P is for Power pt 2: The Power of Positivity

Melancholy is such a great word. When Smashing Pumpkins released their double LP Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, it quickly became one of my favorite albums. To this day, every time I listen to it I'm inspired to write.

I remember sitting in my American Literature class with their songs stuck in my head. I was supposed to be reading The Scarlet Letter, but I all could think were the words "Tell me I'm the chosen one, Jesus was an only son for you." Nearly 20 years later, that album still remains one of my all time favorites.

But that younger version of me, the high school junior distracted by music, didn't fully understand the meaning of melancholy. I thought of it as something bittersweet. Only a hint of sadness. At that time, I didn't even realize that I had a melancholic disposition.

As years have passed, I have come to better understand the meaning of the word. Gloomy. Somber. Pensive. Lost in thought.

I don't see melancholy as a bad thing. Even though it makes certain tendencies a little more viable - depression, despair, pessimism. It has it's trade offs. It's given me compassion and empathy for those that are hurting - the outcasts, the misfits. It's forced me to be a little more deliberate than most. And I'm learning to be happy in times of mourning and infinite sadness.

However, that learning takes a considerable amount of effort. Knowing that my coping mechanisms are either mockery or grumbling, knowing that my default response to stress is to retreat, knowing that happiness is impossible by doing the things I've always done, I'm making conscious actions to change some habits.

To combat negativity in the workplace, I've put together a "Happy @ Work" playlist. It's on my iPod and I will turn it on in my office to help keep my mood positive. I'm surrounded by people who constantly whine and complain so my musical therapy is a pleasant counterbalance.

The quest for happiness is not solely internal; there is an external component. It's about the way I interact with others. It's the way I present myself in social media. It's about the topics I chose to write about and post to this blog.

Last spring, I mentioned that I'm not a natural encourager. To be honest (and those who know me can confirm) I tend to be more of a grouch. Like Oscar. One of my greatest fears is that I'll age into a grumpy old man, standing out on my porch shaking my fist at those darn kids and yelling at them to get off my lawn. In hopes to avoid that fate, I'm finding ways to compliment, motivate, and encourage those around me. I'm trying to envision the positive side where I would not normally see it.

For example, a few months ago I overheard a conversation between two ladies complaining about parking outdoors in North Idaho. One of them griped about the trees at her apartment complex shedding needles and how she's sick of sap dripping onto the hood of her car. The other said she hated pine trees.

Something seemed tweet worthy. My instincts wanted to make fun of them. Don't park next to trees, you wouldn't have that problem if you didn't park under a tree branch. Don't like evergreens? You're living in the wrong part of the country. Pine sap dripping on your car? At least it's not bird poop.

Halfway through composing that tweet, I stopped myself. 'Naw,' I thought. 'It's not worth it. I shouldn't be mean.' Instead, I tweeted the following: "I prefer pine trees to palm trees." The result to this more positively minded tweet garnered genuine responses that affirmed my opinion including a Texas friend reminiscing how much she missed living in the northwest.

Over the summer, I observed a peculiar neighbor while driving to church. He was dressed in tube socks and flip flops, shorts and an ill fitting t-shirt. He appeared to be at least my age, if not older. And he was spinning in circles at the end of his driveway with a Bubbles wand in his hand. Not a kid in sight, just him. When I got out of my car, I started typing a description of what he looked like and his choice in activity. It started with the intent to make a joke, but then I realized that he was enjoying himself - and probably more so than me. Instead of being cruel, I ended the post commenting that I bet he was having more fun than anyone who was reading my update. Once again, the response was positive. One even alleged that I was jealous of my neighbor - which was definitely a possibility.

Lesson learned. Intentional efforts to be positive are far more rewarding. But lets be real, I'm not perfect. It takes a lot of work, and I don't always get it right. Mockery is far easier. But there is a shift going on; I call that progress.

I am convinced our world would be a better place if more people made the effort to embrace the power of positivity.


An open letter to the students of MPHS

Hello friends.

Is it OK if I call you friends? We don't know each other, but we share a common bond. I am an MP alumn. Class of '97.

It's been years since I stepped foot on campus. If I remember correctly it was to see a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in the spring of '99. Later that year, I moved away and haven't returned. But I miss you. And no matter the distance or the number of years that separate us, I still consider you home. My school. My city.

The MPHS campus holds many memories for me. Some good, others not so good. However, even my worst high school memories pale in comparison to the grief you are all feeling today. For that reason, my heart is breaking for you. My body is 300 miles away, but my thoughts are in Marysville.

Today is hard. Tomorrow will be the same. In fact, the next time you enter a classroom, it will be difficult. But there are a few things that I know to be true that I hope will help you.

First, and most important: this is not the end. When tragedy strikes, it's easy to feel as if your world grinds to a stop. While there is a sense of finality that surrounds you, there is much more life ahead of you than anything that lies behind you. Today might have been the closing of one chapter, but tomorrow is a new page in your story - the beginning of the next chapter. You still have the power to achieve greatness. Despite the horrors of today, I believe that your futures hold many wonderful things.

You also need to know that where there is darkness, there is also light. Right now, you have a choice. You can either let the darkness of tragedy consume you. Or, you can choose to be a light in that darkness. Hug your friends. Remind your family how much you love them. Be a shoulder to cry on. Find healing in helping others heal. Find something to hope for and cling to it.

This next bit I know to be true but I can't really explain why. It is just something that I feel at the very root of everything that I am. This tragedy does not define you. You are bigger than this. You are stronger than this. And you are worth more than you will ever comprehend. Each and every one of you are here for a reason. Your family loves you. Your friends need you. And now, more than you may ever recognize, you school needs you. Even if you feel like an outcast or that you don't fit in, just know that there is someone out there who needs you to be here.

Finally, something I see in overwhelming evidence: you are not alone. I have been checking in with friends and former classmates and one theme stands: We support you. Your school is an irrevocable part of what makes us who we are today and that connects us to you. We are your biggest fans. All over, I'm seeing my peers change their profile picture to that of the MP logo and our Tomahawk. We are showing you how much this school means to us and how much we believe in you. The kids I graduated with, they've grown up to be actors, musicians, writers, teachers, preachers, lawyers. We all said the same thing. From members of your community to Cheyenne Wyoming to Dallas Texas; from SoCal to Salt Lake City to Indiana. The message remains the same. Our prayers are with you. Your pain is ours. We are grieving with you.

Sincerely and with much love.

your friend


P is for Power pt 1: The Power of Pause

It was during an afternoon commute north on 95. Late afternoon. It's the only time of day when that stretch of Coeur d'Alene highway experiences a genuine rush hour. I switched from the slow lane into the fast lane to get around a logging truck and discovered a second logging truck a few car lengths ahead of me in this new lane of traffic. After those few cars all moved into the turn lane, I had nothing in front of me, except freshly cut timber.

Lights ahead turned red and we rolled to a stop. There, with one fully loaded logging truck ahead of me and another to my right, I had a revelation.

However, before I unpack this sudden brush with wood inspired wisdom, I need to talk about Trevor.

Who is Trevor?

When my family moved into a new house during the summer before I entered the third grade, Trevor quickly became my best friend. There was one house in between his and mine, but the casa Casey was situated on a two acre corner lot. Due to the size of the property, our back yard almost connected with Trevor's back yard, so he was practically a neighbor. We were close enough that when dinner time approached, all my mom would have to do is stick her head out the back door and yell my name. I'd hear her and go running back home.

There are a few big reasons I enjoyed hanging out with Trevor. The first is that he owned a Nintendo - a luxury that my parents could never afford. I would also watch some shows at his place that my parents wouldn't allow, primarily Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The final reason I liked hanging out at Trevor's place became more apparent as we got older. His little sister was super cute and by the time we were in junior high, I had a massive crush on her.

What does getting stuck in traffic have to do with Trevor and my boyhood crush on his little sister?

Excellent question.

Trevor had great parents. They wouldn't let us spend all of our time indoors playing video games and watching TV. They frequently sent us outside, rain or shine.

There was an empty lot between our back yards. It was the battlefield where we played out our summertime squirt gun wars. It was the arena where I played tag with Trevor and his sister. It was the setting where I became infatuated with her jet black hair, tanned skin, and bashful laugh.

At the far end of that empty lot was a row of pine trees. Their lowest branches were close enough to the ground that it was easy to scramble up into the boughs and climb higher and higher until the branches were too thin to support our weight. We spent many afternoons clinging to bark high above the ground. More often than not, by the time I heard my mother yell, "NICHOLAS!!!" my hands were sticky with sap and I had pine needles tangled in my hair.

But now I'm stuck in traffic. This is North Idaho and what we call rush hour pales in comparison to the I-5 Boeing traffic that I grew up with in Seattle. But I am not a patient man. Slow drivers tend to annoy me. Semi trucks in the fast lane tend to bother me. Being stuck at a red light when I'm in a hurry to get to my destination tends to frustrate me.

(I never claimed to be perfect.)

But that afternoon, despite the annoyance of slow traffic and being stuck at a red light behind a semi in the fast lane, I had an out-of-character reaction. With both of my windows down, with former trees stacked up in front of and beside me, I took a deep breath. I fully inhaled the odors of recently cut pine. And I just enjoyed the moment for what it was.

My natural inclination would have been to grumble. Instead, I found a bit of happiness in that piney sappy scent wafting through my car. For just a moment I allowed my life to pause. Instead of dwelling on whatever problems existed in my life, I breathed in every ounce of calm and peace that floated by along with that smell of lumberjack's labor. In the time it took for the rotation of lights by Fred Meyer to cycle through and give me a green light, that refreshing aroma reminded me of Trevor. And his sister. It reminded me of better days, years of blissful innocence. It reminded me of those countless times I squirrelled my way into the tree tops and the evenings I ran home for dinner smelling like a forest. The revelation hit. I could chose to be frustrated or choose to accept my circumstance.

That minute of pause was a return to joy.

Every now and then, we need to push that pause button. Our lives are hectic and demanding. Stressors abound. Demands unrelenting. Left to our own devices, it's easy to let these outside influences steer the course of our day to day routine. We need that pause to give ourselves a refreshed perspective. To recharge our internal batteries. To experience a momentary reprieve from our burdens.

That's the power of pause. To rest.

And rest isn't easy. It takes practice. As the son of a workaholic (who exhibits some of those same tendencies), I don't truly know how to rest. Intellectually speaking, I know it's important. Selah. In actual practice, however, I have a hard time fully and tangibly resting. But this past summer I made considerable efforts to do just that.

I've largely been absent from the blogging world since May. My writing pace slowed to a noticeable trickle. It's hard to write from the heart when your heart is not in the right place. So I needed a break. I needed to push pause. I devoted as much time as I could to enjoying the summer with my kids. I took them hiking, something that I myself haven't done since I moved away from Seattle in '99. I started going to concerts again, local shows. That's an element that has been absent from my life since I lived in Boise. I rekindled the joys I once found in live music and dirt paths through the woods. I loved every minute and along the way I discovered a few things. I found that one of the most peaceful places on Friday mornings in Coeur d'Alene is sitting on the edge of the amphitheater stage at Riverstone Park, with my feet dangling in the water, watching the ducks swim by close enough that you could kick them. (note: I don't condone kicking ducks). I discovered the light of fireworks reflected in my children's eyes. I discovered energy that I didn't know I had while walking around the fair grounds with my three kids for seven hours. I learned that truth always wins.

One other thing I discovered, or rather rediscovered, is who I am. Why I write. The kind of person I want to be. Why I embrace geekery. And where this path is taking me. Thanks to the power of pause, I'm driven. I know why God stuck my love for pop culture and theology in a blender. Those synapses in my cranium are bursting. I'm ready to be me again.

All because I got stuck between logging trucks at a red light during an afternoon commute and it reminded me of a kid I once knew named Trevor. And his younger sister.