tradition

Exit 64. Seven days.

I have a bad habit of going to used bookstores, used music and movie stores, or just walking past garage sales, then buying a few books or movies really cheap, and letting them sit on my shelf for months or years before I finally make time to read or watch them.  As I write this, I am currently watching the movie The Ring, which I acquired from a neighbor’s garage sale about a year ago and never watched.  I’ve seen it once before, but not in a very long time.  I watched it in a theater when it was new, which would have around 2003ish, I’m guessing, because I remember who I saw it with.  This is a horror movie about a haunted videotape that, if you watch it, you will die in seven days.  (Kids, a videotape is what people used to watch movies in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s.  It was kind of like a big rectangular DVD or Blu-ray disc.  And DVDs and Blu-rays are what people used to watch movies before everyone had streaming on-demand video.)

Although I don’t remember much detail about this movie, I remember liking it.  I also remember my friend that I was with jumping and grabbing on to my arm a few times, and I remember thinking years later that she probably liked me, and I should have made a move or something, but I was too blind and confused to see it then, and now she’s married, and it’s probably awkward to put this here in case she reads it, she’s on my Facebook but she never uses Facebook… but I digress.

I remember something else that happened in that theater all those years ago: I realized that I really haven’t seen a lot of horror movies.  It isn’t that I don’t like horror movies; in fact, I have enjoyed the few that I’ve seen.  I just haven’t watched very many.  It was never part of my experience growing up, probably because my mother doesn’t like horror movies.  But there’s no reason I can’t watch horror movies now.  It’s a lot like how I discovered in my teens that I liked roller coasters, after hearing years of Mom telling me that roller coasters were scary.

Sometimes, doing things the way they’ve always been done can block forward progress and growth.  Sometimes, doing things the way they’ve always been done has nothing to do with the best, wisest, or most efficient way to do something.  Sometimes, the way one person has always done something may be different from someone else’s way of doing it, which potentially could lead to a disastrous miscommunication.  I don’t want to be afraid to try new things.  Life changes quickly, and sometimes I need to change the way I do things in order to deal with a new reality.

Exit 27. Knowing when to hold on to something and when to let it go.

Twenty years ago, I was a freshman at UC Davis, and early in that school year, I attended my first football game.  (For the non-sports people reading this, trust me, this entire article isn’t going to be just football; it’s more of a backdrop for something I was thinking about earlier.)  I watched a lot of school football games the last couple years of high school, so I figured I’d just keep doing that.  I don’t remember the opponent or the final score (I just spent a couple minutes on Google to find that it was a win over Southern Utah, 41-16).  I remember it being crowded, and loud, and I remember someone giving me a lyric sheet to the school fight songs and thinking that some of the lyrics were kind of strange, since I had no idea at the time of the history behind the songs.  I went to every home game that year, and while I did not keep up that level of participation in following years, I still went to a couple games every year that I was an undergraduate, as well as a few basketball games every year.

I have close friends who are almost like family who have season tickets to University of Virginia football, and during my adventures on the road in 2005, I went to a game with them.  I realized at the time that this was the first time I had seen football live, at any level, since five years earlier when I was running the scoreboard at the first school where I worked.  I decided that if I ever ended up settling back in northern California, I would get back into UC Davis football.  On October 29, 2005, my time on the road had ended, I was staying at my parents’ house indefinitely, and I took an overnight trip to Davis to watch the Aggies’ football game, a win against Cal Poly.  It was my first UC Davis football game in eight years.  I attended the other remaining home game that year, a win against the Bears of Northern Colorado, and since then, nine years later, I have only missed six home football games.

Watching the Aggies beat Cal Poly is always special.  They’re one of the Aggies’ two primary rivals, but also one of the reasons I chose UC Davis over Cal Poly was because when I visited the campuses (campi?), everyone at UC Davis seemed friendly and welcoming, and everyone at Cal Poly seemed unhelpful and snooty.  (Of course, I have friends now who attended Cal Poly whom I would not describe using words like this, so please don’t take offense at what I just said.  But this just goes to show how first impressions make a difference.)  That year especially, though, the win over Northern Colorado felt just as special.  Two months earlier, while on the road, I had spent a weekend in Greeley (where the University of Northern Colorado is located) staying with an off-again-on-again online acquaintance.  I didn’t know her as well as most of the online friends I met in person during that adventure, and to be completely honest, as I got to know her that weekend, I thought she was an arrogant hipster snob.  She regularly put down things I like, both hobbies and political positions.  I went to her church the Sunday I was there, the kind of church where almost everyone was under 40 and they try to reach out to people who don’t like the traditional church experience.  Her church seemed to give off the vibe that they were better than traditional churches, with pews and hymns and old people and Republicans, because they were authentic, and relevant, and postmodern, and insert whatever other Christian pop culture buzzwords apply.  According to their mentaily, that makes them really spiritual, whereas traditional churches are full of a bunch of fake people who only care about the superficialities and don’t really love Jesus.  So I know this is pretty much irrational, but ever since that weekend, anything at all related to Greeley makes me think of her and that snooty messed-up church, so therefore I particularly enjoy watching the college football team from there lose.

Anyway, last night I was in Davis for the football game, also against Northern Colorado.  I thought several times about how it was the least fun I’ve had at an Aggie football game in a long time.  That got me thinking, why do I still go to every game?  What purpose does it serve in my life?  Am I going to keep going to every home game forever?  If I am no longer enjoying Aggie football, maybe it’s time to cut back.

Now there are reasons specific to tonight that made this game less fun than usual.  The crowd was pretty sparse, particularly in the loud and raucous Aggie Pack section where all the students sit.  (I’m not allowed in that section anymore, of course, but they’re fun to watch.)  My theory is that a lot of students were still nursing their Halloween hangovers by the time the game started at 4pm.  I was exhausted from a late night of Halloween parties myself, and I found myself nodding off a few times during the first quarter.  It was a slow first half; at halftime, the Aggies were behind, but the score was only 7-0.  And it was cold, or at least colder than it’s been in this part of California for the last few months, and I didn’t bring my big jacket.  And, finally, the Aggie team is pretty bad this year.

But as much as I enjoy watching football, I’m starting to wonder if maybe it’d be okay not to go to every game.  I started going back to Aggie football (and basketball, and, for the first time ever, baseball) games during the 2005-06 school year, alone, partially because I had no other social life at the time.  Now I do, and sometimes I get busy with other things, or I have to arrive late at a friend’s event because I was at the game.  This year in particular, there have been Saturdays when I’ve been tired and behind on housework and life in general to the point that going to the game starts to feel more burdensome than enjoyable.  I missed a game this year for a non-sports social obligation.  And going to games alone isn’t particularly productive socially; I occasionally run into people I know,  but I’m not meeting new people at football games or anything.  Sometimes I need alone time, and I enjoy spending my alone time going to a football game, but tonight I just wasn’t feeling that.

I don’t like change.  Aggie football has been my fall tradition for ten football seasons now, and even before that it was a connection I had to the past.  I remember that 2005 game against Cal Poly, the first one I went to as an adult, how much I enjoyed hearing the same fight songs that I learned as an 18-year-old freshman.  And while there is a lot to be said for keeping traditions alive, there is also great value in knowing when to hold on to something and when to let it go.  I love returning to the campus of my alma mater with all the old buildings, all the big trees, all the memories of that time in my life.  However, as I’ve said before, it’s really easy for that kind of nostalgia to degenerate into a longing for a past that truly only existed in my selective memory, with the bad parts forgotten, and a frustration over how life was so much simpler back then, without providing any solutions for navigating the current reality.

Fortunately, I have ten months to decide whether or not to stop going to Aggie football games.  There is only one home game left this year, against Sacramento State.  The Hornets are the Aggies’ other primary rival and the next closest college football team to UC Davis; their respective stadiums (stadia?) are just 22 miles apart.  I already bought a ticket to this one, since that game is always exciting and actually has a chance of selling out every year, so I’m definitely going to that one no matter what.  So I won’t have to decide to change my tradition until next fall.  And I don’t have to stop going entirely; I can still go to some games without making it the primary focus of my Saturdays in the fall, which may leave room for something new I might need in my life.

Incidentally, last night, after falling behind 24-7 early in the fourth quarter, the Aggies made the rest of the game exciting.  They looked pretty good for most of the fourth quarter and closed to within 24-21 before fumbling away the first turnover of the game.  That led to a field goal, so it was still a one-possession game (27-21), and the Aggies drove down to the Bears’ 18-yard line before throwing several incomplete passes, followed by an interception with eight seconds left.  Oh well… at least they fought hard.

Exit 25. Don’t let the days go by.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t let the days go by.