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.)

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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.

 

 

Exit 194. Angry mobs.

Today is Palm Sunday, the Sunday that falls one week before Easter.  The name Palm Sunday comes from a passage in all four Gospels, where Jesus rides into Jerusalem as a triumphant King, and he is greeted by a mob of fans waving palm branches.  Just a few days later, the mob appears again, but this time they are shouting for him to be put to death.  What caused the change?  The Bible, of course, does not say how many of the people in the angry crucifixion mob were also in the palm branch mob.  Those in the palm branch mob were expecting Jesus to be a conqueror and drive out the Roman oppressors, but instead he preached a message of humility and love for your enemies, which is not what they wanted.

Angry mobs have been in the news a lot around here lately, with another fatal and tragic case of alleged police brutality and racism, as well as the anti-gun marches happening across the USA this weekend.  I don’t really feel like going into any more detail about what I saw or what happened.  I’m kind of tired of talking about it and of all the arguing that it inevitably leads to.

I do know one thing, though.

I can pray.

This world is broken, and this world needs Jesus.  Before you try to tell me that European missionaries devastated cultures all over the world in the Age of Exploration, or that so-called Christian pastors molest children and cover up their gay affairs, and such, I didn’t say the world needed any of that stuff.  I said the world needed Jesus, and that stuff is not Jesus.

I can also fix myself.

I can do the best I can to understand people who view life through a different lens than I do.  I can try to understand what others have been through.  (And I would appreciate it if others extend the same sentiment to me and try to understand what I’ve been through.)

I feel like I’m not very talkative (writative?) tonight.

Exit 193. It really wasn’t a bad week.

I’ve been having a rough week.

I had some ideas for things to write about.  Then I forgot them, and I misplaced the paper where I wrote them down.

So I’m going to do something else instead.  I’m not even going to think about my rough week.  I’m going to list everything good that happened in the last week and a half or so.

I went to three Sacramento Kings games.  They won two of them.  The one that they lost had a significant historic highlight: Vince Carter passed up Patrick Ewing for 22nd all time in total points scored.  Vince Carter is the oldest active player in the NBA, approximately the same age as me, in his 20th season.

I took a trip to go have lunch with an old friend I hadn’t seen in over 20 years.

I was able to help out a friend who needed a ride, even though it was a trip that took a few hours total.

I played lots of games with friends.

I went blues fusion dancing.  One of my favorite dancers ever was there; she doesn’t come as often as she used to, and when she does, I sometimes don’t get to dance with her, because a lot of other people want to dance with her, and she often leaves early.  We had a good talk about life, and I got to dance with her.  Twice.

I had some time to work on a creative project.

I watched a performance that one of my friends was in.  We stayed up for over three hours talking afterward.

I was at Walmart, I checked the garden section on a whim, and I bought a tree.  This was something I was thinking of doing soon, but it didn’t occur to me until the last minute to get it at Walmart.  I just happened to be there for something else.  And I got an interesting reaction from some teenagers who probably weren’t used to seeing someone pushing a tree around in a shopping cart, along the lines of “Whoa!  Is that gonna get real big?”

And in a moment of desperation, on the one night I was up all night and couldn’t sleep, I temporarily made a post on Facebook that said, help, I need someone to talk to, or pray with me, or just listen.  And I got three responses pretty quickly, from three people in three different circles: one of the admins of a Facebook group I follow whom I’ve never met in real life, a relative in another state, and a local friend whom I haven’t seen in a while.  All of them had helpful things to say.  Two of those people were also having trouble sleeping because of things on their mind, and it was nice to know that I’m not alone.  (The third was up because she works nights.)

So it really wasn’t a bad week.  And by early afternoon today, there was not much more I could do today about the situation I’ve been dealing with, and my appointment this afternoon was cancelled, so I took the rest of the day to relax and do absolutely nothing.

Life is good.

Exit 192. I hope all of those people grow up.

One of my friends, someone I’ve known online for a very long time but have never met in person and don’t talk to often regarding the little details of our lives, recently posted a clickbait-type article that had a list of strange reasons why couples broke up.  Among them were such petty grievances as someone who said “my bag” instead of “my bad” and someone who ate chicken drumsticks with a fork.

My first instinct was to make this about me.  I replied, what about these?  Are these good reasons to break up?  I told her about Acrux, moving far away without including me in the decision, and then putting little effort into the relationship once we were a long distance couple.  I told her about SN1604, repeatedly flaking on me, rescheduling on me, and standing me up, telling me after a month of this that it just wasn’t a good time for her to be in a relationship with anyone because of everything going on in her life, and then meeting someone else a few weeks later.  My friend told me that it sounds like I’m still hurting from these experiences, and that my worth doesn’t come from how others treat me.

These are things I’m still working on, both with my therapist and in my prayer times.  But my friend is right; I am still hurting.  It’s been too long to keep carrying this baggage around; the two stories I told happened in 2011 and 2015, respectively.

I replied that this gave me an interesting shift of perspective.  I wish that I could meet some of the people who wrote these breakup reasons.  I wish that I could tell them how happy I would be to have someone special who loved me for who I was, who didn’t make everything in the relationship all about her and who valued my opinions, even if she did eat chicken drumsticks with a fork.  I wish that I could tell them how much I long for someone who says she wants to be with me and actually follows through on her words, someone who is honest and does not hide things from me, even if she thinks the expression is “my bag.”  I struggle to meet anyone, and these people are treating their significant others as disposable just because of some little thing that really is not all that important in the long run.

I hope all of those people grow up and learn to accept their significant others’ imperfections, and I hope they learn to stop discarding people for petty reasons.

Exit 191. More important than winning.

As I’ve mentioned before, I occasionally host an event at my house that involves staying up really late playing video games from the 80s and 90s and listening to 80s and 90s music.  I did that last night.  At one point I was playing two player Dr. Mario with my friend, whom I’ll call “Adhafera.”  Dr. Mario is a puzzle game first released for the NES in 1990, with subsequent rereleases on many other Nintendo consoles.  The object of the game is to match up colors in little pill-shaped pieces in order to kill viruses.  This game is often placed in a category similar to other block-moving games, like Tetris, and other games that involve matching pieces, like Candy Crush.  In the two player game, two players go head to head to see who can clear their viruses first, and special combo moves in which more than one row of pieces is cleared result in garbage blocks being dropped on the other player’s game, making it harder for them to clear.

Adhafera came to my last retro gaming party two months ago, with his girlfriend.  For most of the time they were there, they were playing games together.  I felt bad when they left, because I had hardly talked to them, and they came from 30 miles away.  This time, his girlfriend was not with him.  So at one point, I joined him for a two player game of Dr. Mario.  Adhafera is way better at Dr. Mario than me.  Usually I have to play about four or five levels below him (i.e., I get fewer viruses) in order for it to be competitive.

And this time, I got a chance to talk to him more.  We talked about life.  We shared stories from our respective childhoods and younger years.  I told him about my struggles at church and the new church I’ve been going to.  We talked about the sports fan cultures at our respective almae matres.  I told him about the novel I’ve been writing off and on (more off than on) since mid-2014.  And I didn’t do too well at Dr. Mario.  He swept me 3 games to 0 most rounds.  I think once, maybe twice, he won 3-1.

At one point he asked if the talking was distracting me from winning.  It might have been.  But I said, “I think getting to talk is more important in the long run than winning.”

Because it is.

Exit 190. I’ll find you when I think I’m out of time.

One interesting thing about having a huge collection of music is that every once in a while, I’ll have all of my thousands of songs on shuffle, and I’ll rediscover a song from my past in a way that speaks to me all over again in the present.

Jars of Clay is a Christian rock band that was popular during my college and young adult years, when I was first discovering Christian rock (and first discovering what it meant to be a Christian, for that matter).  Their song Flood, off of their self-titled debut album, was a major hit in 1996, crossing over from the Christian niche into mainstream music and charting on the Billboard Hot 100.   I’ve seen them live at least three times, most recently in 2006 with Vega the Nice Ex.  (Some of the popular Christian bands of that era I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen live, since I went to some festivals and other large events where many bands were playing.  I know I’ve seen them at least once at a festival, and twice as the actual headliners of actual concerts.)

Jars of Clay never really replicated that early mainstream success.  They experimented with different sounds over the years, and although I have all of their first seven studio albums, their self-titled debut will probably always be my favorite.  But there are some good songs off of their other albums (as well as some recent work which I haven’t heard at all; maybe I’ll have to check them out one of these days).  The song “The Eleventh Hour,” from the 2002 album of the same title, came up on shuffle recently, and I hadn’t heard it in a while, and it had probably been even longer since I had actually paid attention to the lyrics.

 

The English phrase “the eleventh hour,” which like the phrase “jars of clay” is derived from a passage in the New Testament,  refers to the last minute, a time in which it is almost too late.  (Some modern translations use modern methods of timekeeping in that passage instead of the words “eleventh hour”; the NIV, for example, says “five in the afternoon.”)

The song says:

Rescue me from waiting on this line.
I won’t give up on giving you the chance to blow my mind.
Let the eleventh hour quickly pass me by.
I’ll find you when I think I’m out of time.

Sometimes I feel like I’m out of time.  Sometimes I feel like my best years are past me, having been wasted drowning in fear and self-doubt.  Sometimes I feel like I could have been happy and had a more fulfilling life if I had done things differently in my younger years.  Sometimes it feels too late to be successful financially, or too late to meet that special someone and find a family, or too late to find a place where I belong.  God, rescue me.  I won’t give up on you.  I can still find God, and he can still do wonderful things with my life, even if I think I’m out of time.

As I’ve been writing this, two other Jars of Clay songs came up on shuffle.  Maybe God is telling me he approves of my topic for this week, or that one of my readers needed to hear this.

Don’t give up on God.

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.)

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.