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.

Exit 148. Not completely isolated yet.

Sometimes I feel like there is nothing left for me here.

I guess that’s an unnecessarily dramatic way of making this point.  What I’m trying to say is that I don’t have a lot of connections left here in the specific suburban community where I currently live.  I didn’t grow up here; I moved here in 2006, at age 29.  So I don’t have anyone in the area whom I’ve known since childhood, as people who grew up here usually do.  At one time, I worked near my house, and I attended church just a couple miles away.  These were the job I left in 2014 and the church I left in 2015, respectively.  At this point in my life, work is a half hour drive in one direction and most of my social life happens a half hour drive in the opposite direction.  The only thing left for me here is my house, and sometimes I wonder if I really belong here anymore.  But I have compelling reasons why moving is not the best idea right now either.

Last night, I went to a certain one-step-up-from-fast-food chain restaurant, prompted by a coupon, good for two days only, which I received from their email list.  Unsurprisingly, when I got there, I noticed that many other people seemed to have the same idea, as the line was much longer than I have ever seen it.  I went in to brave the line anyway, though; I had no other plans the rest of the evening.

About a minute after I got there, I heard someone calling my name.  I turned around and saw one of my favorite people, an old friend from many years ago, with two of her children.  This was someone I met at church a few months after I moved here, when she was still a teenager (so she is in her late 20s now).  She was one of my closer friends for a couple years, but eventually she met her future husband and found another church, right around the same time if I remember right.  We just didn’t cross paths much after that, although we have been connected on social media the whole time.  It had been a couple years since I had run into her in person, though, and it was good to catch up.

I don’t have much of a social life that takes place in my immediate geographical area.  This is true.  But I’m not completely isolated yet.  I still know people nearby.  And I occasionally run into them around town.  Most of the people I used to know here who are still here have grown up, getting married and raising children.  (I’m not necessarily saying that I haven’t grown up because I don’t have children; the point here is that my local friends from a decade ago have grown up in a different way than I have.)  And for those of you who fit this description, even if most of our contact is through Facebook likes and I only see you once every two years when we happen to be grocery shopping at the same time, thank you for staying in contact with me.  I appreciate it.

Exit 147. An unexpected sight.

The Sutter Buttes are often referred to as the world’s smallest mountain range.  In the middle of the flatlands of the Sacramento Valley, a cluster of small mountains about 10 miles across rises over two thousand feet from the surrounding orchards, ranches, and rice paddies.  This part of California is mostly unknown to the glamorous celebrities of Los Angeles, the beach bums of San Diego, and the techies of Silicon Valley.  Yuba City is the nearest medium-sized city, just a few miles away, and the nearest major metropolitan area is Sacramento, a little over an hour away by car.  Here’s an overhead view I snipped from Google Maps (the big gray blob southeast of the mountains is Yuba City and Marysville, with the Feather River separating them):

sutter buttes

I’ve driven within view of the Sutter Buttes many times.  My dad was born in Chico, and in my younger years we often drove through Yuba City on the way to and from visiting relates in Chico.  I have been that way many times as an adult too.  The Buttes look mysterious and out of place, surrounded on all sides by one of the flattest parts of California; they are certainly an unexpected sight to one unfamiliar with the area.

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I had never been any closer to the Sutter Buttes than driving by at a distance, until earlier this week.  I had a free day, and I felt like driving, so I did a bit of exploring.  Most of the land is privately owned, inaccessible except for occasional guided hikes.  But there are public roads that make almost a complete circle around the Buttes, which I traveled.

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Sometimes, unexpected obstacles arise in life.  At first, the unexpected can look scary and mysterious.  But what is scary and mysterious from a distance can end up being quite beautiful up close.  So take a closer look… you might be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

Exit 145. That’s ok.

I missed a post a couple weeks ago and didn’t write a second post to make up for it.  That’s ok.

I had a semi-blind date a couple weeks ago.  It didn’t go badly, but in conversations that happened afterward, it became pretty clear pretty quickly that we’re not right for each other in that sense.  That’s ok.

One day this week, we had to evacuate the school where I work, for over an hour.  It turned out to be a false alarm, but it was pretty inconvenient, and it messed up my schedule for the week.  One of the classes is now another day behind where I should be at this time of year.  That’s ok.

I had people over last night.  It had been four months since my friends had been to my house, and that was a last minute thing; it had been six months since I had planned to have people over.  I just haven’t been feeling very social the last few months.  That’s ok.

Although I have known for a long time that I am an introvert, I always enjoyed things like this where a ton of people show up at my house… once in a while, at least.  I would count how many people show up, hoping to set a new record.  But last night was a much smaller crowd.  That’s ok.

I don’t even remember what the record is now.  I remember having 30 people once, but I think that might have been surpassed once.  But I’m not sure.  That’s ok.

I stayed up really late last night, and I skipped church this morning.  That’s ok.

Around 11:00 this morning, I went back to bed, and I stayed in bed until mid-afternoon.  I didn’t go for a bike ride today, and I haven’t cleaned up anything from last night yet.  That’s ok.

It’s ok, because I have to take care of myself.  It’s ok, because I needed to be around a smaller crowd and feel closer to this group of people.  It’s ok, because my true friends will understand.

Exit 144. Why do sports people argue so much about who is the greatest of all time?

This post is about five days late.  I know.  It was a hectic week.  Remind me next time I plan to go to two basketball games on weeknights to make sure that progress reports aren’t due the same week.  And for the non-sports people, keep reading, because I make a non-sports-related point at the end.

The Super Bowl was this last Sunday, with the New England Patriots defeating the Atlanta Falcons in the 51st iteration of the American football championship game.  Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, playing in his record seventh Super Bowl, achieved his fifth Super Bowl win, one of only two players (and the only quarterback) in football history to win five Super Bowls.  I had it on for background noise, but I wasn’t too emotionally attached to the game.  I didn’t particularly want to be for either team.  I’m kind of tired of the Patriots, since they have been so successful in the last couple decades.  (I will admit, though, that five years ago I was rooting for the Patriots in that Super Bowl, because that was the year that Sterling Moore, who I had as a student many years ago, played for the Patriots.  They lost that one.)  And I have a hard time being for any Atlanta team, because I’m still upset at the 1993 Atlanta Braves baseball team because of what happened with the San Francisco Giants that year.  Sports fans have long memories.

As the game started, I found myself mildly pulling for Atlanta, mostly just because they were the underdogs.  And they looked like they were on the way to a huge upset, leading 28-3 shortly after halftime.  But New England pulled off an impressive comeback, tying the score about a minute before time expired, and going on to win in overtime.  Many sports commentators and announcers, including Joe Buck who goes on and on and on and on and on with any talking point he can find to mask the fact that he doesn’t know squat about sports, were gushing over the fact that Tom Brady is now the supposedly undisputed greatest quarterback of all time.

And that is why this game hurt.  As I’ve said before, my understanding and following of football greatly increased after an attempt to try out for football in 1991, but growing up, when football was on TV, we were watching Joe Montana play quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.  He has also been considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, before Tom Brady happened.  Joe Montana never won five Super Bowls like Tom Brady did, but he won four, and he was only in his 11th season when he won his fourth Super Bowl, whereas Tom Brady won his fourth Super Bowl in his 15th season.  Montana never made it to a Super Bowl and then lost, which Brady did twice.  And Montana did everything with fully inflated footballs.  But his reputation as the greatest of all time is in question now.

But then I got to thinking, why do sports people argue so much about who is the greatest of all time?  Part of it is just competition and team loyalty; if one of the greatest players of all time played for your team, you’re going to be biased in favor of them.  But there is more to it.  Being the greatest of all time is not based on one single clear cut statistic.  Different players and teams have different strengths and weaknesses.  A quarterback who is great at leading his team in the regular season might not be good at handling the pressure of a Super Bowl.  A basketball player who is good at slam dunks and playing close to the basket might not be good at making free throws or long three-point shots.  A baseball player with the ability to hit home runs might lose focus in high pressure situations and strike out more often with the game on the line, not to mention the fact that he is probably a slow runner as well, missing a skill needed in other situations.

In the world of sports on in any other part of life, different people have different strengths and weaknesses.  This is what makes it difficult to compare who is the greatest at anything.  Instead, we should all appreciate the fact that everyone is good at something, and that we all need each other in some way.

Exit 143. That would be cool. Huh-huh.

As I suspected, the changing of the calendar from 2016 to 2017 has not seemed to slow down celebrity deaths.  But the passing of memorable and influential individuals hit home twice within the last couple weeks.  A coworker of mine who taught special education and was involved in a number of student activities left two months ago for medical reasons and ended up being a lot sicker than anyone thought.  I found out Tuesday morning that she didn’t make it.  There is much I could say about her, but my thought for this week concerns someone else who passed this month.  I hadn’t seen this other individual in over 20 years.

Mrs. J, as I’ll refer to her here, taught English at the high school I attended.  I never actually had her for a teacher myself, but I knew her because she was our class advisor.  Also, I knew her daughter, who was the same year as me.  I haven’t stayed in touch with her, or her daughter, so I just found out about this a few days ago when a friend from high school posted Mrs. J’s obituary on Facebook.  Although I never had Mrs. J as a teacher, she was involved with one of the most significant memories I have from that era, one which I still mention now as a major turning point in my life.

I wrote a bit about my high school experience a couple years ago (Highway Pi #26), and as I said before, I was pretty sheltered, and I kept to myself a lot.  I did homework during lunch, and I pretty much never saw people from school outside of school other than the occasional sporting event or dance that I would attend at the school.  A lot of people were nice to me, though, encouraging me to get more involved with the school.  About a month into senior year, I was sitting in the walkway reading when two other seniors walked by, reminding me that we had a class meeting during that lunch period to discuss Homecoming activities.  I didn’t usually get involved with that kind of stuff, but for some reason, I decided to go with them this time.  Maybe because it was senior year, and it was my last chance to get involved with school activities.  So I followed them to the meeting, in Mrs. J’s room.

I know that I have a few readers outside the USA… I’m not sure how it works everywhere else, but homecoming is a time in the fall when a variety of school activities are planned, usually in the week leading up to the first football game played at home against a league opponent.  It is tradition for alumni of the school to return home to watch that game.  At the school I attended (this part is not something that all American high schools do), we had a rally during homecoming week in which each class would perform some sort of skit, and planning the skit was on the agenda for this meeting that I attended.  Our class usually did a skit involving characters from some movie or TV show that was popular at the time (the early ’90s).  As juniors, our skit was based on the movie Wayne’s World, for example.

When the time came to talk about the skit, Mrs. J suggested we do something based on popular characters again.  “Like, maybe, Beavis and Butthead?” she said.  Several people started laughing and expressing their approval.  I scrunched my face into my best Butthead impression, and said, “Huh-huh.  Huh-huh.  That would be cool.  Huh-huh.”  Someone pointed at me and said, “I think he’s going to be playing Butthead!”

Beavis and Butthead aired on MTV between 1993 and 1997.  It was the brainchild of the brilliant dark satirist Mike Judge, who later brought us other brilliant satire like King of the Hill, Office Space (note: link contains inappropriate language), and Idiocracy (note: link contains a bare butt farting).  It was about the misadventures of two dumb teenage boys, their obsession with bodily functions and dirty jokes, and their commentary on music videos.   For me, the quiet kid who helped people with their math homework and sat in the corner reading during lunch, to get up in front of the whole school and act like Butthead surprised a lot of people.

And it felt so freeing.

It was the first time I had ever done something like that in front of a crowd.  And it was awesome.  Not scary like I expected.  To this day, people often ask me why I like Beavis and Butthead, because it’s so stupid, and after saying something about Mike Judge’s brilliant satire, I add that it reminds me of the first time I ever got up in front of a crowd and did something silly and out of character, and how it really did feel like life was going to change once I realized that I was capable of doing this.

Thank you, Mrs. J, for the suggestion.  May you rest in peace.

Exit 142. It’s hard being angry and feeling like there’s nothing you can do about it.

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with someone from the one dance place I’m still attending regularly; I’ll call her 2M1207.  We had never talked about my work until yesterday, and she was interested to hear some of my thoughts about being a teacher.  I said something I’ve said often before: 7th grade is both the best and the worst age to teach.  You have the nice kids from stable homes, who are just starting to emerge into maturity but are still childlike enough to give me the fun of working with children.  And then you have the angry tough kids from broken homes, who are at the height of defiance and have not yet been humbled by harsh reality.  In my current position, I have a lot more of the first type than the second, at least compared to the other school where I once taught 7th grade.

Regarding that second group of students, the ones I referred to 2M1207 said, “It’s hard being angry and feeling like there’s nothing you can do about it.”

That statement really hit me.  Because it sounds a lot like me.  But not about school.  I know the feeling of being angry and feeling helpless.  That’s how I feel about a lot of things in the world right now.  The world is really messed up, and it doesn’t make sense to me, and it often feels like I am out of options.

Of course, there are options.  I just don’t always see them right away, because they require thinking outside the box, trying something different than what I have always done before.  And the same can be applied to the angry students I come across.  There is help for them, but they have to think outside the box… and I may need to also in order to understand completely where they are coming from.

I don’t know if my conversation with 2M1207 will help me out of my anger at the world, but hopefully this perspective will help me in my next interaction with an angry student.

 

Exit 141. Versatile Blogger Award and things about myself.

There are a lot of deep topics I could write about this week.  Today is a national holiday here in the USA commemorating the birthday of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.  The controversial businessman Donald J. Trump will be inaugurated later this week as the 45th President of the United States of America.  A controversial political journalist was scheduled to speak at my alma mater, and the speech was cancelled due to protests in a move that some say sounds suspiciously like censorship.

But I really don’t feel like writing something that deep right now.  I’m going to keep it light this week.

One of my readers whom I do not know in person, Anna from the blog My Little Corner, nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award.  I’ve seen these kind of blog nominations going around for a while now, and this is the first time I’ve ever been tagged in one.  Thank you, Anna.

the-versatile-blogger-award

Now I’m supposed to do these things:

  1. Display Award.
  2. Thank the person who gave this award (and include a link to their blog.)
  3. Share seven things about yourself.
  4. Nominate bloggers.

The first two are already done, so now I get to share seven things about myself.  I’ll try to stick to things that I haven’t written about before on here, although some of these might be common knowledge to my friends in real life.

1. I have never seen the movie Titanic, and I have no desire to.
Yes, I know it’s one of the most popular and highest grossing movies of all time, but I haven’t seen it.  Yes, I know it’s a love story, and if you think that’s going to make me want to see it, you don’t know me very well.  (Read this for more information, especially the paragraph starting with “A couple years ago.”) I wanted to see Titanic at the time it was in theaters (which was my last year as an undergrad at UC Davis), mostly just because everyone was talking about it, and because they built and sank a replica of the actual Titanic to make the movie.  That sounded awesome.  I had plans to see it with a female friend (I’ll call her Aldebaran) who I got along with wonderfully and probably would have been interested in as more than a friend except that she had a boyfriend back home.  Aldebaran cancelled on me, and we never got to reschedule.  A couple weeks later, she moved away to do an internship related to her future career.  When I saw her again in the fall, her boyfriend had moved to Davis, and she pretty much disappeared once he was around.  I think I saw her once or twice that year, we didn’t say much more than hi, and 18 years later I have never heard from her again.  But back to my main story… at some point during the time she was gone, I heard all the stories about middle-aged women being so obsessed with Leonardo DiCaprio that they had seen Titanic 20 times, and I heard from friends whose opinions I trusted that it really wasn’t that good, and I decided I wasn’t missing much.  Eventually, it sort of became something I was proud of that I never saw that movie.

2. I don’t like coffee.
Again, I apologize if you find that blasphemous.  I’m not going to stop any of you from drinking coffee.  You do you.  But I just can’t handle the taste.  I’ve mentioned this a little bit in this blog before (follow the same link in the Titanic paragraph above).  I’ve tried to like coffee.  Being a college student in the 90s, I felt like my dislike of coffee stunted my social life.  But no matter what I added to the drink, I couldn’t get past the fact that I could taste the coffee.  Since there’s not much of a story to this, I’ll tell a related story: A while back, I was in my early 30s, and I brought a friend to a football game at UC Davis.  After the game, she didn’t want to go home right away; she suggested going to a coffee shop to hang out and talk.  (I had no problem with this; my plan was to order a hot chocolate.)  She asked, since I used to live in Davis, where was a good local non-Starbucks coffee shop?  One came to mind right away that I was pretty sure was still there (it was Mishka’s, for my readers who are familiar with Davis).  Once we walked in, I looked around and realized something interesting: I had never been inside Mishka’s before.  I only knew of it because my friends were always talking about it and how good it was.

3. I have never consumed alcohol.
Not technically entirely true, because I grew up Catholic, where they use real wine for Communion, but that’s just a tiny sip.  And once I was trying to make bootleg Vanilla Coke using generic cola and vanilla extract, and I didn’t realize that vanilla extract contains alcohol.  But that’s all; no alcohol other than those situations.  I have mentioned this several times, but I haven’t told the whole story.  As with coffee, sometimes I feel that not drinking has stunted my social life.  But I have different reasons for this.  My father is a recovering alcoholic, and this kind of thing tends to run in families.  Dad has been sober since the early 80s, so I’m too young to really remember most of his problem days.  But I remember him being kind of distant when I was a kid, and much of that was because he was still fighting his own demons.  I also see in myself the kind of personality tendencies where I could easily turn to alcohol to run away, and I’d just rather not play with proverbial fire, so to speak.  Plus, I never have to worry about knowing whether or not I’m too impaired to drive, and I save a lot of money not drinking.  But if you enjoy alcohol in moderation, I’m not going to stop you, and I’m fine being around you.  You do you.

4. I’m not one who always embraces the latest technology with enthusiasm.
This surprises some people, considering how much time I spend behind a computer screen, how I tend to figure things out on computers pretty easily, and how I knew the basics of what would today be called coding by my preteen years.  Growing up, I did a lot of reading about computers, but much of it was wishful thinking because we did not spend a lot of money on expensive technological devices.  As an adult, now that I have more money, I understand the wisdom of not spending it prodigiously, so now I don’t always go out and buy the latest thing.  It also makes me angry the way that slightly older technologies that work perfectly well are forced into obsolescence by corporations (smartphones without headphone jacks and MicroSD card slots, for example).  All that accomplishes is making me NOT want to buy your latest product.

5. I have only been to Yosemite National Park once, for one day, at age 38, despite living pretty much my whole life within a few hours’ drive.
This may not mean much to my readers outside of California, but I know people for whom this fact is completely inconceivable; to them, it’s just something you do growing up in California.  Not me.  I grew up in a family that was not outdoorsy at all, and family outings and vacations themselves were relatively rare growing up because everyone had such different and incompatible schedules.  It was also a trip I hesitated to take because, from what I had heard, Yosemite was always so crowded, and it was very difficult and expensive to find a place to stay.  Around 2000, I got the idea to take a day trip there, to leave very early in the morning in late spring or early summer when there would be lots of daylight, arrive at the park mid-morning, explore until it got dark, and get home in time for bed.  Someone I knew at the time shot down that idea (even though they weren’t invited, this was to be a solo trip), saying that I was underestimating the drive time, so it wouldn’t be worth the trip for just one day.  I listened to them and cancelled this plan.  I got the same idea around 2011 when I was dating Acrux, and she again told me I couldn’t do that, for the same reason.  I’d get there, drive up and down the Valley, and then it would be time to leave, according to her.  By 2015, I did a little more research and decided that my original plan would be feasible.  Screw you, naysayers.  The people shooting down my ideas were presumably assuming that it would take forever to get ready in the morning, and that they would want to get home in time for dinner.  They weren’t counting on the fact that I was perfectly willing to pack the night before, leave my house at 5:30am, and not get home until 11pm.  So I did just that, which gave me around 10 hours of actual time to explore in the park.  It was a wonderful day.  Of course, the park is so big that I just barely scratched the surface, seeing some of the most popular attractions, but the trip was still well worth it.

6. I’m terrible at skateboarding, roller skating, rollerblading, ice skating, skiing, or anything else along those lines.  I just don’t have that kind of coordination or balance.  I suppose I might get better with practice, but it’s hard for me to justify spending a lot of money on a hobby that results in nothing but me falling down over and over again.  (Snowboarding isn’t on this list because I’ve never tried it.)

7. My favorite number is pi, and my least favorite number is 19.
Pi is because it is a symbol of the field of mathematics, which is what my degree is in.  (This is why I named my blog as I did.)  And 19 is because it seems like every time I meet a cute single girl, that’s how old she ends up being.  Either that, or that’s how old she ends up acting.

So, now that I’ve given my seven facts about myself, I’m supposed to nominate bloggers.  I’m going to modify this step, though.  I’m going to say feel free to do this if you want to, and if you don’t, then don’t.  Besides, I think all my blog friends deserve an award.  But if you are going to accept my quasi-nomination, post a link to your blog in the comments so that other readers can follow it.