Exit 229. I knew the answer all along.

I was watching Jeopardy! a few days ago.  Jeopardy! and other trivia games have always been huge in my family.  I’ve told people that my hours of reading random stuff on Wikipedia, then clicking a link to something else I read that I’m curious about, and repeating that dozens of times, are just studying for being a contestant on Jeopardy! eventually.  This argument was justified a few weeks ago when something I had read following a Wikipedia rabbit trail actually showed up a day or two later as a Final Jeopardy! question.  (“In 1790 Thursday October Christian became the first child whose birth was recorded on this remote island” — I had read about said remote island on another Wikipedia distraction-fest a few years ago, so I might have still gotten it right had I not read about it again recently.  I’ll let you think about it; click here for the correct response.  It’s also tradition in my family not to give away the answer in trivia games to non-participants who might be watching and playing along.)

Anyway, that isn’t the point of this post.  Another recent Final Jeopardy! category was “Female Singers,” and the clue was “In the 1990s this New York native had 8 of her first 10 Billboard Top 40 hits reach No. 1.”  I’m sitting there trying to think of the answer, and the first thing that comes to mind is, Crap!  In the 1990s I wasn’t listening to female singers who had No. 1 hits.  I was listening to R.E.M. and Pearl Jam and Aerosmith and Toad The Wet Sprocket, and then I had my Pink Floyd phase, and then I became a Christian and listened to DC Talk and Jars of Clay and Third Day.  I might not know this one.  Who could it be… whoever it is, her music probably sucks.

I was staring at the TV, at the words “1990s” and “No. 1 hits,” and I thought of something else.  A meme, of all things, something that I saw months ago.  It said to post the song that was No. 1 on your 14th birthday, and that is the song that defines your life.  Mine was “Vision of Love” by Mariah Carey.  That’s pretty much the opposite of what defines my life.  I’ve had plenty of visions of love, but unlike the song, they never come true, at least not for long.

But, back to Jeopardy!… my 14th birthday was in the summer of 1990.  Vision of Love was a No. 1 song from the 1990s by a female singer.  And it was from the start of her career, and she did have a lot of big hits in the next few years after that.  Could Mariah Carey be the correct Jeopardy! response?  I didn’t know whether or not she was a New York native, and I didn’t know exactly how many No. 1 hits she had or anything like that.  But I didn’t have a better answer.

Mariah Carey was correct.  I had the answer all along.

Literally.  I’ve literally had the answer since I was 14.  Somewhere in my parents’ attic is a cassette tape of Mariah Carey’s first album, the one with Vision of Love on it.  I haven’t listened to it since I was 15 or 16, but there was a brief time when I didn’t think that Mariah Carey sucked.  She had a strong voice with a pretty impressive range, and there were some catchy songs on that album.  Mariah lost favor with me a few years later, when she released another album with a song with banal lyrics and lots of parts where she was just shrieking at a pitch that only dogs and dolphins can hear, and by that time I was pretty much ditching pop, R&B, and hip-hop altogether in favor of classic rock.

So when I heard Alex Trebek telling the two contestants who wrote Mariah Carey that they were correct, I felt pretty proud of myself.  I thought that this question was going to be completely out of the realm of things I know about, but I knew the answer all along.  Maybe this is the case more often than I know.

Exit 25. Don’t let the days go by.

Recently, a Facebook friend reposted something about selective memory.  As we get older, we are more likely to remember positive things and forget negative things.  According to this post, the reason many older adults with grown children think that children of the present day are more poorly behaved than their own children were is because these older adults have lost the memories of their own children’s misbehavior.  That, as well as other things I’ve been thinking about this weekend, reminded me of something I wrote a year and a half ago on my personal Facebook.  Much of the rest of this post has been adapted from that, although I’ve added some new material as well, particularly at the end.

On that day a year and a half ago, I heard a hit song from my college years on the way to work and had the song stuck in my head all day.  You already know what song I’m talking about, unless either you didn’t read the title of this post, or you aren’t old enough to remember 1995… but click play anyway.  And if you don’t remember 1995, then by all means click play, because you missed a great song.

I’m not complaining about this at all.  It’s a great song, and to me, it has gotten better with age.  Although I never disliked the song, I seem to like it better now than I did back then; I’ve never owned the album that it was on, and I just acquired the song a couple years ago, to add to the playlist for my 80s and 90s video gaming events.  That got me thinking… why do I like the song so much now?  I think there are two reasons.  (I’m not going to discuss the lyrics here, by the way.  There are several suggested interpretations, and I’m not sure which one resonates with me the best.)  One reason is definitely the music.  The song has a very unique sound to it, an intriguingly haunting combination of electric guitars and strings, with no drums, that makes it stand out from the other big hits of the grunge era.

But there’s more to it than that.  Specifically, nostalgia.  The song brings back memories of my early college years… sometimes when I listen to this song, and others from that time period, I can picture myself driving and/or riding my bike around Davis and the surrounding fields of Yolo County (yes, that’s really what it’s called), or walking around campus between classes, or singing worship songs with Intervarsity as a new Christian.  My freshman year of college was a major turning point in my life.  I had a whole new world to explore.  I was in a new town, and I was in a new place in life, learning to live on my own.  Every few months, I had new classes, new friends to make, new things to learn.  And that makes me wonder… why do I long for those days?  Was life really better my freshman year of college?  Would I really choose those days over what I have now?

I think part of what is in play here is selective and distorted memory of what my freshman year of college was like.  I’ve already remembered one key point of this incorrectly; after I started writing this, I looked up Glycerine on Wikipedia, and it was actually released in November 1995, which was sophomore year (although the album containing it was released freshman year, so it’s entirely possible I may have heard it at some point, either in a friend’s dorm room or on a radio station that played album cuts and not just singles, before it reached its peak chart position).  That doesn’t really change anything I said in the last paragraph, though.  But seriously, I remember the new friends, I remember the bike rides, I remember my new found faith, but I choose not to think about the loneliness that plagued me some nights, the rejection from women, or the times I felt on the outside of cliques.  Another reason I tend to have good memories of college was because it’s something I was good at.  And I’m not very good at real life.  I knew how to be successful in college: study hard, read, and go to class.  Getting good grades was pretty easy for me.  Real life doesn’t have simple directions to follow like that.  I can’t get better at real life just by working harder.

Nothing lasts forever, and I don’t always do well with that.  People get older and change.  Culture and technology re in a constant state of flux.  Some friendships and relationships weren’t meant to be forever.  And I don’t always do well with that.  My life was very unstable in my 20s: graduating from college, being forced to leave a job, and leaving another job voluntarily because I felt like a geographical change would be the best way to leave a toxic non-work-related situation, among other things.  Although I did just start a new job in 2014, other things have stabilized significantly in my 30s.  I’ve been in this house for almost six years, and at my current church for almost nine years (since I was still in my very late 20s).  But other things have changed around me.  For example, the first couple years I was at my current church, I had a group of friends I often sat with, and we would often go out for lunch afterward.  That almost never happens anymore.  Many of those friends have moved away, and the rest now have children, around whom their entire lives rotate (for good reason).  Many of the regulars at my first 80s and 90s video game nights aren’t around anymore, for various reasons.  I still do swing and blues dancing, but many of the people who used to invite me to dance parties at their house aren’t in the area anymore, or don’t dance anymore.

There is absolutely nothing I can do about any of this.  I can’t stop change.  I have two choices: I can fall into a hole of being antisocial, unwilling to change and complaining about the world.  Or I can embrace a willingness to change with the world, finding that balance between what to hold on to and what to let go of.  I can continue some of my traditions, like inviting people over for 80s and 90s video games, but I have to accept that it will never be the same as it was five years ago.  However, change doesn’t have to be bad.  I have made new friends through these events as well, when old friends bring other friends with them, for example.  And I can try new things too, new hobbies and new activities.  I had more of a sense of adventure once, and I have to find a way to resurrect it, because I can’t keep going like this without it.  I know I have to do something, and I hope I figure it out before it’s too late, because the world is changing, and things will never again be like they are today.

Don’t let the days go by.

Exit 7. The ’90s are gone, and no amount of sitting in a bean bag chair and watching X-Files will change that.

Living in the past… the phrase often brings up images of middle-aged people who never made much of their lives, who have so little joy in their present lives that they have to place an undue emphasis on their past accomplishments in order to feel that their lives have had any meaning at all.  And often, those past accomplishments are relatively insignificant in and of themselves, like having been a cool kid or a star athlete in high school.  Like this guy.

(This is an original post, but I’ve written on similar topics over the last few months on my personal Facebook page.) As I have now attained middle age, I’ve thought a lot more about this idea of living in the past, because it’s something I’ve started doing a bit of.  I’ve amassed quite a collection of ’80s and ’90s music, because it reminds me of when life was simpler and the future seemed to hold a lot of hope and promise that hasn’t always come to pass (and, well, because some of it was just good music, of course).  I’ve also mentioned before that I host an event at my house a few times a year that involves staying up late playing old video games from the ’80s and ’90s.  And when I read my Facebook news feed, most of my friends from high school and college that I’m still in touch with are posting things about what their kids are doing, and jokes about how they never stay up past 10 anymore, whereas I’m posting about how I stayed up until 4am at a blues dancing party or how I sat in the back of a pickup truck watching the stars and making Doctor Who-themed Yo’ Mama jokes with friends who are at least a decade younger than me.  (Yo’ mama so fat, she’s bigger on the outside.  Yo’ mama so old, she and the Doctor were in the same kindergarten class.  Yo’ mama so ugly, she’s the reason the Weeping Angels cover their eyes.)

I know why I do those things.  Because I can and because they’re awesome.  I’m good at video games made before 1994, and I’m not as good at the ones made after that.  Being with friends all night is fun.  But I have to be mindful of reality too.  The ’90s are gone, and no amount of sitting in a bean bag chair playing A Link To The Past while watching X-Files will change that.  I have to live within the world the way it is in 2014, mindful of the fact that I am 37 years old; some things have to be done differently from when I was a teenager and a college student.  I don’t have football to look back on like Al Bundy does, but I look back on being in high school and college, because back then, life was easy, every year brought new classes and new opportunities, and the path to success was simple: study hard and get good grades.  I’m good at studying hard and getting good grades.  I’m not good at doing whatever it is to succeed in life as an adult.

I was reminded of this in a rather harsh way a few months ago.  (Some of my real-life friends have heard this story before.)  I tend to be rather sentimental; if you have written me a letter on paper, a birthday card, a form letter for Christmas, anything in the regular mail within the last 20 years, I probably still have it.  While cleaning out the garage, I found a box that contained all the personal mail I had received from the time I moved out of my parents’ house in 1994 until I moved to Sacramento County in early 2006.  At the bottom of that box were fourteen letters written to me by a pen pal of sorts that I had from 1994 to 1996.  She was one of the first girls I talked to in an AOL chat room back when that was still a new thing for me; she rarely did AOL chat rooms, but gave me her address and phone number to stay in touch.  And I did, for a year and a half.  We lost touch rather abruptly; I think life just got in the way and she didn’t have time to write anymore.

Anyway, I read those letters again a few months ago and got to thinking about tracking her down, here in the age of Facebook and Google.  I debated whether or not to do it, because it would be great to hear from her again, but since I didn’t know what she’d been doing since 1996, I had no idea how she turned out, and I might find out something that would tarnish the happy memories I had from when we were younger.  I eventually decided to go for it, and after looking through about 40 people with the same name who came up on a Facebook search, I found her, and I sent her a message.

A few days later, before she had replied, I went to Picnic Day* at UC Davis (and I listened to a mix CD of ’90s music on the way over).  While walking around the campus, I discovered that the dorm where I lived freshman year—the same dorm room where I lived for much of the time I had been in touch with that girl, where the first ten of the fourteen letters had been sent—had been torn down.  I would never see my old room again, because it didn’t exist.  And that really got me thinking about how, even if she did write back, even if we did get back in touch, there was never any way things would be the same.  I was remembering her as a teenager, and if she wrote back, it would be the present-day 35-year-old version of her, not the teenager that I loved writing to and hearing from so much back in the ’90s.  She did write back, a few days after seeing that my old dorm wasn’t there anymore, about a week after I wrote her, but only to say that she didn’t remember me.  She said that she remembered knowing someone from Davis, but that my name didn’t ring a bell, and that that was a long time ago.  She wasn’t interested in reestablishing contact.  It’s understandable—as a beautiful, sweet, and friendly teenage girl, she probably had the attention of hundreds of guys, and can’t reasonably be expected to remember all of them when she’s 35—but it was still disappointing.  It’s probably for the best, though, because like I said, things will never be exactly like they were in the past.

Some say that I am immature, because I still stay up late (it’s 2:22am as I write this), I play video games, I don’t do adult things, I live like a college student… whatever.  I tend to think that those people can suck it.  But, on the other hand, sometimes I wonder if they have a point.  I have a hard time relating to people my own age because I don’t live like them, and sometimes I feel like this also has to do with why I’m still single.  Whether or not that block is real or just in my head is something I need to figure out.  I don’t want to change who I am, or change my lifestyle to fit in with others; that goes against everything I stand for.  But it’s not healthy to keep living in denial either.  The trick is to find a healthy balance… and that’s something I’m still working on.


* Picnic Day is alcohol-free and family friendly.  If this conflicts with what you have heard about Picnic Day, then you mistakenly have Picnic Day confused with people who use Picnic Day as an excuse to get drunk off campus.  Do your research.  And, by all means, go to Picnic Day, because it’s awesome, but stay on campus.