A spark that lights the candle.

This post serves to be not only my first ever post to my first ever blog, but also attempts to explain just what this blog is meant for and why I am starting it. As a new regional planner in graduate school, I have quite a varied background. In undergrad I varied my studies between social justice, policy, anthropology, environmental sciences, and community organizing. Since leaving undergrad, I have seen my roll in social scenarios to usually serve as a connector, either of networking people to other important people or to resources and information that I find worth sharing. I’m a person that believes that everything is connected in some sort of fashion, ultimately why I have chosen planning as the field I not only want to study but pursue in my professional career.

Since I am almost finished with my first semester of grad school, I needed an outlet where I could start posting the interesting tidbits of information I am finding- along with the numerous amounts of papers, websites, blogs, images, maps, etc. that I not only find interesting but also relevant to planners and those with a planning mindset. I’ve always enjoyed my somehow endowed role as a connector, and so I want to share what I have learned with others, in hopes that my blog can be a resource with a set of tools that can arm every planner’s “knowledge toolbox”. The mindfulness is relative in that it will be my conscious duty to make sure that what I do post is current, relevant (no posts on recipes-that’s for another blog), and that anything posted as “historical” is also accurate.

On the topic of mindfulness, I also have been incorporating the practice of mindfulness in my daily life…baby steps. Many studies have said that over time, Mindfulness Practice can help reduce the body’s reaction to stress triggers while also helping with focus and memory of daily tasks. This is a journey I started a while ago, but now full swing into grad school I find becomes more useful and enjoyable to explore each day. Often times when beginning something new that requires being “in the moment” like in mindfulness practice, yoga, or even writing this blog post, it is usually difficult to get started. Getting in the zone, or “in the moment” takes time and lots of practice, and so one has to get comfortable with being uncomfortable- a phrase I heard back in my undergrad years that has stuck with me. This uncomfortable state of unfamiliarity when starting something new or what we have decided is “hard” can be unsettling and is often the source for why many of us procrastinate and doubt our abilities.

I was reminded of this message this past weekend while at a symposium discussing the relevance of constructing a community design center in Holyoke, MA. In a series of presentations given by local community members and college professors, a lot was discussed without much resolution- just a greater understanding of what to consider was the major takeaway. One Anthropology professor at UMass Amherst, Jonathan Sosa, was giving a presentation on the necessary use of ethnographical social mapping when considering how to work within a community. I hadn’t considered using ethnography as a way to socially map a city, especially in the planning field; needless to say since my roots are in Anthropology this resonated with me and I am excited to make this a part of my engagement strategies with communities in future planning practices.

Holyoke has a strained history with the local colleges, as many have used the struggling city more like a testing lab for surveys of project ideas without often much community participation or real implementation. Sosa mentioned that in any sort of work that involves collaboration with disadvantaged population groups, there can be a tension that is felt but unspoken. Planners, social workers, and other community workers can often be seen as know-alls and experts, and often carry some degree of higher education. He discussed that it is important to recognize and be aware of your privileges when entering any social situation, and to use the uncomfortable feelings in a productive manner to reach greater understanding about yourself and the other group you may be interacting with. He coined it “productive discomfort”.

I left there charged to engage deeper with this “productive discomfort” more in my daily life. I also left feeling extremely motivated to finally start this blog since I felt that I finally had the right title that would serve best to articulate what in fact this blog would be dedicated to. I hope you are inspired after this post in some way- whether that is to consider sipping your coffee mindfully, listening to someone else mindfully, or the fact that there will be significant content on here that you are excited to read!