Saturday, July 27, 2013

"Gimme, Gimme, Gimme; I Want, I Want!"

When I was a kid, I had a seriously bad case of what some would call the "gimmes".  There was always something that I just had to have, and I wouldn't rest until I had it.  Of course, what usually ended up happening was, when I got whatever I "needed," there was something else that I started desperately wanting.  I couldn't even look at a catalog without seeing something I just had to have.  When my mom was a school nurse, she once got a catalog of goodies--i.e., pencils with fun designs, etc.--to give out to the students.  She brought it home for me to look at, only to end up wishing she never did.  Why? Simply because I started begging for her to buy me the items in the catalog.  Her exact words were, "That's the last time I bring home one of my catalogs!" (It also happened to be the first time, too, and, therefore, the only time.)

It's no question that people--kids and adults--have become rather materialistic.  Holidays and birthdays have gone from celebrations of/with family and friends to a way to obtain more and more "stuff".  Dr. Elmo, formerly of Elmo and Patsy ("Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer"), has a little-known track called "Santa Ain't Comin'" that makes fun of selfishness during Christmas.  It starts off with the Doc, as St. Nick, saying, "Listen up now, kiddies! Yo, it's Santa here, and, no, I won't be coming down your chim-en-ies this year! The elves and Mrs. Claus and I have almost given up! It seems we just can't satisfy your need for all that stuff! No matter what I bring you, it's never quite enough!" You then hear a chorus of kids saying, "Gimme, gimme, gimme; I want, I want! Mm-mmm, mm-mmm; more expensive! Na, na, na, na! Oh, please, Santa?" That jolly old elf criticizes the kids throughout the rest of the song, with phrases such as, "Whenever you're not getting, your little nose gets out of joint!", "I've had it up to here," and, my personal favorite, "No more 'ho, ho'!"  As funny as the song is, it actually makes a very good point, not just for kids during Christmas, but for all of us all through the year.

It's also no question how advertising has permeated our culture.  Some years ago, I saw a teen magazine with Victoria Justice on the cover, and opened it to read the article.  However, I had to flip through at least five or six pages of ads before I could even find the table of contents.  Though I enjoyed the article, it wasn't as easy to find as it should have been.  In recent years, advertising and/or product placement has appeared in everything from TV shows to movies to even video games.  I once had a Spider-Man game for my Nintendo GameCube where MetLife got advertised by banners in the city levels.  A devotional in a teen Bible I have even says, "Isn't it amazing how awesome food can look on TV and in magazines? Even dog food and baby food can look tasty!" It's not just food, though; it's pretty much everything.

What's the problem with advertising? It's true that it does serve a purpose: to inform you about the capabilities of a device, the services of a company, or the plot details of a movie or TV show.  However, many times, it seemingly creates a "need" for something that you were completely fine without before you saw it.  A quasi-news show called American Journal once had a story where they followed a mother and her teenage daughter while they went to their local supermarket.  The most remarkable part of the article was when the mother told her daughter to go get something off an end-of-aisle display, even though they had already passed the exact same item in its regular place, and she had said they didn't need it.  That mother isn't the only one, though; seriously, how many of you are dependent on items that you were functioning quite well without ten, fifteen, or twenty years ago? See what I mean?

Though most of us think of brand names--Hostess, Apple, Nintendo, Nickelodeon, etc.--when we think of advertising, that isn't always the case.  Way back in 1996, when the live-action 101 Dalmatians came out in theaters, many moviegoers left the cineplex with an immediate desire to bring home one of those spotted dogs as a family pet.  The same thing happened a few years later, when the sequel 102 Dalmatians was released.  However, there was actually a problem: Despite how cute and cuddly they were in those Mouse House flicks, Dalmatians are actually--according to what I've heard and read, anyway--not for children, and the pet stores kept having to tell prospective owners just that while those movies were showing at multiplexes.  I once heard a story of a little boy who was in a veterinarian's office's waiting room, and walked over to see a client's Dalmatian.  Immediately, someone--the dog's owner? someone who worked there? I may never know--said to the boy's mother, "You need to get him away from there, ma'am.  Dalmatians are not for children."  Unfortunately, those movies, as cute and funny as they are, seemingly mitigate the actual truth about those dogs, because they advertise the exact opposite.

Okay, so...where is this going, you ask?  Simply this: I'm past the days where I'm constantly begging my mom to buy me whatever I want.  I have my own job, and, usually, if there's something I want, or even something I truly need, I can buy/pay for it myself.  Though one or both of my parents usually end up driving me where I want/need to go, the cost for whatever I want to bring home is my responsibility.  Even working (and, previously, volunteering) at a public library, and using both their in-house catalog of items and their inter-library loan service, has saved all three of us quite a bit of time, effort, and money.  Though the airwaves and the Internet are still plagued with items to buy, places to go, and things to do, I usually make no mention of it, usually because I realize that I really don't have any need for such an item.

That all sounds well and good...but one detail completely undoes all that: I still do have a "pressing need"; it's just not something I can buy on eBay or at MovieStop, nor will I find it sitting under my tree this or any other Christmas.  What is that? A relationship.  Anywhere I go, anything I do, I'm pretty much reminded of the fact that I have always been sans a significant other.  When I actually stop and think about it, I realize that there are advantages to my situation.  Still, sometimes, feelings of helplessness, self-hatred, and doubting the existence of hope overtake me to the point that I feel a desire to just end it all, because it's never going to get any better.  (Yes, I'm sure all of you reading this could--and would--tell me the exact opposite.)  It's been especially bad lately, because not only are there at least two or three coeval friends of mine who are getting married or have recently, but a female friend I've gone back and forth about asking out for quite a while recently announced on Facebook that she is now "in a relationship" with some guy.  As you'd expect, all that hurts, and, when you combine that with my apparent complete lack of deep friendships, there appears to be nothing that will ease my loneliness and emotional pain.

Upon thinking about this whole situation, I was reminded of two different incidents involving a childhood friend of mine.  He and his family used to attend all of the local theme parks at least once every summer, and I wanted to go with them, but my mom wouldn't let me, for fear that I would have one of my temper tantrums, which would leave them not knowing what to do.  It's not that I couldn't go; it's that I was only allowed to go with my sister and brother-in-law.  (I'll admit that I fought her tooth and nail about that rule, but, looking back, I realize that she was right.)  When I lamented to him and his siblings--all of whom were my friends--about the situation, they replied that I had a computer, which I could play any time I wanted.  For several years after that incident, I couldn't believe he said that; seriously, that old Macintosh Performa was better than a trip to a place that people from all over the world come to my area to go to?!! It wasn't until recently that I realized what he was actually trying to say: I should have been happy with what I had, because I had a computer, and he didn't, because his mother wouldn't allow it.  During the time they lived in my neighborhood, the closest thing they had to a Mac or PC was their original Nintendo, and, later, their Nintendo 64. 

Some time after that, not long before they moved, I was upset with my mom about something; what it was, I don't remember.  He told me something that I still haven't forgotten, even fourteen years later: "You've got that new computer.  Enjoy it while you can." At the time, I thought he was implying either the supposed apocalypse of January 1, 2000, or the whole Y2K thing that was supposed to ruin digital equipment everywhere; however, regardless of Jesus' return--whenever it may come--or any supposedly massive glitches, I still have to enjoy what I have while I can.  As good as relationships can be, they can also take away from one's hobbies and/or interests.  A significant other could take away from my consumption of entertainment, my bargain hunting, and other things that are a pretty big part of who I am.  Do I want to do away with that for any reason? Of course not...but a relationship might end up doing just that, whether I want it to or not.

Friday, July 26, 2013

I Gotta Be Me!: An Addendum

Instead of explaining the purpose of this addendum--which is the same as all the others--I'm just going to dive right in.  I will say that these points do tie in with each other a bit; so much so, I don't know where to start...but I have to begin somewhere!

First off: The actions of a few people should not ruin things for others.  When I was a sophomore in high school, we had a lunchtime basketball tournament that went exceedingly well.  Not being a sportsman myself, I didn't participate, but I had friends and classmates who did, and they seemed to have a blast.  It only made sense that they would attempt to do the same thing again next year; however, it got stopped almost as soon as it started.  What happened? During the first lunch period on the first day of the tournament, some unfortunate individual(s) went into the locker room and made off with the personal belongings of the people who were playing.  Between lunches, it was announced over the school's intercom that, after what happened, the tournament was canceled.  Many people, including some teachers, were rather dismayed by the school's decision.  My math teacher that year, who tended to talk to us rather frankly about...well, everything, wondered why they didn't simply post security in the locker rooms instead of ending the tournament completely.  As far as I know, my high school hasn't done such a thing since.

Unfortunately, it seems that, more often than not, that's the case.  When a privilege is given to a group of people, it usually happens that some people misuse it, which causes limits to the privilege to everyone who has it.  I'm sure most if not all of you have seen similar cases.  How does that apply to being me? Simple: The number of people who don't approve of me being me is paltry when compared to the people who like/love me just as I am.  Though I have been "unfriended" on Facebook quite a few times, not all of my ended friendships happened because of my eccentric tastes.  True, I did mess up quite a few times, but the people who "removed" me because of those flubs weren't the least bit bothered by my penchant for bargain hunting and Disney sitcoms.  As for those who did do it because of my "different" likes: I can't worry about them.  I'm not going to spend my time changing who I am just because Mouthy, Immature, and Overgrown Seventh Grader won't stop telling me I "need" to do so.  No one, other than my parents and God, has any right to do that.

Second off: It's not my fault if I happen to be "incompatible" with some people.  Back in 1999, my mom purchased a Grape iMac, which happened to be our second Mac.  Before we got it, though, she bought a book called Teach Yourself the iMac in 24 Hours, written by Mac guru Gene Steinberg.  Each of the twenty-four chapters--or "hours"--discussed a feature that Apple's stylish new computers had, ranging from the built-in fax modem to the ever-present QuickTime, and ended with a "Q & A," which had questions readers were likely asking.  In the chapter on the iMac's text-to-speech function, one of the questions in the Q & A was, "I tried installing Apple's speech recognition feature, and it wouldn't work.  What am I doing wrong?" (For those who don't know, a "speech recognition" program allows you to control your computer by actually talking to it.)  Mr. Steinberg's reply was, "I'm glad to tell you that you're not doing anything wrong.  You encountered the same problem I did when I first started writing this chapter." He went on to say that the iMac lacked the capability to record sounds at the frequency that would be required for such software to work.  In short: It wasn't the user's fault; it was a flaw in the device itself.

Many times, I think others' "problems" with me and my way are just the same: I'm not doing anything wrong; it's the fact that "those people" won't accept me for who I am.  Sometimes, they flay with the cruelest of whips; last fall, I met a co-ed group of college students, and proceeded to add each one of them--yes, including the guys!--as friends on Facebook.  Afterwards, I was devastated when every single one of them either denied my request or kept it pending.  Out of all of those kids, not a single one even wanted to be my friend?!! It's just as well; people were doing just that well before that incident, and they'll likely keep doing it.  It's their problem, though, and they're the ones who need to fix it; who knows whether or not they will?

Lastly: I know that there are some things about me that do need to change.  Though I may be unique, I am no more perfect than anyone else, including those who might be reading this.  One of my problems has always been obsessing over things, which is bad in more than one way.  Not only is it idolatry, but it's also annoying to others; I know from experience.  Other negative traits--being too spend-happy, selfishness, low self-esteem, inability to hold my tongue at times, not using my time wisely--are also character flaws that I need to work on.  It's only with the help of God, my friends, and my family that such an achievement will be possible.  (Can I count on you to help me do it?)

Any comments?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"I Gotta Be Me!"

Of all the shows I've liked over the years, none has likely been more influential than Home Improvement, the family sitcom that made Tim Allen a household name.  Sure, the show had its naysayers, but it was one of the top-rated shows of its time, and its lasting appeal is attributed to its humor mostly being based around family dynamics instead of events and pop culture of the time.  Not only that, but it is a reminder of what our country was pre-9/11, which is something it will likely never be again.

One episode of the show, "Wilson's World," features Tim's neighbor and frequent advice-giver doing a live performance where he shares his knowledge and experiences with various cultures worldwide.  The next morning, a reviewer in the paper criticizes Wilson, bashing his apparent lack of everyday experiences: going to ball games, attending rock concerts, etc.  Immediately after reading it, Wilson decides to buy a television set, and attempts to hang out with Tim's friends while they watch an NBA game.  Wilson immediately begins discussing the German equivalent of basketball, which makes Tim's friend Harry--the one who owned the hardware store--complain.  Wilson immediately mutes the TV and keeps on talking, which causes Harry and Tim's other friend Benny to leave.  When Wilson laments about that turn of events, Tim quotes Sammy Davis, Jr.: "I gotta be me!"

I know very little about Sammy Davis, Jr., but I think that what Tim quoted him as saying is exactly right.  We shouldn't be what others expect us to be; we need to be who God created us to be.  I remember a book that was hanging in my second elementary school's library in poster format that talked about diversity, and it said, "Imagine how dull it would be if we all dressed, talked, and thought the same!"  It's true; God has created each one of us differently.  That's not to say that we shouldn't change; some years ago, a Christian counselor shared with me a paper that had a list of Satan's lies, one of which was, "I am what I am; I cannot change; I am hopeless."  Though change is possible and necessary for pretty much everyone, it should be for the right reasons.

Most of you know that I am, well...different than most people, especially those who are my coevals.  Many people I talk to around my age couldn't care less about yard/garage sales or bargain hunting in general; they're my favorite hobbies.  Right many folks--of all ages, I might add--that I meet hardly if ever use their public library; I work at one, and I wanted to do just that well before I did.  Almost all of the adults I meet, regardless of their numeric age, don't consider themselves fans of pretty much any of Nickelodeon or Disney Channel's current programming; those channels are my favorite ones to watch.

Some unfortunate individuals appear to believe that all that is wrong.  Instead of doing what I want to do, they think that I should be doing what they would consider "normal": watching sports and/or programming that is intended for my age group; staying up late and sleeping in every chance I get; attending social events so that I will be out meeting people and possibly finding "the one" for me, as if they can be 100% sure that she even exists.  I'm reminded of an ABC News story I saw back in 2005: The Simpsons, which is not only the longest-running current sitcom, but also one of the longest-running shows ever, was exported to Arab television, under the title Al Shamsoon (that is, The House of Shamsoon).  Instead of simply translating it, the Arab version was a cultural adaptation, and could be seen as a censored version by some.  Instead of Duff beer, Homer drank soda; the donuts he consumed became Arab cookies known as "kahk"; the bar he went to was nowhere to be seen in the Arab version.  Such editing was done to make the show inoffensive, as the American version shows Homer and others engaging in activities that are prohibited by the Koran.  The Simpsons' executive producer Al Jean was unhappy with what they did with the show, saying, "If he doesn't drink and eat bacon and generally act like a pig, which I guess is also against Islam, then, it's not Homer."

When I first heard that story, I was dismayed by one fact: How many Christians in America watch the same show, without caring one bit about how such actions violate Biblical commandments? More recently, though, when thinking about that, I realized one thing: If you take away my different interests--shopping/bargain hunting, kiddie television and movies, libraries, etc.--and replace them with what's "cool" and "hip," you don't have me anymore.  My interests, whether you like them or not, are a very big part of who I am.

Unfortunately, those individuals are still resilient, and, in many cases, decided to "unfriend" me because they just couldn't deal with my differences anymore.  I understand that not everyone is going to accept me the way I am, but, that is their own problem.  Going back to that The Simpsons analogy, when the Arabic version of the show did air, it received a rather poor response.  One of the network executives said that its "core audience was baffled" and, "From most accounts, the show was incoherent."  An Arab professor/blogger also said of the adaptation, "It was just painful. [...] The guy who played Homer Simpson was one of the most unfunny people I ever watched. Just drop the project, and air reruns of Tony Danza's show instead."  It seemed that the show just didn't translate to the Middle East audience very well; it was, as the picture to the right says, a failure.

You probably know that I meet new people all the time.  Of course, some people I shake hands with and chat with for a few minutes, yet never hear from again; still, whether it be through regular in-person interaction or on Facebook--maybe even both--quite a few people get to know me in one way or another.  Some of them are perfectly fine with my tastes, interests, and favorite topics of discussion; others think of me as a certified weirdo, and decide to have as little to do with me as possible because of all that.  I can't worry about the latter folks; I'll just have to focus on the former.  As the old song says, "This time I am staying; I'm staying for good! I'll be back to where I was born to be; with one look I'll!"

In conclusion, let me say this: The fact that certain individuals, including ones whom I used to consider "friends" or "advocates," don't care for me and/or what I do is small potatoes compared to those who actually do care about me.  Tonight, at church, the guy who led singing gave me a shout-out before leading the congregation in "Listen to Our Hearts," which is my favorite song in our hymnal.  That's just one small example of how people are looking out for me, and have been for a long time.  If anyone has a problem with me...well, he or she just isn't worthy of my time.
Any comments?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Setting the (Entertainment) Record Straight: An Addendum

By now, everyone reading this should know the drill: I had some points I wanted to make, but didn't put them in the previous post, so, now, here they are, yada, yada, yada.  I think that's about all I need to say about that.

My first point: I know that such tastes make me unique...but that's just how I like it.  With the prevalence of the Internet, it seems that less and less people watch the nightly news these days.  I grew up watching it, but many of the stories, especially on the local news, were rather depressing.  Hearing of murders, rapes, disasters, wars, and scandals made it seem like there was absolutely no good left in the world.  However, from time to time, the local or national news--as well as the local newspaper--would have stories about people who did something different.  One summer, on or around Independence Day, the local news featured an older couple who decked out their entire front yard with patriotic decorations, and kept them up year-round.  Even outside of any news sources, my brother-in-law once told me about a local guy whose Christmas light display is so elaborate, it can be seen from an airplane.

My point is: Whether it's on the news or just via word of mouth, unique people get attention.  In the past, I used to cringe at such stories, and thought of such people as freaks.  More recently, I have realized that I'm just as "different" as they are.  Frankly, I don't want to be normal, because normal is boring.  Even if I did want to be normal, it would be a true "mission: impossible," because I never really have been, and likely never will be.

My second point: I don't get why so many people take issue with me being "different."  Far too often, I see people bending over backwards to do things the "traditional" way for no other reason than that it is considered "tradition".  I once knew a married guy whose Christmas shopping for his wife consisted of buying everything on a list she gave him, and proceeding to wrap it without any sort of disguising.  He told me that it was pointless to even wrap them; he knew that his wife would know exactly what each gift was by just looking at it.  I thought to myself: If that's the case, then why didn't she just buy it herself? Why would anyone go through such pointless rigamarole?

Unfortunately, it would seem that many people take tradition as seriously as if it were a Biblical commandment or a federal law.  If you're not "normal," and/or you don't do what "normal" people should do, then you're essentially shunned.  Seriously, people, that kind of mentality is straight out of seventh grade!  God loves and accepts everyone, not just those who fit your fickle standards.  If you can't accept that, your local middle school is likely accepting registrants for the coming year; you can go there and be among your own kind.

I do want to make one thing clear: The reason I usually shun tradition is because it rarely works for me.  Still, I do have one rule about it: If it's not broke, don't fix it.  Seriously, if the "normal" way of doing things works, then why not do it? It's only a problem when the person/people who is/are doing whatever don't really like it, but are still doing it that way only because, as I've heard time and time again, "This is the way we've always done it." Okay...and are you going to get hauled off to prison if you did it differently? Of course not.

My third, and concluding, point: I'm trying my best to make sure that my "love" of whatever or whoever doesn't become idolatry.  A few years ago, I was attending a Wednesday night class at my church for young adults that was on the subject of worship.  One of the points that the teacher made was: All of us are going to worship something; however, we shouldn't be worshiping anything/anyone other than God.  There's no mistaking it: Throughout at least the first two decades of my life, I was an idolater.  As a kid, nothing mattered more than my single topic of interest, whatever it was.  As I got older, though my likes did broaden a bit, and I did have an interest in God, my views were completely skewed, probably as a product of never opening God's Word outside of of a Bible class or church service.  It wasn't until two years ago that I started doing a daily Bible reading, which is still going strong to this day.

Before that, even though I really had plenty of spare time, I "didn't have time" for such things.  Whatever my interest(s) were--and, starting in 2002, it pretty much was celebrities--always seemed to take precedence over what should have been more important.  Even when my sister died in 2005, it got minimized when Anne Hathaway replaced Hilary Duff as my "number one" the month after.  It got to the point where, when I reconnected with a high school friend a year after I graduated, one of the first questions he asked me was, "You still worship that one actress?" I don't think he was alone in interpreting my intense interests in such a way.  Years later, a former friend who was rather upset about something I had said to her sarcastically retorted, "Some actress you're never going to meet gets more respect than a real-life friend!" I hate to say it, but she was right.

Though all that seems to have subsided a bit, I still feel that idolatry is a bit of a struggle for me, as it seems to be for all of us.  Though it's fine to have interests, it's wrong when they get in the way of what should be more important: our faith, our families, and our friends.  Hopefully, my friends will help me keep that in check.  (You will, won't you?)

Any comments?

Setting the (Entertainment) Record Straight

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe most--though not all--of the people who are reading this don't watch Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel very often.  Some of you can't; you either can't afford cable or only subscribe to a streaming service, such as Netflix or Hulu.  Others of you simply don't have the time for television in general, regardless of the network.  Still others don't care for the kind of shows made by those networks; either you've seen a little bit of them and it was more than you could stand, or you just know that they're for kids, and feel that, as an adult of whatever age, you won't enjoy them.  I still feel that you should give the shows a chance before completely writing them off, but, my point is: Many of you only know what you do about VICTORiOUS or Austin & Ally thanks to our conversations and/or my Facebook postings.
Therein lies a problem, though: Some people--including some on my friends list--seem to think that such shows and their stars consume all my time.  In an instant message conversation, one long-time friend put it this way:
That's kinda weird, since most people who watch that are like at least ten years younger. [...] The first thing I can think of is to get off the "obsession," or whatever you wanna call it, with the "middle school shows." You can still watch them if you want, but maybe don't talk about them as much. [...] When I think of obsessed, I just see all of the collages you made and listed on here or mentioned you have in your room or whatever. It makes it seem like that's all you spend your time on, but that's how it comes across to me.
I think she actually has a very good point; in fact, I would wager to guess that said friend is not the only one who thinks that.  People believing something like that is nothing new: When I was in eighth grade, I bandied about the names of the stars from my favorite shows as if they were my best friends.  More than once during that time, my mom said, "You make it sound like you do nothing but watch TV! You don't even watch that much TV; you're just fanatical about the TV you do watch!" With the way that my classmates and other coeval peers acted around me, it seemed that she was right on target.
So, I want to set the record straight on this matter.  As per my usual style, I'm going to have a few different points I will make.  First off: Though quite a bit of my favorite media is/was intended for kids, there's still right much of it that isn't.  A commonly asked question is: What kind of music do you like? I honestly like a little of everything; you'd be hard-pressed to find a somewhat prolific artist or band--other than one whose music is 100% obscene--who hasn't done a single song I like or would like.  Most of you might think that my playlist consists of nothing but dc Talk/their solo acts and "teen pop" artists such as Victoria Justice, Hilary Duff, and Bridgit Mendler.  You're partly right: They are on there...alongside artists ranging from the Beatles to Audio Adrenaline to Michael Ball to Ray Stevens to Genesis to Westlife.  (If you don't know who any of those artists or bands are, I suggest you look them up.)  Though those Mouse network ladies' songs get plenty of spins, the other artists on their prove that my musical tastes are not as limited as one would assume.
The same is true of my favorite media in other areas, as well: A movie, TV show, or book does not have to be made solely for kids for me to enjoy it.  If you look at my review blog--you know where to find it!--you'll see reviews of all kinds of media.  Recent movies I have reviewed include the historical drama Alleged and the inspirational flick Unconditional, both of which have themes that little kids may not understand.  When it comes to books, you'll find everything from Joel C. Rosenberg's "prophetic" fiction to George W. Bush's autobiography, which aren't for children based on their length alone.  I don't usually review live television on my blog, but I do plan to tune into The X Factor this season.  I wanted to last year, but a massive leak at our house which caused a forced remodel made our family room inaccessible, which made watching anything on television rather uncomfortable.  I'd also like to check out other singing competitions--The Voice, for one--and other shows ranging from Castle to HGTV Star to Once Upon a Time to even some classics that I am currently largely unfamiliar with, such as I Love Lucy, The Twilight Zone, and Emergency! However,  working about twenty hours every week, as well as household responsibilities and such, take precedence over consuming entertainment.
You may ask: Why do my favorite shows, movies, books, music, and such tend to be made for younger audiences? Many of you might be thinking that it's a product of my Asperger Syndrome--that is, because I am supposedly at least a few years behind my peers socially--but that's not it, though the reasoning behind it might be a product of my A.S. Instead, it is this: Largely, it seems that most entertainment intended for adults or even older teens is simply obscene.  I'm not just talking about pornography, though that is included; much of what comes down the pipelines these days, even on network television and basic cable, is either morally bankrupt or close to it...unless it is made for kids.  There are exceptions, of course; The Lake House is a good example of a clean movie that was intended for adults instead of kids.  Still, it's getting harder and harder to find media that falls into that category.  Even many of the "young adult" books I see have images or summaries on their covers that imply obscene content! As a Christian, I believe that God does not want his followers to expose themselves to such filth; verses such as Ephesians 5:3-4 make it quite clear.  Yes, I know that many fellow Christians will watch, read, or listen to almost anything without any qualms; as a random Facebooker commented, entertainment "is one area where the Devil has a foothold."  Just because "everyone else" is doing it doesn't mean that I have to; you may call that narrow, but that's exactly how Jesus described the gate to heaven in Matthew 7:13-14.  It's as Green Day once sang: "I walk a lonely road; the only one that I have ever known!"
Second off: Doing celebrity-themed artwork is not necessarily a sign of an obsession with famous people.  Back in 2002, my mom tried her hand at making a scrapbook as a gift for my sister.  I helped out by making reprints of the photos, which proved rather arduous due to having a computer, a printer, and a scanner which had one thing in common: They were extremely slow.  Though my mom did finish it, she confessed to me that she did not feel that she had a knack for it.  Some time later, though, when she saw the creations I was able to make on Print Shop and other desktop publishing software, she told me I would make a good scrapbooker.  Unfortunately, I hate looking at pictures of myself and having my picture taken, and I don't think my parents and some others in my family consider themselves to be very photogenic.  So, as a fan of various entertainers--who happen to almost always look good in photos--I use their pictures for collages.
Most if not all of you know someone who is a big fan of a sports team, and is very proud of that fact.  Between wearing jerseys, putting decals on their cars, talking about them on Facebook, and other displays, they love to showcase their love for whatever team.  For me, using/remixing photos of my favorite celebrities as my Facebook cover photo, putting them on the cover of my binder, or having them as the background on my iPad or iPod is my version of that.  Not only is it meant to show that I am a fan, but, when it involves some sort of artistry on my part, it also serves as a creative outlet.
Third off: I don't intend to be obsessed with the celebrities and/or their shows...but that doesn't mean I'm not.  I've suffered from limited interests my whole life, but I'm pretty sure that, at this point in my life, my tastes are broader than they have ever been.  Sure, I do have my dislikes--don't we all?--but I'm still doing better than I was about a decade ago, where I constantly was saying, "I hate ______!", and, "I don't like _____!" I never intended to be obsessed with anything in the first place; it wasn't until others informed me that I was that I even knew of it, and, even then, I denied it.
Some may wonder: Why such a focus on entertainment? Why not broaden my horizons even further? I'm reminded of the "Shooting Three to Make Tutu" episode of Home Improvement, where Tim takes his youngest son Mark to a basketball game instead of the ballet that Jill wanted him to attend.  When Jill finds out, she isn't too happy with Tim.  A rather iconic line from that episode is, "Tim, for years I have been trying to expose the boys to something other than sports, tools, and cars.  I can't get Brad interested; Randy's light is barely flickering; now, you've taken away what I had with Mark."  When it comes to most non-entertainment-related topics, you could say the same thing about me that Jill said about Brad: No one has been able to get me interested.
That right there makes for an interesting debacle: Over the years, people have suggested I get involved in sporting activity of some sort.  Even when I was only about five or six years old, some doctor suggested I get involved in "non-competitive sports," so, my mom signed me up for roller-skating lessons, which I hated.  When that didn't work, she signed me up for swimming lessons, which were even worse.  To this day, every time I see the YMCA where I had those lessons, I cringe inside.  As the years went by, various people suggested I try everything from track to golf to even my high school's annual "Seniors Vs. Faculty" basketball game.  I always refused, using my A.S. as an excuse.  Some people refuted my claim, saying that I was capable of doing anything I wanted to do.  I realize now that we were both right: Though, if I had wanted to succeed in sports or similar activities, I could have...I didn't want anything to do with them, because they just didn't fall into my areas of interest.  Though I'm sure all those people meant well, they can't expect me to do some arduous task I have zero interest in just because Dr. What's-His-Name or Mrs. Whoever thinks it's a good idea.
Fourth off: I do realize that my interests are somewhat off-putting to others...but I still can't change who I am.  I'm reminded of a quotation from an article about Lizzie McGuire I once read:
Lizzie McGuire, all blond curls, high cheekbones and sparkling eyes, asks the boy she has a crush on to go to a school dance with her.  Not interested, he says.  Anyone tuning in to the program for the first time wouldn't buy it. No boy would turn down this adorable girl for a date...but that's the genius of the show. "We took the sweetest, warmest, cutest girl in school and made her the vulnerable one," says [Disney Channel Executive VP] Marsh.
You could make a similar statement about me: When people who have recently met me or who don't know me all that well hear me talk about my favorite things, or see what I post on Facebook, some of them just don't seem to "get" it.  What's with all this talk of bargain hunting? Why is this guy posting pictures of celebrities? How could anyone have a penchant for wall calendars? Yet, those who know me well understand it completely, and realize that I just wouldn't be me without all of that.  It's no surprise that at least two-thirds of the "unfriendings" I have had on Facebook were from people who I randomly met me once before "adding" me as a friend, or who might have gone to high school with me, but still didn't know me very well.  Unless someone knows me, he/she just isn't going to understand why I do what I do.
Here is my fifth, and concluding, point: It's hard to tell how such interests might affect my love life.  This is actually a point I've wanted to make for a long time: It's true that my interests--entertainment-related and otherwise--are not shared by those around my age.  Most coeval folks couldn't care less about garage sales, libraries, or Austin & Ally.  I get that; still, that doesn't mean that my chances of finding my perfect mate are completely nil.  It's actually one of the reasons that a cougar/cub relationship seems appealing: It seems to me that I would have more in common with a lady several years my senior than one at the age most would consider "normal" for me to date.  Some of you may remember this Internet meme that was passed around several years ago:
Two men were sitting next to each other at a bar.  After a while, one guy looks at the other and says, "I can't help but think, from listening to you, that you're from Ireland."
The other guy responds proudly, "Yes, that I am!"
The first guy says, "So am I! And where abouts from Ireland might you be?"
The other guy answers, "I'm from Dublin, I am."
The first guy responds, "Sure and begora, and so am I! And what street did you live on in Dublin?"
The other guy says, "A lovely little area it was, I lived on McCleary Street in the old central part of town."
The first guy says, "Faith and it's a small world, so did I! And to what school would you have been going?"
The other guy answers, "Well, now, I went to St. Mary's of course."
The first guy gets really excited, and says, "And so did I. Tell me, what year did you graduate?"
The other guy answers, "Well, now, I graduated in 1964."
The first guy exclaims, "The Good Lord must be smiling down upon us! I can hardly believe our good luck at winding up in the same bar tonight. Can you believe it, I graduated from St. Mary's in 1964 my own self."
About this time, another guy walks into the bar, sits down, and orders a beer.
The bartender walks over shaking his head and mutters, "It's going to be a long night tonight; the Murphy twins are drunk again."
 As funny as that joke is, that right there is the kind of meeting I envision having with my future wife.  If I could meet a single Christian lady, and, when she and I name off all of our favorite things, it turns out that they're all the same...well, I can't envision a more perfect match.  It may sound naive to believe such a thing could happen outside of a movie, TV show, or novel, but, if a Hollywood screenwriter or best-selling novelist can make such a thing happen, why couldn't the Creator of all things?
Any comments?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Isolation? Limitations? No More!: An Addendum

With pretty much every blog post I write, no matter how long it is, there's always at least one point I want to make that I forget about until after I've finished the post.  This last one--which I know many of you liked--falls into that category as well.  So, as per my usual style, I'll mention some things that didn't already make it from my mind to my keyboard.
First off: I have got to start valuing my true friends more.  You may think that I've never attended anything with friends unless someone else in my immediate family was tagging along, but that's not true.  However, what sadly is true is that two people who made a special effort to do things with me are now counted amongst my former friends.  One of them was even considered my "best friend", but, when she got engaged, I pretty much "freaked the freak out," and wrote a scathing Facebook note about her.  The other one? I made a joke about her I knew I shouldn't have made, and, though she tried to "overcome evil with good" (as Romans 12:21 commands) by kindly responding, I refuted everything she said and proceeded to publicly bash her online as well, even essentially manipulating others into defending what I had done.  It's highly unlikely that they will ever go anywhere with me ever again; frankly, even one of them calling 911 if they witnessed me getting seriously injured,  having a stroke or anything of that nature is more than I deserve after what I did.  They aren't even the only ones; people have "unfriended" me on Facebook just because, when they tried to communicate with me, I didn't pay them any attention.
I could say that each one of those incidents was a wake-up call, but, if it really had been, I would have changed things much sooner than I actually did.  I'm reminded of a story from the 2004 Summer Olympics--yes, a sports story! Are you surprised?--that my brother-in-law, who loves the Summer Olympics, once told me and a friend.  An athlete on the U.S. basketball team--I want to say it was Allen Iverson, but I'm not 100% sure it was--was interviewed after his team lost a game.  When Iverson or whoever said that the loss was "a wake-up call," the interviewer asked him, "Didn't you say that, when you lost to [whichever team], that it was 'a wake-up call'?" The athlete admitted it was true, to which the interviewer responded, "How many wake-up calls do you need?!!" Unfortunately, it would seem that I've needed multiple wake-up calls as well; even when my own mistakes cost me good friendships, I just kept falling back into the same pitfalls again and again.
Though all those friendships are now kaput, that doesn't mean that I can't continue the friendships I do have, or make new ones.  Still, if I am going to have/make friends, I have got to be a friend; as the old saying goes, "Friendship goes both ways."  That means that I can't make it all about me, me, and me.  Unfortunately, selfishness is a problem I have struggled with for years; even as a little kid, at the age when most people are very sweet and innocent, many of my bad behaviors were rooted in selfishness.  We didn't get to do what I wanted to do, regardless of everyone else's preferences; I didn't get whatever item(s) I wanted, even though I had ten times more stuff than most kids around the planet ever got; I was stuck doing things I didn't want to do, so I acted up as a result.  Now that I understand that such behaviors are a problem, it's up to me to fight them and make sure that I no longer succumb to such temptations.
Second off: I'm not going to be able to fully discover new areas of interest--i.e., sports--without someone to help me.  Some of you may not know this, but, for quite a while, my mom has loved figure skating.  Though I don't consider myself a fan, I know the names of various professional skaters, ranging from Paul Wylie to Scott Hamilton to Kristi Yamaguchi to Yuka Sato to Nancy Kerrigan to "Jumpin'" Jozef Sabovcík.  (How many of those names do you recognize? My point exactly.)  Not long after my mom remarried, she and my dad were watching a figure skating performance on TV where skater Ekaterina Gordeeva did a routine dedicated to her late first husband, Sergei Grinkov.  My dad had only watched figure skating when it was part of the Winter Olympics, so, he had to ask my mom, "What, did her husband die?" My mom proceeded to explain the tragic circumstances of Mr. Grinkov's death--which had happened over a decade prior--and how it affected her personally due to unrelated familial events happening around the same time.
In the event I were to venture into the sports world, I would need the same kind of explanation.  When it comes to such matters, I'm pretty much like Mork the sitcom alien, or Data, the "humanoid android."  (Okay, maybe I consume too much sci-fi.)  I may never fully understand sporting culture--or human behavior in general--but I'll have a much better chance at "getting it" if I have a friend to explain it to me.  Before you ask, no, that friend does not have to be a woman, though--no offense to the guys who might be reading this--a female friend and sports fan may be able to put in into terms I could understand than a same-gender friend.
Lastly: I believe that someone will come into my life and change it in a good way forever...but I have to let them change me.  Most movie fans or avid readers have no doubt seen/read multiple books/movies where Person A is in dire straits...until he/she meets Person B, and his/her life is changed for the better.  Flicks ranging from The Karate Kid to Beauty and the Beast employ that device in some way.  Even Star Wars falls into that category: If Luke Skywalker had never met Obi-Wan/Ben Kenobi, would he have undergone Jedi training and been able to bring an end to the Empire? If young Anakin had never met Qui-Gon and Padmé, would he had ever become a Jedi or fallen in love? One of the best depictions of such a plot device that I have seen, however, was in Karen Kingsbury's novel Unlocked.  (If you Christian fiction fans haven't read this one yet, you need to!)  The story of Holden Harris, who was so severely autistic that he couldn't even talk, and his childhood friend Ella, who helps him break free of his disorder's grip, moved me in such a way few books, movies, or TV shows ever have.
Though I know--and I'm sure you do, too--that my condition--it's not a disability!--is not that bad, I still have felt for a while that I am in need of change. (You'd agree, right?) In the past, some people have gone from being helpful to seriously breaking my heart.  One coeval young lady really helped me by talking me through a time of crisis...only to proceed to unfriend me on Facebook mere weeks if not days later.  What was really painful about it: I only discovered her "de-friending" because I was trying to add her as one of my "Top Friends" via a Facebook app.   I may never know why she did that.  Others have done essentially the same thing.  Sometimes, it was my fault (see above); other times, it was theirs...but pointing fingers isn't going to bring our friendship back.  Does that person who would change my life for the better have to be a significant other? No, although that would be good.  It could be a married woman--hey, many of my good friends are just that!--or it could even be a guy.  God can use whoever He wants to use.
Any comments?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Isolation? Limitations? No More!

Over the years, I have tended to be very isolated.  Usually, at gatherings that involved other people, especially those around my age, I would be off in a corner, having no desire to talk to anyone.  Other attendees would come and say something in a polite attempt to get me to be sociable, and I refused; I didn't need the company of anyone else there, and I was pretty sure they didn't need me.  In the event that I did "hang out" with whoever--and, many times, I only did it because I was told/forced to--it tended to happen fairly often that I would go off by myself at some point, because either I just wasn't interested in whatever "they" were doing, or someone/some people said/did something that upset me, and I would rather sit and brood over it than converse with anyone.
The fact that I limited myself made things even worse.  Of course, we all have things that we think are overrated; there's simply no getting around my loathing of anything involving big bodies of water, to include beaches, pools, and water parks.  To say that I didn't give it a chance is incorrect; up to 1999, I did everything from taking swimming lessons to going to Water Country--twice!--to even attending beaches and/or pools with friends, usually my fellow Cub Scouts or coeval church members.  The problem? I never liked it; though I enjoyed the company, that was about the only thing I enjoyed.  As I got older, my dislike grew to the point where I just wanted nothing to do with it anymore, much to the chagrin of some people who, to this day, believe that "aquatic therapy" would be good for me.  Unless you want to see me more upset than you ever have before, I'd respectfully suggest otherwise.
However, with other areas of interest, even some popular ones, I now realize that I was totally off.  One such area is sports; I always said that, since I wasn't raised around them, it wouldn't be possible for me to have an interest in them.  As I got older, and I saw what I considered sports fanaticism from others everywhere I went, I was convinced that sports were horrible, wretched things, and even had a desire for them to be outlawed.  It wasn't until later on, when I looked back at the fanaticism over celebrities and what-not that I had been showing my entire life, that I realized: I was just as guilty of it as they were.  Unfortunately, I realized that a bit too late, and many would-be friends had already been turned off by my vehement attacks on one of their favorite pastimes.  (If only I had applied Matthew 7:3-5 to my own life, instead of using it--and other Scriptures--to tell others why they were wrong.)
Even with other popular entities--non-Nintendo video games, current shows on networks other than the Disney Channel, etc.--I was just so sure that I wouldn't like them that I almost always refused to give them a chance.  No matter how my friends or peers felt about whatever or whoever, one thing is true: To this day, I feel that I deprived myself of quite a bit when I was younger just because I was unwilling to try it out.
As you'd expect, people got very concerned, and there was a lot of debate, because I was offended that they would be adamant that I should attend something that I had already told them I had no interest in doing.  The youth group at the church I previously attended went to the beach once, and it caused a fiasco, because, as I realize now, they really wanted me to go; they were trying to include me in the group, but I was furious that they even invited me.  I even told others that I would rather they not have done it, which I currently consider an immature and incorrect statement.  Later on, my classmates and other people I knew at the time--including even my brother-in-law--really wanted me to go to the school dances, especially Ring Dance--aka "junior prom"--and senior prom.  I fought them every step of the way; when I heard about my real-life high school crush suffering an allergic reaction at senior prom, I spent the next few years proclaiming that as divine protection.  True, some have since expressed disagreement with what "everyone else" seemed to be saying.  One friend said, "I don't think you would have enjoyed prom, anyway, regardless of _______'s allergic reaction"; another friend said, "The dances at [our high school] were quite sexual, [Siobhan].  At the cleanest, you would have objected to some of the dances."  Those statements may be true, but that still doesn't make my reaction to my other friends correct; instead of feeling honored that people would be looking out for me in such a way, I was both seriously offended and quite infuriated at them, which wasn't right at all.
So, what's to be done? First off, it's time to expand my horizons; limiting myself only to entertainment that relates to Disney, Nickelodeon, Christianity, or superheroes isn't the way to go.  (Suggestions are welcome.) The baseless "loathing" of theme parks and sporting events needs to go away, too; the reasoning for such negative feelings is, in a word, stupid.  Second off, I must issue an apology to many of my friends and even some former friends; I shouldn't have doubted your intentions and/or fiercely debated you when you suggested that I do something that I would rather not have done.  If you still consider me a friend, I would guess that you have already forgiven me, but I still feel the need to apologize regardless.  The biggest thing I need to do, though? Be more sociable!
So, this is an open invitation for any of my local friends, regardless of your age, for us to get together and do something.  Want to see a movie together? Great! Would you like to go bargain hunting with me? Wonderful! Is one of our favorite artists/bands holding a concert nearby? If you don't mind me coming along, I'd be glad to do so!  Even if you aren't currently living in my area, if you happen to be visiting for whatever reason, I'd be glad to get together with you.
I have a few points I would like to make before I close this. One: Why am I doing this?  Yesterday, I had a phone conversation with a long-time friend, and she said, "If we lived closer, we'd definitely be hanging out." The problem is: She lives about three hours away, and rarely makes it out my way.  Other long-distance friends of mine who are reading this probably feel the same way.  So, I want to make it clear to my local friends that I don't want to be anti-social and that I am interested in getting together with them.  You may think that I'd rather sit at home and watch Disney Channel than be out with friends on a Friday night, but you'd be wrong.
Two: I realize that there are other factors--or, at least, one big one--that is/are affecting my social life.  No matter how well you know me, one fact you probably already know about me is that I have never had a driver's license.  The fact that I can't transport myself to and from wherever I want to go has hurt my social life quite a bit; getting others to give me a ride has always been a hassle, if it was even possible.  When all my coeval friends were getting their first cars, I was still taking the bus to school and riding with my mom or sister and brother-in-law to church.  At one point, I did have my learner's permit, and I did take a few driving lessons with friends, but I never got very far, mostly because of my self-defeating attitude.  When the permit expired, my dad wanted me to renew it, but I decided to get a non-driver ID instead.  Though I spent years staunchly believing that I would never be able to drive a car properly--which my friends, family, and others almost universally disagreed with--over the past year or two, that belief has been cracking at its foundations.  It may have been that, at the age when most people learn to drive, I simply wasn't ready for it.  Since I have always been a bit behind--socially, anyway--compared to others my age, even if I could have successfully operated a motor vehicle, the responsibility of driving was one I just was likely not ready for at the time.  Now that I am older and hopefully more mature, I'm planning on getting my learner's permit again soon.  Before actually getting my license, I'm going to have a licensed driving instructor make sure that I belong behind the wheel of a car; if he/she says I'm not, then my fears were right all along, and I won't pursue it any further.  Still, as the old saying goes, "You never know what you can do until you try."
Three: I don't want this to be something that we just talk about, and never actually do.  I recently won a Bible Bowl competition at my church on the book of James.  An old teen Bible that I got for Christmas when I was twelve says in its intro to that epistle, "'Don't just talk about it'--that's what was on James's mind."  Another study help says, "The main point of [James] is simple: Don't just talk about it, do it."  When you read the book--a mere five chapters--you see that's exactly the case.  Unfortunately, it seems that, in many cases, us humans--myself included--tend to say we will do something, but never actually do it, even if we mean to follow through with our word.  I'm really serious about this; I've known for a while that I am in need of change, and this is how I'm trying to make it happen.  I can't do it without your support, though.
Any comments?