In Defense of Dandelions – a Jason and Ryan Collaboration

About a month ago, Jason Probst and I decided to become blogging accountability partners. Each week, we must post by midnight on Saturday. Otherwise, we have to buy the other a drink at Social Saturday. Last Saturday night while I may or may not have been finishing last week’s entry while sitting at 21 Santa Fe with the Social Saturday crew, Jason and I realized we had stumbled across the same thought for our blogs this week, so we decided to join forces and post our writing on the topic jointly. We think it worked out pretty well and are planning on doing more of this sort of thing in the future. Be sure to check out Jason’s blog. He has many fantastic pieces to read and contemplate.

And now to our Defense of Dandelions.

From Ryan
“I can come over while you are at work and pull your dandelions for you. Does that work for you?” She said with a smile rather than asked, but still the words caught me off guard to say the least.

I had only purchased my house a few weeks before, and this was either the second or third time I had talked to my neighbor with a great backyard. The idea of pulling dandelions had never occurred to me. I had grown up in the country where they were able to grow to their heart’s content, but suddenly self-conscious of the cute yellow flowers all around where I stood, I felt like I needed to do something to be a good neighbor. This was definitely something never mentioned to me about being a homeowner. Sure, there was mowing the grass, paying property taxes, budgeting for a mortgage, and replacing expensive items like furnaces, air conditioners, and the such; however, killing dandelions was not something on the list.  After thanking her but ultimately declining her offer, I decided it was my neighborly duty to battle the fierce dandelion. Soon armed with one of those silly dandelion removal hand tools, I started to go after each one, and each one pulled led to my admiring their impressive root system. This attempt seemed only to lead to their spreading and coming back with a vengeance. Where there was one suddenly became five, which were all very pretty if I say so myself.
The next step was turning to chemical warfare. However, thanks to the backyard truly belonging to Callie and also thanks to my great love for bees, butterflies, and all sorts of nature, the idea of using a fierce chemical weed killer of any kind was not an option. Rather, I tried boiling water and then later a vinegar mixture. While the Grim Reaper visited some, the persistent dandelions, for the most part, continued on.

The thing, though, is the death of each dandelion pained me a little because, and this is going to be controversial, I am a big fan of them. I always have been, and I will be. Ultimately, they won the battle that summer to gain free reign of my yard, and to be honest, they had long ago won the war for my heart, so today, I am taking a stand and officially joining their side to defend the dandelion.

The dandelion is a fascinating plant to say the least. This Taraxacum species native to the Northern Hemisphere includes anywhere from 60 species to 34 macrospecies/2000 microspecies depending on how technical one would like to get. It is also believed these flowers that produce asexually go back to about 30 million years  and likely came to the United States via the Mayflower thanks to their medicinal purposes. Yep, dandelions have been used as an herbal remedy throughout time and across cultures. The name “dandelion” itself came from the French dent de lion for “lion’s tooth.” Besides bothering people concerned with a perfectly manicured lawn, the little dandelion can have many, many purposes.

For starters, dandelions are a great food source. Bees turn to these little flowers as some of their first food for the season, and needless to say, we should all care about bees. Dandelions are also good for the yard thanks to their ability to pull nutrients up from the depths of the soil to help fertilize grass. Plus, dandelions are great for humans too. They are rich in Vitamin A, C, and K and can be a great place to get calcium, potassium, iron, and magnesium. Furthermore, dandelion wine, dandelion tea, dandelion salads, sautéed dandelion greens, and dandelion syrup are just a few of the many tasty items they can become (check out this site for just a few of the many dandelion recipes out there).

Beyond the many practical purposes though exists another level for the lovely dandelion – that special level that is hard to name but ever so important for it is here where things exist that can bring a smile to one’s face. Just imagine the joy a child can find in picking a dandelion bouquet or making a wish as he or she blows the seeds into the wind to be carried to their eventual new home. Think back to a time when a youngster, with a heart of full love, handed you a single dandelion, which he or she was very proud to give to you. Without a doubt, there is something wondrous about dandelions. Kids can see it, but unfortunately, as we get older, the desire to conform to society occurs, and what once brought us happiness can now, thanks to pressures of others, bring distress. As my good friend Jason said as we were talking about dandelions, something whimsical from our childhood is being annihilated by Round Up by our adult selves.

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It doesn’t have to be this way. It’s time to embrace the inner child and let go of some of the pull from the society-peer-pressured status symbol of the green lawn Abraham Levitt made us believe we all needed to have. The next time you see a dandelion, please take a minute to look at those bright yellow petals to notice how truly lovely they really are. Then also look again at the stunningly intricate structure that appears when they reach seed form. Finally, remember, just as you knew as a child but may have forgotten with the passing of time, that these are not some regular plant, but instead, as my dear friend Julie likes to call them, they are magical wishing flowers that carry the ability to help make a wish come true with just the aid of single blow of breath. It is then you may also go from seeing dandelions as nothing more than a weed to realizing the true beauty that shines throughout this magical flower.

From Jason

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In Ray Bradbury’s book Dandelion Wine, young Douglas Spaulding learns that his grandfather has found a way to save every summer he’d ever experienced, in a bottle of Dandelion Wine.

“And there, row upon row, with the soft gleam of flowers opened at morning, with the light of this June sun glowing through a faint skin of dust, would stand the dandelion wine. Peer through it at the wintry day – the snow melted to grass, the trees were reinhabitated with bird, leaf, and blossoms like a continent of butterflies breathing on the wind. And peering through, color sky from iron to blue.

But the lowly dandelion is not viewed with much romanticism by most of us. Instead, it’s an invasive species. A yellow pox on our otherwise perfectly green and manicured lawns. We’ll spray it with herbicide until it wilts and dies. We’ll dig it up with a spade and throw it in the trash, but for all those efforts, the dandelion persists.

Twice in the past week, I had conversations about the lowly dandelion. The first was on a bike ride, where one of my friends mentioned that the dandelion should be a little more tolerated because it’s one of the first flowers that bees seek out in the early spring. And then it struck me that aside from a chirping Robin in your yard, there’s no surer sign of spring than the emergence of dandelions.

The second conversation came at a gathering Saturday night, when Ryan said he next wanted to write in defense of the dandelion – a plan I had in mind after my initial conversation on that bike ride. Thus, our collaborative defense of the dandelion was born.

Maybe it’s a control issue. Maybe we don’t like this wild and unruly thing coming into our lives. Maybe we don’t like being bested by something as simple and small as a plant. Maybe we just want our little corner of the world to be perfect, and the presence of a patch of dandelions is an unpleasant reminder that it won’t ever be perfect.

I remember as a child, my mom would pluck dandelions from the yard and hold them under my chin. I can’t remember, however, what the point of it was. If my chin reflected yellow, or stained yellow, it meant something. I searched the practice online and found I wasn’t alone. Though there’s scant authoritative information on it, I found several threads in which people likewise remembered their moms or grandfathers doing the same thing.

I do know, though, that I’ve never seen the dandelion as a vulgar plant. Of course, I’ve not ever much cared for manicured lawns, either. And I know that when I think back on the dandelion, it triggers pleasant memories. The aforementioned “buttercup” example, or late summer days blowing the seeds of a mature dandelion across the lawn, filled with excitement as the airy white seeds floated away with my secret wishes.

I know I’m not alone with these memories, so I wonder what it is about the dandelion that drives so many people so mad in adulthood. Based on the number of search engine results, there are a lot of people who will try just about anything to get rid of the dandelion forever.

Maybe it’s a control issue. Maybe we don’t like this wild and unruly thing coming into our lives. Maybe we don’t like being bested by something as simple and small as a plant. Maybe we just want our little corner of the world to be perfect, and the presence of a patch of dandelions is an unpleasant reminder that it won’t ever be perfect. That no matter how hard we try, we can’t always keep out the things we’d rather not see. Sometimes, even if we’ve done everything else right, these troubles are carried by the wind and land right in the middle of our carefully crafted perfection.

One could spend an entire lifetime trying to keep dandelions out of the yard, and still fail. The wind can’t be controlled, nor can the landing of the seeds. So maybe it’s time for us to embrace the lowly dandelion.

It’s an early food source for pollinators. It’s a natural plaything for children. It’s a harbinger of spring, and a sign that winter’s grip is over. And, with the right perspective, one might even come to admire some of the dandelion’s character – its resilience, its freedom, and its unending effort to share its underappreciated beauty with anyone willing to see it.

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THE ART OF MANLINESS 30 DAYS TO A BETTER MAN: PART II

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And with no further ado, here is Part II (See Part I for a better introduction to this post) of the highlights of taking on the Art of Manliness 30 Days to a Better Man involving my tackling Days 16 through 30.

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Day 20: Perform a Service
Only a few feet from my driveway was when I saw her. A motionless furry lump rested in the middle of the road. A bit of pain hit my heart as I jogged past her during those early morning hours as thoughts of opossums ran through my head. There were the ones that used to come up to our sliding glass door. Then some would appear outside of my grandparents’ window to eat the cat food my grandparents would leave out for wild felines. Those memories were followed by my times in college when I would take a opossum out to schools and the such to talk about the American marsupial as one of my duties as an Emporia Zoo docent. I remember how adorable it was as it munched away on grapes. Needless to say, I was one of the strange ones who really finds the American opossum to be great (meanwhile, there is, of course, the extremely adorable Australian possum, and I have fond memories of watching them in Carlton Gardens during my Australia days).

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An Australian Possum

Those thoughts then led to others as I went on with my morning jog. It was already past 6:00 AM, and I had to be at the Chamber Breakfast by 7:00 AM to show support as a board member for the Hutchinson Community Foundation who was sponsoring it. It wasn’t long before one step after another took me close to my starting place, and she was still there. I watched a morning walker shine a light on the opossum before walking on. Thinking she didn’t deserve to be smashed further into the ground by other cars or be spotted by children on their way to school, I decided it would be best to dispose of her body, so I grabbed a shovel from a storage shed and went to pick her up.

The shovel barely touched her side when her eyes opened and some gasps came from a blood-covered mouth. The bloody spot on the road and her inability to move anything besides her head let me know there was no hope she would recover. Standing there, I contemplated what to do, knowing the best solution was for her to be put out of her misery. That is when I saw near her body was a baby opossum that death had already stolen away from this world. Moving the mother just a bit more towards the side of the road led to my seeing something moving in her pouch before a little face peaked out. Instantly, I did my best to move her out of the road before running inside to send a frantic Facebook message to Ryan, the fantastic Hutchinson Zoo Director; Katie, his wife; and Corey, the Hutchinson Friends of the Zoo Board Chair with my hoping at least one of them may be up at 6:32 AM in the morning. The amazing Ryan quickly responded and let me know I should put her in a box and take her to the zoo at 8:00 AM where he would have someone there to help her and me.

Quickly, I found a plastic storage bin, an old blanket, and gloves all while sending a frantic text messages to Aubrey and Kari to let them know I wouldn’t be making it to the breakfast. The mother opossum did not even try to fight me when picking her up to place her transport shuttle. She just continued to cling to life while gasping for air. I tried to cover her up a bit, hoping that would help. Then I left them on my front porch as I quickly showered and dressed for the day.

At a little after 7:00 AM, she was in the back of my car, and I was in the driver’s seat. No word from Kari and Aubrey led to my worrying they would think I flaked, so I made the decision to head to the breakfast simply to let them know my plan of taking the opossum to the zoo at 8:00 AM. During the 5 minute drive there, I could hear her in the back, pulling in each and every breath that she could, as I tried to explain everything to my mother during my morning phone call to her.

Sounding like probably a crazy man, I then explained to Aubrey I had a mother opossum in the back of my car that I needed to take to the zoo at 8:00 AM. She was amazing as always as she pointed out I had some time between when I needed to leave so I should stay for at least part of the breakfast. She then helped me find a seat near a door so I could exit when needed.

I grabbed some food from the buffet before sitting back down at the table. I chatted a bit and then tried to listen to the presentation by Patty Clark, Vice President of the Kansas Leadership Center; however, my thoughts were with the mother and the babies waiting for me. How many times my watched was checked is unknown, but finally, it showed 7:46 AM, and quietly snuck out. After checking on the mother to see if she was still alive (she was), I headed towards the zoo while calling into work to let them know I would be a little bit late and once again probably sounded strange while describing my current mission.

And it was there Becky, a great zoo employee, found a guy dressed in a suit holding a large plastic tub with a mother opossum holding to dear life with her babies depending on her will to live. As I completed some paperwork, she went to work pulling one after another baby opossum from their dying mother’s pouch before her milk turned bad and killed them all until there were 8 adorable little fur balls moving around under another blanket in another plastic bin. With their being in great hands, I now left to head to work, but it wasn’t until hours later during the lunch hour I checked to see what the day’s challenge was to find it was committing an act of service.

After the initial thanks to Ryan, I was afraid to check in to see how the little guys and girls were doing, for no news meant in my mind the eight all lived. However, my hopes were confirmed by this amazing honors student I have who volunteers at the zoo who several weeks after that fateful morning let me know all of the opossums are doing great and have not been imprinted so they will be able to be released into the wild.

And if you are even thinking it was crazy to save the live of opossums, stop right now. These marvelous marsupials eat thousands of ticks per season. That right there alone makes them fantastic with their helping us avoid tick-borne diseases. Then there is the mother opossum who fought on with each dying breath for hours, and I like she did that for her eight babies who are still alive because of her will to live as long as she could. To me, this is quite fitting to think about over Mother Day’s Weekend.

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A Photo Sent to Me of Some of the Baby Opossum from My Great Honors Student

Day 26: Take the Marine Corp Fitness Test
To say I have let myself go would seem like an understatement to me. Sure, I am not horribly obese (yet), but beyond my short morning jogs and riding my bike to work, my exercising has been nothing more than 20 minutes here and there. With that said, I still had quite a bit of confidence going into the Marine Corp Fitness Test, which involves a mix of total number of pull-ups, total number of crunches in two-minutes, and time for a 3 mile run. To get full points, one has to complete 20 pull-ups, do 100 crunches, and run 3 miles in 18 minutes. I knew the last one wasn’t going to happen. Even in my cross country high school days, I wasn’t that fast. However, I cockily figured a full score for both of the others though . . . and I was wrong. Well, I did barely squeak out 20 pull-ups, but figuring the crunches would be easy. It was around 30 when the burn started and the struggle really hit around 50. I made it to 71 when the alarm sounded. I will just say the 3 mile jog was much, much worse. Needless to say, this was a good wake up call to get back to a better and consistent exercise routine while watching the amount of food I have been devouring. It’s been pretty bad, so turning this ship around would be a very good thing to do.

Day 27: Start a Book
Living in a house with hundreds of books I have never read made for this task to be both easy and difficult. The options were many, but the problem was picking which one. Then I ended up going with none of the above. Rather, while chatting with a classmate, he asked me if I had ever heard of Major General Smedley Butler. Thanks really to the fact Hutchinson has a bar named after him, I had, which then led to my classmate recommending War Is a Racket, which seemed very much relevant today as it was when he wrote it in 1935.

Day 28: Write a Love Letter
So there is absolutely no one in my life who has a hold on my heart. Not even a silly infatuation exists right now, so writing a love letter to someone wasn’t really a possibility. The directions then recommended writing a love poem, but a letter seemed much more intriguing, which led to my deciding to write a love letter to life. It detailed how we had almost lost each other several times in the past before going to some of the great experiences we have had together. With this post already being longer, I won’t go into much more detail now, but perhaps, one day I will post it in full. Until then, here are the first and last paragraphs to give you a bit of an idea:

Dearest Life,
To be honest, we haven’t always seen eye to eye. Your plan and mine greatly conflict at times with my wanting to go one way and your pushing me another. Ultimately though, you always win, and ultimately, you always seem to know best. Sure, I question you often, but at the end of the day, I am extremely thankful for you, and today I want to take the time to write this love letter to you . . .

. . . Oh, I know you are a fickle, fleeting thing to say the least, but through it all, the hardships and the glories, you have been right there with me, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

With Much Love,

Ryan


Day 29: Conquer a Fear

Fears are fascinating to say the least, and I definitely have a couple. While an appreciation for snakes is in me, and for a while the fear of them had been overcome. However, six months with my accidental pet ball python Spartacus put that fear back in me, and there are no plans to work on conquering that fear again.

So I turned to another. Putting it in words I am not sure how, but it is something about how I can be outgoing in some situations and then be extremely reserved in others despite a desire in me to be right out there looking like a fool. It is sort of a fear of being judged or a fear of what other people think. However, more than likely, it is actually a fear of rejection. This fear paralyzes me time and again. There are some specific memories that from time to time haunt me about when I hesitated and should have gone for the kiss (different stories for a different time) or crowed at the rising sun (another completely different story for a different time). To try to conquer this fear though, I was going to put myself out of my comfort zone by singing karaoke at Social Saturday at 21 Santa Fe.

Let me begin by saying I can’t sing. Well, I can and do often around the house or in the car, but in front of others, it is best to save them from that. One person once told me she thought I could do anything I set my mind to except for being a singer. Another person who was stuck in a car with me for a very long road trip told me I sang with quite a bit of passion. When I asked if that were a good thing, he remained silent.

These episodes and a few more would be the reasons why I keep my singing to myself. However, there are few songs I have been practicing in my car and in the shower just in case I were ever brave enough or was forced to sing karaoke.

So I walked into Santa Fe that night with a plan to sing a song and conquer a fear in front of my friends, but then something better happened. Well, actually, first I found out the song I had been preparing to sing, despite it being a popular country song, did not appear among the thousands upon thousands of options in the karaoke book. Slight panic started to form as I was about to ditch my plans. That, though, was when Erin’s brother, Paul, threw out the idea of a group of us singing Proclaimers’ “500 Miles (I’m Gonna Be),” and soon there I was with a group of friends singing my heart out and conquering my fear through the power of others.

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A Blurry Capturing of the Karaoke Adventure

Wrap Up
And those would be the highlights of my taking on the Art of Manliness 30 Days to a Better Man for my New Year’s Resolution #10 involving monthly themes. The question, of course, is am I a better man after all of this. While the jury is still out about that (I also still need to get a straight razor shave to meet Day 30), I do know it led to many great experiences, memories made, and clarity about some areas of my life that have been quite fuzzy for some time. Plus, I am now armed with a bucket list, an imaginary mentor, a more decluttered life, eight opossums out in the world eating thousands of ticks, and a step towards conquering my fear of rejection.

The Art of Manliness 30 Days to a Better Man: Part I

I am not really sure when it was I first stumbled across the Art of Manliness. It seems like it has just always been there in the background of my life with my reading their articles and listening to podcasts. Its mission is “to encourage [their] readers to be better husbands, fathers, brothers, citizens — a new generation of great men.” Needless to say, given my self-help addiction, Art of Manliness is right up my alley. Plus, the fact Brett and Kate McCay, the married couple behind it, live in Tulsa is also something else I find nifty given most people I tend to follow are on the coasts rather than here in the Frontier Strip.

Back in 2009, the Art of Manliness launched its 30 Days to a Better Man Project. You can either check out the individual days on the website or download an eBook version (signing up for the site’s newsletter led to my getting a free copy). The challenge was something that I had entertained doing in the past, but for whatever reason, it didn’t happen. A couple of years ago I even downloaded the eBook after receiving it for free thanks to signing up for the e-newsletter, but there it sat in a digital folder collecting digital dust . . . until late March when trying to figure out a plan of attack for the month of April. Skimming through my Google Drive folder of articles, eBooks, essays, and other items downloaded from the Internet to either share with others or go back to read again (and sometimes simply go back and read for the first time) led to my eyes catching the title “30 Days to a Better Man.” The fact April had only 30 days seemed like it was meant to be, so starting April 1, I kicked off with taking on the challenge of becoming a better man.

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Rather than write about every day, the plan is to touch upon some of the adventures. Still, even the highlights lead to a super long blog post, so this is going to be a two-parter. Stay tuned for next week’s second half where more adventures from April will be covered.

Here are the challenges for the first 15 days:

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And Now for the Highlights . . .

Day 1: Define Your Core Values

Contemplation about my what values were my core came from a hotel room in Beaumont, Texas. A regional honors conference had led to my driving a van full of honors students 14 hours to the Texas town just a short drive from the gulf, and after a day of presentations, a river boat ride, and the evening dinner where the keynote talked about the value of the moon,  I was back in my room, considering possibilities and making a mess of a piece of scratch paper. That’s when I turned to my mission statement I had written a couple years ago on the flight home from another work trip for inspiration, which also serves as the background for my phone:

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From it and some many further thoughts came up with Lifelong Learning, Imagination, Community, Realistic Optimism, and Being Present all being the key components for my life.

Day 2: Shine Your Shoes

Then after a very long van drive back (which included a stop at Buckee’s, this amazing amusement park of a gas station found in the Lonestar State complete with a beaver as a mascot), I sat down and shined my shoes.

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Day 3: Find a Mentor

While the first two days were pretty easy going, the third one proved to be challenge thanks to many factors. First, I don’t like to be an inconvenience (as noted with last summer’s kidney stone incident and my not wanting to trouble people to come to the ER to get me (thank you, Bailey, once again for letting me bother you!) or to pick me up from the hospital after the surgery (thank you, Jason, once again for letting me bother you!)), which I fear would be the case unless the right mentor found me. I also don’t want to be that random guy who sends a mentor-seeking message to Tim Ferriss, Brett McKay, Adam Grant, Cal Newport, Tim Urban, Elon Musk, Bernie Dunlap, Tom Angelo, Justin Trudeau, and a few other guys more in the public eye I greatly admire for various reasons. Second, as a firm believer in Tim Ferriss’s often-stated line: “You are the average of the five people you associate with most,” all of my close friends have traits I admire and aspire to possess.  Therefore, in a way, my close friends are all mentors for my life. Third, not being sure about which of three potential roads to take my life leads to my not being sure what type of mentor would be best. Fourth, did I mention my not wanting to be an inconvenience to someone with an already packed schedule?

This all led to more scribbling of trying to decide what areas of my life needed mentorship (professional and personal were the ultimate decisions, so pretty much every part of my life was the answer). Then my core value of imagination created a mentor to help me along for the time being. His name is Ethan Bomer. He is basically the composite of my favorite self-help material with some influence of Matt Bomer thrown into the mix, another person I greatly admire for how he came out with class and his being a family man. Plus, Ethan is a higher education administrator who spent many successful years in the classroom (and continues to teach a class every semester), a father of two, a fantastic husband to a supportive partner, and a big believer in the power of people and community.

It’s been pointed out by some that creating a flawless individual who is the epitome of what I see as perfection in every way to serve as a mentor is probably not the best of ideas (Talk about the unreal expectations he sets for me!). Plus, my imagining (look at that core value being used again) I go on morning jogs with him might make me seem a bit crazy too, but don’t worry, for I am not talking out loud to someone who isn’t really there (yet). He also is not in complete agreement with what I do and think. Rather, Ethan is helping me gather my thoughts, think from another perspective, question my actions, and try to work towards achieving my goals to the best of my ability. Plus, even with his imaginary packed schedule, I don’t have to worry about inconveniencing him too much.

Day 7: Reconnect with an Old Friend

And now you are probably thinking I am going to reconnect with my childhood imaginary friends for this one, but I actually went with real people instead (Plus, I don’t think I had any imaginary friends). Three were on purpose and two happened more thanks to timing. Of the first three, I learned about Ian’s upcoming trip to the Daytime Emmy’s thanks to Red Bird being nominated for best Outstanding Digital Daytime Drama Series and Paul’s travels to China where the photos and stories he shared led to a few more places added to my list of places to see one day. The reconnection is yet to happen with the third old friend to whom I reached out, but I had also missed replying to her last message when she had reached out to reconnect with me, so one day . . .

Then for the other two, it just happened the day of the challenge was when the Mennonite Relief Sale was taking place at the Kansas State Fairgrounds and Ted and Jonny from the Omaha area just happened to be there to enjoy the festivities, which led to my reconnecting with the two of them as well as meeting Jonny’s amazing family while we enjoyed tasty German food at the Feeding of the Multitude. That evening also led to . . .

Day 9: Take a Woman on a Date

Except it was not with a woman, and it was not a romantic date. With no prospects for romance on the horizon at all (I honestly attempted to find one leading up to this day but failed miserably), it seemed like the best idea was to modify the Day 9 challenge and make it a friend date. While Jonny caught up with family, Ted and I explored Horse Thief Canyon at Kanopolis State Park, checked out Mushroom State Park, saw the sights from Coronado Heights, and experienced the charm of Lindsborg before getting him back a bit late for dinner.

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Sure, it wasn’t what Brett McCay probably pictured as a date when he came up with this challenge, but it was a great time to say the least, and the plan until the stars align for romance in my life will be many more great dates with friends.

Day 12: Create Your Bucket List

For the longest time, the number one item on my Bucket List was to see Banff and all of its glory. Last summer that happened which led to having a relatively empty bucket (see the Northern Lights), so this was a challenge that was in need of happening. What was fascinating was when I first started drafting the list, I would scratch out an item thanks to thinking it was too hard or unrealistic, but then thoughts of this being a bucket list came back to me as well as my plans of having a long life to achieve these items (Number 1 went from “Go on a hike in all 50 states” to “Visit all 50 states” to back to “Go on a hike in all 50 states”):

  1. Go on a hike in all 50 states
  2. Visit all National Parks in the United States
  3. Have a terribly romantic Hollywood-like kiss in the rain
  4. Be known as a writer
  5. See the Northern Lights
  6. Visit all of the continents and touch all five oceans
  7. Be debt free
  8. Be a father
  9. Life a full life as a great (gay) role model to others/be a mentor like Ethan Bomer
  10. Fall in love again

Day 13: Declutter Your Life

The month of March was all about becoming super organized (supposedly); however, it was April when I really began to contemplate the art of decluttering. However, this time, it was not really about my physical surroundings but rather it was about people in my life, my (lack of) ability to tackle small tasks efficiently) and my mental thoughts. That day I was on the phone listening to someone who had a horrible case of nonsermitis, which led to my thinking more about how some people unfortunately can become clutter. The same sort of thoughts started to form about small tasks I needed to achieve.

A picture of a doorway towards my future goals was imagined (I am on a role with this core virtue. Another imagined image was a bush needing to be trimmed), and these small tasks I can waste so much time accomplishing, the mental thoughts that hindered my progress, and the people who seemed to hold me back rather than help me go forward were all just clutter in the way of trying to get towards my desired destination. The same goes for the conversations on dating apps I know right away are simply a waste of time, but yet I still carry them on for who knows what reasons. By the end of the day, all of this started to become clearer as the clutter truly started to be cut out so my focus could be more on the truly important parts of my life, which my friends, selected family, and goals to improve the world around me and live a fulfilled life.

Day 14: Write a Letter to Your Father

It will be five years in September since my dad severed our relationship with his letting me know I was no longer his son. This is neither the time nor place to go into more details, and for those who are close, you already know the story. Over the last nine months, his and my paths have crossed twice for the first and second time since that fateful phone call that still sometimes haunts my memory. During both times, all went okay thankfully as if nothing had ever happened, but the door was not opened for my coming home for Christmas or for even a weekend. Needless to say, the challenge of writing a letter to him gave me pause, and before I started, I had no idea what would be created. In fact, when I was talking about that day’s challenge, a good friend of mine said he wanted to read it, for he was sure it would be seething. The thing, though, is I have no hatred in my heart for him, so the creation turned out to be quite the opposite and the whole experience was extremely cathartic.

Sure, it opened with “To pinpoint the very first time I disappointed you would be a hard thing to do. My life seems like one that would have repeatedly built up your hopes to just have them crashing down” before discussing how I don’t have many memories of him when I was young for he was always hunting or fishing. That, though, was only a page before getting to many pages of where I talked about all of the good times – his coming up with my first Halloween costume, his story of his picking up his weak and faint youngest son to rush him to the hospital before pneumonia took away his life, his making sure I saw so much of the country during our family vacations when we really did not have any money to take those kind of trips, his believing (as we sat in the Santiago airport) he bought my very first beer after he had taken me to Argentina to hunt doves to celebrate my 21st birthday, and his helping me fix up my house after I bought it. I also wrote about how he never really had a loving father himself – one who could have served as a role model.

The letter then moved on to how he has influenced my life in so many ways: “As you always said, you can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family. Sure you may not have been the father I wish I would have had or the movie/TV version I like to imagine, and it would be great if we could have made more father and son memories, but you are the father I was given, and because of that, I am who I am today.” Finally, my closing was honest and captured the letter’s overall feelings:  “With much love and some understanding.”

While the challenge was to write the letter, thankfully it was not necessary that I sent it, and for right now, it will rest in a digital folder among other writings of mine that I revisit from time to time.

Day 15: Make a Meal

Then for the last challenge in the first half was a simple one: make a meal. The timing was perfect too, for my mother, who has always supported me through everything, was here for Easter. Although 90% of my meals I cook at home, when my mother visits, we tend to eat out the entire time, but this time, we had a tasty meal of a broiled steak and salad topped with fruit, mushrooms, blue cheese, and balsamic vinegar.

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And those are the highlights from my first half of my 30 Days to Becoming a Better Man. Stay tuned for Part II next week for recaps of adventures about my saving 8 baby opossums, playing, taking (and failing) the Marine Corp Fitness Test, starting a fascinating book, writing a love letter, and conquering a fear in front of everyone at Social Saturday as well as a reflection about the month as a whole.

April’s New Year’s Resolutions Update (Minus an Update about April itself)

Before I get into a Talk20, Going Over the Edge, a Love Letter to Life, and a whole bunch of other (likely more exciting) things (than this post) that have either happened or been on my mind, I figured a quick update about my New Year’s Resolutions so far would be a great thing to do given this blog started because of the initial list back in 2014.

As usual, some are going forward well and then some of them have been delayed (a broken violin and then some massive vet bills will delay that one, but yay for more quality time with my guitar (in theory)), but I do have a whole year to attack them. I am happy to say I have been pulling myself out of my phone more and documenting many of the days (not all but I am working on it) in my Personalized Progress Log. I have even been watching my diet (today even led to my resisting a super tasty Blue Bird Books’ Nutella Hand Pie) and fitting in exercise. The most interesting adventures so far this year have been with #10. Create and Carry Out Monthly Themes, so this post is going to be dedicated to highlights from those.

January: A Month of No Complaining
The plan for the first month of the year was to spend an entire month not complaining about anything. It didn’t take long to find there is a difference between complaining and telling the truth. For an example, Kansas in January can be quite chilly, so if I stated, “I’m cold,” is that my telling the truth or is it my complaining? Ultimately, I opted for the former. I also opted with seeing some observations made about others in the former light too (the truth is the truth, right). In all seriousness, I did pretty well with this theme and have been trying to keep it going since then. Needless to say, this New Year’s Resolution did lead to quite a bit of contemplation, and it was definitely a good way to start the year on a positive note.

February: Playing Vegetarian
The vegetarian lifestyle is not something necessarily foreign to my life. There have been times I have gone four or so days without having any meat (often connected to times I had made veggie tacos and had four or so days of leftovers), but a whole month (although it was a short month) was another eye-opening experience.

First, there was the actual-finding-food-to-eat challenge. Since the kidney stone, I had given up quite a few foods high in oxalates, but I figured a month of having them again wouldn’t be too bad, especially if they were high in protein, so peanut butter came back into my life and so did peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which were absolutely tasty (Seriously. This inner child was awoken). However, don’t worry, for I fixed many meals beyond that of a grade-school diet. Many vegetable-broth-based soups were created in my kitchen thanks to the chilliness of a Kansas winter (except it really wasn’t too chilly and I spent quite a few evenings at Sand Hills State Park lying in the tall grass, watching birds fly over me, and staring at the setting sun while doing my best to be in the moment all while still contemplating the journey of life (which now looking back, this does seem like some sort of thing a transcendentalist vegetarian would be doing).

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One of many February sunsets I enjoyed

But then there were the times of going out to eat with friends. Cooking at home was no problem at all, but eating in Central Kansas was a completely different story when it came to the vegetarian lifestyle. There were several times when I would look at a menu repeatedly to try to find something I could eat. Thankfully, grilled cheese sandwiches tend to be a stable on most menus (yep, back to the grade-school diet), and desserts are almost always vegetarian-friendly (minus the bacon-covered donuts).

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A tasty three-cheese sandwich from Carl’s Bar (and the cheeses were up to me which led to my picking one, having my buddy Jason pick another, and then asking our server to pick the third.
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One of the many tasty and vegetarian-friendly stops along Third Thursday’s Annual Chocolate Walk

But then there were the events where I became that guy to request a special meal from the norm. This included the annual Hutchinson/Reno County Chamber Dinner where the main entrée was what was described by many as the best prime rib they had ever had. Meanwhile, I had a plate full of side dishes (green beans (thankfully no bacon), carrots, and potatoes).

However, as I sat down was when the other fascinating facet of being a vegetarian occurred thanks to a simple, courteous question.

“Will you be offended if you have someone eating meat right next to you?” the wonderful and amazing Alice asked with a genuine concern.

It took me just a second to realize what she meant before I smiled and said, “Don’t worry. I am just playing vegetarian for the month of February.”

And that really was the truly interesting part of the month – other people’s reactions to my living a meat-free diet. There were those who knew me well and just had fun with my month’s tasks. There were those concerned I would judge them and be angry by their omnivore/carnivore ways. Finally, there were those who went to great lengths to let me know my being a vegetarian was a danger to my health. One in particular, who may have been greatly intoxicated at the time, basically begged me to eat meat because he was sure I would be developing all sorts of food allergies. He never quite picked up, despite my trying to tell him repeatedly, this was just for four weeks and not a plan for a lifelong lifestyle. Every time I attempted to make that clear, he just answered back with yet another grave concern he had for my future and how I was making the biggest mistake of my life.

The takeaway from this resolution was my getting just a small taste of the great challenges vegetarians have when it comes to staying firm with their diet. Where I had only a month of looking at three-plus page menus to find only one possible option or being tempted by the pleasant aroma of bacon coming from the cafeteria or the grilling of steaks from neighbors’ back yards (there really was some great weather in February), it’s their life, and I give them great props for holding to their values.

The plan was to continue being a vegetarian for a bit into March, but Jimmy John’s came to campus offering free sandwiches and were out of the vegetarian ones by the time they stopped by my office. Well . . .

March: Becoming Super Organized
The original plan for March was inspired by Adam Grant with my wanting to become a precrastinator; however, these New Year’s Resolutions need to be somewhat doable, and I knew there was no hope for a complete 180 on my procrastinating ways, so the plan was to organize my life instead.

First, there was the homefront and then my office with both becoming nice[r] and neat[er] (for me. A truly organized person likely would still have been horrified). Second was scheduling my week using my Personalized Progress Log, which included sticking with what I set and attacking homework during the time allotted. Third was getting everything lined up so I would not have to attack (too much) homework while I spent 4.5 days back East visiting friends in North Carolina and Virginia (with a quick hike in West Virginia so I could say I have been to West Virginia) followed almost immediately by a work trip involving my driving a huge van filled with honors students fourteen hours to Beaumont, Texas.

The most fun with the month of being organized was easily testing out my nifty new Nomatic travel bag bag (nothing but great things to say about it):

Enjoying a clean(er) house was up there too. Now if only I could say all of these good habits stuck around. There were some steps forward, and strangely, though, the true contemplation of decluttering my life and organizing my focus didn’t come until April as part of my taking on the Art of Manliness 30 Days to a Better Man, but those adventures deserve posts dedicated to them, and they will be coming soon.

My take away from March is being organized can be a great thing. It is really nice walking into an organized house or into an organized office. The same goes for knowing what I was going to be eating, wearing, and doing for the week or as far out as scheduled; however, there were times when an unexpected surprise (a work assignment that needed to be done as soon as possible, a friend needing a friend, a friend I was visiting having a ruptured cyst after our hike and having to go to the hospital (supposedly neither the hike nor my visit were connected to sending her to the ER, but now I am worried if I should add a disclaimer a visit from me may lead to our having to seek medical treatment) , etc.) would come up and throw off my schedule, and that is okay. The key really is about finding a balance rather than falling to either extreme when it comes to organization. What that said, leaning a little more towards being organized, especially when it comes to my time, would be a good thing, and my hope is perhaps once day that will be true, but until then, it will be like most things and simply baby steps towards that direction.

A Boy and His Dog He Loves So Much

Dearest Callie,

Did you know when you licked my face that late December day back in 2008 what exactly you were doing? I am pretty sure you did. You figured John would be easy to convince to take you home, but I would be the one whose heart you would have to win. Well, it worked. You have definitely won it time and again. Your jumping up and giving me a kiss the moment the lady at Caring Hands Humane Society opened your kennel sealed our fates together, and I am a better man because of it.

Oh the things we have tackled and the adventures we have had over the years are many, and there are still many more yet to come, but I thought a simple note to you would be better written now rather than later.

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So here you go – a list of the reasons I am thankful to have you in my life.

1. Your Zest for Life

From getting excited about breakfast to being thrilled when Mom comes to visit so you can greet her before the two of you play Frisbee outside, you have a passion that spreads. Simply saying either the word “Milk Bone” or “Bunny” leads to your zest to show. No matter how bad my day may have been, walking in the door to hear the pitter patter of your feet coming towards me and then seeing your excited face brings me back to a great place.

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Then there is your pursuit after those little fluffy banes of your existence that still brings a strange joy to my life (unless you catch one, but that is a different story. Then I am extremely upset with you which breaks your heart I know. Thankfully, that has very rarely ever happened). It doesn’t matter the season or the weather, the moment I open the back door, you run immediately to look under the deck before making a loop around the storage sheds to make sure no bunnies are in your back yard. Then you either sit on top of the deck or the small hill above the storm shelter, watching over everything to make sure it is a safe and sound from any of Peter Cottontail’s relatives. And you do all of this with such a passion.

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Although I am not around to see it, I can also imagine the excitement you had each time you had found something either on the counter or in the pantry to take to the couch to test taste. How proud you must have been each time your teeth grasped whatever your prize was that day (a bag of flour, a head of cabbage, romaine lettuce, a container of peanut butter, a bag of thankfully non-instant rice, a package of soft tortilla shells, etc.) and you carried it without making a mess to the living room where you then explored its contents on your couch before I came home to the result of your adventure that served as yet another reminder of the importance of always keeping a clean counter and closing the pantry door.

There is a lot I have and can continue to learn from your appreciation of the little things in the world around you. It is so easy for me to lose focus, but your way of living is a constant reminder to have a zest for living and to be excited for another day, for friends and family, for a self-given worthwhile pursuit, and for a hunger for life.

2. Your Motivating Me to Pause, Reflect, and Improve

IMG_0010 (1).jpgSo many of my romantic relationships have been doomed because of my workaholic ways. I am working on it and plan to be better should I find myself in one again. And you are also helping me do so. If it were not for you, I know I would fall into the habit of eating at my desk and working through lunch rather than heading home to let you out. That down time as you check for bunnies in the back yard and I eat my lunch is, without a doubt, a very healthy thing for both of us. However, it goes much farther than that. You cause me to take the break I need, something I should do more often.

This, of course, goes far beyond just my coming home for lunch. Life can move so quickly, and a day can become packed before one knows it; however, when I am with you and giving you the time you deserve, I pause to take in my surroundings. No matter what craziness is happening, you become my sole focus and everything else can fall off to the side for a while, and during that pause, I can regain some sort of strength that allows me to come back to a situation with better ideas and a reminder of not only who depends on me but also what truly is important.

3. Your Always Watching Out for Me

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From day one that we met, you decided for whatever reason to always watch out for me. When I am out for the evening, I can count on your waiting at the window for me to arrive home. Even when Mom is here, you don’t go back to sleep in the guest room even with the great love you have for her. Rather, you wait for me to make sure I find my way home. Then after greeting me, you will lead me back to my bedroom to finally call it a night.

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No matter where I am in the house, you have to be watching me to make sure I am okay. If I am working at the dining room table, you are from your perch in the living room falling asleep on your pillow looking towards me rather than out the front window. If I am rowing in the guest room, you are on top of the bed watching me make each stroke. Even if you the leave the room to go get a drink of water and make a round around the house, it isn’t long until you are back to check that I am okay.

The majority of the times, I am fine, but then there are all of the times I so greatly needed you, and you are right there. Without you, I am not sure what I would have done the night when my heart was torn into millions of pieces and I suffered one of the hardest breakups of my life. The words of excitement of a new relationship filled my room despite their origin coming from across the hall from my bedroom door. Only minutes before, we had been an item for over three and a half years during which we had built a family with you and Emi. However, another beau had swept in from the online world and replaced me during the week I was in New York, and there was nothing I could do upon my return. From one room came a voice filled with happiness and glee, and from mine, only sobs and gasps could be heard as the picture of a future we had once painted together dissolved into nothingness with each word heard from across the hall. You had a choice of which room to enter, and you chose the latter. I still remember how you nuzzled your way in between my arms that had been holding tight my ex-of-only minutes’ pillow. And there you remained with your little beating heart close to mine, just looking at me with your emotion-filled eyes and occasionally giving my face a lick all while doing your best to tell me it was going to be okay, the pain would eventually subside, and our now broken family would get through this together.

From the worst moments to the best, you have been right there, wanting to share each one with me and watching to make sure I always found my step forward.

4. Your Being My Best Friend
From the best moments to the worst, you are always right there. In fact, even as I write this, you are right there beside me.

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While I have many great friends in my life, you are easily my best. So often, I wish you could talk, for the conversations we could have would be unreal. I have a feeling you wish you could too. Now you just put up with my talking to you and your answering back with the occasional bark but usually only with your expressive eyes. It is those same eyes that always seem to see the best in me, the me I hope one day I can actually become.

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There was a life you once had before we met. I will never know what happened during it and how you ended upon wandering the streets of Newton and surviving wind chills in the negative numbers to the point you were only skin and bones when you were picked up and taken to the place where we would meet.

We have also been through so much together. Unfortunately, some of those times have been when you were at your worst. The memory of picking up your nearly lifeless body from the snow, carrying you inside as tears fell upon your fur, and having John drive us to the vet as quickly as possible still haunts me. I kept telling you that you had to hold on because you had to help us raise our kids. When we said goodbye to you that day, the vet prepared us for that to be our final time seeing you, but whatever it was that had hit you that day, you successfully beat it, and you have continued to be a fighter. The same goes for our 2014 New Year’s Eve when I held your trembling body as close I could to mine as you fought your hardest against the sterile nodular panniculitis that had you in so much pain and was trying its best to take you away from me. More tears were shed as I asked you not to leave me, and you didn’t. We won that battle, and the massive scars from the once open wounds covering your body are a reminder the two of us can power through so much.

One day, even with our best fighting efforts, some outer force will get the upper hand; however, until then, we will continue to be us, a boy and his dog he loves so much.

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With much love and eternal gratefulness for your being in my life,

Your Ryan

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And now for a few more Callie photos (with some Emi cameos too)

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The Intrigue of Parallel Universes

These recent thoughts all started last November thanks to an article Fox News had posted about how time travel could be possible through the use of parallel worlds. The story itself had originally appeared in UK’s The Sun, and it had come into my life as a recommended story via Google News thanks to their algorithms.

Needless to say, I wasn’t getting my bags packed to head over to the world where the dinosaurs never died or the one where the gorilla-size lemur was alive and well. The story, though, did lead to some fascinating conversations among my honors students that went a little something like this:

“If you were to visit a parallel world, you would have to quickly kill the other version of you, for both of you could not exist in one universe,” one of them said.

“Death? Really? Couldn’t we just partner up and take on the world – either that one, this one, or another?” I asked.

“Nope. He would just kill you, so you have to shoot first,” another answered.

“Nah, we would be too excited about having another one of us around to even think about homicide. Or would that be suicide?” I replied.

“Well, I guess we know which Ryan is not going to make it.”

Before jumping to another topic, the conversation went on for another twenty-minutes or so with my believing I could be friends with the Other Ryan while they assured me it was kill or be killed to avoid a rip in the very fabric of time itself.

The Fox News article was based upon a 2014 publication in Physical Review X, which inspired quite a few news stories when it was first released, in which the authors investigated quantum theory and a “many interacting world” approach. This gets into the concept of an infinite number of universes where every possibility may have played out. This concept itself could easily play with one’s mind as one things about how every decision we made just today could have spawned thousands of other universes in theory.

From there, the topic of parallel universes has resurfaced repeatedly in my life.

Of course, there was the Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, with George Bailey getting a glimpse of what the world would have been like if he would never have been born.

Then two of my very good friends directed me to Cheryl Strayed’s Dear Sugar response that concluded with the beautiful imagery of our saluting the ghost ship that didn’t carry us, the other life we didn’t live.

YouTube caught a drift of this common theme and recommended a video about The Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode where Cordelia was granted her wish that created a world where Buffy never came to Sunnydale.

That may have been caused by my fascination during the month of December with the Lumineer’s videos that played upon this concept with at least three of their videos being connected with a storyline all tied to choices made that created another parallel world. Here they are in the order they were not released but in the one I think they go:

Once Upon a Time’s winter finale brought the alternative universe trope into its storyline.

Then the one movie I watched in the theatre during winter break, La La Land, had near its end a powerfully haunting montage of a world that could have existed in another universe but not that one. It squeezed the heart while what might have been played out.

This concept of parallel worlds is nothing new though in my life. In fact, my favorite childhood movie of all times, Clue, played heavy on this conceit. Then Sliding Doors, another movie I referenced in another entry about time, also hit the point home about how even the smallest of things happening could easily send the trajectory of one’s life in a different direction. A chance conversation never happens or perhaps it does. In these worlds, all of the Craigslist’s Missed Connections were never missed (If you are not familiar with them, I recommend checking out Craigslist, clicking on a major city, and reading some of the Missed Connections or perhaps a better and easier idea would be to read this single horribly romantic one to get the idea).

The question, though, is what is it about our fascination with parallel worlds that causes these to play out time and again on TV, in movies, in books, in songs, and in our mind. The Buffy video concludes by saying, “We’re all, in a way, trapped in time . . . bound to travel in one continuous direction – only forward. But there is always an allure to looking backward and wondering, ‘A different choice, a different doorway, a couple more seconds. Would we have become someone else?’”

And that may be it. This fascination could all come back to ourselves. Every time we watch, read, or contemplate a parallel world, we think about our own lives and what they would be like if we would have struck up that initial conversation or wouldn’t have, gone for that kiss or wouldn’t have, gotten that job or wouldn’t have, read that book that changed your life or wouldn’t have, stayed close with an old friend or wouldn’t have, said those words or wouldn’t have, and so forth. The possibilities are endless, and the same could be said about parallel worlds for that matter.

Besides onslaught of examples thrown in my direction from the world around me, the concept has probably been on my mind more lately thanks to my having almost spent a decade of my life in Hutchinson, Kansas. If anyone would have told me in late June of 2007 the next ten years of my life would be spent here, a perplexed look would have come their way. The plan was either to find work in New York City or pursue a PhD in English. Given the flooded market for the latter, Dr. Ryan in that parallel universe would have been jumping around looking for a tenure track position but likely doing a lot of adjunct work as he attempted to pay off a massive student loan debt.

The life of NYC Ryan, though, is what intrigues me.

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It hit even harder after walking around Seattle’s Capitol Hill last October when I was in the city for a conference. For a glimmer of a second, I caught a glance of the Ryan who lived in a major city and would get together with close friends for dinner and drinks on a Friday night in such a place with that kind of vibe.  His place may have been small and expensive, but he didn’t mind because he could walk anywhere, and whatever craving of food he had, a restaurant was an easy jaunt away. Then more than likely, he would be sharing all of this with a partner. More than likely he would be married, and he may even be a father.

NYC Ryan, though, never would have stepped on Hutchinson Community College’s campus. The classes would have been taught by someone else. The students would have learned English Composition from that person instead, and the fairy tales course that hundreds upon hundreds have taken never would have existed. The honors program would have had a different unofficial assistant director and then a different director. Someone else would have filled Hutchinson Ryan’s spots on all of the different committees and task forces, and someone else would be in his current job now.

NYC Ryan also would have missed out on all of the activities in the community. Another person would have served in Hutchinson Ryan’s place on the various boards and in the different groups. Someone else would have taken charge of the different initiatives Hutchinson Ryan had led.

Then there are Emi and Callie.

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NYC Ryan never would have known the feeling of having Callie cuddling next him as they enjoyed a peaceful Friday night on the couch alone with Emi sitting nearby in her favorite perch watching everything below her in true cat fashion.

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Never would he have sleepily smiled as Callie woke him up for her very early breakfast with her morning eagerness, watched the hijinks of Emi attacking imaginary monsters, or known what it was like to try to make a bed or put away socks with her help. Callie and Emi would never have met and served as another great example of how a dog and a cat can be the best of friends, for Callie may never have been adopted from the animal shelter, and Emi more than likely would have lived her life at a salvage yard.

Finally, NYC Ryan never would have known the majority of people Hutchinson Ryan does.

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His world would be extremely different. The conversations, meals with friends, the community partnerships, the dates, the relationships, and, most importantly, the great friendships Hutchinson Ryan has had since 2007 never would have occurred, for NYC Ryan’s path would likely have never crossed in such a way with those Hutchinson Ryan has been blessed to get to know over the years, and perhaps those people’s lives would have then been very different as well. Many of the people reading this blog right now would be doing something very different with your lives, for in the NYC Ryan universe, you likely never would have met or known a Ryan Diehl.

That is the thing, though, about parallel universes. Just as we may have missed out on the life experiences of our parallel selves, they have missed out on our life experiences too. Perhaps right now, in one of those parallel universes, your parallel self is sitting there and longing for the life you currently have.

Another recent quotation that has come into my life over the last couple of weeks is “Somebody once told me the definition of hell: On our last day of earth, the person you became will meet the person you could have become.” At the same time, perhaps the definition of heaven can be something similar with your meeting the person you may have become if you had let all of those things of great and true value slip from your grasp. Just on the safe side, a life mission should be to become the better of the selves on your last day on this planet.

Perhaps, one day travel to parallel universe will be possible as we get to see how making even something as simple as having cereal rather than a kale and fruit smoothie for breakfast altered one’s existence. Until then though, we should, as Cheryl Strayed recommended with the ghost ships, give them a head nod and a smile before going back to feeling grateful for all of the great things in your current life in your current universe now.

Nonsermitis – The Not-So-Silent But Still Overlooked Disease Sweeping the World

A disease is spreading throughout the world, but yet no major headlines are calling attention to it. It infects people, causing the death of relationships of all sorts. Those who have interacted with a disease-infected individual are left dumbfounded, sometimes depressed, and often speechless. This disease is none other than nonsermitis, and unfortunately, no one is safe.

More than likely, you too have encountered someone with nonsermitis, but you just didn’t realize it. More than likely, that is because a good friend and I coined the term last fall after she had the unfortunate situation of being trapped for hours with an infected individual and I had a date with someone inflicted with the same illness.

The pain in her eyes was great as she told me about her situation. For hours, she was trapped at a fair booth with the disease-infected individual. It was a slower evening at the fair, which led, in theory, to plenty of time for conversation. She would ask this other person questions, and he would answer. Then the conversation would stop. It wasn’t as though he was not wanting her to talk to him, and he was just giving her the cold shoulder. That wasn’t it at all, for he would stand there awkwardly, almost seemingly waiting for the next question but somehow incapable of having that next question come from his mouth.

Meanwhile, my situation was somewhat similar with my going on a first and only date with an individual who recited a monologue with the occasional question prompt from myself thrown into the mix. After the first twenty minutes or so, I decided to see what would happen if I stopped the prompts, and sure enough, there was awkward silence until my date would either return to a previously discussed topic or start a new soliloquy. At the end of the evening, I left knowing my date’s full history about pretty much everything while my date never learned about what I even did for a living, where I was from, what I would like to do in my spare time, and possibly what my name was; however, that didn’t stop me from receiving afterward text saying, “That was such a good time! We should definitely do this again.” We didn’t.

Some may simply refer to these people as “self-involved,” “self-centered,” “self-absorbed,” “egocentric,” “narcissistic,” or another word along those lines. However, my friend and I agreed there was something more to it. There have been too many people with whom I have had extremely fascinating and engaging conversations to then encounter once again and unfortunately find their ability to do so gone. Therefore, it has to be a disease. How else can one explain it?

Nonsermitis, though, comes in a variety of forms. Two of these are portrayed in the following Wait-But-Why-inspired-style illustrations.

Full Blown Nonsermitis Sufferer

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The Very Thinly Masked Nonsermitis Sufferer

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Some may be thinking that perhaps nonsermitis is not as serious as I may be making it out to be, but without a doubt, a wide range of problems can be caused by this disease.

The obvious one would be, of course, the effects they have on others during conversations. The following Fractured Fairy Tale provides a somewhat exaggerated but still pretty accurate portrayal:

Okay, so a person suffering from nonsermitis may not put an entire kingdom to sleep, but you can get the point of this problem. The person will never be seen by others as a great conversationalist despite his/her ability to talk often.

Another factor is nonsermitis prevents learning from taking place on behalf of the sufferer. A point my mother has told me often is everyone, regardless of the person’s background, age, sex, or any other demographic component, has something you can learn; however, you have to take the time to listen. That last word is hard for a nonsermitis sufferer, for the illness blocks the desire to use this facility.

The person becoming a bore is not the worst problem though. In fact, I think one could possibly put the blame of the demise of many relationships on nonsermitis based upon this great, short video from DNews:

As the video mentioned, one of the factors that can easily signal a doomed relationship is when a partner does not acknowledge the emotional bid of the other person. Taking the other person for granted or brushing off asking or asking but not truly listening can all lead to the relationship’s eventual death with the space being filled with a coldness that eventually can snuff out even the brightest of flames.

This is not only about romantic relationships either, for friendships too are put at risk when nonsermitis seeps in and causes a person to be blind to those flickers of wanting to share a story about something that has happened recently. While in the grand scheme, that story may seem about something insignificant, in reality, it can actually be a desire for a meaningful connection, a connection that needs to go both ways rather than one. It only takes the dashing of a few of these emotional bids to start the coldness from icing over the relationship.

So the question remains is if there is a cure. That I don’t really know. I asked one of my best friends who is a physician about one, but that led more into a whole conversation about my friend and my inventing a name for a disease that is yet to be recognized by the medical community. Needless to say, he didn’t think a round of antibiotics could knock it out.

Another problem comes into play that conversations themselves are even in trouble as Turkle pointed out in Reclaiming Conversations: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age. She noted our society today has led to many people being unable to carry on conversations of any depth or length thanks to the distractions of electronic devices and the such. Even children are not learning the basics because they can’t even steal their parents’ attention away from the screens of cell phones to have a conversation.

Honestly, I didn’t believe Turkle after I read her book and thought it was greatly exaggerated, but then I started seeing examples time and again. Classrooms would be silent with students looking down at their phones rather than at each other. Couples would sit next to each other at restaurants and coffee shops and their phones would serve as their company rather than their potential soul mate sitting across the table. Then one of my colleagues told me all about how he went over the basics of a conversation with his students, and they all seemed enthralled/eager to learn what to many of us would seem like common sense but was something new to them. Turkle’s findings were being verified all over the place.

Don’t get me wrong, for I am no Luddite, and I have no proof there is a correlation between nonsermitis and the digital screen, but it they don’t seem to be helping. Just think about the basics of a most Facebook posts – they are about sharing something that happened in one’s life, and most of these are one-sided. Sure there are likes and comments; however, they rarely lead to a deep conversation on that medium at least, but I digress.

Back, though, to the topic at hand – the possible cure for nonsermitis. The first thing would be to diagnosis oneself. Many people I know with nonsermitis do not realize they suffer from the disease. That, after all, is also one of its tricky side effects. Therefore, after conversations with others, reflect about the experience. How much did you share about your life? How much did you learn about the other person? If upon reflection you realize you are struggling to remember your learning much about or from the person at all, you may be suffering from nonsermitis.

While there is no official medical treatment yet, I think probably one of the best ways to battle a case of nonsermitis was tackled by Dale Carnegie back in 1937. In How to Win Friends and Influence People, he points out time and again the importance of taking a genuine interest in others with his included it as the first rule to get others to like you. He even stated and then repeated in italics Aflred Adler’s quotation: “It is the individual who is not interested in his fellow men who has the greatest difficulties in life and provides the greatest injury to others. It is from among such individuals that all human failures spring.” By taking this advice to heart, one can, in theory, overcome nonsermitis.

Therefore, remember when starting a conversation with another to be genuinely interested in the other. Doing so may be the only way to keep nonsermitis at bay and keep this disease from destroying all of society as we know it.