let’s get it out of the way before we jump into everything: 2016 wasn’t a great year for most of us and there are way too many reasons out there to put here into this blog so I’m not gonna do that. Let’s try something else, something that we all remember from way back in 2014-2015: positivity.

At the time of this writing, I have successfully arisen from my slumber on 337 out of the 366 days in 2016. I’ve spent most of the time I have been awake during those 337 days doing two things: spending it with my family or working for my community. I don’t have a fancy photo or some numbers to show you to back this up. I can just promise you that my family, our home, and the Benson Memorial Library continue to exist, thrive, and go about doing things that have a positive impact on the world. It’s the only thing that we know how to do.

I have enjoyed listening to all kinds of music. I’ve played so much Animal Crossing: New Leaf. I’ve got to watch some great films. I can’t recall what their titles were but they were enjoyable in the moment.

I did eat way too much food and I didn’t go on enough walks. I am going to do my best to fix that in 2017.

I really enjoyed meeting lots of new people this year as I did some traveling. I think traveling is the best…you get a chance to connect with people you have never met before, and in doing so your world grows and you grow as a person. I never want to stop growing and being a better Justin. I think that’s where my recent obsession with cyborgs comes from. Cyborgs can upgrade and change. I’ve been trying to figure out a way that I can do that myself as a human being. I think I’ve got it!

Goodbye to you 2016. I can’t think of a better way to say au revoir than Bowie’s Lazarus.

This way or no way
You know, I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Now ain’t that just like me

Food Stamps, the Feeling of Failure, Student Loans, and Life as a Library

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Last week, Haley and I applied for food stamps. Our family, which has been going on strong for 11 years and now includes 2 awesome kids, Haley’s mom, our dog Sonic, 3 chickens, and 2 rabbits, have hit a period in our journey where we couldn’t do it without help anymore.

I know that there’s a reason I pay taxes. They are there to help….my family and I, others in need, and more. This is one of those situations where we needed help. I understand this very well. I am all for taxes that help out others in my community. We are all in this together and together we can do amazing things. At the same time there’s a stigma that comes from applying for and using food stamps: that somehow you’ve failed, you’re lazy, or you’re just downright an average human being. I try to have a healthy mind and outlook on everything, but I’ve gotta admit that I’ve fallen into this pit recently. I’m a 36 year old human being, I’ve got a wonderful job which I’m pretty good at, an amazing and happy family, and I’ve done some other things that I’m also really proud of. But here I am at this point where I feel like a failure just because I need some help. It shouldn’t be this way.

We’ve used the support of food stamps before. When Haley and I first got married, we were finishing up college. We both had part time jobs in addition to our full time school workload. The food stamps helped out a lot. Back then, the feeling of being a complete failure because you’re on food stamps wasn’t as big as it is now. Having a family and needing food stamps feels like you’ve hit the bottom. I think about this feeling that I’m having and then I think about all of the others out there who are on food stamps, especially those with families just like mine. What happens when you have all of those people out there in the same situation? You have millions of people out there feeling that they’ve lost all hope, that they’re somehow pathetic, and that they’ve failed. You have millions of people who feel like shit just for wanting to make sure their family doesn’t go hungry. When you have that many people feeling bad in the country, those bad vibes add up. It can’t be proved, but I really think the general malaise surrounding things in our country is somehow related to feelings like this.

On our end, I know that student loan debt is crippling. We’re both on programs that give us flexibility with our payments (income based repayment). While these do help, it’s still tough to have around $100K of debt total hanging over your head just because you went to college, got an education, and pursued a career in something you felt could make a difference in the world. I also understand the argument “well, you went into college knowing full well what would happen.” I’ve heard this many times before. I can see it from two sides: of course I knew (something) about how I’d be in debt once I left college. When I went, they told us about it. Did they tell us the specifics? Sort of kind of maybe not. I started college in 1998 and at that time it was just “oh yeah, you’ll have some debt but it’ll be OK because you’ll be a college graduate.” Most of us became the first great generation of student loan debt holders. And we’re still here! * Can America Afford This Approach to Solving Student Loan Debt? (it’s behind a paywall, but it is a great read) by Haley Sweetland Edwards is a great read that sums up the collective “wow, so much student loan debt”weight of a generation.

The amount of money we spend on student loan debt per month could help us in a lot of ways (FYI: it is around $337/month). First up: it could help with the grocery bills, thus giving us enough money to not go down the food stamp route. Second: it could help with the startup of Fidelia Hall. Have you ever tried starting up a business or a non-profit? Maybe I’m really stupid, but it’s really difficult and confusing…and it costs a lot. Just this week, our Fictitious Name Registration cost us $70 to file an application, $41 to advertise the application in our local newspaper, and $75 to advertise the application in a legal journey. That’s $186, and we’d still have $151 to spend this month on something else (groceries! Fidelia Hall repairs and infrastructure!) What am I trying to get towards? The debt we’re saddling people with for school, health care, and more are crippling us. They’re crippling us mentally. They make us not want to get out of bed. They make us want to sit around and do nothing when what we really want to do is something, because I believe that all human beings (no matter which political side they are on) just want to get things done for their communities. They’re also crippling our ability to move forward and do better things for our communities. You can’t start up a business/non-profit when you don’t have time or money.**

I better wrap this up. We just hit 1,000 words.

I’m not asking for a raise. I’m not asking for donations. I’m not even asking for an “oh man I feel you.” I just wanted to get this out there so that if you’re in a situation similar to this that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. We’re here. We’re successful. We’re pretty happy. We’re in debt and we’re also on food stamps.

*On a side note, I remember credit card companies and banks lining up at the dining halls doing everything they can (“here! have a free beach ball for taking our credit card!”) to get students signed up for their first horrible credit card. They succeeded with me and so many other of my friends.

**Go ahead and leave a comment telling me to suck it up and “pull myself up by the bootstraps just like an American would. I’ve been trying to do this for years. This is just what my Dad said and continues to say. But there’s more to it than “sucking it up” or “taking it like a man” or “pulling up your bootstraps”. There has to be some give and take.

 

My Life

2016 hasn’t been a great year for a lot so far for a lot of reasons and it has really affected me. The negativity and unkindness that is out in the world seems to have risen to the top, casting a shadow over all of the positivity and kindness out there. I never realized how much everything that’s out there can have an effect on a person’s life until 2016.

Your point of view has a huge effect on how you go about your daily life. I am going to do my best to alter my day to day point of view. A lot of this will rely on me largely ignoring the news, social media, and almost everything else happening in the outside world. I’m not going to be horribly ignorant of what’s happening, but at the same time I am just not going to let what is happening consume me. This is my life and my chance to make an impact. I will not let others destroy it.

Recently my days have been filled with the feeling of “I don’t know where to go or what to do”. I love the home that we have built in Pennsylvania. It feels great and the future potential for both Fidelia Hall and Fidelia Home are bursting through the seams. I am part of a greater community: the world. Yet at the same time I have smaller communities that are in my life. One of these is my family and our home. I have a lot of happiness when it comes to these things. I will continue to surround myself with them and let the positivity that exudes from them fill up my soul. Every moment that I can spend with my family is precious and I will not get those moments back. This is our time.

I got kinda lost there for a moment and let the anger and negativity in the world get a hold of me. I will do my best to not let this happen again!

Social Media, 2016

FACEBOOK

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Facebook has become one of the, if not THE, main form of communication. Sharing, messaging, and now live video are the way that we communicate with each other. It is our email, texting, and our own little website. I have ups and downs with Facebook myself. I recognize and respect how important it is, but at the same time have a strong dislike for the service. Sometimes I just don’t want everyone and everything to be in my life. Over this past year I’ve gone from around 1500 “friends” to 770. I want Facebook to be the space I share with the people that I really know, value, and need to have in my life. Gone are most if not all the librarians who I just know because we’re both librarians and gone are the fringe “I think we met once we should connect on Facebook” type of people. I need my net of close friends and family and this is where that happens.

TWITTER

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Twitter has become a news platform and I am happy to see it accepting that role. This is where anyone can go to share links, ideas, and real time events. Periscope, which was acquired by Twitter in 2015, seems to be the future of social media. There is an excitement around Twitter for me these days that I haven’t felt since I first joined the service back in 2008.

INSTAGRAM

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I’ve started and deleted about 5 Instagram accounts. I appreciate what it does and I love seeing beautiful photos that everyone posts, but I just don’t want another place to post my photos. My Facebook profile documents everything from 2005-Present and I also have about 20 years of photos in my Google Photos. Instagram just feels like another step that I should cut out. I do, however, recognize how neat it is for a business. As Haley and I start Fidelia Hall we have used Instagram to share the messages we are putting up on our sign in front of the building. It’s been really neat.

TUMBLR

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Yahoo seems to have sucked all of the fun out of Tumblr. I wasn’t very much into Tumblr in the first place, but I have really come to love how it brings together fringe and passionate groups of people. If you have an interest but you can’t fine a community around that interest…well, try Tumblr. For myself, I use it to “collect” things that make me happy.

MIITOMO

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Miitomo was the big thing for 3 days and then everyone forgot about it. I can’t blame them, as the experience of using Miitomo is kind of clunky at best. This is something that I hope Nintendo really works on (it has gotten better). I probably keep coming back to it because I love all things Nintendo, but I also really enjoy seeing some folks answers to the questions. I feel a close connection to these people and I look forward to reading what they have to say every day.

BLOG

I still believe in the power of blogs and blogging services like Medium. I love how they give everyone who decides to invest time in them a chance to develop their writing and share their ideas.

THINGS I MISS

I mostly miss Branch and Potluck, as I loved the communities that sprung up around those services. I found myself talking to different people and I think it was great for expanding my world view. I know that most of those teams are now at Facebook and I am curious to see what they can bring to the table there.