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Exit 189. Even though I haven’t talked to her in a decade, what she said stuck with me.

I had a rough day at work on Thursday.  Many of the students are at a point where they just don’t care.  They don’t yet have the maturity to understand that they need to do some work in order to be successful in school or in life.  So, as a consequence of that, they are completely lost in class, and they can’t tell me the main idea of what we’ve been learning all week even though they literally should have been writing it in their notebook at least once a day and using it on their homework.  (You know, the homework they didn’t do.)

I was sitting in my classroom, looking at the music on my phone, trying to figure out what to listen to while I graded papers during my prep period.  My prep is the second to last period of the day, so I had one more class to go after that.   I came across a playlist with a noteworthy title: “Listening To A Hug.”

I made this playlist, but I didn’t coin this title.  Someone who I used to know from Carbon Leaf‘s online fandom did.  In 2004, when Carbon Leaf was first touring nationwide and I was very active in their online fan community, they recorded and released a song called “Let Your Troubles Roll By.”  The song has regularly been on their live set lists ever since, usually played toward the end of the show.  Another regular on their fan message boards, we’ll call her “Naos,” wrote something about how she loved this song.  “It’s like listening to a hug,” she said.

For a few years in the middle of the last decade, I made a lot of friends through Carbon Leaf’s online fan sites, and I met some of those people in person during my 2005 travels.  Some of them I am still friends with today.  Naos, however, is not one of them.  One time I was bored online as I often am, I messaged Naos on AIM to say hi, and she replied something like, “Don’t you ever have anything better to do than message people online?”  We never spoke again.  Thanks for showing me your true colors.

But, even though I haven’t talked to her in a decade and have no desire to, what she said about listening to a hug stuck with me for many years.  Several years later, I was listening to Let Your Troubles Roll By, and I thought about this, and I thought about other songs that have felt that way to me.  So I made a playlist of such songs, and I called it “Listening To A Hug.”  I hadn’t listened to it all the way through in a long time, but I rediscovered it a few days ago when I was having a rough day at work, as I described above.  And I listened to it, at least as much as I could until the period was over and the students came back.  And I was much more calm for the last class of the day.

Some of the songs on my Listening To A Hug playlist are well-known classics by some of the greatest artists in the history of music.  But some are by lesser-known artists.  Some are down-album tracks by well-known artists.  Some were big hits for a brief time that have mostly been forgotten.  (Interesting side note: I was curious exactly when I first put this playlist together, because a few of the songs were by artists well known at the time I made the playlist but haven’t really followed since then.  The original file on my computer says it was created February 18, 2013.  Exactly five years ago today.  Weird.)  Also, normally when I make playlists like this, I try not to use the same artist too many times, and with a playlist of this length I would normally not use the same artist more than once.  I kind of violated that with two songs with Michael Jackson on vocals, but one of them was from early in his career with the Jackson 5, and the other was the last song he completed in his lifetime, so they really don’t sound all that similar at all.

I should also point out that I left Christian music off of this playlist.  I was really into Christian music from the mid-90s until the mid-2000s, and I still listen to Christian music occasionally.  But I already had a lot of comforting playlists with Christian music.  I wanted to try to do one with secular music just to see what it would turn out like.

Here’s my playlist.  I know I have a very eclectic taste in music, I don’t expect all of you to like all of my songs, but maybe you’ll find something here that is like listening to a hug for you too.  (I tried to use legal official videos and songs wherever possible.  If any of the links don’t work someday, let me know.)

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Exit 188. A curious milestone.

I reached a curious milestone this week:  For the first time in at least a decade, probably longer, I have now gone a full year without making any new friends named Sarah (or Sara or any other creative spelling thereof).

First, some back story.  In 2009, over a span of just a few weeks, I noticed that had four new Facebook friends named Sarah (technically three Sarahs and one Sara), and that Sarah/Sara had become the most common first name among my Facebook friends, with ten.  Sarah has never relinquished this position among first names in the ensuing years.  I have a few inside jokes with friends involving having so many friends named Sarah (and some of the Sarahs are in on the jokes as well, like when I got a birthday card signed “Sarah #21”).  I’m not going to get into those too much now, because most of these are the kind of inside jokes that don’t make sense when I try to explain them.

Of course, when it occurred to me a few weeks ago that I hadn’t met a new Sarah in a long time, the first thing I wondered was, is there a discernible reason for this?  And I think there is, but the reason has nothing to do with the name Sarah specifically.

I blame this on the fact that I just haven’t met many people in the last year in general.  I used to try to connect on social media with just about everyone I met.  I don’t do that anymore, at least not right away, because I came to realize that I just didn’t really want to be friends with everyone I met.  There are a lot of jerks out there, and people who are too negative in the kind of way I didn’t need to be around.  I also just don’t meet as many people as I used to.  Most of the people I met over the last decade came through dancing, and I just don’t go dancing as often as I used to.

And, of course, this isn’t a bad thing.  Quality is better than quantity when it comes to friendships and relationships.  I spent so much of my childhood having so few friends that it took me a while to learn this lesson, but it’s true.  I don’t need to stay connected with everyone I meet; I have control over who I do and don’t try to be friends with.  And that’s a good thing.

Exit 187. In an unfriending mood.

So I could be sitting here writing about how much I don’t care about this year’s Super Bowl, because I don’t particularly care for either of these two teams, and because I’m a little disgusted at the state of the NFL with all the protests and stuff like that.  But I kind of wrote about that already last year, when I also didn’t care much about the game.  I just now missed the Super Bowl kickoff by a few seconds because I was peeing; I suppose that says a lot about my level of interest in this game.

So instead, I’ll write about something else, continuing my post from last week.  Where we left off a week ago, I was contemplating unfriending some people on Facebook.  I had six people in mind specifically when I wrote that, and about a day after I posted, I pulled the proverbial trigger and unfriended five of them.  It felt like time to burn those bridges.  I’m a little hesitant to write this, because I feel like I’m airing other people’s dirty laundry behind their backs.  I generally feel that if you have a problem with someone, the best approach is to go to their face and have a conversation.  And I didn’t do this.  I thought about it, because I would have wanted to know why if someone was unfriending me.  But I didn’t, because I didn’t want to open myself up to any more hurt or disappointment.  Also, I’m going to write mostly in generalities, so I’m not gossiping behind anyone’s back.

I know that at least one of the people involved here used to read this blog occasionally a long time ago, and I know that the person on the chopping block who I decided not to cut off reads this sometimes as well.  On the off chance that you, reader, are one of those who got unfriended and you feel the need to confront me, you know how to find me.  I apologize for not talking to you first.  But be aware that I might not reply right away, or at all.  I don’t know if I’ll be ready to have that conversation.  I”m feeling hurt and confused about a lot of things right now.

Three of the people involved, my issue with them stems to an incident that happened approximately two years ago.  I talked to all of them around that time, and one of the people I was even on somewhat good terms with again for a while, before this person found another social circle to associate with and we grew apart naturally.  The main reason I cut off contact abruptly is because I wanted absolutely no lingering hope that things would ever again be the way they used to be.  Because they won’t.  These people are not who I once thought they were, and they have disappointed me one too many times.  I know that I should let things go after this much time.  But it’s hard, especially given the nature of what happened.  I feel too deeply, I care too much, and my life is not such that I can easily move on from this kind of thing and find other people to fill the void.

One of the other people is someone who mostly posts angry political rants against people like me.  There are lots of people who I have unfollowed for this reason, but kept on my friends list, just in case, and they don’t make me consistently angry.  And the fifth is his wife; I have no direct reason for unfriending her, except that I don’t really know her in a context apart from her husband.  So why unfriend them and not simply unfollow them?  I honestly can’t give a good answer for this.  I think part of it was just that I was in an unfriending mood after unfriending the three people I mentioned above.  Also, the way I know them, the role they played in my life, is one where the fact that this guy posts so many immature and angry political rants makes me particularly sensitive to what is going on.

I know that some of my friends are still friends with some of these people.  If you know who I’m talking about, I don’t have a problem with any of you staying friends with them, of course.  And don’t stop inviting me to things just because one of the people I unfriended might be there.  I’ll put on my big boy pants and deal with that when it comes up.

I might be willing to go into more detail in private conversations, but that’s all I’ll say publicly.  Maybe someday I’ll feel healed and ready to move on.  Part of me wants to say that maybe someday I’ll be on good terms again with all of these people, but honestly, I don’t know if that’s best, and I don’t know if that’s what I want.

Exit 186. The voice of a ghost singing words a quarter-century old recently pushed me to make a difficult decision.

The voice of a ghost singing words a quarter-century old recently pushed me to make a difficult decision.

Okay, I suppose that’s explaining it in an overdramatic way.  Let me back up and explain.  A couple weeks ago, Irish musician Dolores O’Riordan died unexpectedly.  Ms. O’Riordan was best known for being the lead vocalist of the band The Cranberries, who had three big hits in my late teens.  At least that was my extent of Cranberries knowledge over the years.  (I should point out, though, that as friends started posting Cranberries music on social media as tributes to Ms. O’Riordan, I found a couple more of their songs that I recognized.)  They weren’t one of my favorites back then; I was mostly neutral toward their music.  I always liked the song “Dreams,” although I don’t think I ever knew the title until maybe five years ago when I was expanding my collection of 90s music for making retro gaming playlists.  I had completely forgotten about “Zombie” from some time in the 90s until seeing someone perform it at a karaoke bar in 2015, but that is a good one too.  The third song of theirs that I remember, however, was definitely my least favorite of the three, and ironically, those are the quarter-century-old words that I’m writing about today.

I hate trying to interpret song lyrics, because I was always bad at interpreting poems in high school English class.  But the way I’m reading this one seems pretty straightforward: the narrator has been treated badly by a significant other, but her feelings for him still linger.

So what does that have to do with me?  I may not have been treated badly, or treated others badly, in the specific ways described in the song lyrics, but I understand that sense of feelings lingering from both sides.  And I did something about one side this week: specifically, the point of view of the other character in the song, not the narrator.  I called someone I met on Christian Mingle and told her that I just didn’t feel like we were clicking.  It’s hard for me to do that, because I often can’t pinpoint a specific reason for it.  She didn’t do anything wrong, but I just didn’t really feel like she was someone I could see myself spending my life with.  And I didn’t want her to have to feel like she was wasting her time with me.  And as much as that hurts on both sides, I think that’s better than pretending to make something happen when I know I’m not feeling it and stretching the heartbreak out over several months.  (This makes me think I should link to another relevant song here, this one not having any direct Cranberries connections, but it does use the word “linger” in the same context – by the way, I saw this band live for the third time last week, they didn’t play this song but it was an AMAZING SHOW!!!)

I’m wondering if there are other lingering issues I need to deal with (double meaning, issues related to old feelings lingering… lingering issues of lingering, if you will).  In this case, I’m more like the other perspective of the song, the narrator dealing with her lingering feelings for someone who doesn’t care for her in return.  In particular, I have a lot of people I’m still in social media contact with whom I’m not sure if I should be in contact with anymore.  Some of these are people I knew in the past who mostly just post angry political and/or anti-Christian stuff that I don’t agree with.  Some of these are people whom I’ve had various issues or hurtful experiences with in the past. Some of them are acquaintances from certain social circles who are just arrogant jerks.  Most of the people in question here I have at least unfollowed on Facebook, so I don’t have to think about them any more than necessary, but that begs the question, what purpose would it serve to unfriend them completely?  If I don’t see these people anymore in real life, and I have things set such that I don’t see their posts on social media, is it necessary to take any more steps?

It might be.  It might help me find closure in my mind and put a stop to the lingering (there’s that word again) issues once and for all.  But, as I’ve said before, maybe I’m overthinking social media here, but I find it hard to cut people off like that.  If you are my Facebook friend, that means there was a time when I wanted you in my life, and it’s hard to let go of the hope that we’ll never be close again.  But maybe it’s necessary to let go of that.  There are people that I once hoped to be close with, but realized that I didn’t want to after all once I saw what they were really like.  And there were people I was once close with, but then they changed, and my hope is that I might once again someday be close with who they were before, not with who they are now.

So I don’t know.  I don’t have an answer for how to deal with these situations.  But it’s something I should be thinking and praying about.  I need to take care of myself, and it isn’t healthy to let people linger in my life who are causing more harm than good and probably won’t change.

Exit 185. Church isn’t supposed to be this stressful.

Church isn’t supposed to be this stressful and upsetting.

I’ve been hopping around between at least three different churches the last few months, and I don’t know if I’m going to stay at any of them long term.  The church I’ve been going to the last two years (which I’m counting as one of these three) just doesn’t feel like it’s for me anymore.  They have a new pastor, and I think he has some great ideas for how to bring Jesus to the trendy urban neighborhood surrounding the church.  The problem is, I’m not in the trendy urban neighborhood surrounding the church.  I’m 12 miles away in the suburbs.  I have a very different lifestyle and very different views than most of the people there, and this has manifested itself in ways that have been making me feel uncomfortable lately.  The other two I’ve been going to are very different from each other, and I don’t know if I’m going to stick with each one.

It’s not supposed to be like this.  Singing the praises of God, having fellowship with my brothers and sisters in the faith, learning from the Bible, all of those important things shouldn’t be overshadowed by my frustrations with the culture of Christianity in the USA and my difficulty finding a place in it.  But it’s hard when I don’t feel like I belong anywhere, and it’s also hard when people from churches I haven’t been to in a while ask where I’ve been.  Most of the people I know at these churches know what’s going on, but that doesn’t make it easy.

But I’m doing the best I can.  I’m not going to leave my faith behind.  That’s not who I am, and that’s not what faith is.

If you live near me, just be aware that you might see me at your church sometime, even if I don’t normally go there.  And I might disappear for a few weeks.  And I might show up again sometime.  That’s just how things might be for a while.  But that’s ok.

I need to go spend some time in prayer tonight before I fall asleep.

Exit 184. Doing nothing.

I just spent an entire three-day weekend doing nothing.

And it was great.

The world went on without me.  There were lots of opinions over politics and political figures.  One of my teams kept finding new ways to lose.  There was another death of a celebrity whom I associate with my coming-of-age years.

And I did nothing.

I didn’t leave the house much this weekend.  I went to church, I went to one of the places where I used to go dancing regularly, I met a friend for lunch, I went for a 27-mile bike ride, and I walked around the big park in my neighborhood catching Pokémon.  And that’s it.  The rest of the time I was home, sleeping, reading, or playing retro video games.

It was the best weekend I’ve had in a long time.  I should do nothing more often.  Yay for taking care of myself.

Have a great week, friends.

 

Exit 183. I learned something new.

I’ve been seeing an interesting news item that keeps coming up: Apparently, starting on January 1, gas stations in rural parts of Oregon are now allowed to offer self serve pumps.

If you don’t live in Oregon or New Jersey or haven’t spent a lot of time there, you may be wondering why this is news, or why this is even a thing.  Here’s why.  Until this week, it has been illegal to pump your own gasoline in Oregon.  (There is a similar law in New Jersey, which is why I mentioned it, but nothing else in this week’s post relates directly to New Jersey.)  Drivers in the other 48 states, which contain about 96 percent of the population of the United States, regularly use gas pumps without any major incidents or adverse effects.  But for some reason which I haven’t researched thoroughly, these two states decided that they would prefer to place the act of pumping gas in the hands of people who actually work for the gas stations.  (A quick Google search suggests that it was historically for safety reasons, since pumping gas involves working with hazardous flammable substances.)

At any rate, the Internet exploded with Oregonians complaining about the inconvenience and safety hazards of pumping their own gasoline, or  bragging about how they don’t know how to pump their own gas, and suggesting this is a job better left for trained professionals.  And the memes followed soon after this.  I can’t tell (Poe’s Law) if these are actual complaints by actual Oregonians afraid to pump their own gas or trolls mocking them.  Probably a mix of both.

There are two important points being missed here, the first of which is what the law actually says.  It says that gas stations IN RURAL COUNTIES have the OPTION of allowing self-service gasoline.  Most Oregonians do not live in the areas affected, by the definition of “rural.”  And any rural gas station can still offer the option of having an attendant pump gas.  This was the norm everywhere until the mid-20th century.  So why do self-service gas stations exist in the first place?  It costs less to not have to pay an attendant.  As automobile travel became more common, more people preferred paying less, even if it meant pumping their own gas, and full-service gas stations either went out of business or stopped offering that service, because so few people were willing to pay extra for it.  This is exactly how capitalism and the free market is supposed to work.  There is nothing stopping someone from opening a full-service gas station in one of the 48 states that allow self-service pumps, except for the fact that in most areas, they probably would not get enough customers to stay open.  It’s just like how there is nothing stopping someone from opening a video rental store or an ice block delivery service so people can keep their food cold.  They just would not get many customers in this era.

As for the second important point… story time.  The setting is a self-service gas station in Davis, California, in the fall of 1994.  I think it was the Chevron station on Anderson Road at the corner of West Covell Boulevard, across the street from Save Mart (which was Lucky at the time and was Albertson’s for a while in between).  I was 18, on my own for the first time.  A few weeks earlier, I had moved from my parents’ house into a dorm that doesn’t exist anymore on the UC Davis campus, and at the time, students who lived in undergraduate dorms were still allowed to park cars at the dorms (although it cost extra).  I needed to fill my tank for the first time, and when I got to the gas station, I realized I had no idea what to do.  I had been driving for two years, but I had never had to fill my own tank.  My family pretty much had all shared one car for much of the two years I had been driving.  On the few occasions when we needed two different cars for different family members to be in different places, we would borrow a car from either Grandma or Grandpa, who were retired and in their 70s at the time and still both had cars despite not using them all that often.  (Grandpa passed away in 2003, but Grandma is still alive at 97 and still has the same 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass, I think, although now on its last proverbial legs.  And I might be off by a couple years on the car model year.)

The point is that I was never made responsible for filling my own tank.  Someone else would always do it for me.  Besides not having a car that was entirely my own, I also grew up in a fairly sheltered family, where I was not often forced to learn and experience new things.  I don’t remember exactly what I did that afternoon in 1994; I think I parked, found a pay phone, and called home, panicky, asking what to do.  And through some combination of listening to Mom or Dad and reading instructions, I figured it out.  I filled my own gas tank.  No one died, there was no explosion.  Instead, although I may not have realized it, I felt accomplished.  I learned something new.  And that’s part of growing up: learning new life skills, so I don’t have to have someone do everything for me forever.

So maybe those people who live in areas affected by this new law should embrace the challenge instead of complaining about it.  They get to join the other 96% of the population and learn how to do something useful.  Trust me… you’ll feel good about yourself once you do.

Now that I’ve finished writing this week’s post early, I’m going to go run some errands, one of which will be getting gas.

Exit 182. Unfinished business.

Author Sue Grafton died last week.  Ms. Grafton is best known for writing the Kinsey Millhone books; those are the ones with the letters in the titles, A is for AlibiB is for Burglar, and all the way up to Y is for Yesterday which was just published in 2017.  Ms. Grafton was already in her 40s when she started the Kinsey Millhone series, after having written two other novels and working for many years as a screenplay writer.  She was 77 at the time of her passing.

I’ve written before about being a fan of this series, and how I came to discover these books.  I just read Y is for Yesterday a few months ago, and I just reread it this month.  Knowing that Z is for Zero (the tentative title) will never be published gives me a sense of unfinished business.  Ms. Grafton made it clear in numerous interviews that she never wanted to work with a ghost writer or have anyone else have control over her characters, and it would be wrong not to respect her wishes.  But at the same time, it feels kind of wrong to leave the series incomplete.

I’ve been thinking a lot about unfinished business in my own life.  Much of my lack of inner peace comes back to this in some way.  I never got to be a normal teenager with friends and parties and a silly puppy-love girlfriend.  I never got to marry my college sweetheart and start a family in my 20s and take my kids to Sunday school.  If I could go back and do high school and college again knowing what I know now about people and socializing and the world, I might not have ended up stuck in this limbo.  And some of the relationships and relationship-like experiences I’ve had might have worked out better if we had met at a different time or in a different place.

So how do I deal with this?  There is only so much I can do in the first place.  Things happen that don’t give closure; that’s just life.  People die with their life work unfinished.  People change and leave others behind for no apparent reason.  Everyone’s life is full of what-ifs, and dwelling on them only brings pain, so I need to learn to make a conscious effort not to dwell on these things.

Dealing with this might also mean unfollowing certain people on social media whose posts reflect the kind of supposedly perfect life that I’ll never have.  But it’s definitely going to have to mean being honest with myself, taking a long, hard look at my life, and figuring out two important things: what exactly it is that I really want, and how to work with what I have.  Just because I can never have what I once thought to be the perfect life or the perfect relationship doesn’t mean that there are no good options left for me.  But as I said, I need to figure out what those options are, and I need to figure out what it is that I want in the first place.

I just wish I didn’t sound so repetitive.  Much of this I’ve written before.  How long will it take me to make real changes?

 

Exit 181. The one time out of the year.

Last night, I was at Christmas Eve Mass at the Catholic church where I grew up.  I was thinking about how Christmas is the one time out of the year when I still attend Catholic Mass, despite having left Catholicism for evangelical Christianity at age 20, and I thought, that would be a good thing to write about this week.  But in looking at old posts about Christmas on this site, I realized I already addressed the topic two years ago (click here to read).  In that post, I focused primarily on how all the prayers and rituals of the Catholic Mass are so much more meaningful to me as an adult, now that I know more about the Bible and the history of Judaism and Christianity.

There is another question I did not answer… why do I still attend Catholic Mass on Christmas, instead of attending my own church or a church more like the ones I have attended as an adult?  Part of the reason is practical.  I am always visiting my family on Christmas, and my mom, grandma, and some combination of other relatives who are here or visiting always attend Mass on Christmas.  This year, we attended Mass on Christmas Eve because my mom does the Scripture readings at church, and that was the time that she was asked to read for.  Depending on when exactly I come to see my family, I am occasionally able to attend Christmas service at my own church as well.  This year, the church I’d been attending the last two years had an early Christmas service last Thursday, and I was going to go there as well, but I decided not to at the last minute for reasons that this isn’t the time to get into here.

I guess the other reason I haven’t stopped going to Mass on Christmas Day is because I haven’t felt a need to.  I’m worshiping Jesus and celebrating his birth with my family.  The fact that this particular group of worshipers has other views regarding transubstantiation, for example, really isn’t that big of a deal to me.

I’m going to keep this short this week and emerge from my old bedroom to see what the family is doing.  (We already opened presents last night.)  Merry Christmas to all of you.

Exit 180. 180.

I’m going to keep it short this week.

I’m currently rereading the novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, for at least the fifth time.  Yes, I loved it that much, which is why I have ambiguous feelings about the upcoming movie adaptation.

I’m excited, because one of my favorite books is being made into a movie.  I’m apprehensive, because there will inevitably be changes mare from the book to the movie. The book had so many little details, and surely many of them won’t make it into the movie.  I hope the changes don’t ruin the movie for me.

I’ve written in here before (once, twice) about my favorite quote from the book, and today I got to that part again in my rereading: “Like any classic video game, the Hunt had simply reached a new, more difficult level. A new level often required an entirely new strategy.”  As I said in those previous posts, I can understand what Wade is going through here.  In order to accomplish his goal and take down IOI’s corporate bigwigs, he needs a radically different strategy.  And as my life has changed over time, I need a radically different strategy too.  I’ve had a hard time figuring this out, partially because I’ve had a hard time letting go of some things.

I’m not going to rehash what I’ve written about before; I’m just going to say that the timing of this is interesting.  A new year is coming up in a few weeks, and new years are often seen as times of change and renewal, a good time to try a new strategy for life.  And this is post number 180 on this blog.  The number 180 (as in 180 degrees of rotation) has entered English slang to mean a complete turnaround.  And that’s what I need.  I need to go in a different direction, at least in some parts of life.  Maybe not a complete 180, but definitely not the way I’ve been going.

What that means, however, is still in question.  And to find that, I’m going to need a lot of quiet reflection and prayer.  And a willingness to try new things.