Score.

“Four score and seven years ago” is a phrase that is familiar to many (though increasingly fewer in overall percentage, as time goes on) as part of the opening line of the Gettysburg Address. There’s no way I’m turning this into a history lesson about the Gettysburg Address, or the events surrounding it in time, so if you’re curious, crack open an Encyclopedia Britannica.

Four score and seven years is equal to 87 years. Obviously, a score is equivalent to a span of 20 years. I say it’s obvious, but I’m not sure it is. I’ll just go with this, and say that it is obvious, because only geniuses read my blog. (That’s you.)

My 20 year high school reunion is coming up next month. It’s hard to believe I graduated that many  years ago, but then, it seems like I’ve lived so much more than 20 years of time and experience. Have I crossed into a new block of storage, and disconnected from my early life’s feelings?!

If you’re curious, the answer is no: the 20 years of changes in the Bumfuck Egypt Class of ’99 is not something that has made it onto my radar of interest, beyond shredding the idea for an article. I don’t think I’m currently in touch with anyone from my class, and if I am, I don’t remember who they are.

If you’re one of my classmates, and you’re reading this now, I’ve forgotten you. Do better.

I’m not saying none of my classmates were cool. There are a bunch of them who I actually have interacted with in the past decade, maybe even in the past five years. My class was very small, and our school was stuck in the backwoods, so the people who did make it out of there, have long gone. I don’t even know how to inquire about the reunion, aside from contacting the school directly, but I don’t actually want to go that badly.

I’ve been toying with the idea of contacting my class president (who was a close buddy of mine, and would probably pick right up where we left off, if I ever saw him again) and asking him to hook me up with a live microphone during the reunion, so I could sneak in through the back door, and do an impromptu roast, before quickly exiting without any classmate interface.

I wonder how smoothly that would go? Matt says it wouldn’t.

I have other ideas.

It’s not like they can suspend me, or ban me from events I don’t even want to attend. They can’t fine you or arrest you, just for being hilarious in front of people. I don’t see how it could go badly.

Matt says I’ve alienated friends before, during times of differing opinions, and that I run the risk of pissing someone off.

Please, Matt. Please.

If I want to get up there, and say, “Hey, 20 years since we graduated. That means only 15 more years until they start to think about replacing our textbooks,” I should be able to say it. It’s no secret to my classmates, that we were being taught from archaic text, while science was growing in complexity and discovery all around us. They know that.

How many times did I open an active textbook, to see someone’s name in it, and find out they were dead from old age? More than once.

“It’s not funny that they have a very serious lack of funding for curriculum because of the exorbitant overspending around athletics  at that school. Some schools just don’t get money.”

When I was in school, the policy around academics was re-written, so that the Senior basketball players who were failing Chemistry could still play ball. The prior policy was that you couldn’t fail anything, or sports and extra-curriculars were off the table for you. But then, they had to account for the jocks who literally had nothing else to rely on. They couldn’t lose them. What would they do? Who would play basketball?!

I’ll tell you what they did. They decided that more basketball practice was what those guys needed, not more study time. If the school loses sports money, there will be nothing left to spend money on. Solid logic, for anyone who knows what it’s like to be the principal of a shitty class D school.

Just so you know, if you write an article about how stupid that is, and then have it submitted to the school paper for distribution, you get in trouble.

My high school prized preppy rich kids who wouldn’t dream of questioning authority, and the jocks happened to fall into that category, almost entirely for the most part. Not many athletes were non-preppy kids, or vice versa.

My group of kids was their arch enemy, and some of us (myself excluded) fell into the middle of that Venn diagram, making them Cool Athletes. I was not a cool athlete, but I did know some. They were always talking about how the Preppies weren’t that bad, and I wondered if they said the same thing to them about us. They called us the Crunchies. The Preppies and The Crunchies. The new Sharks and Jets.

To think that nobody changes after high school is a weird concept to me, and a good movie idea. Sure, it’s probably been done in different iterations, but I think there’s more to it. I think there might actually be truth to it, in some areas of the country. Prom King and Queen get married, and their kids marry the kids of the Prom King and Queen from the next school over, and so on. Or the Arts kids just stay close with each other forever, and nobody ever stops being interested in what everyone is reading for at the moment.

A lot can happen in the course of 20 years. In my case, everything significant in my life has taken place within the past 20 years since I graduated high school. High school is very much a thing of the distant past, for me. It’s so far gone, that it doesn’t even seem like it occurred in this life that I’m currently living.

And in a few short years, high school will be a thing of the past for my kids as well. That shit scares me. I wanted them to be able to enjoy teenagerdom so much more, before the searing pain of life comes showering down around them. I wanted them to do all the things I didn’t get to do, and regretted not doing.

My childhood and teen years were fairly uneventful, and the things that were meaningful, were few and far between. As an adult, I have had the disenchanting experience of discovering that meaningful doesn’t always equal great, and that great doesn’t always equal positive.

As I said up there, I didn’t do much as a teen, so I watched a lot of movies and TV, or had music on constantly. In movies, you always see the part where the characters are at their high school reunion, and it’s supposed to be funny, and everyone looks almost completely different than they did, and for some reason, everyone still worships the high school hierarchy that causes them to feel intimidated by the “popular kids” still.

I’m no expert on society (or so I’d have you believe), but I think that when people grow up, they stop giving a shit about who was the King of the school. Once you’re out of there, you see it as the pre-school for life that it really is. Even if I did see someone as “better than me” or “cooler than me” in school, I seriously doubt I would give a shit about that now. Clearly, high school doesn’t determine success in life. I see a lot of jocks pumping gas around here.

But at the reunion in the movies, the asshole jock is still the King, and everyone is still intimidated by him, and they all still think he’s the coolest. And the most popular girl in school is still the hottest chick around, because somehow, none of the other women managed to ever become better looking than her, which is really what matters, isn’t it?

Side note: I’ve written an article on this topic before, and after revisiting it, I decided it was mean. Not intentionally mean, but it certainly came across that way, and it didn’t reflect how I truly feel, so I’ve done away with it, and integrated it into this one. You all know how good I am at finishing things, so here we go. Back to the thing.

Examples of why I think high school kids – WHILE AMAZING TO STUDY SOCIALLY – annoy me:  20 Years Later Edition.

This particular current event was a Drama banquet at my son’s school, and I would like to stress again, that all of these kids are cool as fuck, and they’re smart, and driven, and they embrace fun in everything they do. Pretty good crowd, right?

Allow me to set the scene of said banquet: in the room, there were 20 tables. Each table sat 8 people. It wasn’t going to be a very big event, so when my family of 4 arrived, we just chose a table and clustered ourselves around one half of it. Another family of 4 could sit on the other side, or 2 families of 2, or a family of 3 and a family of 1.

There was only a total of 8 kids there at the time. Do you think they all sat at the same table? Of course not, and I wouldn’t expect them to. Let ‘em spread out. That didn’t bother me, but here’s where my first example begins: as the other students started arriving, the sitting students would scream their names, as if they hadn’t seen them for like, THREE WHOLE HOURS.

And one by one, these kids were verbally invited to “The Cool Table” at the front of the crowd, leaving the rest of us peasants to feel collectively excluded, like some old people at the back of that rock show you like s’damn much.

Honestly, I didn’t even know that “Cool” shit still existed. I mean, I had my suspicions, but this was weird. How is it The Cool Table, if everyone is sitting at it? Wouldn’t that just be A Table?

And what about the fact that MY table WASN’T The Cool Table?! I mean, my family is hysterically funny, and we have THE BEST dinner time conversations. If our table isn’t The Cool Table, then I don’t want to be cool, I guess, and it’s my choice, not because they said I wasn’t.

The Cool Kids started taking the chairs from the other tables, while those people were up at the buffet, WHICH WAS AMAZING. The buffet, I mean, not the stealing of chairs. That was pretty annoying, because they took 6 of the chairs from our table while we were gone, and we had to steal them from other jerks from Less-Cool-But-Still-Pretty-Cool tables.

It wasn’t my proudest moment, but I have principles, and I was not about to eat a whole plate of delicious meatballs while standing up. Those kids thought I wouldn’t be that lazy, but they obviously underestimated me.

Now, I know what you’re saying: “Well, my kids don’t do that stuff.” And I would say to you: shutup and stop lying to yourself. Just because your kids aren’t doing these particular things, doesn’t mean they aren’t acting like little shitheads when you’re not around, and they’re allowed to be “cool.”

Believe me, they’re doing just that. And they’re good at it. No matter how great you think your kid is, I guarantee there is someone whose nerves they love to work on. Maybe it’s you. Who knows.

Some people like to say, “When you were their age, you did that too,” and to some extent, they’d be right, but I wasn’t even remotely excited about anything my peers were doing in the 90s, so they’re also kinda wrong. I mean, I remember being annoying, but everyone is. Everyone is annoying, including your kid, remember?

But there’s a difference between being annoying, and being an experience that everyone has to live through. So maybe yours is not screaming at the top of their lungs, to welcome a peer to the table in the most extravagant way possible. Maybe they’re the peer that is being showered with those feelings, making them believe they are extra special, just like everyone else who walked in.

Maybe yours is wildly unpopular, and would die to feel the acceptance that others so freely give away. Maybe yours is like me, and realizes that, after you graduate high school, shit changes. Prom King and Homecoming Queen don’t translate well on a resume, and certainly not when it comes to keeping yourself alive.

My high school experience was full of days that I swore I had wished away hard enough, but seemed to drag on forever. Every day was a struggle, in and out of school, and graduation day seemed like an eternity in the future, to the point where I couldn’t even decide what that would look like. I just knew high school was not what I thought life would be like. So my master plan was to laugh through as much of the bullshit as I could, which as it turns out, is a lot.

And as soon as I graduated, life got real, and that shit wasn’t pretty.

I was back at the starting line of life, with everyone else, even the popular kids, and the century was turning. The next generation was already being born, and technology was changing the way we perceived each other (and life).

Like many of my classmates, I became a parent, and then the internet taught us how to be the right kind of parent, and we took those tips (sometimes from people who weren’t parents, and had no education on the topic) and we ran with them.

We kept checking back, to make sure we were doing what everyone else was doing, and NOT doing what everyone else thought was wrong. It changes all the time. One day spaghetti is the best thing for kids, and the next day, it causes brain death. We could no longer afford to make the mistake of not being in-the-know.

Spaghetti doesn’t cause brain death, so if you’re not one of my regular readers… I exaggerate sometimes. Go ahead and feed your kids spaghetti. Or don’t, I mean, I’m not your kid’s parent, so that’s just some advice you can take or leave. I feel like they won’t die without spaghetti, but I’m no doctor.

Innovations in social media and personality branding, as well as unrealistic hyper-active parenting woes, as well as the deadly peer scrutiny and judgment, have all created a monster. Kids are being held to impossible standards by their peers.

They feel the need to change. They feel the need to chase perfection. They feel the need to fit a mold. They feel the need to replicate what others admire. It’s just an image, based on the heavily edited photos and videos they see online and on television and in magazines, and we know this, but girls and guys alike are all susceptible to it.

That’s right. It isn’t just the ladies who are feeling the pressure. It’s everywhere, and if they aren’t adhering to the latest tweet or post from a major influencer (which is a fucking job now), they can expect to be rejected everywhere in their physical life. Guys too.

That’s something I find annoying, and new. I didn’t have to deal with social media when I was in school, so maybe that’s why I think things are so much worse now. Remember, I thought high schoolers were annoying before; there is nothing new about this. The part I find new, is the immediate broadcast of every feeling and reaction people have, before they have the opportunity to process the emotion.

A minor tiff between friends, once easily solved by a little time and space, can easily escalate to someone’s entire life being ruined, because social media allows us to share our feelings (about a person or event) across a wide net of people. The bigger the audience, the more people to share in that view, and the faster that immediate reaction turns into a group opinion.

I’m not sure how I would have made it through high school, if I had to deal with social media. Could I have shut it out, as I claim it to so easily be done? Who knows?

I do know one thing I could have benefited from, that would have changed my whole experience. It’s something that my son’s high school sees as a basic need, and that’s faculty support.

I never had any teachers or counselors or mentors telling me that they believed in me, or saying anything about my potential. I didn’t know I could do it. I didn’t work toward any goals, because nobody ever told me there was anything to work toward. Nobody cared what happened to me, as long as I was doing what I was told. A mentor could have really helped me see what I was capable of achieving.

My son’s high school is full of that type of thing, and it’s so beautiful to see it everywhere. These kids are nice, even where exclusion exists, and the teachers really care about what the students’ lives are like. They invest the time in getting to know them, and they encourage them, and rally around them, not just for the students themselves, but for the ripple of positivity that it causes.

There are infinitely more clubs and organizations, and there is so much talent that is being proudly shown in so many ways. At my school, anyone who showed pride in a talent was quickly torn down, until they didn’t believe in themselves anymore. We had no band. We had no clubs. We had a shitty drama department that was student-led, and poorly supported by the school. The teachers just waited to get out of there each day, and interacted minimally with the students. No interesting courses were offered, and we only had two foreign languages: French and Spanish. When I began foreign language, they only offered French.

My school was full of people who were not informed of their potential. To see my son going to a school that celebrates hard work, is a blessing to me. It doesn’t mean there are no challenges or downsides, but to have peers and faculty believe in you is a powerful thing. I don’t think I ever had that, anywhere.

Looking back, I don’ t know what that would have changed, because I eventually did just stop expecting anyone to believe in me, and learned to believe in myself. 20 years later, I only regret not caring more about myself, or subjecting myself to criticism more. It never occurred to me to care what others think, and I’m sure I wouldn’t feel any differently now, just because it has been 20 years.

I used to hate school, mostly because of the school itself. I have no problems talking negatively about it, because it was a terrible place that didn’t value education, and didn’t recognize the important role of a student/teacher relationship (not that kind). It made me hate the idea of school. It made me look at it as a waste of time.

But time is valuable, and if students are expected to respect teachers’ time, then teachers need to reciprocate that same thing in students. Students should automatically assume that their time is also valuable.

You know what happens when it isn’t? They grow up bitter. They grow up thinking they can’t lean on others. They grow up to write articles about how shitty their high school experience was, and that it taught them how unimportant goals and dreams and confidence and talent and determination and self-actualization were.

I know I’m doing myself a disservice by not going to the 20 year reunion, because of the fact that it’s in my writing wheelhouse to analyze situations like that, and relate them to measurements of time, and break down society’s affect on people I used to know. I should go, even if I can’t roast my classmates. Though, that would absolutely be a deal-maker.

But in the end, my time is just too valuable to waste another minute of it in that school.

1999 and forever!

-jg

 

Concatenation Nation

cause and effect. intent vs action. will vs outcome.

Just because you have a good heart about something, doesn’t mean you can project that positivity in any way upon what comes next. (In fact, Word doesn’t even recognize the word positivity at all, so there’s that). There are countless examples of this type of cause and effect throughout history. I don’t have to name them specifically, I’ll leave that to you. But think of the pain, loss, betrayal, and chaos imparted in myriad ways, all riding on the tail of a comet made of altruism and benevolence.

How can we know when our well-mannered actions are going to be offensive? By waiting for the effect? Does that teach us anything? Make us more knowledgeable on how misconstrued intent can make us look like an asshole? Rarely, do people realize that you can’t ever know how someone will react to what you have said or done, until it has transpired. And at that point, it doesn’t matter how honestly you can claim ignorance or sympathy. What’s said is said, and what’s done is done, and you get to watch your intentions get filtered through that person’s brain, through their emotions, and then morph into whatever follows. You did that, good or bad. That was you.

I sound like Mary Poppins. I believe she also said, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” as she poured medicine down the throats of freckled British kids who just didn’t want to clean their fuckin room. Did she think that old school cough medicine was going to get them cleaning, or get them more obedient? I think about what I know about cough medicine, which is A LOT, and then I think about when Mary Poppins was supposed to have taken place, and I know that cough syrup was loaded with the good shit. Way to go, Mary Poppins, you pusher.

What’s that you say? That’s a bible quote (it’s not a bible quote) and you’re not religious, so it doesn’t relate to you? Well maybe you’re a woman or man of science? Newton’s Third Law states that “every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” I always wondered why it had to be an opposite reaction (ex: why can’t a good intention end in a good reaction, and vice versa?) and, how can you measure the reaction as being equal or unequal? What is the quantifier? I know, I know, forces come in pairs, blah blah blah. I want to see the force.

Show me the forrrrrce!!!

Basically, if you do something, something will happen. What they don’t tell you is, when you do nothingstuff can still happen. I’ve tried it. I just stayed at home for three days, and then two days later, my boss said, “hey, don’t come in on Monday” like I even was gonna.

Also, I remember I didn’t pay my phone bill once, and the shit got shut off. You want to know a convenient time to have your phone turned off? Pretty much any, as far as I’m concerned, but when this example happened, I wasn’t quite in that mind set. I am now, and now I just wish I could afford the hassle of living without my phone. One day, the internet will go bye-bye, and we’ll be alright again. It’s just a matter of taking the choice away. I’ll be okay with that.

But you know what’s going to happen before the internet goes bye-bye? A whole mess of shit. And actions and reactions, and causes and effects are all going to be broadcast to the world, for all to see, and then you can all have your own reactions to that, and it’ll just keep grinding on that way, and oh yes, it will be televised.

The decline, that is.

The decline that was brought on by the good intentions of convenience. The convenience of the internet makes us think we need it, because it introduces micro-conveniences, one by one, until you have a whole pile of conveniences stacked up, all interwoven together, and it keeps you from leaving. It’s like strapping yourself down with bungee cords, until you can’t move. Sure, with one or two or three bungee cords, you could probably still get away. But once you have ten or fifteen of those fuckers, you’re probably not going anywhere. That’s the internet. Don’t fight it.

Or, do fight it. We’ll all watch it, streaming live on the internet. Hell, there’s a whole demographic of folks out there, who would pay to see that. There’s money to be made in everything, including the horrific effects of good intentions.

Good intentions such as wrestling. I mean, the people need to be entertained, don’t they? It’s the will of the people to be entertained, and the line of willing entertainers is not only neverending, it’s highly competitive. Why not let them fight it out? We like watching a fight, don’t we? It’s entertaining. Those are some good-ass intentions. 

One of my favorite ways to recognize cause and effect, comes in the form of expressing appreciation. I was raised to defy the value of people as anything but pieces of shit that didn’t matter. My father did a terrible job of teaching me how to behave around people, and he was way too strict to allow school dances or games, sleepovers, parties, school clubs, or trips to the movies or dinner with friends. He did a wonderful job, on the other hand, of teaching me to hate everybody, and to search for the fault in others; preferably the fatal flaw that could eventually be used to destroy them if I felt so inclined. I was not asocial, but quite literally anti-social, meaning I was against people… period.

As I’ve gotten older the effects of my father’s influence on me have worn off, and as a result, I have discovered what kind of person I am. I reflect on times when I brought people (who cared about me) to tears, because I didn’t fully realize they were a person – just like me. I feel shame and embarrassment when I think of how cruel I was to others, and so, I have worked consistently (though not completely) to be a better person.

People often get lost in their own shortcomings, and their biggest failure is the failure to recognize when they’ve done something good. But the flip side of that coin is, the lack of positive reinforcement. When you feel confident about something, and everyone’s reaction is underwhelming or non-existent, it becomes difficult to feel inspired to persevere.

I try to have the reverse effect on people, and overwhelm them with positive reaction to their work. Of course, no matter how hard I try to be friendly and eloquent, it’s just gonna come off as creepy sometimes. For example: I am not above writing an email to someone, to let them know they have affected me in some way, whether moving me to tears with a musical piece, or catching my eye with a photograph they’ve taken. A poem, or a piece of philosophy. An act of kindness I witnessed. And most of the time, these people don’t know me. They’re just getting a message from a complete stranger, about something they may not have put much thought into. I think celebrities get this all the time, just for being famous. Why should a regular person feel strange about getting an unsolicited Attaboy from me? I’m pretty great. And safe. Believe me, I don’t want to come kidnap you. I’m way too lazy for that.

But I will gladly freak out 100,000 people (give or take), if I make one person feel like they’ve made a positive ripple in the world. People need to know those moments exist. They need to feel like their presence on this planet is making a difference. There are plenty of opportunities that people will jump at ferociously, to point out the ways you’re fucking up. I say, as long as Participation trophies are a thing, surely we can spare a few words to let someone know they didn’t fuck up. This action rarely results in someone feeling worse about themselves, I promise.

I saw a young man give a speech about diversity at a rally a few months ago, and even before hearing that he was an aspiring journalist (yesssss), I was really feeling the connection to his speech. He spoke about the things that made him stand out, some of which I share, as if they were badges of honor in a world that doesn’t recognize that kind of honor. That kid is going into a field that will eat him alive, and he couldn’t have looked more confident. 

On another fairly recent occasion, I watched a young lady perform as Rizzo in Grease, and her rendition of “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” was so emotionally charged, that it brought tears to my eyes. I saw it three times, and I cried each time. She was it. I bet that wasn’t an easy thing, and she was next level. I said, “giiiirrrrlllll…”

There’s an anchor on the morning news, who is consistent as hell  with her impressive wardrobe, and every day, I would see her and say, “look at that dress!” This woman had a fashion sense that I found to be more sophisticated and pleasing to the eye, than most people in our area could ever dream of. She most likely put a lot of thought into her attire, and I felt she deserved to hear some positive feedback on her style. So I sent her an email. (Most of my surprise appreciation comes in the form of something they can re-read, and feel good about more than once.) I don’t watch TV anymore, but she still wows ’em, I bet.

None of those people had any idea that I felt such a connection to what they were doing, and very likely (and understandably) were freaked out by my sudden praise. But it didn’t deter me one bit. Being freaked out is just another form of surprise, which I told you I was doing to people.

I wrote an email to my 3rd grade teacher, last year, because I just had to apologize for being such a little fucking shit when I first moved there. He was the first teacher I had in that school system, and even though he had a reputation for being a hard-ass curmudgeon, I still had no problem testing his patience (he failed). I was constantly disruptive: telling jokes, talking back to authority, and aggressively daydreaming to lure him into the idea that I wasn’t paying attention, only to “snap out of it” in time to answer his question correctly. Other students weren’t yet at the level I was, and I knew that, so I was also a show-off.

I was a dick. Like I was saying before.

So, I wrote the teacher an email to apologize, and to let him know that I appreciated that he had dedicated his life to educating children, and that surrounding yourself with 200 kids every day is a ding-dong move, if you value your sanity at all. I think he already knew that part, though. That age (3rd grade) is terrible, especially for boys. They have endless energy, and they want to scream it in your face, so you know about said energy at all times. That’s also the age where kids want to be a dick for no reason, and I’m trying to tell you that I was no different.

I’m different, now. I’m not a little shithead anymore. I’m way fuckin taller.

I appreciate when things look nice, when they smell nice, when things work out smoothly, when people are polite, when people are genuine, when something sounds pleasant, when someone has gone out of their way, when my time is not wasted, when I know I’ve done the right thing. I think recognizing these things has caused me to not be the person I used to be. I value kindness and simple things, even when it makes me look like an old corny person that I used to think was lame (and now know, isn’t).

I no longer feel the need to make myself look attractive, and rarely look closely at myself in a mirror. There’s no reason not to, but there’s no real reason to. It is not so important what I look like; I’m just happy my body is cooperative from day to day. Even that isn’t guaranteed, but as long as I can impart my will on the working parts to compensate for the broken parts, there’s not really anything wrong, is there?

I no longer strive to get the upper hand on people, or make myself look “good” by making someone else look bad. That competitive nature was hammered home in my childhood, and I used to delight in my victory being a lone one. This has caused me to try to understand where people are coming from, and think about what I could do to help, if anything at all. Sometimes, it’s nothing. Sometimes, it’s nothing to me, but everything to them.

I no longer value getting things handed to me easily. Not that I’ve ever had anything handed to me, but I no longer wish for that. Hard work has been more of a reward than anything else has been. I don’t think about taking away from someone else, to be able to have something they don’t have, because things aren’t important to me.

People are important to me.

Time is important to me.

Those are the two things which change us throughout life, and shape who we are. And once either is gone, you don’t get them back. Appreciate somebody, before it’s too late to tell them. Far too often, people think of what they should have said, after they can’t say anything. Don’t wait for that moment. Make the Aha Moment happen now. Cause some effect. Ripple that shit.

-jg

P.S. please don’t go stalking people, and sending weird messages. That’s not the kind of surprises I was talking about. I can’t express enough, that you have to choose how you approach people. Your intentions may be innocent, but there are more factors than just that. Consider how that person is going to receive your praise. I have changed my outlook to catch the things that evoke true emotion, and then present my appreciation in a safe way. Just to be clear.