The fun we had getting in trouble

I’m a Generation X member, born 1971.  I’m not going to talk about how spoiled and privileged, and yet challenged and cheated the younger generations are. I’d just like to offer a reflection of the things we did that would be treated as much more serious matters today.

First, we actually walked home, like a mile or more. (Our parents walked ten miles in the snow, uphill both ways). But anyway, a group of us used to walk home together, who went in the same direction. I was the youngest, as most were in my brothers class, one year ahead. That was an issue sometimes when we played at our house, but that’s not today’s topic.

I’m reminded by my self-assigned subject, of the old barn in an area between alleys behind houses on two streets. It had a concrete ledge along the long back side of the building. Everyday, we would all go across the ledge facing the barn, assigning different environs to the small patch of bushes and weeds behind us. One day, it was the seemingly eternal drop that Obi-Wan Kenobi saw behind him as he maneuvered to disable the shields of the death star.

Another day, it was a pit of crocodiles or snakes, or Niagara falls. You get the idea. One day, I was the last to notice that everyone had stopped and turned to face away from the building. (I had chronic ear infections and hearing issues.) Anyway, when I finally got clued in and turned, there was the principal of our school. He was a good man. He just talked about how this was not our property and we hadn’t asked permission to be climbing all over it. He reminded us that we could fall and get hurt, and, most importantly, that our parents would be apprised of the situation. I honestly don’t remember my parents talking to my brother and me about it. I think the threat was enough. The principal also was known for his thick paddle with air holes to get more speed as it was swung toward your butt. Anyway, we never traversed the ledge again.

Another fun game my brother and a couple freinds liked was bike tag at the car wash. We would zig zag and careen crazily through the stalls and the openings between them near the bay doors. It was dangerous, but we didn’t understand why the owner would yell at us. We never got hit by a car, but we almost ran people over a couple times.

I forgot to mention, that the way you tagged each other in bike tag, was to scrape your front bike tire against the back tire of the player you were pursuing. I remember a spectacular crash one evening when I was pursuing my friend and he had to brake suddenly becuase he miscalculated how close he was passing around a telephone pole in an effort to lose me. I scraped his tire all right, but bounced off it and the momentum carried me forward so that my front tire hit his pedal and foot.

I’m not sure what direction I went or how we ever got the tangled mass of metal separated, but miraculously, neither of us was seriously injured. My freind ended up sitting upright against the pole, looking back at me extricating my leg from the frame of my, er, his, er one/both of the bikes. We laughed it off and went home.

It was dangerous, but we had fun.

There was a creek behind my house that we used to go “wading” in.  We often went barefoot, until one of our friends stepped on a piece of glass from a bottle and sent a red band downstream with their blood. Then we always wore shoes.

We rode our bikes everywhere, all over the small town of Bangor, without adult supervision. If we wanted to go the mile or so uptown to the only small business that was the pre-cursor of a convenience store, then we went.

We’d also go down to the wooded area with trails, known as the “bunny trails”. There were some really steep hills with rocks and roots and gravel and such in the way. We never did a face plant, but we could have.

There was a railroad tressel at the bottom of the hill. We would race down there when we heard the train whistle and sit watchingh the coal cars rattle by from a few feet away. It was scary, but we loved the noise, the rumbling of the ground and the enormity of it all.

We took risks, we were sometimes unsupervised, and it could definitely not happen now. I’m not a parent so, it’s not fair for me to try and judge which is better: the ’70s/80’s or now. I wouldn’t presume. Surely, there were a lot of avoidable injuries. Surely, children must be protected from predators and cannot be left alone till a more appropriate age for these times.

I wonder though, if we passed the happy medium sometime ago, and went too far with zero tolerance, school uniforms making a comeback, child seats till they’re 8, liability, no corporal punishment, yada, yada, yada.

Again, I don’t know, especially since kids are dying just for going to class. I just hope and pray for balance and good leadership.

How I met my bully

I had a paper route when I was a kid. I think it was from about 6th to 8th grades. It was a small town rag, the Bangor Daily News, eight pages or so. Pretty light work. Good thing since it was a whole dollar for the two week collection period. Guess I’m dating myself.

I remember delivering it through all kinds of weather. A record summer where it was in the 90’s about every day all summer. An ice storm which found me teetering on the edge of the curb as if I stood at the top of a hundred foot precipice, desperately trying to save face and not tumble over the edge in an embarrassing array of flailing limbs.  The jock who delivered the bigger regional newspaper in the same part of town, looked on with a sort of bemused suspense from across the street. I managed to recover my balance, long enough to take a step and then fall anyway.  No harm was done.

Then there was the thunderstorm that blew my umbrella inside out, and the time I went to put up my umbrella, but when I pushed the button, it flew right off the handle on to the sidewalk. And then opened. Good times.

I look back now and laugh, and value the character building experience. Some of that character building came in a different way, which I value even more, though it’s not so funny.

I had several encounters with an older kid and his sidekick/friend. To this day, I’m not sure if he wanted to fight me and was pushing me to that end, or if he just wanted to see how much I would tolerate.

What I do know is that I was totally passive in those meetings. I talked back to him, kind of defensively, but I didn’t raise a fist, or shove him or block him or anything physical. I tried to just keep walking. They would walk along with me, but block my way at some point. It wasn’t that I was refusing to be violent, or making a conscious decision to be forgiving or turn the other cheek. I simply didn’t want to deal with it.

I didn’t want the other boys to be there, to bother me, or even to talk to me. I just wanted to deliver my papers and make the long walk back home to resume reading the latest fantasy epic I’d picked up at Waldenbooks at the mall. (Now I’m really dating myself.)

I couldn’t understand why anyone would do that to another person. It was so alien to me. Unfathomable. And I suppose that led to the feeling that I was doing something to deserve it, that I must have annoyed him somehow.

The bully started with verbal antagonizing the first time I saw him and the sidekick. I can’t say for sure how many times I ran into them, but two times were more distinctive.

One was shortly after a snowstorm and in his efforts to pick a fight had me head first in a snowbank. I was trying to get up and he was pushing me down. A car going by honked loudly, and slowed down. That was enough to scare them off for the day.

The other time, the bully was taunting me with a cigarette saying I wouldn’t even know how to smoke it. I said I didn’t and I wouldn’t want one. He flashed his lighter in my face several times, until finally he accidentally caught a bit of my hair with the flame. I remember that he looked genuinely concerned, and he patted the singed hairs out.

Both boys laughed heartily of course, but some part of him felt bad. I thought about the look on his face sometime later, and I knew that he didn’t come from a good family, just by knowing the part of town he was from. I assumed that he was abused, and that’s why he was acting out. Yet, despite all that, he felt bad when he went too far. I could forgive him then.

But again, I can’t say there was any lofty nobility at the time this was going on, except for God’s presence in me. But I think my low energy, depression and anxiety, and low self esteem left me all but paralyzed in the face of a bully I just wanted to avoid.

Perhaps this is why I get so incensed by injustices now. But some kind of reaction is good for me, and anger can be useful when channeled into something constructive. I hope I’ve found a good balance.

Bust that box, cont’d

To recap the first part, I’m talking about people who achieve some sort of personal growth or life change. The problem is that it can take time for that change to filter through all areas of your life. You wind up being put in a box, by yourself or by others, which stunts your continued growth, if you let it.

I’m still working on it myself, so I can’t give you a fool-proof, step-by-step plan to bust out of your box, but I can share what I’ve learned.

If you’ve ever wanted to pick up and take off for some place new and exciting to start over, be very careful. You might just end up in the same old box, just with different surroundings. In other words, if you’re still reserved and inhibited on the inside, then you’ll have the same old trouble with making friends, or building a life.

I’m not saying that a big dramatic step in a new direction can’t ever be the way to break out. It’s just that life often is more gradual, and most often, slower than we’d like.

If your box is being the shy, quiet one, then keep doing what you’ve been doing. You’ve beaten the shyness, now keep building.  Step further out of your comfort zone. Don’t let yourself fall back into the old passive spectator in groups.  As with anything, the more you practice, the easier it gets.

If your box is being the fifth wheel, always tagging along with couples for social outings, then you know what you have to do. Put yourself out there. I may be showing my age, but I think if you’re going online for opportunity, make it a site with actual profiles, as opposed to an app, where all your hopes and anxieties and internal conflicts are swiped away ruthlessly. Again, just my opinion.

Maybe the box you find yourself in is a little different.  Were you the bully in school, but you genuinely changed? Something may have happened in your own life that gave you a change of heart somewhere along the way and you apologized. I’ve had that happen. I was happy to forgive the person. Far be it from me to board up the windows on someone else’s box.

Whatever box you’re busting up, be tenacious. It may feel like no one around is noticing your progress, but they will.

 

 

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Bust that box

In case you haven’t read any of my previous posts, let me preface this one briefly. I was a shy, quiet, anxious misfit who didn’t get much support in my younger days. I’m not shy anymore, and only sometimes quiet.  If I’m ever a misfit, it’s by choice, for the most part. ha ha

So, I know what it’s like to be excluded, and I know what it’s like to be a peer. It’s not an easy transition, or a short one. It’s also hard to know when it’s complete. Maybe it’s a lifetime process.

What’s most important is how you see yourself. You need to have that down before you can change your place in the world around you. Actually, that may not even be the right way to look at it. Instead of changing your place in the world, change the world around you so it fits you. Wow! I gotta write this down. Oh, yeah, just did. I need to let that one sink in.

Okay, so, you feel like you’ve been put in a box: he’s the shy, quiet guy.  She’s not cool. They’re weird. You’re bitter, defensive, blah, blah, blah. These are traits that end up defining you, if you let them. And then, others continue to try and define you that way even after you’ve changed.

Some look down on you, others just avoid you because they feel uncomfortable around you. Well-meaning friends or family speak for you, take you for granted. People just expect you to keep being the same person, not seeing the positive change within you. Those are the confines of the box.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at some ways to break through the walls of the box. In the meantime, do a little building inspection.  What are the walls made of? And who built them? Other people, or yourself?

 

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Lost time

When I was a kid in Cub Scouts, there was a workbook we had to complete that involved activities. I had ignored it, so one of the den mothers had me start on page one at a meeting while the other boys were working on something else. I heard them comment about what I was doing and how long ago they had done it. It was embarrassing, but I soon caught up.

In college, when I got behind in my reading, sometimes I caught up. Sometimes, I had to cut my losses and pick up where I was supposed to be. Good thing I was a good listener in class.

I find myself wondering which scenario reflects life, long term.  Can you make up for lost time? Is it possible to catch up on unfulfilled dreams, or missed opportunities? You probably won’t recapture the same opportunity, or rekindle a promising relationship that fell apart.  You can’t undo or redo the past.

What you can do, is take the discernment, and the strength, and resolve you gained from your experiences and forge ahead into new territory. There may be more adventures left then you ever thought possible. You don’t know until you start.

I myself am writing more, and trying to open up more, socially, instead of being reserved and guarded.  I’ve been watching less TV to do the writing. Imagine that. It may take some discipline, and time management. A little courage perhaps.

It’s going to be worth it though. Let’s go!

 

The pettiness principle

I learned last week that one of the bosses where I work had just lost the man she had been with for years. A day or so after that, there was a sympathy card circulating for people to sign, and they were taking donations for Forgotten Felines, which was a cause the man who passed had supported.

I was going to sign the card right when I got there that morning, but someone else was signing it and people were standing around talking, so I decided to get it later. A few minutes later,  the person who was keeping the card at her desk, gave me a heads up.

It seemed there were a few people who felt that one shouldn’t sign the card if they don’t make a donation.  I just said, “wow.” My coworker said, “Yeah, tell me about it.”  I hadn’t thought too much about donating, but I probably would have done it. But now, it seemed like some were trying to force it, or was it about who gets credit for the money collected? Who knows?

My thought was to get my own card and give it to my boss and forgo the donation, or give independently online rather than giving it at work.  I was actually going to do that. You know, on principle. To stand up to the tyranny of the petty ones.  Then I saw the light.

Would that not make me as petty as they? I’ve been getting fed up with some people that work there, but perhaps this was not the time to revolt. Choose your battles, right? I gave a few bucks to the cause (that’s all I had with me), and I signed the card.

No big deal.  For me.  But my  boss was dealing with a real issue, the loss of a loved one. It’s amazing how you can get caught up in the peripheral issues and forget the important one.

It’s also very easy to get dragged down to the level of those who want to complain and play tit for tat. It’s not fair if they keep getting away with it, one might say. Someone has to do something, put them in their place. The problem is, you end up in the midst of a continual game of action and reaction, insult and retaliation, animosity and resentment.

I’d rather continue as I have been, staying out of it, not letting it bother me, and try to treat everyone with respect and amicability. It’s been working for me so far. I get along with nearly everyone, and if not, I don’t lose any sleep. It’s their problem.

I think it’s a good approach, as long as it doesn’t become a case of being afraid of conflict or trying to please everyone. If a person says something racist or personally insulting to another, for example, and you witness it, then that’s different.

The real loss here is that people spend so much time and energy complaining and making things difficult for each other, instead of working together, solving problems, sharing insights, and all that good stuff. Things that we can do to help each other and make the work day more pleasant, instead of creating and feeding an oppressive or gloomy atmosphere.

Don’t they know? (I haven’t said it for a while.) We’re all in this together.

I’ve said it before. There’s whole worlds to discover in the lives of the people around us. Go exploring!

What might have been, pt.2

Continuing from yesterday:

I worked at McDonald’s my junior and senior years. My class rank (out of about 200) went from 4th in my freshmen year to not even ranked my senior year. I always resented that I had to work while others didn’t and pulled way ahead of me academically.  Of course, some of the top ten must have worked. I probably just wasn’t aware of it. It’s a self pity thing.

Then there’s the social life in junior and senior high. (We didn’t have middle school in Bangor at that time.) I had a couple of friends that I did things with some weekends before I worked. Once I started working, I didn’t have much of a life at all.

I did meet my only girlfriend of my adolescence when people at McDonald’s set us up. It didn’t last long. We made a cute couple but had little in common. There was also the constant anxiety, and on top of that, being gay but not being fully aware of it.  And, while there was opportunity, the short-lived romance did not include any physical relations.

My anxiety was probably compounded by the deeply buried truth of my sexual orientation and the fear of facing it. So, I “opted out” of dating to avoid feeling uncomfortable. Perhaps work wasn’t just about the needed money. It also gave me an escape from the social situations I both craved and feared.

I commuted to a nearby university after high school for 3 semesters. I changed my major in that short time, but still had no clue what I was doing or where I was going. I took time off to figure things out. I sometimes wonder if going away to school would have forced me to adapt and “catch up” emotionally and socially with other people my age, and find direction. I could also have had a nervous break down. Only God knows.

In the meantime, I left McDonald’s, of which I had been sick and tired for quite a while. After an unsuccessful search, I wound up working a small amount of hours at the hardware store where my dad worked for years, then wound up delivering pizzas. I became the manager of the privately owned pizza and sub shop when the former manager was caught stealing money.

I got my associate’s degree from community college while working there, but was too burned out to go right on to more college. Months turned into years and I never did get that bachelor’s degree. Another regret.

It was when I finally got out of the pizza shop to a Mon. through Fri. job that I finally started to see a lot of these things to which I was oblivious to that point. It was a mundane repetitive job and I had a lot of time to think and listen to talk radio. I finally saw the light about my bipolar depression and anxiety. Then I saw a shrink. And it was good.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what might have been. It matters what is yet to come. Besides, who’s to say things would have been so great if I’d have had more support, or privilege or popularity. Maybe it would have just caused more stress and anxiety.

I’m a stronger and more well-balanced person and a more insightful writer. I’m more spiritual and grounded. I don’t know what may yet be, but knowing where I’ve been, and being ok with it all, clears the way for good things to happen.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Well, I’m here. Bring it on, future. I’m ready.