Derek Johnson Muses

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Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Photo that’s Just So Important

Originally, I had tried to think of something to write about a human flaw, just so I could use the photo below in a post. But I struck out, so here it is. Just the photo.

Hometown Store

Hometown Store

I photographed this store on a road trip I took two years ago. It was trip that I took and told no one about, and even now, the only thing I’ll say about it is that it was to one of the most sparsely populated areas of the country. It was a three-day trip. The first day featured glorious weather. The next two featured bothersome rain.

Tell me, is this picture pretty enough to stand on its merit? Do you need to know the name of the town it is in, that I took it in the afternoon, that it is the only significant town for several miles? Do I have through in long exposition about how I rolled into town looking for a coffee shop but didn’t find one, then continuing to push on towards a state borderline? Does it matter that a whole town full of people spent years of their lives walking by this store, and that part of me feels like I traveled a whole world to find it? It is, after all, just a store, sitting out there on the prairie, with so much in between.

Or is this just another desperate ploy on my part to get attention? Probably, but I hope the other stuff matters too.

Waking Nightscapes and Other Things to Do at 3:00 A.M.

The saga usually starts with having to go to the bathroom, as I roll over crack my eye to register 2:16 A.M. on the alarm clock on my bedside table. I get up and do my business, and return to bed, eager to fall back under the mysterious spell of sleep. Until I start thinking.

This past week, it was unexpected lightning keeping me up. Sometimes, it’s the next day’s big task, or the scary and/or intense movie I watched the previous evening. Sometimes, a sin that is weighing on me. Any way the chaos slices itself, the thoughts sift through my head until I realize that has to be at least twenty or thirty minutes since I first woke.

The sound of trains and traffic rolling outside my window hound me as my head spins. Sometimes, that waking time can be spent prone on the bed, as I mull whatever’s troubling me and pray it out. But once I’ve become conscious of that I have a phone with limitless access within reach that may have updates on its screen.

Oh, the beckoning phone. Sure, sometimes it’s necessary to get up and distract myself, but the burning of brain cells in the darkness to my iPhone can do as much to do as much to make me anxious as it does to burn time, especially when it sends me down the path of old mistakes.

Even as I lie tossing and turning, I long for the bright dreamscapes of my mind’s eye. Sure, there are nights when I have nightmares that drive me to keep my eyes open for fear of a revisit, but on most nights, I relish the bright worlds I go to. And I’m cranky and fail to think straight when I don’t sleep enough.

The choice of whether or not to get up is always an angsty one. Watch some TV or read some article, or walk a bit to get rid of some of the anxiety. No matter how I shape it, if I do get up, I’ll have lost an hours’ sleep, likely more. And it’s burdening.

But sometimes that extra time in thought or prayer is enough to convince to take a new road in life, or to change courses. Usually, the revelations aren’t big, but they are meaningful enough to get me going in the right direction. And most of the time, I’ll block out any incurred sleep deprivation over time.


Down and Out…

Challenge of Choirs

Lot on My Mind

Lot on My Mind

It usually starts when I’m on the couch at 4:53, and PTI is winding down. I’ll be playing Call of Duty: World at War Zombies on my phone, and I start thinking about dinner. If it’s the first time I’ve thought about dinner that afternoon , the tasks of chopping, stirring, and frying an entire meal will feel as daunting as scaling a mountain.  If I’m already feeling hungry, I’ll be rationalizing a trip to Runza or Amigos, wherever I happen to have coupons. Such choirs can’t possibly get in the way.

Then I get up, fix my meal, and while I’m eating, I wonder why I would ever discard the peace of mind of having my next meal already cooked.

I could repeat this routine of electronics stealing attention from any number of choirs. There’s a wad of unfolded clothes in one of the baskets, and I’ll have four more articles I want to read. My favorite episode of The Big Bang Theory is about to come on, and I’ll be thinking about making cookies. I’m sitting next to a mess on the couch it would take five minutes to clean (which I literally am doing right now), but I’m watching a baseball game while I’m scanning my Twitter feed, looking for something to tweet about. Because after all, I haven’t tweeted in four hours, even if these newspapers have been on my couch for over six weeks.

Adult Life Paradox: you do have a lot of free time, and your mom isn’t around to nag you. But there is a lot of stuff you have to do, particularly when you own a house. There is no schedule, except for the one you make for yourself. (And I don’t have children.)

When I have a game or information in my hands, getting up and doing something would feel overwhelming. But the second I cut that first piece of meat or start the water, it feels simple. Certain choirs come more easily: cooking yields more of a reward than filing organizing, which I can only do for an hour max. But it’s better than a life full of fat.


Nowhere to Run

Out Here

Out Here

You couldn’t make a show like 24 in the western plains. Not just because terrorist plotting against Ainsworth, Nebraska, or Gillette, Wyoming would make no sense, but the country west of Lincoln and Omaha (and their respective commuter havens), is tall grass prairie, hill shuttle beneath an expansive sky. These plains are not like Illinois or Iowa, where you see wind turbines and corn and soybeans growing, AKA signs of humanity, and well-worn highways connect the towns and population centers. When the cattle-grazing ground begins in abundance, you know that you’re stepping out into the real west, the west as it was.

Tough Row to Hoe

Tough Road to Hoe

These are indeed mysterious lands. Miles between major cities, or even just cities of substance. It’s always fascinating when you drive into a city like Scottsbluff or North Platte and realize just how many people drive 30 miles just for a simple Wal-Mart visit. Every day treats most people get are an ocean away for the people who live out here.


Will it Get You?

Whenever I head west (which happens every so often), I think of the major events: the millions of buffalo that once commanded the hills, the coming of settlers, the 1930’s dust bowls, and the inevitable exodus back to the cities, after the cities themselves stopped having children. They probably are more connected to the big cities now through TV and the internet; online shopping has probably reduced some of their long trips into towns. But life there probably carries on like it always does.

Always the Same, No Matter How Redundant

Always the Same, No Matter How Redundant

Spring Up and Lawn Mowing

Friday was the first day of the year where it got to summer-hot in Seward, as the clouds broke and the sun poured through. I don’t like it when it gets too hot to wear a jacket, because I much prefer to wear a hoodie and carry my phone and my keys in jacket pockets. Oh well, at least high heat better than the obtrusiveness of snow.

It rained all April, so I had to bust out the mower early this year. One of the downsides of my huge, old-town lot is that it takes me 90 minutes and full tanks of gas to cut it, both front and backyard. Not that I should mind, but it just feels like such a gargantuan task with a push mower. Oh well.

Those few weeks of late March/early April when the world changes from brown to green are somewhat magical. Nebraska usually has stretches of winter where there’s no snow on the ground, so for the better part of six to seven months, all we see is brown. On many of the summer days here, it gets too hot to go outside, leaving few green days with cool temps.

The last few nights I’ve walked downtown, and for the life of me, I can’t understand why there aren’t more people around. It’s such a special place this time of year. Of course, so many of the people with kids have moved out to the northern edges of town, but I can have that special square all to myself. I’ll take it.


Booking Road Notes: Back to Kansas

Watertower of Du Bois, Nebraska

Watertower of Du Bois, Nebraska

This past Monday, I took another delivery for my warehouse landlord, again sneaking into Kansas long enough to say I was there, this time to Seneca. I went off-the most beaten path, taking Nebraska Highways 41 and 50 respectively to get around Beatrice. Just north of Du Bois,the highway service had a sign up saying the road was closed, but since I’m no stranger to the dirt road, I decided to follow the highway as long as I could. Good thing-I would have gone forty miles out of my way just to avoid a single bridge that was out. Come on, Nebraska and Kansas-you can still just divert the traffic on paved roads.

This time, I told myself I wasn’t just going to make my time on the road matter, so I downloaded an audiobook to my Kindle to feed my cuturediness. Culturediness is my bad habit that I feed by buying stuff to feel high-minded. Books. A white end table. A rain barrel. A park bench. My 20-year old Chevy. Even my house to a point. And yes, listening to a biography of Charles Lindbergh and early aviation makes me feel better than if I were listening to KFRX.

Issues, Etc and other podcasts are great for filing the time when I’m entering numbers into the computer, scrambling eggs for lunch, or hanging a shelf. They work in the truck, but books give breadth and depth of knowledge podcasts can’t. Plus turn on some nice stories or history in the truck, and you get the a breadth to the rolling Wisconsin hills or twisting Illinois highway that you just can’t get with the Best of Mike and Mike. Okay, that was snobbish. But also true.

The Lindbergh biography took up two and a half hours of my drive time, with another eight left. I’ll need at least one trip to Illinois/Wisconsin to finish that puppy, and then I’ll have a free book to choose from the audiobooks iPhone ap. Won’t last the summer, but should go a long ways.




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