I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy… By: Charles Westerman

January & February have offered a lot of opportunities to build character– breakups, lost wallets (finally found after a week and a half!), flat tires, seasonal depression, dainty paychecks, running out of gas because the gage broke, quitting smoking (again), hellacious colds, watching Colin Kaepernick make the Packers defense look like devouring a creme puff, our cheap vacuum breaking…

Needless to say, I’ve been thinking about Job a lot lately. But at 22 you don’t have time for pity parties. You’ve got an identity to find, a career doing something you love to make happen, muscles to build at the gym, and a healthy relationship with Christ to maintain.

Luckily I’ve got an amazing sister-in-law who challenges me to rise to the occasion. Thank you Tara for helping me remember the importance of stocking a heart full of thankfulness.

Below is the 101-things-I’m-thankful-for list. Written by a school bus driver living in Portland who bums around coffee shops in between routes trying to write his first book.

1- When parents go out of there way to stop and let me make my turn leaving the school.

2- The names in my “favorites” on my phone.

3- That moment when I drop my kids off and crank up Colin Cowherd.

4- Having a best friendship like Turk & JD.

5- Spotify. Spotify. Spotify.

6- Living four blocks from a cheap seat/indie movie theater (2-for-1 Tuesdays: tickets $2/piece).

7- How I never get sick of bananas or homemade sandwiches.

8- The “Right Away, Great Captain!” Trilogy– where literature meets musical form.

9- The loyalty of the Westerman-brotherhood.

10- Spending twenty hours a week doing what I love.

11- Eavesdropping on conversations in coffee shops.

12- Driving by the Rose City Skyline every morning before the sun comes up. Donald Miller described it as, “the Willamette River wears the skyline like a queen wearing a beautifully jeweled crown” or something to that effect. The imagery is amazing.

13- Imagery.

14- That moment once a month when all I want is a can of coka-cola.

15- Reading a book that makes you forget to look at the page numbers when you turn them.

16- The first day you wake up and realize your cold is gone.

17- The steam room at my gym… Or as I like to call it, “the think tank.”

18- Gas in the tank.

19- How every time I walk out of a good action movie I can feel my testosterone pumping and my confidence boosted.

20- Daniel Craig: my favorite James Bond.

21- The only piece of clothing I’ve bought since I moved to Portland– my golden-brown corduroy Levi’s.

22- True moments of wit.

23- Flirting with cute baristas.

24- The moment you realize you’re going to be able to pay your bills for the month.

25- How putting on cologne makes your posture better.

26- Old men talking about old music with a youthful gaze.

27- The lack of boring people in Portland.

28- Working to master the perfect School Bus Driver wave.

29- Great art on album-covers.

30- Swanky Christmas sweaters (with elbow pads) from Aunt Katie.

31- When my kids get my jokes.

32- Watching the ways people display their love for each other in a school bus yard.

33- My new friend Manny.

34- My super warm brown hoodie I’ve had since junior year of high school.

35- The comically looking naked fairy-lady riding a bike on a pack of playing cards (I mean… Who came up with that?)

36- Similes and metaphors.

37- Stories in the Bible that involve prostitutes.

38- Deep breaths.

39- My $15 queen sized fleece blanket from Target.

40- When people ask me what my tattoo on my wrist means.

41- My super functional $20 pair of big headphones.

42- Hour-plus phone calls with TJ.

43- People who genuinely want to listen to me play a song I wrote.

44- Capturing your mood with the perfect pizza toppings.

45- New pictures of Beck on Facebook.

46- When old people talk about my generation optimistically.

47- A hot shower in the dark of Winter.

48- When Brendon calls me out for being a lame human being.

49- Sally– our grandmother in Portland. Every time I walk away from an interaction with her I feel better about myself and life. I hope I have that effect on people when I’m old and wise.

50- Tossing the pigskin with Trav and Bren in the big empty parking lot next to our house and mastering the back shoulder throw.

51- The moment in the morning when the heaters finally get warm on my bus.

52- Places where you can see for miles.

53- Ted Talks.

54- Waking up everyday knowing my mom’s already covered me with the blood of Christ.

55- Not having homework.

56- Driving bus in neighborhoods that look like The Shire meets Beverly Hills.

57- That Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow.

58- Breakfast sandwiches.

59- Well-made documentaries.

60- The dictionary app on my phone.

61- Wordplay.

62- Still being able to get a good men’s haircut for $9 (thank you Jenny the super noble/humble Asian lady).

63- Putting on a thermal shirt at 6 a.m. on a winter morning.

64- For reasons that would take too long to explain, my parking stall at the bus garage.

65- Days when my mood is copacetic with the typical gray winter day in Portland.

66- Blowing my nose.

67- Rooms with lots of windows.

68- A good bouncy ball.

69- How Travis can’t help but sing in a country twang.

70- Writing songs with my two best friends and how that’s a healthy way we can bond with each other.

71- Days where it’s clear enough to see Mt. Hood.

72- Moms Valentine’s Day cards with ridiculously long, genuine notes written in them about how much she loves me.

73- Everything you learn at 22.

74- The sound of myself typing.

75- Getting kissed on the neck.

76- The grumpy old man at the bus garage with the glorious, bushy Gandoff-white eyebrows.

77- Being reunited with my Mr. Rodgers cardigan after two years.

78- When they FINALLY call your number at the DMV.

79- Alkai Beach.

80- That “Fun.” won two Grammies this year.

81- Getting to be one of the only people in the world who witnessed Trav eat Indian food for the first time.

82- Extra crispy hash browns.

83- Having a spare tire.

84- Getting together with old friends from college.

85- Having a nice big room to pace around in while I talk on the phone.

86- A well written hit pop song (rare, but beautiful when it happens).

87- Taking the perfect dump.

88- Charles Woodson’s time in a Packers uniform.

89- Lebrons hot streak.

90- Pacific Northwest Architecture.

91- Three day weekends.

92- One on one chats with Max over video games.

93- Taking the Wandering Summer Road Trip and being blessed with the financial resources to make it happen.

94- Lunch meat.

95- Shooting pool.

96- The $25 Chipotle gift card Jonah’s parents gave me for Valentine’s Day.

97- Arthur’s Automotive and their $22 oil change services four blocks from our house.

98- Getting a free donut at Starbucks today

99- The way Brian Regan pronounces the word “volcano”.

100- Crushing an open mike night.

101- Faux blue roses.

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Fire Escape. A song. Written & performed by Charles Westerman

So this is by no means very polished, but I’ve wanted to shoot and post one of my songs for awhile now (thanks to Brendon for doing a good job shooting it in one take). Songwriting is a hobby I picked up when I got to college, and as far as hobbies go– it’s one of my favorites. By now I’ve been doing it for about five years. I consider myself way more of a songwriter than a musician, so though the guitar playing is very average and simplistic, if one was going to try and appreciate the song, they’d listen more for the lyrics and my attempts to layer unique, more complex melodic deliveries over the top of simple four-chord progressions. In other words, try and listen to how the song was written and created rather than listening to the song.

This is a love song, written for no particular girl, but rather its more of a tribute to all the best nights I’ve had with some pretty amazing girls it didn’t end up working out with. It’s an attempt to accept that old annoying saying about how its better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all. Anyway, it’s called Fire Escape. I hope you enjoy it. And Happy Valentine’s Day!

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/59632424″>Fire Escape</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user10547437″>mOUNTbRENDON</a&gt; on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Fire Escape Lyrics–

(Verse)

i sat with my lips pressed against the ink script on your back

everything i read is just fine

your big curls cover my eyes like some chocolate colored house blinds

everything i see is just fine

(Bridge 1)

and i rise with your sun dress

and i melt into your hot mess

as we spill over the edge of the earth

we drop like flaming arrows

yeah we fall like special sparrows

singing providence will make us work

and we don’t fear the end

because we don’t know when it is

for now we can finally fly (2x)

(Chorus)

and we blew up on your fire escape

in pieces of you and little bits of me

we were shooting up the night

and i finally got the feeling that i got the best of time

for once it was on my side and

i tangoed with the clock with it’s hands locked into mine

and we grew up this way

with a little bit of give and whole lot of take

(Bridge 2)

yeah lets just take

lets just take time to make time

we can’t stop it, but we can slow dance to the rhythm of the night

feet not to the left, but dressed just right, i’d say we’re at our best tonight

(Chorus)

and we blew up on your fire escape

in pieces of you and little bits of me

we were shooting up the night

and i finally got the feeling that i got the best of time

for once it was on my side and

i tangoed with the clock with it’s hands locked into mine

we grew up this way

with a little bit of give and whole lot of take

(Bridge 2b/Outro)

yeah lets just take

lets just take time to make time

we can’t stop it, but we can slow dance to the rhythm of the night

feet not to the left and dressed just right, i’d say we’re at our best tonight

well i sat with my lips pressed against the ink script on your back

everything i read is just fine

your big curls cover my eyes like some chocolate colored house blinds

everything i see is just fine

Yes. I’m going to make it awkward. — By: Charles Westerman

I want to freak people out more. I want to make it awkward.

Seriously. I drive a school bus filled with Junior Highers everyday, and you’d be surprised at the lack of differences between their attempts to look cool compared to the attempts of people my age.

“Hey! Check out my new ironic Captain Planet tattoo… It’s ironic right? I just want to be like, so ironic so people will think I’m smart and interesting and hip. Um, yeah… can I get a gluten free scone please? And the most pretentious wheat beer you’ve got.”

Ugh.

How about being a real, authentic, original person instead?

Ever since my freshman year of college I’ve felt like I’m sweating buckets wearing a jacket of cool to cover up the heart that’s on the sleeve of my weird t-shirt. In the name of transparency and soul odor, consider the following list of everything that’s not cool about me, the shedding of a layer.

1)   I still pick my nose. And not just every once in awhile. All. The. Time.

2)   I fuss with my hair in the mirror. A lot.

3)   I’m a virgin.

4)   I’m a hopeful romantic.

5)   I like songs about death.

6)   There’s a lot of woman who can bench press more than me.

7)   Sometimes I just wear dirty underwear for a few days instead of doing my laundry.

8)   A good fart still makes me giggle.

9)   I prefer Target, but shopping at Wal-Mart doesn’t make my skin crawl.

10) I think my favorite song right now is the new Taylor-Swift-goes-Britney one.

11) It wasn’t a mutual breakup. She dumped me.

12) I honestly don’t know what “tumblr” is.

13) I haven’t heard of 95% of the authors people tell me are “must-reads.”

14) The inside of my car is pretty disgusting.

15) I have no idea how to do my taxes.

16) Sometimes I just open up a jar of peanut butter and go to town with my finger.

17) I really don’t hate chick-flicks.

18) I’m still very self-conscious.

19) I LOVED Dashboard Confessional in high school. Still do.

20) Sometimes I give my brother’s beagle’s wiener a little tickle.

21) I’ve never seen Casa Blanca.

22) Yes. I’m almost twenty-three and it wouldn’t be a stretch for me to pass for seventeen.

23) In the last month I’ve googled “bi-polar disorder” twice.

24) I cry at least once a week.

25) For a single guy in his early twenties, I sure think about my wife and kids a lot.

Taking A Shot– By: Charles Westerman

I wrote this essay a couple weeks ago and thought maybe it would be a nice update on my life for anyone whose curious on where it’s at. Enjoy. 

I’ve been living in Portland for a little over a month now. The summer has uncharacteristically stuck around for a few weeks longer than it usually does, and believe it or not, this is the first day it’s rained since I moved here.

I should be writing on my other projects I’ve been working on, but I’m tired of writing about things where I have to think and structure and debate the moral integrity of my words. I just want to sit and drink my coffee in my blue chaise lounger and write words blindly. I want to wax philosophic and poetic and talk about things I’m still coming to grips with.

Once or twice a week, my roommate and best friend who I moved to Portland with – Brendon is his name – have these nights where we remember why we moved to the city to be writers. We talk like young men who are scratching and clawing excitedly to uncover their concrete purpose in the universe.

Such a night was last night. We met up for a drink with my friend Andrea who I know from working at my college newspaper. She works at the main newspaper in Portland, The Oregonian, and brought her friend Katherine who also works there. Both of them are the kind of people you want to sit down for a drink with.

We met them at this little hole in the wall bar called the Vintage Cocktail Lounge on the Stark street strip four blocks from our duplex on 78th avenue and Burnside. It’s already become our usual place. We’ve lived in the Montavilla neighborhood for about two weeks and have already been there three times.

They have a special called, “The Local” which consists of a single-shot of wells whiskey and a cheap tallboy for five bucks. If we’re feeling classier, they make great Old-Fashioned’s—garnishing them with both an orange wedge and real cherries, which they crush in the bottom of the cup before they do anything else.

It will be our McClaren’s Pub—our Central Perk. It’s long and thin and has crimson painted walls and artsy posters that were probably bought at Hobby Lobby. It’s not original or great art, but its pleasant to look at and goes with the vibe. The bartenders are social and want to remember your name and have you become regulars. The bar is two-thirds the length of the room and is a generous width. The shelves holding the liquor go from a foot above the floor to a foot above your head. Behind the shelves the wall is fitted with tin-tiles that are all imprinted with the same, thoughtful design. The beautiful aesthetic of the shelves communicates the honor the owners feel to the bottles of liquids that keep this place afloat

We sat at this bar with Andrea and Katherine and talked about the two-choices we had for President. They told us what it was like working in the trenches of a big-city newspaper. We told them what school-bus training was like in the basement with our instructor Gail and our fellow students. There’s Eddiemike, whose first name really is Eddiemike. He grew up in a big Italian family and has lived in Portland his whole life, yet has an almost country-boy friendliness to him. There’s Felice, who is the most pleasant and worrisome woman you’ll ever meet. Always asking Brendon and me if we’re nervous about driving a school bus, because she sure as hell is.  Then there’s Kevin, who has the most sultry-looking face you’ve ever seen, and even though he’s never done me anything to me, I don’t like him. Gail herself is overweight, smells like a basement, and is one of the best school bus trainers in the country. She understands her humble, but important role in the world and strives for excellence in that role and for that I respect her immensely.

Andrea and Katherine listened fervently to the little world we had become an unlikely part of. They thought it was funny we were becoming bus drivers, but not in a condescending way. Not in a “you went to college to become a school bus driver?” way. They seemed to take us seriously when we told them we were going to drive a school bus so we could pay the bills while we got ourselves established as writers. That it was a sensible part-time job because we had to wake up in the morning and do our route, but then had the middle of the day to write until we had to go pick our kids up in the afternoon.

And we would have to write, because we were going to be driving our bus in Lake Oswego fifteen miles away from our home in Montavilla. Fighting traffic to go back home in between routes wasn’t going to be an enticing option, so we might as well post up at a coffee shop and gut some words out while we wait.

We talked like this for a couple hours. About real things and funny things and things people our age in the place we are in talk about. Then we said goodbye and that we should meet like this again because it really had been a great evening filled with great conversation. And all four of us really did mean what we were saying—that we wanted to get together again. It wasn’t a pleasantry and that was refreshing.

Brendon and I walked the four blocks home with energy. Glad that we had met up with the girls, but glad now that we were alone and could talk about what had just happened and what was happening in a larger sense. We got back to our house and he stayed outside with me while I chain-smoked the cigarettes I’m not supposed to be chain-smoking because I said I was going to quit. I laid down on my back and puffed away and looked at the night-sky—it looked like the night-sky usually does in Portland—one all encompassing cloud blanketing the city and shyly reflecting its soft-glow. It’s sullen and peaceful and causes you to reflect on where you are.

We talked about finding security in the insecure life-choices we had made. A couple of small-town kids from Wyoming moving to a city with no jobs lined up and no place to live and enough money to pay our bills for maybe two months. With no choice but to write for our lives and trust that God was going to bless our decision to trust in his provision.

There’s a sense of calm you feel when you take a shot at greatness. When you jump off the cliffs of your future instead of making the slow, sure climb down. There’s a trust that somehow, you’ll fall up into that big-blanket of cloud. That you won’t look back at your life when you’re forty and regret that you never chased your dreams when had the chance, but merely obeyed what you thought was your reality.

 

 

The Wandering Summer: Pt. 1– Austin, Texas

I’ve yet to chronicle any of my Great American Road Trip because I’ve been too darn busy meeting people from all walks of life and hanging out with my ugly — I mean older — brother Mick. I promise to do posts on each leg of the trip so far in the next few days while I have some alone time moseying across the Gulf of Mexico. I’ll start with the first leg of the trip right now.

After picking up Mick at Denver International Airport on July 23rd at 9 am, we drove down to Austin to stay with his friends Zac Caputo and Cody Mitchell, who he met in Greece on his backpacking trip last spring.

Highlights included a late night swim in Barton Springs (where I finally learned how to dive), free live music at Blues on the Green, a self-guided tour of the Texas State Capitol, Zac and Mick getting tattoos to commemorate their trip, copious amounts of authentic Texas gourmet fast food (What-a-Burger, Mighty Fine, P.Terry’s, Torchy’s Tacos), a day at Cody’s ranch in Wimberly (complete with a game of creek football), A night on 6th street, an incredible conversation about faith with Zac’s dad Tony in the UT student union, falling in love with Mckayla Maroney at Zac’s friend’s Ian’s amazing house (complete with pool and diving board), A tour of Waldorf high school, and last but not least… being hosted by the Caputo family at their super functional Tejas hacienda (thanks so much Zac, Tony, Vivian and Camille).

There. How’s that for a run-on sentence? Alright, onto the good stuff: Pictures. I apologize if some are a little grainy… It doesn’t look that way when I edit them on my phone.

Texas State Capitol architecture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And people think George W. is an idiot… my travel companion for Texas and New Orleans. He also likes to take frequent cat naps (that’s an SNL reference for those of you who live in caves).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rotunda.

Mick and Zac cruisin’ down 6th street with fresh tats.

The most intriguing marching band I’ve ever seen (6th street).

Mighty Fine burgers. The name explains itself.

Blues on the Green with the Austin skyline as the backdrop… and oh yeah, check it out, it’s true that in Texas they think they’re their own country.

The Westerman brothers with gentleman and scholar, Zac Caputo. No those aren’t bunny ears… they’re longhorns.

 

 

 

Introducing: The Wandering Summer

Hopefully over the next 40 days, this blog will be a lot sexier than it has the past 100. Yes, my friends, this is me officially announcing that my grand road trip through the states is officially happening. This trip is the meat and potatoes of what I like to call “The Wandering Summer.”

My brother and I will be going through Texas to the coast and then to New Orleans over the course of the next two weeks. After that he’s flying out and I’m going across the Gulf of Mexico to see my some friends in Tallahassee (with stops along the way in any or all of Mobile, Gulf Shores, Pensacola and Panama City).

My friend Matt is meeting me in Tallahassee (fingers crossed) and then we’re driving up to the Carolinas for stays with friends there (including Myrtle Beach, again, fingers crossed).

Next I’m driving up to DC to stay with one of my best friends from college, TJ. After that it’s a little less planned out. Hopefully I can catch the Yankees v. Red Sox game in NY on the 18th of August. Hopefully I can catch a Brewers game on the way back home with my Uncle, his Girlfriend and her Daughters… you get the idea.

Anyway, I’m announcing this because I’m going to try and do a 200-700 word post on each day, so hopefully, in a sense, anyone who wants to can take the trip with me. There might be days where internet access is hard to get, or I’m just too wiped to do one, but damnit I’m going to try my hardest to make this happen. I’d appreciate your prayers as I will be traveling a lot of miles in some pretty hot weather (I’m thinking a breakdown in Mobile in August could get a little chaotic).

College Graduation: From the perspective of Steptoe Butte– By: Charles Westerman

You spend four years in college thinking about your graduation day… not once do you think about the day that comes after it. Saturday you’re finally putting on the cap and gown. You finally get that diploma in your hands and the wonderful weight of it makes you think you know what it feels like when hockey players hoist the Stanley Cup.  You hug your friends and kiss your mom. You order a pitcher of nice beer and for once don’t feel like your wallet is sinking its teeth in your keister as you put it in your back pocket.

Yeah. That day you thought about a lot. That day was what helped you bust out those last two pages when your brain felt like the toilet that was always clogged in your ever-to-authentic college house. That day had you signing tuition checks your ass wasn’t sure it could cash.  That unforgettable day of celebration was what let you tell yourself that all the forgettable, overscheduled, lonely days of college would be worth it.

Then that day comes. And yes, it’s great. But even after four years of overpriced learning, you wake up on Sunday and realized you never really learned the sun would still come up after graduation night. Such was the case for me upon graduating from Washington State University.

More than shaking President Floyd’s hand on Saturday, I’ll remember that feeling on Sunday morning better.  You wake up with one monotonous, terrifying and sobering thought: “So college is… over? Yeah I suppose it is. Right? Yeah… definitely. College is freaking donezo. Checkmate. Yahtzee. Gin. Kaput. So… I guess that makes me an alumni now huh? Oh shit. Alumni’s are supposed to have a decent paycheck. What’s that magic job website again? Monster.com? Why a monster? GREAT GOOGLY MOOGLY… I’m about to get eaten…”

In high school you graduate and then you spend the summer with your friends sucking the juice out of the last of the good ole days. You don’t really get that in college. The last six weeks everyone is so strung out with keeping up with their big senior projects and looking frantically for a job that you don’t have a lot of time or energy to do much reminiscing.

So maybe you get done with your finals on Wednesday and then you graduate on Saturday. Most all your friends who are younger than you leave three hours after their last final, and by Sunday at 5 pm, three quarters of the ones you graduated with have finished taking down their Bob Marley posters and are halfway to Seattle. It’s a queer, sad feeling. I’ve never said the word ‘surreal’ so much in my whole life as I did in the weeks following.

I rolled out of bed with this feeling and said hi to my parents and older brother Mick who had come to celebrate the milestone. Then one of my best friends in college – one of the ones I will be friends with for a very long time – TJ called me and said she was about to head out.

This was the girl whose apartment was on my way home from campus. I’d get done copy editing for the newspaper around 10 or 11 at night and call her up to see if I could stop by. We’d always promise each other we’d keep it to a quick 15 minute chat because we had both school and sleep to catch up on… 2 hours later we were no more studied or rested, but it was sure good to get all of our deepest worries off our chest. That’s TJ. The girl I could tell anything to. A person who I could show a part of myself that I thought unlovable and she always seemed to love me more for it.

One time my sophomore year I played her one of the songs I wrote about what I thought my Dad went through when his first wife died of breast cancer. When I got done I looked up from my guitar (that I’d kept my eyes glued to the whole time because I felt so vulnerable) and she was crying. She’d heard every word. She can empathize and be okay with feeling pain like that, and above all, I think that’s my favorite thing about her.

I drove to her apartment to say goodbye. Teej and I are never short on words around each other, but there was just too much to say to capture it. I wanted to cry but was too shell-shocked and exhausted from all the goodbyes and the “last times” that had been occurring in the last six weeks. I was sick of “last times.” We shrugged and we hugged and just like that — Snap! – TJ was gone.

Then my buddy Max texted me and said that he and his mom needed to get on the road and wouldn’t be able to meet us for breakfast like we’d hoped to.  Max is one of those friends like TJ’s a friend… only he’s a dude. My junior year when I lived right across the street from him, he’d easily come over two times a week so we could get down on Madden 11 (a football video game for you girls who live in a cave).

We’d “start a franchise” and pick teams in the same division, then we’d do a fantasy draft and play each other. We’d debate matchups and I’d always tell him that one of his go to picks, Kenny Britt (a proud owner of a recent DUI at the time), was way too drunk to drive or catch the football. The stakes weren’t as high as competing in organized sports in high school, but we channeled all our pent up competitiveness into those four hours a week. We’d throw on The Black Keys or The Temper Trap (a couple of times I even threw my controller) and let the trash talk begin.

Max even conspired with Mick to borrow my car to pick up his “cousin” from the airport in Spokane the week of graduation. Next thing I know he and Mick are walking into the coffee shop I was studying at.  Having my brother at my graduation meant a lot to me, and having Max take three and a half hours of his last week of college to pickup that big smelly thing I call my brother meant just as much. And just like that – Snap! – Max was gone.

I could write paragraphs like that for at least 10 other people, but I’m depressed enough as it is right now having told you about just two. It was this day that Pullman taught me one of its last and greatest lessons – and it taught me a lot of them in four years – but this day it taught me that you can stay in the same place, but when the people that made that place important and meaningful to you aren’t in it, you might as well be in Nairobi.

Still, my family and I went to breakfast as planned. I told myself that I shouldn’t feel sad. That I should feel grateful for the time I had and that I would see these people again. I told myself I should feel more of a sense of accomplishment– for Pete’s sake I’d just graduated freaking college! But that’s not how my slow processing head or extremely emotional heart roll. They need a week to process getting a second date cancelled, let alone finishing up one of the most important four-year chapters of my life.

So I sat at the Old European with three people who couldn’t have possibly been more clutch with their presence. The Old European is one of my personal essentials of experiencing Pullman. Most all of the people who came to visit me from home got their appetite for pancakes ruined because once you sink your teeth into an Aebleskiver… well it’s like eating Kobe beef, then being offered Cube Steak. It’s where I decided I was officially taking my talents to the Palouse when I visited Pullman for the first time my senior year of high school.

But even in this sanctuary of brunch, with my parents and my brother, three people who know me as well as anyone, I could not find solace from my sadness.  TJ was gone. Max was gone. A dozen other people were gone. It wasn’t something you could see. It was something you felt: Absence.

I get the feeling that my dad sensed I wanted somewhere to reflect and process – and more than that – somewhere that wasn’t Pullman.  On the drive to my apartment after breakfast he suggested we head up to Steptoe Butte. It’s about 32 miles north of Pullman. I’d never been there. It was on a list of about 200 other things my friends and I swore we were going to do some Saturday when we didn’t have a football game or homework or How I Met Your Mother to watch. Some Saturday when the weather was nice and you actually felt like getting out of bed before 10:30. Halfway through your sophomore year you realize you get about three Saturdays like that a year if your lucky. Anyhow, I’d never been to Steptoe Butte but I’d always heard the view was amazing.  And I don’t know how my dad knew it, but I just know he knew I needed a good view on this particular day.

We drove up to the top and for a kid who grew up in the wide open spaces of Wyoming, where a view for miles was always just a near hilltop away, being able to see out like that was more of a relief than when you pee after holding it for an hour longer than you should.  I went off by myself a little ways and lit a cigarette. My mom caught me halfway through, and on this day she just laughed and even took a picture. I finished my cancer stick and told her I was going to quit soon but at the moment it was too much to think about (I’m almost to the four week mark as I type this).

Mick and my dad eventually joined us and we talked very reflectively.  My dad always brings an incredible sense of peace and wisdom to situations like this. My mom — with her back rubs, encouraging words, and never-ending faith in me – never fails to come through. And Mick, with his jokes about how much of a girl I am mixed with statements about my talents that never fail to boost my confidence, did just those things.  It was a three-headed monster of love and support.

They too talked about their fears and anxieties up there on the top of the butte. My dad with his uneasiness and insecurities about running for State Legislature after getting hosed in his re-election for County Commissioner a couple years ago. My mom about her dad who has terminal cancer and her state program (the WBLN) that she’d helped run successfully for 15 years getting shutdown because of a lack of funding. And Mick trying to make the jump in career fields from paradmedicine to sports broadcasting.  It was good to be around other people who had fears and worries, and that weren’t 22 years old.

After that we prayed. We prayed about our own and each other’s anxieties.  We prayed for the rest of our family and I prayed like hell for the friends who had become my family at WSU.  In my family that’s how you deal with fear. You give it to God and you share it with each other, and at the end of the day — neigh by the end of college — I’ve concluded this method works.  It acknowledges your weakness as an individual and calls upon the strength of your community.

We stayed up there for awhile, and I couldn’t help but see the metaphor of the situation. Here I was. I could see for miles in all directions and I could go any which one I wanted to. It’s a cocktail of optimistic exhilaration and terrifying doom. The great American halfway house that college is over; now it’s time to go pro.  I decided right there that this summer I was going to embrace the uncertainty.

I’d applied for a one-year paid residency at a magazine in Chicago that I thought I had a real shot at getting so I didn’t look for much else. I had a letter of recommendation from one of the prominent former writers of the magazine as well as great ones from my journalism professor and worship pastor.  And I’m not gonna lie, I wrote the crap out of my cover letter; and my resume, though not built for most jobs, was very much built for this. They were even looking for a graduating journalism student from the Northwest specifically and WSU has the best program for that in the region.

I didn’t feel entitled to the job, but I have to admit I felt entitled to an interview; just a chance to show who I was in person and how bad I wanted it.  They never did call back. I called the lady who asked my professor to recommend a student for the resume at least 25 times getting only an answering machine each time. I left her two voicemails and sent a couple emails. By the end all I wanted her to do was pickup her phone and tell me I didn’t get it. The tooth for tooth side of me wants to drive to Chicago and put Crisco on her toilet seat…

I’m telling you this because it made the whole “college being over” thing that much more terrifying. I didn’t have a plan. But like I said, up on Steptoe I decided I was going to embrace the uncertainty. To take advantage of having a summer where it was acceptable to not be in school or have a real job. I decided to title it “The Wandering Summer” … but more on that later.

I came down from Steptoe still sad, but not as frustrated about that sadness, for I remembered another lesson I’d learned in college that I’ve mentioned on this blog before: sometimes you need to be sad… sometimes it’s healthy.

It’s often to the simplest ideas in life that are most effective.  So when you come to moments where you feel some perspective is needed, find the highest point within 30 miles of yourself, and do so.

A Simultaneous Farewell to the Murrow College and Resonate Church– By: Charles Westerman

This past semester I’ve had the privilege to work as a communication intern with my college church of four years in order to fulfill my six-credit Murrow College internship requirement. It was a “two birds with one stone” experience and I’m so grateful for how God used these two entities to shape me into who I am today: someone who has a relationship with Jesus and knows that his purpose in that relationship is to write for His glory.

Here is an excerpt from my final paper — neigh final assignment — in college. This assignment asked me to write a 12-15 page report on my entire intern experience. The final question in the paper guidelines was this: Analyze how your internship site performs in regard to social responsibility. And below were the sub-questions to that question

            –What is the purpose of your agency in society?

            –Did your site measure up in an ethical sense?

            –What is its contribution to society?

            — Was your time spent there of educational value?

             — Would you do it again?

            — Is the internship a fitting capstone to your university experience?

Here is my answer to these questions and my thank you to Resonate. Without them, I honestly don’t think I would have graduated college:

Unlike many churches in 21st century America, Resonate is not only socially responsible, but socially competent as well.  From our Lead Pastor Keith Wieser, down to the people in charge of setting up and tearing down for services; it is a well-organized, hard working, practical and visionary organization. They absolutely know what their purpose in society is and the fact that they have 700+ in attendance at their two services every Sunday is a testament to that.  Resonate seeks to give students an ‘authentic community’ to be a part of throughout their college experience.

Resonate’s model for building authentic community is a successful one, and I feel qualified to say that because it was the model I personally experienced.  The Resonate model for authentic community consists of three parts. Obviously, the Sunday service is one of the parts, however they constantly stress that Sunday gatherings aren’t more important than the others. In fact, if anything, they’d say it’s the least.  It is the second and third components of the model that has made Resonate so successful in their purpose.  In just five years Resonate has gone from their first service of less than 200 people, to a church of over 700+ in attendance every week. Not only have do they have a quantity of members, but a majority of the members they have are quality. I don’t mean this in the sense that they are perfect people who never do anything wrong, I mean it in the sense of how seriously members take their role in helping Resonate fulfill their purpose.  This is evidenced by the participation in the second and third components of Resonate: Village and Ethos groups.

Village is Resonate’s version of a Bible Study, but it’s different than any Bible Study I’ve been to, and I grew up in a strong Christian home. Every week, groups of 12-20 people gather in a Village Leaders home. The members take turns making meals each week and the first hour of Village is spent breaking bread and just getting to know each other.  There’s almost no better way to build community than to have people eat a meal together.  After that, everyone gathers in the living room and the Leaders facilitate a conversation about Sunday’s sermon.  This does two things: it gives people different viewpoints and exposes them to different opinions on all kinds of topics. From forgiveness, to social justice, to personal identity, to sexual relationships; people who regularly attend a Village get a chance to talk and listen to conversations about some of the most important aspects of life.  The second thing the Village conversation accomplishes is making the message on Sunday sink in, feel relevant, and ultimately be effective. Being reminded of the essence of the message in the middle of the week prevents it from having the “in one ear and out the other” effect.

The third component of Resonate is Ethos groups. The Sunday service unites the entire body with one message and one commonality: The resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Villages give members a more intimate community and a chance to process the message with multiple perspectives in mind. Ethos is where the next level of intimacy comes in.  Ethos groups are made of two-three members of the same sex. It is this group where members have a chance to be free to share the deepest desires and fears of their heart.  It is a group that stresses unfiltered honesty, complete vulnerability, true accountability, unending encouragement, and ultimately, friendship that defines brotherly and sisterly love.

I would absolutely do my internship with Resonate again. What I’m about to say is no slight to the Murrow College, but a testament to Resonate: I have learned as much about good communication from them as I have in school.  Because good communication is the only explanation for how an original staff of three guys from Texas and their families could come to the most un-churched region in the country, to a college town of a very un-churched generation and grow in both the quality and quantity they have in the last five years.  I would go to my grave saying that Pullman is a better place with Resonate than without it.  Student’s who attend Resonate faithfully will ultimately have their character shaped for the better. That’s not to say other organizations can’t have a similar affect, but this was the one that affected me and I’m eternally grateful it did.  My internship with Resonate was a fitting capstone to my university experience, but my four years being a member of it turned out to be the foundation of that experience.

The Perfect Game (My last sports column for the Daily Evergreen)– By: Charles Westerman

I’ve written sports for the Evergreen since my freshman year. I’ve had a column for three. It was very surreal and sentimental to think I was writing my last one as I sat down at my computer on Monday… I wanted to write something that was truly from the heart and that gave people an idea as to why I think sports are more than just a game, but one of God’s greatest metaphors for life. Enjoy.  

For my last full-length column as an Evergreen sports writer, I’ve decided to go close to home. But going close to home for me requires you as a reader to journey with me a little over a thousand miles to Chugwater, Wyoming; a no-stoplight town off of I-25 with a population of 244 and an elevation of 5,288.

I grew up five minutes outside this town on a cattle ranch half a mile from the interstate. I’m sure there have been a few kids on long family vacations that were staring out the window and happened to notice an irregularity in one of the great iconic American images.

The basketball hoop in the driveway they were used to seeing, but they might have had a momentary escape from their boredom as they pondered why there was a five-foot tall ninety-five pound ranch kid hanging on the rim like he’s LeBron James.

Then they’d squint a little more and solve the mystery.

“Hey! That little cheater is using a trampoline to play basketball!”

This was the world of sports I grew up in. The great broadcast voices of my childhood were Dave Walsh (Wyoming Cowboys), Jeff Kingery (Colorado Rockies), and Mick Westerman (The 46 Blue Rock Road Trampoline Basketball Association).

Mick is my older brother by three years. He hit puberty by the time most kids loose their first tooth. Me on the other hand, I went to my first homecoming dance before I had hair in my armpits.

But unlike normal basketball, our size differences weren’t quite as drastic on mankind’s middle finger to gravity: The trampoline.

This variation of hoops I could at least compete with that adolescent behemoth I called my older brother. I was never quick or big, but by the time my trampoline basketball career ended, it was almost impossible to block my shot on a normal court. Because when you got your shot blocked on the tramp, the integrity of the game called upon you to shamefully go barefoot through the rough prairie grass and retrieve your sphere of rejection.

We spent most of our childhood on that little black-patch of heaven. We invented dozens of games on it, but none was more popular than trampoline basketball.

It was so powerful in our imaginations that despite the fact that our biggest crowd in the history of our league was a few bored people at my sister’s graduation party, the glory of victory was of Iliad-like proportions.

After our afterschool school snack, Mick and I would go to our room, select from our large selection of basketball jerseys, grab the boom box and head out to the tramp.

We’d plug in Third Eye Blind or Box Car Racer to our garage outlet, start the music, then start our warm-ups. I’m not joshing you when I tell you we had strict pre-game rituals we’d go through as Mick introduced the “listeners” to the big-game.

I could almost always compete with Mick, but I never beat him. Twenty-five percent of the time I’d be a little prick about losing. Twenty-five he’d be a big prick about winning. Another quarter of the time we’d both be pricks, and the remaining fourth we’d go to the freezer and grab a push-pop and talk about how much fun we’d just had.

But one-fateful day it all came together for me. I finally played the only way I had a chance to ever beat Mick in a game of tramp-basketball: perfectly. I played a perfect game and still barely beat him.

My celebration was similar to Macaulay Culkin’s in “Home Alone” when he realizes he made his family disappear.

Then something happened that was one of the biggest moments in one of the most important relationships of my life.

Mick got off the tramp, walked up to me, and instead of punching me in the kidneys like I thought he was going to, tasseled my hair and said the three sweetest words in sports, “Good game bro.”

I’d like to dedicate this column to Mick, who has supported my writing dreams with the same passion and challenge he always brought when we took the trampoline for a game of epic proportions.

Lazy Saturday Poetry: Easy Company (For my Daddo)– By: Charlie Westerman

This is a poem about my Grandfather. He was a paratrooper in WWII and dropped into Normandy on D-Day as well as Holland. He wasn’t in Easy Company, but he told me that Band of Brothers is as close as you can get to experiencing what he experienced. In Normandy, he actually ended up being dropped on the wrong side of enemy lines and was trapped in a foxhole for days.

On one of his jumps he got shot in the toe. It always blows my mind that had that soldier that fired that bullet aimed one-one hundredth of a millimeter the other way, it might have hit him in a more fatal spot, and he and my Grandmother wouldn’t have adopted my mom, which means I wouldn’t be here. I tried to work some of these stories of his life into the work.

The similes used in the poem are built to work in relation to both the line before and after it. That is something I’ve never done before and really enjoyed the challenge of it.

I found out last week that the cancer Daddo (what we call my Grandfather) had last fall has come back. This time in his liver. He has elected to forego chemo and radiation and live out his last days on his terms. I respect him tremendously for that. The poem is about how even when we survive life-and-death situations, it is only delaying the inevitable. Someday we will all have to look back and reflect on our lives and what we see in our reflection will be how we choose face our death– either in fear or peace.

My first instinct was to choose a different poem to post for this week because I thought this one might seem a little heavy. But then I remembered that the purpose of Lazy Saturday poetry was to try and display how poetry is not just a hobby, it’s a way in which some of us (the poets of the world) can process and understand life.  I also think this is a poem a lot of people can somewhat relate to, not to mention I think our culture needs to value deep (dare I say even heavy) thinking more than it does.

 

Easy Company

like a boy with a bow and arrow

in the tree patch huntin’ Satan

he missed

and hit a sparrow

a special providence warns of scarecrows

 

like the flooded cells in my Grandfathers liver

the Nazis couldn’t gun him down

still

the hospice check delivers

a sense of inescapable shivers

 

like the pain that comes from smoking in the cold

i puff and ponder him at War all the time

dangling in the sky

pleading God to grow old

a chance slim as the splinter from a soul

 

like a bullet in the toe but not in the head

ballistic logistics only God could have scripted

cheating death

or buying breaths

 

a feeling of debt he cannot express

like a blackjack addict with dementia

the right choices he forgot to make

firing blanks

in the middle of a minefield

 

a purpose in life he cannot place a bet on

like soldiers casting lots on Friday

Father forgive him

a good man

that saw bad days

 

a company as easy as the grave