Derek Johnson Muses

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Monthly Archives: April 2014

I’m not Supposed to Complain, but I will Anyway


So Far Away

In one of my recent posts over on Huskermax, my commenters went off on how negative I was, and I got to thinking: I am kind of a Conan-cynic type.

When things don’t go my way in life, I handle it the way a person is supposed to: by focusing on my failures and setting a low standard that so I can pretend I’m doing fine. Okay, seriously, I should offer real (faked) insight.

As I scrolled down through the post I’ve written since last summer, I saw a lot more of that doom and gloom. I wish I had something to say that was encouraging and that brightened your world, if only for the sake of just being positive. Something like “there’s always a ray of the sunshine in the midst of even the worst storms”, that kind of Hallmark garbage. But I can’t, and honestly I don’t want to.

The truth is, the world is a really hard place, and sometimes you can be the person you are and it’s still not fulfilling. And maybe the point is that life is not supposed to be fulfilling this side of heaven so we don’t stop trying. Feelings can only take you so far; your objective state in life can be so much more.

Road Notes: Full of Surprises and Joy

Back to the Future

Back to the Future. I was there.

I spent three days last week trucking around the four awkward fitting corners of Nebraska-Missouri-Iowa-Kansas delivering and picking up seed. Couple of long days and short nights, but it was a lot of fun to be back in the truck, getting caught up on podcasts while watching the entire world wake up to spring.

It all started Tuesday, when the owner of the lab space I rent asked me to run some seed to his dealer in Graham, Missouri, a 200-size town roughly 20 miles east of I-29 off the Mound City exit. It’s the fourth time since December that I’ve driven down or across the I-29/Missouri River Valley, and the hills still roll like an endless wave. At least I-29 is better than I-35 between Des Moines and KC. On my way home, I grabbed dinner at Crave in Lincoln, thinking I’d spend Wednesday dutifully catching up.

The Long and Wavy Bluffs that Stretch from OMA to KC

The Long and Wavy Bluffs that Stretch from OMA to KC

On actual Wednesday, those tidy plans were disrupted when I was asked to go to Belle Plaine, Iowa and pick up a bulk load of seed. I gratefully threw my plans for the day out the window and left promptly because, as sudden as it was, too many ordinary days lead to too many ordinary thoughts. Besides I got to eat at the Corn Crib. 

Thankfully, I pressed hard to get to Belle Plaine and arrived at the processing plant just before the secretary I had to bother was about to leave for the day. I was loaded quickly and peacefully traversed to my parents’ apartment in Ames, along the tight hills-corridor of US Highway 30, until it opens up to four lanes around Marshalltown.

Thankfully, I slept poorly and woke up at 3:18 A.M. After 45 minutes of kidding myself, I got up, showered, and was out the door by 5 A.M., eager to beat rush hour traffic around Des Moines. So giddy, I celebrated with Starbucks breakfast: oatmeal with a vanilla latte, things I always want to get at Starbucks, but never do because I’m never there that early.

I glided cheerily through lighter traffic and the world waking up, even as my energy inconveniently burned off around 7:45, forcing me to crush a Starbucks Refresher. I still dragged, but clung to the thought that I would be back to Seward before noon and who knows what the afternoon would hold.

And upon my return to office, I was asked to take one more delivery to Kansas that afternoon! I eagerly said yes. After all, I could go home for lunch and crash for ten minutes and be back to normal. If I didn’t have another delivery, I would be on pins and needles from the Refresher all afternoon. Imagine the waste.

I went home, ate, started a load of laundry, and repeated the delivery cycle. This particular delivery was just across the Nebraska-Kansas border, south of Odell, Nebraska. The familiar turns on I-80 east to Lincoln, them south to Beatrice whizzed by me, almost as if it were happening to someone else. I crossed the border on an obscure country road (miss the welcome-to-Nebraska signs!), and after a bit of searching, found the farm. Then it was back up the highway, and another special dinner (Culver’s this time around), rushing back to Seward in time for church. A delightful day indeed.


Border Signs

The Invisible Mound

Pile up at the bottom.

Pile up at the bottom.

I’ve written over 300 blog posts over the past two and a half years, not counting the post I’ve written for other sites. Over the past six to eight months, I’ve thought some about compiling these posts for a book or something, and a few weeks ago, I started dumping them into random files on my computer before I realized that this wasn’t the purpose of why I starting writing this blog to begin with.

I write first and foremost to get out the evil voices in my head that drive me crazy. When I started blogging on WordPress, my head was overflowing with thoughts I hadn’t expressed. I still can’t believe I would post something every day when I started writing, but it eventually slowed down. Eventually, I just ran out of things to say, which I was fine with. But given how many hours I’ve put into this, there is that sense that I should do something with all the words lying around here.

I recognize the pattern I’m in because I’ve been here before. I start on a project and I feel this rush of energy from the new challenge and experience. But after a while, the energy burns off and I give up and let it go. That’s part of who I am, and some of those project weren’t supposed to work out. But I also recognize that at some point, I may need to take a writing class or read a book on writing, so that I don’t keep churning out material and letting the thoughts wash away in my mind.

I’m back where I started. When I began writing this blog (and taking photos of my time on the road), I felt desperate to have a sense of accomplishment from the miles I spent barreling around the Midwest, nothing to show for it. Now, I want something to show for it again.

Corner in Black River Falls, Wisconsin

Corner in Black River Falls, Wisconsin

Life in the Wastelands

San Francisco's Grand and All...

San Francisco’s Grand and All…

I’ve seen the cartoons with the maps shows New York, LA, and nothing in between. Those big executives and companies on the coasts, they think so little of us in Flyover Country. Sadly, sometimes they are right, but there are good reasons people choose to live between Middle America’s hay bails.

I’ve been to Southern California twice, Chicago many times, DC twice, and spent a month in San Francisco once. My goal to visit New York remains unfilled, but I’m guessing I have spent more time in major cities than any rich, urban commentator has spent roaming the fruited prairie. Don’t get me wrong, the options there are amazing, and if I did make a lot of money, I’d love to live in Chicago or San Francisco. Or I could buy farmland here in Nebraska.

Bright Lights

Bright Lights of Chicago

There a lot of reasons people would choose to live here in Seward, or in any small community. A slower pace of life. Chunks of people (yours truly included) have been born here and never moved. Others have worked in a larger city and wanted to move someplace where they can preserve their savings and buy a better house for less money, even if they have to take pay cuts. Since the recession a lot of people have come out to the sub-1,000 towns of Staplehurst and Goehner here because they’ve become impoverished.

What makes this area look depopulated are the family farms where one sibling took over the farm and the other three moved someplace else. But the demographics are more complicated.

Towns like Seward (like most of rural America) have a gap of people between the ages of 22-30, as this is the demographic that has moved away to get more education and work experience. They come back in droves in their thirties and forties, but the lack of young adults is noticeable, and makes you feel a bit lonely if you were one of ones who stayed. It’s a part of a new age in America, where moving has become tied in with economic prosperity.

The Main Street...the One and Lonely.

The Main Street…the One and Lonely.

There is no question that this return to the small towns is tied to the “good place to raise kids” adage that cities quaintly tied upon rural America, and rural America in turn embrace to prop up their own self-esteem. But with the rise of adults-only priced neighborhoods, perhaps “a more affordable place to raise the kids” better reflects what these communities are. (Interesting side note: a friend in the know told me over the weekend it now costs as much to build in Seward as it does in Lincoln. Amazing we caught up.)

It’s weird for me to be in this money-preserving middle, having skipped the step where I moved to the big cities, or abbreviated it in some sense. But there would have been a lot of work involved in that too, so I guess I should be grateful for that.



Why I liked the How I Met Your Mother Finale Twist (Major Spoilers!)

(Warning: The following posts contains spoilers from the SERIES FINALE of How I Met Your Mother, up to and including the final scene of the series. Proceed at your own risk!)
I’d followed How I Met Your Mother since its early years and was always enchanted by the show. Granted, the whole mystery of how Ted actually met the mother could be tedious, but the show never took itself that seriously, which, incidentally, I would argue was the fatal flaw of Lost and why that show’s finale didn’t work. That’s why, when HIMYM pulled its final, premise-undermining twist, I was impressed that Craig Thomas and Carter Bays had the guts to pull a real shocker, even if the final reveal wasn’t as clean as it could have been.
The reason the ending worked for me is, like the daughter said, the mother was barely in the story. If you just plopped down on the couch and starting watching HIMYM, you’d probably have the same observation: show about the mother who isn’t there? What’s up with that? Ted, the classic overthinker, is the kind of guy who would sit his kids down and tell them eight years of history to work up the courage to ask one girl out. So that serves the overall arc of the show.
But the ending could have been better with more context. It is fair to look at the ending and say (as many have), “If Barney and Robin got divorced after three years with no kids, how are Ted and Robin going to make it with Ted already having kids?” Some more context could have helped, like saying “Robin moved back to New York two years ago and doesn’t travel as much as she used to. She’s shown much more interest in Ted’s kids since their mother has died.” There’s a ten-year gap between the last Robin sighting at Ted and Tracy’s wedding and Ted asking Robin out again, when Ted and Robin are now in their fifties. A lot could have changed, and that should have been made clear, in order to make the twist more palatable.
This leads to the real problem of the finale, and that is of Barney and Robin’s divorce after a mere three years of marriage, after three seasons’ worth of buildup to their marriage. Honestly, the produces should have killed Barney at some point in the future if they wanted to bring Ted and Robin back together. It would have been sad, but it would have been better than negating all the growing up Barney did for two years, only to knock it down and build it back up in half-an-hour
But in a way, HIMYM finale is just the way life is, for better or worse. People fall in and out of love, and in and out of lives. Just because Ted is asking Robin out in the future doesn’t mean that he was in love with her all the time he was married to Tracy. He’d still be with Tracy if she was alive, but she died. Ted moved on, and at his age, he can marry a woman who was just a friend.

What Causes the Happy State (of Mind)

The Empty House

The Empty House

I’ve sat and watched whole TV-on-DVD sets in just a couple of days. I’ve sampled every dessert at a party or an art opening multiple times, and been stuffed afterward. I indulge Starbucks lattes, Husker football games on a whim, and vintage clothes from thrift stores. It all serves the same purpose.

It makes me happy. But in reflection, I remind myself that those things gratify my tastes first and foremost. There’s a big difference.

“Gratification” causes a burn of aestheticism within the walls of the body. Sometimes it does actually lead to lasting happiness, but it lies and leaves one empty just as often. That burst of virtual reality that gives you a short feeling of connectivity while it’s on, only leaving you to go to bed thirsting for real human interactions. Gratification whispers, “There is no yesterday, and no tomorrow. Assume the present will save you.”

As I’ve aged, I’ve come to understand that true happiness depends a lot on what’s in front of you and behind you informing what you do in the present. While I still enjoy my leisure time, I can’t spend vast time in leisure without worrying about my responsibilities with the business, or at home. (It’s funny how a yearly property tax bill can change your perspective.) God’s promise of heaven to Christians enlightens what we should be doing now in time, so how much more should I measure my material possessions and time?

I have days when the business is slow, and I can do whatever I want. I know that sounds great, but after a while, I wish that I was doing something. The slow days pile up, slowly but surely, and over the course of years, they leave holes in your life that you don’t know how to fill. And you feel like you’ve wasted a lot of your life on stuff that doesn’t matter. That’s why I don’t get it when I hear Democrats like Harry Reid talk about “job lock” like it’s a bad thing. A lot of jobs may be boring, but they are just that: jobs. If you weren’t working as much, you’d worry more about your future.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve taken a few temporary jobs to pass the time when things are slow. They’ve been tough and exhausting, and the pay on some of them has been so low I’ve wondered if they were worth taking to begin with. But, they are jobs, and no matter the outcome, they saved me from time I would have wasted worrying.

(A post that inspired me to think about what causes happiness.)

The Houses that are not Empty

The Houses that are not Empty


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