I’m 34. I was born in Rochester and have never left. I’m the Operations Manager for the National Braille Association, and currently in my third year there. Prior, I worked with people with developmental disabilities in a number of different roles which I started right out of high school. I believe I will always have to work in a capacity that in some way serves people and the greater good, regardless of the fact that serving people isn’t usually a high-paying gig. I obtained a BS in Health Science from SUNY Brockport.
I began playing cello in 5th grade, but switched to guitar a few years later, and have picked up a couple other instruments here and there over the years. Though, I’ve always just played for my own enjoyment and to occupy my brain. My hobbies probably can easily be categorized under: Learning. I usually decide to learn something new just for the sake of doing so, and push the limits of doing so until I discover my next new project. More specifically, my hobbies either are or have been: skateboarding, guitar and ukulele, yoga, canoeing, rock climbing, collecting tobacciana, collecting CDs, reading.
Most recently my hobbies have involved learning how to use WordPress and get the most out of having two self-hosted blogs, and constantly finding new places to explore and write about on those blogs–easily my most time-consuming hobby ever! Probably one of my favorite places to be is outside with my feet up smoking a cigar with a great cup of coffee.
2. Chris’s blogs:
In the fall of 2011, my good friend Luke Myer and I were chatting over a cigar and talking about the places we’d been and seen. We were also talking about spirituality and interesting beliefs that exist in the religious realm. We realized that each of us were in our early 30’s and had done and seen things in other areas, but had never gone and seen things in our own backyards of Rochester, NY. Upstate NY is known for being one of the most prolific lands in the world in terms of birthing new ideas about spirituality, and we had never explored most of them in person. We set out by making a list of about 20 places to visit and started out the first weekend of 2012. Since I had never had a blog and wanted to learn how to design and keep one, we decided to chronicle our visits by blogging about the places we went.
Exploring The Burned Over District started that first weekend of 2012 and at the time of me writing this, we’ve visited 30 different belief systems, about 65 sites, been provided experiences that most people don’t get in a lifetime, and seen things that even some of the most devout followers of some religions haven’t been privy to. We originally just thought our moms would be reading, but we’ve found a readership that has spanned a much broader niche than we originally thought, and the experiences have delved much deeper than just going in and looking around places like we had originally anticipated. It’s been an incredible adventure, and that list that we started with only gets longer with each place we visit.
In July 2013, I started another blog, The Curious and Uncommon to chronicle my interest in weird, unique oddities that I come across in my travels. It’s not uncommon for me to find out about something like the largest ball of yarn and obsess over it until I can go see it in person. Friends and family that follow me on social media sites started asking more about the places I was visiting, and started asking advice on what would be cool for them to go see. I decided it was best to have it all in one spot and now people can read the stories and histories and see everything that I see all in one spot.
I can’t begin to explain how much I’ve learned in two years about how to build a blog in WordPress, integrate it with the rest of the internet, ensure that it shows up high in search engine results, take web appropriate photos (still struggle with that one), network with new people and research new places. Each blog sometimes feels like a full time job by itself, but the experiences have totally been worth the hard work, and sometimes frustrating experience of getting WordPress to do what I want, when I want it (which is always immediately, of course!).
3. Curious and uncommon are two words that I would use to describe you. Also: inquisitive, enthusiastic, thoughtful, passionate. What I find uncommon about you is the fact that you maintained a sense of child-like wonderment in the world around you. Were you an inquisitive child? How have you kept your curiosity intact?
I was definitely an inquisitive kid. I’m not really sure I know why I wonder about things. Wonderment must be a function of imagination right? It’s the element that makes us go a bit further outside our comfort zone and say, “Hhmm, maybe I’ll like raw oysters, I’ve never tried them!” and makes me think, “Well, a lot of people say [any comment] about [any politician], I wonder if it’s true or not?” When it comes to things like the latter, I often worry that it’s a matter of skepticism, but that mistrust I think pushes us to find our own truths. Right now I’m in the process of buying a home, and I’m finding that I’m researching every tiny little aspect of the process, right down to the history of indemnity insurances on a title. If a realtor tells me, ‘Oh that crack is no big deal’ I want to know if it really is or not, and why it isn’t–it’s daunting to not take other peoples’ word for it!
I remember the exact moment in college, while taking a class that followed the book ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ where I had somewhat of a minor mental breakdown. The stress of trying to determine some of life’s answers forced me in to a state of acceptance that sometimes questions just don’t have answers, and that’s ok too. I think this is where faith kicks in and says, ‘I dunno why I believe this, but I do and that’s fine.’ I find that being at peace with that acceptance wanes regularly.
4. Rochester is a veritable treasure trove of interesting places and history. People talk about seeking travel and adventure, without truly exploring their own hometown. What inspires you to dig so deeply into your world?
I think this came a lot later in my life in terms of wanting to know local history. As a kid I constantly played in the woods around my house, and explored falling down barns in the area and stuff, but in a lot of ways it was just because it was there. As an early teenager I did a ton of reading, but it was all about otherworldly things, or the classics (John Steinbeck was by far my favorite author, with Kurt Vonnegut a close second).
As I got older and began to learn little things like a Jack The Ripper suspect being buried in Rochester, or the Fox Sisters who founded Spiritualism discovered their talents right in Newark, it kept me thinking, ‘What the hell?! What other totally cool things are here that I never knew about?? I need to go find these things!!”
5. You have worked with people with developmental disabilities. How has this affected your perspective on your own life? What gifts has this type of service given you?
When I was a kid while in a babysitting group, there was a girl, Brooke, who had some form of autism. She’d do things like walk up to kids playing with blocks and knock them all down—it was infuriating. Not too long after that, my mom got a job working in a school with kids with developmental disabilities and brought me to work with her one day. I was terrified and sick to my stomach, I had never been in an area with so many kids who had ‘so many problems’. By lunch time, I had somehow learned to like many of those kids more than many of the kids I went to school with. I was picked on a lot as a kid for being too small, or having glasses, or not being athletic and having asthma. Those kids had it wwaayy worse than I did, and they weren’t picking on each other. They were just doing whatever was in front of them. Weeks after graduating from high school I got a job in that very same school and then later on I worked in a number of different positions at a local nonprofit serving adults with developmental disabilities.
The entire process of working with and for people with developmental disabilities has taught me this: I’m really not as important as I sometimes think I am. I don’t think we should dishonor the fact that we all have struggles and stressors, but when I’m trying to figure out how to jailbreak my iPhone so I can get the icons I prefer instead of the ones that Apple puts on the phone, it’s important to for me to keep in mind the fact that there are countless people around the entire world struggling just to achieve basic goals that almost have been handed to me.
While at SUNY Brockport I volunteered during the Empire State Games. A mother and her daughter came in to the rock climbing wall I was working. The daughter could only make a few vocal noises indicating yes or no, and only had the ability to move her head on her own. Her mother said she wanted to the climb the rock wall. The guy I was working with and I looked at each other and wore looks of “Are you freakin’ kidding me?? How are we gonna do that?!” We set to work creating some ridiculous harness system of webbing and we basically pulled her up the wall with a rope while I moved her hands on to each the holds. The girl laughed and squealed the entire time, and her mother smiled through tears and thanked us, but I don’t think it was us really, it was the entire situation and individuals being open to it. There is by far no greater reward that I’ve experienced than watching a person do something they didn’t think they were capable of.
6. It seems to me that people blog and delve into other forms of media in an effort to build online community. How satisfying can an online community truly be?
I think the online community thing has a lot of pros and cons. I’ve always jumped in on whatever newest online community arises, dating all the way back to LiveJournal—things have changed immensely. Because of the internet and digital interactions I’ve been able to connect with people from all over on topics that interest me, making my support network and available resources vastly immediate. I can’t tell you how many times Verizon Wireless says something isn’t possible to do with my phone, and posting the question online somewhere I get answers from all over the world in a few short minutes telling me how easy it is to complete. The functional aspects of the internet are immense and I think the exponentially increasing advancements we’ve made in thought and awareness are in large part due to the availability of information.
Unfortunately, I think there are plenty of struggles that come with that accessibility too. I think there are a lot of aspects of communication that are lost in the translation to plain text, and intention is easily misconstrued. However, the fact that information can so easily be shared, means that incorrect information and malicious intent are that much easier to disseminate. Plus, between email, texts, IMs and all the social networks, sometimes the online world becomes far too consuming, and just plain keeping up with messages coming in is a task in itself.
7. Imagine that you could safely travel through time. Where would you want to go and why? Would you want to be a fly-on-the-wall, or to interact?
I would most definitely want to be in the Middle East at the time that Christ was walking the Earth. There’s soooo many unanswered questions in our present day that date back to that time period. A fly on the wall I think would be plenty for me. Some of those ‘questions that just don’t have answers’ from above might end up with a few answers!
8. Name a person, either historic or current, that you’d be most interested to meet. What would you want to talk about?
George Washington. There’s so much talk today about ‘The country was founded on [insert whatever principle]’ and ‘The founding fathers really meant [insert any self-serving concept of present day]’ I want to be able to ask him, “hey man, did you guys really think it was cool for just any old person to own automatic weapons just for the hell of it??” He of course would have to be told what an automatic weapon was first. I don’t think it would solve any current day problems we have, but I’d like to think some people who quote people from history thinking it applies to present day standards would have to stop doing so.
9. If you were to collect a certain historic artifact, what would that be?
I have an interesting curiosity in religious relics. Certain religious groups collect parts of the body of venerated humans for the purposes of worship. The concept to me is incredibly interesting, particularly since there are certain relics that have been counterfeited over and over. At one point in history, 12 different institutions claimed to have the actual foreskin of Christ, and they all claimed it at exactly the same time! If I had the money, and power and connections, I think relics would make a pretty awesome thing to collect.
10. If you were stranded on an island, what would you miss most?
The internet! I’m always connected!
Ren (of Ren and Stimpy). I have no clue why! I loved the cartoon when I was younger, and for some reason his incessant ranting and insanity was something I must’ve connected with!
12. What is your favorite album from your youth?
Workingman’s Dead – The Grateful Dead. There are countless albums that I credit with my survival from as early on as I could begin choosing my own music. A kid in 8th grade lent me his tape of Workingman’s Dead, and when I got on the bus after school to go home, and put the tape in my Walkman and hit ‘play’, the tape was already at the beginning of “Dire Wolf”. From the first few seconds of Jerry Garcia‘s steel pedal guitar, and the vocal harmonies that seemed to float right from my tape deck, I was entirely and unequivocally hooked on the music of the Grateful Dead. The stories and folklore, the harmonies and instrumental genius of the entire band quickly became the only thing I wanted to listen to.
Follow Chris on Twitter at: @cpclemens
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