When Your College Roommate from Nearly 16 Years Ago Reaches Out to You to Tell You He’ll Be Visiting in Nashville and You Actually Meet Up

I live in the Nashville, Tennessee area. I will occasionally see on Facebook or Instagram where people I went to college with were recently here and I’ll think, “I wish I would have known they were coming. I would have tried to meet up with them!” Perhaps too, it’s that people I knew from my twenties don’t realize I’ve lived here since 2005.

After all, Nashville truly is a cool city. Having just watched both seasons of Netflix’s Master of None in less than 7 days, I am freshly familiar with there even being a pivotal episode named after the city and that was filmed in the iconic spots downtown.

A month ago, I received a message from my college roommate from Liberty University from the 2002-2003 school year. It was Chris Haley, who introduced me to the concept that the state of Delaware actually exists, with its “no sales tax” and just 3 counties. (I visited his family one weekend with a car load of other students.)

He informed me his wife’s friend would be getting married in Nashville, and having learned that I became a stay-at-home dad 6 months ago, he figured I might be able to find a way to actually meet up. He was correct.

So this morning, we met at Legacy Coffee Co. and had a great time. I even talked him into being a special guest star on my YouTube channel with nearly 4,000 subscribers.

Back when we first met in Dorm 15 at Liberty University in the fall of 2002, he was 17 and I was 21.

Something we talked about today is just how much you don’t know about anything when you’re that age. So it’s really interesting to see how much we’ve changed, now that we’re ages 33 and 36 (though I turn 37 in a week).

What we learned is that despite not being around each other in about 15 years, after having lived in very close quarters for that entire year, was that we actually grew more alike having been apart so long.

We both are proud Libertarians now. And we both love playing our Martin guitars.

Of course I couldn’t not bring up that (in)famous picture from 2002 where, as a joke, he bought a fake silver shirt and fake leather pants and wore them at an event at our college. For the rest of the year, people who had figured out he was my roommate would come up to me and ask, “Was he serious about those clothes?”

I always loved to respond, “I’m not really sure…”

So yeah, it’s a pretty cool thing when you make plans to catch up with someone from back in the days when Creed and Nickelback were still kind of cool, and then you actually catch up with that person, and you genuinely have a great time.

And selfishly, I’ll admit as a stay-at-home dad, it was nice getting out of the house and hanging out with another guy!

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I am Not Returning My Diploma to Liberty University, Nor Did I Vote for Trump

Perhaps the truly most rebellious stance to have these days is to be neutral… about anything. We live in an undeniably polarized culture where being “outraged” by the behavior of other people is all the rage.

Meanwhile, my goal is to remove myself from a predictable system where I am forced to choose one side (and their ethnocentric agenda), then demonize the other side (along with their own ethnocentric agenda). I refuse to maintain a mindset in which I have to constantly have an emotional response ready for the half of the population…. who is perceptually wrong.

In case you are unaware, a growing number of Liberty University graduates are choosing to return their diplomas to Liberty University, on the basis that the current chancellor, Jerry Falwell Jr., has been openly supportive of controversial President Trump’s policies and responses.

The “Return Your Diploma to LU” movement, which currently contains more than 700 members, even has its own hashtag; which is #grandstander.

This is a buzzing story.

Journalists from secular publications have been quick to reach out to the members of the group. I know this because I’ve been keeping up with the comments on the closed group.

Meanwhile, I personally am proud to have graduated from Liberty University in 2005 with an English Degree. My attendance at Liberty University helped shape my views, my identity, and my future. I am proud, not ashamed, of my diploma from Liberty University.

Of all ironies though, the fact I did not vote for Donald Trump goes back to Dorm 15 at Liberty University back in 2003. It was during my years at LU that I secretly converted from a Republican to a Libertarian.

My friend Ryan, who lived in the dorm room next to mine, was able to convince me through his emotional intelligence, that America will only continue to be more divided and polarized if we continue to only choose one of two popular political sides (with its own non-negotiable agenda), opposed to the other side.

I do not condemn anyone participating in the “Return Your Diploma to LU”.

Nor did I actively support President Trump being elected; in fact, it was during my attendance at Liberty University that I retired my allegiance to the Republican Party.

But who knows, maybe had I not gone to Liberty University, I would still be a Republican today and would have voted for Trump?

Maybe the ultimately irony, though, is that in my attempt to remain neutral in a polarized society, I could still end up causing someone to be outraged.

 

 

dad from day one: Jack’s First White Christmas

Week 6.

During my first summer teaching English in Thailand, I took a week-long vacation to the magical island of Koh Samui, as referenced in the movie Meet the Parents (“Jack speak-a Thai?”).  While there, I went to a highly promoted (via hand-painted street banners) Muay Thai boxing tournament.  Inside the dimly lit warehouse-style building on the outskirts of legitimate commerce, I felt like I was part of the movie Bloodsport staring Jean Claude Van Damme.  Afterwards, as a souvenir, I cut down one of the street banners advertising the event and hung it up in my college dorm at Liberty University the next Fall.  Everyone who saw it laughed at the poor English translation: “Super and Real Fight”.  I mean, it was a real fight, and I would say it was super as well, but for the fight to be super and real in the same adjective phrase just sounds funny.  And that is why I couldn’t title this entry as “Jack’s First and White Christmas”.

In preparing our move from Nashville, TN to Fort Payne, AL (which is located between Birmingham, Chattanooga, and Atlanta), my wife (who is from Sacramento, CA) had asked me if it ever snowed in Alabama.  Though the words “snow” and “Alabama” seem like they don’t go together at all, though do. Just like a lot of people don’t realize that Alabama actually borders the Gulf of Mexico and has several beaches, like Gulf Shores.  I told my wife to expect it to snow a few inches, up to three times a year.  And sure enough, as we woke up around 6 AM Christmas morning to feed and change Jack, we looked out the window to see large snowflakes falling steadily.

A couple of hours later, we drove 0.7 miles to my parents’ house to spend the day with them and my sister and her husband.  Turns out, the snow didn’t stop falling and the temperature remained low.  So the seven of us ending up staying the weekend together, being that the roads were iced over.  One of the gifts my parents bought for Jack was a really cool wagon; ideally for when he gets older. However, when we started getting ready for bed on Christmas night and we were deciding where Jack should sleep, since we hadn’t packed his travel crib, I said, “Well, what about his wagon?” Not many people can say that their first Christmas was a white Christmas and that on top of that, that they slept in a wagon.  But I guess it’s not all that strange, being that we were celebrating a holiday where a baby boy slept in a manger.  We didn’t have a manger for Jack, but we did have a wagon.

Jack is swinging Christmas morning before we left for my parents' house.

We got snowed in.

Jack's presents from his parents.

Jack's presents from the family.

The Four Generations of Shells: Baby Jack is the only Shell boy to carry on the family name.

The Paradox of Claiming to Be Humble and the Irony in Bragging on Your Integrity

While in college at Liberty University, I noticed that I literally walked past thousands of other students every day, most of whom I’d never stop to have a conversation with.  We would recognize each other in the cafeteria as a person who saw while walking to our 9:00 class, but there was no reason to know anything more about each other.  So I messed with the situation.  I started putting on a nametag each day with different information about myself.

Like one day it said “5’ 9”, and another day, “Alabama native”.  Eventually, I started running out of solid facts about myself, so would sometimes use dry humor.  One day, I wrote on my nametag, “VERY HUMBLE”.  Most of my classmates and friends got the joke.  But there were a few that responded, “You’re humble?  Oh…”

The obvious joke is that no one can truly proclaim they are humble and still be humble.  Being humble involves humility; so for a person tell others about positive attributes about themselves, especially being humble, and for no apparent reason, is far from being humble, if the action was meant to be serious.  It makes me think of political commercials where we see the word “INTEGRITY” flash up on the screen over the politician’s face, and at the end, the politician running for office, himself, states that he approves the message.

Any business that sells itself as a company that treats people right makes itself a target as soon as the first company comes along with a perceived injustice.  And that’s why every company has some sort of “complaints department”.   Like how the most religious person in the room’s actions are often looked at through a magnifying glass, then when they do the slightest crude thing, they are remembered for that one random act, making them sort version of a hypocrite.

Of course, that’s the tricky thing about honesty, integrity, and humility: There are extremes and in-betweens.  Not all politicians truly are sleazy.  Not all people in prison are horrible human beings.  Being that no one on Earth is currently perfect, no one is truly completely honest and humble, living in accordance with immaculate integrity.  A good reputation is made over a course of time, through actions.  But even a good reputation is negated once the person is the one to bring attention to it.  Like a man in a good suit, he’s instantly less cool if he brings up his suit in conversation- it’s someone else’s job to brag on him.

Humble and Embarrassing Beginnings: Five Years of the Writings of Nick Shell

An autobiographic look at the Scenic Route Snapshots franchise.

Scenic Route Snapshots: Est. August 2005.

When people show you a picture of themselves from five or more years ago, the tendency is often to laugh at their longer/froey hair and outdated clothing and say, “That was you?” Because ultimately that younger, less experienced version of a person was more naïve and goofier than the version of that person we know today.  Of course, it’s no different for each of us.  We too have many laughable aspects about ourselves when we look back on them, five or more years later.

This month makes exactly five years that I’ve been writing online.  In August 2005 I was in the process of moving from Fort Payne, AL (having just graduated from Liberty University a few months before) to Nashville, TN to start my career in music (which I decided wasn’t what I really wanted to do, after a year of being here).  I starting writing MySpace blogs as a way to document new life pursuing a career in music.  It’s not that my writings were all horrible those first couple of years; looking back, I can actually see some jewels in the gravels.  But for the most part, they were pretty cheesy, not to mention they were all about me and “making my dreams a reality”.

Obviously it was those early years in particular that helped me realize ways to improve my writing, eventually giving birth to The Code.  That means my older writings consistently violated The Code and I’m sure that’s part of the main reason it’s so difficult for me to go back and read them.  But anyone who has ever been successful in any kind of enterprise surely endured the same sort of sloppy early years as well.

Yes, that generic version of what we know as good and relevant was probably not always good and relevant.  Like the episodes of Saved by the Bell with Miss Bliss or the Tracey Ullman version of The Simpsons or the British version of The Office.  Sure, hardcore fans will always approve, but the rest of us know to stay away, lest we become disappointed and somehow allow our idea of a pure thing to become tainted.

And the still, the irony of this whole concept will surely prove itself that much more five years from now, when I use this post as a point of reference to show the place in time where Scenic Route Snapshots really started taking off.  The point where 1,934 were my highest views in one day (happened this week) instead of that being a slow day.  The point where I could admit that humble beginnings were over for Scenic Route Snapshots, yet the big break had not happened yet.

What started in August of 2005 as a goofy blog that just a handful of my friends read has evolved into an actual website that currently receives around 1,000 hits per day.  I sure don’t know where the future of Scenic Route Snapshots is going, but as long as I can still claim to be a writer who never experiences writer’s block, the posts will keep being born.

Bonus!

Read my very first “blog” from August 16, 2005, entitled “I Choose to Be a Fatalist” at the bottom of the page at this link:

http://www.myspace.com/nickshell1983/blog?page=13

It was this 2005 version of me that laid the ground work to get me where I am today.

Adventures in Thailand: Man Cave Time Machine

What’s the difference between 1) our memories of actually events and 2) our memories of old dreams?  In theory, not a lot.

The events that have taken place in real life can actually change the course of history and can produce tangible souvenirs such as photographs which can be taken to prove them in the future, whereas the events that occur in a dream do not really have the ability to do those things (though sometimes dreams do predict the future or inspire a person to “be a better person”).

Whether it’s a remembered actual event or a remembered dream, either way, it’s in the past now and it’s just a memory.

If we could take away the two exceptions, that actual events change the course of history and can produce tangible souvenirs whereas dreams don’t, how is a six year-old memory different than a six year-old dream?

In the summer of 2004, my friend Josh and I rode “motorcycles” (they were more like mopeds) 40 miles outside of the mountain city of Chiang Mai in Thailand, in order to find an ancient cave where few tourists ever bothered to visit.  There were no signs in English once we got there.  No English-speaking guides.  All we knew it that it cost non-Thai people $4 to go into the cave and another dollar for a lantern to actually see around inside the place.

As we got to the back of the cave, our guide pointed behind him to what appeared to be a bottomless pit.  I picked up a rock on the cave floor and tossed it into the abyss and finally after about ten seconds, I faintly heard it hit the bottom.  I immediately imagined that centuries ago, prisoners were thrown down to the bottom only to be met by hungry lions.

There’s no doubt, Josh and I are some of the few American people to have visited the forsaken Chiang Dao Cave in Thailand.  Let’s assume that I don’t embed pictures of that event into this post and that nothing happened that day that changed the course of history (and it in deed, didn’t).

In theory, the events I told about in that Thai cave memory only actually happened because I said they did, a theory that I brought to life in Snail Trails.  Especially if Josh forgot about us going to that cave.  No souvenirs.  No life-changing actions.

So what if I only dreamed that event happened?  What if while I stayed in Chiang Mai I only drove by the signs for Chiang Dao Cave, but never took the time to visit it?  What if all I did was just dream that Josh and I actually went there?

How would that dream be any different than it really happening?

For another related post, here’s The Interstate to Memory Lane

my roommate Josh from Liberty University

the 2004 version of me either trapped in the actual Chiang Dao Cave or in a dream

Sounds Like Someone’s Got a Case of the “What If’s?”

If you could “redo”, would you?  Should you?

It’s only natural to think, “If only I could go back in time with the knowledge I know now…”  That goes through my head way more than it should.  About all kinds of things from my past.  But to be able to do that would mean I would have the mind of a 28 year-old and the body of a kid.  Unfair advantage.

I’m sure it all goes back to the hidden (male) feeling of inadequacy:

I should have made a point to build stronger friendships with certain people in high school and been more involved with school events, like decorating of the halls for Homecoming Week which I skipped out on.

I should have focused more on writing while I was in college.

I should have just gone to the University of Alabama and saved my parents thousands of dollars instead of going to a private college in Virginia.

Here’s the irony.  If I would have done those things differently like I “should have” done, I wouldn’t have gained the experience that I have know to even though that those things were what I would have wanted.

I would have probably just have ended up more confused with even more “should have’s”.

So I here am, still paying off college debts because I was “supposed to” go to Liberty University in Virgina.  When I could have just gone to Alabama.

In theory, if I could go back and do things in the parallel What If Universe, I would have been more confident in high school, I wouldn’t be in debt because of college, and I would have gotten a more specific education and would now be a famous author with a major book deal and a 40 state tour to sell my book, Scenic Route Snapshots.  They end up making a movie from my book, starring James Franco.

That’s me totally romanticizing my life.

But I’m here instead.  A great life.  I wouldn’t change a thing.

I just have to quiet that daydreaming tendency in me that wonders “what if?” Of course if I really lived in that What If Universe, I have a feeling I would still end up in the same place.  Dang flash-sideways.  Actually, things would probably be less desirable.

I would always be wondering how my life would have been different had I left the state of Alabama after high school graduation.  I would always be curious about that exotic life I never got to live.  I would be envious of the life I live now.

It’s often easiest to want the things we can never have.  Like the ability to go back and live in the What If Universe.

Whether or not my life would be changed, I couldn’t say the same for the lives of a few others in my life.  The reason my sister and her husband met was because of where I went to college.  Out of state.  The kids they end up having, in some fashion, I helped bring them into existence by my random dream to go to college in Lynchburg, Virginia.

And another married couple I brought together unintentionally:  During my senior year of college I ran the front desk of Liberty University’s brand new state-of-the-art student center, equipped with an Olympic sized pool and 6 basketball court.  I worked the early morning shift with a girl named Jen.  Every morning these two funny guys named Chris and Jesse came in to work out in the gym.

A few months went by of the usual random conversations I would have with them as they came in. The whole time, Jen was right there sitting beside me- the more soft-spoken one of us who observed and participated in our conversations of the day:  “Which movie is scarier?  The original Willy Wonka or The Wizard of Oz?”

For my birthday that year, Chris and Jesse performed a special dance and song they had written just for me, with the lyrics, “Naughty Nick, naughty, naughty Nick…” The corresponding dance moves involved syncopated pelvic thrusts and a finale where they pulled underwear out of their shorts and left them on the floor as a birthday souvenir.   (Check the comments on the “About the Author” tab on this site.  Jesse recently reminded me of all this, bringing this post into existence.)

Soon after, I took off a day from work.  I returned the next day to find out that Jen agreed to go on a date with Chris- a motorcycle ride and dinner, to be exact.  That was five years ago.  They have since been married and recently had their first child.

What if?  What if I wouldn’t have forced my friendly abstract banter with those two guys day after day?  Would Jen and Chris have broken the ice?  Or would he have just been another guy going to the gym have morning and she just another girl checking for student ID’s at the front desk?

Have I changed their lives forever by playing an off-beat pawn that caused them both to be on the same track?

The same could be said for John, the guy who introduced my wife and me to each other.

Thank God for all the times we don’t get to live out the “what if’s?”  My guess is that it’s often the somewhat seemingly bland path we did choose that leads us to take the scenic route.  And that leads us to the things we love most about our lives.

For the more comical version, read “Must Punch Punk Kid in Face”  http://wp.me/pxqBU-F5