Exit 158. Staring at this picture on my wall.

I’m really late this week.  It’s summer, I’m not working, and my routine is all off.  And I don’t really have anything on my mind to write about.

Earlier today, I was staring at this picture on my wall, wondering why it was still there.

kid icarus death star with name blurred.jpg

“Pit from Kid Icarus Attacks the Death Star.”  Artist: me, 2011.  Colored pencils on paper.

As I’ve mentioned before, I spent most of 2011 in a relationship with “Acrux,” who moved away a couple months into our relationship, making this decision without even telling me until it was a done deal.  A couple weeks after we moved, she Skyped me from a coffee shop.  Her dad was in a band that often played at this coffee shop’s weekly open mic night, and she showed me their band on Skype and introduced me to her best friend and some of the regulars at the coffee shop.  Acrux and her friend were playing a game where each one would give the other a topic to draw.  They asked if I wanted to play, I said sure, and they gave me the topic of Pit attacking the Death Star.

That was a good night.  That is what I thought a long distance relationship would be like.  As my long term readers and friends know, it wasn’t like that at all.  In the four months that we stayed together, we only Skyped three more times; I pretty much had to beg to get her to spend that time with me, and she wasn’t all that attentive to begin with.  That was pretty much the way things always were with us.

So why did I leave this picture on my wall, even though I got rid of a lot of other things that reminded me of Acrux after we broke up?  I don’t know.  Maybe because it’s awesome.  And funny.

And why am I writing about it today?  I don’t know.  Why not?

Exit 157. Mystery blogger award.

Hi, friends.  Alli over at Hey Worms tagged me in something called the “Mystery Blogger Award.”  I’m not sure what’s so mysterious about it, but it gives me a topic for this week’s post, and this was a busy week, away from my usual routine, so an award like this with the topic all spelled out for me is just what I need.  By the way, go check out Alli’s page; you’ll be glad you did.

So I have to do all of this stuff:

  • Thank whoever nominated you and leave a link to their blog.
    (Done, see first paragraph)
  • Mention the creator of the award
    (The creator is someone called Okoto.  I don’t follow Okoto’s site; maybe I should go check it out one of these days.)
  • Tell your readers 3 things about yourself
  • Nominate 10-20 people
  • Ask nominees any 5 questions of your choice
  • Share the link to your best/favorite post of yours.

I guess I’m on the step where I have to tell three things about myself. I did another one of these blog award things a few months ago where I had to tell things about myself, so I’m not going to repeat any of those things.

  1. I’ve been to 112 different In-N-Out Burgers.  In-N-Out Burger is a drive-thru burger place that started in the 1940s near Los Angeles.  Their menu has stayed pretty simple over the years: burgers, fries, shakes, drinks, that’s it.  No chicken nuggets or salads or kale and broccoli wraps with pine nuts or anything.  They were exclusively located in southern California until the early 1990s; since then, they have expanded to over 300 locations in six states in the western and southwestern US.  I had my first In-N-Out Burger in late 1997 and was instantly hooked.  Two friends from college (one of whom was Jeff from 80isenough, a frequent commenter on this site) were talking about taking a road trip in the summer of 1998 to go to every single In-N-Out Burger in existence (there were 130 of them at the time).  They never did it, but that inspired me to go to as many different ones as I could, just for fun.  So if I’m on a road trip through a part of the country with In-N-Out Burger restaurants, I’ll take a little side trip to check one off my list, or sometimes I’ll go to two or three of them and only get one item at each one so I can check off more than one.
  2. I’ve never had kale, as far as I know.  I make fun of kale all the time, but I don’t really have an opinion on it; it’s just easy to make fun of.  Kale is basically the Nickelback of vegetables.
  3. Let’s see, how about one that isn’t about food… My first gray hair and my first kiss on the lips came in the same year, in that order.  That could mean that I started getting gray hair unusually young, or that could mean I didn’t kiss anyone until I was older than most.  I’ll let you decide which one you think is true.

I’m also supposed to answer questions that Alli asked to the people she nominated.  For some reason, that isn’t on the list of things to do that I got.  Hmm.

  1. What is one big decision you made in your life that could have changed everything?  I’m not entirely sure about the wording of this question, but I’ll say that I quit my job in 2005, spent four months traveling trying to find myself, and eventually moved to where I am now.  Had I not done that, I probably would have stayed in the same job where I was, as I gradually became more and more cynical and felt more and more out of place, and more and more disillusioned with Christianity since one of the major reasons I moved was because I couldn’t find a church.  I probably would have reached my breaking point of being tired of life a few years later, when California was in a budget crisis and not hiring teachers.  Maybe I would have moved out of state.  Would that have been better or worse than the life I have now in the long run?  I don’t know.
  2. Would you rather be poor and in love or rich without a partner?  I can’t decide, because either one is an improvement over being poor without a partner.  I should point out, though, that I’m really not poor from the perspective of how most people on planet Earth live.  This is also a tough question because I don’t really don’t know what it feels like to be in love in a healthy way.  I’ve experienced all of the pain of relationships with little to none of the good times.  Even my five months in my late 20s with Vega the Nice Ex weren’t really representative of what it’s like to be in love, because that was a medium-distance relationship and we only saw each other in person a couple times a month.  My gut instinct is to say I’d rather be poor and in love, but sometimes I wonder if maybe being in love isn’t right for me.  I’d have someone around all the time.  Would that be difficult for me as an introvert?  I still tend to think that if I were really with the right person, we’d find a way to work it out.  So I’ll go with poor and in love.
  3. What’s a fun fact you know that most might not?  Are you kidding?  Just one?  I’m full of fun facts that most people might not know.  I’ll go with this one that most of my real life friends have heard me say: “Business Route 80” in Sacramento (an old routing of Interstate 80 that has since been bypassed) is actually state highway 51 on paper.  Caltrans doesn’t want to put 51 on signs, because apparently they think that this would be too confusing having highways 50 and 51 in the same city.  Apparently having two different highway 80s in the same city is less confusing, but this kind of nonsense is typical of California’s state government.
  4. What is one of your favorite lyrics?  My screen name on this and several other sites is literally one of my favorite lyrics, so I should probably go with that one.
    Live a life less ordinary
    Live a life extraordinary with me
    — Carbon Leaf, “Life Less Ordinary” (2004)
  5. Why did the chicken cross the road?  Because the chicken was moving with a velocity vector that intersected the line of the road, for enough time that the absolute value of the coordinate of this intersection point minus the coordinate of the chicken continued to decrease until it became negative.

Next, I have to nominate 10-20 people.  I don’t like this step, because some people like doing these and some don’t.  So I’ll nominate anyone reading this.  If you want to do this post in your blog, or other social media site, go for it.  And if you are, these are your five questions:

  1. What is one of your favorite bands that most people have not heard of?
  2. What was a time when something that happened in a way that you didn’t want ended up being better in the long run?
  3. If someone made a movie about your life, who should play you?
  4. Have you ever met someone in a really unusual, noteworthy, or humorous way, and ended up becoming really close with the other person?  Tell me about it.
  5. Are we there yet?

And finally, I have to link to my favorite of my own posts.  This is a hard one… but I’m probably going to go with #86, in which I discussed the correct pronunciation of the term “.gif.”  People get so worked up over this, and it says some interesting things about us and language.

 

Exit 156. More than I’d like to admit.

Yesterday at church, the topic of the prodigal son’s older brother came up.  For those of you who don’t know the story (Luke 15:11-32), Jesus tells a story of a wealthy man with two sons.  One of them tells his father screw you, I don’t want to wait for you to die, give me the inheritance so I can go blow it all on booze and hookers (paraphrased).  After doing so, he eventually runs out of money, finding himself poor and doing a humiliating job just to stay alive.  He decides to go back to his family, apologize, and offer to work on his father’s farm to make up for wasting his share of the family fortune.  But before he even has the chance to beg his father for a job, his father rejoices that his son has returned and prepares a feast for him.

The man’s other son does not share in the joyful mood, however.  He says, essentially, hey, wait a minute, I’ve been loyal and faithful all my life, so why don’t I get a party? Why are you celebrating this jerk who abandoned the family fortune and blew it all on hookers?  Dad replies, essentially, I still love you, but we have to celebrate because your lost brother is found.

The story is an illustration of God’s love for his people and his desire to bring us back into relationship with Him, even with all our sins and mistakes and mess.  God sent Jesus to die for the sins of all human beings, not just the Jews.  The brother in the story represents the Pharisees, the leaders of the Jews in Jesus’ time who were obsessed with their rules and their way of life.  They were unable to accept Jesus because he did not fit their narrow-minded idea of what the coming Messiah would be like.  They resented the fact that Jesus was reaching out to tax collectors, prostitutes, and those on the fringes of society, while criticizing the Pharisees’ narrow-minded views despite their outward, yet empty, displays of devotion.

I was thinking about this, and I realized that I’m more like the prodigal son’s brother than I like to admit.  I often find myself a bit resentful when people’s lives still involve all the things I was always told was wrong, yet they manage to be happy and successful and find the kind of church involvement and fellowship that I’ve been struggling to find for the last decade.  Hey, wait a minute, I’ve been loyal and faithful, so why don’t I get all that?

If I’m ever going to be happy, I need to put an end to this kind of thinking now.  I have no right to feel this way, and my attitude is exactly that of the people that Jesus criticized most harshly.  For one thing, I haven’t been loyal and faithful.  I’m not perfect.  I am a sinner saved by grace, just like everyone who has made me feel resentful, and I should be thanking God for this.  My supposed outward signs of piety aren’t what is important here.  And I can’t keep comparing my life to that of others.  I have to let go of everything I had once hoped for that isn’t going to happen now.

I know in my head exactly what is wrong with this line of thinking.  The hard part is actually changing the way my mind works…

Exit 155. Light at the end of the tunnel.

I can see a light at the end of the tunnel.  In a few days, I will be finished with this school year.

The end of the year is always a bittersweet time.  I’m glad to have a break coming up.  But I’m definitely going to miss some of the students.  Although their math skills left much to be desired at times, this year’s students really were sweethearts for the most part.  Of course, many of them I will still see walking the halls next year (but then, last year’s students who are finishing middle school entirely I won’t see around anymore), and there are always a few every year that I stay in touch with.

The end of a school year is also a good time to reflect.  I can look back and think about how this year went, and what I can do differently next year.  I had some ideas for things I could do differently this year, and once the school year started, and I became overwhelmed by many other changes made across the whole school, my ideas didn’t get implemented well.  It didn’t work the way I had expected it to.  So I’ll try again next year, and it will be better now that I know how this year turned out.

This is also a good time to reflect on my personal life.  I have some time off coming up, obviously, and that is the perfect opportunity to do things out of my comfort zone.  Sometime in the next few days, I’m going to write a list of goals for my summer break.  It sounds kind of clichéd, but I’ve done this a couple times in the past, and it really did help me do something out of character that I wouldn’t ordinarily do on at least one occasion.  I don’t know yet what will be on my list, and I don’t know yet if I’m ready to share my entire list, whatever it ends up being.

I often feel pressure at the beginning of summer vacation, like I have to make this the best summer EVER!!!.  And I often feel pressure at the end, because of everything I wanted to happen over the summer that didn’t happen.  I’m trying not to worry about all that and just enjoy life.

Exit 154. I don’t want to be the kind of guy that old country songs are about.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a very large and diverse music collection.  I haven’t taken the time to learn my way around streaming music services, for a variety of reasons, but that’s another discussion for another time.

Earlier this month, I made an overnight trip to visit some relatives I don’t see often, which resulted in me spending a lot of time in the car with my six thousand plus songs playing on shuffle, and this song came on.

(The song is “The Girl From Yesterday” by the Eagles, with the late Glenn Frey on vocals.  Apparently, this is one of their lesser known songs, and there is no official YouTube video, so if in the future someone is ever reading this, and the link doesn’t work anymore, let me know and I’ll try to fix it if I can.)

I started listening to classic rock radio (among other things) in my late teens, the early 1990s.  The Eagles, one of the most recognizable bands of the genre, broke up in 1980 after an argument between Glenn Frey and Don Henley.  After both of them had successful solo careers in the 80s, the Eagles got back together in 1994, toured, and released an album with four new songs (including this one) and some live songs from their tour.  I got that CD as a Christmas present my first Christmas home from college.

But for a while, this was my least favorite song on the album, and I would often skip it.  It took a while to grow on me, because it was too country for me.  The Eagles have always been known for blending rock and country music influences, but as I’ve written about before, I didn’t like country music until much later in my life, and this song is about as country as songs come.  The topic of the song is pretty stereotypical of country songs as well: a woman whose man left her, and she is never able to get over him or accept the fact that he is gone for good.  (This song did grow on me before the rest of the country genre as a whole did, but I don’t remember if there’s any big story to that.)

It was in 2005, during my travels across the USA and back, that I realized that country music isn’t so bad sometimes.  A friend who I visited during that time let me copy a bunch of her country CDs to my laptop, and one of them included this song, which also came up on shuffle earlier this month:

Lyrically, this is another pretty standard country song: a guy is determined to get over a woman who left him.  I hadn’t heard this song in a while, and one line caught my ear when I heard it this time:

I heard that old Jones song just the other day
About a man who took a broken heart to his grave
But I’ll be dammed if a memory’s gonna lay me down

As one would expect, old country music isn’t my area of expertise, since I mostly ignored it.  I didn’t know what Dierks was referring to the first time I heard this song in 2005.  But I have learned a little more about old country music since then, and I’m pretty sure the “old Jones song” refers to this:

 

(Again, not an official video, let me know if it ever stops working.  The song is “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by the late George Jones.)

I don’t want to be the kind of guy that old country songs are about.  (Of course, in the case of The Girl From Yesterday, the genders would be reversed.)  I’ve spent decades carrying around the burdens of memories of rejection and relationships that didn’t work out.  They’re not coming back.  They’re not going to change.  It does me no good to keep carrying around these memories.  I don’t know how to do this, but I have to figure it out.  Maybe it means doing new things and spending time with different people.  Maybe it means I’ve come to some bridges that it’s time to burn.  But I will do this.  I will move on with my life.

Exit 153. Good advice from a bad application.

I recently came across a meme, a screen shot of a conversation about malaphors.  A malaphor is the mixing of two or more familiar expressions.  The origin of the word seems to be a mixing of the suffix mal-, from Latin for “bad,” with the word metaphor, ultimately derived from the Greek for “apply,” as in applying a word to something else that it does not mean literally.  So a malaphor is literally a “bad application.”

A commonly cited example of a malaphor is “I’ll burn that bridge when I come to it.”  The actual saying is “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it,” meaning not to worry about things that might not even happen.  The burning part comes from the saying “burning bridges,” which means walking away from something and leaving no possibility of turning back, just as literally burning a bridge would leave one permanently on one side of the water with no possibility of crossing back to the other side.

Shortly after I saw this meme, I overheard someone talking about having had a really rough day.  The incident that set her over the edge was not necessarily something all that serious in and of itself, but given a buildup of little things that had previously happened, that incident led to a huge argument.  She referred to it as “the needle that broke the haystack.”  I was amused with that description, because that is another malaphor.  The actual phrase she intended to use is “the straw that broke the camel’s back” (or the shorter variation “the last straw”), meaning a minor event that causes a major reaction because of the buildup of other minor events.  A camel can easily carry a straw on its back, but when already laden with hundreds of pounds of straw, or other burdens, one straw may be enough to break the camel.  She got this phrase confused with “finding a needle in a haystack,” referring to an extremely difficult and arduous task.

This morning, I was thinking about recent changes in my life and social circles, and wondering whether it is time to cut off certain potentially toxic individuals entirely.  I hate to cut people out of my life.  If I was once close with someone, or if I once saw something good in someone I didn’t know well, I often wish that things could be the way they once were and we could be close again.  And if I do happen to run across any of these people again, I don’t like the awkward situation of possibly having to explain why I cut them out of my life.  But on the other hand, I need to take care of myself, and it seems dangerous to give people opportunities to do or say hurtful things, especially in cases when I’ve been hurt before.

And then it hit me.  A thought crossed my mind from one of these malaphors.  Good advice from a bad application.

I’ll burn those bridges when I come to them.

As I said before, there have been some changes lately, the kind of changes in which I am naturally growing apart from the people who are making me feel conflicted about this.  So it might not really be an issue at all.  I might see these people so infrequently going forward that I won’t have to worry about any toxic interactions.  A lot of this is all in my head.  So maybe the best decision is to just wait and see.  To let former friendships die a natural death.  And if any of these people do cross paths with me again, if things end up being hurtful, then maybe I’ll say something face to face and/or block them from all social media.

I’ll burn those bridges when I come to them.

Exit 152. Three years.

As of this week, I have now been writing this blog for three years.  What does that mean?  Nothing really.  It hasn’t grown nearly as quickly as some other blogs I’ve followed, but that is mostly because I haven’t actively promoted it all that much, and because it doesn’t have a specific topic tied to it that people can search for.  And it’s not necessarily supposed to.

I have made some new friends through this blog, people who, after randomly finding posts of mine, follow me and I follow them.  I don’t have hundreds of adoring fans, like celebrities or like some of the blogs I follow.  And some of the people who used to follow me don’t anymore.  But that’s okay, because that’s how real life is too.

I’ve said before that part of the reason I feel so lost in the world is because I’ve been looking for ways to live like I’m in my early 20s again, with friends who live nearby and a church group that also doubles as a social circle.  That’s not going to happen.  That’s not how life is, and I can’t change that.  But what I can do is make the most of what I have.  My social circle isn’t going to be huge.  But it doesn’t have to be, and it shouldn’t be. And it will change.  People grow apart.  People’s actions reveal who they really are, and it is better to let go than to stay angry and hurt.

I can’t change other people, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do anything.  I can stay close to the people who have stayed close to me.  I can try new things, since some of what I’m doing now isn’t working.  Or maybe it’s time for another party at my house, to try to keep my circle intact.  Or maybe some combination of those things.

Exit 151. Who am I? What do I want?

Who am I?

What do I want?

I’ve had a few conversations lately along these lines.  Most notably, a few weeks ago, my therapist asked me if I were to wake up tomorrow and everything would be happy, exactly the life I want, what would that look like?  It seems like a simple question… but I wasn’t satisfied with my answer.  My answer seemed clichéd and unrealistic.

The best answer I could come up with was that I would want to be married to a nice Christian woman, and we would be raising a family together, and we would be involved in a church.  And all of the frustrations I have with the way the world is wouldn’t matter, because she would share many of my frustrations, and church would be our safe place away from that.  That all sounds nice from the somewhat naïve world view I had in my early 20s as a new Christian, when things seemed more black and white, and I was surrounded socially by other Christians.  That isn’t life anymore.  Life at 40 in the suburbs is different.

And is that really what I want?  Or is that what I’ve always been told to want?  Do I want this life for the right reasons, or for shallow reasons of the flesh?  Are there any options I haven’t explored yet?  Which ones are worth my time, and which ones have I avoided just because I want to stay in my comfort zone?

If I’m going to make any progress in figuring out life, I’m going to have to figure this out first.

Exit 150. You’re not real and you can’t save me.

The title is a quote from the 2003 song “Everybody’s Fool,” by Evanescence.

Another song from this album was much more well-known than this one, and as I’ve written before, that other song led to a bonding experience between me and one of my students that year who really turned her grades around after that.  But now, after a couple years of listening to that album and a lot more years of hearing songs from it pop up when I have my music on shuffle, I think that Everybody’s Fool has definitely emerged as my favorite on the album… although I don’t know that it matters at this point.

Anyway, the video depicts the character that Amy is portraying filming commercials in a variety of costumes that look very little like her real self, alternating with her real self struggling to come to terms with these fake images that she is known for.  Amy wrote the song as a teenager, after her younger sister began following teen pop idol type singers who use their fake images to sell music.  I don’t claim to be an authority on the meaning of lyrics written by someone else, but in these lyrics, the character appears to be singing to her fake self in the second person.

I’ve been there.  I’ve tried to be something I’m not, I’ve been tempted to be someone I’m not, and it never leads to good in the long run.  But the lyrics also resonate with me on a more literal sense, as if I could sing them to someone else other than myself.  I could just as easily be saying this to all the so-called “friends” I’ve had over the years who aren’t at all the people I thought they were when I first met them, who are constantly trying to be someone they’re not.  Or I could be saying this to all the misconceptions I’ve had about what life should be like, all the pieces that were supposed to fall into place in the magical fantasy land that I was told I would be living in.

It never was and never will be.

You’re not real and you can’t save me.

Exit 149. Everyone and everything tells a story.

I went to Folsom Lake yesterday.  Like many of the lakes in California, Folsom Lake is actually a man-made reservoir.  It was created in 1955 by a dam on the American River in the foothills above Sacramento, just upstream from the city of Folsom and the prison made famous by Johnny Cash right around that same time.  (Historical note: Johnny Cash was never an inmate at Folsom Prison; he wrote the song after watching a documentary about Folsom Prison.  He did, however, perform concerts for inmates at the prison much later.)

A friend who moved away a few years ago is in town this weekend, and she invited some of her Sacramento-area friends to a picnic at the lake.  It was a good day.  When we actually ventured out to the shore of the lake itself, my friend’s dog was fascinated with all the sticks and twigs and branches on the ground.  Not only would she play fetch with them, but she would sometimes pick up a stick just lying on the ground in her mouth and move it somewhere else.  It was funny to watch.

But why were the sticks there in the first place?  The entire shore of the lake was lined with piles of dead wood, and there was driftwood visible floating on the surface of the water as well.  I have been to Folsom Lake twice in 2017 now, to two different parts of the lake, and it was like this in both places.  It has never been like this before in any of the other times in the past that I have been to the lake.

This winter has been very wet by California standards, with lots of rain in the valley and snow in the mountains.  This rain has been much needed, after four extremely dry years and one average year.  The water that collects in Folsom Lake is runoff from the mountains upstream from it, and with so little precipitation, the lake level had been dropping for the last several years.  A few months ago, a series of very wet storms hit California, and the lake filled to capacity.  Water rushed off the hillsides into the three forks of the American River and down into the lake, and these streams of water carried with them years of dead wood piling up on the floor of the drought-stricken forest.  Although the lake is still nearly full, it has begun to empty again since those storms hit, and some of the debris floating on the surface was left beached as the waters receded, like soap scum on the edge of a draining bathtub.

Everyone and everything tells a story.  Even something as mundane as a pile of driftwood has a deeper meaning.  Maybe we would understand each other better and be happier if we were more willing to listen to these stories.