Brian's Story Corner: On Things
Despite the things I own – some of which are, admittedly, fairly expensive and relative luxuries – I’ve never considered myself to be a particularly material person. I like having the things I have, and I’m more than willing to spend the money it takes to have them: a phone with a good camera, a computer powerful enough to do everything I want as fast as it can, ad-free music.
But once I have those things, I’m content. I don’t throw away every old thing, but neither do I hoard. I’ve never been one for the rat race, never felt motivated simply by the opportunity to acquire more (perhaps somewhat to the chagrin of my family, or at least some of them, who don’t always understand that lacking desire).
I admit I have shared in what seems to be a generational fantasy of my peers, one that is, perhaps, borne out of necessity or desperation or simple acceptance: A romanticizing of minimalism, of what would more realistically be called squalor or even homelessness. Would I actually sacrifice a comfortable home and the amenities I currently possess? Probably not. But I hope you’ll forgive my saying – and I am not alone in saying it – that, from a distance, there is something alluring about living with very little, in a small apartment over a store, or in a one-room cabin on a wooded hill, or in a large vehicle comfortable enough to sleep in.
My point is this: I don’t feel like I have any particular want for things in general.
And yet: As I suspect many people do, I find myself and my family’s home inundated with things.
And, in a material, industrial world, this should come as little surprise to anyone, even those who try their best to avoid gathering such a collection of stuff. It has become the natural state of us. Maybe it always has been. Maybe it traces back to our earliest roots, of hunting and gathering to survive the long days and harsh nights. We huddled together for warmth in the darkness, and the things we were compelled to acquire were what kept us alive. Now we lounge in luxury undreamed of by our ancestors, but something in the memory of our genes compels us still. Hunt. Gather. Get. Keep. An obsolete instinct we have yet to escape, despite our best conscious efforts.
Some of the things we have are our own, what we have taken for ourselves, by money or circumstance. As I said above, I own a fairly nice computer, with accoutrements, which I purchased over several years with earnings from the jobs I’ve had in that time. These are supported currently by a lovely old writing desk that I claimed from a house a friend bought, left behind by the woman who sold it as she had no longer any need for the thing.
Many more of our belongings, I suspect, are given to us. I have bin upon bin and box upon box of books, as most writers probably do, many of which I have not so much as opened in years. Some I purchased myself, but if I were to trace their origin, I believe most were gifts: birthdays, holidays, ends and beginnings of school years, simple gestures of kindness and generosity. Two novels, purchased for me from a used book store by my Fiction professor my freshman year of college; trilogies and longer series of fantasy, given as I grew up and realized what I wanted to do with my life; a more-or-less complete collection of Calvin and Hobbes, acquired after I discovered that wonderful comic in my youth.
Returning to that romantic fantasy of the minimal life, sometimes I consider that I might reduce my belongings to what would fit in my car, that I might be able to move freely from place to place without concern for trucks or vans or movers. But the books alone would fill my sedan, pack the seats and trunk and leave room for precious little else. Could I lighten my load, donate these volumes to friends, family, or a public library? In spite of my claim to an immaterial nature, I doubt it. I’ve gone through my library with each move I’ve made – to college, home again, to Virginia, home again – and each time, it barely shrinks.
And my family and I have far older possessions still. Antiques and heirlooms, hand-me-downs and memories that take the form of physical things. The room my great-grandparents shared still holds some of their clothes, and my Grampa Jack’s belongings from the second World War still rest in his old dresser and a box in the attic. The attic of the old family barn is filled with furniture and belongings that gather dust atop the memories; each piece is a relic that goes untouched, but its origin easily recounted if anyone asks.
These are the most indicative of how we gather our things, how the sediment of lives lived hardens into basements and closets and attics and boxes and spare rooms. Not everything is a sentiment, but everything is a story. An event held. A milestone passed. A goal achieved. A choice made.
I have my diploma from college in its leather case. A letter from my 10th grade AP Government teacher, thanking me for a wonderful year (in our tiny, intimate, and wonderful class of 6 students) and presented with a picture from our class’s outing to meet State Senator Gene Yaw. A scrapbook made for me by my classmates in Massachusetts when I moved 300 miles away.
I have clothes that I remember receiving, but which hold no special significance. I have bins of art and craft supplies from hobbies I no longer pursue. I have video game cartridges for systems that no longer exist, which can no longer even be played.
I do not necessarily want all of these things. I do not seek them out, would not fight tooth and nail against their taking. Some of them I’m sure I will give away, whenever next I catalog my belongings and choose only what I truly want to take with me into the next chapter of life.
And what I leave behind?
They will become new memories, new things, for someone else.
Here at the CommUnity Zone, we’re no strangers to building memories – and gathering things all the while. As we prepare for our own move into a new chapter and new space at the end of the month, we’re looking to share those memories with all of you. Stop by our office during our regular office hours to take whatever you like from our giveaway, and check our social media for some pictures of what we’re offering. It’s all free for the taking, first come-first served!
As a writer, I put a lot of stock in language and the power of words. I went to school for four years with the express purpose of learning how to better use those words and that power. I don’t dare to imagine I’ve become a master of language by any means, but if nothing else, that education enabled me to think critically and deeply about the English language.
How is it that these words have so much strength? I am able, through the use of words – whether as vibrations in the air, ink on a page, or pixels on a screen – to transmit thoughts from my mind into yours. It’s an incredible thing, but even then, it has its limitations. We need those words to have meaning, and sometimes, meaning fails us, at least in our own language.
For an example, a musing on emotion that’s been on my mind quite often, lately: What do you call a nostalgia for something you never had?
I don’t know how universal a feeling this might be. I know I’m not alone in the experience: You can look up that very question and find others searching for an answer. I imagine I’m not alone in the sources for that feeling, either. Songs are a big factor, whether folk melodies or sea songs like I talked about some weeks back, or even very modern, heavier tunes with history as a focus.
My roots in New England do give me some connection to the history and culture of sailing and seafaring, but I hope you’ll forgive me when I admit it’s only a vague, geographic link; I did not grow up in a coastal town, did not experience family members plying their livelihood on the waves. Why, then, do I feel such sadness – such grief, such loss – from songs like Stan Rogers’s “Free in the Harbour?”
I have always lived, naturally, in a modern world, and in a country that is not directly plagued by war. There is no conflict which has called me or any member of my family to take up arms and fight and die in the name of God. So when I listen to “A Lifetime of War,” what is it in Sabaton’s instrumentation and lyrics – telling the story of a war fought centuries ago in a nation I’ve never been to – why does it feel like such a personal story, even in a language not my own?
What word can we use, what power can we lend, to explain such wistfulness, such longing for a thing we have never known, a thing we never could know?
There is a Japanese term, mono no aware. It translates literally as “the pathos of things,” or “an empathy toward things.” More meaningfully, it embodies the concept of an awareness of the impermanence of the world: the temporary nature inherent to everything, the knowledge that experiences and objects cannot last. There’s an emotional element that’s part of the idea: a sadness at the passing of these things, and a deeper, gentle sadness at the simple reality of the concept itself.
The Welsh word hiraeth has no direct English translation. It’s a word deeply centered in the experience of being Welsh, in the culture and history – and the loss of those very things – of Wales and her people. It’s been likened to some sense of yearning, a desire to return to a past that can’t be reclaimed. Translated literally, its closest meaning would be “long gone.” In this very word, I find again the sensation I seek to name: a profound sense of something lost, something once valuable and important that I no longer possess. I’ve never been to Wales.
The Germans, who have many useful words for concepts English has left unnamed, refer to the emotion of sehnsucht. This, too, has imperfect translations: longing, desire, craving. Psychologists have researched this meeting of conscious thought and subconscious feeling, trying to identify its core, trying to determine if it is a uniquely German experience or a more universal aspect of humanity. The research has been inconclusive, as it seems likely that culture plays its part in how we consider ourselves and our position in the wider world. But the sehnsucht is there, it seems: an ambiguous sensation of desires that will never be sated, of ideals for a world we cannot create.
And the Portuguese call something by the name of saudade. This is, perhaps, the closest word for the sensation we cannot name, and yet the broadest in how the word is used. Saudade is a type of music, a style of writing, a foundation of artistic endeavor. It is a melancholy, an aspect of love, a type of sadness, an almost incomprehensible mixture of feelings. It is a historical experience, grounded in the rise and fall of Portugal as a world power, and the identity Portuguese speakers struggle to find in a modern world. It is a universal idea, a longing for something that cannot be found – for something that, perhaps, never existed at all, except in the mind of the sorrowful soul who goes without.
I don’t mean for this blog post to be depressing, because the feeling itself isn’t entirely a bad or sad one. It’s bittersweet. There is a great sadness in the recognition of something lost, something that cannot be regained, something that you never had and never will. But there is something powerfully good in that realization, as well. The humanity of that feeling, that longing, is a reassurance.
And just as every sadness has its joy, if we can feel the sorrow of a loss we never experienced, so too can we feel the wonder of triumphs not our own.
We can turn again to Stan Rogers: I’ve never been part of anything even similar to the sinking and raising of a ship, but I feel the elation and pride of “The Mary Ellen Carter” as surely as any of the sailors in the song. And I’m sure that if you listen, you’ll feel the same.
Zone Update: Projects Galore!
It’s been busy!
That’s not the ONLY reason we haven’t had a blog post in a couple of weeks, but it’s a major one. The idea of this blog is to share stories and updates on the Valley and the Zone, but sometimes the things we intend to update you all about are so big and exciting – and time-consuming – that we don’t have the chance to actually do the updating! So this week, our focus is on just sharing here, in one spot, all the amazing projects we’re working on.
LIVE! FROM LEWISBURG AND THE VARIETY SHOW
The summer isn’t over yet, and we want to keep the spirit of the season going as long as we can. Since June, we’ve been heading up free community concerts with the Live! from Lewisburg series, taking place down at the Piers off Market and 5th Streets behind the Siam Restaurant and Café. It’s a beautiful grassy area, and the summer evenings have been perfect for throwing down a blanket or unfolding a chair and taking in the music.
It’s hard to believe that half of our summer concerts are over, but that just means that half of them are still to come! On August 18th – that’s a week from today! – the Piers will play venue for The Blues Creakers and Hannah Bingman. And the final performance will be courtesy of Lockport Drifters on September 8th. That’s a Wednesday both of those days, and the concerts are free for anyone to come by and listen in; shows start at 7 PM and run for about two hours. Every night’s been comfortable and excellent. If you want to know more, check out our page on the series for pictures and videos from the latest concert!
At the same time, we’re extending the spirit and excitement of these live performances beyond the summer and into the fall. Working in collaboration with the Campus Theatre and the Lewisburg Downtown Partnership, we’re thrilled to be hosting the inaugural Live from Lewisburg Variety Show! this fall on November 21st.
The Variety Show is going to be an incredible, unique, and all-around FUN night of performance, and after the first showing it’ll continue as a monthly event. Live music, or dance, or spoken word, or even actual dog-and-pony acts: we’ll have a little of everything, since it’s a showcase of all the talent around the Susquehanna Valley. It’s a lot to bring together, and we can’t wait for how amazing it’s going to be.
If you’re as excited for the Variety Show as we are, make sure to like it on Facebook and tell your friends and family about it, too! And if you want more info on the show – and maybe even want to audition to take part in this spectacular performance – make sure to visit the official website!
JEWELRY SALE WITH UNION COUNTY CONNECT
In the more immediate future, we’re gearing up to host a joint fundraiser with Union County Connect, one of our newest nonprofit partners in bringing support, art, and joy to our local communities!
Starting on Tuesday, August 24th, and running each day that week through (and including) Friday the 27th, you can stop by the CommUnity Zone office on Market to check out the jewelry sale we’ll be holding! We’ll have a wide range of pieces in a few different styles, so there’s sure to be something for everyone. It’s also a great chance to chat with Farida Zaid about UCC and what they’re up to, and to chat with yours truly about what we’ve got going on here at the Zone.
SUSQUEHANNA VALLEY TIME BANK
Short one, here, but hopefully you can forgive that in light of everything else! We’re still dedicated to getting the Time Bank up and running again, but with all of our other projects, it’s on a bit of a side burner at the moment. Don’t worry, we won’t let it go cold, but some projects are like a steak you want to pan sear with a lot of quick heat, and some get the slow roast treatment, simmering and absorbing all sorts of flavor until they’re tender and –
Maybe I just need to grab some lunch, but the metaphor’s gotten away from me. In any case, we’re figuring out next steps with the Time Bank, and as part of that, we want to hear from you! If you’re interested in being part of the project, especially in any sort of leadership role, let us know – the jewelry sale is a great chance to stop by!
LEWISBURG IN LIGHTS
That’s right: the lights are coming back! Last winter the town was lit up like never before, and this winter we want to do that again and make the display even more spectacular and uplifting. More lights, more designs, more variety… which all means, more people! We’re actively looking for volunteers to take part in things, and while winter might seem like it’s a long way off, it’s never too early to start planning.
If you want to see what this project is all about, check out our page on last year’s success. And if you’d like to take part in cheering up the town and displaying how wonderful Lewisburg is, feel free to contact us – we appreciate all the support that we can get!
There’s always something brewing here at the Zone; usually at least three or four things, as you can probably tell from this post. There are other projects in the works that I haven’t even touched on here, but I don’t want this to stretch on for too long, so here’s some brief sneak peeks:
So as you can see, we’ve got plenty keeping us busy. But we’re not so busy we can’t keep up with you lovely folks! We’ve got Tech Tutoring available as always if anyone needs it, you can always give us a shout on social media or shoot an email, and if nothing else, you know where you can find us to drop by and say hello.
And we’ve got this blog! We’d love to hear your thoughts on the posts, so make sure to hit “like” if you like it, and comment to let me know what you think. We’d also love to have more voices on here, so make sure to contact us if you have an idea for a post or have something written you’d like to share.
Until next time, though, I’d better get back to it!
It’s been a couple of weeks since our last blog post, and for me, that’s because these weeks were busy! We’ve had two concerts – Music in the Park on the 14th and Live! from Lewisburg on the 21st – both of which were excellent. We’ve had lots of movement on other projects we’re working on here at the Zone, which we’ll probably be focusing on in a post within a week or two! And in my personal life, I’ve had plenty to keep me busy, too, including a family visit and helping my dad move furniture.
With all that going on, I didn’t have time for a post last week, and I’ve been struggling to think of what to focus on for this one. But it’s something during that last event I touched on that’s ended up my inspiration here.
The furniture I went to help my dad move was at a house out in State College, so we made the drive in a rented U-Haul that only had an AM/FM radio: no CD, no auxiliary connection for a phone, not even an old cassette tape deck.
Now, as someone who’s always loved music, I have to admit: our area doesn’t exactly always fit my needs when it comes to the radio stations. There’s a few too many pop-country stations and not quite enough variety in rock for my personal taste, if I’m being honest. And anyone who’s made the drive from Williamsport to State College probably knows that there are a few places along the way where the radio selection is even more limited than that.
My dad and I joked about how there are some spots where you only have the choice of a few very specific brands of station, including one that he’d heard on a previous trip playing some of the old, overwrought radio dramas intended to teach children the lessons their writers thought were most important.
I’m sure some of the readers might know the type I mean. I’ve heard them here and there throughout my life, almost always on radio stations during long drives, and usually in rural areas. They’re artifacts of a bygone age. Nobody these days talks the way characters do in the old shows; it’s hard to believe anyone ever did, with how dramatic and saccharine some of them are. Their messages are often as overblown and humorously forward as the writing and acting. After all, for anyone who didn’t live through the Red Scare of the 1950s, it’s tough to listen to an episode of I Was a Communist for the FBI without thinking about how ironic and silly it sounds now.
But by that same token: Radio dramas are a fantastic and fascinating time capsule of culture. The good ones – the ones that are built on good writing and effective use of sound, instead of just oversimplified ideology – the really good ones really work. They can wrap around a listener in the way that a good book does, in an experience that’s much more primal and visceral and real than even the best movies can accomplish.
At their heart, those old radio dramas are the oldest and most powerful form of fiction that we have: oral storytelling. A well-timed revelation; a bit of manipulation to make a sheet of metal sound like thunder, or air through a pipe sound like a banshee’s wail; a bit of music to set the tone and draw the audience in. Without the distraction of pictures on a screen, your imagination gets to run wild, and with a little help from the production, it creates a more vivid image than anything Hollywood can cook up even today.
It’s that sort of storytelling, that sort of radio show, that I connect to. When I was very young, my father was still in the Navy; he wasn’t always there to tuck me in at night and read me a story. So he recorded himself reading my favorite stories on a cassette tape, and I’d get to drift off to his voice and the sound of the turning pages over the clicking of the deck. When I was older, I still loved to have stories to fall asleep to; one of my favorites was a collection of Greek myths on audio tape, complete with musical interludes. I still listen to a CD collection of a 1980 NPR production of The Hobbit, performed with a full voice cast, music, and sound effects.
And it’s not as though the radio show is some archaic, forgotten medium that has lost any relevance or importance. I’m sure nearly everyone reading this would have at least some familiarity with A Prairie Home Companion, the great American radio program that ran for over forty years on NPR. I spent a great many Saturday nights listening to that show, and other hours listening to its segments on tape or CD.
Today, the podcast has by and large replaced the radio show, but it’s that same idea, just in the new digital format. That same notion carries through: the power and presence of audio, the ability of words and sound to capture a listener’s heart and soul. A good performance can whisk you away, make you believe in whatever story is being told, make you laugh at every comedy and weep with every tragedy, make you clap and dance and sing along to the music.
It may be true that, thanks to the ever-onward march of technology, the heyday of radio has come and gone. It may be the case that we mostly look back on the old dramas with a wry grin at how things used to be. But it’s worthwhile to remember their power. After all, it was a radio drama that convinced people the War of the Worlds was really happening in their own towns.
And who knows? Maybe, in that moment where you have only the words and the music, and your whole conscious thought is filled with the story, the show – Maybe, in that moment, it really is real.
Surprise! This blog post links to one of our upcoming projects: the Live from Lewisburg Variety Show, slated to have its first running on November 19th. The goal of the show is to capture the resonance and sensationalism of radio shows of old, brought up to the modern day. If you’re interested in taking part or learning more, make sure to visit the show’s website: https://www.livefromlewisburg.com/
When I’m not working at the CommUnity Zone as the Social Media and Technology Assistant, one of my main hobbies is playing video games, most frequently online games with friends. It’s a pastime I’ve had since high school: When we weren’t in a position to spend time together in person, several of my friends and I would spend afternoons or evenings together in the digital space, competing or cooperating on a wide variety of games.
In college, I did the same, both maintaining connection to friends from back home – regardless of where they might be at that time – and as a way of spending time with new friends I made at Susquehanna. At the university, it was most often a combined physical and digital affair. We might play a game all together on one console and television, sometimes using the large-screen televisions in the dorms’ public rooms or even “renting” a classroom or lecture hall for an event on the weekends. We’d also often bring our own individual TVs and systems into a shared space and play online games with an in-person presence, joking and talking with each other as we played.
Now, I’m something of an introvert. I’m perfectly capable of putting myself in public situations and performances; I acted in high school and college, and most of my jobs have involved public speaking or social interaction on some level. But I’ve always preferred having a small circle of friends to large gatherings, and I’ve never really been the sort to just go out and try to meet new people on my own, especially in person and in social settings with crowds.
As you might imagine, this means I haven’t made a large number of friends outside of regular interactions like school and work, and in fact most of my friends today are still people I met in high school and college. But the beauty of the interactions I do have, and the pastimes that hold them together, means that I’ve kept in close and regular contact with those friends since we departed from our shared physical spaces.
I’ve also, over the years, met new people through that digital space, and encountered one of the huge advantages it has. Because the interaction is taking place online, through the Internet, anyone anywhere in the world can be part of it. The interaction – the connection – the community – isn’t at all limited by physical proximity. I’m in north-central Pennsylvania, but I have friends from across the country: Alabama, Texas, California, Oregon. I have friends abroad: England, Germany, Romania, even someone who used to live in China.
We are friends in much the same way as any friends who might live down the street from each other would be. We’ve told our stories to each other, moments from our childhood and schooling and everyday lives. We share in our ups and downs, laugh at jokes and discuss more serious topics. We look forward to spending time with each other when we can, and we do plan meeting in person when we’re able; one couple is getting married and has invited us to their wedding, which for some will be our first time seeing each other face to face.
That’s the wonder of the Internet: its ability to allow people to have those connections across hundreds of thousands of miles…
Until it doesn’t.
Last Tuesday night – by that I mean the 29th of June, not the 6th of July – at about 11 PM, I was online with my friends playing a particular game that can take many hours to play to completion. We weren’t necessarily planning to play it all the way through in one sitting, but we’d been playing for a few hours and had no intentions of stopping right away.
Amid the storm that had picked up outside my house, I stepped away while we were taking a break to get a drink and something to eat. When I sat back down at my computer, I was met with silence instead of the sounds of laughing and good-natured ribbing about the game so far. After a minute, my computer finally alerted me of what I already suspected: my home Internet was out.
Thankfully, our modern world supports many avenues for communication, and I used my phone’s data connection to send a brief message to the group that I’d lost my Internet and wouldn’t be back on that night. I encouraged them to continue without me, and said I’d hopefully be able to join them again by the next evening.
Little did I know, that wouldn’t be the case. Instead, my Internet was just restored last night, the 8th, a little after 6 PM. The connection had been down for over a week: over 200 hours of relative silence and inactivity from my home. (I say relative: thanks to the aforementioned data on my phone, I was able to vent my frustration about things in text form.)
The point of this blog post isn’t for me to just talk about my hobby and complain about that incident, of course. During that time – a few days of which were also spent at a family church camp I’ve attended most summers since I was 13 – I became really aware of, and thought a great deal about, the nature of that online connection with friends. It feels almost cliché to talk about how often we take things for granted until they’re gone, but ideas become cliché for a reason, and the reason is usually their universal resonance.
I don’t think we have to imagine what it’s like to suddenly lose your usual connection and communication with others. Since early 2020, we’ve all witnessed that impact firsthand in some way. I think what my recent experience really shows is how important the secondary connections have become, how powerful the Internet can be in allowing for that sense of community and friendship and belonging, and how difficult it can be to lose that.
We live in a world that’s more interconnected than it ever has been, but those connections can be more tenuous than we realize. When we do lose them, if only temporarily, it can be a great opportunity to rediscover just how important relationships and community truly are for our lives.
Hold that feeling, the way I am now, the way I hope to hold it as long as I can. Hold onto how vital connection is. Maintain that connectivity, support those friendships and the community you have, whatever form they might take or whatever medium they might use.
And the next time a storm rolls through, make sure to let your friends know you’ll be back as soon as you can.
Online connections are a huge part of our modern, digital age, and we take no exception to that! Make sure to join us on Facebook by going to facebook.com/lewisburgzone, and you can follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/CommUnityZonePA. We’re always looking for new faces and friends in-person, too, so feel free to contact us if you’re interested in stopping by our office on Market; we’d love to say hello!
They say that trends and fads are cyclical in history: What’s popular today might be out of fashion tomorrow, but give it enough time and it’ll come back. There are plenty of examples of this phenomenon. Leather jackets, high-waisted jeans, peasant blouses, and more types of clothing have gone in and out of trending styles since their introductions. Words and phrases seem to come and go from the public dialogue, rising and falling on the ever-changing tides of popularity. Some trends move quickly, others slowly.
And late last year, into the beginning of this year, a very strange and long-cycled trend came to pass. In an unusual turn of events, the most modern of systems – the ability of the Internet and video-sharing apps, in this case TikTok, to create viral phenomena that spread like wildfire across the public conscious – was used to resurrect and make popular again a music genre that had by and large faded into obscurity and obsolescence.
Amid a global pandemic and political unrest, in the waning days of 2020, the sea shanty (or, more accurately, sea song) suddenly had an outburst of popularity.
It started with one song, “Soon May the Wellerman Come,” being sung by one voice and offered into the public sphere. But just like the shanties themselves that filled the air of sailing vessels centuries ago, this simple rendition was soon joined by other voices. More and more people across the world joined in with singing that song, and soon other shanties as well. Thousands or even millions of new renditions and duets and choruses have been created as people all across the globe discovered the wonder and fun of this centuries-old musical genre.
I’m no stranger to it myself. I didn’t get immediately involved in the first wave of the sea songs’ new popularity, but I’ve been familiar with them for a long time. Growing up in Massachusetts and having plenty of interest in history and heritage, it’s impossible to think I’d have even reached 10 years old without knowing something about New England’s long history with sailing and whaling. Add to that family who served in the Navy, and a grandfather who makes annual trips with the windjammers that still sail the coast the way they did 300 years ago, and I’ve had at least a little relation to sailing and sea songs for most of my life.
Now, more recently, I’ve had some of my own personal projects related to that era of history, and that culture of sailing in the Ages of Exploration and Colonization. And it really is impossible to divorce that culture from the songs that were such a huge part of it. In an age where oral storytelling was the most common kind, and a setting where a sailor’s voice was the only instrument they might reliably have at hand, those songs were everything.
I’ve been adding songs to playlists for music while I work or drive or just want to relax. I’ve learned and rewritten lyrics, and even recorded myself singing for one of my projects. I’ve shared these songs with family and friends, and caught them humming or whistling or singing along after even a single verse or chorus.
But it’s been a long time since the Age of Sail. Relatively few men and women still ply a trade on board ships at all, let alone on ships driven solely by wind and sail, adrift on the ocean for weeks at a time with no other options for entertainment or respite. So what is it about these songs that can reach across the years and call out to something in our modern, landlocked hearts?
It seems to me that the answer is in the purpose and meaning of the songs: the sensations and experiences they capture, the emotions they spark, the stories they tell. In a blog post from a couple weeks ago, I touched on the importance of music, but I think it’s worth realizing just how much of a cultural touchstone and centerpiece music can be. The oldest instrument we’ve found is a flute dated to be 60,000 years old, likely carved by a Neanderthal in an age we can only imagine. Music has been a part of human history for a long time, and always it has served to inspire us, to fill our hearts and minds with memories not our own.
The shanties and sea songs were no different in that regard, but they were also grounded in the experiences of the men and women who sang them. They likely grew directly from popular folk songs of the day and the oral storytelling traditions of the lands from which those sailors came.
Shanties in particular were work songs. Their simple melodies would have been familiar to many sailors, drawn from popular folk songs, and easy to learn and remember. They were constructed around straightforward verses that often had lyrics that were either plainly descriptive or more or less without any meaning, followed by refrains where all hands would join in both the singing and the work. The rhythm of the shanty was formed entirely around the work to be done, with refrains having obvious places for hauling lines, heaving weights, or pumping water.
The broader category of sea songs – sometimes called forecastle songs or forebitters – saw more use for entertainment and relaxation, and were more largely used for storytelling. And it’s that aspect that I think is what makes them still so relatable and popular, especially in the uncertain world of today. The songs of sailors long at sea were focused on the experiences those sailors knew: the joy of returning to port; the sorrowful resignation of returning to sea; the danger of the ocean, and the rewards it could bring.
Considered in those terms, we can’t relate. But broaden the view and the connection becomes clear. Are our lives so different after all? Don’t we know the perils of an uncertain existence, a world where day-to-day life seems fraught with unknown dangers and where chaos seems to be the rule? Can’t we understand the simple and overwhelming comfort of returning to home, to safety and the familiar? Are we so distanced from the mixed blessings of a life where risk and reward too often meet?
We are all of us sailors and whalers still, forging our own way through a world we rarely understand. We are all of us beset on all sides by waves of uncertainty, with no choice but to batten down the hatches and weather the storm. We don’t always know what will be on the other side of those dark thunderheads. We don’t always have the comforts of home. But we have one another, our fellow passengers and crewmates and family on this voyage of life. We have the songs we sing together, our voices raised in triumph and sorrow and defiance and remembrance and passion and community.
We have our songs, our shanties, our stories. May they ever be raised to the wind and rain, regardless of the years that pass or the lives we lead.
If you, too, would like to join in the community of storytelling and song, then please attend the free concerts offered by the LIVE! from Lewisburg and Music in the Park series. Make sure to also keep an eye out for updates on the LIVE! from Lewisburg Variety Show, which will be our own effort to capture the elation and fun of community entertainment in a format from yester-year.
Brian's Story Corner: Time is Money
“Time is money.”
Benjamin Franklin wasn’t actually the originator of this time-honored phrase; while he did include it in an essay, the phrase had already appeared in a newspaper by 1719. 300 years later, I think most of us are still familiar with the basic concept of the phrase – at least, to some extent.
It’s a sort of Puritan idea in its original intent: Because you could be making money with your time, any time when you aren’t making money amounts to money lost. The phrase was intended to be a warning against laziness and idleness, two of the greatest common sins that could be committed in the work-centered culture of the early American colonies. The rooting in that time and setting is obvious, along with the assumptions it makes about working, payment, and the importance and virtue of making money.
In our modern world, we tend to use the same phrase in a different context, and with a bit less strict of a meaning. Our focus is less on the idea of actively losing money by not working, and more on the importance of efficient use of time. In a world of hourly wages, every minute counts towards that paycheck. With the breakneck pace of a digital world, everyone is constantly striving to have the fastest turnaround time, the quickest marketing, the narrowest gap between a need arising and meeting that need – with accompanying payment, of course.
When time is money, there’s no time to waste. No time for frivolous pursuits like entertainment or relaxation; no time for slower efforts or second checks or anything less than the most efficient options; maybe no time even for volunteering or any labor that doesn’t receive the best compensation it could.
But what if we could take a less cynical and miserly approach to that same idea?
It’s an irrefutable fact that modern American culture is still largely founded on ideas that were brought here in our nation’s infancy. Ideas of society and how it should operate came across the sea, carried by the colonists who dared to leave their homes for a New World. As the colonies of North America were formed and shaped, those ideas were tested and adapted as well. As the United States began its westward expansion, new ideas were formed as well, either brought by new waves of immigrants, learned from native populations, or shaped wholesale from the experiences that settlers had as they spread from Atlantic to Pacific.
Throughout all this time, though, and amid all the many swirling cultures and experiences that shaped the ever-changing and myriad ideas of American society, one thread has remained clear. The average American concept surrounding work and money, especially in the northeastern region of our country, is very much rooted in the beliefs that the early New England settlers had.
They’re the old Puritan and Quaker values about an honest hard day’s work. Ben Franklin, himself having lived throughout the New England and Mid-Atlantic colonies, did an admirable job of collecting, cataloguing, and creating many of the common sayings and aphorisms that summarize those feelings (although many have been changed over time, or misattributed).
“A penny saved is a penny earned” – Don’t waste your money, because it’s twice as valuable if you save it for when you need it later.
“Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise” – Getting proper rest is important, so you can be productive and proper in your waking life.
“God helps them that help themselves” – Prayer and religion were central to the life of many colonists, but even God didn’t hand out charity or help anyone for free.
And, of course, “Time is money.”
But even with such a clear focus on the all-important work day, it’s clear that early American colonists weren’t purely concerned with earning money, and neither were generations that came after them. We have countless anecdotes and stories and accounts of charitable endeavors by individuals and communities to help one another.
Someone’s house or barn is destroyed or damaged, and the whole town pitches in to help with repairs or raise a new structure. A farmer doesn’t have enough hands to bring in the harvest, so his neighbors help to make sure all the crops are brought in. And more recently, there are so many records of neighbors and community members looking after their own. The so-called “penny auctions” of the Great Depression are one of the most famous and recognizable movements of this kind: whole towns would come together to buy foreclosed properties for ridiculously low prices from the banks, only to turn around and return them to the original owners, so they could continue living in their homes.
So even if time is money, it can’t be as simple as a conversion from minutes or hours to dollars and cents. Our communities have always been built around supporting one another: you give time and effort into the community, because the community will give that time and effort back to you. “Time is money” doesn’t have to mean a relationship between time spent and money earned; it can be about time itself as a sort of currency, one that can be exchanged back and forth for goods and services.
It seems like an almost foreign concept in a modern world that often feels so impersonal and so obsessed with chasing the dollar – and yet, now more than ever, that idea seems to be making a comeback.
It’s the idea behind time banks: community-driven organizations for the exchange of time itself as a unit of “currency” between members. Put time in by contributing to the community with skills you already have; get time out from other members by requesting services they can already offer.
One member might offer music lessons for someone else, meeting with them for an hour or two on whatever schedule might work for them. In exchange, they use those hours to request that someone help them with yardwork, or house cleaning. The person who helps with that work uses the hours they earned to get a babysitter. And the whole community can come together for a potluck dinner, all earning and spending their hours to have a great meal and an evening of togetherness.
Normally, you’d think of all those activities as ones driven by the dollar economy. You pay for the music lessons; you hire someone for the yardwork; you pay the babysitter; you spend for a night out at a restaurant. But thanks to the time bank, none of the members had to spend any money.
In this case? “Money is time.”
If you’re interested in joining our community’s very own time bank, the Susquehanna Valley Time Bank, make sure to visit our website’s page:
From there, you can join the time bank and take part in this exciting opportunity to give and receive as part of the community.
Brian's Story Corner: Music!
Yesterday evening was the first concert for this summer's run of LIVE! from Lewisburg, which was an amazingly fun and exciting event. I'll admit it was also a bit exhausting, in a very good way! We got up even before the crack of dawn on Tuesday morning to promote the show live on WNEP's morning news cycle, and of course on the day of there was lots of setup to take care of - and then packing things up after the concert was over.
In any case, the whole thing has music on my mind, so I suppose that's the purpose of this week's update from me. I'm sure I'm not alone in saying that music has always been a big part of my life, and a driving factor for my involvement in the communities where I live. Growing up, I was introduced to a wide range of music by my parents: classic rock, country, jazz, folk songs, Broadway soundtracks, blues... About the only thing I don't remember hearing regularly throughout my youth is hip-hop or rap, and I've added even those to the mix of music I listen to now. Reader beware if you ever ask me what's on my playlists: it's an eclectic mix at best!
So music has always been part of my life, and the only thing that's changed about that over the years and the places I've lived is which radio stations I listen to. (One of the few things I really miss about New England - rock is my favorite, and in my opinion we have too few good rock stations in the Valley. Oh well.)
But music isn't something that happens in a vacuum on your own, not when you get really involved with it. Music means performance, and that means events happening around you! Concerts, shows, even just listening to music with other people: it's something that brings us together. I made a lot of friends through my school years by being part of the concert bands, and I've bonded with people throughout my life over the artists and songs that we like. And here's something fun to think about: every time you're singing along to the radio in your car, you're probably performing in unison with hundreds or thousands of other people tuned into that same station.
That's the sort of connection that music can bring to any community. And we're very hopeful and excited for all the connecting that the LIVE! from Lewisburg concerts will bring all summer long! I know I had a blast last night - I hope everyone who made it did, too, and I'm sure everyone will when they attend the next one.
Hello, one and all! This is Brian LeBlanc, the new Social Media and Technology Assistant with the CommUnity Zone, writing to you. I'm excited to be here, and excited to be part of things, and excited to be returning our blog to you folks! We're hoping that this will be a great space to let you all know what's new in the Susquehanna Valley, and for all of us to get to know each other a little better through what might be the best medium for it: storytelling.
I may be new to the CommUnity Zone and my direct involvement with Lewisburg, but I'm certainly no stranger to the area. I was born in Rhode Island, and spent my first 10 years in New England, mostly in western Massachusetts. But in 2006, my father was looking for a new job, and ended up finding a position in Pennsylvania, working for a college. He moved down to begin working while the rest of our family started packing and preparing to sell our house; I was the last to move because of commitments and opportunities with my schooling. By the end of the year, though, we were more or less set to move, and in January of 2007 we moved to a temporary home with my grandparents while we looked for a house to buy in proximity to Bucknell University.
Things ended up shaking out so I didn't move directly to Lewisburg - an older relative with property across the way from my grandparents' house ended up selling their house not long after we moved, and by the summer we were moving to that house up near Williamsport. That's where I lived all through the rest of middle and high school, but much of the entire Susquehanna Valley became familiar to me with time. My father worked in Lewisburg for Bucknell; I attended a summer camp in Mifflinburg; our church's synod assemblies, of which I was frequently a youth member, took place at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove. When I was looking for a college to attend myself, I visited schools up and down the East Coast, but ultimately the place that felt most at home was Susquehanna University, and so I spent four more of my most formative years in this wonderful area. And after a brief stint in Virginia, working at a few teaching jobs, I've found my way back to Williamsport and Lewisburg once more.
And what is it that's so drawing, so compelling, so simply beautiful about the Susquehanna Valley? I've explored it in the Creative Writing program at college, where a number of other students - locals and those from far away - felt the need to do the same. It may be one of those intangible feelings that eludes words. But there is something about this place that captivates and delights the people who spend any length of time here.
In part it must be the environment. The hills and forests and mountains that surround and occasionally punch through our valley lend a sense of hominess, a closeness and an enfolding security, as though the land itself wraps around us like loving arms. The fields and gulleys stretch for miles, green pastures that seem comforting under rain and sun alike. And, of course, the rivers: winding, burbling, constant things, the very heart and soul of the region, with the valley's namesake earning that distinction years after year. Water and rivers have always been the wellsprings of life, and all it takes is one morning or afternoon at the riverbank to realize how little that's changed in all our human years.
But more so than just a beautiful landscape, I think we boast, in our little Valley, a beautiful people. We have our struggles, to be sure, but it seems to me - having grown up in New England, and spent two years in Virginia - that the community of this region fits that word the best of any place I've lived. This is a place where people greet one another, where people know one another, where connections flourish. In the few weeks I've spent at the CommUnity Zone, it seems that every other day I meet someone new who's stopping by, often just to say hello.
This is a community: a place of neighbors and friends and families, a place of potluck dinners and local live music, a place of mornings and afternoons and evenings spent in backyards and at locally owned restaurants and down by the riverbanks.
This is home.
Being unemployed or underemployed isn’t necessarily a bad thing for us and more importantly it may be good for our community. If you think this is a wild assertion, read on.
As late as the mid-19th century, the modern concept of “unemployment” didn’t exist in the United States. Most people lived on farms, and while paid work came and went, home industry—canning, sewing, and carpentry—was a constant. Even in the worst economic panics, people typically found productive things to do in their communities. The despondency and helplessness of unemployment were discovered, to the bafflement and dismay of cultural critics, only after factory work became dominant and cities swelled. It was also true that the family unit was secure and was more closely reliant on each other.
Today, that close family unit has been in many cases, dismantled. And, one theory of work holds that people tend to see and describe themselves in terms of their jobs, careers, or callings. Individuals who say their work is “just a job” emphasize that they are working for money rather than aligning themselves with any higher purpose. Those with pure careerist ambitions are focused not only on income but also on the status that comes with promotions and the growing renown of their peers. In the latter, one pursues a calling not only for pay or status, but also for the intrinsic fulfillment of the work itself.
Perhaps we should look at our capacity for compassion, deep understanding and our creative minds for the answers to our current woes and to our future. Even if you are financially stable, simple leisure is certainly one outcome of the increasing loss of job opportunities, but I would argue that many of us can and should look passionately to find ways to find fulfillment and build productive communities outside the workforce. The very things that help many of us are a routine, an absorbing distraction, a daily purpose, an identity, and a creative activity that leads to a sense of our autonomy. What if we could find ways to find meaningful work without formal wages and a steady job, but instead through a number of other avenues of payment including a bartering system or one of money paid at the completion of a task that would not only satisfy ourselves but be good for our community?
Do you believe, as have many proposed, that we are heading for an dystopian future sitting on a couch wasting time or worse, entering into a life of crime, as witness to our growing and burgeoning prison system will attest, or do you ascribe to the notion of living a life full of purpose and fulfillment that can be achieved with community support and guidance?
Do you have an opinion whether we should be looking to our universities to embrace the notion that they should once again be cultural centers of inquiry instead of what they seem to be today, another job preparation center?
We need your voice and expertise to get some very exciting initiatives going. We believe the answers to the questions and concerns of our time rest with us the individual and not with government. History is clear on this issue; true and lasting change always begins and eventually happens from the bottom up and never from the top down. Civil Rights, Women’s Suffrage, Marriage Equality, Affordable Care Act, and the list go on. All of these advances happened on the backs of our sisters and brothers who came before us.
If these questions and assertions interest you, please join us. We are in need of partners and patrons to keep our important work going. You can be a part of bringing us together to work toward positive change anytime, and for as little as $10 per month! Visit, call, or email to discover other levels of support and find out what your support can do!
Not ready to commit? Check out our wish list on our website www.community-zone.org for quick and easy ways to support our mission.
The CommUnity Zone blog features stories and updates from all the team members and other locals.