Tag Archives: life

20. High school

What follows is an e-mail from my younger sister inquiring about my opinion regarding her upcoming high school experience.

I’ve decided to answer those questions here, putting my remarks in [brackets]. 

“Hey Chrissy! [only my sister can call me Chrissy] As you know the school year is right around the corner and I’m super anxious. I know high school is when some people REINVENT themselves or whatever [“or whatever” is the best way to describe what happens to you in high school]. But there is so much more to think about that I can’t even think about one thing at a time [welcome to your first taste of real life]. I am overwhelmed with all the new things that I will have to get used to… New school, new people, more freedom [as well as a job, paying for gas, dumb boys, and pre-calculus]. I really want to make new friends since I’m kind of lost with friends [lost without friends or you lost your friends on a hiking expedition?]. And since I want to make NEW friends, I kind of want to  REINVENT that part of my life. All i want is for people to like me [the curse of the human condition, my dear sister, just remember to be yourself]. And when lunch comes around, who do I hang out with? [hang out with classmates first, they’ll be the first people you talk to and you’ll have something to talk about] I mean, I’m not going to sit by myself and eat. That’s sad [the trick is not to sit alone and eat, but to walk around and eat, and people will think you’re going somewhere]. Do I just go up to someone and start talking throughout the lunch period, it’s only thirty minutes… [you can try, and since this isn’t a shady dive-bar, there won’t be any negative assumptions]. And what is it about the juniors and seniors being the upper class men and the freshman and sophomores being lower class men? [it’s been that way for eons, but don’t worry, you’ll be upper class soon enough] Are they mean to a freshman like me? [they’ll probably just ignore you] Will they be rude? [only if you bother them or touch their cars] Should I stay as far as I can from them? [if you can] And what do you pack in your backpack? [books, doodling paper, Twizzlers, and one nice pen] Do they tell you at orientation? [they tell you nothing valuable at orientation] What do you do at orientation? [sit in the bleachers and size up the competition sitting around you] Do you introduce yourself to your teachers? [nope, they’re probably too hungover to remember names, anyway] At orientation, do you have time to hang out with your friends, if you have any? [if I remember correctly, the school staff will just fill your head with a bunch of information, then set you free to do as you like] Did you go to school on the first day with a friend? Or did you go solo? [I went solo every morning, but if you meet someone who takes the same route as you, befriend them] Sorry there’s so many questions… [you’ll have plenty more, I’m sure] You don’t have to answer them if you don’t want to [well, I did].”

Good luck, sister. High school for me wasn’t all that bad. I played the quiet card, keeping to the fringes of a variety of social groups, never an outcast but never in the spotlight. Part of me wishes I’d been more outgoing and memorable, but high school is the beginning of a long process of figuring yourself out. You’ll hit some walls. You’ll make some breakthroughs. You’ll find out which subject you’re passionate about, you’ll find a new hobby or two, and you’ll probably kiss someone at a party. Everything will be new and strange and uncomfortable and exciting. You’ll change your styles, you’ll get a bad haircut, you’ll cry and you’ll laugh and you’ll hate some teachers and love others. You’re going to drink beer and probably meet people who smoke cigarettes. In the end, no one will judge you if you try these things, just don’t make them into bad habits. You’ll learn how to drive and your car will become your second home. DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE OR I WILL STEAL YOUR CAR. Please don’t get into any accidents, but I did, so know it’s probable and just go slow on slippery roads. You will fail a test. You will ace an essay that you spent the entire night writing the day before it was due. Maybe you’ll ditch some classes, but don’t ditch too many. Do it at least once. Mom caught me the one time I did it, so be sneakier than I was. You’ll have your heart broken, you’ll go all goo-goo-eyes for someone else, life goes on. You will go to Prom. You will gossip and probably be gossiped about. Be nice. Be fair. You’ll have a locker but you probably won’t use it. Appreciate art class. Pay attention in math class. Stay awake in history. Aim for the Advanced classes, but don’t feel bad if you don’t take them, they just count for college credit. Study for the SAT and take it more than once, if you can. I got an 1180, which is okay, but you can do better. Don’t fight with Mom about stupid things. You’ll argue a lot, probably, about things like staying out late, the clothes you wear, the friends you make… I’m not saying she’s right about everything, but she’s only looking out for you and respect the fact that she went through a lot of the same situations as you. Go to her for advice. Keep her informed and she won’t pester you with questions. She is your greatest resource. Don’t hate school. It’s the last stretch of free education that you’ll receive and after this, you go into debt to learn. Join a club. Join a sports team. These are good ways to make friends. Eat a lot of pizza, take pictures of your life, keep a journal, and always make sure your behavior comes from a place of self-love, not the need to please others. You come first. They come second. Most of them, you’ll never see again after high school. Enjoy the ride.

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19. Belly buttons

Sometimes I forget that I have a belly button. But I do. There it is, just this little bump half-hidden in this crater a few inches south of the bottom ridge of my ribcage, with a couple hairs keeping it company. What a strange wound, long-healed and long-forgotten, a little scabbed-over reminder that I was once attached by tube to another mammal who nourished me in a uterus for nine months. Now the belly button (the umbilicus) hitches a ride on my anatomy, knowing its job is done, collecting unemployment lint for as long as I live.

You have one too. Go on, take a look.

There are three kinds, so far as I know:

  1. The Dweller, like mine, a small knot at the bottom of a crater, as if a round piece of my abdomen was scooped out by a spoon and my umbilicus thought it a nice pit in which to settle.
  2. The Boaster, protruding outward, proudly, a little monument erected on the smooth plateau of your abdomen as if to say, “Yes, goddamnit, I was birthed!” They are of various designs: sometimes simple and predictably button-like, sometimes ornate as the petals of a rose.
  3. The Baby Turtle, withdrawn into sealed crevices, the skin closing around them. I do not understand these belly buttons. I imagine them like masochistic poets in darkened basements smoking long cigarettes and listening to vinyl records of whale songs while lamenting their departure from their creator. If you ever pry into their private world, they resent you for it.

More generally, you’ve got your innies and your outties. Some belly buttons are flat, some are round, some have the capacity to hold body-shots of tequila. Others look like knots on an old tree, or a tongue stuck out in jest. I’ve seen buttons resembling bottomless pits, buttons that look like the wrinkled neck of a turkey, but regardless of its curb appeal, that button is a reminder of your original womb address and you will always have a fond memory of your first home.

Do yourself a favor and try to appreciate your belly button more. Tonight I looked down at mine and thought, “You’re sort of a big deal around here and I never pay attention to you.” It’s your first scar. Through that portal you were fed your first meal. I’m not sure how exactly you can show your appreciation for your umbilicus, but maybe just a brief hello in the shower, or when you change your shirt, enough to let it know it’s at least more important than your appendix.

12. Forgetting

I don’t know when the fear started, but I’ve always been weary of growing old and forgetting my life. Seems rather normal, actually, and for whatever reason I’m expecting the forgetting to start after I turn seventy, if not sooner. Already I freak out a little when I forget the names of old friends or memories I shared with them. It makes me feel uneasy, to think I can live my one and only life on this planet and forget parts of it, basically clipping out parts of a movie reel, regardless of their emotional value. Seems like a waste.

Hence, the incessant blogging. I’ve been chronicling my life since 2010, writing it down mostly for the sake of maintaining a record of it, like a journal but more like a time-capsule with images, songs, and written things. These are the only mid-twenties I’ll ever know and to think I’d one day forget they ever happened, well I just can’t let that happen. When I’m old and bored, I want to have these written histories of my life available for review, the good and the bad stuff, so I can lay out my stiff joints on the lawn and read about my past.

Anyway, the point is, I don’t think we’re meant to remember everything forever.

Even writing it down, it’s not the same as the memory itself. I might read these words again in fifty years and ponder fondly on the thoughts and behavior of my youth, but there will be a detachment, a disconnect between my future self and my present self. I mean, you look at a picture of yourself as a small child and you think, “Who the hell was that kid?” Reading them is not the same as remembering them which is not the same as experiencing them, but second to a video recording, a blog is the closest thing I can think that captures at least the essence of what it means to be where you are right now. Because we will forget, eventually, and we will be curious about our past.

We have to forget things. It’s natural. Life is long and full of adventures, faces, stories and numbers. We have to remember to set alarms and attend meetings and see the dentist. We need room for names, addresses, and directions. We can’t remember all of our childhood friends. We’re not supposed to remember anything before fourth grade, in my opinion, and this comes from the guy who’s afraid to forget. Our brains move through life like forests. Some trees have to fall to feed the ecosystem.

In conclusion: I’m jealous of people with great memories.

But what I really wanted to say was… Wait… What was I talking about?

11. PB & J

My desert island food involves two slices of wheat bread and between them: one layer of chunky peanut butter and one layer of raspberry jelly. If I were allowed to be greedy, I’d ask for three slices of bread with an additional layer of each ingredient, creating what I like to call the Big Papa PBJ (a delicious secret I discovered in a college dorm). Many a childhood school lunch was made complete by the PBJ, but better yet was when Mom made them for me at home and cut the sandwich into quarters. The sandwich is like the perfect perfume, with a fruit-jelly top note, a wheat-bread middle note, and a peanut-butter base note. It’s a culinary miracle, harmonious to the last bite.

Anyway, my point is that there’s some things that never get old.

We grow up surrounded by stimulus, constantly absorbing the world around us like flowers soaking in the rays of the sun. Our photosynthesis is the digestion of information. Some of it becomes white noise, forgotten as we age, habits that we lose or beliefs that are shattered. Santa Clause fades. Parents become real people. Sweet snacks give us stomachaches and diabetes. So we adapt as we grow up, snipping away the bits that don’t serve us any purpose. Goodbye Beanie-Babies.

But what about the stuff that stays with you? I still twirl my hair when I think, just like I did as a kid, I still hold my breath when I drive through a tunnel, I still claim that my favorite movie of all time is a movie I saw when I was seven, and my favorite sandwich is still the PB & J.

I can’t let these things go. Is it because I don’t want to grow up? No. I’ve given up on that Peter Pan dream. Being a kid kinda sucks in comparison to the freedoms of adulthood. It’s not about fighting your age but maintaining your essence. Keeping some of your habits and preferences the same throughout your entire life is a difficult task. These were things that defined you from the get-go, your initial idiosyncrasies, your first experience with individuality. We will grow older and for the most part, this is good, but we will change in ways that we cannot foresee. The world will try to harden you, so if you can, uphold those childhood habits and beliefs. Eat goldfish crackers and wish upon stars and don’t step on the cracks or you’ll break your momma’s back. It is important to hold onto bits of your childhood if you enjoy them. Keep them with you because they will keep your heart young. Now go drink some chocolate milk.

I’ve got a sandwich to make.

10. We suck

This isn’t about vampires or bendy straws or anything perverted. This is about failure. This is about us, people, humans, our global society, constantly being sent to the principal’s office to discuss our declining grades, making false promise after false promise, then heading back to class to make the same mistakes again. We simply aren’t learning. We suck.

We can’t have people shooting up theaters at midnight premieres.

We can’t have civil wars, police brutality, corporate corruption, or scandals in the church.

We’ve had these things in our lives for years and years. We continue to have them. We truly are doomed to repeat them, as if dependent on them, like a battered spouse who knows nothing else and cannot break the pattern. Are we so beaten and bruised by the violence and lies of our past that we can’t live without them? Yes, I know the argument that humans are inherently violent, but isn’t it about goddamn time we stopped hurting each other and found better outlets for those urges?

Apparently not. Apparently we’re just going to keep on shooting each other, stabbing each other in the backs, cheating the system at the expense of others, making up lies, and ignoring those who have been left behind. Sure there are plenty of good things that have come from the evolution of humanity, but the way it seems right now, we pretty much suck completely. I know I’m not alone in saying we’re fed up with the bus bombings and massacres and robberies. We’re fed up with the loss of innocent lives.

I know there is good in the world. I like to think the good outweighs the bad.

Even so, it’s not helping. The good is the water, but the bad is the layer of oil floating on the surface, blocking sight of the good underneath. We good souls are suffering from the minority’s bad choices, from the corrupt leaders and selfish activists and heartless criminals. I don’t give a shit what your situation is. STOP KILLING EACH OTHER. It would be a miracle if the slimy oil that’s spoiled the beauty of humanity for the rest of us is dissolved, but at the rate we’ve been going and the disgusting things that continue to happen today, I don’t have much hope.

Sorry to be such a downer. My blogs-not-wars campaign is off to a bad start if I’m already so negative, but this is how you feel when you wake up to the story of a psychopath opening fire into a crowded theater. Stories like this remind me that we’re far from a place of mutual respect and understanding. There are people who simply don’t get it. They suck, and because of them, we suck. We’re all in this together, in case you haven’t noticed. What you do reflects poorly on the rest of us. Get your shit together and do some yoga before you go off ruining our reputation.

6. Mars

Just came across this video of Neil deGrasse going off about space travel, climate change, life, chimpanzees, and aliens, naturally. I’m usually not one to jump on a band wagon so quickly, but last night, half-asleep at two in the morning, I really liked this theory that life on Earth was spawned by rogue asteroid debris from an impact on the surface of Mars. He says early Mars had the same life-sustaining qualities that eventually formed on our planet, and some Mars-grown bacteria might’ve latched onto an Earth-bound chunk of space rock a few billion years back. KABLAM, life begins on Earth. It’s sort of neat to think that all the life on this planet was the result of a lucky accident.

In the morning, I thought a little more about this theory, and I found some holes.

If we’re all evolved spores from a Martian life-form, then where did the life on Mars come from? What asteroid brought the organisms to the surface of our neighboring red planet and where did that asteroid come from? It seems like another hollow theory when you think about it for long enough. You end up with the same questions and answers that lead to more questions. This is also my problem with the theories regarding the birth of the universe, both scientific and religious.

We came from a giant explosion. Who lit the fuse? We were created in seven days by God. Who made God?

(Insert other theory here, counter with similar roundabout question).

I don’t think we’re supposed to know. In some lights, this sucks. It would be cool to know how it all started. In another light, it’s more fulfilling to just recognize that you’re part of this big mystery. Don’t look up at the stars for the want of answers, but look up at the stars and know that you’re just as puzzling to them as they are to you. No one knows what the hell is going on in this wild, crazy universal party. We don’t even know who invited us to the party. We’re just here to drink beer, build the tallest skyscraper, and draw trees on paper. I’m sure if there is life on other planets in other galaxies, they’re doing pretty much the same thing.

Here’s the video of Neil deGrasse that I watched:

5. Cardboard boxes

Call me crazy, but one of my favorite toys as a kid was a cardboard box. Don’t get me wrong, I had plenty of other things to keep my attention, but there was nothing quite like coming home from a long day at elementary school and taking a box out into the backyard to kick the shit out of it. I’d make sure it was put together all perfectly with the ends folded together tight (best ones were taped shut), then I’d just go wild. I’d kick it off the porch. I’d kick it high enough to where I could kick it before it touched the ground. You’d be surprised how long a cardboard box can endure this torture, but eventually it would fall to pieces and the game would be done. I’d go inside and drink a Capri-Sun and watch Wile E. Coyote cartoons.

But why the hell did I do that?

I liked the process of destruction. I liked figuring out how to make each new box last longer than the one before, how certain kicks resulted in specific outcomes. It became a science, and I even got a little exercise out of it from running around chasing those damn boxes around the yard. I can only imagine my mom watching from the back porch, sipping a bloody mary and thinking, “My God, what have I done?”

This leads me to my next point, however.

Mom shouldn’t have been asking herself what she had done wrong with me (her box-kicking son), but what she had done wrong with herself. Why wasn’t she out there kicking boxes with me? What happens to us that removes our ability to be entertained by simple things? Sure, we’re not cats chasing laser pointers, but should we be ashamed to find beauty or amusement in the mundane? I didn’t need an expensive gadget or Direct TV subscription to keep me entertained as a kid. Just an open yard and a declaration of war against all things cubed and cardboard. Mom should’ve come out and battled those paper products with me. Cats don’t need laser pointers or electric mice or plastic balls, they just need a scrap of paper and a piece of string. I think we could learn a little from our feline friends.

I won’t be picking up the habit again any time soon, but I still fondly remember my days of kicking boxes and I wonder where that part of me has gone. When did I grow up? Who told me, “Boy, you oughtta be kickin gas pedals and breakin girls’ hearts, not goofin around with them boxes in the yard.” They had no imagination, whoever they were, and they infested me with their same near-sightedness.

I mean, don’t you remember your childhood? A cardboard box could be a fort, a robot costume, a barricade, a time machine, a prison cell or a lava-resistent vehicle. I used it for all those things and more, then took it out to the pasture to put it down like an old horse.

We lose our childish cat-like infatuation with the world around us, and it’s a pity.

Find your cardboard box before it’s too late.

3. Immortality

If you could choose to be immortal, would you?

As in, you’re the age you are now and you can eat this pill that gives you eternal life. Or you’re still a kid when the pill comes out, so you can wait a few years until you’re in your prime and try it then.

You can still get run over by a train and die. If you get cancer, it’ll kill ya. But otherwise, your body will just keep going. The cells you’ve got now, the freckles and the hair and the posture, it’ll all stay that way permanently. No anti-aging cream required. All you have to do is simply take care of your body. It might last forever, but you only get one of them.

Would you do it?

I would.

Not for the selfish reasons, either. I’m not afraid to die. I’ve given up on keeping myself up at night dwelling on that enigma. No, it’s not because I want to out-live everyone else and suck up more resources or because I think I’m special. Call me crazy, but the truth is that I want to see the way the world ends. I want to see where humanity leads. I want to see the asteroid impact or zombie apocalypse that wipes us out. I want to see the closing credits.

I think about all the lives that came before us. The people who lived whole lifetimes and made their little mark on this planet, but then left the planet to keep on spinning without them. I can’t imagine you won’t be curious about the next chapter, the one that follows the scene where you’re written off.

Oddly enough, most people I talk to would not want to be immortal. They want to be part of the natural cycle. I get that. Sure. It’s poetic.

But I’m not a poet. I’m into fiction, long prose and complicated plot lines. I want to see the story of the human race to its bitter end. Don’t leave me with some symbolic final stanza. I want to be here for the epilogue.