Month: October 2014

Exit 26. And now, 20 years later, no one cares.

If you are my friend in real life right now, then this weekend you saw me tagged in a bunch of pictures on Facebook having a great time with people who you’ve never seen before.  Who are these people? you might be asking.  Do you have a secret second group of friends that you spend time with?  Why haven’t I ever met these other friends of yours?  Are you sneaking around on us?

For one thing, I’m being dramatic here; if you’re really thinking that, you’re too clingy.  But seriously, those people were my friends from high school.  This weekend was my class reunion.

I told a few people this last week that I was going to my high school reunion.  One response I got repeatedly, particularly from females in their early 20s, was something along the lines of “I don’t ever want to go to my high school reunions.  I only had three friends in high school, I still see all of them, and the rest of my class were a bunch of backstabbing jerks and bitches.”  Some people have this stereotype that at high school reunions, that people stay in their cliques and act just as immature and dramatic as they did in high school, putting people down who don’t meet their shallow standards and making people feel badly about themselves.

My recent high school reunion, as well as the last one 10 years ago, were the exact polar opposite of that stereotype.

It was a fairly small crowd, considerably smaller than the last one.  But it was a crowd that included people from many different walks of life and high school social circles.  There were old friends who I’m sporadically in Facebook contact with, old friends I haven’t seen in 19 or 20 years, people I had classes with but didn’t know well, and people I barely knew at all.  And everyone was so nice and so happy to see each other.  Saturday night we met at a bar, and I had dinner with a smaller subset before that.  Sunday afternoon, we had a family-friendly barbecue and picnic, so that we could meet everyone’s children and look at old yearbooks and pictures and talk about how funny everyone’s hair was 20 years ago.

High school was a very interesting time for me.  I felt like I transcended cliques, and I never felt like there were people I didn’t want to see, because I stayed out of petty drama.  I kept to myself a lot for the first two and a half years and mostly only talked to people when they were asking me for help in class.  I didn’t shy away from all school activities, though; I went to football games, about half the dances (where I would spend a lot of time watching and occasionally get on the floor and be an awkward white boy), and drama and dance performances (because I knew people in them).  I started spending more time with people the last year and a half, and I got involved in more student activities as well.  I spent most of the time around the other students in honors and AP classes.  But I also had friends in the band and student government circles, because they were the rest of the students in the AP classes, and friends from other groups, because we had a class together at some point, or knew each other in middle school before the honors students’ schedules began to diverge.

I was really afraid of a lot of things, though.  I grew up very sheltered, and I didn’t really know how to make friends or be a friend.  I was used to getting teased and bullied all the time, and I wasn’t used to people being nice to me.  But most of my high school classmates actually were nice to me.  I was talking to someone about this over the weekend, and she said that no one really knows who they are in high school, that I wasn’t alone in being scared and confused.  I think the difference is that a lot of people put up a façade to get people to like them, whereas I just didn’t actively try to get anyone to like me.  But occasionally people would see the real me peeking through, and they probably liked what they saw, because, especially as I got older, friends would invite me to things and encourage me to get involved.  I did to some extent; the time I was in a skit in front of the whole school, playing Butthead, still feels like a major turning point in my life.  But I also turned some invitations down, just because I was afraid and unsure of myself.

I think a lot of the things that kept me from doing more in high school were just in my head.  In addition to being afraid and sheltered, I also felt like an outsider.  I didn’t grow up with those kids, and even though I went to school with them from the middle of 7th grade onward, it took a few years to get over the feelings of being an outsider.  The reason I felt like an outsider was a secret that I had kept for 26 years, until last night.

This high school serves a number of rural and semi-rural communities in the area north of two medium-sized cities on California’s Central Coast.  But I did not live in any of those communities.  I actually lived in one of the two nearby cities (the less glamorous one, according to most people), three blocks from another high school.  My dad went to that other school, class of ’67, and my brother went to that other school, class of 2000.  (Mom went to Catholic school in that same town.)  Only a few close friends knew that I lived in town, and the ones who knew never knew how I ended up at their school.  And I had never told any of them until this weekend, when it came up in a few conversations.

From April of 5th grade to October of 7th grade (1987-88), I was in a full day special education class for students with behavioral and emotional disabilities.  I was the kid who was teased and bullied constantly, and I would just sit there and take it and take it until I had a violent outburst.  During that year and a half, there were never more than 10 students in the class, and they were almost all boys who were far less successful in mainstream classes than I was.  Eventually it came to the point where they were talking about gradually transitioning me back to mainstream classes, so from October until January of 7th grade I was only in the special ed classes for half the day, and I started taking three periods at a regular public middle school.  For logistical purposes, combined with the fact that I wanted a fresh start away from my childhood bullies, I would walk half a mile from the school that hosted the special ed class to the middle school in that town, which was nine miles from my house, one town over from where I lived.  After a few months (January 1989), that was going well enough that I started going there for the full day, and from then until my graduation in June 1994, I attended school in that district with kids from those towns.  Given my history of being bullied and teased for just about every reason, it’s perfectly understandable that I didn’t want my friends to know that I had spent a year and a half in a class for students with behavioral and emotional disabilities.  Right?

One of my friends whom I told that to last night, when I mentioned that this was the first time I’d ever shared that, said, “And now, 20 years later, no one cares.”  She’s totally right, which is why I’m sharing it on this very public blog where anyone in the world might read it and share it with their friends.  My friends in high school were able to accept me even though I was a little different, and that has only gotten better with time.

I’ve always known that I’d want to go to every high school reunion.  I grew so much as a senior, and then abruptly everyone graduated and scattered.  I’ve often wondered how much more I might have grown had I had one more year with those friends.  I can’t change that now.  But what I can do is make more of an effort to keep in contact with these people.  My Class of 1994 friends really were a special group that made a big difference in my life.  And after this weekend, I know I’m glad to have these people in my life.  Hopefully I’ll see some of you again soon without waiting another five or ten years.

And a postscript: While I stayed out of drama in high school, I did unfriend someone from high school a couple years ago on Facebook for petty reasons.  He commented to one of my friends to say hi to me even though I unfriended him.  As soon as I got home that night, I apologized and re-friended him.

Exit 25. Don’t let the days go by.

Recently, a Facebook friend reposted something about selective memory.  As we get older, we are more likely to remember positive things and forget negative things.  According to this post, the reason many older adults with grown children think that children of the present day are more poorly behaved than their own children were is because these older adults have lost the memories of their own children’s misbehavior.  That, as well as other things I’ve been thinking about this weekend, reminded me of something I wrote a year and a half ago on my personal Facebook.  Much of the rest of this post has been adapted from that, although I’ve added some new material as well, particularly at the end.

On that day a year and a half ago, I heard a hit song from my college years on the way to work and had the song stuck in my head all day.  You already know what song I’m talking about, unless either you didn’t read the title of this post, or you aren’t old enough to remember 1995… but click play anyway.  And if you don’t remember 1995, then by all means click play, because you missed a great song.

I’m not complaining about this at all.  It’s a great song, and to me, it has gotten better with age.  Although I never disliked the song, I seem to like it better now than I did back then; I’ve never owned the album that it was on, and I just acquired the song a couple years ago, to add to the playlist for my 80s and 90s video gaming events.  That got me thinking… why do I like the song so much now?  I think there are two reasons.  (I’m not going to discuss the lyrics here, by the way.  There are several suggested interpretations, and I’m not sure which one resonates with me the best.)  One reason is definitely the music.  The song has a very unique sound to it, an intriguingly haunting combination of electric guitars and strings, with no drums, that makes it stand out from the other big hits of the grunge era.

But there’s more to it than that.  Specifically, nostalgia.  The song brings back memories of my early college years… sometimes when I listen to this song, and others from that time period, I can picture myself driving and/or riding my bike around Davis and the surrounding fields of Yolo County (yes, that’s really what it’s called), or walking around campus between classes, or singing worship songs with Intervarsity as a new Christian.  My freshman year of college was a major turning point in my life.  I had a whole new world to explore.  I was in a new town, and I was in a new place in life, learning to live on my own.  Every few months, I had new classes, new friends to make, new things to learn.  And that makes me wonder… why do I long for those days?  Was life really better my freshman year of college?  Would I really choose those days over what I have now?

I think part of what is in play here is selective and distorted memory of what my freshman year of college was like.  I’ve already remembered one key point of this incorrectly; after I started writing this, I looked up Glycerine on Wikipedia, and it was actually released in November 1995, which was sophomore year (although the album containing it was released freshman year, so it’s entirely possible I may have heard it at some point, either in a friend’s dorm room or on a radio station that played album cuts and not just singles, before it reached its peak chart position).  That doesn’t really change anything I said in the last paragraph, though.  But seriously, I remember the new friends, I remember the bike rides, I remember my new found faith, but I choose not to think about the loneliness that plagued me some nights, the rejection from women, or the times I felt on the outside of cliques.  Another reason I tend to have good memories of college was because it’s something I was good at.  And I’m not very good at real life.  I knew how to be successful in college: study hard, read, and go to class.  Getting good grades was pretty easy for me.  Real life doesn’t have simple directions to follow like that.  I can’t get better at real life just by working harder.

Nothing lasts forever, and I don’t always do well with that.  People get older and change.  Culture and technology re in a constant state of flux.  Some friendships and relationships weren’t meant to be forever.  And I don’t always do well with that.  My life was very unstable in my 20s: graduating from college, being forced to leave a job, and leaving another job voluntarily because I felt like a geographical change would be the best way to leave a toxic non-work-related situation, among other things.  Although I did just start a new job in 2014, other things have stabilized significantly in my 30s.  I’ve been in this house for almost six years, and at my current church for almost nine years (since I was still in my very late 20s).  But other things have changed around me.  For example, the first couple years I was at my current church, I had a group of friends I often sat with, and we would often go out for lunch afterward.  That almost never happens anymore.  Many of those friends have moved away, and the rest now have children, around whom their entire lives rotate (for good reason).  Many of the regulars at my first 80s and 90s video game nights aren’t around anymore, for various reasons.  I still do swing and blues dancing, but many of the people who used to invite me to dance parties at their house aren’t in the area anymore, or don’t dance anymore.

There is absolutely nothing I can do about any of this.  I can’t stop change.  I have two choices: I can fall into a hole of being antisocial, unwilling to change and complaining about the world.  Or I can embrace a willingness to change with the world, finding that balance between what to hold on to and what to let go of.  I can continue some of my traditions, like inviting people over for 80s and 90s video games, but I have to accept that it will never be the same as it was five years ago.  However, change doesn’t have to be bad.  I have made new friends through these events as well, when old friends bring other friends with them, for example.  And I can try new things too, new hobbies and new activities.  I had more of a sense of adventure once, and I have to find a way to resurrect it, because I can’t keep going like this without it.  I know I have to do something, and I hope I figure it out before it’s too late, because the world is changing, and things will never again be like they are today.

Don’t let the days go by.

Exit 24. You know, introvert things, to do alone.

I’ve written twice before (#2 and #16) about being what I call a social introvert.  I am definitely more on the introvert side of the scale, I need alone time and I get tired when I’m out and about with people too much, but I also have a lot of acquaintances and friends and a significant social life.  It’s a hard balance to strike sometimes.

When I wrote #2 in May, I was facing significant upcoming changes in my life of the scope that might make my social life different from the one I knew.  Looking back a few months later, there definitely have been some changes.  In May, relocating geographically was a possibility, but since this did not happen, the changes have not been as drastic as I thought they might be.  But there have been changes that have left me with less time to spend socializing.  By now, though, I am settled into enough of a routine that I have been able to start being a little more social again.

I recently had a significant amount of time off work; this was a result of working at a school with a nontraditional calendar, not from being sick or playing hooky.  In the days leading up to this, I kept thinking that my time off would be my time to be social again.  I could go hang out with people, I could have people over, I could do adventurous things that I am too stressed to do during school.  But that didn’t really happen.  It happened a little bit: I went dancing a few more times than usual, I went to a concert, I hung out with a few friends, and I attended an event for a new hobby that might become a bigger part of my life pretty soon.  But I expected I would be doing a lot more socially.  Instead, I spent a lot of time doing housework, reading, running, and riding my bike.  You know, introvert things, to do alone.

I’ve often felt like any opportunity to socialize is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and if I can’t or don’t participate for whatever reason, I feel like I’ve missed out on something I’ll never get back.  I think part of that mentality comes from my younger days when I had no social life, and such opportunities were so rare.  And to some extent, I still believe that… every day is full of opportunity, and life will never be the same once the day is gone.  However, it isn’t humanly possible for me to do everything.  There isn’t enough of me to go around.  And there is nothing wrong with choosing to spend my time off doing a lot of introverted alone things instead of social activities.  I enjoyed being alone, and I really shouldn’t feel that way.  There have been times before when I’ve felt a need to apologize to my friends for wanting and/or needing to be less social for a while, and for the most part my friends are completely understanding.  Don’t get me wrong, I still want to be invited and included; I just might not be able to accept all those invitations.  I appreciate all of you who accept this about me.  And I will see you soon.

Exit 23. This is my home, and I will not surrender.

Recently, I was at a workshop with teachers from all over the school district where I work.  I do not live within the boundaries of that school district; my house is 25 miles from my work.  At lunch, I was talking to a teacher from the next middle school over from the one where I work, and I found out that he lives fairly close to me.  In the course of our conversation, he asked where else I had taught.  I mentioned one of my previous schools, and how during the time I was there, which was during the early-2000s real estate bubble, I had seen the school and the surrounding neighborhood change.  The original homeowners who had moved in when the area was first built, in the early 1990s, were all leaving for even bigger houses, in gated communities, and even longer commutes.  The vacuum was being filled by renters and first-time homebuyers from Oakland and Richmond, and their kids who were bringing Oakland and Richmond out to the suburbs with them.  After I said this, the other teacher I was talking to said that the same kind of thing is happening where we live.

I normally get really defensive, and really annoyed, when people put down where I live or point out how bad things are here.  There are a lot of alarmist attitudes about the world out there, and there are plenty of places that are a lot worse than where I live.  However, the guy has a point.  It isn’t happening to the extent that it happened where I lived during the real estate bubble, but this area has seen more gang and criminal activity than it did previously.  Some of the neighbors I had when I moved to this house in 2008 have moved to wealthier more distant suburbs because they perceive my neighborhood as unsafe.  And I have mixed feelings about this sort of mentality.

Do I want to stay somewhere that has changed to the point that it doesn’t feel like home anymore?  Do I want to stay where I am out of convenience when a better life might be attainable for me somewhere else?  This area certainly isn’t as bad as the area I was talking about to the other teacher, or the city where I grew up, but he has a point that it is difficult to argue.  This area isn’t the same as it was when I moved here in 2006, and it is very different from what it was when my house was built in 1994.  Will things continue to get worse here, and do I want to be around for that?  As I’ve said before, I spent the second half of 2005 thinking I was going to start over somewhere outside of California.  Did I miss my chance?  Would I be better off getting out while I can?

But, on the other hand, my gut reaction is to say that this course of action only makes the problem worse.  If things get bad and everyone runs away, then that is tantamount to surrendering the neighborhood to the criminal element, leaving no one left to stand up and defend the neighborhood against this sort of influence.  I don’t want to live in fear, constantly running away from a shadow enemy that I’m too afraid to face, and it scares me how many people live this way.  One time, when Cruithne, the roommate I didn’t get along with, lived here, I had to take my car to get fixed.  It was still under warranty at the time, so I had to take it to the dealership, which was about six miles away.  I said that I was going to drop off the car in the morning, on a day I wasn’t working, and then run home.  (At the time I was still able to run six miles without stopping.  I just started running again, so maybe I’ll be back at that point someday.)  Cruithne asked me where the car place was, I told him, and he gave me that look of disapproval that I became so used to in the years he lived here.  “You don’t want to do that,” he said.  “That’s a BAD neighborhood.”  For one thing, I’d lived here long enough to know that neighborhood’s reputation perfectly well; I didn’t need Cruithne to take that condescending tone with me.  But more importantly, I’d been on many bike rides through that neighborhood over the years, and while I can tell it’s a bit run down with a mostly lower income population, I genuinely had no fear of running down a fairly busy street at 11 in the morning.  During my run, I only saw one guy who looked like the kind of undesirable element that Cruithne was talking about, with his hoodie and baggy jeans and gold teeth.  And do you know what I did?  I didn’t go out of my way to avoid him.  I didn’t eye him with suspicion, making sure he wasn’t going to shoot me.  Instead, I smiled and said hi.  And he smiled and said hi back.

I’ve been rereading Genesis lately.  This morning, I read the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (chapters 18 and 19).  God told Abraham that he was going to destroy these two cities because of their wickedness and disobedience.  Abraham’s nephew Lot lives in Sodom, so Abraham prays, asking God if he will still destroy the cities even if there are a few righteous people there, and God says he will not.  Eventually, two angels sent by God visit Lot, warning him to get out of town and never look back, because God is about to rain down fire and brimstone.  Lot and his family escape just before the destruction, but Lot’s wife disobeys God and looks back, and God turns her into a pillar of salt.

It seems to me like my neighborhood has more followers of God in it than Sodom did in the days of the patriarchs, but sometimes I still wonder if something like this could happen.  I don’t mean literal fire and brimstone, but maybe whatever public policies that have caused California to fall into this downward spiral might continue to a point where I really do have to leave to survive.  Or maybe some other circumstance in my life will change, leading me somewhere else.  Maybe I’ll get to a point where I want to live closer to work, or maybe a clear opportunity will present itself in another state, or maybe I’ll meet a girl who is perfectly right for me but she lives somewhere else or has to move somewhere else (of course, that didn’t work out so well last time).  But unless and until that day comes, I refuse to live in fear.  If God speaks clearly to me, as he did to Lot and as he did to me regarding where I was living before, telling me that I have no future here, then I will pack my bags, but I will not leave where I am solely because the neighborhood is changing.  Wake up, people: the entire world is changing, and you can’t run forever from things that make you uncomfortable.  This is my home, and I will not surrender.  I will stand and fight for what makes it great.