Month: April 2018

Exit 199. Oh yes, we’ll keep on trying.

I have a lot of thoughts swimming around in my brain right now, and I’m not sure how much of it I’m ready to share at this point.  So instead, this week I’ll skip all that and write about one of my other recurring themes on this site: rediscovering a great song from an earlier time in my life.  This time the song is “Innuendo” by Queen.

Queen was a British band active from the early 1970s to the early 1990s.  I did not grow up listening to Queen.  I was vaguely aware that there was a band called Queen, and my earliest memories of hearing music on the radio as a preschooler include a song called Another One Bites The Dust, but I don’t think I connected the name Queen to that song until I started actually listening to Queen in my mid-teens.  Much of Queen’s later work was far more popular in Europe than in the USA, for a variety of reasons, so they were absent from the music that was around me in elementary school and my early teens.

Queen experienced a resurgence of popularity in the USA in the winter of 1991-92, for two reasons: lead singer Freddie Mercury’s death, and the release of the movie Wayne’s World, which featured a scene where the main characters drive around singing along to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.  I was watching MTV a lot at the time, I was 15, and the channel often aired both tributes to the recently deceased Freddie Mercury and a remixed music video of Bohemian Rhapsody, combining scenes from Wayne’s World with scenes from the original 1975 music video.  Queen was one of the first bands I got into whose heyday was before my time.

Despite this, however, my knowledge of Queen does not extend deep into their catalog, beyond their two greatest hits albums and the 2005 live CD from the Queen + Paul Rodgers tour.  (In this century, after Freddie Mercury’s death, two of the original members of Queen, guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, have done tours performing Queen songs with other lead singers, but they have billed themselves as “Queen + [whoever is on vocals]” rather than just Queen.)  Innuendo, the song I posted above, was on the album of the same name, the last released in Mercury’s lifetime, but not on the US version of either of the two greatest hits albums.  Until a few weeks ago, I had heard the song exactly once.  I was in the car at some point in late high school; by that time I knew enough Queen music to recognize Freddie’s voice, but this was not a song I had heard before.  A few weeks ago, I was looking up something about Queen on Wikipedia (who knows why, it’s me and it’s Wikipedia, that’s enough of a reason), and I came upon a mention of the song Innuendo, and I thought, that’s that song I remember hearing once, the one that goes “yeah, we’ll keep on fighting.”  I should go listen to it, because it’s 2018 and you can find stuff like that on the Internet.  So I did.  (And I was wrong; the song contains the lines “we’ll keep on trying,” and “we’ll keep on smiling,” but no “we’ll keep on fighting.”  It is definitely the song I was thinking of, though.)

Freddie Mercury died of AIDS-related complications less than a year after this song was released.  Rumors had long circulated about Freddie having been in sexual relationships with men, and when some noticed his health declining, rumors had circulated about his having contracted AIDS.  But Freddie never said anything public about either of these topics until days before his death.  By the time Innuendo was recorded, the band knew that Freddie was dying.

And this is a really deep song, full of great quotes that can be interpreted as wisdom from one nearing the end of his life to pass on to the next generation, the kind of wisdom I need to hear these days.

While [all this variety of bad stuff happens in the world]… oh yes, we’ll keep on trying.

You can be anything you want to be.

Be free.

And whatever will be will be, till the end of time.

Thank you, Internet, for helping me unpack this song that’s been stuck in a corner of my brain for the last quarter-century.

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Exit 198. It’s okay to have two hometowns.

I was born in Salinas.  Salinas is a medium-sized city in central California, by which I mean it is considered small by California standards, but if it were located in Wyoming or West Virginia, it would be the largest city in the state.  It is located 100 miles south of San Francisco and one row of hills inland from the Monterey Bay, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean.  I lived there until I was 18, the day I moved away to begin my university education, in the same house where my parents live now.

In some ways, Salinas will always be home.  That is where my memories of school take place, and that is where I spent many hours playing with Legos and Hot Wheels.  That is where I watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons, Full House, the 80s-90s Mickey Mouse Club, and the early seasons of the Simpsons.  That is where I spent hours in my room reading Choose Your Own Adventure books and playing the early Mario and Zelda games.

But in other ways, Salinas does not feel like home.  In addition to the memories above, many people seem to have memories of home that involve good friends, organized youth activities like Boy/Girl Scouts or sports, and first loves.  I don’t have many of those memories associated with Salinas.  I did not really have friends until I was a teenager.  There were kids in the neighborhood, but many of them only lived there for a short time, and some of them also weren’t so much friends as people who came over to play with my toys.  I went to school one town over from where I should have, as I have explained before, so until I was old enough to drive, I never saw my school friends outside of school.  My brief forays into Cub Scouts and tee ball were very forgettable, and I did not have anything resembling a first love, beyond a couple of formal school dances that I actually did go to with someone, and a few crushes that left me heartbroken, with the other person never knowing how I felt in most cases.

Yesterday was Picnic Day, a large event that I have mentioned a few other times in this blog; it is essentially an open house and community festival event at my alma mater, UC Davis.  And I realized that I have a second place that feels like home in some ways.  I lived in Davis, a university town just outside of Sacramento, from age 18 until a few weeks before age 25.  Many of those maturing experiences revolving around friendship happened to me there.  This is where I finally felt like I had a community that wanted me around.  Davis is where I came to faith, and where I finally felt like I had connections to the greater community, after I started getting involved in church activities and volunteering with the youth group.  In many ways, going to Davis and the adjacent campus also feels like going home.

I should point out that I don’t mean to put down Salinas or any of my old neighbors or school friends.  I’m just stating things the way they were.  There were some neighborhood kids and classmates who were nice to me, and I started to finally have something resembling a group of close friends by the end of high school.  I think if I had had another year or two around those friends before we all scattered for college, I would have grown a lot closer to them.

Neither Salinas or Davis feels completely like home, and neither one is home anymore.  But being both places gives me a feeling of going back home, each in its own ways.  And that’s okay.  Everyone is different.  Not everyone has one place they consider home; many people move away during childhood, for example.  And, of course, I did not experience a first love in either Salinas nor Davis.  What I would call my first true relationship, with Vega The Nice Ex, happened later during a time when I really did not have a home, but that’s another story.  For now, it’s okay to have two hometowns.

Exit 197. I went by myself.

I watched the movie Ready Player One yesterday.  Those of you who have been reading this site for a long time know that I have read this book multiple times, and that I was apprehensive to see what Hollywood would do with it.  But that isn’t what I’m going to write about this week.  (If you absolutely must know, I’ll briefly address that in a bit.)

What I want to write about is the fact that I went by myself.  I rarely go to movies by myself.  It’s not just because movies are expensive, and it’s not just because I necessarily want someone to discuss the movie with afterward.

I rarely go to movies by myself because going to a movie alone feels like failure.  It makes me feel like I wasn’t good enough to have a friend to go with.  And it isn’t just movies; there are many things I’ve never seen or done because of some self-imposed stigma about doing those things alone.  With my past of often feeling like an outcast, and not having grown up with a lot of friends, and living in a world where people like me are told that we need to get out more, it is understandable that I would have developed this reaction.  And sometimes I do want to be with friends.  Sometimes I wish making plans with friends came easier to me.  Sometimes I wish that the friends I do have weren’t always busy when I’m free and free when I’m busy.

But there is nothing wrong with going to a movie, or to a cultural attraction, or to a sporting event, or on a vacation, alone once in a while.  I’ve missed out on too much by assuming that I have to be with someone to go certain places or else it won’t feel right.  So I really need to get over this.  It’s okay to do something by myself if I want to.

(And as for the movie itself: Everything I’d heard about it made it look like they took the same characters, the same basic premise, and the same general outline of the story, but wrote an entirely new story with different details.  That worried me, because the specific details that were used in the book were exactly what I loved so much about it.  But I didn’t hate the movie.  To me, the new details still kept enough of the spirit of the book to make it enjoyable to watch.)

Exit 196. Maybe “reality television” isn’t such a misnomer after all.

A few days ago, I was watching this week’s episode of Survivor, and that got me wondering about things.  Specifically, it got me thinking about the fact that I’m still watching Survivor 18 years after the show’s premiere.  It seems that many of the show’s early fans have long since turned away, saying that it has become boring and repetitive, not offering anything new.

Survivor debuted in the USA in the summer of 2000.  It was an adaptation of a similar show from Europe.  Each game of Survivor lasts for around 13 episodes.  A group of 16 to 20 contestants go to some remote location and compete in games and challenges, win prizes, and gradually vote players out of the game until only one remains to win the grand prize of a million dollars.  I wasn’t hooked right away.  At the time of the first season, I was just finishing my first year as a full time teacher, and I lived in Davis.  (Now that I think about it, Survivor has been on so long that I have watched new episodes of Survivor from seven of the eleven different places where I’ve lived in my life.  I believe the only show that can surpass that is The Simpsons, which I have watched from every house, apartment, or dorm room where I’ve ever lived.)  Anyway, I watched it maybe five times during that initial season, but a couple months later, CBS replayed the entire season over the course of two weeks, to compete with NBC’s prime-time footage of the Sydney Olympics, and I watched every episode but one.  The next season started the following spring, and ever since then CBS has broadcast two seasons of Survivor per calendar year, one in the fall and one in the spring (so the current game of Survivor is the 36th).

In 2012, the year that I lived with the non-delusional roommate, one time he came home while I was watching Survivor.  He made a disapproving comment; I was having a bad day, and I told him I didn’t want to hear it.  A few days later, I came home and caught him watching WWE wrestling… I said, “How about this. I don’t give you a hard time for watching WWE, and you don’t give me a hard time for watching Survivor.”  He replied with a counter-proposal: “I can give you a hard time for Survivor, but you can give me a hard time for WWE too.”  I said I could live with that.

A few weeks later, he was watching WWE again.  He said something like, “I think what I like so much about wrestling is the way there are some guys that you just love to hate, and you can’t wait to watch them lose.”  I thought about this, and I said, “Now that you mention it, that’s one of the things I like about Survivor too.”

The show has evolved quite a bit since its beginnings.  Most of the more recent seasons have included additional twists, such as players changing teams before they merge into one tribe, hidden immunity idols (i.e., a player can use it to make them immune from being voted out) or other advantages waiting for players to find, and exile, in which one player gets removed from the game for a day (but usually with a chance to win some other sort of advantage while exiled).  Some seasons have included players who have played before getting second (or third or fourth) chances to play under different circumstances.  Some contestants have already been minor celebrities in their own right before competing on Survivor.  I have mixed feelings about contestants who aren’t just ordinary people, although if such contestants are familiar to me, it sometimes gives me someone to root for, or against, before the season even starts.

The trend in broadcasting at the time was toward unscripted shows, dubbed “reality telivision” by the media and culture.  Many people criticized the genre of “reality shows,” justifiably, for not being reality at all, usually putting people in contrived situations and editing footage to play up caricatures and stereotypes.  My problem with the label of “reality show” is that the concept of a show being unscripted is way too broad to make a statement about whether you like or dislike a genre of television, so when people say they do or don’t like reality shows, that doesn’t really mean much.  It’s as empty of a label as “alternative rock” was in the 90s.  Just because I like Survivor doesn’t mean I’m going to like every unscripted show.  When you really look at it, Survivor is basically a game show.  It doesn’t center around trivia, guessing words with letters missing, or knowing how much things cost, but you have contestants competing for prizes, and that makes it a game show.

And even though it isn’t exactly reality, in the sense that the situations are contrived and we only see what the producers want us to see, there’s a lot more reality happening on Survivor than on most game shows.  The contestants never know what is going to happen.  Sometimes the players will switch tribes, leaving someone without allies, or bringing a new opportunity to someone who had no allies before.  Sometimes your allies will turn on you because it is advantageous to their game.  Sometimes the particular competition might play well to certain players’ strengths.  Sometimes someone will just get a break out of nowhere, by discovering a hidden clue or advantage.  Players need to make the most of what they have right now in order to get as far in the game as they can, but without pissing off too many people, because some of the players voted out are the ones who decide the winner in the end.

And all of this happens in real life too.  Sometimes the people you are closest with leave you because of circumstances beyond any of your control, such as when your friends move away because of a family member’s new job.  Sometimes new friends suddenly appear.  Sometimes your so-called friends are jerks and they turn on you when they think they don’t need you anymore.  Sometimes certain challenges in life are just easier for some people than others, just because of the way we all have different strengths and weaknesses.  Sometimes you just get lucky.  But no matter what happens in life, you always need to make the most of what you have right now in order to make the best life you can, without pissing off too many people.

Sure sounds like real life to me.  Maybe “reality television” isn’t such a misnomer after all.  But either way, I’m still going to call Survivor what it is to me: one of the best game shows ever.

Exit 195. I definitely need a new month.

It is Easter Sunday.  Or Resurrection Day, as it is called by those who want to focus on remembering Jesus Christ’s resurrection instead of the pagan origins of the name Easter and the rabbit and egg traditions.  It is also the first day of April.  This is the first time in my lifetime that Easter has fallen on April 1 (the last time was 1956), and it couldn’t have worked out more perfectly.  Both the pagan and Christian traditions of Easter are connected to the concept of rebirth and new life, and I definitely need a new life and a new month after the terrible March I had.

As I posted two weeks ago, it hasn’t been all bad.  But some things continued to go downhill after that post.  I feel emotionally drained and beat up after this last month, and something that has been happening here that has made national news (which I’d rather not discuss right now) has gotten me regretting my decision twelve years ago not to leave California.  I was so mad a few days ago that I even changed all the graphics for this blog for the first time ever, changing the icon and logo from a California highway route sign to a generic US highway route sign, and changing the cover photo on the Facebook page from the Bear Flag to the Stars and Stripes flag.  I don’t know if I want to be Californian anymore.

I wrote in the early days of this blog about my mixed feelings about California, and how I feel like California is home, and California is in my blood, despite not fitting in with California culture.  I’m too conservative for the dominant culture in California, and the state government continues to find ways to express their open hostility and contempt for conservatives and libertarians.  And whenever I share these feelings, my friends who once lived in California but do not anymore always tell me about how glad they are that they moved.

So what is stopping me?  A lot.  I actually do like my job, and teachers are not paid well in the more conservative states, from what I know.  I have this house that I am responsible for.  And I am not convinced that I really would be better off anywhere else.  I fear that in the more conservative parts of the country, I would be out of place for not owning a gun, not knowing how to work on cars, and not being a fisherman.  It would be hard to make social connections in a more rural area without having a family of my own.  And while I am definitely not a liberal Democrat, I am not particularly a fan of President Trump either.

So is it time to leave California?  Would I be better off somewhere else?  I don’t know.  I just don’t know.