the past

Exit 129. I wish you wouldn’t worry, let it be.

Friday night, I was home, doing nothing, and I broke down crying.

It wasn’t completely out of nowhere.  It happened while I had my music on shuffle, and this song came on.

If you are anti-country music and don’t want to click the link, look up the lyrics; if you’re not willing to do that, then the TL;DR version is that he is singing about all the things that he wishes he could go back and tell his teenage self.  As with many works in this genre, the general tone is along the lines of “everything will be all right, life gets better.”

And I started crying because I feel like everything is not all right, and life has not gotten better.

Now there are certainly some specific situations for which I could tell my younger self that they aren’t worth getting worked up over in the long run.  Like in elementary school, pretty much everyone, even random strangers, made fun of me and called me names, but if I could, I would tell my past self that there would come a time a decade or so later when that wouldn’t happen very often.  I can’t say it never happens anymore, every once in a while I get random jerks driving by and yelling rude harassing comments out of their car windows, but this is definitely the exception rather than the rule, and I have real friends now too.  And in high school, regarding one of the times I told a crush that I liked her and she didn’t feel the same way back, I would tell my past self that it wouldn’t have worked out anyway, because she would come out as a lesbian in her 20s.  I don’t know if that would have made me feel any better back then, but it’s true.

But, for example, the Brad Paisley song contains this lyric:

You got so much up ahead
You’ll make new friends
You should see your kids and wife
And I’d end by saying have no fear
These are nowhere near
The best years of your life

I can’t tell my past self to get over rejection by a crush because “you should see your kids and wife”… I’ve never had a wife or kids.  And sometimes high school and college do feel like the best years of my life, because life was a lot less complicated then.  I had a lot more in common with the people surrounding me simply because of my place in life as a student, and I didn’t feel like an anomaly everywhere I went.  Yes, it’s true, things may get better in the future, and I may have a wife and kids someday.  But at the time the song was written, recorded, and released, Brad was younger than I am now.  It’s easy for me to expect that it should have all happened by now.  And all of that just came washing over me like a flood on Friday night.  That is why I started crying.

The song ends like this:

I wish you wouldn’t worry, let it be
I’d say have a little faith and you’ll see
That’s what I need.  Don’t worry, let it be.  There are a lot of circumstances I can’t control, and as I’ve said many times before, I need to find ways to accept what is and make the most of it.  And there are many people who have things a lot worse than me.  Things aren’t so bad after all.

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 122. Everything is more interesting when you focus on the positive.

Last night, a friend from high school did one of those viral Facebook posts where you answer questions about yourself.  In this one, you were given a year in the past, and you answered questions comparing what you and your life were like in that year and what the same things are like now.  She gave me 2003.  It wasn’t a very long survey, and most of my answers to the questions weren’t very exciting.  “Relationship status?”  “Number of kids?”  My answer was “none,” both in 2003 and now.  I usually only share these kinds of posts when I have answers that are specifically interesting or funny, but I had no such answers, and I noted on my post that my answers for this one were kind of boring, wondering out loud why I was wasting my time with this post.

After I posted that, I went for a 25-mile bike ride… yay me.  I checked my phone during a water break, and I saw that I had two replies, one from another unmarried and childless friend my age agreeing with me, and one from my friend who originally posted it, apologizing and offering to think of some more interesting questions to ask me.

No apology was necessary.  I was not truly upset.  If anything, I was just being overly negative about being unmarried and childless, something I tend to do too often that really only makes the situation worse.  I felt bad at this point for my response… it really wasn’t that big of a deal.

But I had a thought as I continued my bike ride.  Instead of dwelling on something that makes me far more upset than it should, I’m going to turn this around and make it positive.  So when I got home, I thought of some positive changes that I have made and/or that have happened to me since 2003, and I added those to my post.  At the start of 2003, I had only been to 14 states; now I’ve been to 48, plus the District of Columbia.  (If you don’t include airport stops or driving into a state and then right back out just to say I’d been there, it would be 7 then and 38 now).  In 2003, I lived in an apartment in which my mailbox got broken into once a month, presumably by people looking for welfare checks, with neighbors who I could never tell if they were fighting or having sex or both.  Today I own a house (by which I mean I pay a mortgage) on a quiet street.  In 2003, I had never ridden my bike more than 20 miles in one day; today, I have broken 50 miles three times.  I had been to two NBA basketball games in my life up until 2003; now that number is around 80.  I discovered the music of Carbon Leaf in 2002 but had not yet seen them live as of 2003; now, I have seen them 19 times.

Everything is more interesting when you focus on the positive.  It’s not always easy, though.

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 54. The past has a funny way of catching up.

For the last year, off and on, I’ve been re-reading Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone series.  These are the books with the letters of the alphabet in the titles: A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, C is for Corpse, etc.  The books chronicle the adventures of Kinsey Millhone, a snarky bad-ass no-nonsense private investigator.  The books are set in the 1980s in a fictitious beach town called Santa Teresa, which is obviously Santa Barbara with all the names changed.  My mother (Happy Mother’s Day!) discovered this series in the early 1990s, through a newspaper article about mystery novel series with female protagonists set in California, and over the years, as Mom would read them, I often read them too.  Two Christmases ago, I got my mom W is for Wasted, the most recent book so far.  I borrowed it and read it over spring break, and decided that it would be a good idea to re-read the entire series.  Many of the early books I didn’t remember well, some I don’t know if I’d ever read, and there are occasional connections and allusions between the stories that I would appreciate more by reading them again without years in between.

I’m almost done reading the books the second time through.  I finished T is for Trespass last night, and so far this has been the one that I remembered the most from my first time reading it.  This is partially because it was not that long ago that I read it the first time (2007), but also because this is probably the most disturbing book of the series so far, pitting Kinsey against whom I would call the darkest and most evil villain to appear in the series.  This character, Solana, is a scam artist who poses as a live-in geriatric nurse, keeping her patients drugged and confused so she can steal their savings and valuables, and then disappear, leaving the patient to die or hastening their death herself and making it look like an accident.  Kinsey lives in a neighborhood of mostly older retirees, and Solana’s next victim is her next-door neighbor.  I can’t say too much without spoiling the story, but a key turning point in the story happens when Solana is recognized by someone from her past.

This has been on my mind lately, even before I got to that point in the story.  With all the moving I did in my 20s, and all the difficulties I’ve had with jobs I’ve left, churches I’ve left, and women I went out with who treated me like crap, I have a lot that I’d like to leave in the past.  And one thing I’ve discovered through all that moving is that the past has a funny way of catching up with me.  Consider these examples:

  • I went to high school in a different school district from where I went to elementary school, and as I’ve mentioned before, the reason for this was something I was ashamed of at the time.  When I was in 5th grade, there was a girl in 4th grade who always smiled and said hi to me, and that was around the time when I stopped always having the girls-have-cooties reaction.  Then I disappeared to a different school district, but that girl and I ended up at the same high school, and we even had a class together when I was in 11th grade and she was in 10th.  I never asked if she remembered me from elementary school, because that would require explaining why I didn’t still go to school in my old neighborhood.  We lost touch after high school, but around 2000, a friend from the church I went to at the time had been on a retreat recently.  He had a CD of worship music recorded by the house band at this retreat center… and this same girl I knew in 5th and 11th grade was in that band.  Seriously.
  • In 2006, I had just moved here, in the middle of a school year, and I was substituting in the school district in my neighborhood.  I went to the office to ask something about the schedule, and recognized immediately the voice of a girl I had been interested in, and was kind of seeing for a while, in 2000 before a miscommunication left me angry and a bit shell-shocked.
  • In 2007, one of the first times I got back into swing dancing, the same girl from the above story was there.  I’ve never seen her there again.  (Both times she talked to me, and everything was fine, although I haven’t seen her since.  With my luck, I’ll probably run into her today.)
  • A few years ago, I noticed on Facebook that one of my friends from church somehow knows a girl who came on to me in 2004 and then completely blew me off after our first and only date.  I haven’t had any contact with her, though, and I never told my friend about this.
  • A few months ago, I Facebook-friended someone I knew from a Facebook group that we’re both part of but had never met in person.  She lives in Colorado… and I noticed, by reading comments on her page, that she knows the girl from the hipster church in Colorado that I mentioned a while back.  I haven’t had any more contact with the girl from the hipster church, and our mutual friend doesn’t know that we once knew each other.  (Interestingly enough, one of the things that made me realize I wasn’t going to get along with the girl from the hipster church was when we were in a bookstore, and I saw a Kinsey Millhone book on the shelf, and she made a snide remark about the series.)
  • And the reason this has been on my mind the last couple weeks… recently I was talking to a coworker about Star Wars.  She showed me pictures on her phone from some cosplay convention that she and her husband had attended in Anaheim.  I’m trying to look enthusiastic, but the whole time I’m also a little creeped out, wondering if my coworker knows Acrux, my geekbully ex-girlfriend from southern California, because she was part of a different chapter of this same cosplaying organization.

So I guess the point I’m trying to make is that there is no use trying to run from the past.  I’ve had a lot of crappy things that have happened to me that I wish I could forget.  Some of them were the result of my own suboptimal decisions, some of them were the result of being mistreated by others, and some were just products of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  So what?  Everyone has things they want to forget.  They happened.  I can’t change that.  I can’t run away from that.  No one can.  But my past isn’t who I am anymore.  I don’t have to let people who have hurt me continue to have control over my life and emotions today.  And someday, when I do run into someone who has hurt me in the past, I pray that I will have the grace to handle the situation appropriately and not be mean for the sake of being mean.