Where are you now?

Hi, friends. It’s been almost half a year since I’ve written anything here. I’m still actively posting on Don’t Let The Days Go By weekly, and Song of the Day by DJ GJ-64 daily, at least most of the time (and I have two inactive projects on here as well).

Usually, on Song of the Day, I just post a song, embedded from YouTube with no further commentary. Every once in a while, I will add a few words to the post, either an interesting fact about the song or the band that I happen to know, or a “rest in peace” message if someone in the band has recently died. I have a lot to say about today’s song, and I was going to post this on the SOTD site, but it’s more personal than the kind of things I usually post there, so instead I’ll write it here, and I’ll link to this post later after I use this song for the Song of the Day.

I also don’t post a lot of new music on SOTD, other than new releases from bands that have been around since the 20th century, because I’m an angsty Gen-Xer who stopped listening to most new music at least a decade ago. To some extent, I cling to the old ways of listening to music, and when I flip around on the radio in the car, I’m not usually listening to stations that play a lot of new music. But I also still experience a little bit of listening to music the new way, and my latest girly pop-rock guilty pleasure, Concrete Castles, is a band that I discovered on YouTube.

Well, not quite. More specifically, I discovered a cover band called First to Eleven on YouTube, and I discovered Concrete Castles as an offshoot of First to Eleven. Concrete Castles is a band formed by three of the members of First to Eleven, to perform original music instead of covers. They just released this song yesterday (literally as I write this, the YouTube page says “1 day ago”), and it took about halfway through the song to realize that this was going to be one of those rare songs that, from the first time I hear it, I know will end up on my Best Songs Ever playlist.

Why is this such an amazing song? Because it is specifically about something that I can relate to very well, something that has been on the forefront of my mind for decades and has been a great concern in my life again in the last few years.

If you’re one of those people who doesn’t listen to lyrics, the song is basically the lead vocalist, Audra Miller, singing about all these happy childhood and teen memories while also reflecting on how life is changing, and people are growing up and growing apart. Everyone goes through that at her age. What makes it so relatable to me today, despite the fact that I’m much older than Audra, is that I’ve been through many never-ending cycles of that. Sometimes I feel stuck in a time loop, watching people around me grow up while I basically stay the same, still single, still childless, and since my early thirties at least, still in the same house. I lost most of my high school friends when I moved 160 miles away to attend the University of Jeromeville. I stayed in Jeromeville until a few weeks shy of age 25, so I saw lots of friends graduate and move away before I did. I then lived in Riverview and Pleasant Creek for four mostly miserable years, but I did make a few lifelong friends there.

I spent some time traveling trying to find myself, eventually settling here in Laguna Ciervo, where I have been since 2006. But even then, my life and my social circle have been unsettled. I got a new job in 2007 and again in 2014, I started going to different churches in 2015, 2017, and 2021, and I got involved with certain social activities that I am no longer participating in. I have been around to go through several distinct cycles of having tons of new friends, then a few years later seeing them get married and have kids. Many of them also have moved away, especially in the last four years since a certain governor took over and ran my state into the ground.

Many of Audra’s real life friends appear in the music video; she says in a YouTube post that it is a very personal song and video to her. I think the ending of the video is the most emotional part. Audra is standing still, singing, with a bunch of her friends having fun in the background. Gradually, the people in the background begin to disappear, a few at a time, until Audra is left standing alone in an empty room. That feels exactly what I am going through now, and what I have gone through many times in my life.

Audra was born in 2001. She does not remember a world without social media and text messages. She does not know how hard it was to stay in touch back in 1994, when I suddenly had a social life my senior year of high school only to end up separated from my friends as we scattered to different colleges and universities. But, I am realizing, maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe it isn’t communications technology that formed the barrier that led to me losing so many friends. After all, I still watched friends grow up and grow apart from me after social media and text messages came into existence. And I never moved to another planet or anything; all of those places I mentioned before are within day trip distance of each other. Maybe that is just the way life is. People’s priorities change as they get older, and sometimes some people whose lives fit so well together no longer do. It takes a serious active commitment to stay close through all the changes in life, and most people just do not have that kind of commitment. Maybe it is even healthy to let go of some of those commitments and accept that friendships and priorities change, as a way to avoid staying stuck in the past and not growing.

Of course, the flip side of that is that I did live long enough to see the rise of social media, so many of these friends from the past I have at least some connection with now in 2022. Every once in a long while, I have gotten to see some of them in person. But this is normal. I feel sad about what my life has become sometimes, but I’m not going through anything unusual.

I suspect that Audra will turn out okay. She’ll make new connections in the music industry. She doesn’t seem like the type of rock star to become an obnoxious Hollywood diva, judging from her YouTube and Instagram posts, and from someone I know on the Internet who lives near her and met her once after a show saying that she seemed down-to-earth. But she will always have that handful of close friends whom she may go a long time without seeing, but once they do see each other, they pick up right where they left off. I have friends like that. I wish I got to see them more often. Occasionally I do; I went home to Santa Lucia County in June, shared about it on social media, and Mrs. Allen (my middle school English teacher, the one I went to the baseball game with in 1997) and another high school friend whom I never named in DLTDGB both saw that post and wanted to get together (separately) and catch up. I had a wonderful time seeing both of them. I could do a better job of that too. I’m in a better place financially right now than I have been in a long time, and everyone tells me I need to travel more. I guess what’s missing for myself right now is the part about making new connections. I’m not in much of a place to meet new people, and a lot of the people I do meet aren’t like me. But I also suppose I haven’t exhausted every opportunity to meet new people, and maybe I’m using too narrow of a definition of “people like me.”

Audra will probably never see this. But who knows; it would be awesome if she Googled herself someday and this blog post came up. On the off chance that that happens, thank you for such a refreshingly relatable song. I hope I didn’t mischaracterize anything about you or the song in this post. Hang on to your old friendships as much as you can, but don’t feel bad about pulling back a bit as all of you grow up, and enjoy all the new friendships and experiences that come with that. Twenty-one is an exciting age. Enjoy and embrace it while it lasts, and don’t take it for granted and become a bitter, lonely, grumpy forty-six-year-old like me.

(Disclaimer: The place names mentioned here are pseudonyms, matching the fictional place names in the DLTDGB universe.)

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Thoughts on writing, and assumptions about me.

I’m currently taking a break from writing. (If this post is your first introduction to me, my current project is Don’t Let The Days Go By, an episodic continuing story set in 1997 about a university student. Go check it out and follow it.) I always take a break every June and December in the fictional timeline, and real life is kind of overwhelming right now.

Sometimes I wonder, is anyone out there really following my writing? Does anyone really care what happens to character-Greg? Does anyone have favorite episodes of DLTDGB? Is there anyone out there who wishes they could live in Jeromeville, the way people wish they could go to Hogwarts or Narnia? Does anyone have favorite minor characters, like I do with TV shows or movies sometimes? Is anyone making predictions about what will happen to Greg and his friends in the future? Does anyone care what girl Greg ends up with? Does anyone out there write DLTDGB fan fiction with alternative relationships, like something finally happening with Greg and Carrie, or an alternate universe where Haley liked Greg back?

Of course, that last one probably isn’t going to happen with something like DLTDGB. But still, I wonder sometimes if anyone is actually paying attention. I get very few comments on DLTDGB, and I’m not getting as many likes as I used to. I like to say I’m writing for myself, not for popularity, but honestly, I do enjoy discussing my writing with others.

I’ll get back to writing DLTDGB in a month or so. I still have a story to tell, even if not many people are paying attention. Maybe something I say will make a difference to someone out there.

In the meantime, I recently did an assumption post on DLTDGB, where I ask people for their assumptions about character-Greg, and I answered them in character from 1997. If you missed that, and you still want your assumptions answered, go check out that post and leave a comment.

Now, I’m going to ask you for your assumptions about adult Greg in 2022. So, in the comments of this post, please leave any assumptions you have for me as an adult in 2022, and I will answer them in a week or so. I’m curious to think what people think about me. I look forward to hearing from you!

Notes from behind the scenes of DLTDGB #130.

I had to make a big decision while writing this week’s episode of DLTDGB (#130, “May 9, 1997, Maybe here’s where the new story begins”), regarding the identification of the location of Character-Greg’s summer research program.  Do I make up a fake city and a fake university name, like I did for Jeromeville?  Or do I just identify the location of Character-Greg’s new summer adventure with its real name?

I went with option 2.  And then, at the last minute, I changed back to option 1.  And then I panicked, because my idea of the etymology I wanted for my made-up place name kept giving me words that were already the names of prescription drugs or obscure species not native to the area.  So I just chose the very generic sounding “Grandvale,” which apparently is not a very common place name in the US despite its generic sound.

Although most of DLTDGB is set in a fictional state in a fictional universe, there is precedent for my use of real place names when Greg is traveling outside of his home region.  He went to Intervarsity’s convention in Urbana, Illinois, and to Disneyland in Orange County, California.  (I used the regional name “Orange County” instead of the specific city of “Anaheim,” or the common incorrect identification of Disneyland’s location as “Los Angeles,” mostly because I am a hater of Los Angeles and Anaheim sports teams, but that’s another topic for another time.)  So I compromised by at least identifying the state in which Grandvale is located as Oregon.  However, I made up a fake name for the city for the same reason I did so for the city that Jeromeville is based on.  There are things I will say about the people that Character-Greg met in Grandvale, who are based on real people I have not seen in decades, that I would not want them to see. Making up a fake city and university gives me some degree of plausible deniability.  It won’t be hard to figure out where Grandvale actually is with a little bit of research, but still, I can treat it like a fictional place.  The same applies to Jeromeville.

Of course, I want my descriptions of the area to be somewhat realistic.  I still visit the city that Jeromeville is based on several times a year, because I live not too far from there.  But I have not been to the real-life Grandvale in decades.  I can probably augment my memories with Google Street View, even though that city has probably changed in the time since I’ve been there.

Also, the conversation about the Sundays with Carrie did not happen in 1997.  I am currently in touch with the real-life Carrie, and that conversation happened in Facebook comments just a few years ago.  But I don’t remember any specific conversations with Carrie from the year when I was a junior and she was a freshman.  That conversation was funny enough to put into the story, plus it gave me a song to post.

I hope everyone is well.  If you haven’t yet, go read the new episode, and like and comment.

I finally have a Word of the Year.

A recent trend I have been seeing on social media and lifestyle blogs around the time of the New Year is that of a “Word of the Year.” The concept is that one will choose a word to represent the upcoming year, and that this word will shape one’s goals and attitudes for the year. Most of the Words of the Year I have seen are the kinds of clichés I associate with cheesy motivational posters. Grow. Thrive. Heal. Love. I thought about making a Word of the Year for my own personal growth this year, but those kinds of words don’t really appeal to me.

I was out for a walk a week or so ago, listening to the most recent Zac Brown Band album. I’ve had the album for a few months, but my music collection these days is so huge that I don’t usually listen to an album dozens of times in the first week of having it, like I did back in the CD era, so I’ve listened to it maybe 10 times through at the most. And while I was out walking that day, I really heard the lyrics to the album’s title track for the first time. I’d heard them as background music several times, but this was the first time I really listened to what Zac was saying.

And I realized… this is it. This is my Word of the Year for 2022:

COMEBACK.

Click here for lyrics

(I made this today’s Song of the Day. If you aren’t already subscribed to my Song of the Day blog, go do that now.)

The lyrics on the surface refer to what the United States of America, and the world in general, have gone through the last couple years. Life has dealt the world some significant blows. Everyone is going through hard times brought on by unexpected events, many of which are out of our control. We’re all exhausted trying to hold everything together. But humanity is resilient. We will come back from this. Life will go on, and there is still hope.

The theme of a comeback could apply to the band’s career as well. The band spent more than a decade playing just the right balance of music sounding authentic enough to be country music but with enough influence from other genres to be interesting and noteworthy. (Side note: it’s a bit unexpected, considering that I grew up not listening to country music at all, that today I prefer more traditional sounding country music to the country-pop that is all over country radio now. But that’s another story.) Then, in 2019, the band released an album called The Owl (the only ZBB full-length studio album that I don’t have) that sounded more like weird slightly country-ish electronic pop than the sound I had grown to love. And after that, in 2021, they released the album The Comeback, which sounds more like their usual sound.

The year 2022 is going to be my comeback. The life I thought I had disappeared two years ago, leaving its place unsettled chaos. The way I used to live isn’t there anymore, and many aspects of it just aren’t possible anymore. But it’s time for me to do something about it. Time to stop being afraid, time to stop making excuses, time to stop wasting time. There are still a lot of things in life I don’t have figured out, especially after the events of the last two years. But I’ll never figure it out if I keep doing the same old things that don’t work anymore.


How are you doing? Let me know in the comments.

If you haven’t already done so, subscribe to my other projects:
Don’t Let The Days Go By – a continuing story about a university student in the 90s
Song of the Day, by DJ GJ-64 – a song every day

New project!

Hi… I have a new project that launched yesterday. It’s actually a revival of an old project that I did for a couple years a while back.

The project is a Song of the Day page. Every day, I will be sharing a song, just whatever song happens to be on my mind. I’m always listening to music, so I have a lot of songs in my head at any given moment. The Song of the Day will represent many different genres and eras of music. I will schedule posts for every day at 12pm in my local time zone (Pacific Standard Time, western USA; that would be 2pm in Chicago and Houston, 3pm in New York and Washington D.C., 8pm in the UK, etc.).

The page still needs work, I haven’t done the About Me yet, but you should go follow it:

Song of the Day by DJ GJ-64 – djgj64songoftheday.wordpress.com

(As for the name, GJ is for Gregory James, and 64, one of my favorite numbers for a variety of reasons, is a callback to my old Song of the Day project which also had 64 in the title. DJ GJ and DJ 64 are already names being used by people out there somewhere…)

I didn’t make the logo myself. I just searched “dj” on Bitmoji and added words to the shirt.

Enjoy!

Music game

(I got this from someone else on another site)

Leave a comment, and I’ll shuffle my music and give you a song. Feel free to leave a song for me as well.

(As an added twist… I’m playing this game in character, despite the title of this blog. That means I will only reply with a song released in February 1997 or earlier. It won’t necessarily be a song I actually knew in February 1997, though, since my musical tastes have expanded significantly since then. That’ll open up more of a diversity of genres. If you reply with a song for me, your song does not have to follow those rules.)

Forgetting makes remembering sweeter. DLTDGB #118 behind the scenes.

Late last night, I posted episode 118 of DLTDGB, in which character-Greg attends the youth group at Jeromeville Covenant Church as a leader for the first time. For the most part, that really happened to me, with the exact same back story. Because of that, I will refer to the people who inspired that story using the names of the characters in DLTDGB rather than their real names.

After finishing that story, though, I feel like I need to discuss some things behind the scenes. If you haven’t read it yet, you might want to do that now (click here).

I really was minding my own business after church when Zac, Ted, and Danny randomly decided they wanted to hang out with me. I really did take them to lunch, and to Ted’s house, and we really did float on a raft. Taylor really did ask me, after seeing my new friendship with these boys, if I wanted to try being a youth group leader, and I really did have a great time as a youth group leader.

But what I don’t remember is what actually happened that night. I remember the basic outline of a youth group meeting: meet with staff, welcome kids, introduce new kids, game, announcements, song, introduce the lesson, discuss in small groups. That’s really how it went. I don’t know what the lesson was that night. I remember a few specific lessons from my years as a youth group leader, but most of them I remember because of some other back story that wasn’t connected to being a new youth leader. So I just made something up. Hopefully it was realistic.

Another thing I don’t remember is who all was there. A lot of the youth leaders during the time I was there started out with junior high, but then one year they would find a group of kids they particularly bonded with, and when that group graduated to the high school group, that leader would follow them to the high school group. I’m pretty sure Barefoot James switched to high school the year after the one I’m writing about, and some people, I don’t remember if they were junior high leaders, or high school, or both at various times. Some people I also don’t remember which group they led in which year. But, more importantly, in trying to reconstruct my memories of that year, I found that I remembered more guy leaders than girl leaders.

So Kate isn’t real. It seems like there must have been another girl leader that year besides Courtney, Erica, Abby, and Charlotte, but I don’t remember who it was for sure. I remember at least two other girl leaders who came the following year, but they definitely weren’t around in the spring of 1997. So I just made someone up. I’m a writer, DLTDGB is intended to be fiction, so it’s okay to make up a character.

When I was working with The Edge, every year Adam would make a mix tape of different styles of Christian music. At Winter Camp, Adam would hand out copies of the mix tape to everyone who was there. (For those of you who weren’t born in 1997 and don’t understand what the technology was like back then, whenever you see “mix tape,” pretend for now that it says “playlist.” It’s the same idea.) The youth department at J-Cov also kept a music library for people to borrow tapes and CDs of Christian music. Since I had just joined the youth staff, I did not get a copy of Edge Mix ’97, but I borrowed it from the music library and made a copy at some point. I also have Edge Mixes from several other years, and they all still exist as MP3 playlists on my computer and phone. (Most people have moved on to streaming technology for music by 2022. I mostly haven’t, but that’s not relevant to this discussion.)

Some of the artists featured on the Edge Mixes had long and successful careers in the Christian music industry, and some of those, like Jars of Clay, Switchfoot, and Sixpence None the Richer, also crossed into the mainstream. (By the way, I hate pigeonholing artists as Christian or secular, the music and lyrics should speak for themselves, but I’m going to have to do that somewhat for the purpose of telling this story.) Other artists on Edge Mixes were popular briefly and have mostly been forgotten, and many were essentially one-hit wonders to me, artists whom I only ever knew from one song that appeared on one Edge Mix.

I did not have a song in mind for this episode, so as I was finishing writing it, I put on Edge Mix ’97, hoping to find a song from there that was catchy, memorable, or meaningful enough to connect to the episode, but also one that I was not saving for any other particular memory. If the song itself did not have lyrics that could be connected to the story, I would just mention at some point that the song was playing in the background. When I got to “All Fall Down” by Sarah Masen, I thought, yeah, I think this is going to be the song, if I could find it on YouTube in 2022. Was this song too obscure to find on YouTube? Fortunately, it was not; not only did I find the song, from an official source that would not get taken down for copyright violations, but the link was an actual music video. It also made sense to mention Sarah Masen at this point because my keenly astute readers have probably noticed that I like to drop hints about things that will happen in future episodes. There will definitely be one more episode involving Sarah Masen, late in year 5, in the spring of 1999.

I had never seen the music video for All Fall Down before yesterday. In 1997, I wasn’t really in a position to watch a lot of music videos. I didn’t have cable, MTV didn’t play music videos anymore for most of the day, and I was listening to a lot of Christian music that wouldn’t get played on MTV anyway. I didn’t have a way to watch specifically Christian music videos. My first reaction upon seeing this video a quarter-century later was that it was adorably weird, in a good way. With the way Sarah was awkwardly dancing in front of the camera like no one was watching, had I seen this video back in 1997 I might have had another celebrity crush. Sarah was a Christian, and she wasn’t that much older than me. (Wikipedia says she was born in January of 1975, a difference of 19 months; that would have made her around 21 in that video.)

As I continued putting the finishing touches on that episode, I got to thinking more about Sarah Masen. There was that one other memory about her from the spring of 1999. And I remember reading somewhere that there was some family connection with Switchfoot, that her sister was married to Switchfoot’s lead singer Jon Foreman, or something like that. Wikipedia confirmed this last part, and also said that Sarah performed backing vocals on one of Jon’s solo projects, which I have, but I don’t listen to often these days. I don’t know if I made that connection in my early thirties when that particular Jon Foreman album was released.

I also realized something else. Sure, I still listen to Edge Mix ’97 often enough these days that I’ve never forgotten All Fall Down, and that was the only song of hers on an Edge Mix. But Sarah Masen was certainly not a one-hit wonder whom I only knew from that one song. I was legitimately a fan at one time. I have THREE whole albums of hers in the closet where I keep all my old CDs, and on my computer and phone. And I used to listen to those CDs regularly in my 20s. And those songs still come up sometimes when I put my music on shuffle, even though I haven’t listened to any of those albums from start to finish in decades.

So last night, as I was finishing DLTDGB, I put on all three of Sarah Masen’s albums from that era, start to finish. Unlike most people from my era who stopped listening to 90s Christian music as adults, I’ve held on to some of my favorites from back then in my regular rotation. But for some reason, Sarah Masen dropped out of the rotation. I don’t know why. It’s good music.

Rediscovering good music from my past is one of the great things about getting older, and one of the great things about writing a nostalgic period fiction blog. It’s almost like getting to experience something for the first time all over again. After all, someone once told me in a very memorable experience, “Forgetting makes remembering sweeter.”

And do you know who it was who told me those exact words?

It was none other than Ms. Sarah Masen. The time I met her, in the spring of 1999.

But that is a story for another time…

O bid our sad divisions cease – Christmas 2021

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
O bid our sad divisions cease,
And be thyself our king of peace.

Sometimes the words to Christmas songs just hit differently in some years than others. (Technically, having grown up Catholic, this is an Advent song, not a Christmas song, but getting hung up on semantics and denominational differences is pretty much the opposite of what I’m going to say here.) “Bid our sad divisions cease”… that pretty much describes what needs to happen in the world right now. Not only are there the usual wars and conflicts between nations that have been going on for years, but here in the United States we no longer agree on the ideals that this nation was founded on, and even in the Church there are very sharp disagreements on how to apply the teachings of Jesus to the world of the 21st century.

I pray for revival in 2022. I pray that the world will know that they need Jesus, and that they will come to him. I pray that you will show me how I can be part of this revival here where I live. I pray that I will remember that the lost ones around me don’t need a political party, a candidate, a philosophy, or a lifestyle, but that they need Jesus. We are all sinners in need of a savior. I pray, Jesus, you will show me how to walk that balance of speaking the truth about sin, yet loving people where they are, just as you did.

Merry Christmas, all. Rejoice, rejoice. Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

(P.S. I have no particular attachment to this recording of the song; it was just the first one in the YouTube search results where they included the verse in question.)

Two bonus Christmas stories from Character-Greg’s childhood.

A lot of my blog friends are doing Christmas-themed posts this month, and many of them asked for submissions for guest posts. I wrote a story about Greg’s Christmas at age 9, but it was too long, so I used that as the basis for two stories, a shorter one about Greg’s Christmas at age 9, and another one about Greg’s Christmas at age 10. I sent them to two different people as guest posts.

So, in case you haven’t read them yet, click on the following links:

December 23-25, 1985. A new family tradition born of immaturity and impatience. – Greg’s Christmas at age 9, hosted by Tia at Tall Blonde Tales

December 25, 1986. The decorative candles. – Greg’s Christmas at age 10, hosted by Shanessa at My Days In Montana

A Thanksgiving reminder from God.

Yesterday, on my way to Plumdale for Thanksgiving, I ate at an In-N-Out Burger in Stockdale. I noticed an employee, a guy who was probably in his 20s, cleaning tables and such, and taking time to hold the door open for entering customers. I asked him how long this location had been open, I knew it was new, and he said three months. I told him about trying to go to as many different In-N-Out Burgers as possible (that story will come in DLTDGB year 4), and how this was my 124th. He liked that and said that he had never heard of anything like that. I told him that that would give me something interesting to say to the host if I get on Jeopardy someday. He went on to ask me about the process for trying out for Jeopardy, and I told him about my experiences.

Next, he asked me how I had come to acquire so much knowledge. I shrugged my shoulders and said I didn’t really know, but that I was always curious about things, I like to read, and I just pay attention. Then, he asked me, “Do you know the Lord?” I was not expecting this. I said yes. I told him about growing up Catholic, so I had some of the head knowledge, but I that had never really personally experienced Jesus until I was 19 and got involved with Christian groups on campus at Jeromeville. I told him how, when I meet Christians with an unfavorable view of public education, I remind them that God works in mysterious ways, because I found Jesus at a liberal secular public university. He said that he was curious because many intelligent, educated people he knows don’t believe. I can relate to that, and I told him that I’ve also seen Christians who pride themselves on their lack of education. That is not a good witness to educated people. He said that he wants to live his life to grow closer to the Lord.

There are still Christians out there on the liberal West Coast; I needed that reminder. And if there are people like him out there, there are others who want to find meaning in their lives but have not heard the good news yet. I am thankful for this reminder from God that there is still work for me to do here. Have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving, everyone.