Sometimes in Life, I Play the Villain

And so do you.

I am a mild-mannered, well-behaved, law observing kind of guy.  Yet still, if I was part of your daily life, I would at some point be the person to introduce conflict.  Your arch nemesis, your foil.  Because no matter who you are, you can’t always agree with everyone about everything.  If you could, you would have no opinion or personality.  You would be a life-size cardboard cut-out (like the supposed ghost boy in the movie Three Men and a Baby).

If every new day were an episode in the long-running series known as your life, the villain could easily someone different each time.  Some days it would be a coworker insulting your intelligence, some days it would be the policeman that caught you speeding, sometimes it would be your own spouse who you love more than anything but who somehow found a way to hurt you by something off-hand remark they made, unaware.  At some point though, we all play the villain for someone else.  But what if the same “jerk cop” who gave you a ticket two months ago happened to also catch a drunk driver the next day, preventing a possible tragedy in your own life?  The cop would be both a villain and a redeeming character.

Actual picture of me playing Prince Charming during the Snow White play during the summer of 1991.

During the summer of 1991, I played Prince Charming in a community play version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  I remember how after the first performance, when it was time for the girl who played the evil stepmother to walk up to the stage and take a bow, the audience cheered especially loud for her and she was given a bouquet of flowers by her dad.  As a ten-year old boy, evidently still trying to understand the concept of reality, I thought to myself, “Hey!  Why are they cheering for her?  She’s so mean!” I couldn’t separate her the actor from her the person- though in real life, she was very friendly.  But at the time, I couldn’t see past her good acting.

Now as an adult, I think it’s funny when people who hardly know each other but who are in an isolated conflict often immediately assume that the other person’s character is morally flawed.  They make “right or wrong” issues out of political issues, or often just simply a matter of opinion.  Sadly, the lines have become blurred between healthy debate and emotional arguing.  For me, when observing a debate, I often privately award the winner as the person who refrained from speaking sarcastically and in a demeaning manner, yet still remained focused on the actual topic enough to simply counter their opponent’s offenses.  Emotion shouldn’t be the main drive for a debate; principle itself should be.  I fully realized this lesson after while writing “The Blog Sniper”.  (Whenever you see something on here both underlined and in bold font, it’s a link.)

I couldn’t have been on the debate team in high school.  Because at that point in my (lack of) maturity, I would have refused to debate in favor of abortion if I was assigned to do so.   Back then, I wasn’t able to look beyond the emotional and moral side of it, and realize that in a professional debate, like Spy vs. Spy, the goal isn’t to prove the other person to be a classless idiot.  It’s to disprove their theory, opinion, or perspective through logic and consistency.  Today, even though I am an extreme pro-lifer, I would not have trouble debating in favor of abortion, because if nothing else, it would be an exercise in which I could gain a new perspective from looking at things from a different perspective to help my bank of knowledge on how I truly feel on the issue.  In the process, my efforts as the devil’s advocate would cause my opponent to strengthen their thinking tactics as well on the issue.

Being that this post is my 447th post  here on Scenic Route Snapshots, chances are, no matter what your political, religious, and cultural backgrounds are and how similar you are to me in those regards, if you were to read all of my posts, there’s a good chance you would at least disagree with a few.  And that’s okay.  Because despite me being perceivably misguided on a few topics, I’m still the same good guy that wrote the things you did agree with and appreciate.  I am a debater, not an arguer.


Major Nerds and Super Geeks: We Become Specialists in What We are Naturally Good At and Love to Do Anyway

In order to be cool these days, you have to embrace your inner dork.

By a college student’s junior year at a large university, there is no denying what he or she is majoring in.  Because by that point, there are certain undeniable quirks which have been weaved into the way they speak, how they spend their free time, or most importantly, who their friends are.  So when I chose the term “Major Nerds” as part of the title for this, it’s a play on words with a dual meaning like the classic TV show “Family Matters”.  It seemed to me that while in I was in college, a student became a nerd or a geek for whatever their college major was.

For me, the easiest ones to spot were the drama majors.  When a drama major walked into a room, they basically sang everything they said.  Their private conversations were never private; instead, everyone else in the room was an audience member for their traveling play production.  Of course they were also some of the most sincere and friendliest I knew in college.  Or were they just acting?  I guess I’ll never know.

I earned my degree from Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the world.  So it’s no surprise that in addition to every typical degree you could think of, they had a few peculiar options as well.  In particular, I’m thinking about the Worship majors.  These were the students planning a career in leading worship music at large churches… I guess.  Because every time you saw them, they were carrying a guitar playing “Shout to the Lord”, somewhat successfully drawing in a crowd of people singing along.

And if they weren’t doing that, they were inviting people to their “Night of Praise”: As part of their graduation requirements, the Worship majors had to entice an audience to come to a worship service in which the Worship major ran the thing.  For me, it was the most random thing someone could major in at our college.  I just couldn’t understand why a person would be willing to limit or brand themselves with such a specific degree.

What if after a few years of leading worship at a church, they decide they’d rather work in a bank?  And during the job interview, the employer says to them, “So, I see you have a college degree in… worship?”  And too, it’s just a weird concept to me that a person has to learn to worship God or lead others in worshipping God.  It makes sense, but also, like I told my friend James Campbell, whom I recently lost contact with because he evidently “quit” facebook: “Is that really something that you have to be taught?  Isn’t that comparable to having to take a class on ‘how to make love’?”

Then again, I’m not the one who feels I was called by God to work in the ministry.  So of course I can’t relate.  As for me, as if it wasn’t blatantly obvious, I was an English major.  To caricature us, I would say we were a strange hybrid: Decently liberal and very artistic on the inside, yet pretty conservative and sophisticated on the outside.  In other words, baby Literature professors in training.

Our heads were in the clouds, yet our feet were on the ground.  We were trained to dissect and diagram every situation into literary components; we were the Grammar Police to our dorm mates (see I am the Human Spell Check).  We were the only students who actually enjoyed writing papers.  In fact, I didn’t start out as an English major- I became one my junior year when I realized that if I enjoyed writing term papers, and all my friends came to me to proofread theirs, that maybe I should stop looking at some big dream of a career and just to what came easy to begin with.

And though those last two paragraphs about English majors were written in past tense, I can’t say that any of those characteristics about me have changed, simply because I graduated.  In fact, they’ve only increased in intensity.  In my office, I’m still the guy people come to when they need a letter written or an important e-mail proofread.  Obviously, I still enjoy writing- you know, hence the website and everything.

And really, that’s the way it works.  Most people end up majoring in whatever comes most natural for them anyway, for however they are wired.  Is it true that Finance and Accounting majors love working with numbers?  Sure, but it also comes easier for them then it would for me.  We all still like being challenged in our particular field.  When we can succeed in the difficult tasks of our specialty, it furthers us in becoming a locally recognized expert, equipped with knowledge and experience that impresses and possibly intimidates those who in different fields than we are.

I can tell you why the “k” in knife is silent and I can spell any word correctly without thinking about it, but I can’t do numbers.  I can’t do science.  Nor am I a computer whiz.  There are so many things I’m not good at and that I know little to nothing about.  But when it comes to the English language, literature, creative writing, and any kind of written communication in general, I’m your guy.  In other words, I was an English major nerd.  And always will be.

I use the word “nerd”, but I could say “expert”, or “go-to-guy”, or “whiz”, or even “buff”.  It’s all the same.  We all like to be good at something.  And when we can, we like to THE person for our niche.  Which often means we all have a bit of quirkiness attached to us.  Everyone’s at least a little weird.   Even the people we think who are the most normal.

To Catch an Audience/The Center of Attention

It’s fun to pretend we’re psychologists. To think we’ve got someone figured out based on their OCD or their “middle child syndrome” or their relationship with their father. We can look at personality traits and family history as clues as to why a person thinks they way they do. And often when we do this, we can correctly analyze them. Without a psychology degree.

I am one of those people who likes to study personalities as hobby. Currently I am on my 2nd book written by Dr. Kevin Leman, who specializes in birth order and how it determines a person’s personality. While it is fascinating to learn about everyone else in this world, it’s also interesting to learn about myself. I want to know why I think and behave the way I do. What sets me apart from others in my unique perspectives?

Here is what I recently learned from Dr. Kevin Leman:

Some people need an audience.

That is me.

But here’s what sets me apart from the obnoxious “attention hogs” I’ve met throughout my life. Because of my drive to constantly accomplish something admirable through hard work to gain the approval of adults (a first-born burden), I only want to be the center of attention if I’ve earned it.

I know when to be quiet. I can easily go long periods of time without speaking. I do not speak in a group setting unless I have something relevant and worthy of saying. I, unlike many centers of attention, do not like the sound of my own voice. I am “a” center of attention, not “the” center of attention.

Looking back on my life, here are some of the things I’ve done to make sure I had an audience: In Elementary School, I created my own cartoon characters and stories as a kid (eventually getting published in the school newspaper in 4th grade), as well as headed up the Nickbob Ability Test (click here to find out what it is http://wp.me/pxqBU-r9). In high school I fronted an alternative rock band (and for what it’s worth we played out of state a few times). During college I taught elementary school and Junior High Sunday School, while recording three CD’s of music I wrote, playing small shows in the coffee shop circuit. And for the past 4 ½ years, I’ve been writing my “commentary on life” web posts. And of course, as mentioned in Stage Presence (http://wp.me/pxqBU-2m), I grew up being in plays and musicals.

There has always been an audience. My subconscious had made sure of this.

This past weekend as my wife and I were reminiscing how it was three years ago this month that I asked her on our first unofficial date, she said it was the fact that I always had something interesting to talk about that made her feel so comfortable with me. A lifetime in training of capturing an audience ultimately led to me meeting and marrying a girl I have always felt was out of my league. It paid off.

It’s always been hard for me to understand America’s fascination with sports and particularly a man’s ability to keep up with all that trivia about which teams played each other when and the scores and the names of the players. Another Jewish trait I have is that I’m not good at sports (and never cared about them). So I’ve channeled that energy into entertainment.

I have made myself an expert on 1983, the heights and ethnic background of celebrities, the meaning behind all lyrics of the Beatles, holistic and clean living, Intelligent Design, and Jews in American entertainment, just to name a few of my specialties. I always have “random conversation material” in the archives and in the works.

I was quite hesitant when I first tried to process that idea I have to be the center of attention. Because it makes me think of conversation hijackers, drama queens (and kings), and any person I’ve ever met whose whole demeanor screamed, “Look at me! Look at me!” People who appear needy.

I have to be found. That’s how I operate differently. People have to find me. They have to come to me. Because typically those are the exact people I want to entertain. Takes one to know one.

In a party, I’m never the real center of attention. I wander to the back corner of the room, next to the food, and recruit party guests for random conversation. I have this desire to be the alternative choice in entertainment.

In fact, there have been times where people have tried to elevate me to the center of attention position, and I have escaped it. I have to be able to think in my mind that I earn when I get. For example, in high school, one of my good friends Allison Hardin was planning a surprise birthday party and I found out about it. I found a way to keep it from ever happening. Because I strongly resist the idea of being the center of attention when it’s obvious that I am.

I don’t want to be the official man of the hour. It’s too much pressure. I function best in my ad-lib form. Recruit, entice, inform, motivate, entertain, and provoke thoughts in others. On my own terms. That is my niche.

The Interstate to Memory Lane: Why Deja Vu Happens

The summer after 7th grade in 1994 I went to Gatlinburg, TN for the first time.  Amidst all the tacky airbrushed t-shirts and options to get my picture taken as a redneck wearing overalls and a raccoon hat, the shop that intrigued me the most was a now out-of-business magic store.  I bought a few magic tricks there and half-way impressed my friends with them.  But the more magic tricks I learned, the more I realized the emphasis was on the word “trick”.


Not only a trick, but a cheap trick.  False decks of cards.  Drawing the audience’s attention to a bright handkerchief while in the other hand I put the “disappearing dime” in my pocket.  An almost invisible piece of fishing line used to make a matchstick “float in the air”.  There is a bittersweet feeling of realizing something unexplainable is not only explainable, but easily understandable.


So is the case of Déjà vu, the French word for “already seen”.  A fascinating yet weird experience we all encounter from time to time where we are positive the situation that just happened has happened before.  Or that it happened in a recent dream.  Makes some evidence for those who believe in reincarnation.  Until the cheap trick is revealed.


We have a long-term memory which consists of memories that have happened in the more distant past, along with learned skills, and even many of our dreams.  (I can remember dreams I had as a kid.)

And we also have a short-term memory which serves as the “live feed” of the events we are currently experiencing.  Sometimes the long-term memory overlaps the short-term memory, causes us to firmly believe that the current experience (conversation, setting, people involved, etc.) has already happened or was recently dreamed about.

When in reality the current experience accidently bypassed the Live Feed and went straight to Long Term Memory.


And voila, what a let-down.  The mystery is gone.  We were designed with powerful memories that sometimes slip up and make us feel like we’re in a sci-fi show on Fox.

 


 

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