Derek Johnson Muses

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Age Without Distinction

Earlier this year, I was jarred a bit when I ran into an acquaintance from growing up who was three grades behind me. This person still appeared very young to me even though said person is now twenty-seven. I felt a gap between myself and this person that I don’t feel between myself and the college students at church, because it was a person I knew from growing up.

I am turning thirty in October, but I don’t freak out about my age, or really have any opinion on it. I feel like I should come up with something to write on the subject, such as what the last decade has meant to me, or what being older signifies to me, but honestly, I can’t think of anything. To me, time just passes the way it passes, which thankfully is out of my control.

I’m grateful for my years and have enjoyed my twenties, but I do wish I had a certain significance to become a thirty year-old man. When I’m at church, or hanging out with my gaming friends who are younger than me, it’s as if we are who we are, without distinction. Man, I can be nonobservant.

Perhaps it’s just the loss of family and community that offer clear distinction and roles to people instead of just a “be anything that you want to be” attitude. Maybe if I had married young and had two kids following me around I would feel differently, and I’d certainly have a lot more experience. I haven’t really done a lot in my life, except take the work that was right in front of me, and read and write a lot.

In What to Expect When No One’s Expecting, Jonathan V. Last writes about countries that have “youth bulges” of males (currently a problem in Iran), and how it causes political instability when the young men can’t find wives or work. (In a way, such countries go to war to keep the young men from rebelling against their own government.) I see this first hand in my own life, how being without a wife and children has taken its tool on me. I do blame the world (and feminism) for some of it, but even with those things, I’m still responsible for some of it, certainly for my attitude about it.

Even though I don’t feel it, I know my youth is slipping away. I hope on the day that I wake up and feel old, that I still know what to do to move  forward.

Fade to Grey...

Fade to Grey…

Knocking Compulsion

I have personal flaws. I overestimate my physical strength. I’m too modest to ask for help. I’m not as driven as I should be. I take things too personally. I’m not great at details or planning. And I can be prone to compulsive behavior, which is why I ended up binge-watching Breaking Bad. A few weeks and twenty-something dark episodes later, I was on the verge of stashing my kindle at the office because I was on pins and needles.

My Netflix subscription was just sitting there since I finished the new episodes of Arrested Development. I’ve kept the subscription rather than get actual cable installed, even though I didn’t have a lot of shows to catch up on. But eventually, I watched an episode of Breaking Bad, speeding through slow parts at first. BB substituted for 24 in my need for serial TV, each episode and even each season picking up where the prior episode or season leaves off. 

I got off-center when I got into this manner. I quit listening to my string of Issues, Etc. podcasts and my sports radio. And BB‘s worldview didn’t exactly help my mindset, either. Thankfully, the Netflix app quit working on my Kindle, slowing my intake.

Binge-watching on Netflix is so easy, and done without so much as a second thought. No commercials, no waiting for next week episodes. I have a pile of podcasts I haven’t even listened to, and yet, days melt away while I get through another six episodes. No wonder I can’t think of anything to write. How much more American productivity can Netflix and video streaming services eat?

Am I this ungrateful for what God has given me? Forgive me, oh Lord.

Eau Claire, Wisconsin...Has nothing to do with this post, but it looks nice.

Eau Claire, Wisconsin…Has nothing to do with this post, but it looks nice.

Road (and Flight Notes): Idaho

Saturday night Sunset near Twin Falls

Saturday night Sunset near Twin Falls

It’s weird flying out of Omaha at 2:30 in the afternoon-if you have been impressed by numerous early morning departures. That was the time that my Dad and I left to go, first to Salt Lake City, then to Boise. It is a rarity to fly out of Omaha with your first leg of a connection being the longest, but it’s a blessing when it does happen. And after only two days at home to recoup from my last trip, leaving at 6 A.M. on Saturday would have been horrendous.

There was no line at the security checkpoint at Eppley, and I was almost disappointed. Both flights were full, and on-time, with minimal turbulence as we descended into Boise. There were a few interesting characters: a tanned skinned, foreign man in a fedora who went up to three separate Delta employees to ask about something; a man and a woman with a child who rushed onto to our flight to Boise at the last minute to complain about how bad their flight from Atlanta was; and some guy at the lost luggage counter to try and get back a bag he’d lost, as he’d started his travel day in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania at 5:30 (I could see where he was coming from). It didn’t seem as eventful. Both are flights were full, not surprising for this time of year, but it did seem like fewer people were traveling.

I had left my phone on the flight from Salt Lake City to Boise, but I was able to retrieve it in short order. The drive out to Twin Falls (home of our dears) took place on Saturday, under the glorious clouds of a high sky. We stopped at Burger King in Mountain Home for dinner, and there was a car with New York tags in the parking lot, and another with Massachusetts tags.

I forget often what it’s like to be out here in the Western United states, where the sky is so big and there’s such a distance between the small towns and the big ones. Even when I drive around the towns of 500-1,000 people in Nebraska, Iowa, and Wisconsin, it all feels so close together. Out here, everything feels so far apart. Towns are either 10,000 or 150, with half of the buildings empty.

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Sunday afternoon, my father and I visited the two national parks around Twin falls, the Minidoka relocation camp for the Japanese during World War II and the Hagerman Fossil Beds Museum. On the way out of Hagerman, we stopped at the town’s museum and met a man who grew up in Columbus, but had moved out here. He’s going to the Nebraska-UCLA game this year, so I gave him my card and hope to see him at Noyes. We drove back to Twin Falls over fifty miles of sun-worn highway, past houses with tiled roof built on slabs of cement. Small homes. Now that I own a home, I miss being there more than I’m on the road, and I can see how you get tied to a particular place. I wonder what’s  like to be tied down here, in a place that’s so much more isolated.

Old Guardhouse at Minidoka

Old Guardhouse at Minidoka

Time in a Blender

Over these last couple of months, I have been feeling the subtle onset of middle age in the area of my memory and how it has changed throughout my twenties. When I was younger, it was easier to mark time around the school year. The defined four years of high school and college were marked out in my head with clear chalk, stalls where defined amounts of memory could be parked (even though I finished college in three years.) Sometime around when I turned twenty-five or twenty-six, the way I looked back on years dissipated and became more fluid. Maybe it was having a defined period of life that was six years long, or seeing one too many people I went to high school with have kids. Memories of the past eight years all seem to have happened recently when I think on them. Events that happened during my freshmen year of college seemed miles away on the day I graduated. A significant event that happened back in 2009 blurs into the front of my memory as if it happened last week.

As I’ve noted before, change is so much easier when you are in early twenties. After my freshmen year of college, I packed up and transferred without a second thought. The thought of moving itself feels taxing now, even though I have barely any stuff. And I refuse to buy stuff because I fear that I will at some point have to pull up stakes again and move, and I will, horror of horrors, have to go through it. (I really need to get a wife to help with this.)

The older I get, the more I want and need to have routines. Years ago, I dreamed of running off and working in a National Park. Now, I’m much more content to take little side trips on work trips, all the while honing my craft in the seed lab and on the computer. I don’t need to do everything, just master a few things. This year, I’m turning thirty, and in another thirty years, I’ll be looking like the old man I feel like most days. Youth does go so fast, even if you drag your adolescence through your twenties.

Depends on Your Perspective...

Depends on Your Perspective…

Valuing College Through My Experience

Recently, I’ve read and heard Peter Thiel and Mark Cuban saying that education isn’t as necessary, and that people with visions should just leave college to work on their visions, and the education bubble will eventually collapse like the housing bubble did. There is some validity to this, but what their perspective doesn’t address is why higher ed is now bloated. While I graduated college, I have an experience that deals with

Over seven years ago, I received my college degree from Concordia University Wisconsin. My life at the time felt like a vacuum. I had no goals or long-term plans. I had planned all through college that I would go to seminary after I graduated and become a pastor, but in February of my senior year, I abandoned those plans. Being a rebel, I didn’t want to know what I was going to do with the rest of my life

Unfortunately, my plan had two critical flaws. First, I excelled in a field (ancient languages) which doesn’t pay in the real world, and I did need the extra work to get a degree and then find some way to make my expertise relevant, whether it be teaching or something else. Two, I was bored in college because I was so bright. I did get that when I moved back to my parents’ house and started shuffling through temp jobs. Even if it wasn’t seminary, I should have chosen another form of graduate school.

But what I’ve learned is, no matter what my situation is, I have to make something out of it. I wrote a lot, actually, but I continue to search for  passions. Working under my father in a self-supervised environment has been a real boon for me in accumulating, and my photography and work at the gallery has given me more passions. This blog has also helped me develop my writing skills and given voice to my ideas. Every day I have a motto: do something that makes progress on a project, and make the people in your world better at what they do.

But I haven’t let the question of graduate degree go, at least not yet. The one thing I wish I would have known back when I was how much harder it is to make life-changes when you’re in your late twenties.

Where a lot of Thiel and Cuban’s criticism should be directed is toward the quality of higher education; with more people demanding it, professors simply have to make their course work easier to accommodate student’s extracurricular activities and generally low minds. And due to tenure, professors don’t face the reality of constantly having to adapt or loss their jobs if they don’t. So much of college is about being young and enjoying, not getting ready for the realities of a harsh world.

Wish someone would have told me that.

(More Experience)

Better off out here?

Better off out here?

Big Cities or Little Towns?

Seward My Anchor

I’m divided when it comes to “being from Seward”. I don’t think of myself as a lifelong Seward resident, even though that’s what I am. When I asked, I say this is where I’m from, not with any conscious shame, but with a wondering if I’m really in the best place for myself. Not that I run from the title or feel I have anything to be ashamed by it. Would I like to live in a larger city with more opportunities and new things to do every weekend? Yes, it depends on where my life goes, and I’m not very big on planning.

Small towns can be risky places. There have been many times over the past summer I have been driving around Nebraska and Wisconsin and have come across children and teenagers roaming the street, having that board look in their eyes. Heck, I even find myself doing that. I’ve debated this with some of my friends here; while you can find events and culture wherever you live, there are certain limitations to smaller towns. If you grow up in one and have a circle of friends who you click with, you can have a very happy, productive life. But if you burn through your bridges, you can become isolated and bitter, and gossip can eat you alive.

But I’ve felt at home in small towns to. When I visited Omro, Wisconsin five times this past summer, it felt very peaceful and free. Driving through the parts of Michigan that are off the beaten path, I find myself wondering what it would be like to live there. Of course, I visit all these northern states in the summer and understand that nearly four months of bitter cold can be wearing on a person. (By the by, the reasons barns in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin have slating roofs is for all that snow to fall off.)

Over a year ago, I spent a month roaming around San Francisco. I visit Chicago, Milwaukee, and the Twin Cities regularly. I don’t know that I’d care for a huge metropolis, but a mid-sized city with enough parks and walking trails would be great. California is a great place to get lost, but I won’t want to live there long term if I wasn’t making huge money. Omaha seems like it would be a good place, as would Des Moines. But if I got the right job offer, I’d jump at the big city.

For me, it comes down to quality of life. Where can I find the right place to accomplish the goal of being the best and most effective writer I can be? Any place that has a working internet connection will do; beyond that, I’ll forge any path.

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