Month: April 2017

Exit 151. Who am I? What do I want?

Who am I?

What do I want?

I’ve had a few conversations lately along these lines.  Most notably, a few weeks ago, my therapist asked me if I were to wake up tomorrow and everything would be happy, exactly the life I want, what would that look like?  It seems like a simple question… but I wasn’t satisfied with my answer.  My answer seemed clichéd and unrealistic.

The best answer I could come up with was that I would want to be married to a nice Christian woman, and we would be raising a family together, and we would be involved in a church.  And all of the frustrations I have with the way the world is wouldn’t matter, because she would share many of my frustrations, and church would be our safe place away from that.  That all sounds nice from the somewhat naïve world view I had in my early 20s as a new Christian, when things seemed more black and white, and I was surrounded socially by other Christians.  That isn’t life anymore.  Life at 40 in the suburbs is different.

And is that really what I want?  Or is that what I’ve always been told to want?  Do I want this life for the right reasons, or for shallow reasons of the flesh?  Are there any options I haven’t explored yet?  Which ones are worth my time, and which ones have I avoided just because I want to stay in my comfort zone?

If I’m going to make any progress in figuring out life, I’m going to have to figure this out first.

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Exit 150. You’re not real and you can’t save me.

The title is a quote from the 2003 song “Everybody’s Fool,” by Evanescence.

Another song from this album was much more well-known than this one, and as I’ve written before, that other song led to a bonding experience between me and one of my students that year who really turned her grades around after that.  But now, after a couple years of listening to that album and a lot more years of hearing songs from it pop up when I have my music on shuffle, I think that Everybody’s Fool has definitely emerged as my favorite on the album… although I don’t know that it matters at this point.

Anyway, the video depicts the character that Amy is portraying filming commercials in a variety of costumes that look very little like her real self, alternating with her real self struggling to come to terms with these fake images that she is known for.  Amy wrote the song as a teenager, after her younger sister began following teen pop idol type singers who use their fake images to sell music.  I don’t claim to be an authority on the meaning of lyrics written by someone else, but in these lyrics, the character appears to be singing to her fake self in the second person.

I’ve been there.  I’ve tried to be something I’m not, I’ve been tempted to be someone I’m not, and it never leads to good in the long run.  But the lyrics also resonate with me on a more literal sense, as if I could sing them to someone else other than myself.  I could just as easily be saying this to all the so-called “friends” I’ve had over the years who aren’t at all the people I thought they were when I first met them, who are constantly trying to be someone they’re not.  Or I could be saying this to all the misconceptions I’ve had about what life should be like, all the pieces that were supposed to fall into place in the magical fantasy land that I was told I would be living in.

It never was and never will be.

You’re not real and you can’t save me.

Exit 149. Everyone and everything tells a story.

I went to Folsom Lake yesterday.  Like many of the lakes in California, Folsom Lake is actually a man-made reservoir.  It was created in 1955 by a dam on the American River in the foothills above Sacramento, just upstream from the city of Folsom and the prison made famous by Johnny Cash right around that same time.  (Historical note: Johnny Cash was never an inmate at Folsom Prison; he wrote the song after watching a documentary about Folsom Prison.  He did, however, perform concerts for inmates at the prison much later.)

A friend who moved away a few years ago is in town this weekend, and she invited some of her Sacramento-area friends to a picnic at the lake.  It was a good day.  When we actually ventured out to the shore of the lake itself, my friend’s dog was fascinated with all the sticks and twigs and branches on the ground.  Not only would she play fetch with them, but she would sometimes pick up a stick just lying on the ground in her mouth and move it somewhere else.  It was funny to watch.

But why were the sticks there in the first place?  The entire shore of the lake was lined with piles of dead wood, and there was driftwood visible floating on the surface of the water as well.  I have been to Folsom Lake twice in 2017 now, to two different parts of the lake, and it was like this in both places.  It has never been like this before in any of the other times in the past that I have been to the lake.

This winter has been very wet by California standards, with lots of rain in the valley and snow in the mountains.  This rain has been much needed, after four extremely dry years and one average year.  The water that collects in Folsom Lake is runoff from the mountains upstream from it, and with so little precipitation, the lake level had been dropping for the last several years.  A few months ago, a series of very wet storms hit California, and the lake filled to capacity.  Water rushed off the hillsides into the three forks of the American River and down into the lake, and these streams of water carried with them years of dead wood piling up on the floor of the drought-stricken forest.  Although the lake is still nearly full, it has begun to empty again since those storms hit, and some of the debris floating on the surface was left beached as the waters receded, like soap scum on the edge of a draining bathtub.

Everyone and everything tells a story.  Even something as mundane as a pile of driftwood has a deeper meaning.  Maybe we would understand each other better and be happier if we were more willing to listen to these stories.

Exit 148. Not completely isolated yet.

Sometimes I feel like there is nothing left for me here.

I guess that’s an unnecessarily dramatic way of making this point.  What I’m trying to say is that I don’t have a lot of connections left here in the specific suburban community where I currently live.  I didn’t grow up here; I moved here in 2006, at age 29.  So I don’t have anyone in the area whom I’ve known since childhood, as people who grew up here usually do.  At one time, I worked near my house, and I attended church just a couple miles away.  These were the job I left in 2014 and the church I left in 2015, respectively.  At this point in my life, work is a half hour drive in one direction and most of my social life happens a half hour drive in the opposite direction.  The only thing left for me here is my house, and sometimes I wonder if I really belong here anymore.  But I have compelling reasons why moving is not the best idea right now either.

Last night, I went to a certain one-step-up-from-fast-food chain restaurant, prompted by a coupon, good for two days only, which I received from their email list.  Unsurprisingly, when I got there, I noticed that many other people seemed to have the same idea, as the line was much longer than I have ever seen it.  I went in to brave the line anyway, though; I had no other plans the rest of the evening.

About a minute after I got there, I heard someone calling my name.  I turned around and saw one of my favorite people, an old friend from many years ago, with two of her children.  This was someone I met at church a few months after I moved here, when she was still a teenager (so she is in her late 20s now).  She was one of my closer friends for a couple years, but eventually she met her future husband and found another church, right around the same time if I remember right.  We just didn’t cross paths much after that, although we have been connected on social media the whole time.  It had been a couple years since I had run into her in person, though, and it was good to catch up.

I don’t have much of a social life that takes place in my immediate geographical area.  This is true.  But I’m not completely isolated yet.  I still know people nearby.  And I occasionally run into them around town.  Most of the people I used to know here who are still here have grown up, getting married and raising children.  (I’m not necessarily saying that I haven’t grown up because I don’t have children; the point here is that my local friends from a decade ago have grown up in a different way than I have.)  And for those of you who fit this description, even if most of our contact is through Facebook likes and I only see you once every two years when we happen to be grocery shopping at the same time, thank you for staying in contact with me.  I appreciate it.

Exit 147. An unexpected sight.

The Sutter Buttes are often referred to as the world’s smallest mountain range.  In the middle of the flatlands of the Sacramento Valley, a cluster of small mountains about 10 miles across rises over two thousand feet from the surrounding orchards, ranches, and rice paddies.  This part of California is mostly unknown to the glamorous celebrities of Los Angeles, the beach bums of San Diego, and the techies of Silicon Valley.  Yuba City is the nearest medium-sized city, just a few miles away, and the nearest major metropolitan area is Sacramento, a little over an hour away by car.  Here’s an overhead view I snipped from Google Maps (the big gray blob southeast of the mountains is Yuba City and Marysville, with the Feather River separating them):

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I’ve driven within view of the Sutter Buttes many times.  My dad was born in Chico, and in my younger years we often drove through Yuba City on the way to and from visiting relates in Chico.  I have been that way many times as an adult too.  The Buttes look mysterious and out of place, surrounded on all sides by one of the flattest parts of California; they are certainly an unexpected sight to one unfamiliar with the area.

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I had never been any closer to the Sutter Buttes than driving by at a distance, until earlier this week.  I had a free day, and I felt like driving, so I did a bit of exploring.  Most of the land is privately owned, inaccessible except for occasional guided hikes.  But there are public roads that make almost a complete circle around the Buttes, which I traveled.

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Sometimes, unexpected obstacles arise in life.  At first, the unexpected can look scary and mysterious.  But what is scary and mysterious from a distance can end up being quite beautiful up close.  So take a closer look… you might be pleasantly surprised at what you find.