(The following feature on yours truly appeared in the Jan. 23-29 edition of the Yankton County Observer. You have been warned. BUT, on a serious note, I do really want to thank the Observer staff for giving me the opportunity to air my thoughts in a public forum. It was an honor to be asked to be a part of their weekly “Off the Cuff” feature.)
Name: Nathan Johnson
Birthday: November 12, 1978
Birthplace: Osmond, Nebraska
Education: English and History degrees from Mount Marty College
Occupation: Communications Coordinator at Avera Sacred Heart Hospital
Family: Parents: Roy Jr. and Nancy Johnson; and brothers: Ben and Chris
Favorite childhood memory: Picking strawberries and eating them out of my mother’s or grandmother’s garden while taking a break from “work” on my sprawling backyard toy farm.
Growing up, I wanted to be an: astrophysicist or nuclear physicist (That was before I realized math is hard.)
First job: Feeding calves with my grandpa.
Prized possession: Whichever film, book or song I happen to be enjoying at any given moment …
All-time favorite movie: If you know me, you know this is an excruciating question for me to answer. So I hope you’ll be so kind as to let me parse my response. If we were to go by number of views, it would most likely be “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” That film was a comedic revolution in my world as a sixth grader, so it was studied endlessly. But if I could only take one film with me to the desert island, it might very well be Terrence Malick’s 2011 opus “The Tree of Life.” It would provide plenty to reflect upon as isolation tightened its grip upon my mind.
I would stay home to watch: “Doctor Who.” The Doctor is one of the greatest heroes I’ve ever encountered in fiction and is a role model for my life.
Best movie I’ve seen recently: “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Best book I’ve read recently: “Love Letters to the Dead” by Ava Dellaira
Favorite author: Vladimir Nabokov. Why? Here is an example: “Listen: I am ideally happy. My happiness is a kind of challenge. As I wander along the streets and the squares and the paths by the canal, absently sensing the lips of dampness through my worn soles, I carry proudly my ineffable happiness. The centuries will roll by, and schoolboys will yawn over the history of our upheavals; everything will pass, but my happiness, dear, my happiness will remain, in the moist reflection of a streetlamp, in the cautious bend of stone steps that descend into the canal’s black waters, in the smiles of a dancing couple, in everything with which God so generously surrounds human loneliness.”
Favorite sports team: Nebraska Cornhuskers
Favorite athlete: Teen Wolf from the classic 1985 Michael J. Fox vehicle, “Teen Wolf.”
Favorite performers: Gary Oldman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Jessica Chastain, Samuel T. Herring (of Future Islands), comedian Doug Stanhope, Tim and Eric … and I’ll stop there because that’s where I need to take a breath …
Hobbies: Writing, blogging and consuming as much film, music and literature as my mind can handle. I also enjoy a good bourbon or scotch with friends.
Three things that can always be found in my fridge: cheese, salsa, beef sticks
If I have any warning, my last meal will be: Let’s assume I have short notice, so I’ve got to stay in town. It will be a grand buffet of Tokyo, Charlie’s Pizza, Mexico Viejo and El Tapatio. I feel sorry for the mortician, but a person shouldn’t go out on an empty stomach.
Least favorite food: Celery has always seemed rather pointless to me.
Greatest fear: That when I die, it will be on my porcelain “throne” in the “home office.” I’d like to die with some dignity, and I think it will be hard to accomplish in that situation.
Pet peeve: People who say, “Everything happens for a reason.” That’s certainly true, but not in the way they mean it.
Three words that best describe me: Introverted, Curious, Kind (None of those bad words you associate with me, of course.)
People would be surprised to know I: have been listening to The Carpenters a lot recently. I love Karen’s voice.
My girlfriend says I: I am single, but my hypothetical girlfriend would say I should stay. I’ll let Brett Anderson of Suede explain: “And oh if you stay/ I’ll chase the rain-blown fields away/We’ll shine like the morning and sin in the sun/Oh if you stay/We’ll be the wild ones, running with the dogs today.”
I hope I never have to: hear Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” again. Please. Have mercy on me.
I’ve never been able to: figure out the contents of my Great American Novel. They are very elusive and don’t respond to threats.
I wish I could stop: succumbing to the shackles of self-doubt. Also, I wish that, deep in my heart, I could believe there is something funnier in this world than flatulence. But every time I think I’ve dug down far enough to excavate that weakness for juvenile humor, someone let’s out a squeaker and I am left breathless and in tears from the ensuing laughter. I guess thousands of years of evolution have made us all comedians.
I’m better than most at: listening.
I could be better at: listening. Really, there is so much power in listening to people. And, sometimes, after listening to someone, you’ve got to have the strength to tell them that maybe they should talk less and listen more. Active listening also requires action.
I’m proud that: I survived a real-life sh** storm. Stop laughing. It’s true. Please refrain from referring to your “crappy week” around me. It triggers flashbacks.
I regret: that I often allow my shyness, especially with people I don’t know, to prevent me from engaging with others who could probably teach me a lot and provide me with rich experiences.
Best time of my life: is any time I can gather with good friends and make them laugh. (Little-known fact: I have a sense of humor.)
Worst time of my life: was my grad school experience, which ultimately had me jumping out of the ivory tower for the refuge of the real world.
Most embarrassing moment: Growing up, I had a tendency to throw up occasionally in gym class or at football practice. People noticed.
The most interesting place I’ve traveled to: Austin, Texas, always provides me with fun, thought-provoking and, as advertised, weird experiences.
If I could travel in time, I would visit: the year 2100 to see how climate change has impacted the earth and humanity. Maybe we’ll have found a way to counteract it. Or maybe we’ll be wishing those stubborn idiots at the beginning of the previous century (who, us?) had done more to cut carbon emissions.
I’d like to have a dollar for every time I: hear people say they don’t want to see a raise in any taxes. I could donate them to school districts across South Dakota and end our education funding crisis that the majority of our state’s residents don’t seem all that interested in addressing. If they were, it wouldn’t be getting worse after all these years. That’s not to say that taxes alone are the answer, but they will almost certainly play a role. That’s my stinger for the evening, folks. Good night! You’ve been a terrific audience.
The most interesting person I’ve met was: Father Leonard Kayser, my great uncle. I’ve always looked up to him as a man who advocates for all human beings despite whatever differences or shortcomings they may have in the eyes of others. He recognizes human frailty and the difficult decisions that come with life, and he has offered understanding and encouragement to those struggling with those realities.
Worst idea I’ve ever had: It’s hard to single out one, but how about the time I chose to slide down a piece of a metal grain bin with my hand on its sharp edge? That resulted in some screams for Mom and stitches in three fingers.
Behind my back, friends say that: if I were a flavor of ice cream, I’d be more cookies and cream than vanilla.
Major accomplishment: I’ve earned the friendship of some really great, supportive people in my life who keep me grounded, optimistic and inspired.
Future goal: Yeah, I will take more of the above, please. … And I’d like to run for public office.
A great evening to me is: good friends, good food, good spirits and … I should probably stop there.
When nobody’s looking, I: make hand gestures in front of electric doors in order to create for myself the illusion that I have super powers. It’s a real thrill.
The best thing about my job is: I am able to help a non-profit organization provide health care on a daily basis. It is important work, and I am proud of what 15,000 Avera employees are able to accomplish every day.
The most challenging thing about my job is: that, at the age of 36, I’m having to exercise parts of my brain I haven’t used in a while. I’m in a new environment that demands different skills, so I’ve been trying to get into a new groove.
The thing I like most about Yankton is: it feels like home.
Something I’d like to see changed in the area is: more of a focus on public art and public spaces that bring people together, inspire them and, therefore, strengthen our communities socially and economically. Those are features that can truly give communities an identity and help them create a lasting legacy.
One thing that really makes me angry is: how income and wealth inequality are causing our society to fragment and grow more desperate. This inequality has led to a decline in fairness and opportunity in many respects for the vast majority of people who live in this country and other places around the world facing the same challenges. A steady stream of studies is showing how destructive the accumulation of wealth into too few hands has on society. Unfortunately, they don’t really seem to be sparking any serious re-evaluations of our economic system.
If I’ve learned one thing in life, it’s: that kindness is more important that intelligence, beauty or any other attributes humans often long to attain. A little kindness can go a long way, and a lot of kindness would make this world a much more hospitable place for humans during their relatively short stay on it.
If I had something to do over, I would: probably procrastinate too long to do it over.
I can die happy once I’ve: come to terms with the insignificance of mankind in the scheme of the universe. So much human struggle is tied to the idea that there is something that makes us exceptional. I think it’s important for us to recognize that ultimately we are no more significant than anything else we may encounter — a dog, a flower or a cloud. Everything is made from the same stuff. We are exceptional in the sense that we have the intelligence and drive to destroy things on a large scale. Therefore, I think we are charged with using what intelligence we have as humans to cooperate with each other — to be kind to one another — and preserve and protect the world that surrounds us. Once I truly comprehend all of that, I’ll be able to die happy. I’ve got some work to do!
At my funeral, I hope people say: I’m glad we aren’t having ham sandwiches again at a funeral. This sushi is great! By the way, what is this green stuff in the rolls? Soylent green, you say? Wow, that’s delicious. What great taste Nathan had. Wait! Taste? Nathan? Soylent green!? (Cue the “Twilight Zone” music …)