Category Archives: Life

Bursting Our Bubbles

Whenever I ride my bike to work, I find myself looking at each of the drivers passing by on 17th Street. This habit likely started out of safety, but it then quickly moved over to a fascination, for the majority of the times, I don’t recognize a single driver. This shouldn’t be a big deal given Hutchinson has over 41,000 people living here, but the place never seems that large. Rather, it has a small-town feel thanks to bumping into the same people at the grocery store, parks, concerts, theatre productions, Third Thursday, Young Professional events, and so forth. Then everyone seems connected too; however, these people driving by are a reminder Hutchinson is much larger than it feels, and they are also a reminder about the bubble in which I live.

The concept of living in a bubble has been on my mind a lot lately, and it has only seemed to grow over the last month thanks to two podcasts. However, before I get to those, let’s talk about bubbles. They can be pretty, safe, and comfortable, but they can be quite the opposite as well. It really all depends on what happens to make up a person’s own world. A lot of this can be indirectly caused by where one lives thanks to the stores and places he/she would tend to go. There are also direct causes that can help thicken the bubble’s walls, and in today’s world, it is so easy to do that by keeping only like-minded people in one’s social media network, watching/reading the news that lines up best with one’s beliefs, and surrounding oneself with friends who all share the same thoughts. Suggestions from websites only feed to this too with things like Google News analyzing the articles one tends to read, plugging this data into an algorithm, and the suggesting future news stories accordingly. Online music streaming sites, YouTube, and Amazon all do something similar with their recommendations that keep people in a nice, safe world rather than branching out. Although this is no doubt helpful in a way, it also leads to it being so much easier to get trapped in a bubble.

The trick, though, is breaking free.

NPR’s Invisibilia had a recent episode all about the reality we create thanks to bubbles, and one of the two people featured really intrigued me. Max Hawkins, a computer developer, decided to use technology in his favor by findings ways to hack/develop different apps that would allow for him to live a more random life. For an example, one such app searches all public Facebook events and randomly selects one for him to attend, and he goes. This has led to going to gatherings of all sorts that he never would have ever gone before with his meeting people whose paths his likely never would have crossed, which has led to new experiences, interesting conversations, and even new friends. His story led to my wondering how exactly I could do that with my own life with my now planning on making a more conscious decision to look at different things taking place in the area and picking one I likely never would have thought about tending before and going to it.

Invisibilia has been in my podcast subscription list for quite some time, so it’s definitely within my bubble. In fact, everything about me likely places me smack dab in the middle of the demographic in which it is aimed. Conversations with Bill Kristol, though, is definitely not.

Before we get into this second podcast that changed my life, let’s get into a little bit about my political bubble as a preface. I will say that I try my best to listen to people from all across the political spectrums, and this could be backed by stories in the Hutchinson News alone. Back in December 2015, a photo of me appeared having a great conversation (and it truly was a great conversation) with members of the Hutchinson Tea Party who were part of a Young Professionals Political Panel. Last year, my name came up as one of many who were collecting signatures for a Republican state senator candidate to be placed on the ballot. Then last June, my name appeared again in a story about a meeting of the Reno County Democrats where I stood up and spoke on behalf of Jason Probst regarding his interest in House of Representatives’ seat that became vacant after the tragic passing of the amazing Patsy Terrell. Then there would be quite a few stories about my non-partisan efforts chairing/co-chairing Kids Voting Reno County for the last three November elections.

I really do try my best honestly. However, with that said, there is an involuntary cringe that happens that I try very hard to hide when I find out someone I am talking to attends one of the churches in town that promote ideas that are not in favor of women and LGBT equality issues. That same cringe even happens when someone professes his/her love for Chick-fil-A despite my knowing about the good the restaurant chain has done as well (with that said, I still won’t eat there though). And while I will sometimes click on a Google News article from a source like Fox News, it is not often, and my favorite episodes of Fox & Friends would be Saturday Night Live’s, especially because of the list of corrections from the fact checkers at the end of each episode.

A similar cringe happened when I started listening to the interview with Nebraska’s Senator Ben Sasse on Conversations with Bill Kristol. I do want to be clear that the cringe doesn’t come from Sasse and Kristol being labeled as conservatives or Republicans. It was more about me preparing myself for another uber-conservative talk radio show of sorts that I have a tendency to listen to, especially the super religious ones, when I am on solo road trips (don’t ask why because I don’t know the answer either). The podcast wasn’t something I stumbled upon either. Rather, a friend of mine, who leans more toward the Libertarian side of the political spectrum, had referenced the podcast during a recent conversation, and based upon his and my discussion, I was intrigued to hear Sasse’s views on American society, especially regarding the Millennials. Both Sasse and Kristol had been on my radar from time to time but never for any length, nor were they ever a focus.

I listened on though, and much to my surprise in all honesty, the words of Sasse continually grabbed my attention with many of the things he said echoing similar thoughts and ideas I have attempted to express before during various conversations with friends, students, and anyone else who would listen. The biggest difference was Sasse is much more eloquent with his discussions about a society that is consuming life (or being consumed) via screens rather than “thinking about the habits of travel, of literacy, about learning to work, about the dangers of gluttony.” Many people I know from all different political spectrums would also agree with him when he says, “I think we want our kids to be curious. We want them to have a habit of reading. We want them to have a reading list of stuff they want to read. We want them to have the eyes that come from new travel.”

This great fascination with Ben Sasse has continued with my listening to the podcast a second time while in Colorado with my mother trapped in the passenger seat. Then soon I was following him on Twitter and watching his other interviews. Of course, his well-written book was also quickly purchased, and it was a great read with many great points. Just ask anyone who has been around me for any length of time, and they will tell you about my often now making references to Sasse, for more often than not, Sasse and I are on the same page with our overall beliefs even down to his not being able to conceive of the idea of being bored (I seriously don’t understand the concept. Sasse also made the fantastic point curiosity is the cure for boredom, which has led to my adding “incurious” to my often stated line that only boring people get bored).

Another shared point that became obvious in the interviews and his book was Sasse’s concerned about this growingly polarized bubbled world that seems to be forming. In fact, one of the main missions of his book was to fight that with the desire to bring people from all different sides together to strengthen the younger generation to the point the country will be in great hands when it comes their time to lead. Take this passage by Sasse from Conversations with Tyler:

One of the fundamental challenges of the moment we’re at is that we believe that the digital moment will necessarily expose us to more and more diverse things, and I think what’s actually going to happen is that we’re going to become more and more siloed. And there’s a real danger of tribalism and being able to at the moment that media is going to disintermediate. We’re not going to have big common channels anymore. We’re going to have more and more niche channels. It will be possible to surround yourself only with people who already believe what you believe.

In that world where you can create echo chambers and when advertisers and marketers and Russians are going to try to surround you with echo chambers to only believe what you already believe, it’s not going to be easy to develop empathy. It’s going to be really easy to demonize the other and come to believe that the deep problems of my soul and the deep problems of my mortality could maybe just be solved if I could vanquish those other really bad people from the field. That’s not true, and we’re going to have to, as a people, develop the maturity and the habits of empathy-creation, and that requires going other times and places both physically and in a literary sense.

Sasse captures the problems with bubbles. We become trapped and disconnected with others around us. It also doesn’t take long in the time in which we are living that ethnocentrism seeps in and blinds us either. Rather than empathy, a quick rejection can occur, and along with it can come quickly jumping to conclusions and reinforcing the bubble’s barriers.

The question then becomes how do we break free from a bubble. First, we need to recognize our bubble’s boundaries and reach beyond by getting out of our comfort zone. This can be something as simple as finding a public event, store, place, or even a restaurant we would never have gone to before and then going to it with an open mind. Also, while doing this, be sure not to bring one’s own prejudices to the experience. Rather, take with you a curiosity that leads to looking deeper into the experience. That can be the start. Of course, remember the power of conversation with others and avoiding nonsermitis. Even if a person may seem completely different on paper, similarities surely abound with all of us striving to have a better life. Here once again comes the importance of taking the time to listen to others rather than putting them in a box and brushing them off. I could have done that with Kristol and Sasse, but thankfully, that didn’t happen, and because it didn’t, so many ideas are now floating around in my head that are giving me hope for the future of our country.

One such idea is our political arena could be so much better if on a weekly basis during session, many of the politicians from the different parties would come together for dinner and a social hour following where they were not allowed to talk about politics at all. Rather, they could talk about their lives back home, their families, things about their districts that make them proud, their life histories, positive current events, travels, and all sorts of other things that groups of people getting to know each other would discuss. It couldn’t be a one-time thing either, but rather, it should be ongoing. In theory, through these outings, the fracture among the parties could start to mend as they would start to see people from the other party not as enemies but rather as friends who may differ in terms of some ideas but have same desire to improve society for all.

After all, we need to remember we are citizens of the United States of America. Unfortunately, that united part is showing quite a few fractures these days. Never will we all agree on something, and nor should we. It is through respectful substantial conversations and civil debates growth can occur. Carrying on these rather than quickly rejecting the other side could do so much good for us all. Plus, when it comes down to it, one of essential benefits of getting out of our bubbles is to grow not only as people but also as a society and a community.

Without a doubt, driving to work is much easier than riding my bike. Although tires on both travel the same route most of the time, the experience is very different. In addition to all of those people I mentioned earlier that I don’t recognize, there are also so many other things that come along with pedaling down 17th. Sure, not everything is always great, especially on one of those humid Kansas summer days, and you will be hard-pressed to find me riding to work during a frigid winter morning or when a hard rain is pummeling the ground. But then there are the times of that cool autumn breeze brushing against my face and also that delight that comes from a whiff of sweet flowers that had just started to bloom. Regardless of the season, the waves of neighbors and the grade school kids serving as crosswalk guards are always pleasant ways to begin the day. By staying comfortable in the confines of my vehicle, never would those little delights happen in my life. Plus, the pedaling helps burn off calories so I can devour more peanut butter too.

In all seriousness though, when it comes down to it, truly living our lives is all about putting ourselves out there. As John Donne wrote and as I found out as one of my first New Year’s Resolutions, no man (or woman) is an island. We should also avoid becoming islands of all like-minded people who never really grow. Rather, we should connect, or otherwise, we become, just like the bubbles in all of these photos scattered throughout this post, surrounded by beauty but never truly part of it.


May’s Monthly Theme – #PictureaDay #fortheMonthofMay

After a more intense monthly theme of taking on the Art of Manliness 30 Day Challenge to Becoming a Better Man (See Part I and Part II) in April, it seemed like a good idea to try an easier-going theme for the month of May but one that would still be helpful in a way. With my not being the best about posting things to social media on a regular basis despite my also being administers for several Facebook pages that should actually have regular content, the idea of posting a picture a day for the month of May seemed like a good idea. What seemed like a fluffy task turned out to be a very fascinating experience.

The task seemed easy enough. All I had to do was post a photo to Instagram (ryanhunterdiehl) and Facebook for each day of May. That was it. However, it led to all sorts of contemplations of whether the photos should be from that day or from the past or a mixture of both. Then there were a few other things that was thrown into the mix like Mother’s Day and my birthday which seemed like just some random photo wouldn’t work. Also battled was should the photo be of some beautiful scenery or include people in it. Ultimately, I went with a mix of all of the above.

What I quickly discovered was the great confusion that happened with the posts thanks to people thinking that the photo was representative of where I currently was despite hashtags like #travel #memories and then later the addition “from 20XX” further to try help with the situation. Still, even comments would be posted telling me to have fun, and some people thought I had come to their city without telling them. Another person I ran into downtown was extremely surprised and seemed somewhat disappointed to see me, for she was sure I was in Rome. I tried to explain the whole monthly theme New Year’s Resolution thing, but in a way, I felt sort of guilty for accidentally misleading people.

Then there was the experimentation with hashtags, which was really something new for me. It was fascinating how a hashtag like #travel would lead to almost instant likes from unknown people on Instagram. It was also interesting to see how many other posts were being made with the same hashtag. Right now, for an example, there are 19,028,738 recent posts using #pictureoftheday, which really is pretty amazing I think.

Some other challenges also came up. One was just my remembering to do the post, which led to some very late posts a couple of days; however, let’s just pretend it was a test to see the response rate posts received at different times during the day. Sure it was . . .

Then during the California adventure, I ran into one situation of neither having an Internet connection nor phone reception (which I will be honest and say was a wonderful situation in itself) to get a photo taken with my actual camera to my phone. This led to my having to pause along the journey from Calaveras Big Trees State Park to Yosemite in a parking lot in the small town with decent phone reception to utilize my phone’s hot spot to make the transfer and then the post (I believe this is what they would call #firstworldproblems).

The benefits of this experience were many though. Beyond learning I could actually become disciplined enough to make social media posts on a regular basis, the month of May became a walk down memory lane. While I had thought about some of my past travels here and there, looking at different photos would take me back to those experiences when they were snapped. Suddenly, cars were rushing past me as I tried to capture a night photo of the Coliseum. Then there was my sliding down the side of a mountain thanks to possibly not the smartest idea to get a glimpse and a photo of a waterfall that was a bit off the trail. After that, my mother and I were enjoying a beautiful evening stroll in the charming town of Shrewsbury. The memories just continued with each photo shared from the past.

The experience also led to capturing new memories as well. These included the times with helping with Hutchinson bike month activities as well as the confetti coming down at HutchCC’s graduation. Then there was the California trip with each posted photo capturing a moment and a memory. For an example, this one of the bear eating wild flowers reminds me how my mother and I had about ten minutes before started and then smartly changed our minds about hiking back into the woods to see wild flowers (the photo was taken safely from inside the car).


Then there is the photo of a fantastic group of people in front of the Golden Gate Bridge who were brought together almost seemingly by fate to enjoy not only a bike tour throughout San Francisco but also, most importantly, each other.

That, though, is the power of photos. Without a doubt, among my most valued possessions would be photos taken during travels, my younger years, times with friends, times with pets, and so on. My house and office are even decorated with framed and matted photos that allow for a passing glance to be a form of time travel, taking me right back to that place once again. Photos can sharpen a memory in a way almost like none other, and when photos are lost, so can some of the details of the memories behind them. During the evening after one of my top five times of my life which involved exploring Rottnest Island, the hard drive of my laptop crashed, losing all of the photos from my adventures in Australia that were not still on my camera. That loss still haunts me as moments with friends and on adventures become fuzzy and disappear rather than stay nice, crisp, and protected in a digital archive I could revisit whenever I wanted. Since then, I go to extremes to keep them safe with my saving photos in two different cloud services, on an external hard drive kept in a safety deposit box that also contains many full SD cards that have never seen a photo deleted from them, and on the hard drives of my two personal computers.

Sure, the monthly theme challenge for May led to my learning quite a bit about social media and discipline, but ultimately, it really was a chance to focus and in a way share with others some of my most valued possessions that will always be dear to my heart.


The Magic of Flying

Back in my younger days, my eyes would often catch planes flying overhead. During the day, I would be amazed by the contrails they made, and then at night, their blinking lights among the stars would always catch my attention. Thoughts about where they were going would run across my mind as I would try to imagine what it would be like to be so high in the air. Grandma Diehl would tell me about her flying experiences. Her description of the clouds being like fluffy pillows she just wanted to wrap around her held strong in my thoughts and has stayed with me even to today. It was through hearing her stories, watching planes fly, and seeing scenes in movies and television shows that a dream formed in this small-town Southeast Kansas Boy that one day he too would get to fly in a plane. That dream fortunately has come true not once but many times, and I can easily say that childlike wonderment still exists whenever I see a plane and a smile forms when walking into an airport.

My first trip into the sky happened when I was in fifth grade. A friend of my uncle’s took me up in his small plane. The flight was maybe only 10 minutes or so, but it was neat as he did a loop out of the Iola airport, so I could see where I lived looked like from up above. There below me was the house I called home, and behind it was the woods I spent so much time in, playing around and eating gooseberries. Then there was the lake that looked so huge standing at its waters but yet so tiny from where I sat in the cockpit’s passenger seat.

It wasn’t until years later that I boarded my first commercial plane which took me across the ocean for a History of England in England class. After that, I am lucky to say there have been many flights and many great memories made. Sure, there has been some delays here and there as well as some bumpy turbulence, but overall, the whole flying experience remains magical in my eyes, and here are just a few of the reasons why.

First, it is just nifty that something the size of a plane can carry everyone in it, weigh as much as it does, and be able to soar through the skies. Yes, I know there is a lot of science and mathematics behind it, but it is still mystical that someone can board such a contraption in one place and be across the country in a few hours. Just like that, destinations that would have days or weeks to get to by car or boat can be done in less than a day with most being only hours. A plane ticket opens up the world to a person, and that is just truly amazing.

Then there is that whole different beauty that can be seen from the airplane window. Sunrises and sunsets have a whole other feel as the first rays spread over the land above and turn those fluffy clouds into something golden. Then there are the sights of the land below with the buildings and roads among rivers, lakes, farm fields, and mountains. The wee little cars travel here and there, taking their passengers to their desired destinations all while being watched from up with the passenger becoming an almost omnipresent deity in a sort of way.

Also fascinating and neat are all of the people on the plane. They all have their own stories. Some are off on a vacation and others are heading some place thanks to work. Some are heading home to people they love, and others are leaving their world behind to start a new one in a new place. There are the brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers heading to see family and perhaps hold a newborn nephew, niece, grandson, or granddaughter for the first time. Then there are those on much more somber journeys prompted by a death or an illness. All of these stories converge for a time as the people carrying them sit among each other traveling from Point A to Point B.

The same can be said for airports too. Walking down a terminal is almost like being in a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Sure, a purchased ticket locks a person into a certain destination, but suddenly, all of these other possibilities can very well be seen at the digital sign hanging behind the counters. One plane is heading to New York City, another to Garden City, Kansas, and yet another Melbourne, Australia. Each destination promises different experiences that could change a life trajectory in so many different ways, and for some of these destinations, a person may have never even thought about them until walking to get the gate and catching a city’s name even for a second.

Really when it comes down to it, the flying experience could be a metaphor for life. Everyone is on his or her own journey. Some take the same flight while others will take another. Paths cross. Some crossings may be nothing more than a glance or maybe simply helping someone for a bit like pulling down a carry-on bag from the overhead bin. Then other people will play a larger role like those seatmates with whom one can carry on a great conversation during that flight time and then never see again, but for just that hour or two or more, the two connect as their journeys came together. Then there are the travel companions that stay with a person through it all, who are right by their side no matter what. Life will have its turbulent times as we go through storms, but then there are the sublime sights to be seen if people just open the window shade and look out to the world around them. Things unfortunately do not always end well, but for many of the times, there is a safe landing as long as everything keeps moving forward.


There are so many great memories in my life that have taken place either in airports or on the planes. Some are very simple like people watching while sitting in one of the rocking chairs in the Charlotte airport. Some are more dramatic like sprinting across the Denver airport to try to make it to my connecting flight to Wichita. Some are fantastic like the great people I have had the fortune of meeting thanks to fate placing our seats next to each other like Gayla, Art, Hallie, Jay, and so many others whose names may escape me but their stories have remained in my mind. There is also all of the adventures I have had the fortune to share with my mother as we took our annual trip to some great destination, spending time in anticipation on the plane getting there and smiling as we reflected about our adventure on the flight back.

I know for some people flying becomes nothing more than a routine experience, but for me, I don’t think that will ever happen. Rather, many years from now, I will still be that small town Southeast Kansas boy with thoughts of memories, anticipations, possibilities, and magic as I walk towards my gate before boarding a plane for another adventure.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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



The Very Thinly Masked Nonsermitis Sufferer


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.

Fated: An Ode to the Tales of Destined Lovers

Author Unknown

There was a time we might have met
An hour we might have dined together
Only it rained that night and you stayed
Snug at home fearing the weather

And once I saw you on the street
Lilacs were out, the air was heady
I might have stopped to speak
But you hailing a bus were gone already

I might have looked, you may have smiled
But we didn’t and I can’t see why
If we had known that you were you
And I was I! Or did you pass and sigh?

It’s odd to think we might have been
Sun, Moon, and Stars unto each other
Only I turned down one little street
As you went up another

My junior year of high school had me in the Iola Public Library looking for a poem to analyze for a class assignment. It could be any poem, but I was having trouble picking one. I had already skimmed through the anthologies at the high school library, and none had grabbed my attention. Sure, I could do a classic, but rather, I wanted to find something else, and then it happened. It was the third or fourth book I had pulled off the shelf. The plain maroon cover parted, and there before me was the poem “Fate.” Being a hopeless romantic, it was just the thing to strike heart.

Thinking back now, I don’t think I ever checked out the book, nor did I make a photocopy of it. Rather, I wrote the poem on the back of an Altoids’ wrapper because I was cheesy like that, and at that time, I always carried a tin of Wintergreen Altoids everywhere I went. Soon after, I showed the poem to a friend, and she made fun of its slant rhymes and forced lines, but that didn’t stop me of being proud of my discovery and from that wrapper ending up in my wallet to be carried around with me throughout the rest of high school, college, and grad school. When a wallet was on its last thread, the folded-up poem would shift to the next and the next as it stayed with me throughout the different stages of my life until sometime after I had moved to Hutchinson and it remained, likely because I had finally found love, in an old wallet sentenced to being thrown into a storage tote of randomness rather than being transferred once again.


The topic of “Fate” really is nothing new, for it is a story that has been told often, and yet every time, it has the power to grab the hearts of people for some reason. Just one of the recent examples would be Kodaline’s music video for “The One.”

Then the story transcends the fictional world and makes it into the news when a couple discovers years before their paths crossed and they had no idea. Back in 2014, a British couple were surprised to find both of them in a photo together from 1994 at the beach as they were getting ready for their wedding in 2014. In 2010, there was another couple featured in new stories where they both made it into a single photograph taken at Disney World 15 years before they were to ever meet. Definitely, check out this link that will take you to a story with the photos about both of these couples, and then scroll down to the comments where many more people share their stories about how they too unknowingly crossed paths with the person they would ultimately one day date, love, marry, and cherish (and sometimes divorce too).

The question, though, gets back to why this story of close encounters until the stars finally align make many of us pause and smile. Although the reasons are many, three have come to my mind as I have been contemplating this lately.

For starters, we live in a world saturated with love, especially romantic love. At one time, society didn’t provide most with the luxury of holding out for a potential soulmate. The focus of the relationship was quite different where practicality won out over the idea of a fluttering heart. However, as society shifted and allowed for more free time to occur with less pressure on procreating, childrearing, and marrying for social status, wealth, and power (or lack thereof). Now, though, we live in a time well characterized by Vertical Horizon’s 2000 hit “Everything You Want” that is all about having found someone seemingly perfect except for missing that final heart-soaring, cupid-directed-arrow quality until, of course, a person decides to do what many would describe as “settling for good enough.”

Commercials, books, TV shows, movies, Disney, music, and pretty much everything else throws this ideal of true love at us, which primes us to like these stories that eventually lead to what we see as a happy ending when in reality they are more happy beginnings of their finally getting together. In a way, it restores faith in the concept of true love is such a thing and is out there. Although it may seem just beyond our grasp at times, it still exists, and that alone can adds to the love of romantic love.

Then there is how these stories support the concept of fate. The encounters are so close that they cannot be mere coincidences, but rather, they seem to be part of a greater master plan. And as was discussed coincidentally in this week’s podcast of NPR’s The Hidden Brain, these situations break the everyday life pattern, and that leads to their seeming to have a meaning we want to explain as being beyond us. If they are part of a bigger plan, then suddenly everything else can be as well, which in a way can provide a comfort to a person that everything does happen for a reason with each choice we make being a step closer to some destined future.

One other reason for this story’s ongoing possibility is it gives faith to single people like me that somewhere out there is the person often described as our other half – our soul mate. We go about our life bombarded with images of romantic love and it is through a poem like “Fate” that we can believe that person is out there and that one day both of us will finally bump into each other.

Or that is at least how I look to look at these stories of lovers being so close to each other until the instantaneous chemistry of the first meeting finally occurs. For over three years now (minus two months that really don’t count because the person I was dating was back on dating apps less than three weeks into our doomed whatever), I have been single. Although I have largely given up finding anyone as long as I live in Hutchinson, that hasn’t stopped me from doing such things like looking up at the stars on my way back from Metropolitan Coffee and thinking that somewhere under that sky there is someone with whom I will finally connect. Although it is highly unlikely we will find each other in the other’s old vacation photos or learn we just kept missing each other barely throughout our lives, it still provides a fun thought or two to have, but you have to keep in mind this is coming from a guy who teaches a class on fairy tales, is a sucker for these tales of destined lovers, and is carrying a cheesy romantic poem handwritten on the back of an Altoids’ wrapper in his wallet once again.

The Crossing of Paths

Today marks the birthday for two of my Facebook friends. For one, our paths first crossed in kindergarten. Grade after grade, we would be in the same classroom until eventually our journeys split somewhere in high school. We would then see each other from time to time, but years would pass in between. In 2013, I quickly confirmed the friend request she sent my way, and her posts would make me smile and like away as she posted about and then shared photos of her outdoor wedding. Her photos of her adorable son would receive a smile every time they came up in my newsfeed. We never talked though. I got one happy birthday note posted on her wall during that window where thanks to Facebook our journeys were connected ever so slightly over the internet and also through updates my mother would give me whenever she would see Christy. She would have been 35 today, but unfortunately, an unexpected death robbed her of that chance back in the summer of 2014 when her Facebook profile became a memorial to a good person with a good heart.

My other friend whose birthday is today did turn 35. I met him one afternoon clear back when we were both high schoolers while I was working at Iola Cinema. He had recently started dating one of my best friends, Erica, and the two of them were off to see a movie together. He was also looking for a job, and after some conversations, an application and a job interview with the manager, he soon became not only my co-worker but also my best friend. We were inseparable for those last years of high school with our hanging out non-stop. He was from a neighboring town, but we would spend evenings together when he was not with his latest girlfriend at the time (Erica and he did not last long), go on weekend hikes exploring some land my family owned, and take trips to the Kansas City area for movie marathons to catch films the little two-plex in Iola would likely never get.

The cover of the CD Mix Ian gave to me filled with songs from a mixtape I had given to him back in our younger days.

At one time, we talked about being roommates in college although something in the back of my mind told me this would not be a good idea (years later when I was an RA and watching friendships die during the time of sharing a dorm room together confirmed that gut feeling); however, fate threw a hand into the mix, tossing me to Emporia while he went as planned to KU. Eventually, life itself took over our schedules with my throwing myself into campus activities outside of my school work in the humanities and his time becoming occupied with an intense pharmacy curriculum and what seemed to be an even more intense relationship. With little notice, we drifted apart to our only catching up just a few times during the last years of our undergraduate studies before I left for Australia and he for California. Although a few conversations were had over the years, our paths did not cross until he stopped late last fall in Hutchinson for a night on a road trip to find himself after leaving the pharmacy world behind. We caught up that evening and laughed about past stories while talking about a future where our friendship would be back like it once was, but when the morning came, our paths diverged once again to where little communication exists between us.

One of last week’s themes for me, if weeks were to have themes, seemed to be about how paths with others will cross at different times in our lives.

For an example, my mother and I met this wonderful Australian family not once but twice during our Canadian summer adventure. The first time we both happened to have stopped our cars at the same great overlook to catch a view and few photos of Two Jack Lake outside of Banff during the last evening hours. We were there just minutes together. Robert mentioned something about great minds thinking alike, and the five of us chatted briefly before taking in the stunning view nature had given us.

Two Jack Lake from Our Scenic Overlook

Then the next day my mother and I left the Banff area to head towards Lake Louise. We took our time along the Bow Valley Parkway with our stopping for quite a while to hike into Johnston Canyon. After seeing the beauty of the upper and lower falls, we returned towards our afternoon destination. We hadn’t made it far until we were driving by Castle Cliffs scenic lookout. Originally, I figured we would drive on by, but thanks to what appeared to be a flash of beauty, my mother and I decided we should pull the car around and head back to the pull out where it would take us less than five minutes to see Castle Mountain. Much to our surprise, the car pulling in right before us belonged to no other than that fantastic Australian family we had last seen over 15 hours before and 40 kilometers away. Starting with my greeting them this time with “Great minds think alike!,” what was thought to be a five-minute stop led before we saw them to our being there for over an hour with our conversation flowing over so many different topics. Our plan was to catch up again while we were all in Jasper, but that unfortunately didn’t happen; however, we are staying in touch thanks to emails and Facebook posts. Earlier this week Robert closed out a message mentioning his hopes our paths would all cross again sometime.

Then there was the reading I did this weekend. One of my favorite podcasts is The Tim Ferriss Show (which is a blog post all in its own), and Tim Ferriss has often sung the praises of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. Temptation finally got the better of me, and my own copy arrived earlier this week. As a reward for working homework Friday night and Saturday, I granted myself reading time. Late Saturday evening, the book inspired me, as I attempt to avoid any spoilers, to once again think about how people come into our lives for a while before our paths diverge to maybe one day cross again.

The examples kept coming from all sorts of angles, including random thoughts about many people thanks to the date of what would been an anniversary if a past relationship would have made it. Everything seemed to carry that underlying point about how our lives interact with others. Sometimes, those crossings are only for a bit – a moment when eyes lock, a friendly conversation occurs, or perhaps a first and only date happens but nothing else ever occurs after for really no other reason than the workings of timing. Then there are the others where our journeys will run parallel with another’s for months, years, and decades to the point we can’t imagine ever not having that person just a phone call, text message, or simply the turn of a head away.

Inevitably, though, the paths always will diverge somehow and in some way. Sometimes they may cross again much to surprise of both like this weekend when I matched with an old college acquaintance on Tinder. Other times we may hope for them to cross once more with our often telling ourselves to call, text, write a letter, or make a journey to see that person but none of those efforts ever materialize. Then there are the many others times where both just simply drift from each other’s thoughts unless some song, smell, word, Facebook birthdays notification, or trinket ignites a fleeting flash of a memory. With the exception of perhaps those brief recollections of the past, they simply vanish as both go their own ways.

However, the thing is not to focus on the end, and that is what the second week’s theme seemed to hit me over the head repeatedly and say. It was kicked off in a way when my mother wanted me to check out two lines from Roy Clark’s “Yesterday, When I Was Young” that tied to another conversation we have been having, which will be the topic of another upcoming post: “And every conversation I can now recall/Concerned itself with me and nothing else at all.”

That was added later by an excerpt from David Foster Wallace’s phenomenally thought-provoking commencement address my friend Jason shared on Facebook. In it, Wallace he called the graduates not to think of themselves as the center of the world but rather think “the Capital T Truth is about life before death; it is about the real value of a real education which has almost nothing to do with knowledge and everything to do with simple awareness.”

And those really are the key things I think. We are to move beyond ourselves and be aware of those around us for however long we are so fortunate to have them around. We can then cherish those times when we look back and not find them to be conversations all about ourselves but rather about each other, about life, about the world we are in, and about really anything else that is out there as we share experiences and create memories for however long our paths should run together.