December 31, 2007

Transition

The transition period between college and career (or more school or whatever) can really be something. It's scary, for one. You can't just say you are a Senior, or Student, or a So-and-So major, you are probably working a part-time job doing something not in your career field, having just graduated out but not yet matriculated into whatever's next. You are you, but definitely not who you were and not yet who you want to be.

However, that said, the transition can be very very fun and an awesome change of pace. You get to see friends you haven't seen in forever, relax without tests to worry about or papers to write, sleep without alarm clocks and read for fun instead of for class. Some of my friends only had a summer between college and grad school, but not me. I have had an entire year between graduating from Campbell in May of 2007 and leaving for Peace Corps in May of 2008. I'm a little over half way through it and I am excited for the next five months, but it has definitely been a new experience for me. For a young man who loves to plan, it has been a needed time of patience, reflection and yes, fun too.

December 26, 2007

My Invitation!

Well, the day finally came! I received my invitation from Peace Corps and I couldn't be happier. It came without ribbons, it came without tags, it came without packages, boxes or bags. It came and was, by far, one of the greatest Christmas presents I have ever received. I made a little video about it, as I hope to do with a lot of the Peace Corps events to come over the next few years, and I hope you like it. Also check out my Peace Corps web page where I am collecting useful information as I get it. I hope you've had a Merry Christmas and that you have a very Happy New Year!


December 18, 2007

Just A Waiting

What have I learned from waiting for my Peace Corps invitation over the last eight months? It can be difficult to understand our experiences and learn from things as they are happening. It is easy to want answers now and always want be the first in line, no matter where we are or what we are going through. Patience can be as much about appreciating every moment in life as it can be about awaiting a future moment without becoming anxious. Our government is not in much of a hurry, whether it's the Peace Corps or the United States Postal Service. Truth be told, I probably shouldn't be in much of a hurry either. Transitions can be hard because by definition they are neither where you were nor where you plan to be. They are something in between which can be nerve-racking and confusing, fun and exciting, and deep and rewarding. We get to choose, moment to moment, what they will be.

December 16, 2007

Thankfulness

This month I am going to try a "thankfulness" experiment: every night I am going to list three things that happened during that day for which I am grateful. Anything that made me feel uplifted, brought a smile to my face or heart, or will contribute to my overall future happiness works. I'll update this daily.

Saturday, December 1st
  1. Watching the sunrise this morning
  2. Planning for/Being a part of Josh & Becky's wedding
  3. Having Jonathan help me with the world picture for my blog
Sunday, December 2nd
  1. 95.7FM The Ride at Work (Acoustical Sunday Mornings)
  2. A warm nap in a cold room in the late afternoon
  3. Laughs with really fun Pier 1 coworkers together at Olive Garden

Monday, December 3rd

  1. Being able to express my emotions and work through them
  2. An hour's hike on Baker's Mountain
  3. Taking a 14-hour nap

Tuesday, December 4th

  1. Circadian Rhythm
  2. Laughing until it hurts
  3. Having a fun night with my brother and sister
Wednesday, December 5th
  1. Chase's song Meltable Dan
  2. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
  3. Hugging Amy Lee
Thursday, December 6th
  1. Guessing right about where the name Bojangles comes from
  2. The smell of nice soap
  3. Playing with our dogs and learning more about them from Cesar
Friday, December 7th
  1. Checking up on Kid Nation
  2. Playing Would You Rather with Jonathan
  3. Laughing about The Office
Saturday, December 8th
  1. Having a fun coffee shop to sell my photography in
  2. Being able to help the Youth Council in the Hickory Parade
  3. A long night of great conversation with Jonathan
Sunday, December 9th
  1. Acoustical Mornings on 95.7 The Ride
  2. Chicken Biscuits in the morning from my assistant manager
  3. Relaxing and planning out my week
Monday, December 10th
  1. Buddy Passes that flight attendants can give to friends
  2. Boy Scouts and friends of Boy Scouts
  3. 30,000 on an incredible day in South Carolina with Barack
Tuesday, December 11th
  1. Irony
  2. Stevie Wonder's song I Wish
  3. Ralph Waldo Emerson's quotes
Wednesday, December 12th
  1. LetsSayThanks.com
  2. Spending a crazy day with Jonathan
  3. Playing Would You Rather with Elias
Thursday, December 13th
  1. Getting a call from Peace Corps about my invitation
  2. Hanging out and laughing with Chase
  3. Talking with McKinnon for the first time in forever
Friday, December 14th
  1. Reading wonderful yearbook comments from Zoe, Anna, Danielle and Amy a year and a half ago
  2. Laughing really hard with Chase as he crawled into a cubby hole
  3. Having Alena fill in for me at work Sunday
Saturday, December 15th
  1. Having a great experience at Pier 1 Imports in Winston Salem
  2. Having such a wonderful time with great friends and memories at Josh and Becky's wedding
  3. Chase finding the long-lost remote to my CD player
Sunday, December 16th
  1. Curling up in a warm fleece blanket during a cold winter morning
  2. Getting to see Michael's graduation and eat P.F. Chang's with everyone
  3. Chatting with Jonathan over a six hour car drive
Monday, December 17th
  1. Hanging out with Anna, Elias and Dad
  2. Watching Home Movies, Season 4
  3. Falling asleep to Anna reading to us
Tuesday, December 18th
  1. Walking with the dogs
  2. Watching Lost Trailers for Season 4
  3. Playing on iMovie
Wednesday, December 19th
  1. Getting my Peace Corps letter in the mail
  2. Making a great video with my sister about letter
  3. Going to Mongolia!
Thursday, December 20th
  1. Being able to tell everyone the great news
  2. Awesome conversations with friends
  3. Visiting with my grandma
Friday, December 21st
  1. Telling everyone at work about Peace Corps
  2. Finishing my Christmas letters
  3. Having a relaxing work environment
Saturday, December 22nd
  1. The nice cool weather
  2. A warm fire in the living room
  3. Laughing with my family
Sunday, December 23rd
  1. Playing with Jonathan
  2. Talking for hours about ideas
  3. Watching movies with my family
Monday, December 24th
  1. The excitement of Christmas Ever
  2. Wrapping up some presents
  3. Reading The Night Before Christmas
Tuesday, December 25th
  1. Having an awesome Christmas with my family
  2. Watching everyone enjoy their gifts
  3. Sending out my Christmas letters
Wednesday, December 26th
  1. Having fun at work
  2. Relaxing and wearing my new pants
  3. My new hushpuppy shoes from dad
Thursday, December 27th
  1. Having enough money to get an iPod Touch
  2. Playing with the dogs outside
  3. Playing with Eli and Anna
Friday, December 28th
  1. Traveling to Asheville with Michael and friends
  2. Having some great pizza at The Mellow Mushroom
  3. Enjoying hilarious jokes and fun with friends
Saturday, December 29th
  1. Hanging out with Michael, Jonathan and Phillip
  2. Playing games late into the night
  3. Sleeping on a wonderful futon on the ground
Sunday, December 30th
  1. Playing Halo 3 with Jonathan and Michael
  2. Meeting a new friend who is awesome
  3. Being able to visit the library study room
Monday, December 31st
  1. Getting Jonathan's present through Ernesto
  2. Having a great goal setting session with Jonathan
  3. Getting my goals for next year straightened out

December 14, 2007

Invitation!

I have officially gotten word from Peace Corps (as of yesterday afternoon while I was doing dishes) that my third and final invitation is now in the mail. They estimate it should arrive at my house in the next week. Here is the update from my little Peace Corps homepage they give me for updates and such:

Needless to say my hands were shaking a little after I talked with Peace Corps and I am still way excited to get my letter. Maybe I'll even make a little video about when I get it in the mail. Who knows?

December 11, 2007

Substituting Last Week

I’m sitting in my old classroom today, Mr. Wilborn’s Speech & Debate classroom. I sat right here four and a half years ago. Things in my life were different then, but I was very much the same as I am now. I suppose if I were to have asked myself back then if I could have seen myself substitute teaching in this very room four and a half years in the future, I would have said yes. Maybe especially in that class I would have said yes. Mr. Wilborn was probably around 23 or 24 when he was teaching us and I always thought that was awesome. He knew what was up and he didn’t care to go on powertrips or anything else. He was very straightforward about trying to get us in the mindset for college and he taught us life lessons as often as he taught us book lessons, I loved him for that. I loved that he cared about all of us truly learning, not just memorizing and forgetting.

It’s hard to know if I’m doing a good enough job substitute teaching. Every class has a student or two that says I was a a great substitute (they even clapped a little this morning) and told me they definitely want me back again, but sometimes I wish I could actually teach some and tell them what’s up: here’s what college is like, here’s a little bit about what life is like, here is what is important about high school, etc. I know I wanted that when I was in high school, but I don’t suppose I ever expected it to come from a substitute. We have single-serving interactions with substitute teachers usually and it’s hard to get much of anything out of them. My favorite were the ones that were cool with us and didn’t get all bent out of shape if we talked during class. I liked the ones that told us what was up and let us be, finishing up homework, relaxing for a change or maybe just talking with our friends who we hardly ever get to talk to during class. That could really make for a great day. We would get our work done, which was usually busywork and we all knew it (including the teacher), but we would have time to relax, talk, hang out and enjoy some free time. I definitely do that when I am a substitute (and I think that’s what the kids love so much), but is there a place to inject some wisdom in as well?

Exploitation

How long do we have to be in a foreign country before we have earned the right to take a picture with a smiling native child? How much volunteer work do we have to do before we can hug a foreign national and then have them smile at the camera with us as we capture the moment? A day? A week? A month? A year? Two years?

I have been in a lot of pictures with people over the years including people I know well and not so well. I don't turn away from the camera if others take my picture, I don't untag myself from Facebook photos, and I don't stop a smile from coming when someone flashes their camera at me. I try to be sincere. But when I take the pictures myself, I try to be careful and take what they convey seriously.

Helping other people and truly caring about other people is not something I believe happens quickly or easily. I think it's about truly trying to understand the struggles of others, listening to them in their native language, wrapping one's mind around their situation, asking them what kind of help they need, collecting resources to help people help themselves, teaching them how to help others and lead others and then leaving them in a position so that you put yourself out of a job. If they can do it on their own (whatever it may be) and if they finish knowing they did it themselves, that to me is success.

I plan to take plenty of pictures when I am in the Peace Corps - of the foreign land I live in for two years, of the foreign nationals I live with, of beauty and of substance. I will take pictures of people I meet and friends I make, but this will take time. It won't happen in a day, a month, or maybe even a year in some cases. I believe friendships and lasting change require a lot of continued effort, not a vacation-style go around. I hope to take pictures of real value, of lands I admire, of situations that I appreciate and of human beings that I care for and have treated as my equals. Taking a picture of anything less than that is exploitation.

December 7, 2007

Peaceful Warrior

I really appreciate the movie Peaceful Warrior. My sister has been telling me that I would love it and she was right. It is a great movie with a fantastic message: there are no ordinary moments and it is our job to experience every one of them. Socrates, the mentor in the movie, exudes great wisdom throughout the entire film. This conversation, for example, I thought was great:

Socrates: "Everyone wants to tell you what to do and what's good for you. They don't want you to find your own answers, they want you to believe theirs."
Dan: "Let me guess, and you want me to believe yours. "
Socrates: "No, I want you to stop gathering information from the outside and start gathering it from the inside."


Mindfulness, in so far as I understand it, is about letting go of the programs and busyness that flood our minds incessantly. It is about watching the yourself behind your mind by stepping back mentally and not just reacting to the things around you. "You are not your thoughts," as Socrates observes in the film. I am still learning about mindfulness, but it has fascinated me for years now. I first started researching mindfulness at Campbell a few years ago when I created an Introduction to Biological Research poster and really got into research by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. Here are two videos of him speaking to Google earlier this year: Mindfulness Workshop and Mindfulness in Medicine.

I like what Jim Carrey said about the movie, "When you hear the truth, it sounds familiar, like seeing a reflection of something you already possess. This film is a clear and simple reflection. I enjoyed every moment." I totally agree.

Change

Change can be very rough, whether it's watching your hair thin, your parents get divorced, or your friends get married. Transitions, like graduating from college, can be rough too. However, I do believe that change can be just about as positive/negative and constructive/destructive as we want it to be. Watching my hair thin has been frightening (since I never really know when it's going to stop) but it has also been nice (since I actually like how it looks sometimes). Watching my parents get divorced has been frightening (since I never really know what's going to happen next) but it has also been beneficial (since I think it is helping both my parents to find out who they really are as individuals). And watching my friends get married...well...we will see about that one. Haha

I think plans and goals and outlooks can be very helpful when you are dealing with change. For me, picturing who I want to be in one, five, or ten years in the future helps me decide on what I want to do now. Do I want to go into medical school or Peace Corps first? Do I want to work with international organizations? Do I want to have a dog, coach little league soccer, write a book and spend time in a Buddhist monastery? There aren't any wrong answers I suppose, just me figuring out what I want to do next. Once that's settled, it's on to the next thing.

December 5, 2007

Peace Corps-esspondence

I've been reading some Peace Corps Volunteer blogs (like Stacey's) while waiting for my invitation and have felt very comforted. I get to see what she's gone through, what she's going through and consequently what I will be going through: getting my invitation, going through training, moving into my community, spending a year in another country and on and on. I know this is comforting not only for other Peace Corps Volunteers to read, but especially for her friends and family to read. For that reason I plan to continue my blog here throughout my time in Peace Corps (though the regularity of posts will be hard to predict) and I also plan to send out e-mails to my friends and family who want to get more personal updates of events as they unfold. As is the nature of Peace Corps, I won't be able to post certain material (security or opinion-related) on my blog as a Volunteer but I will be able to write as many personal e-mails as I wish. If you would like to subscribe to my e-mailing list, please visit this page at travishellstrom.com. Just enter your e-mail address, press the subscribe button and then confirm the e-mail you receive in your Inbox. I look forward to sending out personal messages and even videos as things develop over the next few years. I'll try to keep things interesting!

December 4, 2007

Truth As A Compass

I'm hearing a lot of talk about this new movie The Golden Compass, including talk on Fox, TIME, anti-Golden Compass Facebook groups, and between friends. The movie is based on an award-winning children's book series written by Philip Pullman, who is an atheist, and it deals primarily with a battle between truth (which the girl possesses in the Golden Compass) and the Magisterium (which is a dogmatic dictatorship more intent on having power than on sharing truth). I understand that people have concerns about information being shared with others that one does not agree with personally, but that does not change the fact that it should be allowed to be shared. Furthermore, I believe that a person should fully research and experience an issue from all sides before making a conclusion. Personal experience based on reason and facts are much more valuable to me than hearsay or orders from organizations. I have a feeling this is exactly what the movie is talking about and I for one am going to see it. If I don't like it after seeing it, than I will share that opinion with others. If I don't even see it, what kind of an opinion could I possibly have? Someone else's?




November 26, 2007

SiCKO

What is that famous movie critic line..."I laughed, I cried." Yes, exactly. Thumbs up to Michael Moore's new movie SiCKO. It was incredible, I loved it. I laughed (quite loudly) at parts and well...I cried too. I think all Americans should be informed about what their country does and why, including regarding our health care system. When did HMOs start? What President proposed them? How does universal health care work in Canada, Britain, France or Cuba? I'm glad my answer to those questions now isn't "I don't know." Whether or not you agree with Michael Moore, whether or not you think America should have universal health care, and whether or not you consider yourself liberal or conservative I think you should watch this movie. Thank you to everyone who helped make this film, I am very glad I was able to watch it.

November 25, 2007

Prints

I'm going to be putting some of my photography up for sale in a downtown coffee shop called Taste Full Beans this week. I have a 7-week show in April which will feature a lot more of my photographs up on walls, in mattes and so forth, but for the month of December the owner of the coffee shop said I could just put some prints out for the holiday shoppers if I would like. I thought that would be a good idea especially as a test-run, so I printed up 12 for now, gotten foam backing and plastic covering for them and have them just about ready to take over the the cafe.

In the meantime I have been talking a lot with my friends, family and coworkers about pricing, themes, donations and so forth. For instance, how much should I charge for an 8x10 print? Some say $35, some say $20, I was originally thinking around $12. Should I label my photographs to show that I will be donating 25% of the proceeds to UNICEF? As part of my mission to Advance Humanity, I thought it would be a nice thing to share. Will the shoppers even care? Should I just do it without mentioning it? Interesting to think about.

Art is funny; often the person making the art doesn't think about money, but then it can sell (often posthumously) for tremendous amounts. Watching my sister and I sell photographs or paintings for a small amount of money frustrates my dad and I understand that now. When it comes to my sister's artwork I think she should charge like crazy, but then when it comes to mine I downplay it and just ask for enough to get by. It's not really about the money, but regardless of whether you want to or not you are going to decide what the artwork is worth. Someone will probably pay it, no matter what you ask. It's a matter of how it makes them feel and what they think it is worth.

My hope is to share with others great photographs that have the common theme of advancing humanity. This includes the photograph being of something that captures the nature of our humanity, our world or our ideals and also using the proceeds from those photographs to support charity work and my own future photography as I travel throughout the world.

November 23, 2007

Ranking Up

TIME had an awesome article this week: Happiness on the Job. The question is how much is happiness related to work? Are people who make more money in their jobs happier? Are people who are more educated happier? How happy will I likely be in my future job (based on what other people already in that job think)? The results are interesting.

It is hard to make sweeping generalities based on the results you can view on that web page, but here are some things I think about it:
  1. It appears that the people in some of the happiest jobs (clergy, architects, actors, directors, lawyers, physicians, economists, etc.) are paid to use their heads a lot. Their jobs require them to think, analyze and even philosophize about life. Some of the least happy jobs (amusement park operators, freight operators, roofers, messengers, construction workers, etc.) are not really paid to do that.
  2. It also appears to me that the jobs toward the top in happiness also require some guts. It takes a lot of school to become a lawyer or doctor, a lot of experience to become a director or actor, and a lot of faith and confidence to become a clergy member or a professional athlete. The people I know personally either in these jobs, or currently preparing for them, didn't just fall into the field. They have worked hard and had a lot of guts.
  3. Lastly, I notice that some careers aren't listed. Although the website has more jobs listed than were in the magazine, it still leaves quite a few out (United Nations work perhaps?). I know it isn't comprehensive, but it would be nice if there were more careers listed out.

I know the whole thing is a little confusing, but I think overall it is a very interesting chart. Often we jump into careers because we heard they were available, or hard to do, or easy to do, or they just paid a lot. I think a better reason to jump into a career is because you think it will make you truly happy.

November 18, 2007

In The Remaking

Remakes can be pretty awesome, especially if the first version is high quality to begin with.

Exhibit A: An iPod Touch commercial made by Nick Haley, an 18-year old student from Warwick, England. Nice right? Well Apple thought so too and they e-mailed him and asked if they could use it as one of their commercials. They flew him out to California, worked him in with their marketing partners and then the official commercial aired during the World Series. I can't stop watching it, it's so catchy! How crazy would that be for Apple to e-mail you?

Exhibit B: A 70's song by Supertramp called Breakfast in America which is still playing on classic rock radio (like yesterday morning, for example). Heard of it? I might sound familiar because it was also recently remade by Gym Class Heroes in a song titled Cupid's Chokehold. They sped up the song a bit, but kept the famous line, "take a look at my girlfriend, she's the only one I got" and the refrain, "ba ba da da" sung this time by the lead from Fall Out Boy. I like both versions and like the Gym Class Heroes video too. It reminds me a little of Chase's song If You Were. Think so Chase?

Well, just thought I should share them. I hope you don't get addicted to any of these videos, but if you do I don't blame you. I'm gonna go watch the iPod Touch commercial again.

November 16, 2007

Fall Forward


Photographed by Travis Hellstrom
I have to hand it to North Carolina, the scenery and atmosphere in the fall are incredible. The brisk, cool, (and sometimes kitten-tossing) autumn air really lifts my spirits. I drive around with the windows down even though it numbs my face. I run around in the yard with only my skivvies on while smelling the whiff of some nearby chimney's smoke. I lay on the walkway of my friend's house just to stare at the blue sky. Soon fall breezes will turn to winter flurries, but at least for now it's nice and cool.

November 11, 2007

Consistency

I really enjoy listening to Barack when he talks to all of us through programs and debates. I think he is a great candidate and should become our next President. Recently he was on the Tonight Show (which I've included below), Ellen's Show and made a cameo on SNL. I think that's pretty awesome and I appreciate his honesty and consistency with his message. Thanks Barack.


November 6, 2007

How To Have A Pod-y In Your Car

You have an iPod (or Lil' Monsta, etc.), congratulations! You have a car, congratulations again! You aren't using them together?!?! Ahhhhh!!!! Say it ain't so. If you are like me and you have either a cassette or CD player in your car, you can definitely get that iPod music playing in your car in no time. Here are some options:
  1. Buy a cassette adapter: great quality and very easy to do - $15.
  2. Buy an FM transmitter: good quality and pretty easy - $40.
  3. Buy a new CD player with mp3 input: great quality but - $150.
  4. Buy connector cables for your CD player: great quality - $12.

The first three are pretty much buy and plug in. However, if you are adventurous and want to try the fourth option (like me!) I would definitely recommend it. You can get great audio for little cost and have a little fun, if a little engineering is your thing.

First, you have to check and see what your CD player looks like on the back. I did this online first. Google your player's make and model number and find its installation guide/instructions manual online if you can. Look through the document and find some diagrams of the back of your CD player. If you see some RCA cable hook-ups saying Input, Line-In or anything of that sort, chances are it's worth a shot. That's what I found on my CD player and my friend Jonathan's CD player and both worked just fine.

Next, it's time to pull the CD player out of your car and actually inspect the back yourself. Read the directions on how to remove your CD player and then find the appropriate RCA plug-ins once its out. Generally these plug-ins have a red or white trim around them, to correspond to the red and white RCA plugs that go into them. If you find two plugs you will probably just need one RCA cable. If you have four plugs you will probably need two adapters as well as one RCA cable, this was the case with my car.

Next, decide how long of cables you want based on where you want the cables to run to. In my car, I ran the cables out the back of my CD player, down the middle of my car under the shifting column and then up inside my console between the driver and passenger seat. This required that I remove two screws and lift a little bit of the dash, everything else let the cable slip under it very easily. An eight foot cable was a perfect for this. To plan out the path of your cable, look for holes that are already in your vehicle, whether it's under removable items in your console or on the dash itself. You'll probably be surprised at the possibilities. Once you have a general idea, go on to Radioshack, Target, or another electronics store and get the cables you need. In my case I got one white Stereo Jack to RCA cable and two adapters. In Jonathan's case he just got one black Stereo Jack to RCA cable.

Once you've returned triumphant, plug your RCA cables into the CD player and the headphone jack into your iPod. Then turn on the car, turn on the CD player, turn up the Volume to 1 on the CD player and then start playing a song on your iPod. You should hear the music through your car speakers. You are all set. Just run the wires through your car how you want them and then enjoy. From here on out your car and your iPod (or Lil' Monsta) are best friends and everything should be gravy. If you have any questions, let me know. Otherwise, enjoy!

October 30, 2007

Campbell Visit

Visiting Campbell was incredible last week. I was able to reflect a lot on my time at the school, reconnect with great friends who I haven’t seen in months and also create some new memories to add to already incredible ones. I'm sorry I didn't get to see you of you while I was in, including visiting many of you on the Haunted Trail, but I will definitely be back to Campbell soon and hope to see you then. For those of you who I was able to see, thank you so much for a wonderful visit. Thank you Josh for so much fun on Tuesday night, I love your new place and had tons of fun visiting with you. Thank you Michael and Candi for a great dinner and movie on Wednesday, it was awesome to see how much fun you are both having this year as you finish up school (Michael) and start teaching school (Candi); you are a blast to be around. Thank you Lynch Boys: Garrett, Tim, Pawan and Chase, it was awesome to play Risk and Monopoly, eat at P.F. Chang’s, run around the Apple Store and Barnes & Noble, make homemade ice cream, eat pizza, and laugh and joke around until late into the night. I am very thankful that I had such great friends living together in the same house my last year at Campbell. Also, thank you Chase for letting me stay with you and talk late into the night about great topics; I really enjoyed it. Lastly, thank you Taylor for a really enjoyable breakfast. You are wonderful to talk with and I am so proud of all the amazing accomplishments you are going to have this year!

When talking to graduates of Campbell, I have consistently heard that the thing they miss the most are the people - their friends. I am no different. I miss you all very much and could not be happier that you are a part of my life. I look forward to visiting you all again soon and until then I wish you the very best with school, fun, your family and friends.



Namaste

It’s kind of crazy that I haven’t written about this yet, especially since I have told so many of you this story already, but here it goes. I was working at Pier 1 on an otherwise normal evening and the store was empty. As I was working on things behind the desk, I noticed a car outside with a LOST sticker on it. It just had a black background and white lettering that simply said “LOST” like the opening credits of the television show. I went into a frenzy. Who has this car! Where is this person? Do they work here? Are they in the store? I stood on my toes like a prairie dog and looked all around the store but I couldn’t see anyone, and then all of a sudden, there she was. She was the only person in the store that seconds ago I thought was empty. I had to play it cool, but it was hard, LOST was at stake. “Excuse me,” I said as I strode by her, “is that your car outside with the LOST sticker on it?” She nodded. “Like the show LOST?” She said yes. “That’s the best show ever made,” I said smiling. “I know,” she replied. The next thirty to forty-five minutes were a blur, all I remember was discussing the show and jumping around from idea to idea like jackrabbits on hot summer pavement. It was awesome. As the store closed and she headed out I told her thanks for putting the sticker on her car and she smiled. She had, by far, been the best customer I had ever had. But it gets better.

The next day, when she came back to pick up a chair she couldn’t fit into her car that night before, she left me a present. When I came into work my coworker threw it to me and I couldn’t believe it, all I could say was “No way!” In my hands lay a black t-shirt with the words LOST written across the chest. It was from the Season 1, just like her sticker had been. It was from the Official LOST store and it was just my size. I’m still in awe of this kind gesture from a fellow Lost fan who doesn’t even know my name, but then again I suppose awesome shows attract awesome people. To my best customer ever, thank you and namaste.

(P.S. I will write more about LOST soon, you can count on it)

October 24, 2007

Generation Y-Not?

It appears that Peace Corps has the highest number of volunteers in service since 1971. Pretty flippin' awesome I must say. Personally I think it's because our generation (Generation Y-Not? as I call us) is out to make change and actually make our world a better place. Like Dr. Seuss wrote in the end of The Lorax, "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing's going to get better. It's not."

October 21, 2007

Mac Daddy

It’s been three months since I received my MacBook on July 17th and I must say I am very happy with it. It is a great computer and it definitely gets my highest recommendation. Here are some things I have learned about Macs through my MacBook so far:

Macs just work. Turn it on and start up is twelve seconds. And then it’s on, no messages, no clutter, no nothin’. When you do start a program, it starts. When you close a close, it closes. No questions, no waiting, no bothers. That’s awesome. Also the interface is way easy, everything is self-explanatory and just where you’d think it would be. If you want to change something you can left click on it with one finger tap on the touch pad, right click on it by tapping two fingers, or scroll by dragging both fingers through any program. Everything just works.

Macs are clean. The design of the laptop and the operating system are both very stylish. Each icon was carefully thought through and the computer is a joy to play with. Mine is white and I really enjoy looking at it, I think that’s saying something for a computer. Apple took their time when creating the hardware and software and I really appreciate that as I work with my MacBook day after day, it could get boring but it doesn’t thanks in part to their careful attention to detail. Sometimes I pause on icons, in programs or even before turning the computer on, just to enjoy that. That’s very new to me.

Macs are simple. Every button is important. Brightness, volume, program separation (show all windows open at once so you can pick one in the background), program hiding (all programs move to the border so you can see your desktop) and the dashboard (a collection of “widgets” which can show you gmail, facebook, weather or whatever you want) are all accessible through buttons on the top row. Press one, sound goes up. Press the next, sound goes down. It’s as simple as it should be and it makes it easy to change the brightness of the screen and conserve energy (the battery last six hours), listen to music (the speakers get plenty loud) and check my e-mail quickly on the side without opening up a web page (which is really convenient). Maybe more than anything else, I am really glad to Apple has kept things simple.

I’m sure I will learn a lot more about Macs in the coming months, but I think that’s a good start for now. So far it’s one of the best things I have ever purchased and I love it more every day I use it.

October 20, 2007

Stamen Smart

So I was driving-thru the Starbucks last night after my first day of substitute teaching and found a question stenciled on their window. It surprised at first, but then equally surprising, I realized that I knew the answer. As the guy handed me my Vanilla Frappucino I said, "Stamen, right?" and he looked at me and said, "Yeah...Man, I didn't even give you the 10% off." It was cool, I didn't notice the sign until after he rung me up on my giftcard. "What is the male part of the flower called? Get 10% off," it said.

Regardless of your opinions on Starbucks...or the $4.16 drink I buy every other time I want it...you have to admit that was a pretty unique occurrence. That I knew the answer "stamen" is a direct product of my Botany education at Campbell University, so kudos to Dr. Metz. You never really know what your college education is worth until you test it and find you learned something. Now I know, conclusively, that what I learned is worth at least 42 cents...at least. (Or anyway, Starbucks thinks so).

Friggin' Pooped

I am so friggin’ pooped it’s ridiculous. Substitute teaching was great, molding all those little young minds with my nimble hands…Only thing was, I only planned on being there half a day. No matter what the job, planning on working only half of what you end up working can be draining. At 11:20, after four hours at school, I thought I was going home but I got a phone call that said, “Hi…Can you stay the whole day?” The answer was yes, but I didn’t feel prepared. For one, I didn’t have a lunch (and still haven’t eaten any more than a piece of pizza this morning since we were out of milk and cereal was out of the question) and for two, I didn’t have a lesson plan for the rest of the day. And for three, I had to work from 4-8pm at Pier 1. And for four…how can teachers stand up all day! My feet are friggin’ killing me!

The kids were great, really. They were sixth graders, probably about eighty of them by the end of the day, switching around between blocks (which are different subject areas…it’s complicated and I don’t really understand it) about every fifty minutes. We silent read semi-silently, read science articles and studied algebraic expressions for math (twice each, during four different blocks), went to lunch read, came back from lunch together (a surprise to us all), went to recess, got a short break when I wrote my summary of the day’s happening to the teacher, got ready to go home and…also got cute notes from the students on the whiteboard (“Thanks! You were a nice substitute” and “Have a Rockin’ Friday”), received a cupcake from one student and chinese donut from another and, maybe most importantly, got to laugh at myself a lot all day long. I hope I get better each time I substitute teach, but for the first time out I think did pretty flippin’ okay. I’m learning a tremendous amount…maybe even more than the kids. Yeah, probably.

October 19, 2007

Substituting for Worry

I am about to head out to substitute teaching this morning and I’m nervous. I’m sure it will be fine, but it’s surprising the things one worries about when preparing to enter a room of sixth graders for the morning. Will they be settled down and reasonable, like how I dressed, laugh at jokes I make, or care what I have to say? I hope so, especially since I generally have a strong presence, but it is still a worry that I am slowly getting over. We shall see how it goes, but it will definitely be a learning experience no matter what.

October 17, 2007

Friendships

Here’s something that’s been grinding on me for a while: meaningful friendships. It occurs to me that people define friendship differently. I have some friends who think you can be friends now, while we are close together in space and time, and then when we are far apart we are no longer friends. I may have tons of friends in high school or college or whenever, but then when I graduate I can probably never talk to you again and that’s okay. Actually, they probably prefer it. Then I have some friends who think that once we are friends we will remain friends for a long time afterward. We might travel to see each other or call each other now and then, but generally we will remain rather close. Maybe not in distance, but atleast we will remain in each others’ lives. Personally I like the second one and feel like the first one is pretty messed up. Sincerity, in my mind, requires that I mean it now and in the future when I say I care about you and I wish you the best in your life. Walking away after saying that and not looking back seems, to me, to be insincere.

Now, I am reasonable. I realize that it can be inefficient and difficult to constantly keep up with people you have known for a long time: to call them, to write them, to wonder about them. It is easier and more efficient, in the short term, to just be where you are and deal with the people immediately around you. Luckily the easiest things in life aren’t usually the best things, consistently, and efficiency isn’t how I define the meaningfulness of my life. I think, for me, it is very helpful and good, in both the long and the short term, to keep up with people I care about; that might mean a phone call once a year, or a visit once every few years, or a random message somewhere in between. Whatever the case, when I claim I’m your friend and I say I care about you, I mean that whether I’m around you or not. Please hold me to that, because that’s what I believe.

Life Not So Easy

Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy. There will be no salary and allowances will be at a level sufficient only to maintain health and meet basic needs. Men and women will be expected to work and live alongside the nationals of the country in which they are stationed—doing the same work, eating the same food, talking the same language.


But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps—who works in a foreign land—will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace.
- John F. Kennedy, former U.S. President and founder of Peace Corps


Although I am doing many things right now which keep me busy, Peace Corps is always on my mind. I try to relax and not worry about the letter that is coming a few weeks to tell me where I will spending the next two years of my life, but it is very exciting and nerve-racking at the same time. Will it be Mongolia, a place I get more excited about every time I think about it? Or will it be another country in Asia or Central Asia which I haven't thought of? Time, and a letter from Peace Corps, will tell I suppose. Until then I'm learning a lot of lessons, including patience, and I imagine those will be very helpful when I am in the "life not so easy" called Peace Corps.

October 16, 2007

On The Pier

I’ve been working at Pier 1 Imports for over a month now and it’s been pretty cool: nice environment, great people, plenty of air conditioning and pretty good pay too. I got the job back when Peace Corps was continuing its two months of no communication with me and I didn’t know how long I could work, but as it turns out Pier 1 was cool with that and recommended I just work through the holiday season and then see how things go next year. More than likely I will leave for Peace Corps in Spring of ’08 but until then, I’m at home, at Pier 1, working on little things here and there and hopefully *fingers crossed* substitute teaching soon too. That’s my employment update for the quarter.

October 14, 2007

Five Years Out

Sometimes when Jonathan and I hang out we talk about our goals and ambitions in life and then we take to writing them down. A few days ago we started talking about where we would like to see ourselves five years out. Here are the ideas I wrote down. In five years I would like to:
  • Be a positive, reflective, engaged Returned Peace Corps Volunteer
  • Have spent at least two months in an Buddhist monastery
  • Be financially independent, responsible and creative
  • Be enrolled in/graduated from a graduate school program
  • Be accumulating assets through smart saving and investing
  • Be engaged in strong friendships I have continually appreciated
  • Have enjoyed the entire series of Lost for the second time
  • Have very few, but very important belongings that I love
  • Have a dog of my own

October 11, 2007

GOOG-411

Google is pretty awesome and most of us know this, but what you may not know about is a new service being offered by Google which just came out of Google Labs (where they test new ideas). It's called GOOG-411 and it's pretty much a free phonebook for any city in the country. Call 1-800-GOOG-411 right now to try it out if you have a phone nearby. It will ask for your city and state and then ask for a listing. Most recently I called and said "Hickory, North Carolina" and then said "Dollar Tree" because I wanted to call them to ask their store hours. The first listing it gave me was the one I wanted so I said "Number 1" and then "Connect Me" and within seconds I was talking to someone in the Dollar Tree and found out their hours.

It's super convenient and couldn't be easier, unless Google wiretapped my car and heard me wondering out loud what Dollar Tree's phone number was. But until that happens, I'll just use GOOG-411 and if you have any phonebook related questions I hope you do too.

October 10, 2007

IRL

I really enjoy reading TIME magazine when I get it in the mail and sharing the best articles with people around me, whether it's a feature article like The Case for National Service or You Are Not My Friend by Joel Stein featured at the end of this week's magazine. He makes a really good point: we say that sites like Facebook help us connect to people "but really, these sites aren't about connecting and reconnecting. They're a platform for self-branding...We're not sharing things we don't want other people to know. We're showing you our best posed, retouched photos." At some point that is understandable, but if we are deleting links to others' photos of us so people won't see them or we are afraid to say what we really think that starts to get a little ridiculous. At that point we start to run the risk of not being ourselves online. We might be too elusive or elitist, or we might be way more enthusiastic and positive than we really feel about a subject or message. "We are, as a social network, all so awesome that we will soon not be able to type the number 1, because we will have worn out the exclamation point that shares its key," warns Stein. He might be right.

I am definitely guilty of this myself and I would like to cut back on it. I think Facebook can be a very good way of connecting to people who you can't get a hold of easily (through phonecalls, e-mails or god forbid actually visits) but I don't think it should be a replacement. We all have people that we are close to in real life (irl) and I think it should stay that way. If you have close friends, keep them close and spend your time accordingly.

October 4, 2007

Meaning

I don't believe there is a heaven and I also do not believe there is a hell. I don't know if there is a God and I also don't know if it really matters if there is one. I don't believe Christianity, Buddhism, Islam or any other religion is correct to the point of being better than any other religion and I also don't believe anything bad happens after death if you do or do not believe one religion or another. In fact, I don't believe anything happens after death to a human any more than something happens to an animal after it dies. We are made up of matter in the same way that other creatures are and we are unique, just like they are. All I need to do is look into the eye of a gorilla, chimpanzee, dog or cat to see that myself. They are thinking and we both know it. Now just because we are animals and we die doesn't mean there is no point or use to living. I think our temporal nature and our connection to the rest of the earth makes our time here even more precious and important. I won't pass this way again and I need to get it right this time. Luckily, I think I have everything I need to do it.

I believe helping other people and searching for the good in situations helps a person many times over whereas avoiding helping others and only concentrating on the bad rarely helps anyone. I believe telling the truth can not only guarantee that you surround yourself with people who really know who you are but it can also help you figure out who you are yourself. I think meaning comes from bettering humankind's condition on this earth and making the planet a better place for all living creatures. Meaningful action helps others to achieve a better way of life, working to afford all humans simple standards of living guaranteeing access to education, health care, protection, justice and the pursuit of happiness. That's what I believe.

October 3, 2007

Kid Nation

I don't watch much television at all, except for Nickelodeon, Disney, and Lost, but now I have added one more show to my short list: Kid Nation. As much as Lost makes me jump up and down and yell, "This is the best show ever made!" Kid Nation makes me cry a little (especially at the ends) and think, "This show is good for this country." In a nation where the most popular television shows are violent, sexy, action-packed and adult-content based with disclaimers at the beginning, Kid Nation is kid friendly because it is only about kids. Can they get along? Can they work together and figure things out? Can they show us a thing or two about ourselves?

I have always had huge faith in the power of children. As a kid I thought over and over again that I was capable of so much more than adults would allow me to do, to think, or to attempt. Any show that helps kids become better people, any show that spends time investing in children's futures and any show that provides model leadership for other kids has my vote and my viewer-ship. It looks like my seventh Inner Peace Award isn't going to iPod Touch, at least not yet, but instead it's going out to the creators, producers, directors, staff and most importantly to the stars of Kid Nation. Thank you all for providing a great example to our country and to our kids. I am very proud of you and I will watch your show throughout this season. Keep up the good work!

Below is the Promotional Video for Kid Nation which sums up how the show works, but I would recommend just watching all the full episodes online. Be prepared to be impressed and maybe a little emotional. I love this show and I think it's great for all of us, especially us kids.


September 26, 2007

Distancing

When you serve your mother and father it is okay to try to correct them once in a while. But if you see that they are not going to listen to you, keep your respect for them and don't distance yourself from them. Work without complaining.
Confucius

It’s been hard knowing how to be with my mom and dad as they have gone through their divorce. With my dad it has been like growing up and becoming an adult, seeing things from his perspective and offering advice when I was asked to or felt it was applicable. This was new and difficult sometimes, but I figured it out pretty quickly. In a lot of ways I think that’s because he and I are so similar in our personalities. However, with my mom that hasn’t been exactly the case. We have always been different, but it has often been very helpful for me. She is the spontaneous, carefree, moment to moment and loving kind of person that I often have a hard time being myself. I am loving, but in a consistent and thoughtful kind of way, not spur of the moment or feelings-based sort of way, if that makes any sense. I am also a planner, a decider and a days-ahead sort of thinker. So, that has always been a challenge for us. Yet, we have still always remained very close until recently. For about a year and a half my mom has felt like we haven’t been that close, and we haven’t been. I think, looking back, it’s because I expected our relationship to change like mine had with my dad. But after talking with her for a while I understand now that that isn’t what she wants at the moment. I am her son and she is my mother and that is as far as she feels we should go right now. I understand that. It might remain that way for quite some time, or it might not, I’m not sure. But I think I distanced myself from my mom because I expected things to change and I think it will be better to stay the same with her regardless of outside influences and situational changes. It’s not ignoring reality, but instead choosing how I want to respond to it. At the moment I would like to keep my respect for my mom and for my dad and work together with both of them lovingly.

September 20, 2007

Highly, Highly Unusual

In July I received an invitation to serve in the Peace Corps in Turkmenistan, leaving in October of 2007. It was tempting, especially considering that the next invitation to Peace Corps would probably be sometime in 2008, but after several days of thinking it over and discussing it with my friends, family, and other Peace Corps volunteers I decided it was not the kind of experience I was looking for. There are a lot of reasons, including misunderstandings regarding how the invitation process worked, but as I called my Placement Officer Yung-Mei to decline I knew it was the right thing to do. I wrote her an e-mail explaining my reasons and then I didn’t hear anything from Peace Corps for two months.

Then, this past Thursday night I received an e-mail from Peace Corps:

Dear Travis,

My name is Patrick and I am the Placement Officer currently reviewing your application materials now that Yung-Mei has assumed other responsibilities within our office. I’ve reviewed your application and I have read your past emails to Yung-Mei.

It is highly, highly unusual for our office to extend a third invitation to an applicant. That said, in reviewing your explanations for declining the first two invitations, and with a good word from Yung-Mei, I am willing to consider you for one more assignment. I have transferred your application into consideration for a health extension assignment departing for Asia/Central Asia in early June. The delay won’t affect either your medical or dental clearances.

Although your file is currently “clear” in every way (legal, medical, etc.), we don’t begin issuing invitations to the June programs until mid-November so please keep us updated if your contact information changes. If not, then you can expect an invitation at your Hickory address in November.

Sincerely,
Patrick


After pulling my heart out of my stomach and re-reading the words “highly, highly unusual” and “June” I started to appreciate where I was in the process. It’s true that the process to get into Peace Corps has taken longer than I anticipated and patience has been very important, but I think it’s also true that all of this waiting and thinking and preparing will be worth it. I am very excited about what’s coming next and about receiving my third invitation in mid-November. If I had to guess, I would say it’s for Mongolia and that would be fine by me. : )

September 9, 2007

What's Right

“What is moral is what you feel good after,
and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.”
– Ernest Hemingway

I don’t think this is too simple. I think this really hits the spot. Sometimes I kid myself and think I feel bad because of other people, but usually after a while I can’t kid myself anymore. I know something is wrong, maybe not right at first but soon after. I sit back and hope that I don’t make the same mistake again, regardless of my immediate emotions, and sometimes I succeed. It isn’t easy or simple when it comes down to it. I think living right is a moment to moment challenge, but definitely one we can handle if we're honest with ourselves.


“When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad.
That’s my religion.” – Abraham Lincoln

September 5, 2007

iPod touch

Hold the presses! Okay, use the presses! Press the presses! It appears that Apple has amazed me yet again, and most likely the rest of America, with the iPod touch. For all the Mac users out there that have wanted a Pocket PC, but didn't want to fork over the dough for an iPhone, comes the iPod touch. Did I mention that I love Pocket PC's?

The iPod touch holds 8GB ($300) or 16GB ($400) compared to the iPod classic which can hold 80GB ($250) or 160GB ($350), but it offers the ability to...touch it, and therefore revolutionizes not only the feel of the iPod but also the features. You can access and edit information in your music, contacts, calendar and more, surf the internet, and even download songs from the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store. Apple, you're crazy, but we love you. I think you might be in the running for the seventh-ever Travis Hellstrom Inner Peace Award.

September 2, 2007

For Your Country

This week's headline article for TIME is The Case for National Service and for the most part I really enjoyed it. TIME calls for our next President (hopefully Barack Obama, in my opinion) to encourage our nation's citizens to be involved in service to our nation and to our world. "Devoting a year or more to national service," says the article, "whether military or civilian, should become a countrywide rite of passage, the common expectation and widespread experience of virtually every young American." The article does a good job of collecting thoughts on creating a Department of National Service and even a U.S. Public Service Academy, the later also suggested by Hillary Clinton and others. I couldn't agree more that Americans of all ages should give two years of service to their community, whether they consider it their world community or neighborhood community. You can serve in schools through Teach for America, in local communities building houses through AmeriCorps, or in grass huts through Peace Corps. All are paid for and only require your time and your effort.

The one suggestion I have for TIME is that it should have mentioned Peace Corps more clearly in the article. I wrote the following letter to the editor to explain:

I was thrilled to see your headline article this week was National Service, but I was very disappointed to see that Peace Corps only received a sentence and a John F. Kennedy picture on the first page. Over 187,000 Peace Corps Volunteers have answered the call since 1962 not only to "ask what you can do for your country" but to "ask what together we can do for the freedom of man." Next time please give Peace Corps more than a mention. It is currently the fifth "most ideal employer" for college graduates and there is a reason why.

Thank You,
Travis Hellstrom
Peace Corps Invitee
Hickory, NC

Whether or not it is published, I hope the magazine sees my point. I appreciate what they are doing and I think a lot of wonderful organizations are helping our country and our world in great ways. I am proud to be taking part in one of our country's proudest moments, I think, and I hope it remains a moment we live in for a very long time.

August 30, 2007

Puzzling

I don’t do jigsaw puzzles very often, but Leighanna is putting together a massive one for her room that looks like something Lisa Frank would print on a Trapper Keeper: white and blueish penguins on icebergs with white and blueish glacier mountains in the background in front of a white and blueish sky next to a white and blueish ocean and a dark blue and light blueish starscape in the furthest background. In fact, the penguins are floating in space on top of these glaciers where there are atleast two horizons and several separate levels of landscape. It’s a precise puzzle is I guess what I’m trying to say, not a 20-piece Mickey Mouse riding Pluto down the street kind of puzzle. But I digress, the reason I’m writing this is that while puzzling away I started feeling like life is similar to a jigsaw puzzle. I know it can seem huge and confusing and not worth the trouble (like this analogy maybe) but in the end puzzles and life can be pretty cool and beautiful and bring a lot of different people together. Sometimes there are pieces that are easy- we can find the side pieces cause they have a flat edge, we can find the penguin babies because they have cute little faces and the big star is easy cause it takes up a whole piece by itself. But then we get to parts that we swear must have pieces missing. We’ve looked everywhere for just the right piece and it just isn’t anywhere. We find it later of course, it just looked different than we were expecting, or it was upside down, or something was covering it up. How often in life do we want something and actually just miss it cause it didn’t look like we were expecting? Also, how often do we forget the big picture? It doesn’t seem too harmful, but it’s like not looking at the puzzle box for instructions. You can go at it all by yourself, with no plan at all, but that is pretty rough. Plus, knowing what you want your puzzle (or life) to look like helps when you go through the day-to-day struggle that sometimes seems like it isn't getting anywhere. We are getting there of course, piece by piece, and place by place, but it just takes a while. Thank goodness too though, huh? If we just finished it in no time flat and said, “Done!” how much would we really get to enjoy the work, the company, the anticipation, the effort or the picture? I say take your time, work with a friend, be easy on yourself and take a look at the box once and a while. Sometimes the next piece is closer than you think. Don’t miss it or cram it where it doesn't belong.

August 29, 2007

Long Conversations

Whether I’m talking with Zoe, Jonathan, Michael, Josh, Carrie, Amy, my Dad, my Mom, Pawan, Chase, my brother Elias or my sister Leighanna, I have really been surprised these past few weeks by how much long conversations can mean. I’ve discussed politics in the kind of depth that I have rarely encountered in years, talked about adult relationships and left the conversation very changed myself, and laughed and laughed in ways and in succession unlike any kind of laughs I have had in recent memory. Friends and family can help a person do that I suppose, since they know us better than anyone else (besides ourselves I suppose, especially if you stand behind and beside yourself like I do). I can be honest, almost completely honest, with everyone and that really means a lot to me. It’s a great exercise in my own integrity, but it’s also a great way to see what other people think about who I really am and what I really think. If they like me, great, if they don’t, that’s fine too.

August 27, 2007

Synergy

Part of growing up seems to be learning how to say “no”. Everyone and their mother need to get things done, whether they’re completing projects at work, doing chores around the house, running errands, or just talking through their problems, but at some stage a lot of people begin to realize that instead of doing their work themselves they might be able to convince other people that they should do the work for them. In some cases this happens in grade school with bullies, but in its more advanced forms it can hide itself in “grown-up” relationships and professional organizations. For instance a coworker walks up to you and says, “I’m really swamped, could you fill out a couple of TPS reports for me?” or a professor approaches you as a student and says, “I have meetings all this week, could you do some research for this paper I’m writing?” or Billy the only 7th grader with a five o’clock shadow saunters up to you and says, “Hey, do my homework for me…or I’ll beat the crap outta ya.” Not comparable? Only by degree, I figure. All three are trying to get someone else to do work for them, all three are providing you with incentive to do it, and all three are hoping that you will accept based on your personality and goals. In some cases these include fear and not wanting your face to get pummeled, but in others the things at stake could be a matter of pride or a desire to be liked by the individual requesting your time and energy. Should you say “no” all the time, or in all three of these situations? No (ironically). But I think you should ask yourself why you say “yes.” Is it because you are afraid of what will happen if you say “no” or because you think saying “yes” is beneficial for both of you? (Hint: Saying “yes” to a bully isn’t beneficial to either of you).

Synergy is the idea that two people can work together and create a result that is greater than the sum of what those two people could have created separately. For instance, it’s why geese fly in a V. Did you know that geese can fly 71 percent farther in a V than if each bird flew alone? It’s also why two 2”x4” boards on top of each other can support more than double what one 2”x4” can. One 2”x4” beam can support 607 pounds, but two 2”x4”s can support 1,821 pounds and if you nail them together they can support 4,878 pounds! In general, synergy is the idea that 1+1=3. It’s why helping your professor with research could be great for both of you, if it matches your goals, and why filling out those TPS reports could really help your coworker out and allow you to get even closer to them as a friend. But synergy doesn’t always happen when you say “yes” and in fact, I think syngery is quite rare. It requires people to be very honest with each other and to be confident in their goals, both of which are difficult for many people. If your professor doesn’t actually have meetings all that week and your coworker really just wants to leave early from work that day, neither of them were being honest with you. And if the professor is doing research in a field that your not even remotely interested in and your coworker has used you to fill out TPS reports again and again in the past, it’s quite likely that your goals are not in alignment. Helping in those situations wouldn’t only not be synergetic, it would be detrimental and based more on fear than anything else (0+½ =½ or less). “No, I would rather not,” would be a reasonable response in these situations. Save your time and energy, which by the way is just about all you have to give to this world, and use it for things you really believe in. For instance, write a blog that’s a little too long about a topic like synergy hoping that one of your friends will read it and say “no” just one more time, choosing instead something more valuable to spend their time on. If that’s your sort of thing, of course.

August 18, 2007

Momma's Boy

During a recent wedding my mom told me that when I get married she doesn't want to hand me over to my new wife as boy in need of a mom, but as a man who loves that woman. Somewhere in our young adulthood we, as boys, become men. It's not a quick process, or one that the Army or any other organization can claim the exclusive rights to, but when a boy comes out the other side it's recognizable to almost everyone: he is either a man or he isn't. There aren't rules or qualifications per say, but I think there are some principles that stand firm across the board. For instance, I think that one has moved from being a boy toward being a man when he doesn't allow fear excuse his actions - he faces his own fears and realizes that the fear itself is much more debilitating than the object in question. A man also realizes that guilt and manipulation are used by people that are smaller than he himself wants to be. There are choices to be made in this world, but choices should be made by what we believe is right whether it's justice, respect, peace, forgiveness, honor, integrity, honesty or kindness. It is not appropriate to act a certain way because you don't want to hurt someone's feelings, have someone think badly of you, or feel like someone is going to use something against you. Kindness, honesty and bravery are much more useful in these situations respectively, and I think those can help define the integrity and decisiveness of an adult.

It has been interesting to me as I have watched my younger brother Elias grow up and make adult decisions over the last few months. He's entering 7th grade which few of us can remember clearly, but if you try I'm sure you would agree that it was a very impressionable time in your life. You are forming what you believe about the world, relationships, people and your own future. You have moved outside your family's influence into that of your friends' and now into the realm of people called your teachers and mentors. He is going to make decisions, just like I did, that will move him in all kinds of directions and I have been trying my best to let him know that these should be his decisions. All kinds of people in the world will try to tell us what to believe and what to do, but when it comes down to it only one person truly has that right.

August 5, 2007

I'll Call You

I've been writing a lot on here about things that are pleasing to the eye and ear and so forth, but that's not necessarily real and I don't want to be fake, so, from here on out for a little while I'm going to write about things that are really going on. For instance: friends. I have been having a lot of thoughts on what friends are and what friends aren't and I have also been having a lot of cool experiences lately with friends, family and strangers alike. I've gone on some little vacations here and there, visited friends I saw last semester at Campbell and other friends I haven't seen for years, I've visited old advisors from clubs and old teachers from years and years ago, and I've been involved in some pretty important moments in several people's lives. After all of that, I suppose one of the biggest things I have learned is that presence is extremely important. Being with someone, calling someone, writing to someone and hell, just thinking about someone is sometimes all it takes to make a huge difference in their lives. I called my grandfather a few months ago on a normal day for no real reason. I was just driving home from Campbell, but I felt like I should call him. We talked for almost an hour, about everything from my parent's divorce to my classes at school, and it was one of the best conversations I had ever had with him. Several times, at the end of the conversation when he was getting tired, he told me that he really appreciated my phone call and that it really brought him a lot of peace about things going on in our lives. I told him it had done the same thing for me and that I loved him and appreciated talking with him. That, along with several other moments I have shared with my grandfather in my lifetime, is one of the things I will always remember about him. On July 27th, 2007, after several months in hospital care, my Papa Leslie passed away.

On more than one occasion I have heard several of my friends mention the last conversations, letters and moments they have spent with their loved ones before they passed away. Some of these losses were expected, but most were not. Because of that some of these last moments brought peace and some did not. For me, calling those people important to me and being with them defines a good relationship. These interactions aren't based on fear or guilt, but on love, respect and kindness. I take the time out of my schedule to be with those I care about, whether in a letter, phone call, or personal visit, and that keeps our relationship strong. I think sometimes we all take our relationships for granted: we expect people to call us, not for us to call them. But in my case that wouldn't have worked out well at all. I wouldn't have talked to my grandfather and I would have missed out on one of the most important conversations I have ever had.

August 1, 2007

Our Chancellor

Dr. Norman Adrian Wiggins, past President and Chancellor of Campbell University, died this morning at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center from complications with lymphoma. He was 83 years old. Campbell University's press release as well as a News & Observer release are available online. Dr. Wiggin's visitation will be held Saturday afternoon and his funeral will be held Sunday morning.

It's often hard to know all the people to thank when one begins to wonder how a place like Campbell University comes to be, but for the later part of the 20th century there has been no leader more prominent at Campbell than Dr. Norman Adrian Wiggins. In his 36 years as President, he created the extended campus programs at Campbell, helped found our five professional schools, pushed for the then Campbell College to become Campbell University and, in 2003, was named Campbell's first Chancellor. I think Dr. Wiggins was the kind of leader that every future President at Campbell will want emulate and he will remain a model for tens of thousands of students, faculty and staff at Campbell for years to come.

In our Commencement Speech this year, at the May 2007 Graduation, Dr. Wiggins challenged all of us to serve others and to always try our hardest to be the best people that we can be. He told us of his youth and his journey to Campbell as a prospective student, and he also relived his days in World War II when on one occasion he bumped into a Campbell peer while out in field. "Yes," he said, "I can say for certain that Campbell University is a very special place. I have been to institutions all over our state, but when I come home to Campbell it's the people that make the difference. We have very special people here, friends you will all have for the rest of your lives." I couldn't agree more.

Thank you Dr. Wiggins, for all of your hard work and dedication to Campbell University. Until the very end of your 83 years you remained a strong mentor and leader for all of us at Campbell, including our administration, professors, staff and students, and you made us even more proud of our school and ourselves. Thank you also Millie for your decades of love and support to which Dr. Wiggins so often referred. Seeing Dr. Wiggins embrace you after he finished his speech this Spring said volumes about the life that you have both had together. I hope that you have a strong peace about you as you move throughout the next few weeks, remembering all the wonderful times both you and Norman had together. You deserve all of the support, love and respect that we can give to you and I hope that is exactly what you receive.