Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Last Word On..., No. 5: Boy Scouting

Most of you reading this already know I was in Scouting for a while...but most of you also wouldn't know that if I never told you, even if you knew me when I was in it, unless you were somehow involved with it yourself.  In my daily ponderings, I often think back on my time in Scouting, and what it means to me today.  Those weren't my glory days by any stretch of the imagination, so, it's not reminiscing about "the good old days"; it's actually the things I learned from my experience, most of which have nothing to do with camping, tying knots, hiking, and the things that you're actually supposed to learn in Scouting.  On this blog and elsewhere, I've often talked at length about my experiences, but, every so often, a new realization comes up, and it causes me to think about what happened back then in ways that I hadn't before.  As I had said before about this series of posts, this will be my final word on each topic, and I won't be replying to any comments, though you are free to respond if you wish.  Still with me? Then, here we go.

First off: Joining Boy Scouting went against my better judgment, but I did it anyway...and it ended up being worse than I ever could have imagined.  In January of 1998, I joined a Cub Scout troop that a friend from church was a member of, and I had fun...but, then, in 2000, I finished Cub Scouting, and it was time for me to cross over to Boy Scouting.  However, I almost didn't do it; it was only because my sister insisted, because she felt that I needed to be doing things with other guys.  However, there was a serious flaw in her logic: I didn't mind hanging out with people of the same gender--in fact, I often did that during lunchtime at school--but I did mind what everyone knows Boy Scouts do: camping, hiking, etc., all of which everyone who knows me knows is just not my thing.  Still, I reluctantly joined the Boy Scout troop my church sponsored...and things just continued to get worse the longer I stayed.  Between corrupt leadership, Scouts dropping out left and right (more on both of those later), and extraneous costs (seriously, forty bucks per year just to be a member?), it was just one problem after another.  After about thirteen months, my mom had enough and decided to pull the plug on it; she felt that the program was not a good fit for me, which is what I had said from the beginning.  Not only that, but, during my time in Scouting--both Cub Scouting and Boy Scouting, that is--they continually bent the rules for my sake, to the point where I had to be the only sixth grader in the country still in Cub Scouting.  When people--in Scouting or anywhere else--bent the rules for me in the past, I used to milk it for all it was worth...but, over time, I started to feel bad about it, and that happened in Scouting as well; I began to think that if they kept having to bend the rules for me, I shouldn't even be in it at all.

Second off: It seemed like nobody in my troop actually wanted to be a Boy Scout.  Of the millions of boys who have been in Scouting in the past century or so, only about four or five percent have actually completed the program and earned Eagle.  Some people would say that the majority of boys who don't are just lazy, or want something for nothing.  Maybe, in some cases, that's true...but, in my troop, there were bigger problems going on.  I constantly heard Scouts saying that "it's not fun anymore," and some complaints I heard were even worse than that.  Probably the worst complaint came from a fellow church member who was also in my troop; when we were all asked to share with the rest of the middle school group what the best and worst times in our lives were, he said, "The worst time in my life was the Klondike Derby." For those who don't know, the Klondike Derby is a camping trip that the Scouts go on every winter.  I actually went on that camping trip, too, and didn't enjoy it, either...but I definitely wouldn't call it the worst time in my life; what I said was the worst time in my life was when my neighborhood friends moved, which had nothing to do with Scouting.  Many of the Scouts who complained ended up dropping out or, at least, not earning Eagle...but some of them ended up completing the program.  Still, when they complained about it like they did, it kind of makes me think that they didn't really want to do it.

My last point before my conclusion: While Boy Scouting may be seen as a moral organization, my experience with it didn't give me that impression.  One time, a kid at a camping trip came out of a game of Capture the Flag crying because other Scouts were angrily refusing to play by the rules...and the leader he talked to did absolutely nothing.  Another time, on the same trip, some kids went to another part of the campsite, took longer than they were supposed to, and got punished as a result, despite trying to explain that it wasn't their fault...but another kid threw a temper tantrum in front of the whole troop and suffered no consequences at all.  The worst one to me, though, was the cereal incident: Long story short, the leaders didn't like the Scouts having cereal and milk for breakfast on camping trips because it was lazy...but the Scouts in my patrol did it anyway, and, because of supposed regulations, the leaders were powerless to stop them.  Allegedly, it was supposed to teach leadership skills...but, to me, all that taught was a "devil may care" attitude.  Plus, some of the kids in there were trouble; after I left Scouting, I found out that my sister felt that I shouldn't be hanging out with a guy in there who I quickly made friends with, even though she was the main reason I was in there in the first place! Looking back, I agree; he probably wasn't the best person for me to be hanging around, which is why it was probably divine providence that my mom decided to pull me out of Scouting when she did.

Now, for my conclusion: My time in Scouting came to an end nearly a decade and a half ago...so, why talk about it now? Does it really matter anymore? Well, it matters to me, and for more than one reason.  As I said, I learned things from that time in my life that have nothing to do with outdoor survival.  For one: If I have a bad feeling about something, I should avoid it unless absolutely necessary.  Over the years, I've had such feelings--akin to premonitions--about doing other things, and, whether I did them or not, I was proven right.  I had a bad feeling about going to church camp back in the summer of 1999; everybody and their mother--even my friends in my neighborhood, who weren't even part of my church--wanted me to go, but I didn't...and, the morning before I would have left, my brand-new computer went on the fritz.  If you know me, you know there's no way I could have enjoyed a week away with that looming over my head.  More to the point, I had similar feelings about getting a dog back in 2002, but, my mom got one anyway...and during the four years we had him, he was a continual thorn in our sides.  My mom got so frustrated with him that, one day, when he escaped from our fenced-in backyard and was running amok around the neighborhood, she said, "He can go and get hit by a car and killed; I don't care!" She eventually did go and get him...but only because she was afraid of getting sued in case he bit someone.  I knew from day one that kind of thing would happen...but nobody listened.  That may all be in the past, too, but what isn't is the potential of a relationship or the possibility of getting my driver's license.  You probably know I've had my doubts about those for quite a while; I used to say that circumstances in my life that stopped me from engaging in those things were a providential hindrance, and I still feel that way to a degree.  If what happened with Boy Scouting is any indication--and I feel that it is--then, it doesn't matter what whoever or whatever has to say about my future as a driver or a husband; it's not going to work out, and no amount of encouragement will change that.  Another thing that comes to mind: For some, a group like Boy Scouting would be a good place to make friends, because you meet like-minded individuals...but, even though I had some friends in there, most of them were not even remotely like me.  I've tried other groups--ones through my church or other churches in the area, and even one for people with the same "condition" as me--and they didn't work out; there was always some issue.  When it came to the latter group, the problem was that, despite us having the same "condition," their interests were nothing like mine; they couldn't have cared less about any of the topics that were important to me, and vice versa.  Assuming that all people with my "condition" would get along great is like assuming that all Hispanics or people from Arizona would be the best of friends; it smacks of generalization.  Even if they do have the same "condition" as me, they don't have my unique experiences.  Seriously, do you know anyone else around my age who essentially only had one parent until the time he/she was twenty, and grew up with a severely handicapped sibling, and gained a sibling-in-law (you know what I mean!) when he/she was only eight years old, and became an aunt/uncle when he/she was only a junior in high school?  Of course not! While some would say everyone is unique, I would say that some folks are more unique than others...and I know, because I'm one of those people.  If you know me, you can't help but agree...right?

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

It's Time for a Change...And One You Won't Believe

In the summer of 1997, I made some friends in the neighborhood.  They'd actually lived near me since late 1995, but, it took me a while to get to know them.  We played board games, computer games, video games, and even outdoor games (including sports) together, and also did other activities, like selling candy bars to raise money for their wrestling team.  However, two years after I met them, they ended up moving a great distance away, and I hardly saw them after that.  In the years that followed, I began to lose interest in activities that I used to be unable to quit talking about, including ones I did with them, such as playing outside, and ones we never did together, like attending theme parks.  Even almost two years later, during a object lesson for Bible class where we were asked to talk about the worst time in our lives, it was my friends' departure that took the cake.

People started to notice that my activities were limited, and began to become concerned.  One person--remember, I don't name names on this blog!--even said in an e-mail, "You need to do things that do NOT involve your computer or CD player!" True, not everything I did back then fell into that category--I also played video games and watched television fairly often--but, I don't think that was her point.  For a while, I thought it was about Boy Scouting, since a recent incident during a Scout meeting was part of the reason for that person's e-mail...but, now, I think it was more than just that.  She and others wanted me to be a part of the group; to do the things that my friends were doing--well, as long as they were the right things--instead of sitting off all by my lonesome, doing my own thing by my own choice.  People knew that, if I'd just things a chance instead of staunchly refusing to try everything anyone suggested, I'd be happier and more well-rounded...but, I still had one excuse after another for why I just couldn't do that.

You've probably heard me talk about how I "hate" certain things that are undoubtedly popular all over the country, if not the world: sports, dogs, theme parks, anything to do with large bodies of water, etc.  I used various excuses over the years--everything from negative past experiences to alleged phobias to supposed moral qualms to even my "condition"--as to why I didn't care for them...when, really, it was one thing and one thing only: I considered such activities or entities to be beneath me.  If you were a regular Busch Gardens attendee, a proud dog owner, an avid swimmer, or a big-time football fan, I looked down on you for it...and that's what caused me to face persecution and eventual unfriendings.  Most people don't have a problem with those who don't like the same things they do; what they have a problem with is those who think what they do makes them superior...and that's the problem I had.  It was much like the hypothetical Pharisee whom Jesus spoke of: I was thankful that I was not like those people...but, that attitude was not going to win people to Christ or even garner myself friends.

Over the years, people used to argue with me because they wanted me to join in activities that I outright refused to participate in, and it caused problems.  I've mentioned before about a teacher at my high school who was practically begging me to give Busch Gardens a chance...but, she never convinced me to, despite her insistence.  For a while, even after graduating, I felt that what she said was harassment, and thought that I should have reported her...but, now I know why she wouldn't give up: My reasoning didn't make sense; I couldn't come up with an actual legitimate reason for me to avoid it...but, I was still unwilling to budge.  Seriously, I wouldn't do something I used to talk about doing constantly because my friends moved? What kind of sense does that make? That's not even what my friends would have wanted!

Let me be honest here: Lately, I've felt like a loser.  I see my friends on Facebook doing fun things with their friends, and that rarely happens with me.  Even when it does, the friends I hang out with are much older than me; almost every time I go out to eat with other people, I'm by far the youngest one at the table.  When it comes to coeval people, I just strike out...and, I think that's my own fault.  If I hadn't spent years constantly refusing to do the things that most Christians my age consider fun and exciting, I could easily have had people to hang out with and maybe even a significant other.  Seriously, how many of you Christian ladies would want to date a guy whose idea of fun is a marathon of superhero cartoons? Didn't think so! Seriously, this way of living is doing me absolutely no good.

So, now, it's time for a change.  If I get an opportunity to do something worthwhile, I need to take it; my "entertainment" can wait.  That does apply to fun activities, such as theme parks or sporting events, but it also applies to activities that involve work, whether it be around the house or elsewhere.  I recently took a major step in the right direction by taking over mowing the lawn; now, I need to progress even further by not being afraid to work regardless of the situation.  That includes taking risks and learning new skills, such as getting my driver's license or pursuing a relationship.  Also, if I get invited to something--anything worthwhile, really--I need to at least try to take advantage of that opportunity.  I'm not going to make new friends and build relationships while sitting around watching Liv & Maddie.

However, I do have one lingering fear: that the damage has already been done.  I know that I placed myself in this situation, and I hope that I can get myself out...but I can't help but think that I may be stuck with this.  I also know that people care about me, and wouldn't want me to feel like an outcast...but, at this point, I may be one for the rest of my life.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Last Word On..., No. 4: Crushes

Over the years, especially from 2001 to 2014, I have been well-known for my crushes; in fact, some would say that I still am.  Some people have assumed that I had a crush on someone when I actually didn't, whereas sometimes even the real-life friend who was "the object of my affection" had no idea how I felt about her.  I was criticized for my crushes, both of the celebrity and real-life variety, as well, including ones about which most of you probably never knew I even had.  However, you may be surprised at how the whole crush thing got started...and parts of my crushing history you've never heard previously.

Okay, here come my usual three points.  First off: In my case, "crush" usually wasn't the right word. My "condition" has many traits, but, one of the most obvious ones is a tendency to obsess over things, people, places, etc.  You probably know that most of my previous obsessions were of the entertainment variety; what you may not know is that I was just as obsessed when there wasn't a lady involved.  When I was in elementary school, I was obsessed with a edutainment franchise that started off as a book series; if you know me, you can probably guess which one it was.  People said that I had a crush on the lead character, but I didn't; I actually was afraid of her, because I had reality confused with fiction, and I believed she was going to try to take over the world.  I didn't have the capability to put images on my desktop back then, but, even if I did, I wouldn't have put her on there.  My obsession with that franchise was no different than my fixation on my friends' Nintendo 64; there was no physical attraction there.  People with my condition tend to talk about the same things ad nauseam, which others would say is the sign of a crush...but, I never intended it to be one.  The same is true of my real-life friends today: Just because I hug, sit with, or regularly talk to or about someone of the opposite gender doesn't mean I have a crush on her.  Besides which, if I did, that would be a serious issue, as most of my female friends are currently married or otherwise spoken for relationship-wise.

Second off: I only kept the whole celebrity crush thing going because it entertained people.  I don't need to give a whole laundry list of my prior Hollywood flames; if you've paid the least bit of attention to my online postings, you have a good idea who they were.  If you knew me when I was in high school, you probably remember the day in March 2005 when I proudly announced to friends, classmates, and even teachers who my new celebrity crush was.  While I was made fun of for it--and who wasn't harassed when they were in school?--my friends and others thought the whole thing was entertaining, and had fun with it.  It wasn't just kids; my high school Spanish teacher would bring up my celebrity crush even when I didn't, and even bought me a magazine featuring my favorite actress as an out-of-the-blue present, saying, "I saw this and just couldn't resist."  Even well after that, when I got my first Verizon phone, I quickly put a picture of my Hollywood love on the main screen, and proceeded to show it to all of my friends at church; while some were unsure of who that woman even was, one of my friends had the best remark: "What would you do if you met her? You probably wouldn't even be able to speak!" Still, some people thought the whole thing was a problem, and many didn't mask their feelings one bit; I just brushed them off back then...but, now, I realize they were right.  I should have been like the singer P!nk in her song "U + Ur Hand": "I'm not here for your entertainment!" Seriously, even if it did entertain others, who knows what they were saying about me behind my back? I eventually realized that...but, it sure took a long time.

Lastly: My "crushes" have always been different than most other guys' for one very big reason.  My best friend in eighth grade used to get teased about being gay by some other kids because of his style of dress and different interests, but he would always refute it by saying, "Dude, I like girls." While I also like those of the opposite gender, my attraction has mostly been towards women instead of girls.  I've liked older women from a young age, and still do.  To me, people who are coeval and even younger tend to disgust me because of their immature habits, such as shooting off at the mouth without any regard to how they made the recipient of their words feel, or being prone to fits of anger, i.e., a notorious incident I heard about where someone I knew threw a milkshake at someone else.  Of course, people of the same age are all different, but, consider this: Of the few people I'm currently in contact with who don't like me--as most of my prior enemies have had zero contact with me in ages--at least three of them are around my age, and one is a bit younger.  Other than one case with someone in her forties who seems to have never left the seventh grade, I don't have that problem with significantly older folks, including those of the female persuasion.  In fact, regardless of age or anything else, I tend to get along better with women than guys, which may explain my attraction to them.  I don't want to be a womanizer or "skirt-chaser"--that's just wrong!--but, I do enjoy the company of my favorite ladies.  Now that I'm grown, females my age and even sometimes younger tend to be more like women and less like girls...but, they aren't always, as I know all too well.

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Last Word On..., No. 3: Sports

I have a checkered history with more topics than I care to mention, but few if any of them seem to be as big of a deal as sports.  People everywhere, especially guys, love their ball games, and seem to live for their favorite sport's season...but I just don't, and never have.  I've said I hate sports...but that's not true, and I shouldn't say that anyway.  It seems that us non-sports fans are in the minority...but we're still out there.  I know I am not alone in my dislike for sports...but it sure seems like I am at times.

As usual for this series, I'll make three points, and then I'm done.  First off: Saying that I "hate sports" is wrong.  If you're a Christian, you're probably familiar with Romans 12:9b: "Hate what is evil; cling to what is good." (NIV) Now, I know we all have different definitions of what is evil; some people would even say that much of my favorite entertainment, whether it be contemporary Christian music, the Disney Channel, or even Star Wars, would fall into that category.  However, despite my lifelong dislike for sports, I wouldn't say they were evil or sinful.  True, I do believe some people's passion for their favorite teams or athletes could be seen as idolatry...but, that's a far cry from saying sports themselves are evil.  When it comes to mainstream entertainment, there's plenty of media that is much more sinful than "the big game" has ever been, and, these days, some of it can be seen on the major networks.  Some years ago, I wrote a Facebook note that mentioned Garfield alongside other favorite entertainment entities of mine, and a now-former friend commented, "I like everything you mentioned in your post...well, except Garfield.  I'd rather be stuck in a Turkish prison than be forced to watch Garfield." His comment shocked me; even if you don't like the cartoon fat cat, you have to admit there's much worse media out there--pornography, anyone?--than the infamous Tubby Tabby.  While I wouldn't watch sports by choice, I wouldn't make such a statement about them at all...because they're not sinful or evil.  Even when it comes to places or things, there's a big difference between "hate" and "dislike".  Besides which, I have enjoyed movies and books that are about sports; if I truly hated them, would that be the case? Of course not.

Second off: I don't think anyone likes anything shoved in their face...and that's especially true with me and sports.  Despite the fact that pretty much everyone who knows me knows how I feel about sports, I've still had them--or their equivalents, such as Boy Scouting--shoved in my face multiple times.  More than one person has tried to teach me how to throw a football, even though they had to know I just didn't care.  I know I used to say my "condition" prevented me from doing well in sports...but, that wasn't the real reason.  People used to tell me that, because my "condition" was high-functioning, I could do anything I wanted to, and I agree...but there's a key word in there: want.  I haven't researched it, but, I would imagine that there may be people with the same "condition" as me who have done well in the field of sports, whether on their high school team or professionally, and I say, more power to them; if that's their "thing," then, kudos to them for putting forth the effort.  However, it was never my dream to be an athlete or sportsman, whether the next Michael Jordan, a marathon runner, or even an Eagle Scout; that's simply not me.  People have tried to get me into sports, and it has never worked; I just never seem to "get" them.  When I was little, a doctor I saw suggested my mom put me into what he called "non-competitive sports," and she took him up on it; I was soon signed up for roller skating lessons at the local rink...which I really did not enjoy.  When that didn't work out, my mom signed me up for swimming lessons at the local YMCA...and I enjoyed those even less.  To this day, every time I see the "Y" where I had those lessons, I cringe inside, even though that was over two decades ago.  I don't blame my mom, though; how was she to know that such a thing would happen? Most kids, especially boys, would jump at the chance to hang out at the roller rink or in the pool...but, I wasn't most kids.  It's still the same today: To some of you, playing football with the guys or volleyball on the beach may sound like a blast...but, I'd much rather be at home watching the Disney Channel.  I know you may think I'm weird, but, if you don't like that...there's the door.

Lastly: It's wrong to look down at any group of people...including sports fans.  My Christian friends probably know the parable of the Pharisee who prayed, "God, I thank you that I am not like other people--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector." (NIV) Christians are supposed to be a peculiar people (1 Peter 2:9), but, my different upbringing and my "condition" make even many Christians think I'm rather strange, especially since I'm a guy who doesn't like sports.  They may look down on me for that, but, that's on them; I'm responsible for my own actions...but, that road goes both ways.  If it's wrong for them to look down on me for being a fan of Liv & Maddie, it's just as wrong for me to look down on them for being fans of the NFL.  I've found that people are going to judge others no matter what they do, so, I'll just stick with my true friends: those who respect what I do.