This is how my brain works

Writing isn't easy. Especially when you suffer from ADD. Choosing the right words to express what you want to say often leads to bunny trails that serve no useful purpose.

Fore example.

In my post from Tuesday, I had a line that read, "Those are words that you've probably heard countless times before and will hopefully hear upon many more occasions." But that was the final phrasing after a couple rounds of revision. The version of that line in my first draft was, "Those are words that you've probably heard many times before and will hopefully hear many more times."

Problem number one: repetition. No need to use 'many' and 'times' twice in a single sentence.
Problem number two: some intangible fog that I can't quite describe. The way it ended sounded awful.

But my easily distracted brain got sidelined at this spot in the editing process. Here are the steps I took before I could find a rewording that worked for me. These are the thoughts I had while trying to fix my ugly phrasing.

1. Hopefully hear many more times? Ugh. That sounds disgusting. And wordy. Blech.
2. What if I eliminated the last word. Hopefully hear many more. No, that actually sounds worse.
3. I know you shouldn't end sentences with a preposition. But More isn't a preposition; it's an adjective.
4. What if I used it as a noun? Look - it's a more. But that sounds like the Italian word for love.
5. *singing* "When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore."

Yes friends, my brain works in mysterious and sometimes frightening ways.


An open letter to the ladies

Do you have body issues? Do you struggle with your self image? Do you believe that you're not pretty enough or skinny enough?

We live in a culture that as a twisted definition of beauty. Our starlets are photoshopped to look curvier and bustier creating this artificial standard that demands you sacrifice your self worth on the alter of Sexy. This culture tells you that you need a slimmer waist, bigger breasts, fuller lips, and shinier hair to be hot. Our movies and music tell you that you have to take your clothes off to to be valued. When you walk through the grocery store check out lanes, you are confronted with magazines that promise tips to have a better sex life, get the guy you want, and lose a few pounds - all while Katy Perry is the cover model ideal of perfection.

Very few people can live up to those expectations. Honestly, I understand how you could compare yourself to what our culture deems beautiful and find yourself falling short. And if you're following all those fashion tips and diet plans and still don't look like a Victoria Secret model, it makes sense that the way you view yourself suffers.

I could tell you that you should ignore those voices that are telling you you're not enough. I could tell you that you are beautiful just the way you are. Those are words that you've probably heard countless times before and will hopefully hear upon many more occasions.

Instead, I have a secret for you.

Guys struggle with our image too. We do.

We see the Calvin Klein ads featuring David Beckham with his sculpted abs. We notice you fawning over McDreamy while you watch Grey's Anatomy. We see the winning smile of Adam Levine as he's named the sexiest man alive. We watch as some of the strongest men on the planet pulverize each other week after week as we follow our favorite NFL teams.

The same culture that tells you that you're not hot tells us that we're unattractive. It compares our beer gut to Beckham, our receding hairline to McDreamy, our less than desirable appearance to Levine, and our physique to the Seahawks offensive line.

We can't measure up. We have body issues. Just like you, we often feel like we're not good enough. Between the expanding waistlines and the balding/graying hair, we're not the manly men that our culture expects us to be.

Our culture tells us that we're supposed to look like those shirtless guys on Abercrombie & Fitch posters. It tells us that we should be able to grow beards, eat bacon, handle a rifle with ease, and rebuild the engine of any vehicle we own. It tells us that hunting and fishing should be instinctual. It tells us that we should be able to hold our liquor. It tells us that we should be able to kick the ass of anyone that threatens us or our loved ones. It tells us to be a rock - an unmovable force.

Like pouring salt into an open wound, our culture takes this image issue with men a little further. When we can't be that guy, when we're a little chubbier, if we can barely change a flat tire, if we can't tell the difference between a .45 and a 9 mm, if the scent of alcohol makes us a little tipsy, if we choose to be a vegetarian or a pacifist, if we show any sign of weakness ... If we don't measure up to the ideal man, our culture tells us we're not allowed to be insecure. It tells us to man up. Throw some dirt on it. Bury your pain. Keep on moving on. Don't back down. If we admit any hint of insecurity, our culture somehow determines that we're less than a man.

This culture is unhealthy for you, but it's unhealthy for us too.

Sure, there's things that we can do to help or hinder your self image. We know that providing the wrong answer to "do these jeans make my butt look big?" can lead to disaster. We know that looking at porn makes you feel devalued. We know that you feel unloved when we forget to take out the trash. We could compliment you more. We could stop objectifying you in our movies and lyrics. We could be better boyfriends, husbands, brothers, and sons.

There are also things that you could do differently.

When you get together in your groups and engage in your girl talk, we hear you. When you're mocking your husbands and boyfriends - it might just be you venting with your girlfriends ... but we hear you. When we over hear you commenting about your husband's or boyfriends dunlap and widow's peak, it reminds us of our need for an extra couple of hours at the gym and a bottle of Rogaine. When we hear you laugh at jokes about your significant other's appearance, it cheapens the value we've placed in ourselves. If you are that mean towards the men in your life, we question what the women in our lives say about us when we're not around.

Insulting the way someone looks will never make them feel better about their appearance. Please stop. Just, stop.

You can do it. And us men, we can do it too.

ps: I realize this whole post is a generalization. There are men and women in this world that are perfectly happy with their bodies. To them, I say congratulations. I wish we could all be like you. I also know that there are women who could never imagine insulting their spouses while out with their friends. To them, I say thank you. We need more people like you in this world.


Faith & Pop Culture: Counting Stars

On the surface, OneRepublic's Counting Stars is an expertly crafted pop song. Shiny production, snappy rhythms, and virulent melodies. It was included in my summer soundtrack for it's infectious qualities and I remain unashamed to admit how much I love this song. Still.

Yet, that's just the surface. Dig a little deeper and you'll find lyrics aiming for a purpose higher than anything of monetary value. A conflict riding the edge between being young and being old. Hopes to defy the trend of what everyone else is doing. The struggle between the desire to do what is right against the tendency to do what is evil. It's the human existence in a nutshell. Which makes it the formulaically ideal pop song.

But dig deeper.

My oldest son listens intently to lyrical content of the music he hears. And then he picks them apart to figure out what those words mean and what the songwriter is trying to convey. He understands that music often speaks life into words that aren't always easy to arrange in simple conversation. His challenge is grasping the subtleties of similes and metaphors. Part of this is due to having aspergers. With the way his brain works, the typical literary devices of songcraft and poetry are often too complex or confusing without some sort of translation into language he can understand. When he and I listen to music together, he asks a lot of questions. This is also an aspie thing, but this is a demonstration of his thirst for knowledge.

We were listening to Counting Stars and the pre-chorus was one of those nonsensical word choices just beyond the limits of Christian's understanding.

"Dad," he asked, "what does he mean when he said he feels something wrong when doing the right thing? If it's right, why would it be wrong?"

Excellent questions. Here's where we begin to dig.

I explained that doing the right thing isn't always fun. Nor is it always comfortable. Sometimes, we do the right thing even when we don't want to. I asked him if he can remember a time when he hurt his sister's feelings and he had to apologize to her. Was that something that he enjoyed doing? It was the right thing to do, but it was hard.

Doing good is not always easy. Sometimes, it just feels wrong.

Now, he understands. And now that he gets it, he sings along with off-key abandon.

And I get it. This is one of the reasons I adore this song. Because I understand exactly how it feels. Sometimes, doing the wrong thing feels right and doing the right thing feels wrong. Sometimes, I really want to be a jerk because being a jerk would be so much easier and a lot more fun. Yet, I don't. I still aim for the high road even though I occasionally miss. Even though it's much more difficult and often painful.

Digging deeper.

Listening to this song reminds me of the words of Paul in Romans 7. "For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do ... For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing ... Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me." (full passage)

I know that Ryan Tedder comes from a religious background. So this connection may or may not have been intentional. Yet every time I listen to that song, I can't help but ponder those verses from Romans. I don't do want I want to do and instead end up doing what I don't want to do.

And in Tedder's words, I'm losing sleep and praying hard.


What really happened to me

Everyone has those moments. Making progress. Awesome things are happening. Reason to be excited and hopeful. And suddenly, you hit a wall. Everything just stops. Everyone has those moments. Right?

The last couple weeks of my life did not include live action role playing or pseudo-scientific experiments. I'm not John Locke; I didn't find a hatch or a smoke monster. I did not write any scenes where Professor Charles Xavier wore a powdered wig while the rebellious X-Men including Logan, Scott Summers, and Henry McCoy fought against the Red Coats. While I had fun writing out those four wildly improbable answers to explain away my sparse participation on the interwebs, the truth isn't so sparkly and fun.

I got stuck. I hit the wall and everything stopped. I still went to work and did everything I could to be a good boss and get my reports done. I still poured as much energy as possible into being an great dad. But when I was home, and everything was quiet, and I had time to write, I was stuck.

Truth is, I was paralyzed by fear. Because after the three little voices that make my world worth inhabiting went to bed, other voices started chipping in their unwanted worth. Some of them are very real voices that have faces and names. Some of it is nothing more than an inner dialog.

Voices telling me that I'm worthless. Incapable. A loser. Unreliable. Uninteresting. Uninspiring. All of it feeding into one of my greatest fears. That I'm insignificant.

At some point in the middle of all of this, the group formally known as The Start Experiment posted a challenge inspired by TWLOHA. To post a #FearVsDreams photo. This entry was mine:

And yet, for the past couple of weeks, I still allowed that fear be the loudest voice in my head.

When I got home from Cheyenne, I was stuck. There were tears and laughter on that trip. Joy and sorrow. Many hours in a car. Some less than desirable driving conditions. But the time there was freshening. I am extremely grateful for my parent's hospitality and the last minute transportation provided from cousins in Eastern Washington. I enjoyed seeing cousins and aunts and uncles that I haven't seen in a long time. And I was glad to spend some quality time with my brother, my sister-in-law, and their kids. Yet I still felt stuck upon my return.

I would try to write, but felt the only thing that I had to talk about was about my week in Cheyenne. In fact, I wrote a wonderful post based on some observations I had while driving through northern Wyoming that remains a draft in blogger because fear kept me from hitting the publish button. Afraid of being under-qualified to write about anything else. Afraid to write about topics that I really want to write about because I fear it might hurt some people's feelings. Afraid that it doesn't really matter what I write, because I'm insignificant.

Being a good dad? I can do that. A good employee? Sure. A good boss? I'll do my best. A good friend? Usually. A good blogger? Well, maybe. But not so far this month. I let fear win. And I desperately want to fight back.

Besides, that fan-fic idea actually sounds like a decent one. The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, S.H.I.E.L.D., and the Guardians of the Galaxy using steam powered gadgets and the best fashion sense in all of literary history to help the good guys win the Revolutionary War? Please tell me I'm not the only one that thinks that would be an epic novel.


Time for a new game

When I was a kid, I looked for Waldo in every Where's Waldo book I could find at my school library. I played a couple of the Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? games (even watched the Carmen Sandiego game show on PBS). I played I Spy on many road trips. Still do. I watched a lot of Scooby Doo. Still do. There's something about finding lost or hidden objects - in solving mysteries - that appealed to me as a kid. That act of discovery filled me with awe.

In honor of that childhood quest to reveal secrets, let's play a new game: What the Heck Happened to Nic?

Excluding the tribute to my grandma, all I've managed to publish here are two Selah posts and a Five for Friday list. What's the antonym for Woohoo? Because whatever that word is, that's what I'm feeling.

How do I explain my lackluster blogging performance this month? You tell me.

*     *     *

Question: What has nic been up to over the past couple of weeks?
a) After falling from a window, he lost the use of both of his legs. In frustration, he traveled to Australia to do a walkabout believing he could find himself in the Outback wilderness. However, when seeing his paralysis, the tour company denied his admission so he boarded an ill-fated trans-Atlantic flight home. Also, he doesn't trust that guy, Jack.
b) He has picked up LARPing as a new hobby. He spent the past couple of weeks handcrafting chainmail armor, foam swords, a foam flail, and a wooden shield so that he could enter and compete in an upcoming Dagorhir battle event.
c) It's NANOWRIMO and he has been busy working on his novel. It's a genre mash up piece of fan-fiction featuring characters from the Marvel Universe set in a steampunk version of Colonial America.
d) In an effort to earn a little extra spending money before the Christmas shopping season, he donated his time and body to rigorous scientific experimentation. These tests have left him confused and exhausted. Now that he is back home, he appears to be normal, but only during the day. At night, if you look closely, he glows. And he may or may not have a clone now living in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Come back tomorrow for the real answer.



On the drive home, I snapped this picture between Billings and Livingston. It was posted to twitter with the line "These thousand hills..." as a nod to the Third Day song.

These thousand hills roll ever on
Ripples of a coming storm
The morning star precedes the dawn
These thousand hills roll ever on

There's snow in the Rockies. And there was a storm upon those peaks as we passed by. Yet, in the ripples of that storm is a scene of beauty.

Photo credit: me
Source: twitter


A time for nostalgia

On the last night that I was in Cheyenne, my Mom and my aunt Kristi shared stories from a trip my family made in the summer of 1983.

Of me getting bored and wandering off at the Cheyenne Mall; they though I was lost, but I was waiting out at the car - ready to go.

Of me wandering off from my uncle's school because I was bored; I walked to the apartment of another family member so I could hang out with a cousin.

I was four years old. Actually, I had just turned four. I was an adventurous child.

That was also the summer that Return of the Jedi was released. I remember going to see it in the theater those many years ago. It is such a clear memory as my family didn't ever go to the movies; the only reason we went to this one is because we were on vacation. I remember falling asleep before the assault against the Death Star - the big explosion woke me up in time to see the Ewoks throw what became my standard for a good party. What I don't remember about that visit to the movie theater is that I watched it while sitting on Aunt Kristi's lap.

Kristi did not recall my brief nap as the film reached it's climatic scene. No. She remembered me pulling my foot close to my chest and playing with my shoelaces - pointing their tips to the big screen, making those "pew pew" sounds to imitate the sound of Jedi blasters.

It was good fun looking back. Considering the sadness of our circumstances, we needed the moment to laugh at ourselves.

That round of stories made me nostalgic in a million different ways. But the stories we told were not the only things bringing back memories of yesteryear.

Classic rock radio was the predominant musical choice on the drive from Cd'A to Cheyenne and back. It was also the clearest station on the dial through most of Wyoming. Between the classics and a small dose from my brother's satellite radio, I got a healthy shot of nostalgia with a chaser of music therapy. The following five songs brought up memories of better days at some point in the trip - either on the way there, during my stay, or on the way back.

Squeeze - Tempted: "I said to my reflection 'Let's get out of this place'" ... yes, that. One of my all time favorite lines in the history of pop music.

Coolio - Gangsta's Paradise: While driving across town, this song came up on my brother's radio. Surprisingly, my dad didn't even flinch. Had I played this song back in high school, he would have bristled and I would have received a lecture. Added proof that my father has mellowed: Aaron asked me, "Can you imagine dad cruising down main street with this cranked up?" And we listened to the whole song.

Whitesnake - Here I go again: If this song comes on the radio and you don't sing along, shame on you.

Goo Goo Dolls - Name: This is quite possibly one of the best songs of the 90's. The quintessential melancholic anthem. I will never get tired of hearing those lines, "I think about you all the time, and I don't need the same. It's lonely where you are, come back down. I won't tell them your name."

Tom Petty - Free Fallin': Somewhere north of Sheridan on the way home, this came on and it's at that point that I first felt ready to be home. At peace with the loss of my Grandma. Refreshed from a week with my folks. Also, this song should be on everyone's road trip playlist.

I won't divulge the fond memories dredged up by these tunes, but it was therapeutic for me. Did these songs bring back any memories for you?



Cheyenne, I'm on my way to see you.

Photo credit: Michael E. Grass
Source: The Lincoln Highway Guide


Good night, Grandma. Rest well.

It is through tears that I write this post tonight. A post that I knew would be composed at some point in time but never sure when. Until now.

Today, my family is grieving the loss of the lovely woman on the right of this picture. In spite of that sadness, we also celebrate the life that she lived.

She loved to travel. While I was growing up, my summers were willed with the anticipation of postcards or letters from Grandma and Grandpa detailing their adventures.
She loved to take pictures. Her camera was nearly always within her reach. Life around her was a constant photographic opportunity.

I am grateful for her summer road trips. We didn't take many vacations while I was growing up, but we did when Grandma and Grandpa Budd came to visit. With them, we took the ferry to Victoria BC and toured The Butchart Gardens. We returned to Washington and visited Hurricane Ridge and the Hoh Rain Forest. Somewhere, there exists an award winning photograph that Grandma took on that trip - she pointed her lens through a gap in a piece of driftwood and snapped a picture of me playing on an Olympic Peninsula beach.

She was a great mom. I never experienced that first hand, but I have seen the fruits of her labor. She raised seven of the most amazing people I've ever known - one of whom happens to be my mother.
She was devoted to her family. She was devoted to her church. She always had a kind word to say. She loved to laugh; something that was irresistibly contagious. I can barely remember a time when she wasn't smiling.

She taught me the definition of hospitality. She opened her house to this large family of ours and it was always filled with warmth and joy. Conversation. Spirited rounds of playing cards. The delicious scents of whatever was cooking in the kitchen. She always had soda available (as long as you asked). In that kitchen, I learned to like yogurt and ate my first Red Baron single serving pizza.

So tonight, it's farewell. Goodbye to a bright spot in this universe. To the wonderful mom that raised the aunts and uncle that inspire me. The sweet grandmother that loved my brother, me, and all of our cousins. The great-grandma to my kids. A woman who touched countless lives. We are all blessed that you were a part of our lives. Thank you for all that you've done.