Boring Lives and Creepy Interests

Lucifer (or Frank) Contemplating the Boring LifeIt is probably never a good idea to write anything too personal publicly. But I’ve never been very good at going along with good ideas. So I thought I would spend a moment to talk about the boring people I went to high school with. I don’t mean all of them, of course. I don’t know all of them. And some that I do know are quite interesting. But you see: I get mail.

I have a horrible memory, so I only have the vaguest of recollections of the people from high school. But they will write to me from time to time. This is pretty much always because of one aspect of my colorful life. They want to know if I am as evil as I appear to be. Do I snarl? Eat puppies for breakfast? Of course, they don’t put it that way. But the subtext is clear enough.

I no longer respond to such email, because I know how these things go. Regardless of how I respond, there will never be a reply. I think of it as the internet equivalent of doorbell ditch. But it really is them getting a thrill out of the process of comparing what they remember as a shy, skinny kid and his later life as despoiler of the world’s children and general pox on society. It makes me feel like a geek at a freak show.

And then I have to go and screw it all up by showing that I’m much more like a mathematics professor at a small liberal arts college. The disappointment must be extreme. But still, there are the books! They’ll always have the books! But I get the sense that they think somehow the lives they’ve led have been better than mine. And they might be right. I’m in no position to judge. But most of them have led what I think of as very boring lives.

This is not a surprise. I went to a high school that was known locally as “the ranch.” In fact, if my memory is correct, on the side of the gymnasium, that was painted in big block letters. And even though it was a suburban school, it had a certain feel of being a country school. The people who came out of it are now mostly a conservative lot — many of the Donald Trump supporting variety. You know the type: don’t much like African Americans, even though they’ve only seen them on television.

That’s all fine. Most people do just want a normal life — that’s why they call it that: a normal life. I like barbecues as much as the next person. But why reach out to me? I think that shows a certain amount of boredom with their own lives. I’d never write to someone I barely remember asking them about the twenty years they spent as a supply clerk in the army. Then again, I’ve lived, in retrospect (having survived it), a charmed life — and certainly not a boring one. I’ve traveled extensively, known amazing people, done some great things, got in ridiculous amounts of trouble, and lived to tell the tale. Not that I do — at least not to those people from the deep past who want to drive by my digital home and slow down, hoping to see me sacrificing a goat.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

40 thoughts on “Boring Lives and Creepy Interests

    • I originally had an afterword explaining that. But I figured you already knew that. BTW: goat kids are about the most adorable animals on the planet.

      • Nah, I was thinking how often you seem to care about not hurting small creatures. Especially super adorable kids or geeps.

        The reason they are so interested in you is like knowing your classmate is a celebrity. You have glitter and they forget that you are still human like they are.

        • That’s adorable! I had no idea that was possible!

          Yes, celebrities like me. It must be like all the mail that Ted Bundy got in prison!

          • Oh hush, you are just as adorable as the geep.

            >insert your own jokes here<

            You have done exciting stuff and they stayed home raising chickens and children. People find that way more fascinating but not in a way of wanting it in their life.

            • Well, I think raising chickens is pretty fascinating. I’ll add that to my life: a Puerto Vallarta villa with chickens. I love it!

              • yes, you say that now but I cannot see you doing the farmer thing. For one, overalls don’t suit you. ;-)

                    • You know: they’ll work for less. Maybe I’ll give you a job. If you can get over the border.

                    • So maybe you don’t think chickens are worth breaking the law for? Chickens that would otherwise be abused in factory farms? Oh, I get the picture now. I see the kind chickophobic person you are. I don’t know how you sleep at night!

                    • Poorly actually. I have pretty bad insomnia.

                      But not due to the lack of attention paid to chickens! I am much more concerned with the living standard of the mice in your backyard! What will they do without you?

                    • I’m wondering about my mice too. After I relocated those two, there has been no sign at all of any mice. And it has been well over a month now. Was it really just those two? And I kind of liked the process. I felt bad locking them in that little room. On the other hand, hawks do come down in our backyard. Where I relocated my couple should be safer for them.

    • I’ve not had it but I understand that barbecued got is excellent. There must be a Hispanic market in town where I can get some. There’s a place nearby that serves lengua (tongue), which is very good. I should see if they have goat so I can try it first.

  1. In my meandering thesis planning, I’ve really been thinking about speech acts, with a much expanded view of what people do with words than is traditional in philosophy.

    Can it be that some people see this sort of missive as a sort of social obligation? They mail you, not as an individual, but just someone once part of their worlds? I’m always hesitant to cite Theory people (basically because they disproportionally suck, is the kindest way I can put it), but sort of like Lacan’s seminar on The Purloined Letter. It’s mailing, the act, not mail, the stuff to read.

    Pure hypothetical speculation.

    • I have other evidence that leads me to my belief. People do occasionally say awful things about me to other people. (This is better than the old days when people said awful things to my face.) I also get mail from people who are earnestly concerned about me. But these don’t usually come from high school — more likely grad school.

      But the truth is that I am so different than what most think of as normal. Even the “math prof” assumption is pretty far out there. But certainly part of it could be checking to see if I’m the sort of person they would like. And I’m not. And the feeling is mutual.

  2. In a weak moment some years back, I Googled the people I remembered from high school. Thank goodness, almost none came up. I didn’t want to get in touch with them; I wanted to confirm that they were all super-successful while I continued down the merry road of utter failure most of them had predicted.

    The one who did come up on Google was one of the few nice kids. Who is now an esteemed stem-cell researcher. Advancing science AND pissing off religious fundamentalists; that’s doubly awesome. My radar for “decent person” wasn’t so badly misaligned in high school after all!

    • It doesn’t help me that I have no yearbooks. I dropped out of high school after 2.5 years (the earliest I could). I really hated high school. But if I had a book with pictures, I’d probably have a better idea who the hell these people are. I remember a time when it seemed everyone was going on And I thought: who would want to do that! There are people from my past that I wouldn’t mind meeting again. But my few experiences with that have not been great, because people grow in different directions. Maintaining a friendship is like maintaining a garden: it takes constant attention. You can’t let it go for ten years and then expect it to be anything but a mess.

      • I signed up for “Classmates” in another weak moment because I was curious about the one who ended up doing stem-cell research; I had a major crush. But I was too scared to explore the site more; fear of rejection by the crush (which would be the sensible reaction on that person’s part) and fear of getting in contact with most of these a-holes again. It’s why I’m not on Facebook. I reserve the right to start my life over as I choose. Begone, foul demons of pastness!

        (It’d be one thing if I were friends with them all those years ago. But of the three friends I had in high school, I fell out with two of them years later, and I contacted the third through a mutual acquaintance whom I e-mailed. That friend had moved on, and I respected the choice.)

        I still get “Classmates” notifications in my inbox occasionally. I suspect it’s pretty much for the same reason you get such things. Except much lamer, I was only a snarkmouth, not a wicked avatar of sin.

        • You bring up another aspect of this, which I implied by saying it was like “doorbell ditch.” The art of friendship is largely dead. I already have huge numbers of very casual acquaintances. I’m not interested in facile friendship. There are a couple of people in my life over the years who I quite liked but who I cut off because they bad at friendship. Like I said: it’s like gardening. (I’m feeling very much like Chauncey Gardiner these days!) Facebook is a great illustration of the problem. It allows people to think they have a lot of friends. But what does friendship mean when it requires no effort at all? I have one friend who I see perhaps every 3 months or so. It doesn’t take much to tend a friendship. But it takes something.

            • I’m much too tired to answer that. But I think it involves two people who are willing to consistently work at the relationship. The best definition of a friend I’ve ever heard (not as good in the digital age) is someone you will help move. Because friendship is something that you feel, not something that you receive. Sometimes your friends are not worthy. But as you get older, you tend not to put up with that so much. It has something to do with wisdom. Maybe I’ll write about it later.

              • yeah, I think you should write about it when you are not tired because I am curious. Excuse me, I need to go help some people move.

                • Beware helping people move. The worst isn’t heavy furniture. It’s books! Books are super-heavy.

                  That said, the finest friend who helps move is the one who helps with the Emergency Move. AKA, you have to be OUT in 12 hours. That’s loyalty.

                  Another biggie I’d add to the list: pick visitors up from the damn airport/train/bus terminal. They came all that way to see you. “Take a taxi” is a jerk move.

                    • I think it was the last time I moved that I stopped buying books and became a full-time library borrower. But I still have way too many.

                      It’s 50/50 sentimental value (oh, I remember when someone gave me this, or what it meant to me when I read it) and others I just respect too much to see them end up as landfill/recycling. Like the undelivered letters in “Post Office,” I don’t want those words to feel abandoned and sad!

          • I’ve seen claims that Americans have fewer friends than people in more civilized countries, and I believe it. The primary thing for me is respect. Even if you only see someone every few years because of travel distance, as long as you still respect one another, it can be valuable. (That was how people did it in the olden days.)

            But in such a class-conscious country, it is hard. Many people strive to achieve self-respect by furthering their career aspirations. If they succeed, what to make of those who failed? You can’t really praise oneself for being cleverer, harder-working, etc., and still have the same respect for others who haven’t achieved as much. It’s theoretically possible, but I’ve never met anyone who did it.

            I’ve had some bad friends I had to end things with. And because of that, I’ve become more critical of myself when I’m a bad friend. I’ve taken advantage of others’ good will just to fill my loneliness, and that’s a rotten thing to do. I often worry I’m still doing it. But you live and learn, they say.

            • In the old days, people wrote to each other. They still engaged. Really, I don’t take much more care when I’m writing for thousands than I do when I’m writing for one. In fact, the one-on-one is often the more fulfilling experience. That’s why comments are so great — not just here but everywhere. I’ve never understood bloggers who have very little traffic but still don’t engage with commenters. On smaller blogs, they are the best things. Anyway, I don’t think physical presence is necessary. Respect is clearly very important. So is generosity of time. That’s the really hard one!

              • Time is probably the hardest thing, now that you mention it. Americans have so much less free time. You have spooky mad-science clones to devote to your blog, I’m sure, but most people never get that far in cloning. (I can propagate beer yeast.)

                Then when friends have kids, forget about it! It’s a nonstop race to the finish of extracurricular activities and whatever, trying to make those kids more competitive in the Randian college/job market. It starts when they’re toddlers and ends when they . . .

                Well, energy for rant over. It’s not a country conducive to friendship. Or democracy, family, anything else much worth having. Guns and football, I suppose.

                • I really do wonder: what is this life for. Making money is not an end. There’s Schopenhauer’s idea that living simply about the will to continue to exist. But I think there is more because one can be more or less happy. But that idea seems to be out of fashion at exactly the time when society should be most focused on it.

                  • It’s odd. Some old-timey writers freaked out about The Age Of The Machine eating our souls, others went gaga over how TAOTM meant that soon all menial labor would be abolished forever. And the truth ended up being somewhere in the middle nobody could have predicted.

                    Well, Orwell kinda predicted it. But, ya know, he so crazy.

                    It’s not impossible to craft a world where people can be happy (until they get sick and die, that’s inevitable.) It’s more possible to increase human happiness than ever before. (Yes, climate change is going to make this very tough, but we could still do it, as the irreplaceable Naomi Klein tells us.) And we take a giant turd all over the possibility.

                    I suspect kindness and courtesy aren’t social constructs; they’re learned wisdom. I certainly didn’t believe in courtesy when I was younger, although I took advantage of kindness whenever it came my way. Still do.

                    Understanding that reciprocity — giving as close as you can to what you get — is essential to human society, that’s a function of experience. You have to have been around the block a few times to grasp this. Infants and toddlers don’t get it, neither do adult conservatives. They imagine they’ve already given too much, and it’s payback time.

                    Liberals realize we can never give enough to repay the damage done, and apologize for it. And that is by no fucking stretch a sign of shoddy weakness. Growing the hell up is not cowardice; refusing to do so is.

                    • “Infants and toddlers don’t get it, neither do adult conservatives.” That sentence all by itself is very quotable.

                      I’m hesitant to say that conservatism is based on a foundation of immaturity. Just the same, there something half-built about the way we find it today. I certainly look at my past libertarianism and see that there were cognitive steps I just hadn’t taken. Of course, that makes me constantly on the lookout for cognitive steps that I’m missing now. But it is clear that those steps aren’t out there in the public discourse. Even though I agree with much of what Burke had to say, other parts of it clearly miss the mark. And he’s about the best conservatives have to offer.

                      I had a conversation with a friend last night about the many extreme conservatives we know who are on the government dole. They always want to take money away from “those bums,” but there is conveniently a carve out for themselves. They are deserving. I think it is a lack of empathy.

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