Variety

It’s cold outside in Baton Rouge this morning. Drops of dew cling to the stems and leaves of trees outside my apartment like small crystal balls magnifying a gray sky. From my window I can see cars jet past, parting waters like Moses in the ruts and depressions of the road. A bike ride is probably not on the docket for most folks today (or the few folks who do ride here). I’m sure many people’s usual agenda in this city has changed due to the weather.

I wouldn’t have it any other way. Variety adds something new and unique to the regular pulse of daily life. Without seasons or weekly changes in weather the world’s bored news anchors would dust off their notes as they blink into the camera, attempting to shake off thousand yard stares. Thank goodness this isn’t the case.


If the weather happens to be rather consistent in your area as you read this, do something fun to add variety to your day in another way. Try checking out a new part of town, buying a new item you’ve never tried before from the grocery store, or taking a different way to work. Your mind will thank you for it.

Deep Roots

A large tree near my Aunt’s house in Belgium

I love my parents’ backyard. Every spring, ice and snow soften their grip on the dark soil, which expresses its gratitude by producing a multitude of healthy emerald blades of grass. But spring rains do not show partiality. Fueled by moisture and sunlight, dandelions begin to clump in small rebellious clusters that pockmark what should be a clean, crisp lawn.

“5 cents a weed,” my mom used to say.

Metal garden tool in hand, my brother and I would spend hours between lemonade breaks pulling these small pests from our lawn and restoring peace to the galaxy. Each little dandelion was yanked out with relatively little effort. Other sprouts such as the round-leaved mallow weed laughed at my attempt to extricate them from the ground. Like a lizard’s tail, they would grow back within weeks of being “pulled”. It became incredibly frustrating, yet their deep roots allowed for persistent survival each growing season.

If I thought these plants had far reaching roots I was wrong. Rutgers University published an article in 2017 highlighting the rare shepherd’s tree (Boscia albitrunca, for you plant lovers), which has been found to have roots extending up to 230 feet into the subsurface in search of water. Surprisingly, these trees take up residence in one of the world’s harshest environments: The Kalahari Desert1.

Why am I going into detail on roots? We hardly see them on a daily basis. The answer is simply because I believe roots provide a pertinent and needed analogy to our lives as human beings.

As I’m sure you’ve been told, it turns out that what type of job we throw ourselves into, how we spend our free time, and who we surround ourselves with are all where we choose to place our roots. It’s naturally human to try to find a place to feed our souls. The more you put your trust in things that last the test of time, the more you love where you are, who you are, and who surrounds you. In essence, the deeper your roots go. When drought hits, storms arise, and the weather of life seeks to pull us from our spots and make us question why we’re even here, we have hope of making it through those times because we’ve developed deep roots. For me, it’s my faith and close friends that I find the need to continually invest in.

If you have a moment, take some time and consider where you’re trying to deepen your roots. It may turn out that some areas of your life need a reassessment.

1. Canadell, J., Jackson, R. B., Ehleringer, J. B., Mooney, H. A., Sala, O. E., & Schulze, E. D. (1996). Maximum rooting depth of vegetation types at the global scale. Oecologia, 108(4), 583-595.

I just wanted to be an extra

We have all had thoughts of turning a hobby or idea into something more. It’s only human to dream, right? Some might say to themselves, “This passion for sumo wrestling might just be a future career,” or “I could make some real money selling my ‘five turtles on a log’ paintings.” For me, it’s always been acting. Not to be the star of the show, just an extra in a movie. I imagine frazzled humans shuffling around a set with sloshing coffee in their hands as they prepare for the next scene. An exciting buzz fueled by starry film lights. With this shining vision in my mind, I began my hunt by signing up on a casting website looking for “talent.” The familiar little chime sounded in my inbox two days later. Something along the lines of, “Mr. Merrill, we formally request your presence at our studio in Denver next Thursday for an audition.” I jumped out of my seat.

A week passes and I’m there, staring at massive doors just opened by an invisible receptionist inside. I look up. A wall of glass creates a camouflaged mosaic with the sky. The building must be at least 15 stories tall. I lower my head and take a sniff. Good. The Old Spice Pure Sport is doing the job of masking my nervousness. A few moments later and I step into a brightly lit room. Behind the front desk sits a gal sporting a permanent smile who couldn’t be more than 18. She hands me an information packet.

“Just fill out these questions and you’ll be ready to go in no time.”

I fill out the three pages of questions and leave one of my throwaway emails. I’m quickly escorted down a narrow hallway to join a tightly packed line of fidgeting people, like a litter of puppies in a cardboard box. The line is getting shorter, as one by one each person is called into a windowless room to our left. About thirty seconds before being waved into this room I realize we’ve each received a short blurb to recite. Mine’s about the benefits of Advil. Shoot. I usually stick to Tylenol. I memorize as much as I can and before I know it, I’m standing at in front of a well dressed man who just put down his mug of coffee. At least this somewhat resembles a set.

“Great, Mr. Merrill… Let’s see what you’ve got.” I blink as the man scribbles something on a clipboard.

“Ehem… Um… here it goes.” I screw up my face in pain and get out something along the lines of, “Ouch! my head hurts. This Tylenol is not helping. You know what I need? Advil. With a 98% customer satisfaction rate.” Feigned pain followed by a pained smile.

“Good job Mr. Merrill. If you’ll head to the first room to your right.”

He scribbles something else down and before I know it I’m ushered into a second room with the rest of the group. It takes about 10 minutes to realize the platform cutting through the center of the room is not a public speaking stage. It’s some sort of runway. The same man who scribbled as I attempted the Advil ad struts into the room and explains that their “agency” is looking for the next best models. Models? Not what I had in mind.

Finally, he pauses before saying, “Now is your time to shine. This runway is your stage. It is a way to give us your best modeling talent. Show us a little pizzaz and strut down the ramp however you would like… Tut tut.”

I sink in my seat and look towards the exit. All the way across the room and the door is shut. Why? Why me?

But I do it. I walk down the runway to the fake cheers of the audience and now three judges at the end of the ramp. I attempt a kind of spin near the edge and walk back, shaking my head.

Before I can leave the room I now equated with a medieval torture chamber, I express that I just want to be an extra in a movie or show and whether or not they have acting opportunities. Seeing my sliver of hope shrinking, they hand me a 10 week “modeling” course and tell me to consider joining their studio. The course costs more than my car. So I tell them, “I just wanted to be an extra,” and left.

Some people may try and take advantage of someone’s passions by giving them a false hope that they can achieve greatness with little effort. “The path to fulfillment is within your grasp if you follow these steps,” they’ll say. I know better. There is only one true way to find that fulfillment when life throws the unexpected at you. And He says that the road is straight and narrow.

So next time your experience isn’t what you thought it would be don’t ever think that it’s hopeless and don’t wallow in self pity. These are all learning experiences to something more. Laugh about it and move on with your dream being a little more well rounded.

Amidst the barrage of false information and scams out there, I still have hope that a future acting opportunity will come along. I just hope it doesn’t involve a catwalk.

Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

Caffeine

I never thought coffee would taste good. The bitterness always left me puckered like someone who just ate a “dirt” infused Bertie Botts Every Flavor Bean. 26 years of my life I never touched the stuff. My ignorant bliss was soon rattled when our workplace installed a new chrome-lined, touch-screened, I,Robot of a machine that discharged the perfect amount of sugared, creamed, caffeinated goodness. And thus, I began my wakeful slide down the inescapable muddy slope of “coffeedom”. In the words of Donald Trump, “Everybody’s saying. Everybody’s talking about [coffee]. Everyone love’s [coffee].”

If you haven’t heard of the relatively new audio book Caffeine, by Michael Pollan, put down your java and give it a listen (It comes free with an audible account. Check it out here). It’s filled with tidbits of information on not only how caffeine pervades our modern culture, but how it shaped many historical advances that shaped our world today. He then pours over the science behind the drug’s positive and negative effects on your brain.

Either way, for those of you that love to wake up to that fresh-ground, roasted fragrance in the morning, or can’t stand the cupped pizzazz, there’s some interesting perspective in there for everyone.

What are you doing right now?

The subtle murmur of conversation wafts through the Starbucks as I ponder what to write. A fishbowl full of crushed beans whirs a few yards away, dispersing a faint “roasty” smell throughout the shop. Outside people walk back and forth along a snow lined sidewalk, their breath creating micro clouds that quickly vanish in the frigid air. Life is good.

Take some time and soak in where you are right now. How are you feeling? Smells? Noises? Anything catching your eye? It’s fun to stop and enjoy the moment.

Don’t become over-focused on what you’re about to do or what you have done. It’s no fun.

Review – Black Mirror

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Our “Black Bathroom Mirror”. Please don’t make that a show title.

If some of you have recently seen people walking around in a trance as if pondering life’s deepest questions, it’s probably because they just finished an episode of Black Mirror, and thus, are doing just that.

I was exposed (for better or for worse) to this show about two weeks ago on a ski trip. It was late, about 12 AM, but we decided to throw on an episode anyways before hitting the hay.

Black Mirror (BM) almost always begins innocently, with well rounded normalcy in the lives of  each character. As you continue watching, you’ll start to realize every episode features some aspect of technology blown way out of proportion. Whether it’s a device implanted under your skin that captures every memory you’ve ever had, or being able to rate those around you based on interaction, BM delves into the shadow cast by technology. And it’s strangely intriguing.

The episode finished, and each of us realized we were in the fetal position sporting a thousand yard stare. The show isn’t for the faint of heart.

Anyways, if you like sci-fi but wonder what could potentially happen if technology “took over the world” this show is for you. Just make sure your mind is ready for the inception roller coaster*.

(*Note, some episodes, in my opinion are much better than others. If you’re trying it out for the first time, try USS Callister, Nosedive, or overly risque Hang the DJ. Those are my top picks).

A quick update

Monday, the 8th of January. I write this sitting at coffee shop, surrounded by the hum of steady conversation and a soft munsell yellow blanket of light. One rather stocky gentleman with small white studs in his ears seems to take up the entire room with his laugh. I’ve put in headphones.

My random goal for this week is to write one blog post each day until this next Sunday. Should be interesting, seeing as I have no planned posts and creativity is somewhat of an elusive creature in these post-holiday times.

Today I was thinking a lot about the future. I know you “shouldn’t worry about tomorrow, for you do not know what it may bring” and such, but it’s so hard not to think about what my life is going to be like in this coming year. A LOT has happened this past 365 days, to say the least. Graduation, weddings, and a new job to name a few. I’ve made New Years resolutions this year, as I usually do every year, but this year feels different. I think I actually have the drive to succeed, and have been maintaining them thus far (a whole 8 days, wow!)

Anyways, I wish you all in the blogging community motivation and perseverance in whatever goals you have for the year. The stocky dude just laughed again. That’s my cue to head home.

True Community

This past weekend I embarked upon a Campus Ministry (Outpost, or Chi Alpha) event called Men’s Advance. Nearly 100 gents packed into a mansion overlooking a misty lake set in the Fall scenery. Games were played (last night we got no less than 12 noise complaints from the surrounding area.. Don’t know whether to be proud or embarrassed about that haha), wrestling was had, clay pigeons shot, and Jesus preached.

Throughout the trip as I met and shared life experiences with these guys one thing stuck out to me. I noticed how different each person was. Different backdrops, different personality types, different appearances, and different lifestyles were all represented here. Normally a situation such as this would not host abundant diversity. Like personalities would have split off, forming their own “click”, and authentic bonding would have been no more than a figment of our imaginations.

The thing that brought us all together was outside of any of us. It was Christ that united what would otherwise have been a group of guys searching for true meaning. This unique bond was created between everyone on the retreat, forged only through our pursuit of Christ. This, to me, felt like true community. I didn’t know half of the guys and yet felt as though we understood each other. We were brothers running after truth, touched by love and purpose that only God can provide. This truth transcends just men’s advance. Regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, and occupation/major, we’re all united in Him. I can’t wait to see what God does in each of our lives throughout this next year, but I know it will be exciting, nerve racking, and all together rad. #Mensadvance2k16.

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Some bros sitting listening to the morning sermon preached by Alex Rodriguez.