Monthly Archives: February 2013

High School Killed My Dreams.

Hallowed Ground

 

… High school is fascinating to me. Not the actual place. God knows, its not the classrooms we loved.

I mean the idea of high school.

And judging from the countless American TV shows, profiting from its setting, I’d say most of you are too.

We have this weird obsession with it in America.

[see Friday Night Lights, Saved by the Bell, Glee, Beverly Hills 90210, Gossip Girl, Dawson’s Creek, Smallville, Degrassi, One Tree Hill, The O.C., Boy Meets World, Pretty Little Liars, The Vampire Diaries, Veronica Mars, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Gilmore Girls, That 70’s Show, Zoey 101]

I mean, it has its high points — don’t get me wrong. But I think high school is more overrated than Jeopardy reruns and slightly less educational. I think of it like one giant time warp. You look forward to it as a kid, itching for status and social catapult. But when it finally arrives (at a droolingly slow pace), you’re mostly bored by it or rebelling against it. It’s always one or the other, I’ve found.

Of course, graduation is the golden goal on the horizon, promising freedom and fewer “fake” people.

One second you’re wishing this exact thought from the confines of an uncomfortable wooden desk, the next…

…in a swirling flash, time speeds up exponentially. And its gone. A thousand cameras are strobing across the crowd, causing epilepsy, annoying foghorns and “atts ma baby!” eminate from over-eager, balding parents in a baking hot stadium, as you’re counting down the minutes, sweating under clothing , a cap, AND a silk prairie-length dress, while the distinguished speaker is mumbling do-nothings you won’t remember and don’t even hear right now, as you whisper jokes with your friends, excitedly making plans to expand your gut with inhuman amounts of booze later that night.

And every moment of your life after this is spent squinting, reminiscing, searching, trying to squeeze out and soak up the last droplets of life onto a passionless tongue.

And this is the story of how every one of us lifted high school on a pedestal– not just the football jocks and cheerleaders. This is the towering soapbox we climbed on top of, only to find we couldn’t get down.

 

The “best years of your life”

I HATE the phrase old(er) people use– “The best days of your life,” when referring to school. God I hope not. That’s incredibly sad, pessimistic, hopeless…and downright depressing. You’re telling me, that everything after mandated education was downhill? This time of preparation was meant help you achieve your dreams, not give up on them. THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE WHERE IT STARTS, NOT ENDS! We’ve set ourselves up for a letdown!

Sorry, didn’t mean to yell. Honest. But you have so much more left to do.

I don’t buy into the phony-ass story that the “golden days” are high school and college–that it doesn’t get better than that folks. No. If you’re 20 or 60, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t. Unless that’s your choice. Unless you have that outlook… you’re right—you probably won’t seek anything more exciting than a teacher prodding you in the ass with a ruler, after you paid them to do just that. (with tax money you pervs)

Personally, from my experience of the past four years, I can validate the notion America packages and markets the “college experience.” We’ve capitalized on the industry to sell the fun side to kids.  Awesome. Because just what our Workaholics generation need is more false , shallow motivation for progress in life.

Jesus Christ, its no wonder we live in this high school fantasy! We have told ourselves there’s nothing worth living for, nothing worth doing afterwards.

We’ve created an almost mythical culture around these pubescent, moody little bastards who spend more time searching for a way to delude homework assignments, covering up zits with modern medicine, adjusting their bra padding for uneven breasts, crafting flirty-ambiguous text messages to the opposite sex, or watching after-school TV specials of high-schoolers (also learning how to coolly mask the awkwardness).

Friday Night Lights

Take a second look at those glossy warm memories. You might actually remember they weren’t as sexy-cool as the culture showed us on television.

21st century guide to decrypting the high school equation:  Gossip Girl -90% of the sex + Zach Galafankis awkwardness= Reality

The majority of  kids walking those halls don’t feel like gods.

That is, unless Aphrodite secretly used Proactive.

But I know, at least in the south, where I grew up, people treat them otherwise…… [Man I’m going to get crap for this one]

 

Your God Banks Wherever You Deposit Your Hope

People attend high school football more religiously than church. Go watch the movie, Friday Night Lights. It’s a great example of how seriously we take this “sport” in Texas. For most towns, big or small, Friday is the highlight of the week. Why? Simply because some of us have never left. Now, don’t laugh. I know it sounds generic and trite, but it’s true on a deeper level.

Stick with me here. Some of us never left, at least in our heads we didn’t.

I learned this lesson the hard way when I was 10 and my father had his “mid-life crisis,” as we’ll politely put it. (or more affectionately, his “asshole re-dedication decade.” We all have our hobbies.)

He was the epitome, the raging stereotype of a father reliving his glory days through his kids. I wasn’t dumb to that. I hated it. Long story short, I ended up quitting all my high school sports to “stick it to him,”and  although it wasn’t the most emphatic method, it solved the problem.  Well, let me summarize my childhood:

 

I was the most timid, unathletic, big-footed “All-American” there was. I played triple-threat sports, of some sort, all my childhood. Sometimes four. Not because I was a “jock.” Most days, I had absolutely no idea why I was enrolled in them. It was just always….there, growing up. I was the kid that goofily tripped over his shoes and sprained ankles in basketball, because I wore a size 13 shoe at the age of 15. I was the skinny 17 year-old kid who learned to box by getting wailed on and knocked out enough times when the instructor wasn’t around. I was the sentimental boy old who quit baseball –’cause I sucked so bad- my coach cussed me out, after catching a  pop-up to left-center field… with my face. (dear Coach Jackass, I just want you to know that I wasn’t crying because it hit me and I was 12. The sun was in my eyes…..!) I was the “that guy” who was far too uncoordinated and didn’t grasp the embarrassingly simple concept of soccer, so I was stuck in as goalie– for the whole season. Every year. I was the kid who lied to my parents and told them I liked volleyball, just so I could talk to the girls on the co-ed team and look cool. I was the kid in the gym who benched the bar, pretending I wasn’t struggling; I was just sweating rivers because I was “warming up”.

 

(It’s okay to laugh at this, my friends, if you know me. You know I’m half-chuckling as I write this. Puberty was not kind to me. In fact, if puberty is a high school student, it’s the huge douchey football player who gives you swirlies while you gargle murky water and beg him, “Please sir, may I have anotha’?”)

I think this plan of my father’s to “make a man out of me” or….something or another…..may have backfired. Hahaha If he was searching for a son to live vicariously through, I may have killed that dream. You might as well have given him a gay son, who enjoyed collecting butterflies and naming each one after characters in Glee.”

I feel like these are the confessions of blasphemy, as I write them. I know they will undoubtedly piss some people off.

But I digress, this is not about the culture of America’s sports fanatics. Athletics can be good or bad, constructive or demeaning, according to the setting and purpose. I only want to point out that some of us never left high school. We relive it and relive it and relive it and relive it and relive it, and when that gets old, we relive it through our kids

And while some of did leave….. technically… I still question whether it was with anything useful. We didn’t have any actual skills. We didn’t go backwards, but we didn’t go forwards. After cheating on all those tests, the real world and freedom wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. In our generation, commonplace is graduation from high school, and even college is the norm. To get a good job, they now say you need a Master’s. You can see this shift between my grandma’s generation and mine own.

What happened to the age when people couldn’t wait to get out of high school, to finally get on with the rest of their lives?

Don’t buy into “the best years” line.

That’s a lie made up by bitter people, full of regrets for not chasing after their own dreams, who want you to share in their misery.

 

As I transition into the weird phase of post-college-grad with nothing to my name, to “the real world” and prepare for my cross-country trip, I’ve been thinking about this.

It will change your whole outlook and attitude. It’s really that simple. 

You have so many more pages left to write. Really. Believe that.

I know I do. Heck, I’m just getting started. If you don’t believe just yet, I’ll show you.

Don’t let where you grew up define whether you continue to grow up.

Believe me, I’m not unaware that some of us feel “stuck” at this place in life. That feeling we have nothing to hope in or look forward to. So we end up looking back….

But please, don’t let high school kill your dreams.

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Categories: Life Writing | 7 Comments

10 Years From Now…[Part 3]

 

So, to recap Part I and Part II of this series,

I basically equated one of my teachers with a well-intended, roid-raging version of Mr. Keating from Dead Poets Society.

Ya, that’s a pretty rough metaphor. So, “Dr. Reality Check,” if these posts somehow make their way back to you…….(as they inevitably do in small towns)…ummmm….you can tell it however you want, when you make your own blog. I’m just doing what you taught me. Sorry, but you knew this day was coming when you enticed me into taking an extra course, “for fun”. Yes, I’m grinning as I write this.

But in all fairness, I’ll admit, it was one of the most important classes I took in college.  And inspired a blog post a year later. I’d call that a compliment. (I see the meaning of it all now. Hey, better late than never)

 

As I was saying,

It turns out, this class had a lot more to do with life than I thought. [See part 2 for backstory]

We only hated him because it resembled life all too well.

 

Life is a lot like Dr. Reality Check’s second question

#1: What do you want to be in life? What are your highest aspirations, if nothing stood in the way?

[Give essay answer]

 

#2:Now list 10 specific steps you will take to get from here to there.

 

We face these impasses, after a ridiculous amounts of training and motivational speeches, without a plan, and go……

“Ohhhh. Shit.     I got nothin.”

Not because you don’t sincerely want a real solution, but because you have always relied on the “right answer.”

Generic quick-fixes have a funny way of never being directly applicable to our life. In the real world, you have to think for yourself and want things for yourself. Nobody else can administer the motivation. There are no presets. There are no fill-in-the-bubble quizzes. And, sadly, the majority of us don’t realize this until its too late.

Way too late.

It sounds simple…because well, it is. The first part always is, remember? You read this and probably mutter, “Yayayah. I know. This is nothing new.” But this isn’t about reading something on a computer screen and changing your life. I’m not that conceited. Hell, I won’t even pretend to give you advice like that. Its near impossible. But mostly, I just won’t. It’s not up to me. You have to want it for yourself.

I will just settle to be your inspiration. That’s it. That’s all I can do for you. I just want to show you through actions and not just words— the important part. The second part. Your goals, dreams, aspirations. And the stuff down deep you haven’t even uttered out loud, much less to someone else. The stuff you think is impossible, so you try not to dwell on it more than a few meager, depressing seconds.

Like the screaming teacha’ suggested,

Write it.

Write all those things down. Even if you don’t show anybody at first.

But most importantly do it. Until you get it onto paper, it’s just theoretical, swirling around with your daydreams of a mid-afternoon nap and Reese’s cups, with hardly a speck of chance to be realized.

 

 

You can’t step forward on stones that haven’t even been laid out!

 

#1 Reason: It stops feeling imaginary. It becomes a possibility.

#2. It reminds you of your goals, everyday. Which you’ll find is really helpful for the times of hopelessness. (Post it on the bathroom mirror?)

#3. It makes it easier to verbalize, to construct, to explain, to share with a trusted and close friend.

Confiding in that someone, sharing your vision is a double-whammy, a 1-2 punch to the gut/ego. They will hold you accountable, but will also encourage you or offer helpful suggestions (unless you have that sarcastic best friend who likes to motivate you by insulting you, calling you sissy and whatnot). It’s a balance. So pick someone who knows you. They’ll be like a doubt-fighting sidekick. But without the tights. (unless you want, ladies)

 

So, this part isn’t even about the faith of “stepping stones”. You aren’t there yet. This is (figuratively speaking) about mapping your route on paper, road by road, instead of just pointing to a state, mouth dumbly gaping, shouting “I want to be there….”.

You’ll be surprised by how it makes those far-away dreams seem a little more real, and just a tad bit closer. And this doesn’t even have to do with your school or job, necessarily. I’m talking about bigger things. What is it you want to do, to make a difference? outside the 9-5 everybody works. [If your biggest aspiration is a job, you need bigger goals. If you don’t believe me, see Kid President.]

What impact do you want to have, beyond just showing up and punching in the right answer, to get you by?

I don’t want to just “get by.” I want to live a radical, interesting story– one you can’t even attempt to nod off to. I don’t want the usual “solution” for my problems, or to embrace the status quo, just because that’s what we were taught. 

 

Following my own advice

Big announcement for my friends (and acquaintances/followers): In the upcoming months, I will be preparing to chase after my dreams, instead of just talking about them. Real preparations for a NON-hypothetical adventure. Rather than just whining about unpleasant circumstances and what I wish I could do, I’m going to make radical changes. I’m just going to do it.

Whether or not I succeed, is not the point. Whether I leave this chair, instead only writing about them, IS.

south Texas.
January 2013

This spring, I’m going to be embarking on an epic, solo road-trip across America. On foot. For a couple months. This is something I’ve been planning for a while now.  

At the lowest point in my life…..l want to show you this leap of faith IS possible.

And I will- show you- not with words, but with actions. I will follow through on my own advice, which as we know is the hardest thing to do. I will abandon all my fears, knowing it “only goes up from here”. I will continue with my project of complete honesty and traversing the unknown, no matter where it leads.

You can keep me accountable and encourage me.

I reached a point where I want to stop talking about my desires in life, and start chasing them.
Funny how, all of a sudden, when you have to flesh out that second question Mr. Reality Check asks, the realization hits:

We’re scared to actually go after some lofty goal. It’s easier to shoot the shit. Trying means failing is an option.

But I’d rather have 1 small dream I’m actually living out, no matter how insignificant, than die having 100 unfulfilled, lofty dreams.

It’s the illusion of actually living that kills us. Sometimes, it’s the talking about dreams that kills us. Because that’s all it ever ends up being. Talk. And more self-doubt. And excuses.

 

But, 10 years from now, do you still want to be making excuses?

 

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10 Years From Now…[Part 2]

Sorry guys. I forgot to upload the video for the movie “10 Years,” which reminded me of this question, spawning this series of blog posts. It may help you get the gist.

 

So, to back up.

The hardest class I ever took in college wasn’t even required for my major. And the worst part of it was… I took it “for fun”. Ya, I was that guy in college. I took extra classes, “just cause”.

[So I totally understand if that makes you want to tune me out right now. But I promise this series of posts isn’t about school. Unless you want it to be. Hopefully, it will mean something different to everybody.]

Anyways, I took this Public Relations course, where your grades were judged from projects like raising money for a non-profit cause, by putting on a benefit concert, or selling raffle tickets. Stuff like that. Very unconventional class, to say the least.

Our groups created imaginary P.R. companies. If we didn’t succeed, we didn’t pass.

Ya, there was no pressure on us or anything.

This teacher was like Mr. Keating, but raging on steroids [Dead Poets Society]. I think I’ll call him “Dr. Reality Check”.

Instead of bubbling in scantrons, I found myself drawing up a business model and creating commercials for TV and radio, to promote our company’s cause. It was almost all out-of-class work.  In class, we gathered around for fireside chats and discussed, realistically, how we planned on executing our business plan – the specifics. No generic fluff. He spotted that quicker than a fat kid tastes splenda in his “sweet” tea. We quickly realized that proposing solutions for problems are easy, when everything is hypothetical and the hot air never rises beyond the classroom ceiling.

With Dr. Reality Check, the usual college-kid bull shit answers were not acceptable. We all feared the moment he lifted his pointer finger to call on one of us. There was never a “right” answer, it seemed. No quoting the textbook. He would pace back and forth, saying, “hmmmmm….does anyone else have a better answer? That’s not what I’m looking for.”

But in my defense, it wasn’t our fault. We had been programmed over the past 18 years of our life in the public education system to give the predictable, textbook highlighted “right” answer. It’s what the teachers have always wanted to see, grading our tests. I think it is every bit like answering “Jesus” for any given question in Sunday School; Yes, it’s expected, but never wrong. But that wasn’t what this teacher wanted. This dude required us to think for ourselves and show how we came to that solution.

We all hated him by the end of the semester.

Poetry would have been a whole lot easier to come up with, on the spot.

We barely slept. My classmates, to this day, will attest to having violent, PSD-induced night terrors, imagining him calling on us. We thought we had the school system all figured out, by this point in our college career. But this random class was more work than all my other classwork combined. This isn’t how it works! We had no clue how far off we were. But none of those are the reasons we dreaded his deep breath, before announcing end-of-class assignments. Well, mostly. I did enjoy sleeping and having a social life, before that semester.

Yes, we loathed, even feared, the inevitable homework  which we wouldn’t humanly have time for. But the real reason for this dread is, we couldn’t stand the fact….. the answers couldn’t be copied, word for word, out of the book. He made us think.

We just wanted our standardized testing back. And his hardest portion of the final test was the question:

 

What do you want to be in life? What are your highest aspirations, if nothing stood in the way?

[Give essay answer]

Sounds easy right? Everybody has dreams and shit– you know, the stuff that keeps you awake at night. Or daydreams at a dead-end job. Either way, we all got ’em. Everyone could write a novel here. But the second part was harder.

 

Now list 10 specific steps you will take to get from here to there.

“Oh.”

Ya, that’s everyone’s reaction. I dare you to get out a pen and paper. Because it’s really hard to commit to the second part, listing verifiable ways to actually see them happen. This is the part that stumps most of us. We have the first part, the easy part down, like our last name. We’ve rehearsed it a million times in our head. But the second part, we’ve contemplated about as many times as Lindsay Lohan has sobriety.

Dr. Reality Check said it is very easy to keep creating these elaborate dreams, if we don’t feel the pressure to follow through on them. No commitment factor= no pressure, basically.

 

Even today, as I write this, the question still hangs over my head.

So, what’s it gonna be? I mean, sure, I have an pretty good idea. But I sure as hell don’t have it all figured out.

There were no easy answers for the “solution” to this problem.

There never will be.

Because nobody can take control of your life for you. It can feel like others are integral to it sometimes, as they help guide you, walking along a similar path, in step, but nobody can walk it for you.

For example, a couple months ago I was sitting in the doctor’s office, waiting for him to show. I asked the nurse, “What kind of vitamin supplements should I be taking, as a 21 year old guy?”

Her response: “Oh, just Google it. I don’t know.”

Gee thanks.

But honestly, the secret is really this: nobody knows. Almost everyone’s faking it. The few who “get it,” have already been to the lowest place, the place where everything is stripped away, where only the bare truth remained, where they were forced to find the answers themselves, because those higher-ups who were “supposed” to know didn’t– a place where there is no Google solution.

We need to learn to be okay with that.

Especially in our (my) generation of get-it-quick-results and Googling damn near ev-er-y-thing.

High school and college can be great times for learning and thinking outside the box. Yes, I know that. I’m not discounting their importance. [More in part 3]

But, after that, what are you going to do–when the regimented structure and prodding is stripped away?

You will only have yourself consult. Only yourself to fault for failure, not the system.

No matter how much other people may want it for you, the choices in life are ultimately yours.

And, as I described in Part 1, not deciding to do anything IS making a choice.

 

So, 10 years from now, where do you want to be?

[To Be Continued……..in Part 3]

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10 Years From Now…. [Part 1]

Where do you want to be 10 years from now?

So I came across this movie the other day, 10 Years [2011]. I was mildly intrigued. At first, I passed it up and looked for another movie. I mean, it’s not exactly a cookie-cutter blockbuster script. So, it didn’t get a lot of attention. But, after a few days, this “10 years from now…” question really started rolling around in my head and gaining traction. It reminded me of something my teacher had asked me last year [more in Part 2]. I found myself daydreaming at work about what my reunion would look like. I wanted a really badass story to tell. Lets be honest– we all do. Would I be single, married, poor, or rich? etc.

The concept was really starting to interest me, and I hadn’t even seen the movie yet.

Well, I finally watched it. And yes, it was good. Remember, the film is NOT set in their high school prime. Which is odd for a plot. Think about it: In casting, they usually like to keep the characters young, healthy, and bright-eyed– in the “best years of their life.” But not this movie. It fast forwarded to 10 years later.

It’s the story of 4+ bachelor dude-bros/best buds who triumphantly reunite after all this time. Some things are the same, but things aren’t as they left them. And a bunch of insane guy-talk, beer, and hi-jinks are thrown in for good measure. And lots of reminiscing on old pictures and scrapbooks and memories.

But I’m more concerned with the reunion aspect.

It’s never how you picture it.

(or in some cases, it IS, because they stayed exactly the same, which is equally as sad)

I imagine, some of us will get fat. Some of us will chop off a foot of hair (some of us will grow it out and do the comb over. It will look horrible). There will always be the inevitable goatee, everyone sports. Which will be a better option than the other half of men, which will own mustaches. Some of us will have kids. Like 5 or 6 by then. But a few will just be getting started with their marriage, due to graduate school or a start-up business. Some people will have traveled around the world, or made a fortune; but others will never have left their hometown. Some will be druggies. Some will be unrecognizable with plastic surgery. The prettiest kids will lose their looks, and others will finally grow into them. Some of us will be famous, finally gaining popularity we never had in high school.

I think it will shock you. I have no idea what your reunion will look like. But I think the lack of nostalgic dreaminess you once envisioned will be what does surprise you. It will surprise you for completely different reasons

When I left for college, I didn’t go back to visit for over 2 years. At all. And, moreover, I can count on 1 hand the amount of times I’ve been back after.

I was only out of high school a couple years when I first got a taste of this. And it hit me in the face. Hard. One winter, after this long-awaited visit, I found myself shuddering in the rain, leaning heavily on a (now long-gone) friend’s shoulder, searching for cover from the downpour on the town square, shaking uncontrollably, whether from the cold or the night’s string of hazy encounters, I don’t know. I swallowed back the dry, inevitable feeling which rose in my larynx, threatening to steal the moisture also from my eyes.  I hadn’t cried in years. And now I found myself trying to hold back all those rising emotions, for fear of embarrassing myself in public.  I didn’t want to leave yet, but I realized I had nothing and nobody to stay for. I didn’t know where to go just yet, so I curled up on the steps of the  courthouse. Shit. I had come back for nothing. It was too late. I felt I wasn’t there when they needed me. Not that there was anything I could do, but it was crushing me anyways. I had found out one of my best friends was a drug dealer, who now hated his life, who talked in a passionless, monotone voice. Apathy filled the slow stride of his walk, like the bottles in his fridge. It broke my heart that night to see the depressing state some of my friends were in.

Anyways, When I did finally go back, I didn’t recognize my hometown. The usual shock I suppose: high school quarterbacks now fat, working minimum wage jobs, your old sweetheart is married, the religious zealots are now drunk dropouts, the nerdy kids became ridiculously successful, and an assortment of druggies, community college cop-outs, baby-mommas, and altogether lost friendships.

Very few of my closest high school friends made it very far. Even fewer had goals, for the next year. Much less 10 years.

I vowed to never let that happen to me.

I wanted to keep moving forward. High school would not define me. I was determined. I believed that. And I still do, very strongly. Your past does not determine your future. No matter how unlikely.

I want you to see that I am living proof of that. I was told I would” never finish college”, and “never make it in the real world,” and repeatedly that “I would never amount to anything”. But I did. And I am. Despite all odds. This is not a Joel Olsteen inspirational speech. I’m certainly not saying its easy. But I am saying its possible. I am saying, don’t buy into the lie that where we grew up defines or limits our future. I’d say more, but that’s a story for another day.

So, here’s a belated “I’m sorry” to those  friends. It wasn’t that I didn’t care. It was just something I had to do. I had to take care of me. I had to go learn all the things that made me the man I am today. Or else I’d be in the same, or likely worse, place, instead of traveling this world and writing to you. I fear what I would have become, had I stayed in that town.  I couldn’t grow, as a person, sleeping in a bed which I’d my feet already hung over the edge. I had to roam and stretch those legs. I still do. I’m not done yet.

I noticed the physical changes of the landscape too.  Even the city was in on the joke, playing along to this giant metaphor. As the city slowly started to creep in on my quiet suburbia. The bike trail I used to ride on with my best friend, taking long day-trips far away on countless adventures, was defiled by a modern transit system which links to Dallas. Well, there goes a piece of my childhood. That’s growing up for you. Change happens whether you like it or not. I will happen with or without you. But that doesn’t mean it has to be a bad thing. Use it to catapult you, to give you the needed shove to move forward, to embark on something much better. (instead of being left behind)

 

 

I’ve been thinking lately,

Where do you want to be, 10 years from now?

Because that will change how you live, in the present moment.

 

{To Be Continued…..}
More on this question in Part 2.

 

 

-Carpe Diem Dave-

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