Exit 231. No. Not a good idea.

About a week ago, I had a disturbing dream.  I don’t remember all of the details, but I do remember hearing somehow that Acrux, the ex from 2011, was back in town.  I don’t remember if it was for good or for a visit or what.  And “town” wasn’t even the right place, because for some reason I was at my parents’ house, which is in a place that Acrux never had any connection to.  But I do remember her showing up there, wanting to talk.  And I remember her being nice.  She brought up the idea of getting back together, and I said let’s see where things go, or something like that that left the door open.

It was just a dream.  It’s not real.  For one thing, she definitely wouldn’t go out of her way to see me.  After all, she wouldn’t even go out of her way for me when we were together.  And I really don’t want to get back together with her.  She wasn’t nice.  She didn’t care about me.  She just wanted someone to tag along while she did her thing.

But I have to admit that there have been times when I’ve thought about getting back together with other exes or women I was interested in.  Sometimes I entertain thoughts of these women coming to me and apologizing, saying that they messed up and realized that I was the best they ever had, and wanting to get back together.

No.  Not a good idea.  And this is exactly why I feel like I’m better off not staying in touch with exes.  Whomever it is that I’m thinking about, I’d get too caught up in the feelings of what things might have been like, based on my initial impression of what she was like before she showed her true colors.  That isn’t reality.  She’s not real.

Just like my dreams.

Or, in this case, maybe it would be better to say nightmares.

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Exit 230. I don’t have time.

I don’t have time.

I always have all these great creative ideas, and I don’t have time to work on all of them.

I wrote a novel off and on from 2014-18, more off than on, and it still feels like it isn’t quite finished, like there’s one part that needs to be rewritten.  I started a second blog recently.  I have another fictional universe I’ve done things with in various forms for over a quarter-century.  And I feel like I can’t really commit to any of them.

But that’s okay.  All of these projects are just for fun, and I shouldn’t stress about them.  I’m not trying to make a living out of any of these creative projects.  I have a real job that takes a lot of my time.  But this is also the kind of real job that periodically gives me time off when I can concentrate on things like this.

So I’m just not going to worry about it.  I’ll write what I can, when I can.  Even if no one reads it.  Because maybe when I’m an old man, I’ll look at some of my old writing that I haven’t read in decades, and I’ll get a good laugh out of it.  (That actually happened recently with some poems I wrote in my late teens that have followed me from hard drive to hard drive on five different computers.)

And if any of you don’t know about my other projects and are curious, let me know.  I’ll either share it, or maybe I’ll kindly thank you and explain why I’m not comfortable sharing everything with everyone.

Exit 229. I knew the answer all along.

I was watching Jeopardy! a few days ago.  Jeopardy! and other trivia games have always been huge in my family.  I’ve told people that my hours of reading random stuff on Wikipedia, then clicking a link to something else I read that I’m curious about, and repeating that dozens of times, are just studying for being a contestant on Jeopardy! eventually.  This argument was justified a few weeks ago when something I had read following a Wikipedia rabbit trail actually showed up a day or two later as a Final Jeopardy! question.  (“In 1790 Thursday October Christian became the first child whose birth was recorded on this remote island” — I had read about said remote island on another Wikipedia distraction-fest a few years ago, so I might have still gotten it right had I not read about it again recently.  I’ll let you think about it; click here for the correct response.  It’s also tradition in my family not to give away the answer in trivia games to non-participants who might be watching and playing along.)

Anyway, that isn’t the point of this post.  Another recent Final Jeopardy! category was “Female Singers,” and the clue was “In the 1990s this New York native had 8 of her first 10 Billboard Top 40 hits reach No. 1.”  I’m sitting there trying to think of the answer, and the first thing that comes to mind is, Crap!  In the 1990s I wasn’t listening to female singers who had No. 1 hits.  I was listening to R.E.M. and Pearl Jam and Aerosmith and Toad The Wet Sprocket, and then I had my Pink Floyd phase, and then I became a Christian and listened to DC Talk and Jars of Clay and Third Day.  I might not know this one.  Who could it be… whoever it is, her music probably sucks.

I was staring at the TV, at the words “1990s” and “No. 1 hits,” and I thought of something else.  A meme, of all things, something that I saw months ago.  It said to post the song that was No. 1 on your 14th birthday, and that is the song that defines your life.  Mine was “Vision of Love” by Mariah Carey.  That’s pretty much the opposite of what defines my life.  I’ve had plenty of visions of love, but unlike the song, they never come true, at least not for long.

But, back to Jeopardy!… my 14th birthday was in the summer of 1990.  Vision of Love was a No. 1 song from the 1990s by a female singer.  And it was from the start of her career, and she did have a lot of big hits in the next few years after that.  Could Mariah Carey be the correct Jeopardy! response?  I didn’t know whether or not she was a New York native, and I didn’t know exactly how many No. 1 hits she had or anything like that.  But I didn’t have a better answer.

Mariah Carey was correct.  I had the answer all along.

Literally.  I’ve literally had the answer since I was 14.  Somewhere in my parents’ attic is a cassette tape of Mariah Carey’s first album, the one with Vision of Love on it.  I haven’t listened to it since I was 15 or 16, but there was a brief time when I didn’t think that Mariah Carey sucked.  She had a strong voice with a pretty impressive range, and there were some catchy songs on that album.  Mariah lost favor with me a few years later, when she released another album with a song with banal lyrics and lots of parts where she was just shrieking at a pitch that only dogs and dolphins can hear, and by that time I was pretty much ditching pop, R&B, and hip-hop altogether in favor of classic rock.

So when I heard Alex Trebek telling the two contestants who wrote Mariah Carey that they were correct, I felt pretty proud of myself.  I thought that this question was going to be completely out of the realm of things I know about, but I knew the answer all along.  Maybe this is the case more often than I know.

Exit 227. Taking my own advice.

Two unrelated things happened this week that, when juxtaposed, say something interesting about me.  

The first was a conversation I had on Tuesday with a former student who is now in high school.  I’ll call her “Lambda-2 Fornacis.” Lambda was in my class three years ago, the same class as Protractor Girl, The Boy I Have No Memory Of, and The Kid Who Sat Behind Me At A Basketball Game Once.  She was the kind of student that most teachers love to have in their class. She did her homework, it was neatly written, and she always was one of the top students in my class.  I think she had straight As all through middle school. I normally tell students that they can add me on social media after they finish middle school and go on to high school, but somehow (probably because these kids have older friends who talk) she found my Instagram (which doesn’t have my real name anywhere on it) and started following me the year after she had my class, when she was still in middle school.  I didn’t do anything about it, though, because I figured she wasn’t the type to cause trouble, although I didn’t follow her back until the day after she finished middle school.

Anyway, Lambda asked me something about a recent post on Instagram, I replied, and then I asked her how she was doing.  She mentioned that she had dropped precalculus. This year has been the first time she had ever struggled in math, she didn’t like the teacher she had this year, and she had been rethinking her career plans.  I have to admit, that was a little disappointing to hear at first, because she was such a great student for me, and I’m always disappointed to hear when people don’t love math as much as me. However, I completely understand where she is coming from, and I told her so.  I told her about hitting the same proverbial wall with physics my freshman year at UC Davis, how I struggled so much with that class at first, and while I still did well, it just didn’t feel as natural for me as math did. It was during that first physics class when when I decided for sure to major in mathematics and not physics, and I didn’t take any more physics after I was done with the minimum that would be required for the math major.  I told her that there’s nothing wrong with changing your mind about your future plans, especially since she’s only 15. I told her that as late as age 19, I was telling people that there was no way I would ever be a teacher. And I told her that I took all the most challenging classes in high school, to the point that I had some very long days senior year, but I wasn’t doing it because I had a career plan. For me, it was because I felt like school was the one thing I was good at, and I would be a failure if I didn’t.  This is not a mentally healthy outlook. I know that Lambda is going to be successful no matter what direction she takes her education.

That was Tuesday.  On Wednesday night, I got very little sleep.  I discovered another important thing here at the house that needed to be fixed.  I started to panic under the pressure of everything that needed to be done. I was behind on grading papers.  I had errands and chores that were piling up, and the kitchen sink was full of dirty dishes. I had now four important home repairs that needed to be dealt with as soon as possible, one of which was already making life more inconvenient in very tangible ways, and another of which had the potential to do so if left unchecked.  I couldn’t sleep, and I wasn’t sure if it was related to stress, recent changes in medication, other health problems I didn’t know about, lack of exercise, or what. It’s very hard for me to get these home repairs and chores done sometimes, because I’m rarely home during business hours and my schedule isn’t very flexible. I don’t get a lot of exercise this time of year, because I’m only home when it’s cold and dark.  And I couldn’t call in sick and take a day to recover from the lack of sleep and deal with these problems, because the classroom is such a mess that a substitute wouldn’t be able to find what they needed, and the kids would get behind anyway because my curriculum doesn’t work well for people who haven’t been trained and aren’t well-prepared.

I went to work on one hour of sleep (and I had gotten three hours the previous night).  I made an important decision while I was tossing and turning: long story, but basically I sent an email to the administrators saying that I needed to back out of one of my weekly commitments.  This would give me one more day of the week that I could get home a little earlier when needed, if I needed to deal with something before it got dark and places closed. Thankfully, they were very understanding.  But, I told the principal, I still feel like I do so much less than so many other teachers. Some of them are working on graduate degrees. Many of them attend more professional development workshops than I do. Some of them are department chairs, or serve on committees.  And many of them have young children of their own. I feel like there is something wrong with me, that I have such a hard time handling my own job, let alone all that extra stuff.

And then it hit me.

Why do I have such a hard time taking my own advice?

Just a day and a half earlier, I was messaging Lambda telling her that it was okay not to burden herself with hard classes that she didn’t need.  So why can’t I tell myself that it is okay not to burden myself with stressful commitments that I don’t need?

Everyone’s brain works differently.  I get more easily stressed and overwhelmed, and I’m fighting demons from the past that many of my coworkers don’t have.  If I really believe what I told Lambda, then it’s hypocritical to insist upon myself that I take on extra commitments that I don’t get anything out of.

It’s now Saturday, and I feel so much better.  Getting out of that extra commitment allowed me to leave earlier than usual on Thursday, which gave me time to make some phone calls to start the process of dealing with the two most pressing home repairs.  I didn’t get completely caught up on grading, but it’s now a three-day weekend, so I’ll have time to catch up.

I’m going to be fine.  :)&[4].

Exit 226. This kind of thing doesn’t happen here.

Last Thursday night (January 10, 2019), Natalie Corona, a police officer in Davis, was shot while investigating a routine car accident.  A bystander rode by on a bicycle, shot the officer from behind, and began firing indiscriminately in multiple directions. Eventually, the suspect was found in his home, about a block away from the accident, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

This tragedy hit a little close to home for me… literally, because it happened just 30 miles from my house.  Not only that, but as I have said multiple times, I lived in Davis for seven years (1994-2001). I still have friends who live there, and I go back fairly often to see some of them and also for football and basketball games at the university.  I feel more connected to the community than many people who just moved there for school, because I volunteered with a church youth group for over half of the time that I lived there. And I’m going to be meeting a friend for lunch in Davis later today, in fact, for reasons unrelated to Officer Corona’s death.

Since this happened, I haven’t talked to any of my Davis friends (other than finalizing today’s lunch plans), but from what I remember about Davis residents, and from a few Facebook and Instagram posts I’ve read, the community seems pretty shocked by this, as I would expect.  There is a culture among long-time Davis residents that this kind of thing doesn’t happen here in this quiet little town. I’m not trying to say that there is anything wrong with this kind of thinking. Typically, Davis does not have much crime beyond drunken college shenanigans, and people aren’t used to this kind of thing happening there.

I started writing this about 24 hours before I published it, and two important details worth noting have emerged in that time.  Investigators found a suicide note indicating a motive, in which the suspect said that he believed that he was sensitive to the ultrasonic devices used by police to stop dogs from barking, that no one took his complaints seriously, and that he could not continue living because of that.  The suspect had shown no outward signs of mental illness before this, although he did have a recent misdemeanor conviction from getting in a fight with a coworker. Also, a student group at UC Davis (not representing the university as a whole) released a statement trying to stir up controversy about the relationship between law enforcement and certain communities.  I’m not even going to dignify that with any more of a response than this; that might come in a later post. I don’t want to debate the role of law enforcement in a community or in a society right now. It’s not the time.

Even though people tend to think that things like that can’t happen where they are, the truth is that it can happen anywhere.  I lived in Davis during the time of the Columbine shooting in Colorado, and I remember the youth pastor at church saying that he had been to that area before and could see a lot of similarities with Davis, with so many overworked parents and disconnected and angry teens and a culture that doesn’t expect it.  This wasn’t the same kind of situation as what happened in Columbine, of course. This was the act of one adult man with misguided motives.

But one thing is clear to me from all of this: evil is everywhere, and we all need Jesus.

My prayers are with Davis and with Officer Corona’s family (they lived in a rural area in the next county to the north of where this happened), as well as with any anti-law enforcement activists who are using this tragedy to create controversy, because they have been hurt too, and they need healing.  And my prayers are with anyone who disapproves of the concept of prayers, for the same reason.

Exit 225. Until it ends, there is no end.

I’m back from my hiatus.  Well, I don’t know if hiatus is the right word, considering I started a second blog during that time.  I’m not sure if I’m ready to share it yet… we’ll see.

Instead of something deep and earth-shattering, this is going to be one of those posts about a song from my past.  I rediscovered this one a couple years ago, but it just hit me recently why I like it so much.

We had this album on vinyl back when it was new (1984).  I remember my mom really liking it.  Wikipedia says that six singles were released from the album, but I really only remember four.  The first two (one, two) are very well remembered and today are considered classics of 1980s pop.  A third one I mostly remember just because I found out many years later, as an adult, that it was about masturbation.  I found this hilarious because my mother, who came from the kind of background where sex was never talked about, and who also has a tendency not to pay attention to lyrics, loved the song.  I don’t know what she thought it was about… dancing, probably.  I had no idea what it was about either, but I had an excuse because I was eight years old and knew nothing of female anatomy.  Mom, I know you read this, and I hope you don’t think I’m making fun of you or anything, but all I just did was state facts, and I believe we had this discussion years ago.

Anyway… back to All Through The Night.  This one isn’t about masturbation.  It’s a nice little song about the excitement of new love.  And unlike many pop songs about love, this is one I can relate to better than most.

Being performed by a woman doesn’t make this song harder to relate to as a man.  The lyrics work for any combination of genders and sexual orientations, and in fact the song was written and originally recorded by a man, even though Cyndi Lauper’s version is much more well known. The reason I feel like I can relate to this song more so than most pop songs about love is because I’ve been there.

As I’ve written before, I haven’t exactly had a good history with romantic relationships.  I haven’t had many of them at all, and most of the ones I’ve had were bad, leaving me with the feeling that I have experienced all of the heartache surrounding relationships but little to none of the good experiences.  But the excitement of new love… that is something I have felt.  Every relationship starts that way, full of hope and excitement and anticipation.  It’s a great feeling.

Of course, I haven’t felt that excitement and anticipation all that often over the course of my life, and most of the time it just sets up a new horrible way to be lied to, ignored, or accused of something.  But that’s life.  And going through all that crap just makes the excitement and anticipation and hope even better when it has happened.

Exit 224. I need to be patient with myself.

It’s time for another hiatus.

Life is just overwhelming right now.  I’ve been really busy with the usual work responsibilities.  My schedule got disrupted a couple weeks ago, with two days of school canceled because of smoke blowing down from the recent fire in Butte County.  (Just so you know, I’m about 100 miles from any areas that were actively burning, so I was never in imminent danger.  But the fire was so big and the wind so strong that smoke spread all over Jefferson and northern and central California.)  Although those two days gave me plenty of time to relax and prepare for my trip to visit my family for Thanksgiving, it also gave me more work to do this last week to adjust for having missed those two days.  I also have a lot to do around the house.  Laundry and dishes pile up so quickly, and I have a few home repairs I need to address as soon as possible.  Life definitely isn’t all work; I’ve been making time for fun too.  It’s December, which means lots of fun holiday events with friends, in addition to the usual game night group and my Dungeons & Dragons game.  The UC Davis football team is also in the playoffs at their level (NCAA Division I-FCS) for the first time since the school’s athletic program moved up to that level in 2004.  We won, and going to that game was totally worth it, but it also took up half of my day.  (There are eight teams still alive in the FCS playoffs, and there won’t be any more home games for UC Davis, so I won’t have any more games to go to this year.)

I need to take time for myself sometimes.  I need to be patient with myself that I can’t get everything done.  And I need to realize that sometimes it’s okay to spend money to get something repaired, rather than trying to do half of the things myself, and not doing a good job of it, and letting the other half of the things go until they cause worse problems down the road.  That’s especially true now that money isn’t as tight since I’m not barely scraping by on a private school salary anymore.

So in the interest of not trying to do too much, I’m going to take a few weeks off from this blog.  Whatever holidays you might be celebrating during this time of year, I hope they go well, and I’ll see all of you in 2019.

Exit 223. I can learn something from the way that they lived their lives.

Death.  Never an easy topic to discuss.

Comic book writer Stan Lee, the creator of Spider-Man, the X-Men, and many other superheroes, died a couple weeks ago.  I recently saw the movie Bohemian Rhapsody, based on the true story of Freddie Mercury and the band Queen.  Freddie was only 45 when he died, and yesterday was the anniversary of Freddie’s passing in 1991.  My pastor knows another pastor in the same denomination whose toddler granddaughter recently died unexpectedly and suddenly.  And, hitting closer to home, a friend from the church I went to when I first moved here lost his battle with cancer this weekend.  He was only 30; he was in the college group at church when I first started going there, and his older brother was one of my first friends when I moved here.

I feel especially bad because this guy and I had kind of grown apart.  We didn’t argue or have a falling-out or anything like that; we just grew apart from natural causes as life took us in different directions.  The same thing happened with me and his brother, who no longer lives in California.  I’ve grown apart from a lot of people over the course of my life, and I’ve always told myself that no one is in the wrong here, that growing apart is just a natural part of life.  But now I have to accept the fact that it had been well over a year since I had seen him face to face and now I won’t get to see him again.

Death also always makes me wish I had known people better in their lifetimes.  Like I said, my deceased friend and I didn’t really run in the same circles anymore.  Similarly, at the memorial service for another acquaintance who died unexpectedly in 2012, I learned all kinds of things about him that I never would have expected.  And, as I have written before, I didn’t really discover Queen’s music until the months just after Freddie Mercury’s death.  But I can still appreciate everything and everyone in my life now, because I never know what will happen in the future.

And I can learn something from those who pass away and the way that they lived their lives.  In the case of my friend who had cancer, he was one of the nicest people anyone would ever meet, being kind to all of those around him and committed to knowing God and living for him.  And that is something we can all learn from.

Exit 222. Celebrating what we have in common and working together.

Recently, I was invited to a large worship and prayer event at a church about 40 miles from me.  I found myself a little nervous walking in.  I had no idea what to expect.  I had never been to this church before, I didn’t know how big of a crowd there would be at this thing, and most importantly, I didn’t know where to go off the top of my head.  The person who invited me described where she would be, and I found her pretty easily, and the rest of the night was great.  But this got me thinking, trying to figure out why I was so nervous in that situation.

I think I was mostly just afraid of the possibility that I was going to wander into the wrong room and find myself horribly out of place.  I’ve seen that happen from both ends, wandering into the wrong room myself and having to excuse myself and go find where I’m supposed to be, or being in some sort of group, meeting, or class, and seeing someone else wander in thinking that they are in a different group from the one I am actually in, and discovering it much later.

I specifically remember one such experience along these lines, although technically I was in the right place that time.  It was 2005, during my four months on the road.  I was in a rural area in the Ozarks in southern Missouri for several days. I was visiting two people in the area who lived about 10 miles apart but didn’t know each other.  Let’s see, I should give these people names… “Pherkad” is a friend from college, and “Rho Serpentis” is someone I knew online and had not met in person before this trip.  (We lost touch a year or two later.  I don’t remember exactly why… I think she met a guy and stopped being online all the time.)  For much of the time I was in the area, I went back and forth, spending some of the time with Pherkad and her husband, some of the time with Rho Serpentis, and some of the time alone, depending on who wasn’t working or in class (Rho was a college student at the time).

One of the more interesting experiences of my travels of 2005 was getting to experience so many different kinds of churches.  If I was staying with friends who went to church on a Sunday, or on a Wednesday if their church had a mid-week service (which apparently is very common in the South and Midwest but rare among the churches I’ve been to in California), then I would go to church with them.  Otherwise, I’d just kind of randomly pick one.  But that’s not part of this story.  I was going to go to church with Pherkad and her husband on Wednesday night, and Rho was going to come with me.  But Pherkad and her husband weren’t going to be in the service, because they were going to be volunteering with children’s church.

So we got there, Pherkad and her husband went off to go work with the children, and Rho and I sat down.  A couple minutes later, I knew something was not normal.  Apparently this week wasn’t a regular service, it was the church’s annual business meeting.  And being that I was just visiting, I had never been to that church before, most likely never would again, I felt very out of place.  The meeting dragged on and on and on for an hour and a half, and when Pherkad and her husband finally got back, they apologized profusely for making us sit through all of that when we didn’t really know much about what was going on with their church.  I probably should have said something, or left, but I didn’t want to make a scene or look any more out of place than I already was.

I did learn something from that experience, though.  One of the major issues being debated by that church at that time was whether or not to use Awana as their children’s curriculum.  I hadn’t had a lot of experience up close with Awana specifically, but I had heard of it, and I knew that a lot of churches used it for their children’s programs.  I didn’t see why anyone would have a problem with it.  But a number of people in this church’s business meeting kept bringing up the fact that Awana was a separate organization not specifically affiliated with their denomination.

This all made me kind of sad.  My experiences with Christianity up to that point mostly had not included such toxic nitpicking over the minor differences between denominations.  The different branches of Christianity have so many important things in common, but Christianity as a whole is torn apart by people who argue over the things that aren’t really worth arguing about.  And many people tend to treat any little disagreement as a line separating those who are real Christians from those who will burn in hell.  They don’t realize that all of this does more harm than good and turns people away from Christianity as a whole.  And the situation hasn’t really changed… in the 13-plus years since this happened, I have seen many other times where Christians disagree over issues that do not affect how they respond to Jesus’ message of salvation, and mistreat each other because of it.

So all of that didn’t really have anything to do with the event I attended last night.  I didn’t end up in the wrong room, and it didn’t end up being a church business meeting.  And appropriately enough, this was an event that had people from many churches all over the area.  But all of that just got me thinking about denominations and different branches of Christianity… and how maybe we need to spend more time celebrating what we have in common and working together, rather than calling each other names.