friends

Exit 250. Indecisive.

I had an interesting thought today.  I’ve always thought of myself as indecisive regarding things like making plans with people, what movie to watch, where to eat, what to do in the first place, things along those lines.  I have a hard time deciding these kinds of things when I make plans with friends.

But I realized recently that this is not indecision at all.  Most of the time, I know exactly where I want to eat and everything else.  The reason I have trouble choosing is because of conversations like this. It happened again just recently:

Me: Where do you want to eat?
Other person: I don’t care.
Me: Is there anything you’re really in the mood for in particular?
Other: Not really.
Me: Any special favorite place you really want to go?
Other: Not really.
Me: Is there anything you DON’T feel like eating?
Other: No. I’m hungry. I can eat anything right now.
Me: Any specific type of food you’ve really been feeling like?
Other: Not really.  I like everything.  You pick something.
Me: Well, then what about [insert name of restaurant here]?
Other: No, I don’t like that.

How do you expect me to be able to make decisions when so many of them are met with this kind of opposition?  Just be honest. If there’s something you don’t like, tell me; it would make everything easier.

P.S.  I wrote this on Friday, August 2.  Coincidentally, the Dilbert comic for Saturday, August 3, dealt with this exact same topic.

P.S.  There is a certain recent development in the life of a well-known Christian pastor which I feel like I need to write about here, considering how often I have written about my tumultuous relationship with this man’s works.  That seems like it would have been a better post for a milestone number like #250.  But I had a busy week, I missed posting last week, and I need something easy this week.  I’ll get to the other thing soon in a later post. 

Exit 249. I like consistency.

The TV show The Goldbergs is one of the most relatable shows to me in the history of television.  The show is about growing up in the 1980s with a crazy family.  That was my life (except that we’re not an East Coast Jewish family).  The show’s creator, Adam F. Goldberg, is the same age as me, and he basically just wrote a sitcom based on his actual family and childhood friends.  Many of the episodes’ stories themselves are based on true stories.  (“Adam” and all other names in this writing related to The Goldbergs will refer to the characters, not the actual persons on whom they are based, since this distinction may be relevant at times.)

By now, I’ve seen almost every episode from all six seasons (so far) of the show.  Every now and then, though, I’ll turn on Goldbergs reruns and see one that I haven’t seen before.  That happened a few weeks ago, with an episode from season 3.  One of the recurring story lines throughout season 1 involves the preteen Adam’s interest in a girl named Dana, who becomes his first girlfriend.  At the end of season 2, Dana tells Adam that she and her family are moving across the country because her dad got a job out of the area.  The beginning of season 3 finds Adam and Dana in eighth grade and attempting a long distance relationship (which in the 1980s could only be done with expensive long distance telephone calls).

Dana comes to visit a few times that year.  In this episode, the one which I saw for the first time recently, Adam is excited for Dana’s impending visit; he prepares to do all the things that they loved to do together before she moved, including going to a Weird Al Yankovic concert.  (Yankovic himself guest stars, wearing his hair as he did in the 80s.)  But Dana is unenthusiastic about doing all of those things.  Adam and Dana realize that they have grown apart as they have grown up, and they break up at the end of the episode.

As I’ve said before, I’ve had a hard time dealing with this kind of thing happening in my own life.  I like consistency.  I didn’t really have a group of friends in childhood, and when I finally got one late in high school, we all dispersed and moved away soon after, and I lost touch with most of them.  And I’m going through it again.  The group of friends I’ve spent the most time with over the last several years is shrinking.  Many of the others have grown up, gotten married, had children, and in various other ways taken on new adult lives, leaving them less time for game nights with friends or staying up ridiculously late.  Some have jobs that limit their social time.  (I have a job, but I manage to make socializing happen anyway, to some extent.  That’s probably why I’m tired all the time.)  Others have drifted out of my social circle for numerous other reasons.  And some people have moved away; I have had an unusually large number of friends move away in 2019, or plan to do so soon.

Why is all of this happening?  Some of it is just a natural part of life.  People grow and change, and their friendships and relationships change as a result of this, much like the story of Adam Goldberg and Dana.  This might not be what I want, but sometimes there’s just no way to stop it.

Or maybe, just maybe, God is clearing out my life to prepare me for something new.  Maybe I myself will be moving out of the area as well.  (God answered a prayer about that in the negative a few months ago, and I have no plans to move at this point, but who knows what will happen in the long term.)  Maybe I will become involved in a time-consuming way at my little 10-person church, as we find ways to grow.  Maybe there will be a new activity or a new relationship or a new hobby of some sort, or something I can’t even imagine right now.  Or maybe I’ll just make new friends, or for some reason shift my priorities to one of the other social circles of which I am on the periphery.  Not much I can do about it.  I just have to figure out which parts of my life to hold on to and which to let go of, and not stay stuck in the grieving phase when parts of my life are ripped from me through no fault of my own.

Exit 246. A memorial service for someone I didn’t know.

Today I attended a memorial service for someone I didn’t know.

Now, before you get creeped out, this isn’t some story about wedding crashing, except for funerals instead.  Do people do that?  It seems wrong.

The deceased was my pastor’s father.  I knew him in the sense that I saw him at church every week.  He wasn’t a stranger.  I said hi to him every week, and we exchanged pleasantries.

But at the service today, looking at pictures of him in childhood, in the Army, at his wedding, and with family, I realized that I never knew who he really was.  I only met him a couple years ago, late in his life, after Alzheimer’s disease had greatly affected his mind and his personality.

Please don’t wait until it’s too late to spend time with your loved ones and tell them how you feel.  Get to know the people around you before it’s too late.  I know there was nothing I could have done differently in this situation; it isn’t like I knew at some point in the past that there would be a man out there somewhere who would become part of my life later on, but he would have Alzheimer’s before I would meet him unless I did something about it.  I don’t have a time machine.

All of this kind of sounds like a cliche.  But it’s true.  And this isn’t the first time that someone passed before I got a chance to really know him, and that other time I could have done something about it.  In that case, it was someone I knew from dancing, who was well known in many of the partner dance communities in the area.  He was an innocent bystander in a drive-by shooting in 2012, and no suspect was ever caught, as far as I know.  We were acquaintances and surface-level friends, but I didn’t know him well.  Part of this was because his lifestyle was very different from mine.  Part of this was because another much closer friend of mine had a falling out with this guy before I knew either one of them, so I had heard stories about that guy colored by that perspective.  At his memorial service, I heard a lot of stories from people who had known him better than I had, and I realized that there were many sides to this man that I never knew or would have expected.

Of course, it’s hard to get to know everyone.  There are many people I cross paths with every day.  Some of them are toxic personalities that I’m better off not being in regular contact with.  But maybe there is someone out there whom I need to reach out to before it’s too late.  And maybe there’s someone like that for you too.  Until then, I can know that my pastor’s father is with Jesus, and someday I’ll see him again and get to know who he really is.

Exit 243. I had been thinking about doing the same thing.

Recently, a friend of mine who has been known to read this blog sometimes shared an article from the San Francisco Chronicle in which she was quoted.  The article tells the stories of people who, through DNA testing, discovered that they had previously unknown biological relatives.  I would imagine that such a discovery would bring up a lot of very complicated emotional reactions.  My friend (who gave me permission to share this article) now has positive relationships with multiple newly discovered half-siblings.  But not every one of these kinds of situations has resulted in a happy ending.

One of the other people quoted in this article (not my friend) mentioned having been contacted by a cousin that she had just recently discovered the existence of.  The article says that this woman thought that her new relatives “seemed like decent people,” but she unfriended her newly discovered cousin on Facebook and cut off all contact after discovering that her cousin was a supporter of President Donald Trump.  My first reaction was that this woman was being shockingly closed-minded and petty.  Cutting off family and loved ones, and questioning whether or not they are decent people, because of whom they voted for just seems wrong.

But then I realized that I had been thinking about doing the same thing.

I have some views that are not shared by many of the people in my social circles.  A certain such issue has been in the national media quite a bit lately, and I have been seeing many angry Facebook and Instagram posts on this issue.  The thought has crossed my mind that I need to do a mass unfriending on those sites, because I’m tired of hearing all this crap and feeling like the whole world is against me.  But if I were do that, aren’t I being just as petty and closed-minded as the woman in the article whose response bothered me?  Isn’t it healthy to be exposed to different points of view?

Yes and no.

What is healthy is having a fair and respectful discussion on these issues.  What is healthy is understanding where those who disagree with you come from, and why they believe what they do.  And a few of my friends have been genuinely attempting to do this when they share controversial posts.  I have no intention of cutting off contact with any of these.  But others are clearly not interested in learning about the opposite side.  They might be trying to rally and encourage their own side, or they might be trying to piss off or intimidate the opposition.  But reading that kind of thing, especially when it comes with an incorrect characterization of why I stand for what I do, tends to just make me unproductively angry.  I will acknowledge, though, that I probably have some misconceptions about their side’s motivations as well.

Should I be cutting off contact?  Should I be trying to engage these people in discussions?  I think that’s something I’ll have to decide for myself on a case-by-case basis, keeping both their intentions and mine in mind.  It should also be noted that many of the people involved I was never extremely close with, and I never see or talk to anymore, because of changing social circles or (in some cases) the other people having moved away.  I feel less bad about removing those people from social media as compared with people I see on a regular basis.  Also, it should be noted that Facebook offers the option of “unfollowing,” where someone’s posts do not show up in your feed but you stay friends and you can still see their posts if you look for them.  Instagram offers no such option as far as I can tell, but I wish it did.

So I haven’t undertaken a mass unfriending or unfollowing yet.  And it’s not something I need to decide right now.  I’ll burn that bridge when I come to it.

Exit 241. Five years.

So I’ve been trying to think about something to write about all weekend.  I kind of had an idea earlier today.  But then I remembered that this week marks five years since I started this blog.

Well, not exactly.  Last week was the actual anniversary, but I had something more important I chose to write about last week.  Still, five years.

Looking back, I had one post before I started my actual posts.  When I started numbering the posts, I didn’t include that first one, because it didn’t really say anything.  I was just kind of writing out my thoughts about starting a blog.  And one thing stands out, now that I look back on that post from five years ago: “I don’t know if anyone other than my friends will ever find this page, but who knows?”

I have to admit, when I wrote that, I had fleeting thoughts of Highway Pi getting this huge viral following, getting me millions of followers and so many clicks that I could quit my day job.  Yeah… didn’t happen.  And I’m not surprised.

But what does stand out is that while I haven’t gotten millions of followers, some people other than my friends have in fact found this page.  I’ve made friends just through here (although I haven’t met any of them in person), from looking at people who comment on my posts and then reading their blogs.  I have read about organizing your life; people’s experiences with introversion, autism, eating disorders, anxiety, and various medical conditions; some interesting posts about Christianity; poetry and short stories; just life in general; and many other subjects and cultures from around the world that I wouldn’t know as much about otherwise.  And I have also started a second blog, episodic fiction which has led to a great deal of introspection about a significant time in my life.  And most importantly, I’m not stressing as much over either blog about having to write something every week.

Thank you all for a very memorable five years.  It’s been nice meeting and getting to know all of you… and to those of you whom I already knew, thank you for your comments and helpful words.  I plan on keeping this going as long as I can.

Exit 234. No good for an old memory to mean so much today.

The title comes from this popular song from my childhood.

My other blog (on which I use a pen name, in case any of you check it out and are confused by what my name actually is) is an episodic continuing story currently set in 1994 (about a decade later than the song I just quoted, so the song isn’t connected to this story except for the enduring relevance of that quote).  The main character in that story, currently an 18-year-old in his first term away from home at a large university, recently looked up something in a yearbook from high school and noticed some things that people wrote to him inside.  For the purposes of making the story authentic, I used actual words that people wrote in my 11th and 12th grade yearbooks for the yearbook signatures in the story.

When I was in school, the day that the yearbooks were distributed, and the following days when classmates and friends would sign the blank pages in the front and back, were always one of the major highlights of the year for me.  I’ve always struggled with feelings of being an outcast, feeling like no one likes me. And, not to sound like an attention whore, but yearbook-signing time is a way to get it in writing that people really have nice things to say about me.  And now, as a middle-aged teacher, I feel the same way about yearbooks.  I always enjoy and look forward to getting to read students’ wishes for me to have a great summer, and to wish the same to them.

As an example, one of the actual quotes I used in the story came from someone who I had just met during senior year.  A class I was in and a class she was in did a project together, with a few students from each class randomly assigned to work together.  I hadn’t thought of her in years, and I mostly only remember two things about her: that project, and the fact that she wrote something really nice and thoughtful in my yearbook at the end of that year.  It was the kind of message I might expect to read from someone I’ve been friends with a long time, not from an acquaintance two grades younger than me whom I had just met six months earlier.

I didn’t stay in touch with most of my high school friends.  The majority of people who sent me their best wishes for the future, told me how I would go far in life, and encouraged me to be confident and smile more, did not speak to me in my college years.  I tried to stay in touch with some of them, at least, but only a few responded, and after a couple years I didn’t hear from them anymore either.  For years, that left me wondering… did people really mean all the nice things they would write to me in the yearbook? Or did they just write nice things because that’s what you were supposed to do, and they were all empty words?

I don’t know.  Honestly, it was probably a combination of both, depending on the person.  And to be fair to my friends who didn’t stay in touch, it was a lot harder to stay in touch in 1994 than it is now.   There was no social media, no texting, and email was a new (or at least newly mainstream) technology that my friends weren’t using often, if at all.  Although I did try to stay in touch with some people, I didn’t try to stay in touch with everyone. I was even more socially awkward back then. It also felt a little inappropriate to me to make an effort to stay in touch specifically with cute girls who had boyfriends, unless I had been close friends with them for a long time (the girl I mentioned above whom I knew from the class project was in this category).  And I was pretty terrified of using the phone.  I should point out for any of my long-time friends who ever got a phone call from me in the 20th century that I probably sat there for at least 20 minutes agonizing over whether or not I should really call you, and wondering if you really wanted to talk to me, or if your parents answered and things got awkward if they knew who I was, crazy stuff like that.

I’ve lived a lot of life since 1994, and I’ve made and lost a lot of friends.  I have come to realize that, yes, there are a lot of people who will be nice to me to my face but not care about me once my back is turned, or once it takes effort from them to stay in my life, or once they have gotten what they need from me.  But I have also come to realize that sometimes people just lose touch from natural causes. Life is busy and hectic and chaotic and unpredictable. Yes, it is easier to stay in touch with people in the social media era.  And I’m back in contact with quite a few of my high school friends thanks to Facebook and Instagram, and Myspace before that.  But that takes time too, and there is only so much time to go around, especially now that my classmates and I are in our early 40s with careers and responsibilities and (many of them, but not me) children to raise.  There are plenty of good intentions to go around, but not plenty of time.

I like closure.  When someone disappears from my life, I like to know why, so I can learn from the experience if necessary.  But that doesn’t always happen, and that’s ok. I shouldn’t be dwelling on it.  It’s in the past.  Time to move on and focus on the present.

Exit 233. Living for the first time.

A few of you, specifically people who have known me long enough to know all of my obscure little-known favorite movies, and probably not many others, will recognize the title of this post as a line from a song in the 2008 movie The Rocker.

Sometimes, I’ll read a book, or watch a movie, or interact with a work of fiction in some way, and I’ll feel like I want to know more.  I’ll want to know what happened to the characters after the end of the story, or more about the background of the characters or story. Or I’ll just wonder more about a certain minor character in the story, which specifically happened to me recently while watching this movie.

Critics didn’t really like this movie, but then again critics aren’t me.  The film stars Rainn Wilson (Dwight from The Office, the shirtless guy in the picture above, but I never got into that show so don’t ask me about Dwight), singer-songwriter Teddy Geiger (left), some people who became famous later (Josh Gad, Emma Stone, the other two pictured) and other people who were in other better-known stuff (Will Arnett, Jason Sudeikis, Fred Armisen, Christina Applegate, Jane Lynch, Jeff Garlin, Bradley Cooper, and I’m sure I’m forgetting others).  Ex-hair band drummer Robert “Fish” Fishman (Wilson) never got his life together after his friends (Arnett, Armisen, Cooper) betrayed him and kicked them out of their band in 1986. His friends went on to become immensely successful, but the present day finds Fish living in the attic of his sister (Lynch)’s house and struggling to keep a job. Matt, Fish’s 18-year-old nephew (Gad) is in a band with his school friends Curtis and Amelia (Geiger, Stone), and they need a drummer.  After Fish struggles to fit in with the much younger band, the band gets a big break and attracts the attention of a typical Hollywood-weird producer (Sudeikis). Fish gets another chance to live the wild rock star life he dreamed of as a young man, but not quite in the way he imagined. I really enjoyed the story, even if it is a little unrealistic, and the soundtrack is an album that is still in my regular music rotation a decade later.

So about a week ago, this movie came up in a random Facebook conversation with a friend who hadn’t seen it, and I told my friend that it had been a while since I had seen it too, and now I wanted to watch it when I got home from work, which I did.  (In fact, I can remember exactly when I watched it last before last week; it was November 1, 2015, because it was my last date with SN1604 before we broke up the second and final time. She had never seen it, so I showed it to her. But we don’t need to talk about that…)  

Watching it again got me thinking about a certain minor character in the movie.  About halfway through the movie, the band is playing their first gig, and Fish is checking off all of their firsts as a band: first venue, first marquee sign (which has the band’s name misspelled), first sound check, first technical difficulties.  While they are playing, the camera switches to the crowd, where initially unenthusiastic people sitting at tables start paying attention to the music. One girl in particular starts watching the band, nodding her head enthusiastically to the music, and after the show she runs up to the band, blushing, and says “You guys are sweet!” before awkwardly running away.  Fish points out that they have their first fan. The same girl appears in the crowd at several future shows wearing a shirt that says “I ♥ MATT.” At an after-party, Matt tells Amelia that he wants to talk to this girl but doesn’t know how to talk to girls; Amelia gives him some pointers, and Matt goes over to talk to her. At the last concert in the movie, Matt throws his hat into the crowd, and she catches it (again wearing the I ♥ MATT shirt)..

This girl is a minor character in the movie.  No one says her name in the movie, and in the credits, she is listed as “I ♥ Matt Girl.”  But there is an interesting subplot here. In one scene, during the filming of a music video, Amelia gets frustrated at the people making the video wanting to change her look.  She says something along the lines of if they want someone who looks like all the other girls out there, they should just grab one of the girls that are always hanging around Curtis after the show.  But this girl, their first fan, isn’t one of the girls hanging around Curtis. She ♥s Matt, the dorky awkward member of the band. Even the dorkiest and most awkward of us have someone out there who cares about us.

So will I ever have a girl following me around with a shirt proclaiming that she ♥s me?  Doubtful.  Will I ever have someone who feels that way about me, though? I might, I might not. But who knows, it could happen. And it isn’t irrelevant that I have a lot of good friends who care about me.

Exit 223. I can learn something from the way that they lived their lives.

Death.  Never an easy topic to discuss.

Comic book writer Stan Lee, the creator of Spider-Man, the X-Men, and many other superheroes, died a couple weeks ago.  I recently saw the movie Bohemian Rhapsody, based on the true story of Freddie Mercury and the band Queen.  Freddie was only 45 when he died, and yesterday was the anniversary of Freddie’s passing in 1991.  My pastor knows another pastor in the same denomination whose toddler granddaughter recently died unexpectedly and suddenly.  And, hitting closer to home, a friend from the church I went to when I first moved here lost his battle with cancer this weekend.  He was only 30; he was in the college group at church when I first started going there, and his older brother was one of my first friends when I moved here.

I feel especially bad because this guy and I had kind of grown apart.  We didn’t argue or have a falling-out or anything like that; we just grew apart from natural causes as life took us in different directions.  The same thing happened with me and his brother, who no longer lives in California.  I’ve grown apart from a lot of people over the course of my life, and I’ve always told myself that no one is in the wrong here, that growing apart is just a natural part of life.  But now I have to accept the fact that it had been well over a year since I had seen him face to face and now I won’t get to see him again.

Death also always makes me wish I had known people better in their lifetimes.  Like I said, my deceased friend and I didn’t really run in the same circles anymore.  Similarly, at the memorial service for another acquaintance who died unexpectedly in 2012, I learned all kinds of things about him that I never would have expected.  And, as I have written before, I didn’t really discover Queen’s music until the months just after Freddie Mercury’s death.  But I can still appreciate everything and everyone in my life now, because I never know what will happen in the future.

And I can learn something from those who pass away and the way that they lived their lives.  In the case of my friend who had cancer, he was one of the nicest people anyone would ever meet, being kind to all of those around him and committed to knowing God and living for him.  And that is something we can all learn from.

Exit 221. The best I can with the life I’ve been given.

Recently, one of my friends shared on Facebook that her daughter was pregnant, and that she was going to be a grandmother for the first time. This announcement was significant to me because of how I know this grandmother-to-be: she was in my high school graduating class.

I’ve known for years that this moment would be coming soon, and I’ve been dreading it. Having children was never on my radar, I’ve always felt like I was missing out on something special because of that, and now I’m old enough to be theoretically having grandchildren. It’s quite likely that she isn’t even the first grandparent in our graduating class. Quite a few of my classmates already have adult children (we’re in our early 40s currently), and at least three-fourths of my classmates I have heard nothing from since we graduated. I know of people my age and younger who have older spouses and step-grandchildren, and I know of someone in the class a year older than us who was a grandmother at age 39. But it hits home a little more when it’s someone whom I’m actually in social media contact with.

I’ve been dreading this because it is just a reminder of the fact that having children has never been something to consider for me, which in turn is a reminder of my failure to form or have a romantic relationship. I am constantly surrounded by reminders of this, and it makes me feel like there is something wrong with me.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. I can just keep doing the best I can with the life I’ve been given. And I have plenty of reminders of experiences I’ve had, and continue to have, that wouldn’t be possible had I had children. This isn’t what I naturally think about first when this happens, but I need to learn to change my thinking.

And besides, most of the greatest human beings who ever lived weren’t like everyone else.

Exit 216. Knowing that I haven’t been forgotten.

I’ve been away from this site for a few weeks. Sorry. Life just got in the way.

I’m ready to hide from the world for a long time. The world is quickly descending into madness.

Yesterday I got something completely unexpected in the mail. I have a friend on Facebook who observes National Handwriting Day. She asked for anyone who wanted her to send a handwritten card in the mail. I said sure, as I had in a previous year as well. National Handwriting Day is in January; she got behind this year, but the card still came in the mail, finally yesterday. I had completely forgotten about this until I saw who it was from. She isn’t someone I see on a regular basis anymore. Life just changes, and I haven’t seen her in person since she made the post about National Handwriting Day in January.

Even in this mad, chaotic world, little things like knowing that I haven’t been forgotten can really make my day sometimes.