Month: August 2016

Exit 121. Staying home for no good reason.

It’s Sunday night.  I’m pretty sure that in approximately 121 weeks of doing this blog, I have never posted on a Sunday night before.  Sometimes I’m on the ball and I get my post done on Saturday; often I post Sunday afternoon or early evening; and occasionally I don’t get it done until Monday or Tuesday.  But I’m pretty sure that I have never posted later than 7:30 on a Sunday night.

There is a reason for this.  I have a weekly social dancing event that I have participated in every Sunday night since mid-2009, and since around 2011 I have volunteered there as well.  Honestly, though, I haven’t been there every Sunday night; once every couple months I ask to take the night off from volunteering because I’m out of town visiting family, or I’m at the Kings game, or I’m on my way back from a Giants game in San Francisco, or a friend who I really want to see planned a birthday party on Sunday night.  So I’m always doing something other than writing this late on a Sunday.

But tonight, I am staying home for no good reason.

I have nothing else going on tonight.  It feels like it would be a good week for me not to miss.  Last night, I was at a going away party for someone I know from this event; very few of her dancing friends showed up, so there was very little dancing at this party.  She is a wonderful dancer, and had I shown up tonight, I might have gotten one last dance with her before she moves back to her home, across a large ocean from here.  Also, someone I danced with there about a month ago and have stayed in touch with on Facebook is there right now.  It would be good to see her again, and I feel bad that I’m not there.

Nevertheless, I am staying home tonight, for no good reason.

No, that’s not true.

The reason I am staying home is because I have to take care of myself.  The last month has been an overwhelming whirlwind of stress and interaction.  I have an unusually high concentration of close friends, including myself, who have birthdays right at the same time I am starting the new school year at work.  I tend to spend most of the weekdays in August running around and trying to prepare for and adjust to a new school year, and I spend most of the time on weekends, and a few weeknights sometimes, at birthday parties with friends.  By the time the end of August comes along, my brain feels fried and my body feels exhausted.

I wrote a few weeks ago about how I need more alone time, and how I need to figure out if there is anything or anyone in my life that I need to cut out, because they do more harm than good.  Since then, I have done exactly the opposite.  It’s time to start.  And staying home from dancing tonight is step 1.  How long will this last?  I don’t know.  I might be back next week.  I might be back in a few weeks.  I might not be back for a long time.  I might be avoiding other kinds of socialization for a while as well.  I might have to say some painful goodbyes.  But I can’t live the way I have been anymore.

Hopefully I can also be responsible enough to go to bed within an hour or so.

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Exit 120. I know those voices because I hear them too.

Harry Potter has been on my mind again lately.  I just finished reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which for those of you who aren’t familiar with Harry Potter, is the script for a play set a generation after the Harry Potter novels, featuring the adult Harry Potter and one of his children.  The play is currently being performed in London.  But that is not the point I’m getting at here.

I spent a lot of time in the car this weekend, and at one point I was thinking about other parts of the Harry Potter story.  I was reminded in particular of a scene that always felt particularly intense and poignant to me, and I’ll try to share my thoughts without giving away any crucial spoilers.  In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final book in the series, 17-year-old Harry and his friends are on a quest to find and destroy a group of objects that Voldemort (or, as I called him before, Wizard Hitler) has enchanted with some very dark magic, in an attempt to make himself immortal.  About halfway through the book (chapter 19, specifically), Harry and his friends have one of these dark objects, and after carrying it around for a few months, they have found a means with which to destroy it.  While carrying it around, however, it seems to bring out all sorts of dark and negative behavior in whomever is carrying it, at times leading to fights between Harry and his friends.

Harry feels that Ron should be the one to destroy this enchanted object.  But as Ron is about to do so, the object suddenly speaks to Ron, saying that it has seen all of Ron’s greatest fears, and speaking and reenacting these fears in full view of Ron, Harry, and Hermione.  The object reminds Ron that he is always overshadowed.  In his family, he has his older brothers and younger sister, and at school, his best friends are Harry, who is famous within the Wizarding World because of the prophecies made about him, and Hermione, who is a super genius.  The object makes Ron feel like he cannot do anything right, that Harry and Hermione would be better off on their quest without him.  The voices coming from the object mock Ron by saying that no one wants him, and that no woman would ever be interested in him when they could have Harry Potter instead.

I know those voices.  I know those voices because I hear them too… at least in a metaphorical sense.

Of course, I am not carrying around an object that contains a piece of Wizard Hitler’s soul.  This is because Wizard Hitler and magic aren’t real, a fact that Church I With The Problems and many other legalistic conservative churches never fully grasped, but that’s another story for another time.  But all of those fears were already inside Ron’s head; the dark object just saw Ron’s fears and manifested them in front of him.  And some very similar fears are already inside my head.  Those fears become manifest whenever I feel excluded from something my friends are doing or talking about.  They become manifest whenever I see my friends in new romantic relationships while the months since my last date slowly turn into years.  Sometimes I can distract myself from those voices, just as Harry and Ron and Hermione did by taking turns who would hold the evil object, but they cannot be easily destroyed.

But I have to find a way.  I am a Gryffindor, just like Harry, Ron, and Hermione.  I can be brave and silence the evil voices in my head forever once and for all.  I must.

But I’m still searching for a way to do so.  And it won’t be easy.

Exit 119. What do these songs have in common?

“He Stopped Loving Her Today,” by George Jones (1980)

“Touch of Grey,” by the Grateful Dead (1987)

“Kokomo,” by the Beach Boys (1988)

“Cryin’,” Aerosmith (1993)

“It Won’t Be Like This For Long,” by Darius Rucker (2008)

“Get Back Up,” TobyMac (2010)

All of them were major hits.  Kokomo went to #1, the last of four Beach Boys songs to do so.  He Stopped Loving Her Today and It Won’t Be Like This For Long were both #1 on the country chart.  Touch of Grey, while only reaching #9, was the highest charting single in the Grateful Dead’s long career.  Cryin’, while not Aerosmith’s highest charting single, did reach #1 on the rock chart, and it seemed like it was on MTV all the time my last couple years of high school, during the era when they still played music videos for at least part of the day.  And Get Back Up, while not very well known in the mainstream, went to #1 on the Christian music chart, and it was around that time when I decided that TobyMac’s solo work wasn’t all bad like I found his early albums to be.

But there is something more significant that these songs, among others, all have in common.

They were all performed by band members and/or artists who were at the time in their 40s.

I have turned 40 since I wrote my last post.  In the months leading up to this, I was feeling a bit down about approaching 40.  Typically, fortysomethings aren’t seen as young anymore.  I have friends my age who have adult children already, and I’m nowhere close to having children.  I feel out of touch both with the people around me, who tend to be a lot younger, and with people my age, who tend to have very different lifestyles, of the sort considered to be more mature.  Sometimes I feel like life is passing me by, leaving me with nothing but regrets.

But it does not have to be this way.

I don’t have to listen to anyone telling me what I should be like at this age.  I have a lot of people who care about me; my friends at my birthday party this weekend reminded me of that through their actions, as did the students and coworkers at the school where I teach on my actual birthday.  I still have a lot of life left, and more adventures to come.  And, as demonstrated by all of the musicians above, I can still accomplish great things beyond 40.  (While researching this article, I discovered that guitarist Bob Weir was only 39 when Touch of Grey was released, but I don’t think that takes away from my point, and the other four band members were in their 40s.)

Here’s to a great upcoming year.

Exit 118. Game on.

As I’m sitting here, I’m watching the Olympics on TV.  Right now men’s volleyball is on.

I grew up in a family where sports was a big deal, to the point that I did not realize that there was such a thing as someone who didn’t follow sports until I was around 20.  The TV was pretty much always on in our house growing up, and during the Olympics, we’d usually watch whatever Olympic sport was on.  My earliest memory of the Olympics was the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, shortly before my eighth birthday.  This is the closest that I have ever lived to an Olympic Games at the time that they were happening; my childhood home is 308 miles from Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.  (The distance from my current home to the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, near Lake Tahoe and Reno, is closer than that, but I was not yet born in 1960.)  I remember going to watch the torch relay as it passed through my neighborhood, just a few minutes’ walk from home, and I remember a lot of people going on and on about some gymnast named Mary Lou Retton, but all these years later I don’t have any particularly strong memories of any of her performances.

I remember things here and there about the other Olympics of my lifetime.  Greg Louganis bleeding into the diving pool in Seoul in 1988, and it was only discovered later that he was HIV positive.  MacGyvering an antenna for the TV cart in my math classroom in 1992, with the teacher’s permission, so we could watch the USA ice hockey team lose badly to the Unified Team (i.e, the former Soviet Union nations, since they had just broken up and did not have separate Olympic committees yet) in Albertville.  Watching Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, Larry Bird, and other NBA stars be allowed to compete in the Olympics for the first time in Barcelona in 1992, and rooting for them to lose.  (See Highway Pi #17 from 2014 for more information on why I was hoping they would lose – I’m not hoping the same for this year’s men’s basketball team.)  The Tonya Harding scandal in 1994 in Lillehammer (this was the year that the Olympic cycle changed so that Winter and Summer games would not be held in the same year.)  Kerri Strug doing gymnastics with a sprained ankle in 1996 in Atlanta.  My then-roommate, an avid snowboarder, being excited about snowboarding being in the Olympics for the first time in Nagano in 1998.  Wrestler Rulon Gardner winning a gold medal in Sydney in 2000, then appearing on a special episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire featuring all Olympic athletes, and not doing very well.  My memories of Salt Lake, Athens, and Turin are kind of fuzzy, but since 2008 I have a lot of Olympic memories again, most of which involve Michael Phelps in the summer and more heartbreaking losses for the USA men’s ice hockey team in the winter.

I think what I enjoy about the Olympics is a chance to get to watch sports that I don’t normally follow.  There is more out there than baseball, American football, basketball, and hockey, and I don’t have time to follow all the sports out there.  It is interesting to hear the announcers talk about the nations and cultures of the different competing athletes and teams.  And of course, there are so many of the kind of memories I described above, so many great feats of athleticism, so many shocking upsets (for example, as I wrote this, Canada defeated the USA in men’s volleyball, 3 sets to 0), and so many defining moments that millions of people remember.

So I’m looking forward to watching some different sports in the next couple weeks.  Game on.