Saturday, March 28, 2015

Nick's Notes: Flickers of Light

The song "Flicker" by the rap duo Atmosphere has been on heavy rotation in my earbuds lately. The song is about how the main vocalist, Slug, dealt with the accidental death of his friend and fellow rapper,
Eyedea. It's sad, but also hopeful.
I often repeat the chorus when everything in my life looks bad. It goes, "One little flicker of light can raise the dark." And things have looked so dark for me lately. Family members have been sick, friends have struggled to find jobs and others just can't seem to fend off the bad news.
That's why I was glad to see someone who's been a light to many people in this community, Southwest Minnesota State University volleyball player Greta Geist, speak at the SMSU Relay for Life event on Friday night.
Doctors diagnosed Geist with Hodgkins Lymphoma in February of 2014. While she was declared cancer free a few months later, the disease reared its ugly head late last fall.
While Geist is currently going through an exhausting medical regimen, she's kept her spirits high. She spoke about her story on a stage set up in the R/A Facility, detailing the past year. Signs that said "Hope", "Remember", "Celebrate", and "Fight Back" flanked her as she talked.
"Being a good person is the most important thing," she said during her speech. Geist choked up a few times, but was all smiles walking laps with her teammates a few minutes later.
Events this past week reminded me of the importance of that goodness. My cousin, Amy Fogerty, posted on Facebook about her friend Mike Neufeldt, who died a few days ago from complications due to Muscular Dystrophy.
Neufeldt lived an active life as a Goodwill Ambassador for MDA. He also worked for Harley Davidson and wrote a book about Marquette University basketball.
"For all the obstacles that he had to overcome in his life, I never once heard in complain. He just lived his life to the fullest in order to help make life better for others, whether he actually knew the person or not," said Fogerty in a Facebook message.
Neufeldt brought light everyday. However, some days that darkness just creeps up you.
A few months ago my friend, and diehard Philadelphia Flyers fan, Katie Spence got diagnosed with hemolytic anemia. It's a disorder where the body rapidly breaks down red blood cells. She got dozens of blood transfusions, biopsies, and other tests. It was an unexpected brush with death, but she's recovered.
In between tweets ragging on her Flyers, Spence now spends time advocating for donating blood. She acted like it was Christmas morning when a friend told her that he'd be donating next week. (There's a drive on Monday at Park Side Elementary.)
Geist's teammates all wore violet t-shirts with the letter "G" on them. They walked multiple laps with her. Teammate Sarah Parker walked with her arm around Geist. Stanger, the SMSU mascot, took a few laps with them as well.
Paper lanterns lined the track in the R/A Facility. People decorated them with hearts, ribbons, bible verses, and inspirational messages. Electric candles were placed in between them.
Even though all the lights were on in the gym, those little flickers of light seemed to provide just a little bit more comfort as everyone made their way.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Nick's Notes: New Things

March 26, 2015
By Nick Hansen ( , Marshall Independent
This is a scary time of year. We're no longer protected by the cocoons of our bulky winter jackets, heated gymnasiums, and excuses to stay on our couches. We have to go outside, dress for a Russian Roulette of weather conditions, and watch sports that roll along at a different pace than we're used to. Things are changing.
That's no different for our sports teams. I've noticed that spring sports don't get as much love as fall and winter sports. People anticipate fall and winter sports seasons starting, while spring sports eventually show up. You can usually identify a football or basketball player, but it's harder to pick out a baseball or softball player. Kids "try out" track & field, rather than focus on it.
Marshall girls track and field coach Marie Sample told me that shapes the identity of her team.
"We have a young team again. It's hard to keep our juniors and seniors," said Sample before her team's practice. "JO volleyball, AAU for basketball and volleyball, often times when they get to that age they opt to go to that and just do that."
That's totally fine if kids want to focus on one sport, but I don't think that's the best route for everyone.
I saw almost 100 kids convening around the gymnasium before practice. I am sure some will drop once the season gets going.
I hope they stick with it. It's easy to take a few months off or focus on one sport that you know and love, but it's hard to try something new. It's hard to get out of your comfort zone. But that's when the best things happen.
A college friend of mine, Al struggled to figure out what he was going to do after graduation. He thought about staying in the Twin Cities or sticking around close to home. However, he eventually decided to volunteer in Tanzania.
I still remember when he told me. He was leading an admissions tour and I waved to him as I walked by, heading to class. He called to me and said, "Hey, I'm going to Tanzania." He was cool, collected, and scared as heck. And five years later, Al is a better, more complete person because of it.
My favorite author, Anne Lamott wrote the following,"It's good to do uncomfortable things. It's weight training for life."
And the more time you spend in that weight room, the better off you will be.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Nick's Notes: Tough Enough

NICK'S NOTES: Tough enough

March 23, 2015
Marshall Independent
Any one of the young women I talked to this past week would be a great role model for my 7-year old goddaughter, Melanie.
I worry if Melanie will have a strong female athlete role model to look up to.
As I've said before, women's athletics doesn't always get their due.
Even though the Lynx are the only professional team in Minnesota that has won anything in the past decade, they are not in the same conversation as the Twins, Timberwolves, Vikings, or Wild.
Millions of men's brackets are filled out for the NCAA Tournament, but the women's tournament gets no where near the amount of attention.
Even though the Minneota and Marshall girls basketball teams won't get national attention, they deserve commendation for the best quality, their toughness.
There was Marshall's Sarah Buysse, who bounced through opposing defenses on the court, but always flashed a winning smile after games.
It takes toughness to get back on your feet.
Marshall's Callie Graff is also all-business, no matter what sport she plays. I don't think I've seen any other player as committed to the cause as she is. It takes toughness to remain focused amid any challenge.
Every member of the Marshall team does those things that you won't see on ESPN's SportsCenter Top 10.
They go for loose balls. They get jump balls and offensive rebounds.
They would all probably make good rugby players.
It takes toughness to do the unglamorous things without complaint.
A lot of credit goes the Minneota team, who could have easily written off Saturday's third-place contest as some sort of disappointing consolation.
They wanted a win and they got one. It takes toughness to swallow your pride and play your heart out, no matter the contest.
Girls usually hide their toughness once they leave the court or the field, but I hope these young women do not. It's a quality falls off quickly in importance as women go through life.
Coach Dan Westby told me that toughness is an expectation for his team. I like that line of thinking.
I hope some of these women consider coaching. Westby and Minneota coach Chad Johnston have done a great job passing on their knowledge of the game to their team.
These two teams would do well to teach that knowledge to the next generation of players.
Even if these girls don't go into coaching, I hope they take positions in boardrooms and public offices. The toughness they showed on the court will serve them well in those places.
The world needs more tough women. Melanie is watching.

Monday, March 23, 2015

500 Letters: The sixth point of the scout law

I can still recite the 12 points of the Boy Scout Law. A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. 

I've been thinking a lot about the sixth point, a scout is kind. 

That's a tough point for young men to follow. Look at any other of the 11 points and you can picture young men being those things. There are movies about being loyal and brave. You can picture helpfulness and friendliness, but kindness? That's for old men with Werther's Original candies in their pockets. 

People often mistake being nice with being kind. You don't need to do much to be nice. That's often the go to characteristic of someone that we don't have anything bad to say about, but can't think of much else to say about either. "Oh yeah, he's a nice guy." 

The dictionary definition of nice is: "pleasant; agreeable; satisfactory." I've had oatmeal that is pleasant, agreeable and satisfactory. 

The dictionary definition of kind is: "having or showing a friendly, generous, and considerate nature." That sounds so much better, doesn't it? 

The internet is an especially tough place to be kind. Just look at the guy who tweeted about some nasty stuff about kid phenom Mo'ne Davis. Do you really need to lash out at someone you don't know who is getting some well deserved attention? It just baffles me why people need to do this. You're allowed to have opinions, but do they need to be expressed in such a hurtful, acidic way? 

People also sometimes get suspicious of people who are kind, like they want something. I'll tell you what I want... other people to be kind to me.

My kindness has probably been taken advantage of at times. I'm just glad that journalism has also fine tuned my B.S. detector to a point where I can sense people's intentions. But I like to give the people the benefit of the doubt.

Kindness is difficult, do it anyway.

Last letter: #118 to Somerville, Mass.
Reading: News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist by Laurie Hertzel
Listening: "Strangers to Ourselves" by Modest Mouse
Watching: The Jinx

Monday, March 16, 2015

500 Letters: Boundless Jubilation

My favorite episode of "The Office" is in season three, episode 17, "Business School." The three main stories going through the episode are Michael Scott speaking to Ryan Howard's business school class, Pam Beasley trying (and failing) to get coworkers to come to her art show, and Dwight Schrute trying to catch a bat in the office. I'll only talk about the first two points here.

Pam tries all day to get people to come to her art show. It's a show with her fellow community ed. art students. People make excuses, or are busy, or just awkwardly say they'll show up without actually showing up. I know Pam's feeling. (I'm guessing my seasoned comedy friends know how she feels as well.)

Michael oafishly works his way through business school talk, not being able to answer the students questions about changing business models in the paper industry. He thought he'd be giving some sort of inspiration speech, instead of being cornered answering questions about the dying paper industry. He storms out after the students fluster him.

Pam's on again-off again boyfriend Roy and her brother (not art fans) show up for a few minutes and walk around. It's evident Roy just hopes he'll get sex in return. Her coworker Oscar and his partner show up, but Pam overhears them criticizing the art calling it "hotel art." She's nearly in tears.

Just as the art show about to end, Michael stops by and is engrossed by Pam's artwork. He doesn't care about the amateur nature of the class, nor does he know that almost no one from the office stopped by. He is mystified and tells Pam he is proud of her. He also offers to purchase the painting of the office building. His joy and jubilation just seems to cut through everyone else's apathy and criticism. Pam is speechless and gives him a hug.

I think that's my favorite scene in the entire series. It highlights the importance of just showing up. You can either sit on your couch or you can show up. People appreciate showing up.

Last letter: No. 111 to Minneapolis, Minnesota
Reading: Wild by Cheryl Strayed (technically I'm listening to it)
Listening: Wil Butler "Policy"
Watching: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Nick's Notes: Marathon Memories

Boston's been on my mind this week. The trial of the alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev started on Wednesday and memories of April 15, 2013, keep popping into my head.
I remember that day well. I stood on Clarendon Street with a high school friend in the family meeting
area about two blocks from the finish line.
She had just finished the race about 15 minutes earlier. We talked about meeting for dinner later and that's when we heard the blasts. I thought they were celebratory fireworks, due to the fact that it was Patriots Day (a Massachusetts holiday)
Ambulances rushed in minutes later. After wandering around a few blocks watching SWAT teams, police cars, and confused bystanders try to get anywhere else, I planted myself at the corner of Dartmouth and Stuart, not really knowing what to do.
Seeing the trial updates fill me with a range of emotions: shock, anger, fury, sadness, terror.
However, I try not to let those things be what I take away from that day, though they pulsate through my heart whenever I see photos or videos from the finish line.
I decided to walk back to my apartment after the initial shock of the afternoon wore off.
I couldn't make my way up Commonwealth Avenue, so I went through a maze of side streets before finally walking past a fraternity house by Boston University.
A college student stood out on his stoop asking if people needed anything. He looked desperate to do anything that could alleviate some of the pain and confusion among the masses of people that walked by.
I took a glass of water from a red Solo cup and thanked him. It calmed me down and reminded me that small gestures of kindness help light the path through this big, scary world.
About six months later, I stood in front of the Forum Restaurant on Commonwealth Avenue, where the second bomb went off. I was there to report on the Red Sox World Series parade.
I watched from the tree because I thought it would be symbolic. However, most people forgot that the second bomb went off at that location. A tree was planted there, but people had thrown their cigarette butts around it. That infuriated me.
It's easy to declare "Never Forget" with our metaphorical bullhorns and bumper stickers, but it's hard to observe some quiet reverence.
Remember those small things that get forgotten in the larger narrative.
My mind most often travels back to Suzanne, a middle-aged Greek woman whom I passed in Kenmore Square about an hour before the bombs went off. She was the happiest person I saw all day.
The reason she sticks with me is that she was blind. Her ability to cultivate such radiant joy makes me tear up as I write this.
Anger is a completely justifiable reaction to what happened, but I hope it doesn't cloud over the hundreds of other emotions that grew from that day. Remember kindness, remember respect, and remember joy, even if you can't see it in front of you.

Monday, March 2, 2015

500 Letters: Airport Nice

It's hard to be nice at the airport. It was especially hard to be nice at the Dallas airport this weekend. DFW cancelled over 1000 flights due to weather this past weekend. People were angry, airline workers were frazzled and everyone looked like they could use a drink.

I was trying to get to Colorado Springs on Friday to visit a friend. I had a two hour delay Friday morning in Minneapolis for my flight to Dallas. Once I landed I learned that my flight to CS was cancelled. Got booked on a flight to Denver, that was delayed multiple times for approximately ten hours. We finally had wheels up at 11:30 p.m. We were supposed to have left at 2:45 p.m.

I finally made it to Denver at 12:30 a.m. MT, where my friend Addie was waiting for me since 5 p.m. She even got a little airport survival kit for me. I was pretty close to absolute delirium by that time.

I ended up having a fantastic Saturday bouncing around Colorado Springs with Addie. We ate delicious burritos, hiked around Garden of Gods, and saw Birdman. The stresses of the airport kind of faded away.

However, they returned back at the Dallas airport. My flight back to Minneapolis got delayed about two hours. I just wanted to get home, but I slowed down. I didn't furiously text all of my friends complaining. I just walked around and tried to calmly update my parents.

The weird thing is that a lot of people became more talkative during the airport stresses. I spoke with a Canadian documentary filmmaker, a finance guy from Kentucky who knew Rand Paul, a woman worrying about her three kids, an oil and gas consultant, a real estate finance guy, and a woman coming back from an epic bachelorette party. I liked listening.

It was very hard to be nice, but I dug in and tried to treat people how they were at the airport: stressed, tired, anxious, hungry people who just wanted to go home. I wasn't perfect by any means, but I felt a little less stressed on the way home. Our culture does not have to many shared experiences anymore, but I think terrible travel events are one of them.

Maybe if we are all just a bit nicer, acknowledge each others pains, and act like we give a damn, travel, and other things will be much less stressful.

Last postcard: 94 to Boston, Mass.
Reading: A Good Life By: Ben Bradlee
Listening: On Being Podcasts
Watching: House of Cards Season 3