Archive for January, 2016

Tinkerer’s Syndrome, by Alexander Gasiorowski

If a friend or a loved one displays a mechanical inclination, spends long hours messing with broken gadgets in the garage, and refuses to buy new stuff when he claims the contraption he brought back from the garage “works just fine,” that individual may be afflicted with Tinkerer’s Syndrome. Yes, I just made that up. That individual is likely a tinkerer. “Why do you waste your time? You’re never going to get that thing to work properly, just buy a new one,” you may ask. Once upon a time, products were made to last and when they broke, they were repaired. This is no longer true. Many of the appliances, toys, gadgets and electronics made today are designed to be used for a time and disposed of when either a new, “better” product reaches the market, or when the item fails. Thus, it can be difficult to understand the practical motivation behind being a tinkerer; why a loved one dwells in the garage far into the wee morning hours, trying to determine why the battery charger keeps tripping the circuit breaker. To an individual to whom a broken gadget does not beckon, the mind and motivation of a tinkerer seems foreign.

Dictionary.com defines a tinkerer as: “A person skilled in various kinds of mechanical work; jack-of-all-trades.” I would further augment that definition to include all machines, mechanical, electrical, or other, not just mechanical work. A tinkerer is an individual who casually pursues an understanding of machines by means of first hand analysis or by studying the experiences of others. Being a tinkerer is similar to being a professional in a field, albeit often without formal instruction in that field. A tinkerer often takes a casual approach to technical fields and possesses the skills needed to do simple repairs or modifications to complex equipment, though the quality of work is not up to par with a professional. In a modern, disposable society, the practicality of being a tinkerer is brought into question. The primary goal of the tinkerer is not to bring the item in question back to working order. “Honey, I can fix this, you don’t have to buy a new one,” is just an excuse. Rather, the goal of the tinkerer is to expand his or her understanding the world; to learn the “how’s and why’s” of our world.

My earliest memories are of crushing my thumb with a hammer, attempting to nail together two pieces of wood at the age of two. When I was four, I would disassemble my Buzz Lightyear action figures and reassemble them, mixing and matching parts. At the age of eight, I took an interest in wiring and electricity. I studiously scoured Black and Decker’s Advanced Home Wiring and Basic Troubleshooting and Repairs manuals. Applying what I gleaned, I assembled a number of switched outlet contraptions and lighting circuits, occasionally blowing circuit breakers along the way. In each instance, my activities were not for a practical purpose, rather the goal was to gain a broader understanding of our world. Retrospectively, the questions I was seeking answers to in each of the aforementioned cases were: “How are these pieces of wood held together,” “What pieces make up my action figures,” and “Why do the lights turn on and off when I flip this switch?”

*I have acquired a number of friends I would describe as tinkerers. Like myself, they are all mechanically inclined and take an active interest in learning more about the machines that make up our world. My friends and I all have basic understanding in a wide variety of subject areas while specializing in two or three specific areas. While we are similar in that regard, we often differ in our areas of expertise. I hold an interest in cars and many types of electronics, while a tinkerer friend of mine is interested in woodworking, a field in which I have only basic understanding and minimal interest.

Being a tinkerer has led me to acquire the skills and understanding needed to repair and maintain the majority of appliances, tools, electronics, and other gadgets I own. A tinkerer’s interest in computers and electronics has led to a career in the Information Technology field. My mechanical inclination has helped me to fix and maintain my cars, vehicles with maintenance costs that would otherwise drive me bankrupt. Friends and family have benefited from the free and discounted work I’ve done on their computers, electronics, and automobiles.

If you have a friend or loved one afflicted with Tinkerer’s Syndrome, you’ve likely noticed parallels between the experiences I’ve recanted here and the experiences of that individual. Tinkerers often cannot help themselves. There is no cure for Tinkerer’s Syndrome. Buying a new toaster oven often won’t stop a tinkerer from trying to fix the old one. The best course of action is to be supportive of the endeavors of a tinkerer, understanding that the tinkerer’s goal is not to repair the gadget in question, but to learn from the attempt.



Works Cited

“Tinker” Def. 3 Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 01 Nov. 2015. <Dictionary.com: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/>.

Race, by Alexander Gasiorowski

“You’re late! Get out of bed!” Like ice water splashed on a sleepy face, fear flooded my mind. My crusty morning eyes shot open to see my mother, with a concerned scowl, standing in the doorway of my room. “We need to leave now if you’re going to catch the bus.” Evidently I had overslept. In my groggy state I must have turned off my alarm when it went off half an hour ago. What little grogginess remained was washed away with a splash of icy cold water as I rushed to get ready. It was Saturday morning, the morning of my first cross country meet. If I made it to the bus on time, this would be the first meet I would actually run in. Last week I was so stricken with anxiety that I vomited. Today would be different. Today I would learn to overcome my fear and anxiety.

Over the course of my high school cross country career, my cohorts and I had often joked that our sport is other sport’s punishment. There is certainly truth to that. Cross country is punishing, but the source of my anxiety was never a fear of pain. No, this anxiety ran deeper than a fear of running or of pain. I had a fear of being tested, a fear of reaching my limits, a fear of failure. It has been said that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. My great concern was that when the going got tough, I would fail. I was afraid I would give up and thus I wouldn’t even try.

The last person strides onto the bus just as my mother and I pull into the parking lot. In a mad dash, I grab the bag containing my lunch and a few bottles of water, sprint through the crisp September morning, and slip onto the cozy bus. The bus is practically full, but I find a seat next to another nervous freshman. The old diesel engine roars to life and the bus lumbers forward. Except for the hum of the engine and the noise of the road, the bus is silent. Anxiety hangs sticky in the air. I quench my nervous thirst with a gulp of water and gaze out the moisture-laden window.

It was a half hour drive to the park. By now the sun had burned away the moisture left on the bus’s windows, but the anxiety remained. I busied myself with setting up camp, trying not to think about the challenge awaiting me a few hours from now. My mental avoidance continues through the rest of the morning, though the walk-jog of the course and through the other runners’ races. Fifteen minutes before the start of the race, my teammates and I stand at the starting line preparing to start our warm up stretches. By now the sun had reached its apogee, though the air remained comfortably cool. I spy nearly a hundred other runners surrounding us, everyone in their own little trance, pondering what was to come. From the starting line, three quarters of a mile of open field lay in front of us, followed by a massive hill, with the rest of the course snaking through the forest thereafter.

Out and back, skipping, stretching, jogging, that’s the warm up routine. Loose and limber, I join my comrades at the starting line. A colorful crowd has assembled to our right, emanating a low rumble generated by the collective hushed speech of several hundred spectators. A man stands in the middle of the field, two hundred yards away from the starting line wielding a miniature canon. “One minute to the start of the freshman boy’s race,” A voice booms over the loudspeaker. Thirty seconds later the loudspeaker cracks again: “Thirty seconds.” By now the starting line is silent. Even the great crowd of spectators stands silent. The loudspeaker quips one last time: “Ten nine eight seven six five.” My eyes are fixed on the man with the canon. It is at this point the mental dam breaks forth and the thoughts of the challenge that awaits me flood my mind. Hundreds of people will watch you fail, you can’t succeed. You should give up, why bother trying? But I knew this was coming. I had held back the fear and the doubt long enough. I can’t back down now, it’s far too late for that.

You see it before you hear it. Sound travels significantly slower than light, we all know that, though there are few situations in life where that difference can be experienced. This is one of those. A mighty cloud of smoke bursts forth from the canon. I’m already running by the time the sound hits me. Moments later the cloud of dissipating smoke moves by my moving feet. One foot in front of the other, the course blurs by. Fellow runners, whose race preceded my, own line the openings in the course, cheering me on. I see the faces, I know them, but my mind’s only ponderance is putting one foot in front of the other. Up the hills, down a few more and the end is in sight. The voices echo in my head: “Don’t try to beat the guy next to you. He’s faster. You will lose. You will fail.” The fear clears away, replaced by pure adrenaline as I begin a mad sprint for the finish. I bolt past the negative thought just as I pass the runner next to me. The race is done. I certainly didn’t get first place, but I won nonetheless.

To this day, seven years later, and likely for the rest of my life, I will be hounded by the fear of failure. It never truly vacates my mind. Even so, running cross country throughout high school taught me how to manage my anxiety. It was through cross country that I demonstrated to myself that I am competent and capable. My fear of failure remains strong, but I am ever stronger.

To The Brothers, by Patina Lawson

You are men of color

So, stand up

Understand from which you came

There is no shame

You are the sons of kings

Can’t you see?

Show your pride

Just don’t lay down and die

For your destiny lays in your own hands

For I cannot make you a man

Stop letting society define who and what you are,

Define yourself and self-worth

Stop waiting for change to come

Stand up and make a change.


Her Fire, by Nathan Wohlrabe

A warrior is running through the forest. He is running madly, being chased.  The forest is on fire and it is raging.  He is being chased by demons.  He is slaying these demons with a glistening sword.  Fighting for his life, he feels the heat as a cold embrace of death covers his body in sweat.  He kills demon after demon.  Their deformed bodies and grotesque faces are shrouded by a blazing forest.

He kills and kills until every demon lay dead, and the burning forest takes them.  He is covered in sweat and blood.  He is wounded and bleeding, however the forest continues to burn.  He runs until every inch of his body is on fire with a desire to live.

The fire is behind him; life and pain surround him.  He reaches a pool with a waterfall making soft and gentle music.  He goes to the pool to wash off the blood.  He falls to his knees and begins to cry.  He drinks from the pool like an animal.  He takes off his clothes and walks into the shallow water.  He looks up to see a woman with a pitcher.

She does not frighten but looks at him and she sees him bleeding.  She fills her pitcher from the waterfall and places it on the edge of the pool.  She comes to him in the water.  She takes off part of her clothing and bandages his wounds and covers his nakedness.

She looks into his eyes and says to him, “I saw you running through the forest, and I started the fire.”

A Walk in Our Shoes, by Sarah Krolikowski

The sun was going down and the ground was starting to freeze. I held my sister close to me and whispered, “I’ll keep you warm Lily.” Mom had left us again, supposedly to find us food. She smelled of cigarettes and sweat and I noticed the dark marks on her arm again. This meant another night on the streets, to fend for ourselves. If she did come back, we knew she’d be strung out again. At least she’d come back to find us at some point, unlike our dad, who was stuck in a cell and couldn’t leave.

I wrapped my sister in the extra clothes we had and put socks on her hands. There was no way I was going to let her freeze. I told her we had to start making the voyage. Her eyes filled with tears, but she found enough strength to stand up. “Everything will be okay,” I lied. My plan would allow us to make it through the night though, if trouble is avoided.

We made our way to the grocery store, walking swiftly to stay warm. Inside, the colorful fruits and vegetables immediately caught my eye. I stopped at the apples, inspecting them for imperfections, like any other customer would. The apple was alright, so I stuffed it in my coat pocket. Next stop was the carrots because I knew my sister loved them. As we passed, I knocked a bag onto the floor, and stuffed it in my jacket as I got up. Lily looked at me with sad eyes, as I grabbed her and headed for the door. She was old enough to know the difference between right and wrong, but too young to know the swiping skills.

Nearby was a park, where we found a bench to rest on momentarily. I gave her the carrots and she immediately gorged on them. I ate the apple to the core, and licked my sticky fingers clean. My confidence peaked as I saw her filling up on her healthy snack. It was fuel for me to keep pushing on. “You done for now?” I asked, as I got up and extended a hand to her. “Yeah,” she said quietly as she grabbed my hand and sluggishly rose.

As we continued the journey, I noticed a forested park area in the horizon. “It’s better than a park bench”, I thought to myself. The trees were very close to each other, which would serve as protection from the elements. I sat my sister down and gave the carrots back to her so she could eat the rest. I let her know we were building a fort, like we used to when we were young. She smiled and sprang up, excited to help me. We scavenged twigs and leaves to create our home for the night. To a passerby it looked like a pile of leaves, but it would keep us hidden.  After our fort was made, I tucked her in with leaves and extra clothes we had in our bag. She dozed off almost immediately.

Sleep came easy for Lily, but for me, it seemed virtually impossible. No matter how tired I was, I had to figure out the next plan of action. Every day was a new day to bring us trouble or hope. “Maybe we will run into our mom and she will have food for us and a warm place to take us to?” I thought to myself as I pulled out a picture of my family. In the photo, the sun was shining, with no clouds in sight. That was long time ago though. Whatever was in store for us, I knew my little sister could rely on me. I would make sure trouble didn’t follow her, like it chased our mother.