Month: June 2015

Exit 61. You can’t legislate a viewpoint.

I have a lot of friends on both extremes of the political spectrum, and thus it has been no surprise to me that a lot of them have had a lot to say in the last couple weeks, given the controversies that have been brewing here in the USA.  I’m not here to share my views on the subject; given the specific subjects at hand, my views don’t line up neatly on the liberal or conservative side, and both sides would probably disagree with me.  I don’t like writing specific political views, because those kinds of arguments tend to be based on premises not accepted by those who don’t agree, and thus no minds are changed.  But I do have some interesting thoughts on the matters at hand, particularly regarding people’s responses to them.

Several years ago, the topic of abortion came up in church, and at one point, the pastor said, “You can’t legislate morality.”  His point was that if abortion were to be outlawed all of a sudden, people’s views on the topic would not change.  Those who want to end abortion should start by teaching people about God’s love, and the sanctity of life, and God’s purpose for sexual intercourse, and by practicing what they preach.  I found this interesting, because this is probably one of the most conservative pastors I’ve ever had, and yet this is an argument typically made by liberals, in the context that making abortion illegal won’t stop people from having abortions.  But he’s right.  A law, or a binding court decision, will not change the beliefs or behavior of a deeply divided populace.  In the context of recent events, the US Supreme Court’s decision that states cannot prohibit homosexual marriage does not suddenly make religious beliefs about homosexuality wrong, because those who hold those beliefs see their God as a higher authority than the US Supreme Court.  Conversely, if the United States were to amend the Constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman, that would not stop homosexuals from being attracted to the same sex and acting on those attractions.  Banning the Confederate battle flag will not change the views of racists, and removing the stigma that comes with the Confederate battle flag is unlikely to make anyone a racist if they don’t already hold those views to some extent.  You can’t legislate a viewpoint.

So if you can’t force your views down people’s throats through the law or the courts, what can you do?  You can start by understanding the people who disagree with you; find out why they think the way they do.  Be respectful.  Spend time around people with different views from yours.  The people I know (both liberals and conservatives) who say disrespectful things about those they disagree with are most often not people who have spent a lot of time out of their cultural bubble.  You might find your own views changing in a positive way, or you might find a compromise.

I know, it isn’t easy to do this.  It’s easier to hide behind the anonymity of the Internet and call names.  As my group of friends has diversified, there have been many times I’ve longed to go back to my right wing conservative roots.  I’ve considered leaving the liberal progressive partner dance communities that I have become so involved with in the last several years, and spending more time around people who aren’t going to make fun of Christians and share profanity-laced blog posts attacking and belittling those who don’t share their radical views.  (I should add the disclaimer that not all of the links that my liberal friends share are this negative, of course.)  But the problem with this is that my views don’t fit in neatly among right wing conservatives either, at least not anymore.  Their rants have much less profanity than the rants of some liberals, but conservatives can be at times just as disrespectful toward me regarding, for example, my refusal to accept young earth creationism, or my view that conservatives are severely misguided in their belief that the Common Core State Standards Initiative is a conspiracy by the federal government to indoctrinate schoolchildren into Godless liberalism.

I had plans in San Francisco tonight before the court ruling regarding same-sex marriage.  Given San Francisco’s extreme liberal reputation, as well as recent events in the city, I considered canceling my plans, just to stay away from any situations that might get controversial.  But I didn’t, I’m still going, because I realized that backing out would be doing exactly the opposite of everything I just said (not to mention, as I said above, I don’t currently claim allegiance to either side in the debate over same-sex marriage).  Jesus spent time around people outside of the mainstream of the culture he was raised in, and he loved them for who they were, and he told his followers to do the same.  And that is my job, to be like Jesus before those who don’t know him.  It’s up to God to change their heart, or to change my heart.  Or both.

Exit 60. A wedding hashtag combines two things that I already hate: weddings and hashtags.

A friend who recently got engaged was taking suggestions on her Facebook page for wedding hashtags.  That got me thinking, why do I hate the idea of wedding hashtags so much?  On the surface, the answer seems simple.  A wedding hashtag combines two things that I already hate: weddings and hashtags.

But no, it’s not quite that simple.  And any of you who are currently planning a wedding, and planning to invite me, please don’t take me off your invitation list because I said I hate weddings.  I didn’t mean it that way, and I totally want to come to your wedding.  Keep reading; I’ll explain.

In 2007, I was at a wedding for some friends from church.  I was in kind of a grumpy mood that day as it was.  I have mixed feelings about weddings in general.  Weddings are supposed to be a happy occasion.  Everyone seems to have that phase in their mid-20s when all their friends get married, and they get invited to weddings every few months.  After I went through that phase, I moved at age 24, made new friends who weren’t married, and went through that phase all over again.  Then I moved again at age 29, and went through several of these cycles: make new friends, watch these friends get married, watch them move on with their lives and not spend time with me anymore, and repeat.  GOTO 10.  And through all of that, I never got my chance.  I’ve been to approximately 40 weddings in my lifetime, and each one represented close friends who I was about to lose because they discovered this strange alien phenomenon called love that was going to take them into a new phase of their lives that required leaving all their old single friends like me behind.  I’m happy for my friends who get married, but I can’t shake the feeling in the back of my head that I’ve just lost two friends, and that I’m missing out on this next phase of my life.

The reception for this wedding in 2007 was at a different location from the ceremony.  I got there a little later than most of the people I knew; seating was not preassigned, and everyone I knew had already found a table, and there was no room left at that table for me.  Given the way I had been feeling that morning, that was enough to set me off; I quietly walked back outside and sat on a bench.  An older friend from church (not older as in old, but older as in around my parents’ age rather than close to the age of the bride and groom) sat next to me and asked what was wrong.  I told him.  “Go home,” he said.  “If you really don’t want to be here, just go home.”  I thought about it.  I almost did go home.  But then I said, “No.  I’m not going to go home.  This day isn’t about me and all of my issues.  It’s the bride and groom’s special day, and if they think I’m an important enough part of their lives that they wanted to share their special day with me, then it would just be selfish for me to turn my back on them because of my own issues.”  So I went back inside, and I was determined to have fun at that wedding reception.  And I did.  And ever since then, I’ve taken that attitude whenever I’ve been to a wedding.

As for hashtags, let’s review first, especially for the benefit of my readers who aren’t up on the latest social media trends.  A hashtag is a number sign (called a hash in British English) followed by some string of letters and numbers (no spaces or punctuation) intended to group or categorize a caption, status update, etc.  Hashtags in their current form started as a function of Twitter and later spread to other social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.  They can be used in mid-sentence, such as “Is anyone watching this #SFGiants game right now?”, or as postscripts, such as “Home run!!! #SFGiants”  The original intended function of a hashtag is to group or categorize posts.  In my examples, clicking on “#SFGiants” wil bring up other posts that contain the hashtag #SFGiants, which would presumably be posts about the San Francisco Giants baseball team.

The problem with hashtags, in my opinion, is their gratuitous overuse.  Let’s say you go to a Giants game and take a self portrait (that’s what the word “selfie” actually means, by the way, so if someone else is taking a picture of you, it’s not a selfie) with the scoreboard and the view of the San Francisco Bay in the background.  Your properly tagged caption might say something like “At the game today!  #SFGiants  #SanFrancisco #baseball”  An improperly tagged caption might say something like “At the game today!  #icanseethebaybehindme  #lookatthathugeshipunderthebridge  #ihavegreathairtoday  #busterposeyhasaniceass  #iwantgarlicfries  #cutehair  #omgitotallylookcutetoday  #selfie  #hashtag”  For one thing, that is hard to read.  The English language has spaces and capital letters and punctuation for precisely that reason; please use them.  Spaces and punctuation aren’t allowed in hashtags, I know, but capital letters are, and that would significantly improve the readability of this caption.  More importantly, though, most of those things shouldn’t even be hashtags.  Remember, the point of a hashtag is to make your post searchable.  I guarantee you, very few people, quite possibly no one, is out there searching for “lookatthathugeshipunderthebridge.”  It’s way too specific.  If you wanted to categorize your pictures of ships under bridges, use something more succinct and easier to find like “#ship” or “#bridge.”  If you wanted to categorize your selfies with great hair, use “#greathair.”  That’s how it’s supposed to work.

So, back to the original topic, wedding hashtags.  When the kids these days get married, they make up a hashtag specifically for their wedding, and tell all their friends to use it when posting statuses and pictures related to the wedding.  To me, this seems kind of narcissistic.  Do they really expect people worldwide to be searching for their wedding?  And do they always need to come up with something cute and sappy?  Can’t it just be their names and the word “wedding” or something like that?  Some keep their hashtags simple like that, I know.  But I’ve seen others that just want to make me barf.  I’m not going to give examples here, because I don’t want to alienate my friends who have done that.

I realized something about wedding hashtags, though:  I can’t really complain, because this is a perfectly legitimate use of a hashtag.  A hashtag specifically for posts and pictures from a wedding creates an easy way to see posts and pictures on that same topic, and this is what hashtags are supposed to be for.  Maybe the whole world won’t be searching for that topic, but the bride and groom and their family and friends might.  And as for being narcissistic, it’s a wedding we’re talking about here, and the bride and groom have a right to be the centers of attention for that one day.  Like I said, if I don’t like it, I’m just being selfish.  I have my own issues to deal with, and I shouldn’t take them out on two other people who deserve to have a special day.

So if you’re planning a wedding, and you want me to be there, invite me.  I’ll be there.  Go ahead and make up a hashtag too.  I won’t use it, but that’s only because I generally don’t use hashtags at all, not because I’m going to stop you from celebrating your wedding your way.

Exit 59. An ace that I could keep.

I’ve had a lot going on in the last couple weeks, and of all the things I’ve had on my mind, none of them are really coagulating into a Highway Pi post yet.  So I was looking through some things I wrote in the past, and I found one I wrote five years ago, almost to the day that feels true given all that has been going on.  So you get a rerun this week.  I wrote this in June of 2010 and made some minor changes to it right now so it still makes sense.  The title of this post, of course, is a quote from Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler.”

I didn’t really pay much attention to country music before 2005, but this song (Kenny’s version was originally released in 1978) was always well-known enough that I vaguely knew of its existence before then. But I remember paying more attention to this song before 2005… I guess it was in the early 2000s when I discovered Carbon Leaf*. Although they never recorded a version of The Gambler, they often played it at live shows in their early days, and it briefly made a return to their setlist in 2005, including at a show I attended.

* [When I wrote this on Facebook in 2010, I had a note here reminding my friends that Carbon Leaf would be in Sacramento in July and that they should all come with me.  That show, of course, was five years ago.  But they will be in San Francisco in September 2015, and I am still of the firm belief that all my friends should come with me.  If you aren’t local, check their Web site for tour dates near you.]

Anyway, I’m all for works of art being open to interpretation, but I’m pretty sure the writer of this song didn’t intend just to write a song about an old man passing on advice for how to win at poker. The song is meant to be taken metaphorically.  Let’s look at the the gambler’s advice. Know when to hold ’em, when to fold ’em… some things are worth fighting for, and some things are better let go. Never count your money while you’re sitting at the table… take life as it comes, and don’t worry about the future. Every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser… the outcome of life isn’t determined by what happens, so much as one’s reaction to it, and how one uses what he or she has. And, at the end of the song: In his final words, I found an ace that I could keep. The two men are just talking, they aren’t even playing cards, and if the gambler somehow gave the narrator a literal ace, that would be cheating. The gambler, who has just passed away, has passed on to the narrator useful advice (the metaphorical ace) that will help him succeed in life, with that advice being everything else he just said.

I feel like I haven’t been playing my cards well lately. I’m off work for two months. I should be using this time for, well, pretty much anything other than that the sad amount of time I’ve spent the last few days moping around being bored. I have creative projects to produce, boxes to organize, people to hang out with, places to go, books to read, old video games I’ve never beaten to finish… and I shouldn’t be worried about whether there is a right decision or a wrong decision. This is my time to enjoy, not to be sad. And more important, I shouldn’t be letting little things get to me, as I have repeatedly the last few days. Sometimes I just need to fold, to let things go and focus on what’s more important.

Furthermore, while every hand may be a winner, and every hand may be a loser, I have to say that some hands are easier to win with than others. And I’ve been dealt a pretty good hand. While the last few days may have felt like every little thing has gone wrong, I have to admit that it could be a lot worse.  A lot of people I know have some very big things going wrong in their lives. That all puts things in perspective… I really don’t have it that badly right now. I have a lot of things to be thankful for… so it’s time to start playing my cards right.

Now, in 2015, not much has changed.  A lot of little things have gone wrong, and I still haven’t been very productive with my time off.  So, once again, it’s time to start playing my cards right.

Exit 58. 1987 was the best year for music in my lifetime.

Ever since I was in my early 20s, when the technology to do so was new at the consumer level, I’ve made mix CDs and playlists of songs that have some common thread holding them together.  I suppose the technology itself wasn’t exactly new, since mix tapes existed for decades before mix CDs.  But my most prolific time of making mix CDs seemed to rise with the purchase of my first computer with a CD burner, in early 1999.  Some of my mix CDs are songs that were all popular during a certain time period, some of them have some lyrical theme in common related to things going on in my life at the time, some of them all fit a certain mood, and for some of them, the common thread is something much more nerdy and less related to the lyrics.  For this last group, I’m thinking specifically of a mix CD I made consisting only of songs in the key of E flat major.  But I’m getting sidetracked.

One mix CD I made in 2006, which fits into the first of the above categories, is titled “1987 Was The Best Year For Music In My Lifetime.”  This is a rather bold proclamation to be made from the title of a mix CD, but almost a decade later, I still believe this to be true.  I know I have some friends who disagree with me.  One of them in particular has challenged me on this point numerous times, with him arguing in favor of a different year, and I know that once I share this post on my Facebook, he’s going to read this and bring up his argument again.  Hi, Dave.  I never disagreed with you about the year that you say being a great year for music, but I’m going to stand by my choice of 1987.

Often, one’s choice for the best music ever is related to nostalgia for one’s past, for a simpler time full of memories.  The interesting thing about my opinion on this matter is that 1987 really was not all that good of a year for me.  I was 10 years old for the majority of the year, turning 11 in late summer.  I finished fifth grade and started sixth.  This was the year that I was pulled out of mainstream public school, away from any chance to live something resembling a normal pre-teen life, and placed in an all-day special education class for students with behavioral and emotional disabilities (I’ve explained this before).  I went from being teased and bullied constantly to being ashamed of who I was and embarrassed to talk about school.  Nostalgia is in play here to some extent, because even despite all that, life was simpler then, and childhood had its share of fun moments.  But the lack of consistently positive memories from that time period seems to suggest that the music stands on its own.  Let’s take a look at some memorable albums of the time.

  • “Bad,” Michael Jackson.  How does one follow “Thriller?”  It’s almost a lose-lose situation.  Thriller was so monumental for so many reasons that Michael Jackson was bound to face criticism no matter what came next for him.  The time between Thriller and Bad was also when revelations about his plastic surgery and bizarre personal life came to light.  I’ll admit that back then I wasn’t a fan.  I loved Thriller, I had Thriller on vinyl (well, it belonged to my dad, I think) in elementary school, and I played it often, but by the time Bad came around, I was a little sick of Michael Jackson.  The music eventually grew on me, though, and for me it has retained its timeless quality.
  • “The Joshua Tree,” U2.  Like “Bad,” I never owned this album until adulthood, but I knew many of the songs from MTV and radio.  U2 was already a household name by 1987, and this album was the finest example of the kind of music that got them to that point.  They would have one more great album a few years later (“Achtung Baby”) before getting really weird in the mid- to late 1990s, then a couple more decent albums in the early 2000s before getting really weird again.
  • “Hysteria,” Def Leppard.  One of the most familiar and memorable albums of the Hair Band era, with many hit singles.  I remember Dad having it on tape; I don’t remember if I ever listened to it all the way through.  Back then, many albums I would only listen to for the songs I knew, and I knew a lot of songs on this album, mostly from MTV.
  • And an honorable mention: “Slippery When Wet,” Bon Jovi.  This was actually released in August of 1986, but its song “Livin’ on a Prayer” went to #1 in early 1987 and is one of those songs that defined a generation, some would say.  We listened to this album on many childhood car trips, and it was one of my brother’s favorites in particular, at least the way Mom tells the story.

A number of older artists from the 1960s and 70s released new material in 1987, often for the first time in many years.  This sort of thing happens all the time, but it seemed to happen more often than usual in 1987.  Aerosmith released their “Permanent Vacation” album, the beginning of their second heyday that would last through the mid-90s.  The “Rumours”-era incarnation of Fleetwood Mac released one last album before parting ways.  The Grateful Dead released an album of songs they had been playing live through much of the 80s but had never recorded; one of these songs, “Touch of Grey,” would become their highest-charting hit ever, over two decades after the band’s formation.  George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set On You” became the last #1 single by an ex-Beatle.  And, four years after their ugly breakup, two of the four members of Pink Floyd, with a third as a studio session musician who would later make a full return to the band, reunited to record the album “A Momentary Lapse of Reason,” including the beautiful hit single “Learning to Fly.”

Some bands with memorable careers had their breakthroughs in 1987.  A strange yet catchy band from Georgia known as R.E.M. had been around for a few years but first started to get mainstream attention with songs such as “The One I Love” and “It’s The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”  Guns ‘N Roses burst onto the Hair Band scene with their “Appetite for Destruction” album.  Whitesnake, a household name for almost a decade in the UK, had two very successful singles in the US: “Is This Love” and “Here I Go Again”; the latter was actually a re-recording of a 1982 song of theirs that did not get much attention on this side of the Atlantic.

The year was also full of memorable songs from artists whose careers may not have been specifically associated with anything from 1987.  “Just Like Heaven,” by the Cure.  “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” by Whitney Houston.  “La Isla Bonita,” by Madonna.  “Alone,” by Heart.  “Need You Tonight,” by INXS.  “Paper In Fire,” by John Mellencamp.  “Notorious,” by Duran Duran.  And 1987 was also full of a lot of memorable one- and two-hit wonders.  Rick Astley.  Crowded House.  Cutting Crew.  Icehouse.  And the list goes on.

I’ll just leave you with a YouTube playlist.  Join me in reliving the music of my preteens.  (The first 17 songs, up to Sweet Child O’ Mine, were the original mix CD I made in 2006.  I have added to it with songs that I did not have in my personal collection yet in 2006.  And a few of these were actually released in 1986 but reached their highest US chart position in 1987, as I’ve said before.)

Exit 57. Underneath, there is a beautiful little story.

Sorry I’m late.  I had a lot of unexpected things happen this last weekend.

One thing I did recently was watch the movie Orange County.  I’ve seen this movie probably close to 100 times since its 2002 release.  And it was not at all a movie I expected to love so much.  I actually passed up a chance to see it on the big screen when it was first released.  I had a friend from Church I with the Problems who was a live-in nanny at the time.  She was taking the teenage boy to the movie theater to see Orange County with some friends of his, and she and I were going to go see something else.  I’m not even sure now what it was, although if it’s what I think I remember it being, it was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen to the point that I don’t even want to discuss it.  I passed on Orange County because I had seen commercials for it, and I thought it looked like a dumb and disgusting teen stoner movie.

For those of you who don’t remember this movie, or (especially) for those of you who are getting it mixed up with a similarly named but unrelated TV show from a little later: Orange County stars Colin Hanks (Tom’s real-life son) as Shaun, a high school senior, a former surfer, stoner, and underachiever who has finally found inspiration.  In one horrible day, his dreams of leaving Orange County and following this inspiration constantly go wrong, despite the best efforts of Ashley, his overly positive girlfriend (Schuyler Fisk, the real-life daughter of Sissy Spacek), and Lance, his lovable loser older brother (Jack Black, playing the exact same character he always plays so well).

About six months after the time I didn’t see Orange County on the big screen, in June, I was visiting my parents while on school break.  My brother was borrowing the DVD of Orange County from a coworker, or community college classmate, I forget which.  He was into a lot of those dumb teen movies at the time, and I’d usually give them a chance.  But the day after we watched Orange County, I watched it again.  It was rare that I would want to watch one of his favorite movies a second time.  This one was special.  A few months later, my family came to visit me for my birthday.  At the time, the tradition was that my brother would get me a movie for my birthday.  I hadn’t mentioned to him any movies that I wanted, nor did I give him any gift ideas.  After taking me to dinner, we were opening presents in the parking lot, and my brother was holding my present behind his back, unwrapped, so I couldn’t see it.  Mom asked, “Do you think you know what [your brother] got you?”  I had a serious dilemma on my hands here.  If I said I thought he got me Orange County, that would mean admitting publicly that I liked this silly movie.  If I didn’t say anything, though, I’d miss a chance to be right.  I went with the first option eventually, saying something like “Ummmmmmmmmorangecounty?”  He pulled his hand out from behind his back, and sure enough, there was Orange County on DVD.  I watched it around 30 times in the next month alone.

So why did I change my mind about this little piece of cinematic brilliance?  The whole teen surfer stoner culture is just the backdrop.  Underneath, there is a beautiful little story about being yourself, figuring out what is really important in life, and having a love-hate relationship with your hometown and the way it influences you.  (Notice that the movie is named after where Shaun lives, not after what he does or what he wants to be in life or anything like that.)  And those are all things I can relate to very well.  Long before I had this blog or Facebook or Myspace or Livejournal, I used to send a monthly email to stay in touch with all my friends.  I mentioned this movie in one of those monthly emails around the time I first discovered it.  One of my good friends from high school replied, “What is it with you brilliant people and stupid movies?  My brother was just telling me he was watching Bring It On while writing his dissertation.”  (I haven’t seen Bring It On by the way.)  I replied something like, “I have a special connection with movies I can relate to.  And let’s look at it this way.  Shaun, in Orange County, is a confused kid who is tired of his hometown.  His family drives him crazy.  He writes a story based on his life.  He can’t wait to get away from all of that, but nothing goes right, and in the process, he learns what’s important in life and that running away won’t solve all his problems.  DOES THIS SOUND LIKE ANYONE YOU KNOW?  I rest my case.”

So there it is.  Orange County is one of my all-time favorite movies.  If you’ve never seen it, and you want to, come on over.  Unless you’re a jerk and I don’t know you, in which case maybe you should watch it with your own friends.

What about the rest of my readers?  Do any of you have a lesser-known movie, or book, or anything else, that you really connected with like this?