living in the past

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 182. Unfinished business.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Exit 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 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 124. Maybe it’s time to find someone else.

Santiago Casilla has been having a rough couple of months.

Casilla is the closer for the San Francisco Giants baseball team.  For my unbaseballed readers, “closer” is the informal term for a pitcher whose role is to enter the game late and usually only pitch one inning.  The strategy is to use the closer in a close game in which the team is leading, so that the closer can pitch a few quick outs and end the game in a win for his team.

But Casilla not been very good at his job lately.  Recently, when he has entered the game with a small lead, he ends up pitching poorly and letting the other team score, often resulting in a loss for the Giants.  Fans are frustrated, sometimes now to the point of booing when Giants manager Bruce Bochy calls for Casilla to enter the game.  (And I don’t think they were saying Boo-ochy.)  Two months ago, the Giants were the best team in all of Major League Baseball, but since then they have slid precipitously in the standings, now barely clinging to life in the playoff race.

The moderator of a Giants Facebook posted last night that the only thing that makes sense at this point is that Casilla must have compromising pictures of Bochy.  In other words, Casilla must be keeping the closer job by blackmailing Bochy, because Bochy should know better than to use Casilla in these situations when he has caused the team to lose so many games.

Last night, I was playing board games with friends, but keeping an eye on the Giants score on my phone.  The Giants were leading 2-1 over the St. Louis Cardinals going into the 9th inning, but then Casilla came in to pitch, walked a runner, gave up a couple of hits, and left the game with the Giants behind 3-2.  The Giants could not score in the bottom of the 9th.  My friends who also follow the Giants were expressing similar thoughts about why Bochy continues to use Casilla in these situations, and how Bochy keeps deflecting the question when asked this by reporters.  Everyone has a bad day sometimes.  Everyone makes mistakes sometimes.  I get that.  If a closer blows a save or two, it shouldn’t cost him his job.  But when your team’s closer is leading Major League Baseball with nine blown saves this season, most of them coming relatively recently, then maybe it’s time to find someone else to do the job.

Finally, I said, “Bochy needs to let go and move on, and use someone else as the closer.  He’s acting like a guy who can’t get over his ex-girlfriend and keeps hoping they’ll get back together.”

I’ve been that guy before.  This is a hard life lesson for many of us, whether or not it has any connection with baseball.  Sometimes what used to work isn’t working anymore, and sometimes life has changed to the point where it may never work like that again.  Change is hard, but sometimes not changing is even harder in the long run.  Just like the Giants, I can’t stay stuck in my same old patterns and expect to stop being sad all of a sudden.  If I’m doing something that I don’t enjoy, taking time away from other things in life, then it’s time to do something else.  If I’m spending time and energy on people who aren’t making me a priority, then it’s time to stop making them such a priority.  Time to let go and move on.

Exit 113. All I can say is that my life is pretty plain.

Those of you my age may recognize the title of this post, from the lyrics of the song “No Rain” by Blind Melon.  If that title doesn’t ring a bell, then perhaps I should refer to it as That Bee Song.

I don’t have this song in my collection currently.  But I’m going to add it soon.  But why the big deal? you are probably asking, especially if you know me in person.  You rediscover one-hit wonders from your teens and add them to your playlists all the time.  Why is this one a big enough deal to blog about?

Two reasons.  First of all, because my brain is mush from all the socializing I did over this recent holiday weekend, and I can’t think of anything else to write about.  But more importantly, because this marks a major turning point in my feelings toward this song.  I’m not rediscovering this song; I’ve never forgotten it, despite the fact that, for the greater part of the last two decades, I have refused to listen to it and immediately changed the station almost every time I hear it on the radio.

If not for one specific incident, this song wouldn’t be a big deal, and I very well may have forgotten it in the almost-quarter-century since it was released.  One time, back when I was young and confused, a guy I knew went to a Blind Melon concert with a girl I really liked and didn’t have the guts to ask out.  And this guy was a jerk.  She could definitely do better.

That’s it.  After that happened, I refused to listen to this song.  Nothing ever happened between that guy and that girl, as far as I know, but for many years after that I refused to listen to this song, because I was angry that he got to go out with her and I didn’t.  It sounds petty and ridiculous, but… no, there is no but here.  It is petty and ridiculous.

Approximately eleven years after this incident happened, I was making cookies with the radio on in the other room, and I heard No Rain come on.  I instinctively started to walk away from the cookies, toward the room with the radio, so I could change the station.  But then I realized something.  I realized I was being absolutely crazy.  There was absolutely no legitimate reason I should leave what I was doing and go change the station, getting the flour that was all over my hands all over everything else in the process, just because someone I liked went out with someone I didn’t like, once, over a decade earlier.  Not listening to No Rain had become so ingrained in my brain that this was the first time I really thought about why I didn’t like this song, and how it really didn’t matter at this point.

For a while, I still didn’t particularly like the song.  R. Shannon Hoon, the lead singer (who, sadly, died of a drug overdose a few years after recording this song, only a few weeks after surviving age 27), has a weird voice, and on those occasions when I would hear No Rain come on the radio (which usually happened in the car, when my hands weren’t full of flour) I would still change the channel.  But I’ve heard it twice in the last couple weeks, all the way through, and I got to thinking about how I still associate this song with something that happened more than half a lifetime ago that still has nothing to do with me and is insignificant in the long run.

And, even though I’m still not a big fan of Mr. Hoon’s voice, it really isn’t a bad song.  It’s exactly the kind of nostalgic one-hit wonder that I’ve been listening to a lot in the last few years, with the kind of beautifully sad lyrics that I can really relate to.  So, now, every time I hear this song, it will be a reminder that the world didn’t end for me on that day decades ago when I found out that my crush had a date with a douchebag.  I’ll probably never completely forget about this, since that’s not how my brain works, but I don’t need to let the past weigh me down anymore.

Exit 106. It’s only holding you back.

During the course of my life, I seem to find myself getting rejected by women, in both platonic and romantic situations, in progressively more unbelievable and outlandish ways.  Whenever I think I’ve been rejected in a particularly shocking way, a few months later someone comes along and rejects me in an even worse manner.  By the way, I’m not being sexist here.  I’m sure that other combinations of genders have just as many outrageous rejection stories.

The other day, I was having a conversation on Facebook with a close female friend, regarding a guy she likes, and whether or not it would work.  I said, attempting to be snarky, “Well hopefully he won’t do this,” and then proceeded to describe a scenario in which he behaves toward her in the same hurtful way that a former love interest once behaved toward me.  My friend knew exactly what I was trying to do; she replied, “Did you just put me into one of your past situations again?”  I said yes, of course.  She replied, “You’ve got to stop doing that.  It’s only holding you back.”

She’s right.  It’s a harsh truth to hear, but she’s right.

Why is it so hard for me to let go of past hurts?  I think it comes down to the lack of justice.  The people who have treated me wrong (men, women, friends, love interests, acquaintances, strangers, everyone in general) get to move on with their perfect happy little lives, leaving me bruised and wounded, lying on the side of the road like a piece of trash.  What they did was wrong, and it’s not fair that they can get away with it.  I know this is a vastly oversimplified perspective, but on the gut reaction level, it feels like I’m doing everything right, and I’m miserable, whereas those who do everything wrong reap all the rewards of life.  I told something like this to someone else recently, not the same friend I mentioned above, and she pointed out that those people who do everything wrong probably aren’t as happy as I think they are.  I just don’t see the consequences of their decisions.  However, even if I did, that would not change the fact that I’m miserable.

Life isn’t fair.  Some people are jerks.  And there is nothing I can do to change that.  If I am going to interact with other human beings in any way, I am going to leave myself vulnerable to being hurt.  There are times when I have seriously questioned if it was worth it, or if I should just go become a hermit and live in a cabin in the forest.  But I don’t think that is the best solution either.  I just have to find a way to let go, a way to stop allowing these past hurts to continue to destroy me from within.  Everyone walks a different path, and it is up to God to deal with those who, from my limited human perspective, appear to be rewarded for doing everything wrong.  And it isn’t like I’m claiming to be perfect either.  I’ve made plenty of mistakes in the past, even if they aren’t the same kind of mistakes as the others in my circle.

It will take a lot of hard work to change almost forty years of this kind of thinking.  A big part of it will involve prayer and Scripture.  I will need to place myself in more positive situations.  I may have to have some difficult conversations with people still in my life who have hurt me, and I may have to cut others out of my life entirely.  There is no one-size-fits-all solution.  All I can do is keep taking steps in the right direction.

Exit 47. I’ve got the same combination on my luggage!

Yesterday, I had two hours to kill away from my own neighborhood.  And when I say kill, I don’t mean this in a negative way, I mean I was looking forward to the peace and quiet.  The last week or so, I’ve been having a craving for a certain major national restaurant chain that I hadn’t been to since August, if I’m remembering right.  (In case you’re wondering, It’s the one that doesn’t rhyme with “bottle” and requires a Rectum of the Gods to eat there safely.)  Anyway, I knew of a location of this particular dining establishment that was on the way to where I needed to be next, so I went in and headed for the bathroom, only to find that the bathroom had a keypad lock on it.  Presumably this is there to keep non-customers from using the bathroom.  I got in line, made my order, and asked about the bathroom, if she had to unlock it from there or if customers could have the combination.  “1-2-3-4-5,” she said.

Of course, I replied with what should be the automatic standard reply from most people my age who appreciate science fiction and off-the-wall comedy: “That’s amazing!  I’ve got the same combination on my luggage!

Then I paused and asked her, “Did you get that reference?”

“No,” she replied, as I expected.  So I told her briefly about the movie Spaceballs, a comedy satirizing Star Wars and the science fiction blockbusters of that era and style, how the bad guys are trying to force the good guys into giving up a combination that ends up being 1-2-3-4-5.  (Click the link above to see the scene.)  “Is it an old movie?” she asked.

“1987,” I said.

“Yeah, I wasn’t even born yet,” she replied.

Of course, as I’ve gotten older, moments like this have happened more and more to the point of just making me laugh now.  I’ve gotten used to being older than many of the people I come in contact with.  It’s important to realize that younger people grew up in a different world than me, and this has much deeper implications than not getting my movie references, but that is another topic for another time.

What I can do is offer to share my cultural references without being condescending toward the other individual, as I did with the girl from the restaurant above.  This is also why I invite people over for classic retro video games.  Some of my friends are younger than some of the consoles and computers I have, but we all have a lot of fun with it.  After all, this really isn’t all that different from students in school reading classic literature as part of their education.  Of course, there is a very legitimate argument that Spaceballs and Super Mario Bros. are not exactly on the level of culture as Shakespeare, but some of the creative works that are considered part of the canon of Western culture today were not taken seriously in their own time.

I used to coach Academic Decathlon.  Each year’s events are arranged around a central theme, with the topics of study all connected to some subject, part of the world, or era in history.  A few years ago, the theme was World War I, and among the topics were the art and music of that time period.  Some of the works students were required to study were not exactly considered high class at the time, such as Take Me Out To The Ball Game, Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag, and Duchamp’s Fountain.  It got me thinking… what if Academic Decathlon students 100 years from now are studying our time in history?  Will the music section of the curriculum include timeless classics like Gangnam Style and The Fox?  Will the students learn about priceless works of art like the photograph of Grumpy Cat and Lady Gaga’s meat dress?  Will Go The F*** To Sleep be one of the literature selections?  It certainly will be interesting to see what history will have to say about this generation, but I’m sure every generation has said the same kind of thing about themselves.  All I can do now is keep finding that balance, passing on the memories of the past without anchoring my life to them, acknowledging that the past made me who I am while freeing myself of its chains.

Exit 11. That same kind of situation, except now I’m on the other side.

I got recognized in a crowd the other day.  I’m famous.

No, not exactly.  And it wasn’t from this blog, although that would have been awesome.  “Hey!  I know you!  You’re that guy who writes Highway Pi!  Can I have your autograph?”  “Sure.  Anything for my adoring fans.”  Actually, if someone I didn’t know came up to me and said that, I’d be really scared, because I’ve never used my last name or a photograph of me on this site.

So here’s the story.  I was at a concert on Friday night.  This show was a three hour drive from my house.  I have family in that area, I grew up in that area, and I went to the concert with my cousin.  This really drunk guy in front of me at one point turned around and said, “Hey, is your last name [insert my last name here]?”  I said yes, thinking that was someone I had gone to school with at some point in my childhood, or possibly someone who was in a class or on a sports team with my brother, since he didn’t know my first name.  I said I didn’t recognize him, and he said, “Not me.  That girl right there.  She says you were her teacher a long time ago.”  I asked him when, and what school, and the information was accurate; I was in fact a teacher at that school during that year.  It was 11 years ago that I was her teacher, and the school was over 100 miles from where this concert was.  I asked her her name again, since I couldn’t hear what the drunk guy had said.  Normally this would have been one of those really awesome wow-what-a-small-world, what-have-you-been-up-to-the-last-11-years moments, except for one thing.

I don’t remember her.

She didn’t seem too upset or put off by that.  She said it was a long time ago, and she understood that I’ve had a lot of students since her.  I even went so far as to ask who her friends were in 7th grade (which is the grade I taught during the year in question), and if she remembered what period she had my class, hoping that that might jog my memory.  She said she was quiet and didn’t have a whole lot of friends, and she only remembered one friend’s name.  I do remember her friend by name, although I don’t remember that girl very well either, just the name.  And if she was correct regarding the period she had me, I remember her class being one that was mean to me, so I’ve probably blocked it out of my memory.

I realized something yesterday.  I mentioned in #7 that I had a pen pal in the ’90s who I recently tried to track down and get back in touch with, and she didn’t remember me.  What happened Friday night was that same kind of situation, except now I’m on the other side.  This girl who I used to write to years ago meant a lot to me.  I didn’t have a lot of friends during that time, I was going through some difficult transitions in my life, and she was always there to be kind and encouraging, not to mention nice girls who look as good as she did often didn’t pay that much attention to me.  But from her perspective, being cute and young and friendly, she had a whole lot of other guys competing for her attention, so one of them is much less likely to stand out almost 20 years later.  As for what happened Friday night, a middle school student only has five or six teachers each year at the most, so each one is a lot more likely to leave an impression on a student.  I can still name all my teachers from 7th grade, for example.  But from my perspective, I had around 160 students each year, and I had hundreds more students each year after that.  It’s only natural that I would have forgotten a few over a span of 11 years, and I don’t think it makes me a bad teacher or a terrible human being for having done so.

Still, though, I like running into and hearing from former students.  I wish I could remember them all… well, at least all the ones who weren’t mean to me all the time.  There are a few that I’ve stayed in touch with all along, and a few more who have tracked me down on Facebook over the years, and a few more whom I have gotten reacquainted with after running into them somewhere.  It’s nice to see what became of these people whom I knew as preteens and teens.  And it’s always fun to hear what they remember about my class.  This girl I saw on Friday said that she liked my class, and that I was always helpful.

I’ve never mentioned my line of work on this site… but this fall, I will be returning to the public school system.  Maybe I should do something differently at the end of the year to make sure I remember these students.  I’ve saved yearbooks from every year I’ve taught before, and if this new school does a yearbook, I’m planning on continuing that practice.  Maybe I should save a copy of each year’s class rosters too.  Or maybe I should just let life take its course and not feel so bad about forgetting some people from the past.  I don’t know.  Something to think about as I get ready for the new school year.

And as I started writing this last night, I was telling someone this story, completely forgetting that I had just told her this same story 20 minutes earlier.  So maybe my memory is just going bad as I’m getting older. 🙂

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.