Saturday, April 14, 2018

JOURNAL: A Life I Could Have Never Imagined

I was a junior in high school when I first heard the song "I Can Only Imagine" on the radio. To hear such a song on a Christian radio station (Life 102.5, to be exact) was one thing; I grew up going to church and my parents (specifically my mother's side) had been listening to faith-based stations in recent years. But to hear this kind of song on a pop station (like Z104 in Madison) was a rare thing. And it was a rare gem for a list of reasons.

This was during a period in my life where high school became a foundation of transitioning from childhood to adulthood (and I'm already making it sound like a cliche, I know). Like I said, I grew up going to church, believing it was something you had to do on Sundays. After my parents divorced and remarried, respectfully, I attended various Sunday school classes and, in middle school, Wednesday night youth group meetings and activities before being confirmed in eighth grade. That's not to say I didn't go through the motions like a lot of people growing up.

Then in high school, during the spring semester of my sophomore year, I began attending a Sunday night youth group bible study. My leaders (we'll call them Dan & Sue) were very generous and caring people, not to mention musically skilled on guitars. Some of my classmates were good camaraderie as well, but Dan & Sue helped lay a foundation for real spirituality and biblical study in my life. And when I began hearing "I Can Only Imagine" by the band MercyMe--and eventually some of their other songs, as well as other music by fellow artists later that year and beyond--on the radio, it opened a door for me (in retrospect) in beginning to understand what real Christianity is and what it meant to have a relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, and how it gave me something to look forward to in life.

If not for this song, this band's influence, nor Dan & Sue's leading (and of course, certainly, my mother's amazing example of unconditional love), I would not have been further led down a personal journey (by choice) of my own faith. And I wouldn't have been able to experience all the biblical-related things and other experiences I have since graduating high school, from InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in college to fall conferences in Green Lake, WI, to various musicals and choral events in the Fine Arts department on campus, to a trip to St. Louis at the turn of the decade, to understanding the difference between religion and a relationship, to expressing myself through writing deeper and deeper (and counting), and to all the mentorship and friendships I've had throughout the years. (You know who you are.)

For a period of years, however, I hadn't wanted to listen to this song, afraid it would bring me back to (and not allow me to look beyond) where I was in the troubled times I went through or was being tested through. In addition, I would think that the theme of eternity in heaven was something that needed to be saved for every few months or years, or for a later period in life like a remembrance or a eulogy, or that it was (to be brutally honest) overrated in music.

College, in particular, was a series of events that varied from emotional and successful highs to deep scarred lows. But I experienced God's grace and forgiveness through them, and I am grateful for the accountability and friendships and music/songs He has given me to help me through these times. And He's still showing me and reminding me who He made me to be. (I highly recommend the works of Neil T. Anderson, as a resource.)

As far as "overrated," such encouragement is (and should be) far from it.

The release of the new film, based on the song's title and the true story behind it, has now helped me see it and appreciate it in a new and more meaningful way. It's also challenged me in my own family relationships and relationship status, including some elements I'm more at peace with while still working on/growing in other elements. Nevertheless, it's amazing to see how far this life and journey has gone. I can only imagine where it's going to go from here.

WRITER'S NOTE: I had an opportunity to see MercyMe in concert when I was a junior in high school, and it was an amazing experience (despite the fact I knew so little about faith then compared to now). Last night, I went to see them perform at the Target Center in Minneapolis for the first time in fourteen years! And to hear some of their new and recent tracks, as well as some old ones, was both a nostalgic and even more humbling experience.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Maxwell and Success: A Reflection of Resources and Connections in Growth and Development

I was walking in the mall this past June, catching up with a friend of mine. I had been reading John C. Maxwell's book, "How Successful People Think," and had been catching up on it that evening. As we were walking, I recapped on a few marked sections in the book, when somebody who walked by us recognized Maxwell's name on the cover, and proceeded with high remarks for the author. What followed was a conversation with a networking representative (we'll call him "Dave") not only about Maxwell, but also about work and business.

This goes to show that you never know what a difference the resources you have or use can make, including but not limited to the doors they open and the connections and relationships they allow you to form. That being said, part of this book arguably involves a willingness to get outside your comfort zone and think differently.

A few sections I was reviewing at the time focus on specific types of thinking, especially (what interested me, at least) "creative" thinking and "popular" thinking. Mark Twain once said, "What is popular is not always right, and what is right is not always ways popular." Also, the section I was reading that night in the mall before I met with my friend, and before we met "Dave," was about practicing "unselfish" thinking.

The conversation my friend and I had with "Dave" allowed me to not only appreciate the work that I do and the difference it makes in people's lives (despite obvious hardships, challenges, and sacrifices). It also encouraged me to be thankful that I had this resource along with so many others.

I challenge you to consider the tools and resources you've been given, whether at your job, your home life, or for any type of growth and development such as exercise or stewardship. Consider their value, their intent, and their usefulness in helping you grow and develop. The same goes for the people you encounter and have accountability from.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

"Quality Is Our Recipe": Wendy's and Dave Thomas

Growing up with several fast-food/restaurant choices, my family and I often turned to the most frequented or popular, including McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Culver's, and (I'll defend this one) Hardee's. Until recent months (and with the possible exception of Culver's), I've never really taken into account the amount of "quality" put into a popular chain until I read a great deal about Wendy's.

Founded by Dave Thomas in Columbus, Ohio, in 1969, Thomas had a passion for food and for people. It was his dream to own "the greatest restaurant in the world," and to share that dream with everyone. That sounds cliche enough, and yet his goal was to "make hamburgers people love by doing things the right way" (my emphasis).

Wendy's founder Dave Thomas, pictured with his 1994 book,
"Well Done: The Common Guy's Guide to Everyday Success"
One of my favorite things about going to this restaurant (which I occasionally visit with coworkers) is looking around inside at the framed pictures that show their many fresh ingredients, all of which showcase their slogan, "Quality is our recipe." For instance, their square patties (remember the ads from the 1970's that asked, "Where's the beef?") consist of "100% North American beef, raised on ranches close to our restaurants so it's always fresh, never frozen." Their salads, meanwhile, are "crisp and fresh," and their fries are "natural-cut." Some of their suppliers include Coca-Cola, Talley's fries, and Woodland eggs (from New Zealand), and other food/menu items include chili and Frosty ice cream.

Thomas also revolutionized salad bars in restaurants, as well as "quick service" pick-up windows with separate grills. And from 1989 up until his death in 2002, Thomas appeared as the official spokesperson in more than 800 Wendy's commercials for what became one of the most successful ad campaigns in the food service industry.

I gave a speech a few months back about Thomas's mission statement regarding customers, service, and standards, and one of the notes I had made was how he was influenced by his grandmother as a child while she would cook in the kitchen. He would help and learn from her, including her philosophy on "never to cut corners on quality." Said Thomas, "When I started Wendy's in 1969, 'Quality is Our Recipe' was our motto. Our focus on quality hasn't changed, and it never will. Wendy's offers customers the highest quality food, and freshest ingredients, made-to-order sandwiches, and fast, courteous service." He continues, "When you like a restaurant's food and are treated well, you'll go back again. We have to earn our customers' loyalty every day, and exceed their expectations on every visit. That's our mission and our focus and, in my opinion, that's what generates loyal customers."

Wendy's today
And it's this emphasis on quality that makes Wendy's food, atmosphere, and customer service worthwhile, as well as a recipe that keeps this writer coming back as often as he can. After all, they don't call it a "value" menu for nothing.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Employees and Entrepreneuers

According to the Bealstone, Inc. Leadership Notebook (a resource I received at my job a few months ago), there are various definitions and pointers that define and differentiate an "employee" from an "entrepreneur". (The following are paraphrased versions of said definitions and pointers.)

- Employees do things only because someone tells them to. Entrepreneurs just get the job done on their own accord.

- Employees take a paycheck at week's end. Entrepreneurs create their own paycheck.

- Employees only look for as big of an opportunity or role as they can get, and are only satisfied with just enough (or, as much as they can do) to get by. Entrepreneurs exceed what they think they can do, and are committed to it.

- Employees tend to focus on the problems in certain or various circumstances. Entrepreneurs always find a way to solve the problem. On that same note, employees tend to let circumstances define them, as well as react to them and blame them. Entrepreneurs define their circumstances and take control of them.

- Employees only work hard to impress their employers. Entrepreneurs work hard to impress (and top) themselves.

- Employees don't generally like getting out of their comfort zone. Entrepreneurs thrive on being outside their comfort zone.

I asked myself a few weeks ago, Is what I'm doing the behavior of an entrepreneur or the behavior of an employee? And can there be someone in between, or just one or the other? After hearing one of my mentor's speech the other day on what it means to have a winning mentality, it comes down to the following:

1. Don't compete with anybody but yourself. Go above and beyond what you've done. (For example, I hit a "personal best" at my job a few weeks ago, and made it a goal to exceed that "stepping stone". It's still in the works, but progress nonetheless.)

2. Keep your mental blinders on. Call your shots, and hold yourself accountable. (The same applies for others holding you accountable.) Make a list or schedule what you need to do and what's important for you to do now (e.g., books you're reading, meetings you're setting up, training coming up, etc.) and what's not important but secondary (e.g., movie nights, binge-watching Netflix, surfing your phone, etc.).

3. Along with the second point above, don't be afraid to talk the big picture of where you see yourself in one year, two years, five years, and so forth. For some, that means paying off their student loans from college. For others, it means reaching Management in six to twelve months. And for others, it means buying a house or a new car.

4. Lead from the front. Set the example your colleagues and/or leaders need to see in order to be successful. Work ethic and student mentality are two of the most important qualities and skills you can gain and grow in.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Reel, Write, and ReadE: The Philosophy of B.e. Kerian


Reel (real) 
A reel refers to film placed on a projector or cylinder when viewing a movie. It can also refer to the photography involved. 

To be real is to be honest and accurate, and can refer to reality. 

Both involve expressions of storytelling and creativity, as well as discussion and discernment.

Write (right) 
To write is to express one's self through the written word, whether through pencil, pen, Microsoft Word, or journals. 

To be right is to be honest and accurate. 

Both involve, again, expressions of storytelling and accuracy, as well as creativity. 

ReadE (ready) 
To read is to educate one's self, and not just on one topic or category. It also helps one develop skills in history, education, accuracy and speech, to name a few. This can lead to potential in what one is capable of.

To be ready is to plan ahead, to be prepared. 

Both lead to progression, professionalism, maturity, and should involve honesty instead of going through the motions.


A few years ago, I came up with an interesting term that describes truth expressed through forms of fiction (e.g., art, literacy, music, poetry, film). The fiction refers to unreal places, characters, situations, and/or actions, and yet there's an expression or illustration of real-life truths that are universal, important, thought-provoking, challenging, and/or inspiring. In other words, even though the characters and situations and so forth are made up in various cases, the contextual elements and themes reveal deeply human truths and realities that transcend art. Whether it's through the written word, a celluloid, a photograph or an instrumental piece, TRUTH MATTERS. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Endurance of Peanuts Holidays

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary since the television special, "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," aired on television (almost one year after the equally-popular Christmas special). Along with the "Thanksgiving" special (released in 1973), these cartoons have become holiday staples in recent years, churning out the warmth and wit that cartoonist/creator Charles Schultz embedded into his beloved comic strips. Here are a few reasons why these specials still hold up, for kids and adults alike. 

1. Their simplicity. Schultz had a specific style and design of his characters that some would argue looked imperfect, yet still appealing. The quality of the character designs and even the world in which they occupied didn't call for magic kingdoms, fantasy worlds, or slapstick romps like Disney or Warner Brothers at the time. It was always about the characters and the(ir) stories.

2. The characters. Speaking of which, every character was (and still is) very distinct and relatable. To name a few, the titular Charlie Brown is the ambitious kid who always feels like a failure yet never gives up; Linus is philosopher and counselor to his best friend; Lucy is the bossy girl that every kid has seen in school; Peppermint Patty is the quintessential tomboy; and Snoopy is far from any "normal" dog, yet the kind of dog most (if not all) people wish they had.  

3. Their wit and writing, as well as their historical significance. Charlie Brown and company may be kids, but they speak and mingle as contemporary philosophers on day-to-day activities, hardships, and other universal circumstances, periods in history (who could forget Snoopy's WWI "Flying Ace"?) and, yes, holidays. Linus, for instance, mentions "three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin." And it's all done with an often dry, yet very clever, funny and sincere, sense of humor. 

4. Their reverence for their respective holidays. On that same note, each special both satirizes and pays homage to its respective holiday, reminding viewers of the old-fashioned--and less consumer--approach when celebrating. Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin stands as an alternative to those who don't prefer going trick-or-treating, yet shows other characters who do (including Charlie Brown, who always ends up with rocks). Snoopy makes an unconventional Thanksgiving dinner yet shows a deserved definition of being thankful, even without the turkey and pumpkin pie. And, lest we forget, the true meaning of Christmas is illustrated in the unforgettable moment where Linus recites the Christmas story from the book of Luke onstage. Though Schulz's production colleagues tried to talk him out of including that scene in the special, Schultz was famous for saying, "If we don't do it, who will?"

5. Vince Guaraldi's music. The late jazz musician/composer's scores are practically synonymous with the world of Peanuts, from "Linus and Lucy" to "Christmastime is Here" to his score for the feature film A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969), Guaraldi will also be remembered for bringing jazz music to the public's eye, and in the most unexpected way. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

"Dear Journal": Doug, Pop Culture and the Movies

WRITER'S NOTE: This post should belong in my movie blog "Film FreeQ," due to its various pop culture and film references. But for the sake of the anthology I've written on this series on this particular blog ("Write Here, Write Now"), I'm including it here.

Pop Culture References and Parodies
Looking back, Doug did a brilliant job of illustrating the thrills and pains of growing up as kids. In terms of the former, it does an equally fun job of referencing (sometimes subtly) various celebrities, films, and trends of the early Nineties and prior. From superheroes to action heroes to video games to music artists, viewers and fans who grew up in the early Nineties will easily recognize these nods. Here's a look back at some of them.

Superheroes, Action Heroes, and Video Games 
Although Doug Funnie does create his own imaginative alter egos, such as the Zorro/Errol Flynn-type Jack Bandit and the private eye Chameleon, several others are clearly nods to other iconic characters. Quailman, comic-book hero Man O Steel Man, and even Skeeter Valentine's creation Silver Skeeter, are parodies and homages to Superman ("the Man of Steel") and the Silver Surfer, respectfully. Secret Agent Smash Adams is an obvious nod to James Bond, while adventurer-explorer Race Canyon is an obvious nod to Indiana Jones. 

Smash Adams, Quailman, and Race Canyon
Quailman and Silver Skeeter
Super Pretendo Game System
The "Space Munks" adventure game, along with the game system Super Pretendo (a nod to Super Nintendo), illustrates popular games and consoles at the time, while mini-mall arcades include games involving dino racing and "Bagging the Neemotoad”. 

Restaurants, Stores, Malls, Products
Some of these other mini-mall stores include shoes based off of Air Jordans, instead titled "Sky Davis Air Jets," which, while cool-looking, prove to big for Doug to walk around in (Season 1). Even fast food mascots take a goofy turn in the form of the Honker Burger chain's own "Hamburger Boy" (Season 3).

Sky Davis Air Jets
The Hamburger Boy

Music Rocks! 
Doug and Skeeter's favorite band, from the beginning, is clearly The Beets, who are obviously a nod the Beatles, as well as to mock-rock band Spinal Tap from the popular 1984 film. The two friends even create their own garage band (Season 3), with a daydream segment that features Doug and Skeeter dressed as rock stars from the Seventies and Eighties, possibly a combination of Blue Oyster Cult, Steve Miller Band, and Guns 'N Roses. Even Michael Jackson's famous "Black and White" music video from 1991, as well as the oversized suits worn by the band the Talking Heads, gets parodied in the same episode, when Doug daydreams the concept of “Thinking Big."

The Beets
Rock star daydreams
"Think Big"

T.V. shows and stars 
T.V. shows appear in the form of soap operas, such as in the "Kite" episode in Season 3 (along with different translations), and in Season 4 for the "90210"-style teen series "Teenheart Street," featuring a Luke Perry-type lead. There are also crime or courtroom dramas (“Bluffington’s Most Troublesome” from Season 3, "Top Prison Guards" from Season 4) in the style of "The People's Court," as well as infomercials a la QVC, to name a few. 

Bluffington's version of "90210"
Possible parody of "The People's Court"
Doug showcases an "astounding product"

References to real-life famous people, songs, places, etc. 
What's even more interesting than these subtle or obvious references are the rare few that are made to real life figures, songs, or places. For instance, Doug's sister, Judy, mentions and quotes Shakespeare almost religiously. And on two separate occasions, she sings "Beautiful Dreamer" when Doug daydreams that Judy will drive him and Patty to a bumper-car park (Season 3), and even sings part of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture during protests against "fascism" regarding Doug's "magic meat" cartoon (Season 3). Doug creates a sculpture titled, "Dog Crossing the Deleware" (Season 4). And when a famous Hollywood producer arrives in Bluffington (Season 2), one character clarifies "it's not Elvis". 

"Shakespeare would never do that."

Impersonating Elvis

Celebrities/movie stars 
Speaking of Hollywood, famous movie stars get their own parodies and nods. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for instance, shows up in the form of exercise instructor/action star Ronald Wisenheimer. Steven Seagal shows up in the form of action hero "Waffle Stomper". Sylvester Stallone's Rambo gets parodied during a "Great Beet War” between Doug's and Judy's schools (Season 3). Even the late film critics (Gene) Siskel & (Roger) Ebert get parodied, in the “Monster Movie” episode (Season 3), which also plays with the notion of hand-held super-8 B-rated films made by modern-day kids. 

Ronald Weisemheimer: "Prepare to suffer."
Steven Seagal type Waffle Stomper
Siskel & Ebert types

Films and characters 
With that in mind, several movies sneak their way into a few episodes. The aforementioned “Space Munks," for instance, could be an homage to Star Wars and Star Trek. Going back to Season One, Doug and neighbor Mr. Dink set out to find and catch the biggest fish in Lucky Duck Lake, displaying a famous shark fin from Jaws. The same Spielberg notion goes for the Season Three premiere episode where Doug and Skeeter take Roger's sick cat, Stinky, to the vet a la E.T. A famous shot from that same film shows up later in the season, when Doug tries to "fix" his dad's kite and his dog Porkchop (against the moonlight) holds the kite on the roof. Moments before, Doug fixes the kite in the style of Dr. Frankenstein, with Porkchop imitating the doctor's assistant, Igor. And Doug and his friends initially preconceive the "weird" Sleetch twins, Al and Moo, to have a mad-scientist father. 

Getting a "Big Catch" a la Jaws
Stinky Phone Home
Porkchop makes an iconic shot for it
Mad Scientists?

For concluding fun, here are some instances when Doug and friends actually went to the movies.

Season 2
In the “Dental Disaster” episode, Doug and Skeeter go see the latest Smash Adams movie. 

In the “Hollywood” episode, Doug daydreams that he and his movie-star posse walk into a movie theater, and pass Judy and her dancing cats on the street corner. 

Season 3: 
In the “Kite” episode, Doug and friends go see the latest space adventure (“Space Munks”), which Doug can't "concentrate on," since he can't stop thinking about his dad's kite-flying (and rhyming) obsession. 

In the “Monster Movie” episode, Doug daydreams of the "disastrous" premiere of his potential “Sharkdog” movie (notice the change from wide frame to full frame on the movie screen), as well as during the aforementioned Siskel & Ebert parody.

In the “Little Liar” episode, new student Loretta invites Skeeter and Doug to a movie starring her “aunt”.

In the “Nightmare on Jumbo Street” episode, Doug and friends go to the latest horror movie, which Doug has recurring nightmares about—at least until he actually sees the movie’s ending.

Season 4: 
In the “Sittin’ in a Tree” episode, Patti asks Doug to the movies, leaving Doug to constantly wonder if it’s a date or not. (The movie they go see is a sci-fi romance involving a high-society girl and a space lizard man.) 

In the “Fan Club” episode, Doug and Skeeter save two seats for Patti and Beebe at the movies, only to see them taken by Doug’s new friend Todd and his brother Wesley. 

In the “Babysitter” episode, Judy sneaks out of the house to go to a foreign film with her friends.