college

Exit 173. Finding my people.

A few months ago, I saw an invitation on Facebook for a reunion for 1990s alumni of the UC Davis chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  IVCF is an international para-church organization (i.e., not affiliated with a particular church or denomination) that runs Christian groups and ministries on university and college campuses, and I’ve mentioned before that I was involved with this organization during my university years.  It was through this group that I first came to know Jesus on a personal level, that all the stories I’d heard as a child about Jesus and God’s people really started to mean something to me and affect my life.  Some of the people in my life from this group I’m sporadically in Facebook contact with, but there are many others with whom I lost touch long ago.  So when I saw last summer that the couple who led the group from 1992 to 2002 would be flying out to California in October and speaking at an IVCF reunion for alumni who were part of the group during those years, I signed up right away.  In fact, I was told that I was the first one to register and buy my ticket.

The event happened at the end of my school’s fall break.  I was hoping for the fall break to be low-key and relaxing, allowing either for a spontaneous adventure or two or lots of time sitting around doing things I enjoy.  Some of that happened, but the week ended up being much more full of adult responsibilities than I was hoping: car maintenance, bike repairs, my phone dying unexpectedly, and its brand new successor stopping working after a day, to mention a few.  In the days leading up to the reunion, my mind was rapidly heading into a downward spiral of negative thoughts and stress.

But this day was exactly what I needed, emotionally and spiritually.  It felt like I was getting back to my roots as a Christian, worshiping the Lord in the same environment that I did twenty years ago, before I became so disillusioned with church culture and jaded by the various ways I’ve been mistreated since then.  I enjoyed catching up with so many old friends, getting to share stories about what I’m doing today and hear their stories.  These were the people who were here for me at a very difficult time in my life.  Things weren’t always smooth, as I shared last week, but is it ever?

Nine days later, as I write this, two conversations stick out the most in my mind.  The first was with a woman a few years older than me who was on staff with InterVarsity during the time I was there.  I found her on Facebook a few years ago, when she commented to one of my friends from this time period who I’ve stayed in touch with, so she has seen a lot of my Facebook posts about my tabletop game and retro video game friends, Kings games, and partner dancing.  But this was the first time we had spoken face to face in a long time.  I didn’t have a social life anything like this twenty years ago, and that was something I often felt discouraged about.  She told me, “I’m really glad you found your people.”

I didn’t respond to that comment in the best way I could have.  I should have thought about how she’s right.  For the first thirty-plus years of my life, I never had friends who understood the things I enjoy doing to the extent that my friends now do.  I was never able to invite people over and get a good response and have a good time.  I really have found my people, in that sense.

But that wasn’t my response.  Instead, I took a negative view of the subject.  I said, “But it doesn’t feel like they’re completely my people.  Most of those friends are either not Christians, or way younger than me.”  True, but this isn’t what I should be focusing on.  I really need to stop being so negative.

Hold that thought.  More on that later.  The second conversation that sticks out to me was with someone who had been a freshman when I was a senior.  She eventually moved back to the area where she grew up, about an hour and a half drive away, and somehow the topic came up of how often we’ve been back to Davis since then.  I only live 30 miles away, and I go to a lot of UC Davis football and basketball games, and I have met a few other friends who live in Davis over the last few years who have no connection to my time living there, so I have been back to Davis more often than most of the students who attended the reunion, except for the handful who actually live in Davis today.  I mentioned to this friend that I think about moving back sometimes, even to the point that I’ve sent job applications at two distinct points in my life.  But I don’t think that moving back is a good idea for me, given what I know about myself.  Truthfully, this thought isn’t about wanting to move back so much as as it is that I just want my old life back.  And that just isn’t realistic, because so much has changed in the last twenty years.  The world is a different place and everyone has grown up, and if I were to move back to Davis, I would not get my old life back.  None of these were really new thoughts for me, but it seemed like I explained it a bit more clearly than usual.

Later, we had a sharing time, about things that we learned during our InterVarsity days that have borne fruit in our adult lives.  Someone was talking about how at one point as an adult, she was looking for the kind of community she had in college, only to realize that as adults, we have to make our own community.  I’ve been struggling with this for a long time, spending decades of my life trying to find a church that has a group like InterVarsity for my age, only to realize that this group doesn’t exist.

I will always have my InterVarsity memories, and these memories will always be precious to me.  But life moves on.  Which brings me back to the other conversation about finding my people.  I’m glad to be in touch with people I knew twenty years ago, but my people in 2017 are the game group friends and my other current social friends.  God put me in this place for a reason, and I still have work to do where I am right now.  And although it doesn’t hurt to embrace nostalgia to some point, looking backward ultimately is not the answer when I can’t find the way forward.

Exit 141. Versatile Blogger Award and things about myself.

There are a lot of deep topics I could write about this week.  Today is a national holiday here in the USA commemorating the birthday of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.  The controversial businessman Donald J. Trump will be inaugurated later this week as the 45th President of the United States of America.  A controversial political journalist was scheduled to speak at my alma mater, and the speech was cancelled due to protests in a move that some say sounds suspiciously like censorship.

But I really don’t feel like writing something that deep right now.  I’m going to keep it light this week.

One of my readers whom I do not know in person, Anna from the blog My Little Corner, nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award.  I’ve seen these kind of blog nominations going around for a while now, and this is the first time I’ve ever been tagged in one.  Thank you, Anna.

the-versatile-blogger-award

Now I’m supposed to do these things:

  1. Display Award.
  2. Thank the person who gave this award (and include a link to their blog.)
  3. Share seven things about yourself.
  4. Nominate bloggers.

The first two are already done, so now I get to share seven things about myself.  I’ll try to stick to things that I haven’t written about before on here, although some of these might be common knowledge to my friends in real life.

1. I have never seen the movie Titanic, and I have no desire to.
Yes, I know it’s one of the most popular and highest grossing movies of all time, but I haven’t seen it.  Yes, I know it’s a love story, and if you think that’s going to make me want to see it, you don’t know me very well.  (Read this for more information, especially the paragraph starting with “A couple years ago.”) I wanted to see Titanic at the time it was in theaters (which was my last year as an undergrad at UC Davis), mostly just because everyone was talking about it, and because they built and sank a replica of the actual Titanic to make the movie.  That sounded awesome.  I had plans to see it with a female friend (I’ll call her Aldebaran) who I got along with wonderfully and probably would have been interested in as more than a friend except that she had a boyfriend back home.  Aldebaran cancelled on me, and we never got to reschedule.  A couple weeks later, she moved away to do an internship related to her future career.  When I saw her again in the fall, her boyfriend had moved to Davis, and she pretty much disappeared once he was around.  I think I saw her once or twice that year, we didn’t say much more than hi, and 18 years later I have never heard from her again.  But back to my main story… at some point during the time she was gone, I heard all the stories about middle-aged women being so obsessed with Leonardo DiCaprio that they had seen Titanic 20 times, and I heard from friends whose opinions I trusted that it really wasn’t that good, and I decided I wasn’t missing much.  Eventually, it sort of became something I was proud of that I never saw that movie.

2. I don’t like coffee.
Again, I apologize if you find that blasphemous.  I’m not going to stop any of you from drinking coffee.  You do you.  But I just can’t handle the taste.  I’ve mentioned this a little bit in this blog before (follow the same link in the Titanic paragraph above).  I’ve tried to like coffee.  Being a college student in the 90s, I felt like my dislike of coffee stunted my social life.  But no matter what I added to the drink, I couldn’t get past the fact that I could taste the coffee.  Since there’s not much of a story to this, I’ll tell a related story: A while back, I was in my early 30s, and I brought a friend to a football game at UC Davis.  After the game, she didn’t want to go home right away; she suggested going to a coffee shop to hang out and talk.  (I had no problem with this; my plan was to order a hot chocolate.)  She asked, since I used to live in Davis, where was a good local non-Starbucks coffee shop?  One came to mind right away that I was pretty sure was still there (it was Mishka’s, for my readers who are familiar with Davis).  Once we walked in, I looked around and realized something interesting: I had never been inside Mishka’s before.  I only knew of it because my friends were always talking about it and how good it was.

3. I have never consumed alcohol.
Not technically entirely true, because I grew up Catholic, where they use real wine for Communion, but that’s just a tiny sip.  And once I was trying to make bootleg Vanilla Coke using generic cola and vanilla extract, and I didn’t realize that vanilla extract contains alcohol.  But that’s all; no alcohol other than those situations.  I have mentioned this several times, but I haven’t told the whole story.  As with coffee, sometimes I feel that not drinking has stunted my social life.  But I have different reasons for this.  My father is a recovering alcoholic, and this kind of thing tends to run in families.  Dad has been sober since the early 80s, so I’m too young to really remember most of his problem days.  But I remember him being kind of distant when I was a kid, and much of that was because he was still fighting his own demons.  I also see in myself the kind of personality tendencies where I could easily turn to alcohol to run away, and I’d just rather not play with proverbial fire, so to speak.  Plus, I never have to worry about knowing whether or not I’m too impaired to drive, and I save a lot of money not drinking.  But if you enjoy alcohol in moderation, I’m not going to stop you, and I’m fine being around you.  You do you.

4. I’m not one who always embraces the latest technology with enthusiasm.
This surprises some people, considering how much time I spend behind a computer screen, how I tend to figure things out on computers pretty easily, and how I knew the basics of what would today be called coding by my preteen years.  Growing up, I did a lot of reading about computers, but much of it was wishful thinking because we did not spend a lot of money on expensive technological devices.  As an adult, now that I have more money, I understand the wisdom of not spending it prodigiously, so now I don’t always go out and buy the latest thing.  It also makes me angry the way that slightly older technologies that work perfectly well are forced into obsolescence by corporations (smartphones without headphone jacks and MicroSD card slots, for example).  All that accomplishes is making me NOT want to buy your latest product.

5. I have only been to Yosemite National Park once, for one day, at age 38, despite living pretty much my whole life within a few hours’ drive.
This may not mean much to my readers outside of California, but I know people for whom this fact is completely inconceivable; to them, it’s just something you do growing up in California.  Not me.  I grew up in a family that was not outdoorsy at all, and family outings and vacations themselves were relatively rare growing up because everyone had such different and incompatible schedules.  It was also a trip I hesitated to take because, from what I had heard, Yosemite was always so crowded, and it was very difficult and expensive to find a place to stay.  Around 2000, I got the idea to take a day trip there, to leave very early in the morning in late spring or early summer when there would be lots of daylight, arrive at the park mid-morning, explore until it got dark, and get home in time for bed.  Someone I knew at the time shot down that idea (even though they weren’t invited, this was to be a solo trip), saying that I was underestimating the drive time, so it wouldn’t be worth the trip for just one day.  I listened to them and cancelled this plan.  I got the same idea around 2011 when I was dating Acrux, and she again told me I couldn’t do that, for the same reason.  I’d get there, drive up and down the Valley, and then it would be time to leave, according to her.  By 2015, I did a little more research and decided that my original plan would be feasible.  Screw you, naysayers.  The people shooting down my ideas were presumably assuming that it would take forever to get ready in the morning, and that they would want to get home in time for dinner.  They weren’t counting on the fact that I was perfectly willing to pack the night before, leave my house at 5:30am, and not get home until 11pm.  So I did just that, which gave me around 10 hours of actual time to explore in the park.  It was a wonderful day.  Of course, the park is so big that I just barely scratched the surface, seeing some of the most popular attractions, but the trip was still well worth it.

6. I’m terrible at skateboarding, roller skating, rollerblading, ice skating, skiing, or anything else along those lines.  I just don’t have that kind of coordination or balance.  I suppose I might get better with practice, but it’s hard for me to justify spending a lot of money on a hobby that results in nothing but me falling down over and over again.  (Snowboarding isn’t on this list because I’ve never tried it.)

7. My favorite number is pi, and my least favorite number is 19.
Pi is because it is a symbol of the field of mathematics, which is what my degree is in.  (This is why I named my blog as I did.)  And 19 is because it seems like every time I meet a cute single girl, that’s how old she ends up being.  Either that, or that’s how old she ends up acting.

So, now that I’ve given my seven facts about myself, I’m supposed to nominate bloggers.  I’m going to modify this step, though.  I’m going to say feel free to do this if you want to, and if you don’t, then don’t.  Besides, I think all my blog friends deserve an award.  But if you are going to accept my quasi-nomination, post a link to your blog in the comments so that other readers can follow it.

 

Exit 127. A very unique place.

Yesterday afternoon, I had lunch plans in Davis. Afterward, since I wasn’t having a very busy day, I just drove around for about 45 minutes before I started to head back toward home.

Davis is a small city of 65,000 (yes, that’s considered small around here) in Yolo County, California, about 15 miles west of Sacramento and 70 miles northeast of San Francisco.  It is adjacent to a large public university, which I attended from 1994 to 1999, and for the most part surrounded by farmland.  Davis is a very unique place.  It is a classic example of a college town, with a significant portion of the population, economy, and culture dominated by the university.  Also, somewhat because of this, Davis is one of the most bicycle-friendly communities in the USA, with many miles of bike trails and greenbelts that I spent much of my late teens and early 20s exploring.  Statistically, Davis is part of the Greater Sacramento region, and also not far from the outer reaches of the San Francisco Bay Area, but Davis is also isolated enough to feel like its own little world in many ways.

Had I done more research on the city of Davis while I was choosing colleges, there is a good chance I would not have gone there.  Davis, being dominated by the university, has a pretty extreme leftist slant in its local politics, and in my teens I leaned even farther to the right than I do now.  But, the longer I lived there, the more it grew on me.  As I have written before, I became a Christian while a student at UC Davis, and I found a church there that felt like home.  I stayed in Davis for a couple years after graduation, because by then it was my home.  I had a job within commuting distance, I had friends, and I was active in a church.  I thought I was going to settle there, although circumstances took me in a different direction.  I lost that job around the same time that most of my close friends moved away, and I followed suit and moved away in July of 2001.

On a few occasions, particularly when life seemed uncertain and I wasn’t sure what step to take next, I’ve considered moving back to Davis.  But every time I’ve given this more than just a passing consideration, it has felt like a bad idea, at least at the time.  Davis is a great place for a college student, which I am not anymore.  Davis is a great place to raise a family, which I don’t have.  Davis is a great place for hippies, which I will never be.  But at this point in my life, it’s not for me.  I’m not saying that middle-aged singles can’t be happy and feel at home in Davis, and the argument could be made that I fit in just as poorly where I live now, since it’s mostly families.  But knowing what I’m like, if I were to move back to Davis, the temptation would be too strong to live in the past and deny the reality that it’s not 1998 anymore.  And that’s not healthy.

Seasons change.  Things come to an end.  I’m not in Davis anymore, and it’s not my home anymore, but it’s still very close.  So I’ll just have to settle for visiting occasionally, and driving around reminiscing if I have time, building on what I have learned in the past to create my future.

Exit 104. There is a common thread.

I was recently asked to speak at an Alumni Night for my alma mater’s chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  Instead of the usual talk by an actual IV staff worker, they had four people speaking: an older alumnus (that’s me), a recent graduate, a current senior, and a current freshman.  This was planned as part of a theme centered around God’s work on the campus across the generations.

I have mentioned my involvement with this group before, but it was not without its share of ups and downs.  I had a variety of disagreements with the way the group was set up over the years.  (I’m not going to get into what those disagreements were, specifically, since this is not the point of what I’m trying to say here.)  For a few months in 1997, I even went so far as to attend another church’s college group a few times, because I was frustrated with the way certain things were done at IV.  I jokingly referred to this at the time as my Rebellious Period.  But I eventually came back, reasoning that this group was still much more of a force of good in the world, and because I was still benefiting and growing from the teaching, Bible studies, and service opportunities.

The group has changed quite a bit since the last time I attended a non-alumni group meeting, which would have been around 2000.  (I was done with school by then, but I still had younger friends still involved with IV, so I showed up every once in a while.)  Some of the changes they have made are the kind of things I wasn’t sure I agreed with back in my day.  In some important ways, the group had a very different feel from what it was like in the late ’90s.

But I did not feel uncomfortable there at all, because there is a common thread.  And that common thread is Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ died for all of our sins.  Although he came in the context of a specific time period and culture, he came to bring people of every culture to God, throughout all of history.  A number of students came up to me afterward and told me that they really related to the story I told.  Most of these students did not come from backgrounds like mine.  They grew up in a different time period, being born around the same time that I got involved with IV as a university student.  But they have all known the kind of alienation I felt that night in the story that I told, and they all understood how much it meant to me to find out that my friends were praying for me.

As Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”  (Matthew 24:35)

Exit 93. It’s just a game.

Today is Super Bowl Sunday.  (For my unfootballed readers, that means the day of the National Football League championship game.)  I’m going to have it on in the background, but I have no preference as to who I want to win this game.

There are a number of significant events in my past that I associate with happening on Super Bowl Sunday.  One of them in particular, even though this year is a milestone anniversary for it, wasn’t on my mind much if not for two posts I saw on Facebook within a few hours of each other a couple weeks ago.  One said that the current date of January 28, 2016 was the 20th anniversary of the last Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl win.  (“20 years of choking,” the caption said.)  The other was from a friend from college, who found and shared some 20-year-old pictures of a retreat he had been on with his Bible study, also in January 1996.

Time for some back story.  In the fall of 1995, I was a sophomore at UC Davis.  I had gotten involved with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship after several of my friends from the freshman dorm had invited me.  I thought I was a Christian, but over the next several months, I made a lot of new friends who took their faith much more seriously, and I learned what it really meant to follow Jesus.  I decided to follow Jesus for myself on Thursday afternoon, February 15, 1996.

During that transition time of learning about Christianity and making new friends was the Super Bowl.  The San Francisco 49ers (my team) and the Dallas Cowboys were two of the most consistently dominant teams in football at the time, and they had developed quite a rivalry.  I lived in northern California, where the 49ers were of course the dominant team geographically, and the Cowboys are one of those teams that have fans all over the country, as well as bandwagon fans since they were so good during that era.  I hated the Dallas Cowboys.  There had been at least two seasons still recent in my memory when the Cowboys had been the team to beat the 49ers in the playoffs.

On the Friday night before the Super Bowl, I had gone to InterVarsity, and for some reason I was in a bad mood.  I was probably feeling discouraged about not having plans afterward that night, or not having a girlfriend, or something like that typical of me.  Two guys who I didn’t know very well at the time started talking to me, and eventually they invited me to their house to watch the Super Bowl the following Sunday.

One of those two guys was the one who posted the picture of the retreat a couple weeks ago.  I replied to that photo, “I wasn’t there, but one of my friends who hates the Dallas Cowboys even more than I do posted today that the last Super Bowl win for the Cowboys was 20 years ago today (’20 years of choking,’ the meme says), which was that same year, and I remember that Super Bowl being the first time I ever hung out with you guys.”

The other guy who had been there on that night in 1996 to invite me to their house replied, “Was that the game you got really mad at? Or was that a later one?”  He was right.  I do tend to get pretty upset at big games that don’t go my way.  And that one didn’t go my way.  Like I said, I really hated the Cowboys at the time, and they won that game.  I’m naturally competitive, I grew up in an environment centered around sports, and I tend to be short-tempered after a long childhood of being bullied.  But none of that was going through my mind a couple weeks ago when I made my post connecting these two events.

“Probably,” I replied.  “But twenty years later, the fact that I had new friends sticks out in my mind more than the specifics of the game.”

I think there’s an important lesson for me to learn in this.  It’s just a game.  I’ve seen my share of great games over the years, and I’ve seen my share of disappointing heartbreaks.  But realistically, those moments aren’t the ones that really affect my life.  And I meant every word that I said there: most of my memory of that Super Bowl Sunday 20 years ago involves the fact that I was around new friends, people with whom I would spend quite a bit of time over the next few years.  And that is what I should be focusing on.  Yes, it is fun to see my teams win, but the times I spend watching games with friends, celebrating with friends after a win and commiserating after a loss, those are the real memories that will last.

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.