Confessions of a closet romantic

I hate romantic comedies. Like, really can’t stand them. “Blasphemy!” many of you will say. Cool. Awesome. I really don’t care. Go somewhere else if you want.

This subject kind of came up in a conversation last night, and I started thinking about why I hate them so much. There are a few reasons I don’t like romantic comedies. First off, every single one is just a variation of the same storyline. It’s always about Ryan Reynolds and anywhere between 1-3 women figuring out they’re in love. Generalization? Maybe. Fairly accurate? Yeah, I’d say so. (Seriously, Ryan Reynolds has been in a LOT of rom-coms.) But every romantic comedy has the same storyline, which I absolutely can’t stand. I like original stories. Plus all of the “comedy” in rom-coms is generally just taking advantage of obscenely awkward situations. I can’t sit through an episode of the Office without reverting to the fetal position due to the awkwardness. I don’t like it. Can’t do it. Uh-uh.

So that’s the first reason. Here’s the second reason I don’t like romantic comedies: The way things work out in those movies is absolute crap. I hate movies that are set in the “real world,” where everything works out absolutely perfect and after the guy’s car breaks down, his bicycle spontaneously combusts, and he accidentally starts World War 3, he still manages to get to the airport just before the woman he’s realized he loves gets on the plane to go pursue her dream of becoming a doctor in a third-world country. Then he says three magic words: “I love you.” Which, following the train of logic to its obvious conclusion, leads to the two of them getting married, having kids, and living happily ever after without ever having a single fight ever for the rest of their lives.

I get it, it’s for the sake of romance, and all of this guy’s efforts are to prove to the audience watching how much he cares. But here’s an interesting thought: What if the romance in these rom-coms — and romance movies, for that matter — is actually complete BS to begin with?

As I’ve kind of mentioned before, I am the physical incarnation of Charlie Brown. Like Charlie Brown became flesh and it’s me. I’m quite cynical, I’ll be perfectly honest. I’m very blunt and to the point, and my BS tolerance sits at a hot zero. Needless to say, I don’t get invited to parties much; I’m just wayyyy too much fun. But I feel like romance, as we seem to picture it today, is absolute garbage. It’s like social media: You see all of the best parts of it, with none of the bad. Everything you witness is absolutely perfect, even though shortly after the wedding at the end of the movie the newlyweds have a fight about who’s going to cut the roast chicken for dinner and never realized how difficult having to do life with another person like this was going to be. The relationships I have with my friends are more difficult than the relationships in romantic comedies. And I don’t have any sort of romantic pursuits with any of these people, which is where things start getting super difficult as you try to figure out how you operate together.

Romance has become this grand, incredibly emotional thing that only happens in movies. Young people say “I want a guy/girl like x,” and throw #relationshipgoals on couples that don’t exist in reality. These couples are more often than not just shells of human beings, with all of the good parts and none of the real ones.

Now, oddly enough, here’s where I have a confession to make: Deep down, I’m honestly a total romantic. I’m a complete sap, quite frankly. But I’m so opposed to what everyone considers romantic nowadays that it seems like I’m absolutely opposed to it completely. That’s really not the case at all. But the most romantic things that I’ve seen haven’t been in movies. In fact, they haven’t even been from newlyweds or people who are just dating.

More often than not, the most romantic things that I’ve ever seen are from people who are already married. And have been for a long time. For me, romance is the soldier overseas who surprises his wife on a trip home. Romance is the creative ways that a woman tells her husband she’s pregnant. Romance is the old couple holding hands sitting across from each other in the corner of a diner. Romance is the cup of coffee that a woman wakes up early to make for her husband every morning before he goes to work so he has one less thing to do in the morning. Romance is the husband who takes his kids out for breakfast early in the morning on a weekend so his wife can sleep in. And, from time to time, it’s the unique proposal after a dating relationship that’s been tried and true.

Am I some sort of expert on romance? Absolutely not, there’s tons of evidence to go against that. I’m clearly not one of the trolls from Frozen. I’ve never even been in a relationship before, what do I know?

Here’s what I know: Every now and then stories like this show up in my newsfeed on Facebook. Stories about real people. And I read or watch every. Single. One. These are the kinds of stories that nourish my soul, that give me hope for humanity and make me realize the lengths people are willing to go to for this crazy thing called love. These are small testimonies of people who have gone through the ringer — together — and are still willing to go the extra mile to prove to their partner that they care about them. When I see these, I smile, shed a man-tear or two, and then I go about my day a little better, a little more hopeful. Just because I’ve seen a glimpse of real, authentic love between two people.

So back to the whole #relationshipgoals thing that I mentioned earlier. Every now and then, very rarely, I feel like there are couples in fiction that really capture authentic human interaction and romance. Honestly, I have my own little Hollywood couple that I look up to as well, but I’m assuming that people wouldn’t even consider them in most cases. My #relationshipgoals couple is Rob and Laura Petrie from the Dick Van Dyke Show.

dick_van_dyke_petrie_family_1963

If you haven’t watched the Dick Van Dyke Show (you should), Rob and Laura Petrie, along with their son Ritchie, have a lot of interesting experiences. The show follows them through all seasons of life, some good days, some bad days. More bad days than good days, honestly. But Rob and Laura, in spite of everything, always make sure that they resolve whatever conflict they’re facing. There are multiple episodes where they fight with each other, but they always work together to make sure they’re on the same page again. There aren’t many fictional Hollywood couples that do that (or “real” Hollywood couples for that matter). They do all of this because they love each other. They couldn’t imagine life without the other after all these years. That kind of love, the kind that refuses to fall asleep without making sure that they’re okay first, is what I consider romantic.

So yeah, I hate romantic comedies. Why? Because I want to see real, genuine human interaction. I want to see the reality of what happens when two people are in love, not the social media-ready counterfeit. I want to see what happens when two people get kicked in the gut by life and decide to walk it out together. If there’s a rom-com out there that captures that sort of essence of humanity and the reality of human relationships, feel free to let me know. But it’ll probably still be horrifically awkward, so I probably still won’t watch it, just being real.

The Gray Area: A plea for a higher level of discourse

The world we live in — and especially the US — has become very polarized. I believe that this polarization has existed for a long time, but I feel that in the past couple decades the polarization has increased due to the development of an hypersensitivity, where everyone becomes easily offended by anything that they don’t agree with. This disagreement with a group or individual results in an inability to co-exist, where each side sticks solely to their views and refuses to sway from their own opinions, and, because of this dedication, refuses to come to any sort of mutual consensus to agree to disagree with opposing voices. I feel that this upcoming election is the perfect of example of this problem. There are two hyper-polarized ends of the spectrum, with very little in between, and people are taking sides, sometimes simply to make sure the person they don’t agree with doesn’t end up being elected.

But this election has also created a very interesting phenomenon. A growing number of people don’t buy into either end of the spectrum, realizing that both sides have distinct problems. A growing number of people are realizing that not everything is black and white, that there isn’t simply a right or wrong answer to everything.

In other words, there’s a growing number of people who believe that there is a gray area on many issues.

And I feel this group of people is growing.

As I’ve mentioned numerous times before, about a year ago I left a spiritually abusive church environment. This church approached everything — every issue — as black and white. When I left this church, I ended up swinging to the opposite end of the spectrum of everything that they believed, as some sort of revolt or rebellion against them. This only lasted a short while before I realized that the end of the spectrum opposite theirs also had its fundamental flaws. So then I was caught in an interesting dilemma: Which was correct? The conservative, white evangelicalism that I was basically raised with and had become further indoctrinated with through spiritual abuse? Or the more progressive Christianity that is opposed to “organized religion”?

Before long, I realized that my conscience wouldn’t let me commit fully to either camp. Each end had its merits, but they also had certain things that I didn’t agree with; things that Jesus isn’t about. Things that exclude people from the kingdom of heaven and completely demonize certain people or behaviors.

It was then that I realized there had to be an in between. Or, in other words, a gray area.

Now, there are some things that I believe are black and white. I’m a Christian, and I believe in salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. There are certain fundamental, foundational biblical principles that I do not and will not sway on. True conviction on select issues is life-giving. When you have something at the end of the day that you can plant your feet on know that nothing will move it, it makes it easier to sleep at night. There’s a reason Jesus is called the “cornerstone of our faith.”

There are some other not necessarily biblical issues that are black and white for me, as well. Art is important. Racism is wrong. Life is valuable. And everything is better with bacon.

But there are some issues that I’ve lived in the gray area on for a long time. For example, creation. I believe that God created the universe. But within that reality, there are a lot of variables. There are people who believe in the literal interpretation of Scripture, that God creating the universe and everything in it in seven literal days. There’s also a growing number of people who are in essence “Christian evolutionists,” who believe that God used evolution as a means to create life and — ultimately — man. People are very polarized and divided on this issue. Denominations of Christianity have divided because of the debate of creation, families have been torn apart by it.

Here’s my stance: I don’t really care.

At the end of the day, whether the earth was made in seven days or over the course of billions of years does not change the fact that I believe God made it. And it also doesn’t change the fact that, before the beginning of time, God planned a great work in advance to send his own Son to live a perfect life as a human being and be executed by his own people so that we could be reconciled with him. So I don’t really care about the details of how the earth was made. It could be billions of years old, it could be thousands of years old. Besides, I won’t know for sure how it all happened until I get to ask God face-to-face, anyway. So why bother worrying so much about it now? (I have an interesting quirk in that I don’t really need an answer for everything. There are a lot of things that I’m willing to take at face value. It has its negative aspects, but it also has its benefits. Some people need an answer for everything, and will pursue an answer until the find one. I don’t need an answer for everything. So I end up being content a lot sooner. But then I don’t always have proof or evidence for what I’ve come to accept, which is where the occasional negative part comes into play. But I digress.)

I know that not everyone will settle with remaining in the gray area on most issues. In fact, I’m sure most people will still believe that things are pretty black and white. They will continue to have strong opinions and beliefs and they will continue to hold to them. And let me make this clear: That’s not a bad thing. Again, having strong opinions on things can be a good thing. When having strong opinions becomes dangerous is when people refuse to engage in conflict with opposing voices. The hypersensitivity that has developed in recent years, along with the development of social media, has caused people to simply react to things. When something or someone offends an individual, that individual will often just go off on whatever or whoever offended them. This causes a huge problem, because it results in hyper polarization, as all parties involved disengage from the other, and start throwing insults and slander around about the other group. Groups demonize any and all opposing groups, and opposing groups respond in turn. So everyone ends up just being angry and no one listens to anything any more.

I’m not asking for people to let go of their convictions and beliefs. What I’m asking for is conversation. There is something to be said for listening to both sides of the story. Rather than sticking to your guns and shooting down every word of an opposing argument, there’s a lot of merit to approaching the situation at hand with empathy, and trying to look at it from the other person’s perspective. At the very least, you will be able to gain an insight into how this person is approaching the argument, rather than just sticking to your own argument and refusing to allow anyone else to have an opinion or a voice.

I’m not asking people to give up their convictions. This is a plea for a higher level of discourse.

Everything has become a shouting match rather than an actual debate. Discussion will at least enable people to approach opposition with empathy rather than anger. And, once the dust has settled, it’s entirely possible an agreement hasn’t been reached. And that’s okay. Part of being human is realizing people are different than you and that they won’t always agree with you. That doesn’t mean you can’t associate with that person. In fact, I’d highly recommend having friends with opinions different from your own. If you only interact with people who agree with you on everything, you won’t grow as a person. Conflict fosters growth.

As Mike McHargue has said, human beings are a social species, and refusing to interact with people simply based on different beliefs is not the way we should approach life. It’s only through discussion and engaging in conflict that we’ll be able to grow and progress.

I believe that letting go of issues as being purely black and white can be very beneficial. Nowadays, I sit in the gray area on most controversial issues. I do my best to listen to both sides of most arguments so that I can come to an informed decision. But oftentimes I can’t side completely with either side. Because oftentimes each side has important points that, contrary to popular belief, don’t conflict with each other, but can actually exist together. And each side also generally has points that don’t make sense. Or are just ridiculous. And so I choose to sit in the gray area. And if I disagree with people on these issues, that’s absolutely fine. I’ll still love them anyway.
We need to stop causing division and just accept the fact that people won’t always agree with us. It’s not our responsibility to change their minds. And it isn’t their responsibility to change ours. If anything, it’s our responsibility to engage with conflict, have intelligent, logical conversation and debate, and not cause division because of petty disagreement. If people were more accepting of the reality that not everything is black and white, and that disagreement doesn’t shouldn’t result in shattered community, I do honestly believe that the world would be a better place. Rather than focusing on the areas where you disagree with people, find the things you agree on. And come together with creative ways to focus on the good things and bring about peace and change.

PSA:

**With that, I would like to mention something. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had multiple conversations with some friends of mine about this very reality. In these past few weeks, we’ve been planning on starting a podcast discussing certain controversial issues and the gray area within them, focusing on the reality that not everything is black and white. Things are still in development, but things are shaping up very quickly. I’m really excited for this project that we’ve been working on and can’t wait to have some of these conversations with my friends and share them with everyone. Stay tuned in the near future to hear about what we’re up to and what we’re working on.**

Write Something Good: A plea for quality art

In the past month or so, I’ve had two separate and drastically different movie-going experiences. The first, I went to see Suicide Squad the second week it was out. The second, I went and saw Kubo and the Two Strings with some friends of mine.

Now, let me make one thing abundantly clear. I am a DC fanboy through and through. I grew up watching Batman and Superman and I’ve read DC comics for as long as I can remember. I can go on and on about how much I love Batman, and the reasons why Nightwing is my favorite superhero, and why I have a polarizing love/hate relationship with Superman. I love the DC universe and everything about it, and I’m super stoked that DC Rebirth has been doing so well.

But the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is a trash fire. I won’t go into everything, because I could literally talk for hours about the travesty that Zack Snyder has created (I’m very opinionated if you haven’t noticed), but let’s just say that I’ve been burned by two DC movies this year: Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad. The two movies suffer from different problems (BvS has too many to count), but one of the biggest things Suicide Squad suffered from was poor writing.

This poor writing manifested itself in a few ways. Namely confusing or non-existent character motivation and development, sloppy, awkward dialogue, and mischaracterization of characters who have very rich backgrounds that have been developed over 30+ years. The movie also suffers from producers getting too involved in the director’s vision, but that’s a different issue. I think that the actors (Margot Robbie in particular) did a pretty good job considering what they were given. But the plot was really convoluted and ultimately really didn’t make sense. I did enjoy the movie at certain points, but it was ultimately really disappointing due to garbage writing.

Kubo, however, was a different story. Kubo was made by the same studio that made Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls. Kubo is one of the best movies I’ve seen in theaters in the past few years. Kubo is beautifully animated, and has one of the most archetypal “hero’s journey” stories that I have ever seen. It follows the hero’s journey beat-for-beat, while creating compelling examples of the meaning of family, the importance of storytelling, and the pain of loss. The story, while fairly predictable, is beautifully written, the characters are authentic and well-developed within the short run time of the film, and I was still pondering the movie’s thought-provoking themes hours after I’d left the theater.

Now. Here are some numbers for you.

Suicide Squad released on August 6 in the US, and was made with a budget of $175 million. As of today, it’s made $640 million in the box office. It has a 27% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 67% user rating.

Kubo and the Two Strings released on August 19 in the US, and was made with a budget of $60 million. As of today, it’s made $30.5 million in the box office. It has a 97% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an 88% user rating.

There are definitely some things that factor into this. Kubo appeals primarily to families with children, while Suicide Squad appeals to a significantly wider audience, especially millennials, who are currently the largest living generation in the US.* Suicide Squad is also the third movie within the DCEU, and was preceded by Man of Steel and BvS, so the anticipation was high (and much of the advertising for this movie was driven by the Joker, who ended up being in the movie for about 10 minutes). Many people thought this could be DC’s chance to get back in the game for movies after Marvel’s success…And they suuuuuper blew it.

All this to say, I have problems with this reality. And questions.

Why do bad movies make so much money?

Why do good movies, even if they’re children’s movies, sometimes hardly make any money?

Why do people keep pumping money into movies that are bad? And do the people making these movies seriously not know the movie’s bad before they release it?

Why do people spend so much time and energy perpetuating bad storytelling, while good storytelling gets left by the wayside?

As always, I’m not an expert in this area. I don’t claim to be. I might end up making claims and saying things that don’t make sense in the “real world.” And this is kind of a rant that I’m just word vomiting onto a page and then posting. I’m completely open to comments and discussion. But this is incredibly frustrating.

Much of this is based around advertising. Suicide Squad had a pretty good advertising campaign, and many early trailers got me excited for the movie. Our culture is also really into the interconnected movie universe thing right now. Which, as much as I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they’ve created something unique that has cursed much of the rest of modern cinema. Everyone tries to create movies that connect to something else, and it all ends up being ridiculously complicated. Oftentimes they don’t even tell a full story within a single movie, as the movie is basically being used to set up a sequel. When people are focused on the property they’re setting up, the writing of the current story suffers. People also are really focused on trying to write these intricate, complex stories with some sort of twist ending, and then they end up not recognizing the numerous gaping plotholes and faulty character motivations they’ve created. So many movies are created to make money, rather than to create art that can be appreciated for its intrinsic value. Nowadays many movies don’t have much intrinsic value. Superhero movies, as much as I love them, are starting to become a disease.

And here’s my point here.

Write. Something. Good.

Please.

So much of modern cinema is about pandering to the culture in order to make the money that they put into the movie back and set up the next movie they have planned. But I would venture to say that many of these movies that have come out in recent years will be completely forgotten in around twenty years. The most well-remembered, culturally relevant and impactful movies that end up having a lasting impact are often the most well-written. They have authentic, realistic characters and an interesting story that doesn’t obviously contradict itself. And, and this is one of the most important elements to me, they say something. And they say something compelling. That’s why I love Kubo so much. It’s a beautiful movie with interesting characters, a simple, easy-to-follow story, and it conveyed several important, compelling messages.

Let me make something else clear: I’m not opposed to complex stories. One of my favorite stories I’ve ever encountered is the Zero Escape series of video games, which (in my opinion) is one of the most convoluted, confusing stories ever written. Over the course of three games, it takes the time to explain to you all of the different confusing aspects and how they all interconnect to make one story. But what I love about it is that it also has interesting, well-developed characters, and has a fascinating commentary on the importance of decision making, questions reality, plays off probability and chance, and asks questions about the Many-Worlds Theory. I’ve spent hours playing these games, and many more hours thinking about all of the different questions and arguments it poses.

Please stop making art that panders to the culture and then fails to say anything at all. Or just stop writing garbage. There’s something to be said for a simple hero’s journey that doesn’t confuse your audience and has a clear message. Not everything has to be a big spectacle. In this culture we live in, it’s unfortunately possible that your art may not be successful if it’s not a big spectacle. But if it’s inherently bad, it definitely won’t be. Please, just write something good.

 

*http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/04/25/millennials-overtake-baby-boomers/

Nothing’s Original: A plea for the revival of imagination

Recently, I took a short little quiz that tested whether I was primarily left or right brained and the percentage of each. I knew basically what the results were going to be, and this ended up being the result of my test:

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The result didn’t surprise me one bit. I know that I’m very right brain inclined. What caught me off guard was the primary word at the top of that right brain list.

Imagination.

This surprised me, quite frankly. From my perspective, I feel that my imagination died years ago. I grew up without many friends, there weren’t any kids in the neighborhood I lived in, and I never really played with my siblings, so I grew up primarily watching TV and playing video games to pass the time. I owned tons of toys and action figures and, honestly, I can’t for the life of me remember the last time I played with any of those toys and used my imagination. I made this thought clear when I posted my results on Facebook, stating that I honestly believed that my imagination died when I was around eight years old. It was then that an old school friend of mine reminded me that I wrote my own fictional stories all the way up until I was in middle school. I shared a lot of these stories with my friends as I wrote them. And I honestly forgot about them. Then I remembered that, even early on in high school, whenever we had any sort of creative writing prompts, my wheels usually started turning pretty rapidly. I remember one prompt in particular based on a short story called “The Scarlatti Tilt.” Although I suppose “short story” is an overstatement. The story, written by Richard Brautigan, is as follows:

“It’s very hard to live in a studio apartment in San Jose with a man who’s learning to play the violin.” That’s what she told the police when she handed them the empty revolver.

That’s it. Two sentences. Our prompt was to write a story based off this story. As soon as I read this story, my brain started to kick into gear. What I eventually ended up with was a story of a man who lost his job as principal violinist of the orchestra, who, driven by sorrow after losing everything he’d worked for, ended up murdering his roommate and jumping out the window. The short story above ended up being the final line of my story, delivered by a police officer at the scene. Super dark and grim, I know, but it was unique. It was something different than what most other people would think of. I used my imagination to come up with an intriguing story. This was early in my high school career. Then, suddenly, my imagination just…Stopped.

My question is why? What happened to me so that I stopped using my imagination? So I stopped writing, dreaming, and creating?

I feel like this is a question that many people in our culture nowadays could and should ask. What happened to us so that we stopped dreaming and stopped using our imagination? Because I would argue that the vast majority of creators, particularly in film, TV, and literature, have lost their imagination. Nothing’s original any more. Nearly every movie that’s in theaters nowadays is based off of something: books, “true stories,” TV shows, or even other movies. There’s nothing original any more. And most things that are considered “original” are incredibly cliché and predictable.

So what happens to people? What happened so that creators and artists stopped imagining and using their own unique creativity and started copying other people’s work and making it their own? Where did the epic stories of valiant heroes and adventures disappear to in our culture? And why did they disappear?

I’ve thought about this a lot recently, and I have a theory. Unfortunately, it’s due to the same reason most people quit most things: they’re afraid of what people will say. Most likely due to the fact that someone probably put down their imagination and creativity at some point in the past. And I believe that part of the reason this has become so widespread throughout our culture is due to the way that American public schools operate. Everything is graded. From attendance to participation, everything is graded. In classes with creative writing, students’ assignments and prompt submissions are picked apart in detail. Their grammar is graded, their spelling and punctuation are graded. And, ultimately, and unfortunately, so is their creativity.

When students write a story that follows the traditional hero’s journey, their writing is praised and celebrated, as they effectively used all of the different parts of the formula they’ve been given. When students stray from this recipe or use different ingredients, they’re criticized for not focusing on addressing all parts of the assignment, being sloppy with their schoolwork, and, overall, just not doing a good job.

Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario. Let’s say that Jamey and Jordan are both working on a creative writing assignment. In this scenario, Jamey has a very original idea for his creative writing, something very unique that captures his personality very effectively. Jamey, though he’s very imaginative, isn’t very good at writing with proper grammar and has trouble with spelling. When talking to his friend Jordan, Jamey talks about his story and everything he plans on writing for this assignment, incredibly excited about his ideas. Jordan, who hasn’t been able to think of something, finds Jamie’s idea incredibly interesting and decides to adapt it and use it for his own creative writing response. Jordan won the school spelling bee in elementary school several years in a row and knows in the ins and outs of proper grammar in the English language. When both of these students’ assignments are turned in, Jordan will, more than likely, get a higher grade than Jordan, and even be praised for his creativity and imagination. Jamey, on the other hand, will be marked down for spelling mistakes and improper grammar, and possibly even be accused of cheating off of his friend Jordan and stealing his idea.

How would Jamey feel in this situation? My guess is pretty crappy. He’s now been told that his original, creative idea is garbage simply because he isn’t as good at conforming to the obscure rules of English grammar that, quite frankly, most people don’t care about. How could he not take this criticism and apply it directly to his own ideas? After imagining this story and being so excited about it, his thought after receiving his grade would soon become “Oh, I guess my ideas weren’t very good. I guess other people don’t think it’s as good as I do. Maybe all of my creative ideas are bad.” Jamey stops using his imagination. He feels like it’s pointless, that his own creativity “isn’t good” and is uninteresting to other people. On the other hand, Jordan, being praised for his effective use of prose, feels incredibly accomplished after stealing his friend’s work and using it as his own.

What’s wrong with this picture? If you don’t see something wrong, I’ll be honest, I think you have a problem. When imagination and creativity is graded, students can easily feel that their own imagination is bad, and the natural response from experiencing this criticism is simply to stop imagining things. Stop dreaming. Stop trying to be creative. Because, obviously, no one else appreciates it.

There’s something I feel I need to say here. This isn’t a blog where I propose a solution to the problem I’ve discovered. This is simply the rambling of someone who has discovered an incredibly disheartening reality and has decided to ramble on about it in the hope that other people will become aware of a major issue. This is a plea for the revival of imagination. Children and students should be encouraged in their imagination and creativity. They should be encouraged to dream. And when they dream, when they create, when they use their imagination, they shouldn’t be put down for it. Adhering to the rules laid out by social constructs shouldn’t be what determines whether or not the art and imagination of a child, or anyone of any age, is good. Creativity should be appreciated what it is: Imagination that reflects the unique individual identity of each person. A look inside the heart and mind of the person who creates it. Imagination, dreams, and creativity need to be encouraged. There are stories to be written, art to be created, songs to be recorded, without fear of the judgment or criticism of the people that may encounter it.

I’m not encouraging the praise of mediocrity (which is a blog post for another time), but creativity and imagination should be encouraged for their own sake. Criticizing imagination based on someone’s adherence to socially constructed rules leads to disappointment and, ultimately, shutting down the imagination and leaving it to die where it got shot down. If stories and original art are meant to progress, imagination needs to be allowed to run wild and flourish. I hope to live in a reality where deviance from what’s normal is encouraged in all forms of art. Until then, I’m going to be trying to find my imagination again.

Note: I kinda wrote this stream-of-consciousness with little to no editing, so if it makes little to no sense or seems like there are jumps in logic or that I’m missing points, well, that’s why.

Valentine’s Day: “Love,” singleness, and chocolate

Ah, Valentine’s Day. A day where couples celebrate their romantic relationships, single people cry and whine about not having a significant other, and people give out boatloads of candy. A day filled with roses, different aromas, and romantic comedies that make me want to puke a little bit. Either that, or a day filled with loneliness, insecurity, and romance movies that make me want to puke a lotta bit. Regardless of which end of the spectrum you’re on, Valentine’s Day is about relationships, romance, and love. And also chocolate. Lots of chocolate.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Valentine’s Day. It’s easily one of my favorite holidays. However, Valentine’s Day has so much stuff going on that I thought it deserved its own post. (Shameless plug: To see my basic overview of some other holidays, feel free to read my post “Life as Charlie Brown.”) Valentine’s Day is generally approached one of two ways, both of which result in Facebook becoming a wasteland of emotions and sickening garbage. It’s either a day to celebrate, or a day to complain, and people go about it the wrong way all the time. Not that there’s necessarily a right way to go about complaining, but it’s definitely possible to handle the situation better than most people tend to.

In the first Valentine’s Day camp, we have the people in a relationship. This includes  pretty much any couple, whether they’re in a new relationship, in a committed marriage, in high school, college, graduated, anything. For married people, whether they’re newlyweds or have been married for decades, Valentine’s Day is like another wedding anniversary in a way. It’s a day when they celebrate the person they love, and share their gratitude for that relationship. I love seeing the love shared between a husband and wife who have been married for years be celebrated on Valentine’s Day. It’s beautiful, really. When I see these people celebrate on Valentine’s Day, it makes me really happy. It reminds me of why I love Valentine’s Day. But this category is generally restricted to married couples, and a select few who are engaged, or have been in a committed relationship for a long time, or at least one that looks like it’s going to result in marriage in the near future. Then, there’s…Everyone else. This is when things get gross, messy, sometimes super uncomfortable, and leave me feeling sick to my stomach. This is when the obnoxious Facebook posts and such come in. Whether it’s the “I looooooooove my boyfriend so so so so so much and he loves me and will never let me go my heart stops whenever I’m near him and I blah blurgh blechhhhhhh <3” or the “My gurl is the hottest hottie that ever was hot and she’s super hot and I love her hot bod and she’s really hot,” either one makes me die a little inside. These are generally people freaking out about a relationship that is new, or one that’s been broken up and then “restored” just in time for Valentine’s Day, but regardless of the circumstance, it’s usually them freaking out about a relationship that hasn’t withstood any sort of real trial, one that hasn’t been tested and proven to be strong and committed, and one that’s probably going to end sometime in the next few months. These are generally people running on emotions, which, if any sort of relationship with anyone ever has taught us, are fickle. Emotions can change in a second, and these people are generally just throwing up their emotions all over everybody. As always, I’m speaking general trends here. Not everyone with these kinds of posts is in these situations, but for the most part, this is what Valentine’s Day is plagued with. Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate relationships, specifically romantic ones, so if someone is in one, what do they decide to do? Flaunt it. They decide to rub it in the face of everyone who isn’t so “fortunate” (which isn’t really the word I would use) to be in the kind of incredible, amazing, love-driven relationship they’re in. Which, in turn, causes the second approach to Valentine’s Day.

In the opposing Valentine’s Day camp, we have all the single people. Valentine’s Day has also been called “Singles Awareness Day” by plenty of people. The reason being, after being plagued socially and in the media with an entire day of emotions, relationships being shown off, and a constant battering of “It’s great being in a relationship, too bad you’re not in one,” single people can’t help but feeling, well, singled out. A lot of people end up thinking “Oh, yeah. I’m single. I wish I wasn’t single, because look at how great not being single is.” So, in turn, what do people decide to do? Whine about it. This is when the Facebook posts on the opposite end of the spectrum come into play, the “Forever alone,” “Life is terrible,” and “I’m going to eat chocolate until I die alone hahahahahahahahahahaha *sobbing noises*” posts show up. Honestly, these drive me more crazy than the other ones. People whining and complaining about things can easily drive me up a wall, especially when they’re complaining about anything involving a desire for a romantic relationship. While all the complaining, pessimism, and general depression drives me crazy, single people can’t really help but feel lonely because of the not single people. But, regardless, it’s still an issue because of people approaching it the wrong way.

Here’s my thing about Valentine’s Day: Valentine’s Day all kind of revolves around one thing, but the one thing that Valentine’s Day revolves around is completely misunderstood. That one thing, the misunderstood thing, the thing that in reality has been completely forgotten about because it’s been misinterpreted and misrepresented is something quite simple: love. We live in a culture that portrays love as a special feeling shared between those two special people, something that’s only present and existent between two people with some sort of romantic involvement. And that’s exactly the problem. In our culture, love is considered an emotion. Love is the feeling of butterflies in your stomach when that special someone is near, love is the desire to want to spend time with that specific person, love is that feeling of affection for your significant other. In nearly all aspects, love is presented as an emotion. Generally, when people flaunt their relationship, or crave that feeling you get when you’re in a relationship, people are talking about an emotion. An emotion of affection. Love is not an emotion. It’s a commitment. It’s a choice. You don’t wake up one day and decide you love someone. No, instead, it’s a conscious decision every day to invest in someone, care about that person’s wants and needs, and having a desire to care for and help them when they need it. I could go on and on about this topic specifically, but that’s for another time. All that to say, if people recognized love as that commitment rather than the emotion that comes and goes, Valentine’s Day would be much more pleasant for everyone.

So why do I bring all this up? Why do I even care? Well, as I’ve said, Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. For me, it’s a celebration of love. Not the emotion people have mistaken it for, but the commitment that it truly is. Love isn’t something shared between romantic couples, it’s shared between friends, family, everyone you come into contact with, really. So, since Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love, for me, Valentine’s Day is a celebration of relationships with my friends and family. Valentine’s Day is a celebration of legitimate love, and it’s a celebration of the commitments others have made to each other. I don’t need that “someone special” in order to celebrate Valentine’s Day. I don’t need to ask anyone if they’ll be my valentine. If you’re a good friend of mine, you are my valentine, whether you like it or not. If people would adopt a different mindset when it comes to love, affection, and commitment, Valentine’s Day would end up being a lot better for everyone. And I’d still get a ton of chocolate.

P.S. – I know this isn’t a letter, but it’s a post-script. I realized there was one thing I forgot to mention, and I also realized it would be difficult to just throw it somewhere in the middle, so I’m just putting it here. The last reason I enjoy Valentine’s Day so much is because it’s another day to remind me to sit back, enjoy my singleness while it lasts, and look forward to something even greater in the future. A wonderful relationship that I’ll get to share with my future spouse. Instead of wishing for it now, I get to look forward to it at some point in the future. (A little confused? Here’s another shameless plug: read my post “Finding Her” for more of my opinions on romance and the dating game.)

The Meaning of Life: No, it’s not 42.

There are three things I know of that are catalysts of deep, meaningful conversations: Late nights, long drives, and dying campfires. Whatever the discussion may end up being about, more often than not, the cliche question of “What’s the meaning of life?” or, “Why are we here?” ends up making its way into discussion. It’s a question that’s been asked since the beginning of time, by people of all ages. Usually, people can’t really seem to come up with the answer. They usually just make some sort of guess as to what it might be and leave it at that. Well, I don’t mean to brag, but I think I have an idea as to what it might be. This isn’t something I just made up, this is a conclusion I’ve come to over lots of time thinking, listening to other peoples’ ideas and all that kind of stuff. It’s not even exclusively my idea. Plenty of other people have come to the same conclusion. So let’s go through how I came to this conclusion. (You didn’t really think I was just going to tell you, did you?) The way I came to this conclusion was by observing peoples’ natural wants, desires, needs, that kind of stuff. Then the conclusion I came to seemed to fit. Whether or not you agree with me is your decision, but for now, I guess you’re just along for the ride.

There are a lot of things people look for in life. One of these things is an outlet to use their talents. Everyone is good at something. Whether you think so or not, you excel at something that other people may not. For some people it’s an artistic talent, for others, it’s more a talent of intelligence in one of many different areas. And even still for others, it can be athletic talent, or talent when it comes to people skills, being outgoing, relating to others people, being a good listener, et cetera. There are so many different things that different people excel at, and finding a good outlet to use those talents in is one of my paths to discovering the meaning of life. When people aren’t able to use their talents, when they don’t get to use the skills they’ve been gifted with and aren’t able to excel at what they’re good at, it can leave them feeling empty, frustrated, and unmotivated. While on the other hand, people who get to use their talents on a regular basis, whether it be at work or in a club or another group, feel more encouraged, excited, and motivated to continue thriving in that area. People who use their talents on a regular basis feel more of a sense of purpose than those who don’t have that outlet to excel in. Feeling a sense of purpose is something that everyone longs for, which is my next point.

People need to feel a sense of purpose in order to find their life’s meaning. People find their sense of purpose in different things. Some find it in supporting their family, friends, or a particular cause. Some find their purpose in aiming toward a specific goal, whether it’s a career, a life-long dream, anything bigger and better than what they’re doing now. When people don’t have those dreams or desires, they can feel hopeless, that they’re forever stuck in the place they’re currently in. And if they have those dreams or desires with no way of working to achieve them, it can have the same effect. Not having a dream or having a dream that seems completely out of reach can cause someone to feel hopeless, worthless, or without purpose. Having people to encourage you along the way and having the motivation to achieve your dreams is one path to discovering purpose in life. However, having dreams and goals usually isn’t much without one key thing, which is something to devote your life to.

Everyone needs something bigger, something to wrap their life around and devote it to. For some people, it’s the American dream, having a wife, two kids, a dog, and a white picket fence with a good job to support it all. For others it can be a particular cause, like saving the environment, helping children in Africa, or seeking justice for people in court. And for some other people, it can be something as simple as money, success, a relationship, wealth, or fame. Everyone searches for a cause outside themselves to devote their life to. The difference between this aspect and a dream is that quite often the dreams and goals a person has are driven by whatever the “something bigger” in their life is. The dream to have an amazing career can be driven by money. They dream to become a rock star or actor on television can be driven by fame. The dream to get an education, a good job, and a great home can be driven by the American dream, the desire to have a family, or one of many other things. Whatever this bigger purpose may be, it’s something that people look for to devote their life to, so that anything and everything they do is trying to achieve that goal and purpose.

So what do we have so far? People need an outlet to use their talents to achieve a goal driven by a bigger cause. Or, to put it a different way, the “something bigger” in a person’s life drives everything they do, and causes them give their talents and abilities back to that “something bigger” to achieve the dream that it created. It may sound confusing at first, but I’d say this is a pretty accurate description of one of peoples’ greatest needs. And, to me, this sounds like something you may not have thought of before. To me, this sounds like worship. This may sound like a stretch to you, because the way most people think of worship is something brutal or animalistic, something involving sacrifices, ancient rituals, and all that jazz. But for me, worship is something completely different. For me, worship is using your talents and abilities for a cause outside yourself to achieve a dream, which is usually driven by the root cause in the first place. So, by my logic, if everyone has those three things (a desire to use their talents and abilities, a bigger, better dream, and a cause outside themselves), it stands to reason that everyone worships something. Some people worship money, fame, and success, some people worship the American dream, some people worship other people or a relationship, some people worship a specific cause such as saving the planet, some people worship the planet itself. Whatever it is that you worship, it’s something that consumes your thoughts, your motivation, your desires, your whole being. And whatever it may be, everyone worships something. Worship is the purpose and meaning of life.

Now, here’s where things get a little complicated. There are a couple more things that every person looks for and needs. The first thing people look for is to be loved, appreciated, to have a feeling that you belong. Anyone who says otherwise is lying. People long for that feeling of belonging, that they’ve found their place, and that they’re loved and appreciated. Some of these things that people worship don’t do that at all, like money and success, while some others may seem to give people what they’re looking for, like a relationship or fame. People look for love and appreciation in a myriad of places and they may think they’ve found it for a while, but a lot of times they end up feeling empty, wondering why they don’t feel happy or content. So they end up looking for more of it. And then it just turns into a never-ending cycle of no satisfaction. Whether they know it or not, people want to worship something that gives back to them, and when they realize they aren’t getting what they want or need, they just end up throwing themselves into it even more, which complicates things even more.

The last thing people want and need in life is a sense of identity. Something that shows who they are, what they do, what they stand for. And, once again, some people find their identity in what they do, where they are in life, or who they’re in a relationship with. The problem here is, jobs and careers come and go, life is never consistent, and people fail. The issue here comes when the thing they find their identity in, the thing they’ve wrapped their lives around and devoted so much time, energy, and hope to, is taken away. When a job is lost, when the market crashes and you lose everything, when your significant other decides it’s time to see new people, where does your identity go? It disappears. People find their identity in what they worship, but when it’s taken away, they’re left broken, without an identity, and starting from square one when it comes to discovering who they are. Thus begins a process of rebuilding, picking up the pieces and trying to reconstruct the shell they once were. Some people don’t even make an attempt to move on, and just end up just accepting that being miserable is the new way of life. Their identity’s gone, and it can’t be found again, so why even try?

This is all where my final point comes in. People need to worship something that never changes, never fails, gives them an identity and shows them who they truly are, what they’re capable of, and how they’re able to use their gifts, talents, and abilities for a greater cause. If worship is the purpose of life, having a purpose that doesn’t suddenly disappear is not only beneficial, but necessary in order to have a constant understanding of where you’re supposed to be and what you’re supposed to be doing. Now, you can probably guess what I would say at this point. You probably know my views and opinions at this point and probably already know what I would say my life’s purpose is because of what (or Who) I worship. But I’ll refrain for the time being. For now, I’ll just hope that some people take the time to analyze who or what they’re worshiping in their life and see what it’s doing for them. See what their apparent purpose is and how they feel about it. I plan on making two more posts in the future: one specifically about identity, and one specifically about worship. I’m hoping they’ll be out there fairly soon. But in the meantime, I hope my basic setup of my idea of the meaning of life has been helpful for someone. That’s all I can really do at this point. Hope and pray.

Finding Her: My somewhat unique approach to the dating game

I’ve never had a girlfriend. And I’m proud of it. I’ll give you a second to let that sink in…You good? All right, moving on. Most people are probably really confused by that statement. “What? You’re still a teenager. Why is that something you would ever be proud of? You’re a guy, why are you proud you haven’t had a girlfriend?” I’ve been asked about my convictions and beliefs on this topic a lot lately and every time the basic message is the same: I haven’t found her yet. Now, there’s something I should get out of the way now before I move on. All my convictions on this topic come back to my faith in Christ. If that’s an issue for you, you’re free to stop reading now. But, on the off-chance that you’re curious about my opinions and approach to this whole situation, feel free to read on.

In Genesis 2:24, after God creates Adam and Eve, it says, “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” This becoming one flesh makes the whole situation interesting. It’s impossible for two things to become one and be separated again without some damage being done to both parties involved. To use a weird example, if you take a piece of tape and stick it to a piece of paper, then pull the tape off, it’s basically impossible to take the tape off without it taking pieces of the paper with it. That’s kind of how break-ups work when the relationship isn’t handled very well (weird analogy, I know). Anyway, this is part of the reason why I haven’t been in a relationship. Becoming united in one flesh doesn’t just involve the physical aspects; it also involves spiritual aspects. Severing spiritual ties is difficult, and it’s not something I want to deal with.

Aside from that whole ordeal, I’m a believer in the thought that (almost) everyone has “the one.” (I say “almost” because some people are designed to be and capable of being single their whole life. And that’s awesome. I’m not one of those people, though.) That (almost) everyone has that special, unique person they were designed to be with and who was designed to be with them. By this logic, all the parts of a relationship that come as part of a relationship under the covenant of marriage are really only meant to be shared between the two of them. That means a lot of different things for me than it does for other people. For me, it includes all forms of sexual intimacy. And for me, sexual intimacy includes kissing. Yes, that’s right. I haven’t had my “first kiss” or whatever either. Not even when I was a little kid or anything like that. I plan to save my first kiss for my wedding day. I’ll get to my reasons for that soon.

So at this point you’re probably asking, “Why the title? He hasn’t really said anything about dating at all.” Well, let’s get into that first by starting with how these convictions I have make me think about how I relate to other people. As I’ve said, I’ve never had a girlfriend. And the reason for that is, quite simply, that I haven’t found her. I haven’t found the one. The way I see it, you don’t have to enter into any sort of romantic relationship to really determine if someone is right for you. The way I approach it is by first relating to them as a friend. For me, dating is meant for marriage, not something to be taken lightly or done “just for fun.” That’s what friends are for. And if you’re not able to really connect with someone as a friend, you definitely won’t be able to connect with them as your spouse. The way I see it, your spouse should really be your best friend. And I haven’t found that person yet. I haven’t found that special girl who I really, genuinely connect with in all the ways that I feel I’m supposed to. And because I haven’t found that person, and since dating isn’t something to be taken lightly for me, I haven’t had a valid reason to enter into any sort of romantic relationship with anyone. I have too much respect for my friends to try and overlook something like that in an attempt to try and make something work that I already know ultimately won’t work out. This is just one of the reasons I have for not getting into anything yet.

The second reason is this: According to my belief and following my own logic, if people are specially designed to complement another person and everything that comes with a romantic relationship is only supposed to be shared between those two people, it stands to reason that if I were to have any sort of romantic relationship with someone who was not meant to be my future wife and engaged in said special romantic interactions, I would be taking something away from that woman’s future spouse. I’d be taking something that doesn’t belong to me. And in this case, it’s not really something you can give back. This is where the “one flesh” thing comes into play. I don’t want to take any part of someone away when it’s supposed to be given to someone else. I don’t want to be the one to interfere in someone else’s relationship, even if they don’t think it’s interfering at the time. I don’t want be the one thinking, “Oh yeah, I dated your wife at one point in time.” To me, that’s just awkward. So I approach friendships with women with the thought of “She’s someone’s daughter. She’s someone’s sister. She’s someone else’s wife.” It helps me to be respectful of them and their future relationship. If you try thinking this way sometime, it’ll definitely change your approach.

Now for the main reason for all of this. Why I go about this whole thing the way I do. Well, since I believe that people are designed to complement another special person, it also stands to reason that the one for me is out there somewhere. And since she’s out there and I truly believe she’s out there, I want to do anything and everything I can to make sure that our relationship is special. I want to make sure that when she and I do truly become one flesh that I’m as whole and intact as I can possibly be. I don’t want there to be a ton of people out in the world walking around carrying pieces of me around with them that I can’t get back. I want to give everything I can to one woman and only one woman. And I can only hope and pray that she’s trying to do the same thing for me.

So now comes the point when people probably ask, “So how the heck do you plan to find this person? The way you’re going about it is so weird and you’ll never figure it out. And how do you plan on sticking to this plan?” Or at least that’s what I think people would ask. Well, I have a few methods and strtegies. I won’t discuss all of them here because some of them are a bit more personal (but if you want to ask me sometime, I’ll probably tell you), but I’ll tell you my main strategy. I wear a purity ring at all times as a reminder. It’s a reminder to me that she’s out there somewhere. It’s a reminder to focus on purity and to strive for it. It’s a reminder to be respectful and not to get into things I regret. And it’s reminder to pray for her. I pray that she’s trying to save what she can like I am. I pray that guys are treating her the way she should be treated. The way that I’d want her to be treated when I’m married to her is the way I want her to be treated now. I pray that she’s safe and that God would bring us together in His own time, when He sees fit. And I pray that I would become the man that she deserves as a husband.

Which leads me to my final point. When it comes to dating, romance, relationships, all this kind of stuff, I have a phrase that I live by, and it’s this: “Be the person the person you’re looking for is looking for.” You got that? It’s a little confusing. Feel free to continue once you’ve graphed it out and it makes sense. In other words, have high standards and don’t lower them, but at the same time, hold yourself to those same standards. The way I see it, I’m not looking for the right person. Far from it. Instead, I’m trying to become the right person. There will come the time when I find her out there somewhere, but until then I’m doing what I can to build my character, discover more about myself and who I am in Christ, and discover more about who God is and what He says about me and my life. And, quite frankly, I’m not ready for it. Not even close. Well, not yet, anyway. I still have a lot of things that I need to sort through and figure out before I’m prepared to provide for another person emotionally, spiritually, and financially. I can’t even manage all that for myself yet. There will come a time when I think I’m ready. And I think it’s probably somewhere around there where God will decide to introduce us.

There’s a quote I’ve seen around the internet that says, “Run as fast as you can towards God and if someone keeps up, introduce yourself.” I’ve heard someone else say about meeting his spouse: “All I was doing was following God’s path. Then one day I noticed someone was going in the same direction. So I married her.” That’s my basic plan for now. Just to chase after God, His will, and His plan. And by trying to find and follow His will, I’ll inevitably meet her. It’ll happen when it’s supposed to happen. I can’t do anything to speed up or slow down the process. For now all I can do is trust that God is faithful. I can wait to fall in love. But when I do, it’ll be special. Max Lucado says, “A woman’s heart should be so hidden in God that a man has to seek Him just to find her.” That’s what I’m looking for. Someone special who I’ll be able to do life with and will bring me even closer to my Creator. But until that time comes, all I can really do is chase after God, pray for her growth and development, and trust that God is faithful.

So this has all basically been about my cautious approach to dating and everything. Which is funny because for me, dating isn’t even the right word. Courtship is more my thing. But writing about that would double the length of this long post as it already, so that’s a post for another time, I s’pose. If you’re confused by my approach to things, I hope this has helped clear some things up. But, of course, I’m always willing to further explain my views and opinions if you ever want to talk about it. This is something I’m passionate about if that wasn’t clear. So for now, I’m just going to be doing what I can to follow God’s plan, patiently waiting for the day when He decides to introduce my wife and me. And, for now, I can wait for that day.