Heisenberg

As some of you read the title you will immediately know the content of this post. For others of you, maybe you think about a more traditional person associated with this name: Werner Heisenberg, the inventor of quantum mechanics. Actually, I need to be honest, and think that most of you would not have first thought of the inventor of the German theoretical physicist even if you did not know that Heisenberg is the lead character of the currently best show on television: Breaking Bad. To commemorate my favorite show (and really the only show that I have time to watch) my wife bought me a shirt with the following:

Tonight is the grand finale!! I mean the last episode of the last season that they will make, concluding the 5th season of the show that started in 2008. If you have not watched the series, you could have indubitably seen one of the many spoofs or remakes done of the series due to its wide popularity.  But as one not to easily follow the crowd, I don’t intend that you will either. I don’t particularly think that because more people watch something it means that it will be good. I do probably put a little more weight on ratings of a show, or the amount of awards it has received. To give you a little snapshot, Breaking Bad has a 9.4 out of 10 rating on IMDb. For those of you who don’t frequent the site, that’s a pretty big deal. There is only one other show in the database that has a higher rating, which is Planet Earth, an outstanding BBC documentary series. It has won several Primetime Emmys including Best Drama, Best Actor,  and Best Supporting Actress and Actor multiple years. It is nominated this year for 4 Golden Globes and has won over 45 awards in total. My point is: A lot of people have come to the right decision. Breaking bad is awesome.

For those of you foreign to the concept of the show, Walter White (W.W.) (a.k.a. Heisenberg) was a high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with lung-cancer. Walter, who is actually a chemistry genius on top of being a high school teacher, decides to cook up the purest meth he is able with a former student of his. The story gets very complicated very quickly as Walter tried to keep his 2 lives separate.

If you are at this point and have not heard about Breaking Bad that is ok. If you have heard the awards and ratings and just aren’t that into it, that is ok too. But let me tell you briefly why I enjoy the show, and you can decide for yourself.

Breaking Bad deals with issues of morality. W.W.’s early decisions force the viewer to challenge the grey space they have created of right and wrong; playing on the emotions that are drawn from good intentions. Most shows these days will reveal a good and a bad side of any issue. Pitting the “good” and “bad” against each other seems like an easy story line when analyzing the complexity of Walter’s character. Walter pushes you deeper into the implications of his choices with every episode. Breaking Bad takes the viewer to a place where you can see how it is possible for this situation to be real. The cheap tricks are kept to a minimum. Pride is the worst enemy of Walter, however he has many moments where he seems to skirt off the effects of its control. Without resorting to spoilers I hope that you have been able to see some of the reasons that I personally pick Breaking Bad as my favorite show. If you need more convincing, you can take a look at a promo trailer (but beware it contains spoilers).

If you are a fan yourself and watched the finale tonight, what were your thoughts? Do you feel complete or lacking? What was it that connected you to the story?

Or what doubts do you have about the show? Had you already given up home on quality TV before watching? Let me know your thoughts.

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Costa Rica

One of the things that my wife and I love to do is travel. I guess it has kind of been a staple in our relationship. She asked me on our second date whether there was any possibility that I would move to Germany! Pretty bold question, but I guess it didn’t scare me off and was enough of an incentive to stick it out and see where the relationship went. After dating a while, visiting Germany and our future employer Unterwegs, we were engaged, married and moved to Germany for 2 years to work at a campus ministry in the southwest part of Germany. During our time living in central Europe we took advantage of the close proximity and cheap travel to many of the neighboring countries. As this was the first 2 years of our marriage, it also became formative for a lot of interests as a couple. And what did we do a lot of together? Travel!

So as this past Thursday was our 3 year anniversary and I have a flexibility in my schedule and we have had a pretty rough past 2 weeks and my wife receives flight benefits through her job and I am about to finish this blog post in about an hour, we are going to fly to Costa Rica in the morning. To tell you the truth I have no idea what to do or see in Costa Rica and have not put one thought into what will happen tomorrow because I have been so busy getting school work done to be able to do this at all. And I’ll tell you, as a graduate student, there is a lot to do.  I am sure that many you can relate. So why don’t we take a little time to look at some of the reasons to travel to Costa Rica, other than the fact that your wife really wants to.

 

From a social work perspective, I was drawn first to some of the social and health related facts, which are very surprising. Here is a quote from Wikipedia:

The New Economics Foundation (NEF) ranked Costa Rica first in its 2009 Happy Planet Index, and once again in 2012. The index measures the health and happiness they produce per unit of environmental input.[17][18] According to NEF, Costa Rica’s lead is due to its very high life expectancy which is second highest in the Americas, and higher than the United States. The country also experienced well-being higher than many richer nations and a per capita ecological footprint one third the size of the U.S.[97]
 

It is also interesting to note that Costa Rica’s healthcare system is ranked higher than that of the US despite having a lower GDP. However, many people aren’t going to be interested in visiting a country because of their health care system. What other characteristics should we know as a tourist in the country? One primary fact is that the climate is tropical year round! I guess if you are going on a 2 day vacation, then you probably want it to be in a tropical country.

Many of Costa Rica’s developments could stem from the fact that it is the oldest democracy in Latin America, founded before 1950. Costa Rica also abolished its army permanently in 1949. A British think-tank called the New Economics Foundation listed Costa Rica as the greenest country in the world, a partial result from the country announcing their desire in 2007 to become the first carbon-neutral country in the world by 2021.

Are you interested in traveling to Costa Rica? At least now more than before? Are you at least armed with more random trivia facts for your next trivia night challenge? I hope some or all of these are true and will bring back a little more first person perspective to share. Hopefully the have a different dress code than the Austrians.

 

So do you have any random trip stories? The last minute planned road trips or drives to the beach at 2 in the morning? Share some of your own travel adventures or dreams below!

My most awkward story

I guess while we are on the topic of talking about stories it would be most appropriate to share one. My father is the master storyteller. His stories have such vivid detail and draw you into the suspense of his seemingly always hilarious life. Whether it be from years ago as a child or his most recent struggle trying to fix something that he really doesn’t know how to fix, his stories I believe shaped my appreciation for not only the story but the storyteller.

My story takes place on one of my greatest adventures. Between my junior and senior year at Auburn University I took a summer off to travel through Europe with my roommate at the time. The difference between this trip and many that people make through Europe is that we decided that we would make this trip by bike. We started training as we could, riding back and forth between my parents house and University which was about 30 miles. The physical training was good and prepared us as it could for the physical aspects of the journey. What we weren’t prepared for was all of the stories that we would have while traveling 6 weeks, through 8 countries, at close to 2,000 miles. And stories we had.

The most fun story to tell, one normally only reserved for friends after those long evenings where everyone is sharing something funny or personal from their own lives, is one that I typically introduce as the most awkward moment of my life.

So leaving Vienna it is a perfect sunny Sunday afternoon. The weather couldn’t be more perfect. Sun is shining, nice cool breeze. People are grilling or having a picnic, kids are laughing. You just want to be outside on a day like this. And that is what most people were doing; enjoying the weather. My roommate and I had just started making our way out of the city following the Danube river along a nice scenic route. The buildings started to disappear as we moved farther away from the city. The other thing that started to disappear were people’s clothes. The droves of people lining the river bank began to have less and less clothes on as we continued our journey. 1 mile, 2 miles. I didn’t know there could be that many people without clothes on. My roommate and I didn’t say a word, both knowing that if we didn’t talk and looked straight ahead it would make for the fastest exit from the apparent nude section of the Danube. But the awkwardness was just beginning.

At one point something scary happened. Something that is scary in and of itself, but surrounded by a mob of naked people begins to take on a whole new meaning. My roommate was riding in front of me on the concrete path when I saw the situation unfold. There was a very naked woman on the right of the path. Not much farther than anyone else, but the thing that made this woman different was what she was doing. She was calling across the path to someone or something. That something was a little dog that I would soon find out she loved very much. This dog that she loved however did not have the know how to avoid 2 bikers moving at about 18 MPH. This little ran right in front of my roommate and got hit by at least the front tire of his bike, letting out a high-pitched little dog yelp that caught the attention of every naked body around. My roommate (the smart one) decides it is in his and everyone’s best interest to just keep riding. Me being behind him and seeing the reaction of the woman’s face, I stop. This woman began to scream at both of us in a language that neither one of us understand. I try to explain that I only speak English and that I am very sorry, at which the still very naked, and at this point almost distraught woman almost crying yells, “Just because you only speak English it’s no reason for your friend to run over my dog!” Being the generally empathetic person that I am, there was an urge to comfort this bare-chested woman who was in obvious emotional distress, but my own survival instinct proved to be a stronger force in this case. I say this because by the time we are actually having this dialogue I realize that the little dog yelp had in fact caught the attention of the naked sun-bathers, and in turn created a naked mob of defenders of the woman with the little yelping dog. The fear of being jumped by an angry naked mob overcame me, I quickly apologized, got on my bike, and rode away to catch up to my roommate.

This story I promise you is true and something that I really couldn’t have made up if I wanted to. I hope you enjoyed it and encourage you to share your own awkward story in the comments. Let me know what you think about the story or if you would have done anything differently.

What makes a good story?

From walking through Barnes and Noble you can get a very quite understanding that storytelling is important. And I say that not because there are so many novels, but because there are so many books on storytelling itself. These books are also not written for novelists or, even more elementary, for writers. Storytelling is an idea that has been distilled for every use. It is and has been at the core of our culture since we had a culture. (That means we always had it). We see stories every time we see a commercial. Sometimes there stories aren’t even related to a product, but they connect to us on a deeper level. And the marketing firm that created that ad knows that if they can connect you to a story, have a positive or moving experience related to that story, then that emotion is going to be related to their product. Obviously sometimes this works really well, and sometimes we see right through it. Sometimes they just make us sit on the edge of our seat:

Good stories hold elements that evoke emotion, whether that be fear, suspense, inspiration, awe, happiness, or joy. In addition to the massively overproduced and sensationalized examples of storytelling (as above) I am interested in telling real stories, of real people and their struggles. I believe that this is a major reason that I have chosen social work and that I worked for a non-profit for 3 years working with the homeless and then another for 2 years working with college students in Germany. Working with a non-profit one of the important, but often overlooked aspects of your job is storytelling.

Michael Morgolis gives an entire section and talk on his blog GetStoried.com about the importance of developing your storytelling skills to advance your non-profit work. I really enjoy a few of the points that he makes in his talk. One aspect of storytelling that he particularly focuses on is Authenticity. Michael states, “Authenticity comes from experience. What do you have the natural authority to speak to?” Who better than the non-profit to be able to tell an authentic story. Working with clients in poverty or that are overcoming large obstacles, the social worker is in a key place to hear, earnestly and intentionally, the story of their clients. If the clients that we as social workers are able to listen to are willing to share their story with funders and potentially the larger community, the impact becomes even more real. People always relate to human experience. If we are practitioners are able to harness the already existing story that exists in each one of our clients, we can begin to make a larger impact in our communities, connecting to more than just our clients’ stories individually and as an organization.