Month: December 2015

Exit 87. Goodbye, 2015. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.

This time of year always brings opportunities to reflect on the ending year and think about what went well, what didn’t, and what changes we want to make for the upcoming year.  My gut reaction is to feel like 2015 wasn’t a very good year, and I’ll be glad to see it ending.  Goodbye, 2015.  Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.

The year was full of disappointments.  I’ve been seeing a therapist, and it hasn’t really helped me feel any less depressed or anxious.  I feel more and more like I have very little in common with the women on the one dating site I’ve used, and the one date I had this year with someone from there was, well, weird.  I dated someone briefly who I met in real life, and it didn’t work out.  The events that transpired at the church I’d been going to for many years, and the mixed experiences I’ve had so far at other churches I’ve gone to, have left me feeling more alienated than ever from mainstream Christianity.

But maybe 2015 wasn’t really all that bad.  One major theme stands out for this year.  As I’ve written before, one of my major recent realizations is that I tend to sabotage myself.  I assume that things will be a certain way, and use that as an excuse not to try something, or to stay in my comfort zone.  And each of the above disappointments was the direct result of me taking a step outside of my comfort zone.  I could have continued to assume that therapy wasn’t worth it, knowing that therapy alone isn’t going to solve my problems.  I quit that particular online dating site a couple years ago after a string of mostly bad experiences, and I could have assumed that it wouldn’t be worth it to make a profile there again.  I could have assumed that the woman I met in real life wasn’t my type, because she doesn’t fit all the stereotypes of the kind of woman I always thought I was looking for.  I could have stayed at the same church because it was familiar, overlooking the facts that I don’t entirely agree with the direction things are going there and that being there often just makes me feel sad and alone.

But I didn’t.  I stepped out of my comfort zone.  None of those actions may have led to the perfect results I was hoping for, but at least I tried, and I don’t have to live with the regret of wondering what might have been.  And that was a bunch of small steps in the right direction.  The most important thing I can do for 2016 is to keep trying, to keep stepping in that direction.  I also need to take time to sit down, figure out exactly what I want and what I’m looking for, make a list of goals and plans for 2016 (which are more than just resolutions), and determine which of these are and are not realistic.  But leaving the comfort zone is the first step.

Exit 86. One side is clearly correct and the other is clearly wrong.

I’m going to weigh in here on a controversial issue: the pronunciation of “.gif,” a file type used for computer graphics.  The file format was created in the early days of the Internet for the quick sending and receiving of color logos and icons (but the format is not ideal for photographs).  Short animated icons, like those little pictures you can add into Facebook messages, also often use the .gif format.  Ever since the coining of this term, there has been a great deal of debate regarding whether this term should be pronounced with a hard G (like the G in the word “give”) or with a soft G (like “Jif,” the brand of peanut butter).

Those who advocate the soft G pronunciation typically point out that a G before E, I, or Y is pronounced soft in English, as in gin, gym, or germ.  When I was in elementary school, this rule was taught in the early grades as part of the reading and spelling curricula, although I’ve met many younger people who act like they never learned this rule.  Those who favor the hard G pronunciation point out that English spelling rules often have widespread exceptions (get, girl, gynecologist), and that the term “.gif” itself is an acronym for Graphics Interchange Format, and “graphics” is pronounced with a hard G.

What is interesting about this debate is that, other than most other controversial issues, one side is clearly correct and the other is clearly wrong.  The correct pronunciation is “jif.”  It is a well-documented fact that Steve Wilhite, the programmer who led the team that created .gif, has said many times that the correct pronunciation is “jif.”  The argument that “graphics” has a hard G is completely irrelevant; there is no precedent for pronouncing the letters in acronyms the way they are pronounced in their parent words.  For example, the U and A in “scuba” stand for “underwater” and “apparatus,” respectively, yet the pronunciation of these letters in “scuba” does not match the pronunciation in “underwater” or in “apparatus.”  If we stay within the world of computer graphics, “.jpeg” is consistently pronounced “jay-peg,” even though the P stands for “photographic,” which does not contain the P sound from the syllable “peg.”

To me, this debate seems to parallel the debate between absolute vs. relative morality.  Yes, that escalated quickly, but follow me here.  Are some things absolutely right or wrong in every circumstance, or is everything relative to the surrounding circumstances?  Many monotheistic religious traditions, including Christianity, have Scriptures that dictate some moral absolutes.  Other belief systems may say that the world changes, and what is right and wrong is never set in stone for all time.  In Christianity, for example, God gave his people commandments on which to base their moral standards and laws.  God created the universe and the human race, which gives him the right and the responsibility to dictate morality.  Of course, there is considerable debate surrounding which Scriptures are meant to be absolute morals, and which are meant to be specific instructions to specific cultures.  For example, are Paul’s teachings about the way women should dress in response to a specific issue at the church in first-century Corinth, or something that all Christian women should follow for all time?  Were Paul’s writings about homosexuality meant to address the specific ways that the first-century Romans were committing infidelity, or the general concept that homosexual relations themselves are not God’s design for humanity?  I’m not going to try to answer those questions here.  But it is difficult to call oneself a true follower of Christianity without acknowledging that there are at least some moral absolutes dictated by God, and the same is true for many other belief systems that involve deities.

Dictionaries that include “.gif” as a word are inconsistent as to which pronunciation is listed, as well as which pronunciation is listed first if they include both.  A similar debate to that of absolute or relative morality is that of prescriptive or descriptive dictionaries.  Should a dictionary prescribe what is correct in language, or should it describe common usage, even though what is commonly used may have been considered incorrect at one time?  Historically, languages have evolved naturally, and different dialects of the same language separated by large geographical distances and limited contact eventually become less mutually intelligible and give birth to new languages.  This is how Latin eventually became Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, and Romanian, for example.  Is the hard-G pronunciation of “.gif” a natural evolution of language, or is it something that Mr. Wilhite has a right to call incorrect?  It is interesting that those who use evolution of language to justify using their preferred obnoxious slang terms, like “bae” as a term of affection, are rarely so quick to justify using equally obnoxious slang terms that contrast with their existing views, like “gay” or “retarded” as synonyms for “stupid.”  Again, note the interesting parallel with moral relativism.

Fortunately, this is not a moral issue.  It is really not a big deal in the grand scheme of things if one pronounces “.gif” with a hard G, and no one gets hurt by it.  I won’t think less of you as a human being if you use the hard G.  But thinking about this really just goes to show how powerful language can be in shaping our thinking.  The way I see it, though, for this one specific word, it is pretty clear that the word was coined by one specific individual who intended for it to be pronounced with a soft G.  So I will continue to pronounce it like “jif.”

gif

Exit 85. In a desert.

For the first time since I started this blog, over a year and a half ago, I didn’t write anything last week.  Actually… that’s not true.  I meant to say that I didn’t post anything.  I wrote a post for last week, but the reason I didn’t share it was kind of embarrassing.  I was about to post it, I added tags to the post, and one of the tags autocompleted, indicating that I had written about this same topic before.  So I looked up to see what I had written before… and less than two months ago, I had written pretty much exactly the same thing that I was going to post last week.  Oops.  That’s what I get for being so scatterbrained and not paying closer attention to this blog.

Then an entire week went by, and I still didn’t write anything.  It was a pretty brutal week at work.  Never again will I collect a big project two days before report cards are due.  You’d think I’d have learned that lesson long ago, but another teacher who teaches the same class I do wanted to do this project with her students, and it seemed like a good idea.  In hindsight, it was, but next year, assuming I’m teaching the same class and on the same pace, I’ll assign it about a week earlier.  The students will already know everything they need to know to complete it by then, and that will give me more time to grade them gradually before report cards are due.

I also didn’t write anything because I couldn’t think of anything else to write about.  My brain has been mush from everything going on at work, as well as lingering frustrations about life in general.  My writing has been in a desert.  And that is a feeling I know all too well from other areas of life.

Last week, I met with the pastor of one of the two churches I’ve been going to the last couple months.  As I believe I’ve mentioned before, I don’t want to rule anything out at this point, but in September I decided to look beyond the church I’ve been going to for the last 10 years.  I’m not on board with the direction the leaders want to take the church, and I feel like I don’t really fit in there anymore, because of the whole Christian bubble thing that I wrote about a month ago.  Anyway, this pastor knows a little bit about my struggle to find my place within the body of Christ, and at one point he was asking me more about where I am with God and such.  I told him that I feel like I’m in a spiritual desert right now.  I don’t really have a community of fellow believers with whom I can share my life.  Because of this, I find it more and more difficult to make time to do basic things like pray and read Scripture.

I’m not sure if there is a solution here, other than to just keep on going.  I just have to make sure that I don’t use this time of being in the desert to isolate myself spiritually.  So far, I haven’t been doing a good job of this.  But I’m just going to keep going through the motions, trying my best to reconnect with God and with others, and hoping that the desert will come to an end soon.  Because at least two of life’s other deserts seem to be coming to an end, at least temporarily.  Here in drought-stricken northern California, it’s supposed to rain off and on for the next several days.  And I thought of something else to write about.  So I’ll probably write another post in the next 48 hours to make up for the one I missed.

Exit 84. Things I hate about Christmas that everyone else loves.

It’s December.  That means everyone is thinking and talking about Christmas.  No, wait, December means I’m finally thinking and talking about Christmas, along with everyone else who has been thinking and talking about Christmas since early November.

I have a love-hate relationship with Christmas.  I love the thought that God loves us enough to send his Son, Jesus Christ, to Earth in human form to show us the way back to Him.  I love having two weeks off from work (or, as I’ve come to call it, a 16-day weekend).  I love getting to visit my family.  I love Christmas caroling, which wasn’t part of my traditional childhood Christmas, but in recent years I’ve been a few times with church groups, and since 2013 a friend whose family has a big Christmas caroling event in their neighborhood has been inviting me to this event.  (By the way, why is knocking on strangers’ doors and singing only acceptable at Christmas time?  Why don’t we go caroling for any other holidays?  Why not, say, Independence Day caroling?  I think I’m going to do that next July, walk around and knock on people’s doors and sing the Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful.  Who else is in?)

But there are also some things I absolutely detest about this holiday season.  I don’t mean to be negative, but it seems like in recent years, I’ve found more and more things that I hate about Christmas that everyone else loves.  We’ll start with what is traditionally called the start of the Christmas season:

  1. The Friday of Thanksgiving week.  I refuse to call it by the name used by the media, since the media and the retail industry lie about the origin of the name, in order to legitimize the practice.  But seriously, my idea of a wonderful Friday of Thanksgiving week is to sit around and be with my family and friends, eating leftovers and avoiding stress and crowds.  I realize that some families turn shopping into a family outing; if that’s your thing, more power to you.  I’m not going to advocate making it illegal for stores to open before a certain hour, nor will I boycott stores whose practices on this matter I don’t agree with.  I will, however, boycott them on that one day.
  2. The movie “A Christmas Story.”  I think this is one of those movies that I would like a lot better had I first seen it as a kid.  I would have been seven years old when the movie was first released, but I saw it for the first time in my mid-20s.  My friends who were watching it couldn’t believe that I had never seen it, and never even heard of it.  I’m always a little sensitive about things that remind me of how sheltered I was as a kid, and how I don’t share a lot of the collective life experiences of my peers, so this movie and its ongoing popularity have been a constant reminder of that.  But more importantly, I just didn’t really think it was all that special.  Maybe just not my kind of story, or maybe it’s the kind of story that just isn’t all that great when it isn’t tied to memories of childhood.  Regardless, though, it isn’t as bad as…
  3. The movie “Elf.”  Will Ferrell is one of those actors that either you love him or you hate him.  I’m one of the few people who are neutral toward Will Ferrell in principle.  But I really didn’t enjoy this movie.  The movie was just way too much of strangers being mean to poor Buddy, just because he doesn’t understand New York City culture.  That just hit home too much for me.  Social outcasts are one of the few groups that it’s still okay to make fun of, and that just isn’t right.
  4. The song “Last Christmas” by Wham!, or any of twelve billion other pop stars who have covered it.  It’s repetitive and banal.  But, again, at least the lyrics are something I can kind of relate to.  Heartbreak isn’t something I normally associate with Christmas, but it’s something I associate with many other times of year.  Last year I made it until something like December 17 before hearing this song, but this year I heard it on November 12.  Ugh.  I can’t decide which is worse, though, Last Christmas or…
  5. The song “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” by… I don’t even know who, and it has also been covered many times.  Because rape.  “Say, what’s in this drink?”  It’s ROOFIES!  GET AWAY FROM THAT CREEP NOW!
  6. Anything Christmas-related before December 1, or at least before Thanksgiving.  Growing up, I thought everyone hated it just as much as I did when stores started playing Christmas music and putting out their Christmas displays in October or August or February or whenever they do them now.  Then I discovered that some people love Christmas so much that they listen to Christmas music year round.  I’m not anti-Christmas, but if we start celebrating Christmas year-round, the season loses some of the things that make it special.  It’s the same reason why I have mixed feelings about the expansion of regional restaurant chains beyond their original reason.  It’s great that you can get In-N-Out Burger in Texas or Culver’s in Arizona now, but it makes the West Coast a little less special when you don’t have to be there to eat In-N-Out, and it makes the Midwest a little less special when you don’t have to be there to eat Culver’s.  (I still haven’t eaten at a Culver’s since 2005, when the westernmost location was in Colorado or Wyoming or somewhere like that… mmm.)  Same thing… it makes December a little less special when Christmas encroaches into November (especially since I love Thanksgiving) and October.

But it’s December now, so I can enjoy the Christmas season.  And it’s never too early in the year to remember that Jesus Christ gave up heavenly glory to be born to a lowly family of humans and show us the way to God.  Merry Christmas.