Month: May 2014

Exit 4. It could have been me.

Last Friday night, a series of shootings and stabbings occurred in Isla Vista, Calif.  Community college student Elliot Rodger, fed up with having been bullied and rejected all his life, stabbed his roommates, drove around town shooting others and running them down with his car, including sorority girls who rejected him, then eventually engaged in gunfire with police.  He died of a gunshot wound to the head which it is believed was self-inflicted.  Here is a story from a TV news site based in that area: http://www.keyt.com/news/shooting-in-isla-vista/26152454

I’ve been following this story this weekend; I find it, and people’s responses, intriguing.  In case any of you were wondering, no this was not near me, and to my knowledge, I do not know anyone personally who was involved in the shooting.  I live in California, yes, as the header graphic to this site would suggest, but Isla Vista is in Santa Barbara County, a six hour drive from my home in Sacramento County.  In all my travels up and down California, Santa Barbara County is one of the population centers that I’m not as familiar with.  I’ve only been to Isla Vista once, briefly, 12 years ago.  Isla Vista is bounded by the UC Santa Barbara campus and the beach.  From what I remember, and what I’ve heard and read, most of the residents are college students, both UCSB students and community college students drawn to the college town and beach party atmosphere.

The more I read about Elliot Rodger, the more I keep thinking that it could have been me.  This was a kid who had a history of being bullied.  He felt rejected by women and by the stereotypical cool kids, and he didn’t know how to handle this rejection.  I had much of the same history of bullying and rejection in my childhood and teen years, and I didn’t know how to handle it either.  I occasionally had dark fantasies about the perpetrators of these bullying incidents, some of which inspired stories I would write.  Sometimes I let things build and build inside me until I would lose control and explode.  So why did this kid act on these dark thoughts and cause so much senseless death and suffering, and not me?

I think the main reason is that, while I experienced a lot of bullying and rejection, I also had some great friends who loved me just the way I was.  They reached out to me, even though I didn’t always respond well.  They didn’t turn their back on me when I was overreacting.  And in the case of some of my friends from the beginning of college, they led me to Jesus Christ.  Without them around, who knows what I would have turned out like?  Who knows what demons of darkness would have taken over me eventually?

Some have been responding to this event by blaming the white male patriarchy for creating a society where violence against women is acceptable.  Some say that the women that Elliot shot deserved their fate because they wouldn’t sleep with him.  Wrong.  Violence against women, or against anyone for that matter, is never okay and never deserved.  And these women who rejected him had every right to do so.  None of those things make this violent response acceptable.  (Also, I’ve read clips from Elliot’s manifesto, and he had a lot of anger at men as well, not just women.)  The blame should be placed with Elliot.  He committed these crimes with what appears to be premeditation.  These are the actions of a deeply disturbed individual.

But there’s something that isn’t being said here.  Could this have been prevented if more people had reached out and tried to befriend Elliot?  How many of those people who are going on about blaming the patriarchy have come across someone like Elliot in their past and dismissed him or her as just another weirdo who needs medication?  I’ve been treated like that before.  Once years ago, when I was at The Church With The Problems, I was searching for myself on Google, and I discovered someone I knew from church talking about me to strangers on a message board that she was part of, in which she said I had serious mental issues and needed to take medication.  More recently, I had a friend tell me that she thought I was creepy at first until she got to know me and realize that I was really cool, but I can tell that some of her friends never got over their creepy view of me.  I am fortunate, like I said, that not everyone has treated me like this, and that I know that God accepts me as I am.  This has helped me go on in those times of rejection, and that kept me from turning out the way Elliot did.

Yes, there are people who genuinely do need medication, but throwing pills at a problem doesn’t fix everything.  From what I’ve read, Elliot grew up in a wealthy family with a father and stepmother who were busy working in the film industry.  What if Elliot’s family had spent more time with him, teaching him to be self-confident and to deal with bullies appropriately?  What if a group of friends had taken him in and shown him that they cared about who he was and wanted him to be a part of their lives?  What if Elliot had discovered the transforming selfless love of Jesus Christ instead of typing his 141-page manifesto in which he selfishly proclaimed himself to be a god?  Building community with those on the fringes of society is hard.  But it is essential to making a better world.  Whatever your religious beliefs, if you want a better world, start with the way you treat others, particularly those outside of the mainstream of society and outside of your own little bubble.  When you see someone on the fringes of society struggling to fit in, reach out to them.  It might help, it might not — from what I’ve read, it appears that there were people who reached out to Elliot — but it’s better than doing nothing.

And thank you to those who reached out to me.  I may not be here today to write this if not for you.

 

Exit 3. Learn it till you earn it.

About a month ago, I was talking with someone about how I don’t give a very good first impression in certain situations, and that makes a certain aspect of life hard for me.  (I know I’m being vague here, but I can’t really go into specifics, given the sensitive ongoing nature of some things that are happening in real life right now.  If you know me in person, you can ask me privately.  That’s not important to the point I’m making today.)  She told me something along the lines of, “If you want to make a good impression, you’ve got to learn exactly what these people are looking for, and say and do those things.”  I said that I’m not good at BSing.  She said, “Then get good at it.  You’ve got to fake it till you make it.”

Fake it till you make it. I HATE THAT PHRASE WITH A FIERCE AND UNDYING PASSION.

There are two reasons I hate that phrase, one general and one specific.  The general reason is that faking it isn’t who I am, and fake people annoy me.  If someone doesn’t want the real me, then I don’t want to waste my time on them.  And I don’t want to waste my time with fake people who won’t let me see who they really are, although usually their real selves come out in some ugly way eventually.  More specifically, though, that phrase sticks out in my mind as part of an infamously memorable conversation I had 10 years ago.  I was attending a church that had a lot of problems.  I had been accused of things that were really misunderstandings and half-truths.  The details of what happened are the topic of another story, which I may tell someday, but essentially I felt like my state of social awkwardness was being treated like a sin I needed to repent from.  People were uncomfortable around me because I was a little different, and I was being told whom I was and wasn’t allowed to talk to in order not to make people uncomfortable.  (There are still a few people from that church who I’m in Facebook contact with; if any of them are reading this, please understand that I hold no grudges against you or this church, but that is honestly how the actions of that time made me feel.)  After all this crap hit the proverbial fan, I stayed at that church for three months, trying to figure out if maybe I had done something wrong, and I had some helpful conversations where I learned things that I did that may rub others the wrong way.  In one such conversation, someone was telling me that one of my traits that turns others off was that, when asked how I’m doing, I actually answer the question.  “When people ask, ‘How are you?'” she said, “they don’t really want you to answer how you are.  It’s more of a formality.  They just want you to smile and say fine.  No one cares if you’re having a bad day.”  I said that that seemed horribly fake, shallow, and disingenuous.  “You gotta fake it till you make it,” she said.

Honestly, I think what this individual was trying to tell me 10 years ago is that there’s a time and a place to talk about why you’re having a bad day.  And I agree with this.  I can see where some might find it unsettling if, say, a stranger in line at the grocery store whom I had never seen before were to start talking about their bad day.  And I know that I do have a tendency sometimes to dump all my problems on people I barely know.  This probably is something I should work on.  But this wasn’t about dumping my problems on strangers.  This was about being at church talking to other regulars at church who I know.  If I can’t talk to my brothers and sisters in Christ about my struggles, if I have to be fake and put on a happy face to cover all the hurt and brokenness, then the problem is with them, and with this church if this sort of mentality is encouraged there, not with me.  Let’s look at what might have happened if the people in the Bible had this mentality.  The passage starting in Mark 10:46 might have looked like this:

Then they came to Jericho.  As Jesus and his diciples, together with a large crowd were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging.  When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Jesus waved, and said, “Hey, Bartimaeus!  I hope you’re having a great day!”  Then he kept walking.  The disciples asked, “Why didn’t you help him?”  “Because his begging makes me uncomfortable,” Jesus said.  “That guy has serious mental issues.  There’s medication for people like him.  He just needs to fake it till he makes it.”

Or the passage starting in John 11:17, when Jesus comes to visit the recently deceased Lazarus’ family:

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.  When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.  “Jesus!” Martha said to him.  “Hi!  How are you?”  Jesus said to her, “I’m fine!  How are you?”  Martha answered, “I’m great!  Mary and I had a girls’ day, we went and got our nails done and went to Starbucks!  It’s kind of sad that my brother is dead, but hey, everything happens for a reason, right?  God is blessing my socks off!”

These are extreme examples, I know, but in concept they’re really no different.  This is not the Jesus I know, and a church that acts like this is not a church I want to be a part of.

Back to the other conversation, the one that happened recently: I have had another opportunity since then to make an impression in the sort of situation that prompted this discussion, and I don’t feel that it went well.  This lack of good impression is something that is negatively impacting my short-term goals in life, and thinking about this later in the day, I realized that I really need to start taking this more seriously and learning how to make a better impression in these situations.  And that got me thinking about faking it till I make it again, and how I can’t do this, I just can’t be fake.  But I realized something more important: I can learn how to do better in situations without being fake.  Before my friend used that phrase, she said that I needed to learn exactly what is expected in these situations and act accordingly.  I can’t be fake, I don’t want to pretend to be someone else solely to impress people, but what I can and must do is learn how to present myself so that my best side, and my most appropriate side for the situation, is what people see.  And this will be something I will work on in the immediate future, so that I can continue to move forward in this short-term life goal.  Learning and practicing for these situations isn’t necessarily synonymous with faking it.  So instead of using that phrase, I’m going to say “learn it till you earn it.”  I’m not faking.  I’m learning how to present myself better, how to make sure that the impression I leave is the side of me that the situation requires, but still really the real me.

Exit 2. I’m an introvert with 895 friends. COMBO BREAKER!

Every few months on Facebook, I see things going around that discuss specific traits and challenges of being an introvert or an extrovert. I definitely lean more toward being an introvert. When I’m stressed and overwhelmed with life, sometimes I need time to be alone. When I first enter an unfamiliar large group setting, I tend to sit quietly by myself for a while until I get a feel for what’s going on. And weekends where I’m busy running around from one social obligation to the next really wear me out.

But I’m not 100% on the introvert side of the spectrum. A few months ago, when someone observed on Facebook that you can tell the introverts from the extroverts by looking at how many Facebook friends they had. I replied, “I’m an introvert with 895 friends. COMBO BREAKER!” My life has taken a lot of crazy detours and scenic routes to get me to this point where I have so many great friends. I am no longer the quiet kid I was in high school, reading and doing homework in a corner by myself during lunch. My primary social life spans three counties and three decades of birth. I love having a house, and plenty of movies, board games, and retro video games, to share with my friends. I love having big groups of people over to hang out at my house. I just can’t host big social events all the time. Once every month or two at the most is just fine by me.

Lately, though, I haven’t been very social at all. My weekend plans have been lighter than usual, and I haven’t invited anyone over. And I haven’t really felt like changing that. I think part of the reason just has to do with being tired, being busy with work and other commitments, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s something bigger at play here. Looming in the background is the possibility of big changes in my life, changes of the sort that may disrupt the current patterns of socializing. These are changes I am hoping for and changes I need to make, but they are changes of the sort that I cannot discuss publicly yet, so I apologize for being vague. (If you know me personally, and you don’t know what I am referring to, ask me privately.) The changes in my social life will be collateral damage of sorts, and believe me, I would like to avoid or at least minimize this, but at this point it is a possibility I have to consider. And because of this, I’m finding myself more reluctant to invest in a network of friends and places that may not remain intact in the same form for long.

However, this is not the healthiest way to approach this situation. One of my favorite passages from the Bible in this situation is Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles. It includes this very famous verse: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'” (29:11). It seems like some of my Christian friends say that that is one of their favorite verses, and the rest say that it is one of their least favorite. It seems pretty obvious why it might be someone’s favorite: prosperity, not being harmed, and hope are all good things to look forward to. Those who do not like this verse usually object to it being quoted out of context. God is not saying these words to me or to you. This was written to a specific group of people at a specific point in history. They were in exile in a foreign land, and God was telling them that after a specific time period, he would bring them back to the homeland that he had promised them centuries earlier. It is not a universal promise that everyone will find prosperity and be delivered from harm.

I believe, however, that this passage says a lot about the character of God. His specific plans for specific individuals aren’t always the same, but he still loves his people and wants to bring them back to him, somehow, at the right time, whenever that is. And the paragraph before this verse (specifically, verses 4-9), when read in context, speaks a lot to a situation like mine. God tells his people how to live while they are in exile, while they are waiting for God to deliver them. He tells them basically to keep living life as if that place of exile were their home, because for now, it is. Settle down, work for a living, raise families, and pray for the prosperity of the land where they are living, and when the time is right, I’ll deliver you.

I am trying to make changes to my life, to be delivered from a situation that is not ideal, and it is the kind of change that is not entirely in my hands. Maybe something will happen tomorrow that will set something in motion, or maybe I’ll have to wait years. Until then, I shouldn’t put my life on hold. Until then, I’m still in the exact same position in life as I was a few months ago, and I should be living the same way. I still have my house, I still have great friends, so I should still be socializing the same way I used to. And that’s how I’m going to go about things. I’m not going to put everything on hold while I wait for this to sort itself out.  I might need more time to rest, or more time to do things related to making these changes, but until I know for sure that life is entering a new season, I have to keep living in the old season.  And I intend to.  I just need my friends to be a little patient with me sometimes.

Exit 1. Do not be seduced by the Dark Side

According to some, today is Star Wars Day.  Why, those of you who have not heard this before may be asking?  Because it’s May the Fourth, as in “May the Fourth be with you.”  To be completely honest, I’ve always had mixed feelings about Star Wars Day.  On the one hand, it’s awesome because Star Wars.  And on one recent May 4, I attended a wedding with Star Wars-related elements that was one of the most fun weddings I’d ever been to.  But I also feel like Star Wars deserves better than a lame pun.  All six Star Wars movies were released in May, and George Lucas’ birthday is in May, so why not celebrate on one of those days instead?

With all the talk of Star Wars on my Facebook feed today, I got to thinking about how it had been a few years since I had watched the movies, so maybe I should put them on in the background while I’m doing stuff around the house.  I’m too busy to watch all six, it’ll probably take me until next weekend to finish that, but I’ll keep working on it little by little.  That got me thinking about how Star Wars is practically unique among movies in terms of how many different ways there are to watch the entire series.  Release order (classic trilogy, then prequels), chronological order within the Star Wars universe (prequels, then classic trilogy), or ignore the prequels altogether?  Or perhaps some modified order, like flashback order (watch the prequels after Empire Strikes Back, then Return of the Jedi last, so that right after you find out about Vader’s origin, you get an extended eight hour flashback explaining how that happened) or Machete Order (same as flashback order, but skipping Phantom Menace entirely, because it doesn’t add a whole lot to the story, and allegedly it’s everyone’s least favorite)?  And which versions?  The theatrical releases, the 1997 Special Editions, the 2004 DVDs, or the 2011 Blu-Rays?

Star Wars creator George Lucas claims that the changes were made to make the movies closer to his original vision for them, since special effects technology has advanced significantly since the first movies were made in the late 1970s.  But these changes have upset many fans.  I don’t have a problem with that.  I get that.  But what I do have a problem with is the people who go around making blanket statements like “true Star Wars fans know that there are only three real Star Wars movies” (in other words, the prequels don’t count) or “true Star Wars fans only watch the theatrical releases, not the Special Editions.”  This is part of a wider movement I have noticed more and more the last few years, something I call geek-bullying.  And this phenomenon is not unique to the Star Wars fandom either.  I have been criticized for treating Paul McGann’s Doctor Who movie on an equal footing with the other Doctor Who series, for continuing to watch new episodes of The Simpsons to this day, and for not watching Star Trek at all.

I have a lot of friends who are into science fiction, role-playing games, and comic book conventions.  I was never into these things as a kid, and I think that was more related to fear of geek-bullies than lack of interest.  I knew that in order to fit in with groups like this, I had to know a lot of obscure things about these fictional universes, and I had to have a lot of money in order to have all the right toys, books, and the like.  What makes geek-bullying so sad is its blatant hypocrisy.  So many of these people who identify as geeks and nerds talk about having been bullied as kids, yet they don’t seem to think about how these “a true fan of this does that” statements set up exactly the kind of environment that resulted in their exclusion in another setting.  The victims have become the oppressors.  You either have to be exactly like this or you’ll be intimidated and treated like a lesser being.  Only the Sith deal in absolutes.

This is why I don’t like to label myself a nerd or a geek.  I don’t want to be told that true nerds and true geeks have to like certain things and dislike others.  I just want to be me.  I’m watching the Star Wars 2004 DVD, with all the changes that upset a lot of fans.  I know Han shot first, and I’m not particularly thrilled about Hayden Christensen being in the final scene of ROTJ, but in 2004 the theatrical releases weren’t available on DVD, there were no plans to do so, and it’s not worth me going out and spending a ton more money just so a few minutes of the movies will look the way they did in the 70s and 80s.  If I did not own any of the Star Wars movies on DVD, and I were to buy them for the first time on DVD after the original theatrical versions had been released on DVD, I’d probably go with the originals, but it’s not worth it to buy another set right now.  And I’m going to watch them in flashback order, including all three prequels.  The article I linked to above on Machete Order, in explaining how and why to include the prequels, says “Maybe you actually like the prequels (seriously?).”  The message this author is trying to send is clear: no one really likes the prequels all that much, and if you do, there’s something wrong with you.  While this was probably intended to be tongue-in-cheek, it is also a classic example of geek-bullying.  So what if you like the prequels?  Maybe you look for different things in a movie than what the author of this article does.  It doesn’t mean one way is right and the other is wrong.  (Personally, I don’t think the prequels have stood the test of time as well as the classic trilogy, but I don’t dislike them either.)

Many people who consider themselves geeks like to say that being a geek is all about being really into your passions.  If that’s true, then let other people be really into their passions, and stop bullying them or making fun of them for having unpopular passions.  Do not be seduced by the Dark Side to become a bully.

Hi.

So here I am, starting a blog in 2014. That sounds a bit passé at this point. Maybe next I’m going to go out and buy a CD player and read the newspaper. I’ve been doing something resembling blogging for about 10 years now, first on Livejournal, then Myspace, then Facebook. For the most part, the things I wrote there were things I just wanted to share with friends. I stopped making my Livejournal entries public after a year or so, once I figured out that that was an option, and on the other sites I never made anything public. I’ve never attempted writing anything for the general public, not regularly.

I was another two paragraphs along in explaining why I’m starting this blog when I realized that none of that was really what I wanted to say. So I deleted it. Maybe that’s because I don’t have any lofty expectations for this blog. I don’t fit neatly into any age group in terms of lifestyle, behavior, beliefs, and the like. I’m the type who transcends cliques and social strata. I love that. But that is a topic for another day. I was going to say that I am old enough that I tend to think of social media as primarily a venue for entertainment, and sometimes it seems a little ridiculous to me when I hear of people making careers and public policy decisions based on those things. I know people who take their blogging very seriously, and they are part of a blogging subculture with traditions and etiquette that I don’t understand. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, I guess I’m just trying to say that I’m not trying to be like that.

I’m just going to be me. I think a lot. Sometimes I share those thoughts with my friends on my Facebook. And for some reason, I decided I need to share them here with the public. I don’t know if anyone other than my friends will ever find this page, but who knows?