Monday, January 26, 2015

500 Letters: Maps

I've noticed that my attention span has been slowly disintegrating. I flip through Netflix content, wondering what is good, what I will like, what can satisfy my need for entertainment for 30 minutes or so. I've struggled to finish books unless I am into them right away. I crave the immediate updates of Twitter. Even writing this right now I can feel my brain wanting me to flip to TweetDeck to see what is going on even though I am 99% sure nothing has updated.

A few people have asked how letter writing helped my anxiety. It takes me out of the world of instant gratification and grounds me in a quieter, more fulfilling place. It reminds that multitasking is overrated. (Even though I realized I had the TV on while I wrote some letters the other day.) I've come to appreciate those lulls in the day.

One other thing that has surprised me about this project is the number of people who have reached out to me who I thought I would never hear from again. I didn't purposefully stop communicating with these people, it just happened due to circumstances. It's been a nice surprise to reconnect. 

Here's a map of where I've sent letters so far. Fifty-six letters to thirteen different states (and two countries). Minnesota is by far the leader, with Massachusetts in second. It would be great if I could get every state. I don't think I know people in every state. I may have to find celebrities to write to. 

As always, send me your address if you want a letter. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Next Stage of the Game

MARSHALL - On a recent Thursday afternoon, Nick Smith grabbed rebounds, while Tramel Barnes fed the ball to a shooter on the 3-point line. Even though both Smith and Barnes were standout players for the Southwest Minnesota State Mustangs, they weren't playing in a game, they were helping freshman Ryan Bruggeman with his long distance shooting before practice
Barnes is in his first year as a full-time assistant coach, while Smith is in his first year as a graduate assistant. Barnes played for SMSU between 2011-13 and Smith suited up between 2010-14.

Both of them knew that they wanted to coach even before their playing careers were finished.
Barnes said coaching interested him in high school. He enjoys working with kids and credits the coaches in his life for encouraging him to pursue the field as a career

"In high school it was something that I really liked. I've been fortunate enough to have some really good coaches that have been in my life and mentored me," he said.
Smith thought about coaching midway through his college career. He began to take on my leadership responsibilities as a player. He worked on becoming more vocal, something that he admitted was not his strong suit.

Smith has most enjoyed working with the players who aren't actually playing in the games this year.
"I just love working with the guys, especially with the redshirts. Just seeing them make gains in the weightroom and the court and as people too. It's been a lot of fun so far," he said.

Both Smith and Barnes started their coaching careers at SMSU because they were familiar with coach Brad Bigler's style and they relished the ability to continue learning from him.
"It's been a pretty easy transition to some degree with knowing the system and knowing the guys, working with coach Bigler. I think that's helped a lot. I've learned a lot and still have a lot to learn when it comes to that," said Barnes.

Even though they both knew the X's and O's, they had to learn the "behind the scenes" work. In addition to helping players, they also get equipment ready, organize camps, and speak with recruits. Barnes said that was his "biggest adjustment."

SMSU is used to players transitioning from the court to the sideline. Bigler has had at least one former player on his staff in all but one of his six seasons as head coach at SMSU. Bigler made that same transition as well.

Bigler noted that while it wasn't easy, both Barnes and Smith have adjusted well to their new roles.
"It's a tough transition to have that separation with the guys, but also have that voice that they respond to as well. Both of them take a lot of pride in the program. And that's where we're thankful to have them. Both of them will be outstanding coaches," said Bigler.

Smith said familiarity with the players has both positives and negatives.
"You've been around the guys for so long, three maybe even four years. That was tough, you can't necessarily hang out with them in the same way. You're still good friends with them and maybe it helped me a little bit more because I can talk with them more. They know where I'm coming from, so that may help me in that respect a little bit," he said.

Current players have also had to acclimate to their former teammate's new roles.
"I lived with Nick for two years. Tramel was a friend and a teammate for a year. It's hard to make that adjustment from a friend to a coaching role. But you got to respect those guys, they are coaches, they are authority figures. With a lot of new guys, it's important for us older guys that know them to show them the respect that they deserve," said Cole Martin.

However, Martin said that it's been a positive experience overall. "It's been great. At the start it was kind of a friend thing, but as the season's progressed, they've taken on a bit more of a coaching role. It's been different. It's been very challenging at times, but at times very rewarding and fun," he said.

Even though the season has had its ups and downs, both Barnes and Smith are still feeling grateful.
"I'm very fortunate for the position I am in right now. I learn new things every day. That's just the grind of coaching," said Barnes.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

500 Letters: My letter to Mike Huckabee

My first "angry" letter. This is in response to Mike Huckabee's recent interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. It was maddening. Through writing a few letters, I've learned that people don't care where you live or what you believe, as long as your are a kind person. Mr. Huckabee doesn't seem to get that, or at least that is what he is portraying.

Dear Mr. Huckabee,
I recently watched your interview on The Daily Show. It made me frustrated and angry. Your division between "Bubbles" and "Bubbas" is inane political pandering to your base and it disgusts me.

I am a man who has lived in both the Bubble world and the Bubba world. I grew up in a small town in Minnesota and attended college in Minnesota's 6th district (Michelle Bachman's). After college, I moved to the DC/Baltimore metro area and then moved to Boston where I earned my master's degree. I currently am a journalist for a small town paper in rural Minnesota.

I am friends with Bubbas and Bubbles. I have Bubbas in my family. I have Bubbles in my family. I learned that they are a lot more alike than different. Yes, we disagree on things, but I believe we all want the same things. We want to be heard. We want to have peace in our lives. We want to be loved. It really is that simple. You are doing no one any favors by putting these false dichotomies on our country. You are hurting more than helping.

I tell stories for a living. I've told Bubba stories and Bubble stories. People just want to tell their story.

Have you heard of the 'Humans of New York' Facebook page? A photographer takes people's portraits and allows them to tell their story. They are full of joy, sorrow, heartache, and happiness. Even though they are in a "Bubble," they are human, just like you and me. It's one of the most positive places on the internet.

You can see that there is a number at the top of this letter. I challenged myself to write 500 letters this year. I've gotten requests from both my Bubba friends and my Bubble friends. Everybody enjoys getting a letter, no matter where you live.

As a preachers, I would hope that you realize that Jesus didn't come for just the Bubbas or the Bubbles. He came for everybody.

You seem like a nice person, Mr. Huckabee. You're a talented guitar player and are probably very generous.

I hope you don't run for president with the current Bubba versus Bubble mindset. That doesn't help anything. I hope you change your tone to one of compassion, hope, and love.

-Nick Hansen

Nick's Notes: From Jackson to Marshall, a family legacy

Third Burmeister sister to play for SMSU

The suffix "meister" means "expert" or "master" in a certain field. For the Burmeister sisters, that field is on the volleyball court.
Kaylee Burmeister, following her sisters Brooke and Whitney, will become the third member of the family to suit up for the Southwest Minnesota State volleyball team this upcoming season.
The sport runs in the Burmeister blood.
"All three sisters have such a great volleyball IQ. They read well, the see the court well, their skill level is so high," said their former coach at Jackson County Central High School, Teresa VanEpps.
Each one has amassed impressive volleyball resumes.
The oldest Burmeister to play at SMSU, Brooke, played for the Mustangs between 2009-2012. She finished fifth all-time in kills with 1,550 and sixth in points with 1756 for the Mustangs.
She also recorded 27 kills in two seperate matches in October of 2011.
Whitney, a rising senior, helped lead them to the National Championship this past season.
She was named to the NCAA All-Tournament team for her performance. She also was named Northern Sun Conference Defensive Player of the week in October.
Kaylee, an outsider hitter for JCC, had a dominant senior season for the Huskies. She was named all-conference, all-state, and was a Ms. Minnesota Baden finalist this past fall.
There's a fourth volleyball playing Burmesiter, Leah. Even thought she didn't attend SMSU, she had an impressive career for Weber State. She ranks in the top ten in six different statistical categories for WSU.
While they all have different skill sets, they all bring the same characteristics to the game: hard work, intelligence, integrity.
SMSU volleyball coach Terry Culhane has coached all three of them either at SMSU or at the Southwest Juniors summer programs.
"All three of them are good well-rounded players. All three of them are just great kids. They are conscientious students. They work hard at getting better in the game," said Culhane.
Even though all three our competitive, that spirit hasn't affected their friendship. They hunt, fish, and ride horses together when they have time.
Whitney is in a uncommon situation of playing with a sister for the second time.
"It's unique for me because I got to play with Brooke my freshman year and play with Kaylee my senior year. I'm extremely excited. I don't know of anyone who played with two different sisters," said Whitney.
While every sister benefited from the athletics and academics at SMSU, Mr. and Mrs. Burmeister benefited from their choice as well.
"I think my parents like having us close to here. I think both of them are really excited and really happy we chose to go to SMSU. It's nice that they can get to home matches. They can kill two birds with one stone with Kaylee coming," said Whitney.
Even though this is the third time fans will see a Burmeister in play at the PE Gym, it may feel a bit more like deja vu this time.
"It's kind of funny. A lot of people will say Kaylee is a spitting image of me," said Whitney Burmeister.
I'm sure no one's ever minded a similar-looking expert.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Nick's Notes: Bigler does the little things right

MARSHALL - It's 2:53 p.m. on Thursday afternoon at the R/A Facility. Practice for the Southwest Minnesota State University men's basketball team officially started eight minutes ago. Players are doing their warm-up exercises. Coach Brad Bigler is finishing up in the conference room with a young man who's come to visit the SMSU campus.
Bigler probably has a lot on his mind. His team has been on a three-game losing streak. Recruiting season is in full swing. The 'Drake's Law' bill, named after his five-month old son who was killed in a drunk driving accident in July 2012, was reintroduced at the state legislature this past week.
He has every reason to request a reporter come back after practice or just give some stock "coach speak"
to his questions.
However, he asks, "You need me?" after he finishes up his meeting with the young man. He proceeds to give thoughtful responses on how the team will match up against the Northern State Wolves tomorrow night.
He doesn't give rushed or hurried answers even though his team is waiting for their next direction. He continues to give well thought-out responses when he's asked a few questions more than normal. He says "thanks" after the questions are done.
Bigler always seems to do this, even if the questions come via phone late on a Sunday afternoon after an exhausting road trip. When asked if he has a few minutes he usually responds with, "Let's do it."
He seems to have passed this wisdom onto his team as well. Not many college students know the power of a firm handshake, making eye contact, and giving their full attention when someone asks them a question. Bigler's players understand that doing those things, no matter how inconsequential they may seem, mean a lot.
Success in basketball often relies on doing "little things" right, like making the extra pass, getting offensive rebounds, or sinking free throws. Good coaches teach those things. Good players accomplish those things. But good people do the little things wherever they are, on or off the court.
Bigler does those little things. Whether it's speaking to a group of young professionals in Marshall, taking a few extra minutes with the parents of a recruit, or trusting a young player with some extra responsibilities, he knows that running a successful team doesn't end when practice does.
Some coaches achieve such a level of notoriety that they are automatically associated with a program or a school: Coach K and Duke, Tom Izzo and Michigan State, Billy Donovan and Florida.
Bigler is well on his way to gaining that level of renown at SMSU for all the right reasons.
He's two wins away from passing Pierre duCharme for second all-time career wins for the Mustangs. He's also a kind person who cares about his team, his family, and his community.
He does it all with a genuine spirit that not all coaches present.
It really is about the little things.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

This I Believe: 27

I believe in compassion. It's an under-appreciated value in our society.

Through almost a year of working in newspapers, I've realized that most people just want to be heard.

A few dozen people have called or emailed the office to air their grievances about a mistake in the paper or that a certain team did not get coverage. When I respond to them, I acknowledge that their problem is a valid one and explain to them all the factors that go into getting things in print (coaches calling in, typing them up, space, and racing against the clock.) 99% of the time if I just let them air things out, by the end of the call most of them aren't nearly as upset.

I think a lot of people take compassion as a synonym for weakness. I disagree with that assumption. Compassion requires listening, it requires seeing where other people are coming from, and it forces you to look inward. Those are all difficult things.

This became important to me in year 26. I went through a lot changes and challenges: moving, figuring out what I'm doing with my life, adjusting to the rigors of a full-time job in journalism. I was scared, a lot. I saw a therapist for the first time. I relied on late night text messages, g-chats and phone calls to connect with friends because I didn't see them all that often. My usual routine had been thrown out of whack.

When people took a few minutes of their time and listened to me, I felt a bit more grounded. It felt like they were reaching out their hand and pulling me back down to the ground. Those moments helped me take another step, and another step, and another one.

I had thought life was like a marathon. You just keep going and sooner or later you pass through these landmarks in your life: high school, college, grad school, marriage, kids, retirement, etc. I did worry that I wasn't passing some of these landmarks fast enough. I worried that some of my other friends had passed these milestones before me.

I don't think that way anymore. I think life is more like a pomegranate, little nuggets of juiciness enclosed in a hard shell. (I thought they had a cool name, but turns out they are just called seeds.) They are a pain in the ass to get out, but they are worth the hassle. You'll eventually get to them all, it just takes a little bit of work.

I'm not always willing to put in that work in my daily routine. I ignore friends or family. I forget to respond to people. I think about doing good things, but don't always follow through. It's like that Louis C.K. joke where thinks about giving his first-class seat to a solider, but he ends up not doing that. However, he feels good just about thinking of that action.

This is the part where I say "I'll be more compassionate" or "I'll be more caring." But those are hackneyed proclamations for these personal essays. I think I'll try to keep compassion in mind more in my daily life.

There is a line from Thomas Merton, an American Catholic Monk, that goes something like "being a saint means being yourself." I believe my best self is my compassionate self. And I'll keep on working towards that in year 27.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Nick's Notes: Hoops & Tweets

Nick’s Notes: Hoops & Tweets

January 8, 2015
By Nick Hansen (nhansen@marshallindependent.comMarshall Independent
Not many people who read this paper will worry about what happened in the Maple Lake versus Rockford boy's basketball game, but Steve Bruce does.
The Marshall resident runs the extremely popular @mnbuckets Twitter account, which is a clearinghouse for Minnesota high school basketball information.
Twitter, a social media network that allows users to send instant 140-character "tweets", has become a necessity for disseminating information, especially in the sports world.
Bruce's account has racked up over 7,500 followers, an impressive number for someone who doesn't officially work in sports media. (I'm in the mid-400's.)
On Tuesday he tweeted a number of things to watch out for on a busy hoops night. The Breckenridge versus Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton was one to watch in section 8AA.
He mentioned a Sebeka player who scored her 1,000 point and set a state record with 33 free throw attempts in a game on December 30th. He tweeted that Prairie Seeds Academy scored a record 165 points on that day in 2012.
He also sent out a quote from legendary college coach Pete Newell. That's just a sample of the diverse information that @mnbuckets provides.
You might picture Bruce as a fast-talking tech savant who aims to climb the sports media ladder. He's not. He's a friendly and knowledgeable son of a coach who aims to keep high school basketball culture thriving in in Minnesota.
Bruce grew up watching basketball in South Dakota and southwest Minnesota. His dad, John, coached in Cottonwood and in Hayti, South Dakota in the late sixties.
The family eventually settled in Britton, South Dakota, where the elder Bruce coached team won the state basketball championship in 1972. John Bruce got elected to the South Dakota Coaches Hall of Fame last year.
Bruce would read his dad's scorebooks from the games.
"I'd be all over those like a cheap suit," he said in the conference room at the Independent office. He'd also devour the Hansen Anderson basketball books that previewed every team in the state.
A few decades later, the medium for hoops information has changed, but his passion for the game has not.
He started the Twitter account in November 2012 after his son wasn't involved in the basketball anymore.
"I was trying to figure out a way to have a part," he said. So he started the service to keep track of the basketball happenings in the North Star state.
"I do what I do to keep basketball the way I need it to be," he said. You'd probably consider his service equal parts sports information director, historian, and cheerleader for the kids and programs that don't get recognized too often.
Coincidentally, Bruce only attends about "ten to twelve" games a season. He does see a few more once tournament time rolls around. He watches most of the games online.
"It's hard for me to go to a game when I know I'm going to miss two hundred others," he said. He's usually paying attention to five games an evening and sending out information on dozens of others.
Bruce isn't able to do everything though. "I don't give girls as much coverage as I would like to," he said.
In an era where we seemingly have all the information, but actually listen to very little of it, Steve Bruce just wants to make sure we don't miss what matters to him, great basketball.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

500 Letters Project: Week 1 Update

I just bundled up and walked 30 feet to put letters No. 12 through No. 15 into the mailbox. It's -9 degrees here today with a whipping windchill that brings it down to about -35. Gross. Looks like the mailman is still working though.

A few observations from the first week:

I got requests from people I haven't heard from in years (literally.) People have said that they feel more connected to old classmates via social media and that is true, but when you actually take that relationship off of just social media it feels like your changing from a piece of plastic rope to one of those thick ropes used on sailboats. It just feels stronger.

A former classmate of mine at CSB/SJU said she was inspired to write a letter a week because of my project. That was cool to hear even though I've only completed 3 percent of the entire thing. Glad it's inspired something else.

I ordered stationary for the first time. I'm really excited about it. It makes me feel really grown up. It says "From the desk of Nicholas Hansen." Though, I've written all of these letters on the kitchen counter.

I've written 15 letters to 17 different people (I addressed some to two people.) They've been to 4 males and 13 females (no love letters though.) I've sent them to nine different states: Montana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Colorado, Ohio, California, and Maryland. (It would be kind of cool to hit all 50.)

I love my Janis Joplin and Batman stamps. I never knew I would be so excited about postage.

I'm also individually numbering each letter. So that's what the weird three digit numeral in the corner is on your letter.

As always, If you want a letter, send me your address.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

500 Letters Challenge

Resolutions aren't my thing. Everyone talks about them, but 99% of the people follow through with them. For the past few years I've tied numbers to some projects/challenges and the results have been mixed. I did accomplish my goal of doing 25,000 pushups last year. (I did around 28,000 for the year.)

This year I'm going to try another challenge. I'm going to write 500 handwritten letters. All of them
will be mailed to different people.

Why this challenge? A number of reasons. First, I started writing letters last year when I was struggling with anxiety issues. It helped calm me down. It'd also get me away from my phone and a my laptop and just put my mind somewhere else. I enjoyed sitting with a cup of coffee and just working on that one thing. I continued to do it periodically through the year. People enjoyed the letters too.

Second, I'm not much of a "stuff" guy. I've developed an aversion to purchasing things due to my frequent moving. I don't like accumulating things. I still buy books, but rarely buy movies or cds. I found that the things I've held on to longest are letters, cards, and notes I've gotten from other people. I have two shoe boxes full of stuff going back almost ten years. I like getting letters and I presume other people do as well.

Third, I heard about this album from a band called We are the Willows called "Picture (Portrait)." It's about the grandparents of one of the singers who corresponded during World War II. The album was inspired by the over 350 letters the grandfather wrote over the course of the war. I loved that. No one's going to write an album based off of 350 emails. The story of the album is here. I want to leave a legacy like that.

Fourth, my grandmother always wrote cards for every member of the family. I think this is part carrying on her legacy.

Fifth, this is a chance for me to reflect on my relationships with people and what they mean to me.

So, if you want a letter let me. Chances are if you are reading this, you probably know how to get a hold of me. But if you don't, just leave a comment.