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.
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!
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.
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:
(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.
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:
(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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
I don’t know how I got like this, but I have an uncanny talent for reconstructing certain details of my past.
Obviously, DLTDGB is based on my own past, and while I have taken many liberties with details of the stories, as well as simplified some things in order to not overly confuse readers, I also try to keep things accurate when possible. In particular, I want to avoid anachronisms, and in particular, if an episode of DLTDGB involves an actual historical event that occurred on a specific date or within a specific window of time, I want to be accurate.
Yesterday I was planning out the next few months of DLTDGB. A lot of big things happened to me in the first half of 1997, and those big things are going to be happening to Character-Greg soon. One of those big things was that Brian, my roommate at the time, turned me into a Star Wars fan. I never explicitly disliked Star Wars, but I wasn’t as passionate about it as many of my Gen-X peers. I didn’t really have friends growing up who I watched movies with. We did occasionally go to movies as a family, but I only saw Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back a couple times throughout my entire childhood, and I never saw Return of the Jedi. But then 1997 came along, and I had the perfect combination of living with Brian, a huge Star Wars fan, and the theatrical rereleases of all three movies with added scenes and enhanced special effects and all the controversial stuff that fans argue about. (I watched Brian’s original unaltered VHS copies later that year, and now I’m definitely on the side of Han shot first, but that’s not the story I’m telling here.)
So, anyway, I was planning the next few months of DLTDGB, and I wanted to look up the exact dates that the Star Wars movies were rereleased. A quick Google search gave me January 31, February 21, and March 14. I was trying to remember exactly when I saw them. I know I saw Return of the Jedi with Brian and a bunch of others on the day it was released, because that day was the only time I ever skipped class without being very sick or having my registration appointment for the following term at the same time as a class. But I didn’t see Star Wars right away. I remember seeing it with Barefoot James on a weeknight a couple weeks later. He was late, because he had to go back home and get sandals, because he remembered that the theater wouldn’t let him in barefoot. And Empire, I saw with Brian and others, the second time he went to see the rerelease; I thought I remembered it being a Saturday afternoon a couple weeks later. So, I checked a 1997 calendar, and in my notes for DLTDGB, I wrote down February 18 for Star Wars, March 8 for Empire, and March 14 for Return. If those dates weren’t accurate, they were at least close enough for reasonable storytelling purposes. (Side note: I already have plans for the March 14 episode, because last year I found a handwritten poem of mine, also dated March 14, 1997. That was a memorable evening when I was having a hard time dealing with post-Haley rejection drama. But I’m not going to narrate everything that happened in Return of the Jedi, so I’ll probably just mention that I saw the movie earlier in the day, and the episode will focus on what happened that night to inspire the poem.)
Anyway, a while later, I was trying to remember the date of the chorus performance in late May or early June. I went to my deep archives, in the box where the program for that chorus performance would be half a century later. I found it; it was June 6. But while I was searching that box, I found some other curiosities.
Specifically, lots and lots of ticket stubs.
One of them was from Star Wars. The date: February 18, 1997.
And another one from Empire Strikes Back. March 8, 1997.
And Return on the Jedi. March 14, 1997.
3 for 3. Yay me.
Anyway, so I guess that little anecdote is meant to introduce the fact that I’m hoping to have new episodes of DLTDGB starting next week. You won’t want to miss the next few months; lots of big things happening. And I also wrote a guest post for someone else’s blog, which will be a story about Character-Greg at age 9 and his family Christmas.
Have a great week! Happy Thanksgiving to my US readers.
I updated the DLTDGB Dramatis Personae. I had been meaning to do this for quite some time. It was out of date, with some characters’ descriptions containing things that applied to them in Year 2 but no longer apply in Year 3.
At first glance, the Dramatis Personae seems like just a reference work, a place to look up short character bios in a work with an extremely large cast of characters. But, for a continuing story like this, in which I update the Dramatis Personae page periodically, I have to admit that I occasionally drop hints in the Dramatis Personae. For example, this latest update includes an entry for Carrie Valentine, despite the fact that she was only mentioned very briefly in one scene of one episode, and her last name has not been given in the actual story yet. So one would be correct to conclude that Carrie is going to have a bigger part to play in future episodes.
Also on my to-do list for this week is to post an organized episode guide of some sort. Then the next step is to continue planning for the rest of Year 3. I’m hoping to start posting weekly new episodes again by the end of November.
And, finally, I’m working on a guest post for someone else’s blog. It will be a Christmas-related story about character-Greg at age 9. I hope everyone enjoys a glimpse into Greg’s childhood.
Take care, have a wonderful day, and good luck to all of you who are working on NaNoWriMo. I am not.
I’m not going to post here on any schedule. This one is going to be more for behind-the-scenes things, where I talk about writing, or share other short writing that doesn’t fit with my current continuing story blog, or if I get tagged in something on another blog and want to share it with others. (One topic is off limits for sure, though: my day job.)
If you just found this accidentally, check out my current ongoing project, Don’t Let The Days Go By. It is a continuing story set in the 1990s about a university student figuring out life. I usually write new episodes weekly, but as of this moment I am on a planned hiatus. I take a month or so off from writing every time Character-Greg takes finals in June or December. (Currently the story is in December 1996.)
I haven’t decided how long this hiatus will be. I might need more time to plan out the rest of the fictional school year, since I have a lot of pivotal moments in Character-Greg’s life coming up. I’ve heard other writers on WordPress refer to being “plotters” or “pantsers,” meaning writers who plot out their stories vs. those who write by the seats of their pants. I’m usually a plotter with the big details and a pantser with the little ones, but the next few months of storytelling might require more plotting. As Greg’s frustration with the cliques in Jeromeville Christian Fellowship grows, he will find himself wanting to do something about it. Greg will attend the conference in Urbana (that’s a real thing, by the way) and think about where God wants to use him in ministry… and he will get some unexpected answers. Two of Greg’s favorite professors will approach him, prompting him to think about his future with a mathematics degree. And, while Greg sets his sights on new romantic interests, he will continue to deal with the aftermath of Haley’s rejection. With all of those important things happening in the first half of 1997, I want to make sure my storytelling is consistent and coherent.
It still feels funny saying “other writers on WordPress,” including myself in that group, because I really don’t think of myself as a writer. Writing is a hobby for me, but unlike a lot of the writers I’ve met here, I don’t plan on making money from writing or doing it full time. Maybe I should… I don’t know.
Now, over to you, those of you who want to follow my life behind the scenes… what kinds of things do you want to see here? Other writing, most likely from my past? My thoughts on stuff? The stories behind DLTDGB? I will definitely put up an About Me page and a page with links to my other blogs. And is there anything you want to see on the DLTDGB site? I’ve considered drawing maps of UJ and Jeromeville, but the problem is that since both places are based on real places, it looks too much like the map of the real place. I also might make a master episode list, with episodes categorized by the major subplots addressed (school, Christianity, the Internet, Haley, etc.).