Dr. Deja Vu: The Scenic Route

If I could go back in time and speak to the version of myself from ten years ago, I would give myself “good advice”. About which college to go to, what to major in, what hobbies to take up, and where to live after I graduate college. About what to say to people and what not to say. There are a lot of things I would tell myself to do differently. So that I could become the best me.

But then I would be a much different person today. In essence, I wouldn’t be me. Though I would have life figured out, it wouldn’t be my life.

From 1995 to 2006, I spent hundreds of hours writing and recording and performing music. All that time, it seems all I really did was keep myself entertained. At the surface, it led to nothing lasting.

But writing hundreds of songs made it easy for me to write for this website. It took an old hobby to make a new one.

If I went back to myself ten years ago and told myself to take up an interest in daily creative writing (instead of music) so I could eventually have a website that a small corner of the world reads, the younger version of myself probably wouldn’t have been very motivated.

Life is made up of countless bland surprises that end up shaping who we are.  The ordinary turns into the exciting.

And of course my musical past is only one minor detail in the strand of events that brings me to my present day.  But without it,  I wouldn’t have moved to Nashville to pursue a musical career and a year later met my wife.

So what’s the best advice I can give myself today? Don’t go back in time and give yourself advice. It would only mess up everything. Not help it.

As much as I try to structure and plan out my life, it has ended up being something slightly different instead. Instead of taking the interstate, by instinct I end up on the scenic route every time. Capturing my current thoughts and perspectives in my writings which become like snapshots. Scenic route snapshots.

“And when I look behind on all my younger times, I’ll have to thank the wrongs that led me to a love so strong.” – “Perfectly Lonely” by John Mayer


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Life’s Too Short: The Sad Truth that the Past is an Imaginary Place We Can Never Return To

About a year ago I was watching American Idol and Simon was interrogating one of the male contestants on why he wants to become a professional singer. The man explained he has a wife and a kid and he wants to be sure they’re taken care of financially. Simon asked the man again, “I get that, but WHY do you want to be a singer?” The man again explained it was because he has a wife and a kid… then Simon (who was obviously looking for an answer involving the man’s passion for music, etc.) cut him off with, “I get that, just sing for us.”

We focus so much on “right now”. Chances are, you’re never going to have enough money. Because once you do, you’re going to buy a bigger house or find a new way to get yourself in debt. Money is never enough.

Chances are, you’re never going to have enough time. America has set so much pressure on its people to be thin and in shape, yet it remains one of the most overweight countries in the world. We’re too busy to eat the right foods and to exercise, so instead of making time to be healthy, 74% of the population is overweight but carries the heavy burden of wanting to look like Jennifer Anniston or Brad Pitt, two people who are paid to make time to live healthy lifestyles. So obviously if we as a nation don’t have enough time to be healthy, we’re never going to have enough time.

Maybe I’m weird for not questioning the meaning life, but it’s never really been an issue for me. I’ve just always kind of known. I’ve understood since the age of six that this life is barely a speck of dust in comparison to the life after this. I’ve understood that God has blessed us with friends and family and we need to value them like the precious a gift they are. I’ve understood, more importantly, that God loves us and what it really comes down to our relationship with Him.  Even that goes back to loving people.

I subscribe to a magazine called Details. The thing I like most about it is its unique, random, and yet relevant articles. I realize as someone who earned a degree in English that quotes are only supposed to be a few lines, but for this I will cheat:

“…I climbed eagerly abroad this one-way rocket to Death in Adulthood and left the planet of my childhood forever in starry wake. I know this. My grandparents, my boyhood bedroom furniture… I will never see those or a million things again. And yet, lurking somewhere in the back of my mind is the unshakable, even foundational knowledge- for which certainty is too conscious a term- that at some unspecified future date, by unspecified means, I will return to those people and those locales. That I am going back. No, that’s false. The delusion is not really that I believe, or trust, that I will be returning one day to the planet of childhood…”
– an excerpt from “Time Bandits” by Michael Chabon

my Italian grandfather, Albert Metallo

Only a few weeks after I got married last July, my Italian grandfather died. He is the only one of my grandparents I have lost. Only second to my dad, he had the most influence on me as far as what it means to be a man. I know a lot of the reason I randomly talk to strangers in public is because of him. He always did it. I learned from him that much heaven can be found in spending hours working in a garden and then being able to enjoy the beauty of it. (Even though I don’t yet have a house with a yard.) It was because of his decision to move from Buffalo, NY to Fort Payne, AL in 1973 that I am alive. Otherwise my parents wouldn’t have met.

Like that article reminds me, all those weekends I spent at his house in the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s as a kid are only now a memory. He would push me and my sister down the hill in his front yard in barrels. Then when we got too dizzy, he would get in the barrel and make us push him down the hill. We would do that for hours it seemed.

Then he would take us to Burger King for lunch. We would sit next to the window right by the drive-thru and he would make funny faces at the people waiting in the drive-thru. It was hilarious to see a man in his sixties being so goofy in public.

We would go back to his house and he would watch taped professional wrestling from the night before (WWF- Ric Flair, Randy Savage, Vince McMahon… the whole gang) and we would get out the toys (which were Styrofoam blocks). After about 15 minutes of my sister and me playing, and him watching wrestling, he pick up some of our Styrofoam blocks and throw them at our heads. Which would start an all out war in the living room. Then we would sneeze for 15 minutes afterwards from all the dust in the air from those blocks.

He had a bathroom closet full of nothing but bars of soap. And a freezer full of freezer-burnt TV dinners and ice cream bars, which were a treat to us. He wore a flannel shirt, navy pants, and black shoes no matter the occasion. Except for my sister’s wedding, which he wore a tux and sunglasses. He really looked like he was part of the mafia.

And all these strange and funny memories make up who he was to me. There is a major importance to “showing up to life”. He definitely did that. He was always there for every family get-together and would look for an excuse to visit our family, like bringing over a junky knick-knack he bought at a yard sale the weekend before. He knew what life was really about.

I was watching my favorite movie, Garden State, recently and though I’ve seen it probably at least ten times, I heard (and finally processed) what is one of the major themes of the movie:

“You know that point in your life when you realize that the house that you grew up in isn’t really your home anymore? All of the sudden even though you have some where you can put your stuff that idea of home is gone.
…It just sort of happens one day one day and it’s just gone. And you can never get it back. It’s like you get homesick for a place that doesn’t exist. I mean it’s like this rite of passage, you know. You won’t have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something. I miss the idea of it. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people who miss the same imaginary place.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Y2snCNXT2k

I’ll always have that sense of “home” when I think of my grandfather. I still have a lot of family and friends whom I still have that sense of home with. Despite whatever shortage of money or time, despite whatever amount of stress or chaos calls for, life is too short to worry. And if you feel you must worry, pray instead.

Classic song…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6xMqo3wFxw

Dr. Deja Vu: The Magically Disappearing Friend

In elementary school, it was quite normal to spend years alongside a friend (or at least a friendly acquaintance) then to come back one Fall and after a few weeks of research, only to hear from a teacher or classmate, “Oh, his family moved away during the summer.” And what could I really do or say? Those concrete words became the end of it. Even as a kid, the realization was simple: Sometimes friends disappear forever.

All I was left with was an inch tall, black and white picture in the yearbook to remember them by. No e-mail address or phone number. Just gone.

There was the blonde haired, red-skinned Jesse Jackson who sat across from me in Kindergarten and got in trouble for making Debi Owen cry when he called her “stupid”. And Katy Petzold who moved after 3rd grade, whom I never had a class with or ever talked to, but her weird last name always stood out to me when I saw it in the yearbook. And she must have worn her green Girl Scouts uniform to school a lot because that’s how I remember her.

Ferne Taylor- I sat next to her in 3rd grade while we were reading Charlotte’s Web and everyone bugged her because Fern is the name of the girl in the story. And I also remember her flattening a Coke can to decorate it with buttons to look like a woman, then Justin Burt sang, “Ugly woman, walking down the street”, as he walked the tin can woman across his desk. It was hilarious. (That’s always what I think of when I hear “Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison, now.)

Zack Bain- a cool kid that loved to play basketball and when he had to draw a personalized license plate for his 5th grade homeroom teacher Mrs. Jones’ class, it read “PARTIER”. She hung it up outside her room on the bulletin board and every time I walked by it I thought, “Really? Surely his Ninja Turtle birthday party wasn’t as cool as mine…”

And of course the classic Jon Peterson with his precise chili bowl haircut who moved away after 4th grade, whose dad always smoked a sweet smelling pipe in the den, wore sweater vests, and worked at the First Methodist Church. I’m sure today these 28 year-olds would have no idea who I am, but I remember them clearly.

I have memories of these random people, now serving as wallpaper in the attic of my brain. Obviously, I have already searched for them on facebook and Google, with no results. It’s strange to think that somewhere out there these long lost classmates are living normal lives just like the rest of us. And surely they have to remember spending their first couple of years in that small school back in Alabama in the late ‘80’s. Who do they remember from my school? Would the people they remember in turn remember them?

People come and go. But when they go, they go somewhere. Sometimes forever a mystery.

“If you’ll be my bodyguard, I can be your long lost pal.” –Paul Simon (“You Can Call Me Al”)

What Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences Taught Me about Why I Have Such a Good Memory

 

In 1988 for Ms. Riddle’s 2nd grade reading class we had to write a poem telling about a time when we really wanted something for a long time and finally got it. I remember Susan Johnson writing about getting to go to the beach. And Diego Reynoso wrote about getting a pet dog. That was the general idea of the assignment. I, on the other hand, wrote a poem about how happy I was when my dad went to the True Value hardware store and bought an adapter so I could play my Atari games on the TV in my bedroom.

Ten years and 3 weeks ago I walked across the stage for my high school graduation. All seniors had been given a document from the principal listing the proper attire to wear underneath our gowns. We were clearly told to wear black shoes. The token rebel thing to do was to go barefoot. I, instead, chose to wear canary yellow Saucony tennis shoes and hold out a stick of Mentos candy to the audience as I crossed the stage. It’s simply what’s expected from the kid who was voted “One and Only” for the Senior Who’s Who.

One question I have consistently been asked throughout my lifetime is, “You just HAVE to be different, don’t you?” Assuming it must be true, I would always casually agree. But then two weeks ago my wife came back from one of her Master’s classes for Childhood Education and dropped some science on me. Having learned Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligence (1983), she told me that I am a “visual-linguistic learner”. That’s when it was officially confirmed: Yes, I HAVE to be different.

 

I have been hard-wired to seek out the road less travelled, every time. Not a rebel in the expected way, but a rebel in the fact I am prone to find a different perspective on everything I encounter in life. I was never the annoying kid in class who tried to argue with the teacher. That kid always annoyed me. But I was the kid who, when given a project, always ended up with the weirdest possible submission and was able to pull it off.

Noted, my long-term memory is often exceptionally unbelievable. In high school, many people were forced to be made aware of my obsession with 1980’s trivia, since I could correctly tell the year of any movie or song, my specialty being 1983. In college, most people who knew me were forced to be made aware that they could name any celebrity and I could accurately tell the height of that celebrity. I’m simply not much fun to play against in modern trivia board games like Scene It or Trivial Pursuit and being the first to solve the puzzle while watching Wheel of Fortune just comes natural.

And it turns out I’m not the only one. A quick visit to Wikipedia helped my life make a lot more sense:

“Verbal-linguistic Intelligence

This area has to do with words, spoken or written. People with high verbal-linguistic intelligence display a facility with words and languages. They are typically good at reading, writing, telling stories and MEMORIZING WORDS ALONG WITH DATES. They tend to learn best by reading, taking notes, listening to lectures, and discussion and debate. They are also frequently skilled at explaining, teaching and oration or persuasive speaking. Those with verbal-linguistic intelligence learn foreign languages very easily as they have high verbal memory and recall, and an ability to understand and manipulate syntax and structure. This intelligence is highest in writers, lawyers, philosophers, journalists, politicians, poets, and teachers.”

Being raised my whole life in the South, people from the North and out West have always questioned my lack of a Southern accent. Because my mom moved from Buffalo, NY when she was 14, I always assumed that neutralized me. But after realizing anyone who’s ever met my mom says she actually has one of the biggest Southern accents out there, I’ve recently come to terms with the truth there is another reason people think I’m from Pennsylvania or Ohio.

The reason: I am overly aware of how words are supposed to sound. I could never bring myself to say “Eh’ll seeh yuh nehxt Tuesdee, Eh reckin!” (“I’ll see you next Tuesday, I reckon!”) For me, that’s a sin. That’s breaking so many rules of pronunciation and is a threat to clear communication. I never realized I was so OCD about words and speech.

Speaking of communication, when I met my wife for the first time on October 5, 2006, it was her beauty that captured me from across the crowded lobby. Anytime I revisit that event with her she confirms it was because I was good at telling stories and entertaining her that caused a random new stranger like me to be able to steal her attention. (I purposely stood next to her as we waited in an hour long line- that’s how we met.) As we began dating four months later (to the day) and immediately fell in love thereafter, two particular things attracted her most to me: 1) I knew “who I was” and was confident in that, 2) She knew because of my random knowledge that we would never run out of things to talk about.

Not because I was suave and charming, but because my randomness of speech worked for me.

So thanks to Howard Gardner, it’s safe to say I’m not that weird after all. Actually, I am- but at least now I have been diagnosed. While I may be a bit of a prodigy at a few things, any talent I have in other fields is completely absent: Math, science, multi-tasking (driving while talking on a cell phone), and sports (except Corn Hole and Mario Kart Wii). Like by magnetic force, I am drawn to what is offbeat and untrendy.

This, has been my version of a Top 25 or a “Which Power Ranger Would You Be?” quiz.

The other intelligences…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_multiple_intelligences

Dr. Deja Vu: Time Flies (A Deliberate Play on Words)

Flies. Only Mr. Miyagi and Daniel-son have been able to catch them in their hands. As for me, I’ve never been so fortunate. I used to think the fly was just smarter than I was. When really, it has more to do with time travel. The lighter a living being is, the quicker it is able to move and react, and the less gravity has an effect on it. (That explains why an ant can fall from any distance in the air and land safely every time.) Therefore, a fly can process action much quicker than a human can. Technically, time goes by much quicker for a fly.

When I swat my hand at a fly that is two feet away from my face, it would be like me seeing a skyscraper from half a mile away moving towards me at 10 miles per hour while I was driving a Lamborghini. In other words, I could very easily get out of the way in time.

I am intrigued by things like flies that can move so fast that I can’t see trace of their movement. Another example is the human eye. When I focus on the pupil of another person as they are talking, it shifts and moves so quickly that I can’t actually see the movement. I just see the effect of the movement: the new location of the pupil.

If I wave my hand as fast as I can in front of my face, I can still see the “trail” of it moving. Not so with the human eye. Or the movement of a fly.

This is also the case with many small birds. Though it does reveal a premature drive-a-Winnebago-cross-country aspect about me, I love to watch birds. The fact that they don’t walk- they just hop, without a trace of movement. The fact that they can eat a bug so fast that I can’t even seem them do it.

These thoughts and ideas will surely lead to the development and invention of time travel. Society will thank me someday in the future. Or is it really in the future? Maybe it was a long time ago when I helped invented time travel. It’s hard to know anymore…

Constant Time Travel: Is There Such a Thing as “Right Now?”


When waking up from a dream I don’t want to be in, there is that pivotal moment right before my eyes open that I realize how wonderful life is.  Because I return to the comfort of reality.  Not trapped in an eerie sub-world with a grey and pink cloudy sky.

Similarly, I sometimes forget how old I am.  I often hesitate when people ask.  In the milliseconds before I answer, my mind travels through different ages I could be.  The most common:

“Am I seventy-five years old, with most of my life behind me?  Is my body aged and limited by decades of wear and tear?  Have I truly lived my life?  Have I been the giver I need to be?  Or have I lived my life selfishly?”

A millisecond later, the wheel has spun, and the arrow points to “28”.  I say out loud, “I am 28”.  Over a third of my life is finished, but that still leaves two thirds.

Like waking up from a dream, I realize I am still young, and I’m so grateful.  The problem is, despite hearing “hold on to your youth” and “enjoy this while you can” from older adults, especially starting once I graduated high school, I can’t do it.

I can’t appreciate “the now” anymore than I already am and have been.  In fact, I try to hold on to the present too strongly.  And then it becomes the recent past.  So then I’m holding on to the past and the present at the same time.  Almost to a fault.  It’s always been a part of who I am and how I think.

My senior year in high school for our “class prophecy” read aloud at Class Night, the day before graduation, my peers predicted that in 10 years I would still be living in Fort Payne, wishing I was in 1983.

I am a person known for my desire to want to freeze time.  Or ideally travel back to my younger years.  All my classmates were aware that even as a freshly turned 18 year-old, I romanticized about the 1980’s more than is humanly normal.

I feel time is going by too quickly and I’m not even 30 yet.  Like the forced moving screen on certain Super Mario levels, all I can do is keep moving forward.  And like love and money, there will never be enough time.


Dr. Deja Vu: Before and After

There is something magic, mysterious, and forgiving about the past. Like a black hole it just absorbs our former stupidity and ignorance. As long as others can see we’ve put enough time between the present and the past, then much can be dismissed. Learning from the past is the respectable thing to do. It’s current and constant immaturity that people have a problem with.

In 1989 in 3rd grade the snack my mom always packed for me for the designated “snack time” was a Kudos bar. If I opened the healthy candy bar a certain way, the wrapper would stay intact so that it looked like there was still the Kudos bar inside. So everyday, I would offer an empty Kudos wrapper to one of my friends. They would anxiously grab the bait, and it was funny to both the giver and receiver every time.

After a few months I had done this trick to literally the entire class, so I tried it out on the teacher, but with a twist: After she realized there was no Kudos bar inside, I would actually give her the Kudos. (I carefully took it out of the wrapper and placed the bar inside my cold metal desk.) She laughed when I pranked her. Then I reached into my desk, pulled out the naked Kudos bar, and said, “I’m just joking. Here it is.”

The look on her face said enough. But she simply just said, “Oh no, you keep it. I’ve already got a snack. Thank you though.”

Who wants to eat a chocolate covered granola bar that an 8 year-old boy touched and sat in his desk that hasn’t been cleaned out in six months? I realized it was a faux pas right away. It was awkward and I hoped she would forget about it as soon as possible.

By the time I got to 4th grade, I was able to say to myself, “Okay, that Kudos bar incident was a year ago. It’s a new year, you’re a new person, time to prove you’re not immature anymore.” But year after year I would do things that embarrassed myself, and each time, I would hope that the next year I would finally “get mature”. But 20 years since the Kudos incident, I still haven’t reached that perfection I’m looking for.

And in the last 20 years, I’ve buried not only socially awkward events, but also personal offenses. Times when I’ve insulted and hurt people I care about. Of course I didn’t mean to. But I did the crime, each time. And after the sincere apology, and the sincere forgiveness, there’s still the sincere “let enough time go by so that hopefully both of us pretty much have forgotten about it” issue. Easier to forgive than to forget, no doubt about it.

We know that time is a healer, but how much time?

To the familiar proverb, “we hurt those we love the most” I add “and embarrass ourselves in front of those we don’t know as well”. I’ve tried, and I just can’t embarrass myself in front of those who really know me. Because they really know me. They’ve seen me do enough goofy stuff that it’s no big deal anymore.

But it’s interesting that it takes love being mishandled or abused to cause real hurt. And also that part of growing up and becoming mature is learning from mistakes involving hurting those I really care about. Whether it’s training for the norm of social behavior, or whether it’s learning “how to love” another person, it takes spilling the milk and cracking a few eggs.

Making mistakes and not learning from them reveals a fool. But turning around in a new direction shows repentance and maturity.

The irony is that while it takes someone that I love to truly hurt them, it’s their returned love that helps heal the wound faster, the way a Band-Aid and Neosporin do. I can insult a stranger or acquaintance, but I can’t truly deeply hurt them. So there is no love needed to heal a wound in that case.

Weird how that works.

“I can’t wait to figure out what’s wrong with me, so I can say this is the way that I used to be- there’s no substitute for time.” –John Mayer (“Split Screen Sadness”)