Monday, September 19, 2005

The Blog Dump

I’m sure this is universal for everyone who blogs regularly: You spend a lot of time writing something up, you take a good look at it, and then you say to yourself, “Maybe it’s just as well if I don’t post that on the internet.”

These are my blog rejects. Stuff I wrote up, but decided, for one reason or another, not to post. Most of them because they seemed too self-indulgent (even by my standards) or too exhibitionist (again, even by my standards).

Except I guess that I’m posting them right here. But I feel a lot more comfortable about having them hidden away in this corner than posted right on the front of my blog.

So, if you’ve managed to find this little hiding place, and want to have a look around, be my guest. You'll find "Japanese Women, Western Men", "My political Journey", "My Worst Moments", "Insights into my Insanity"

But all of these entries should be read with the following thoughts in mind.
1). They’re unpolished, and in many cases unfinished. Sometimes they even stop mid thought.
Sorry about that, but I couldn’t be bother to actually finish a blog post once I decided I wasn’t going to post it anyway. I’m sure you understand.

2). All of these were written when I was in Japan, and most out of sheer boredom, and should be read with that forgiving thought in mind. I was looking for something to take my mind of the boredom of my job. If I got a little carried away on some of these, or a little too self-indulgent, just think of a guy bored at work and trying to occupy himself.

(Update: Against my better judgement, I've gone ahead and published a more extensive version of this blog dump in 2014 that includes everything below, and also a number of scrapped blog posts that were written up until 2014.  That can be found HERE.)

Japanese Women, Western Men(Written during a period of sexual frustration, this was going to be my manifesto on Japanese Women. I tried to keep it intellectually sounded, but I was worried people would be able to see me leering through the prose. Once the love life smoothed over again, I lost all motivation to continue this.)

When Greg was over here visiting, he talked a lot about the hard time he had readjusting to England after 3 years in Japan. “It’s impossible to talk to my friends back home about Japan,” he said. “They just don’t understand anything.”

“I know what you mean,” I said. “I have the same thing when I go back to America on holiday. Whenever I’m talking about anything Japan related, I always start out by talking in generalities. And then I realize I’m not being fair, so I’ll go back and make all sorts of exceptions and qualifying remarks. But then I feel like I’m loosing my main point, so I’ll start backing off a bit on some of my qualifying remarks. And by the end of it, everything’s so muddled that even I am not sure of what I’m saying.”

This can be true in the world of blog as well. A good example of this was the post I did recently on World War II. I hate to say ‘it was absolute crap’, because that would imply that I take my blog too seriously and hold it to some sort of literary standard.

But…well…it was absolute crap. But that’s okay; it was predestined to be absolute crap. It was a subject too vast and multifaceted to be covered in a blog entry. But I wrote a few thoughts down, I got some stuff out of my system, and I got a couple bits of positive feedback. And so the post served its purpose.

This post as well is destined to be a failure. The dynamics of human relations have as many variables as the number of women in Japan (and then multiplied by the amount of Western men). But, like the post on WWII, it is something that has been in the back of my mind to write about for some time, and perhaps I can make one or two observations before I get bogged down in exceptions and qualifying remarks.

I’ll start simple by sticking to a couple observations that I think are universally agreed upon.

1). It is easier to get women in Japan
When I was in middle school, I remember one of the adult Youth Group leaders talk about the active dating life he had once enjoyed when he lived in England.
“A big part of dating,” he said, “is answering the question, ‘Why should I date you instead of all the other thousands of guys around? What makes you special?’ So if you’re from America, you are already starting out with a huge advantage.”

I’m sure some of this applies to Japan. On the other hand, I’m sure some of it doesn’t. In England you may be just a cool guy with an American accent. In Japan you can’t speak the language, don’t know the culture or manners, and at times become reduced to being just a big child, struggling to say the simplest of things. I’m not sure if girls find that attractive or not. But, we’ll get bogged down in qualifying remarks later. For now let’s just keep this simple.

In Japan we definitely stick out a lot, and that in itself is a big advantage. In Japan, Japanese men are everywhere, but foreigners are rare and therefore often more valued by the girls.
The bombardment of American media and American movies have convinced many Japanese people that the white American is the embodiment of ideal beauty. And with few foreigners around for comparison, every white person is thought to look like Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt.
There is the perception that American males or more chivalrous and romantic than Japanese men. Just the simple act of letting a woman go through the door first scores you major points over here, as Japanese men are not in the habit of doing it.
And of course in some cases the Japanese woman is interested in dating the Western man for ulterior motives, such as free English practice, or as a way to get the hell out of Japan. (Many Japanese young people, disillusioned with Japan’s workaholic culture and stifling rules, are looking for an escape).

Now all this being said, it’s time now to qualify things by stating…
The Myth is Greatly Exaggerated
There is, if you look in the right places, already a vast amount of literature on the way Japanese women flock to Western men. The unofficial underground JET website big daikon always contains a lot of posting on this topic. Even official JET publications, essays, and JET writing contest entries often touch on this subject.

If you follow military circles, there is often a lot made about how Japanese girls in Okinawa love to date US service men. Every time an American military rapes an Okinawan girl, and tensions flare up again, a lot of this spills into the mainstream press.

There is a comic strip series circulated in the ex-patriot community here called, “Charisma Man.” The basic premise of the strip is that an average geek from Canada, upon arriving in Japan, is suddenly transformed into a superhero with ‘Charisma powers’, and suddenly enjoys the ability to pick up any woman he desires.

The concept is also present in Japanese pop literature. I was recently reading Doraemon, a popular children’s comic. The main character, Nobita, is at school when a classmate announces his American pen pal will be coming to Japan. There is suddenly a stampede of girls, all shouting questions like, “Is he tall and handsome? Does he have blonde hair and blue eyes? Can you introduce me?” Nobita leaves school dejectedly thinking to himself, “Why are we Japanese men so weak and undesirable.”

All of this is often a source of great frustration to those of us who live in Japan, and feel like our life is not measuring up to the promised expectations. I personally cannot count the number of times I wanted to throw my copy of “Charisma Man” across the room after striking out again at the local bar. Many of my friends have made similar observations.

“I hate it when people say ‘you’re going to have sex all the time when you get to Japan’” a friend once said. “People said the same thing to me about University, and that wasn’t true either.”

I suppose, having now framed the discussion with two seemingly contradictory statements on both sides, this is where things get muddled a bit, and might ultimately depend on each individual person.

My personal theory is that coming to Japan perhaps gives you a leg up, but it doesn’t make you superman. If you weren’t popular with girls back home, you can’t expect to come to Japan and have your pick of any girl. Japanese girls do often find Western men attractive, but looks only get you so far. The ability to be confident, funny, outgoing, etc, all play in. Shyness is still the kiss of death in Japan, as it would be anywhere.

I do know a few people who have really lived the ‘Charisma Man’ life since arriving in Japan.

But that’s just my theory. Many of my friends claim to do worse in the girl department since coming to Japan. I think there are a lot of qualifying factors. So, in the interest of separating the myth from reality, let’s explore some of these.

There is the theory, and I’ve even seen this in print occasionally, that the ‘Charisma Man’ myth isn’t so much blatantly false as it is simply outdated. In an older, simpler time, there were virtually no foreigners in Japan and Japanese girls swarmed any blond-haired blue-eyed man they could find. Now, with an English teacher on every block and the JET program having infiltrated even the countryside, the ‘Charisma Man’ thing just doesn’t work anymore.

The one or two old timers I’ve had the occasion to meet here have disagreed with this assessment. They say in the old days there were more foreigners in Japan, not less. After the war, the streets were swarming with occupation forces. Because of the gradual pull out of US military bases, US soldiers were still a visible presence into the 1970s.

Perhaps there was a time in the 70s or 80s, between the pull out of US soldiers and the explosion of English teachers, when ‘Charisma Man’ did have a bit more success. I’m not sure. But my feeling is the idea of going to a country and being able to pick up any girl you want is always a male-created fantasy, and not something that really happens.

LocationThis one cuts both ways a bit. Obviously in a big city like Tokyo, foreigners are not a rare sight and no one will look at you twice. In a rural setting, like, say, Ajimu Machi, you are going to get a lot more attention.

But, like the US, the Japanese country towns are dying out fast. Most people graduate from high school, go to University, and never come back. In short the “date-able” pool in the countryside is very small.

This is added to the fact that the few girls of age who are around still live with their parents and are often under strict curfews even into their late 20s. Also small town gossip is very strong, and a foreigner, living a life as almost a local celebrity in the countryside, has absolutely no private life.

The first (and last) girl I asked out in Ajimu told me that she didn’t want to deal with all the town gossip, and turned me down. This was when I was still young and stupid and didn’t realize that it wasn’t a good idea to ask girls in my own town out.

After my second year in Japan, I spent the summer taking a Japanese course in Sapporo, which is one of the biggest cities in Japan. I had been without a girlfriend for 6 months previous, but was surprised at how quickly I hooked up with a girl in Sapporo. Many of my fellow classmates had similar experiences.

I remember discussing over lunch one summer in Sapporo. “Just think about it,” I said, “We’ve all been in the country side the past year and have had absolutely no luck with the girls. We’ve barely been in Sapporo 2 weeks, and already we’re all romantically involved with someone here. Just think how different our lives would be in Japan if we lived in the city instead of the country.”

“But our Japanese wouldn’t be as good,” someone else said. “We are forced to practice our Japanese a lot more in the country.”

I considered this briefly. “Nah, fuck that man. We’d all have girlfriends if we lived in the city.”

1. My Political Journey
(I wrote this during the fall of 2004 in the months leading up to the election. I started off trying to explain why I as an anarchist was support Kerry. Then, given my usual blogging tendencies toward self-indulgence and long-windedness, it developed into the story of my entire political journey, from my up bringing as a young conservative to my conversion to liberalism.
There were several obvious problems with this post. First, no one had asked me to explain my political journey in such length, and it was obvious vanity and self-indulgence. Secondly the days when this kind of explanation would have mattered were long gone. I was no longer one of the few Calvin liberals struggling to explain myself to my conservative classmates, and by hanging onto that defensive mindset I thought I seemed to be pathetically stuck in the past. Thirdly, as it grew from more of a story into a manifesto, it began too egocentric, and I finally let the project drop.
This, more than any of these other blog dumps, needs to be read forgivingly. Obviously I got carried away with the story of myself as young intelligent sensitive man struggling against the cretins around him. Just think of this as someone bored at work, and remember I did in the end come to my senses and not post it on the blog.)

By Way of IntroductionThis entry in many ways is an answer to a question nobody asked. At least not in so many words or at least not recently. However in the past, especially during my days at Calvin College, I have often been asked how I came to hold the views I do, and felt I was unable to give a satisfactory answer without launching into my life’s story.

Also, many of the e-mails I have been receiving lately have been asking for clarification about some of my views. It’s understandable that there is some confusion about this, since I’ve changed labels many times over the past 10 years, from Republican to Democrat to Socialist to Communist to Anarchist to Kerry supporter.

But as to why I’ve undertaken to write it all down at this exact moment in time, there really is no reason. Except that this is something I’ve wanted to get off my chest for sometime, and the medium of a web log affords me the opportunity. Also recent conversations with the girlfriend, in which I’ve tried to explain to her my view of the world, have pushed some of this again to the front of my mind.

Like many things I post on this weblog, I worry that writing too much about myself betrays a certain amount of self-centeredness or self-indulgence. However the beauty of a weblog is that I’m not forcing this down anyone’s throat. It’s just there if anyone is interested. I also would enjoy reading stories of other people’s political evolution, in any of my friends with weblogs feel like writing similar pieces.

Republican Days
My earliest memory of the news is the attempted assassination of President Reagan. Actually at the time I thought there were several attempts, because I didn’t understand that the news programs were just replaying the same clip over and over again. I thought of Reagan as some kind of super hero. Every day someone shot him, but the next day he’d be walking around again like nothing happened. It actually wasn’t until my 8th grade history class that I learned he’d only been shot once.

My earliest political memory is the 1984 election. Needles to say I didn’t understand the issues, but I wanted Reagan to win because I had gotten used to seeing his face on TV, and didn’t want the new guy to take his place.

There was widespread agreement on this issue in my first grade class, and I recall during one recess chanting with some other students that “Mondale was a poopy pants.” All of us of course were too young to understand, but simply parroting the views of our parents (albeit changing the wording slightly.) Reagan won our school mock election overwhelmingly (with help from my vote).

The next political memory I have is in 4th grade overhearing some classmates say that Reagan is the best President this country has had in a long time. I felt privileged to be alive during the time of such a great President.”

West Michigan in general, and the private Christian Reformed schools that I attended in particular, were synonymous with conservatism. We were all Republicans by default.

But it would be untrue to say that my entire pre-liberal political life was simply parroting the ideas of others. At some point the ideas did become genuinely my own. Its hard to say when exactly this occurred and in fact, like all aspects of growing up, it was more of a process than an event, but I think by the time of 8th grade I largely understood the differences between the Republican and Democratic parties, and supported the Republicans.

And, as a young Republican, I was attracted to the more reactionary element of the party. I want to avoid straw men and resist the temptation to say that all Republicans are hateful. But, to the extent that there is an element of the Republican Party that runs on hate (and there is), I was attracted to this element.

A good example is my attitude towards homosexuals. When I first read about homosexuals in the newspaper, I was filled with revulsion and disgust. I wanted to hate them because they were different from me, but there were several articles in the paper urging tolerance and acceptance. So then I felt guilty for my initial reaction.

But then I learned at school that God hates homosexuality, and I was very happy to learn that God hated the same people that I did. I no longer had to feel guilty about my hatred, but in fact it was my Christian duty to oppose homosexuals. Sometimes my teachers talked about “hate the sin, love sinner,” but it was greatly overshadowed, both at school and at Church, by teachers complaining about gay activism. My 7th and 8th grade Bible teacher, who I greatly admired at the time, used to talk about how gay activism would cause California to be destroyed just like Sodom and Gomorrah.

My classmates also hated homosexuals, and I felt solidarity with them, since we all hated the same people. I occasionally day dreamed about beating up a homosexual, and becoming the class hero. In 11th grade for my Current Issues class I elected to debate the issue of homosexuals in the military. The bulk of my argument was that homosexuals were immoral and did not deserve any protections under the law. This infuriated my opponent, one of the few liberals at Grand Rapids Christian High School, but was well received by the rest of my classmates. After class, they talked about how if they were in the army they would “kick the shit” out of any homosexuals. I felt great pride about hating the right people, and getting such a positive reaction from my friends.

Also to the extent that there is a racist element to the Republican Party (and make no mistake, there is) I was greatly attracted to it.

I didn’t hate black people per se, and would never have self-identified as a racist, but I ate up the coded language of the political discourse.

I hated welfare mothers and lazy poor people who I viewed as draining the system and taking money from hard working people. (Why I, as someone who was too young to pay taxes, developed such strong feelings on the issue I can’t really say. Maybe I picked up some of it from my dad). But when I pictured a welfare mother in my mind, she was always a fat black woman. And because she was different than me, she was easy to hate.

I also hated criminals. I was a strong supporter of the death penalty, and other “get tough on crime” measures. The movie “Shawshank Redemption” came out while I was in high school, but I refused to see it because I thought it was wrong to show sympathy for people in prison.

Again, as someone who never had encounter with any sort of criminal, it is difficult in retrospect to trace the origins of this position. But I do recall reading lots of newspaper stories. And again, the criminal was always black.

I really hated illegal immigrants. I was worried their presence would lead to overcrowding in American cities, and the loss of American culture. (Again, another position somewhat difficult to explain since I lived in Michigan, but I held it.)

I remember feeling furious in high school when a teacher described how many illegal immigrants crossed the boarder. Although not a Californian, I read about proposition 187, and was glad that someone was getting tough on illegals.

I was in fact somewhat wary of all immigrants. I once read a newspaper article about an immigrant family’s struggle to preserve their heritage. Since the children only learned American culture in schools, the mother worried they were forgetting about their native country.

I was so angry that I typed out my first “Letter to the Editor”. American schools teach American culture. How dare these immigrants come to America to complain that our schools should be more diverse.

(There is some debate between me and my sister, who also remembers the incident, about when exactly this took place, but I think somewhere between 8th and 10th grade. Fortunately I never mailed the letter. The act of writing it alone had helped to release the anger.)

I passionately believed in an English only America, and hated immigrants who didn’t learn our language. I also disapproved of many of my classmates who were taking Spanish class. I viewed their learning Spanish as helping to enable Mexican immigrants who didn’t learn English. I became very proud that I was enrolled in Latin.

The foreign language department at my high school started a “Foreign Language Week.” The theme for the first year was “beauty in diversity”. The theme made me feel uncomfortable since, like many white males, I felt people advocating diversity were just trying to make me feel guilty about who I was.

During 11th grade, I overheard an Asian student with a locker next to mine talk about what food she was bringing to the “diversity dinner” that night. I cynically thought to myself, “Of course she’s going to the dinner. She and all the other minority students are going to get together and make the rest of us feel guilty about being white.” Then it occurred to me that the language department at my high school contained no Asian languages. All of the languages taught, Latin, French, German and Spanish had their origins in Western Europe.

And then I thought I had the perfect line to hit these hypocrites who were preaching to me about diversity. I wrote an article for the school paper saying that until the foreign language department diversified itself, it had no business preaching to the rest of us about diversity.

I received a lot of positive feedback on the article, especially from some students interested in studying Chinese or Japanese. But I told everyone who talked to me that I didn’t really care whether the foreign language department diversified itself or not. I just wanted them to stop preaching diversity to the rest of us.

(As a side note I should add that this article is one of the few political pieces I wrote during that era that I remain proud of today. But that is only because the point I once made ironically I now believe seriously.)

Finally during these years I had a very strong sense of national pride. I was on the swim team, and took the playing of the national anthem very seriously. There was a Canadian on our team who stood with his arms crossed while the rest of us put our hands over our heart. I thought since he was living in America, he should salute our flag. Although I never initiated anything, I thought it would not be a bad idea if he got pushed around the locker room a little bit for this.

I don't want to exaggerate or to my make my up-bringing sound more conservative than it actually was. I should state that even in my conservative school and church there were some liberals. And there was even moderation among the conservatives. My parents could probably be placed on the moderate wing of the Republican Party. There were some students at Grand Rapids Christian High School who identified themselves as democrats, and even some teachers. Therefore I have no one to blame but myself for the horrible ideals I held in those days.

However the liberals were always aware that they were outnumbered, and they spoke softly. No one was reigning in the conservatives. Likewise a child in that environment who espoused liberal ideas would be gently challenged by the teacher or the parent, but there seemed to be no check on how far one moved to the right. And I think it is this, if anything, that can be blamed for my early reactionism.

An example: During the 1988 election, when I was in 5th grade, my teacher made an effort to explain to us the difference between the presidential candidates. When I learned Dukakis wanted to clean up the enviroment and help the poor, I decided that I would support him. When I expressed my view to my parents at dinner that night they explained to me the world was not quite that simple. I had to think about what kind of plan Dukakis was going to use to clean up the environment, and what would be the economic costs. Likewise with aid to the poor.

And they were absolutely right. I hadn't thought about the complexities of the issues. But in later years when I would express all sorts of right wing views, no one would challenge me to think about the issues more deeply.

Homosexuality is another good example. At school a student could usually express all sorts of hateful opinions about homosexuals and get away with it. But any student who advocated that homosexuality was not a sin was gently challenged by the teacher to think more about the issue.

By challenging only the view points on the left, I believe this environment helped to breed extremism on the right and allowed those like me, whose minds were attracted to hate, to develop our views which went largely unchallenged, if not tacitly approved.

During the first Gulf War no one ever said that to me this war is a good thing, but it was the tacit approval I noticed. None of my classmates who expressed militaristic views were ever debated by the teachers, but any students who criticized the war were asked to think more deeply about the issue.

But although criticism of the war might have been muted or non-existent, there were some issues were I was left in no doubt of where my school and church stood. The immorality of sex before marriage was hammered into my brain from all sides all through out middle school and high school. Whole courses in my middle school were devoted to sexual morality. At high school I'd say close to a 3rd of the regular chapels were about sexual purity. Once a year there would be a spiritual renewal week, the focus of which was almost overwhelmingly on sexual Puritanism. The same refrain was repeated at the Church youth group endlessly.

As an extremely shy high school student who could barely talk to a girl, the subject of pre-marital sex had as much relevance as insider stock trading, and I began to consider the constant harping about it a bit of overkill. Surely there was more to the Christian creed than the prohibition against pre-marital sex.

The idea that sex would be attacked with such fury, but war given tacit approval would cause me to wonder about a mistaken sense of priority later on. This more than anything is why I eventually rejected the idea of sexual Puritanism and abstinence. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I was often asked at Calvin College how I could come from such a conservative background and turn into such a vocal opinionated liberal. There were a number of diverse factors, and it is hard to say in retrospect where appropriate emphasis should be given. It was a process, and yet there was a moment of epiphany that I remember clearly.

One unexpected factor was perhaps my interest in ancient history. All of history is essentially the story of class warfare, and long before I read any Marx I began to take notice of this. The plebeians in ancient Rome were always getting screwed over by the patricians, just as the poor one reads about in any history book are always getting the raw deal. It seemed to be a tragic story that repeated itself over and over again, and I began to wish for a happy ending, or at least make sure I was on the right side of the struggle.

Another factor was my interest in Beatles music, which evolved into an interest in the 1960s in general. I begin to read a lot about the anti-Vietnam movement.
Because I was almost of college age and around the same age as the protesters were, I felt sympathy for them. At first I began to regard the protesters as interesting but misguided. Then I eventually decided they were right. The Vietnam War was wrong, and war in general is wrong. But in truth I did not fully arrive at this conclusion until I had begun to self-identify as a liberal, so it is difficult to say whether my interest in the 60s fueled my conversion to liberalism, or whether the reverse was true.

Certainly another factor was simply growing older, taking government and economics classes, and beginning to understand the complexity of issues that I once thought were very simple. But more than anything it was probably the person sitting next to me in these classes.

There were very few liberals at GRCHS, and we often took pleasure in shouting down the ones who spoke up. Thus the liberals either learned to shut up, or became incredibly obnoxious. My 11th grade year I sat next to one of the obnoxious ones.

She was a year above me, but we overlapped in three elective classes that year. And somehow the seating chart always put her next to me.

I spoke very few words to her, but I could overhear all of the comments she made to her friend. At first I hated her, then I began to regard her with a grudging respect, and finally I began to realize she was right.

I’ve heard people say before that political debate is useless because no one ever changes their mind. Although it is true that not many people will admit error in the middle of an argument, seeds of doubt can be sowed that may eventually lead to an evolved opinion.

This was true of me. The whole year I listened to her opinions, and gradually they had an effect on me. Several years later it is hard to remember her comments verbatim, but I remember their effect.

I do remember some things. In my economics class, when the majority of the students once expressed agreement with the statement that poor people are lazy and welfare was unnecessary, she turned to her friend and said in disgust something about how all these white children of privilege had no idea what problems the poor face. Although at the time I was still strongly against welfare, it was the first time I considered my ignorance of the struggles of the poor.

She was also in my current events class that year. Because we disagreed on so much, we were paired up as debating partners. We debated the subject of homosexuals in the military. I spent much of my time talking about how evil homosexuals were. Later in the course of the debate I was forced to admit that I never actually met any homosexuals. “That’s obvious,” she snapped. After class I later reflected on why I hate homosexuals so much when I didn’t know any.

As I began to acknowledge the complexity of the issues, I began to consider myself a moderate Republican. I began to recognize that everyone who was different than me wasn’t bad.

And then one day I decided that I didn’t hate people on welfare. I wanted to help the poor. I decided I didn’t hate homosexuals, or feminists, or illegal immigrants, or any of the other people I had been taught to hate. And it was a really freeing moment to let go of all that hate. I realized that all that hate had been eating away at me, and I felt so much lighter without it.

Somewhere during my senior year I decided I identified with the Democratic Party more than the Republican. But it is difficult to be young and liberal in a conservative environment, because people older and smarter than me were constantly espousing contrary views, and I doubted myself constantly.

After so many years of having conservative propaganda drilled into my head, many of the changes still came gradually even after I had begun calling myself a liberal.

After years of hearing about how evil homosexuality was, it was beyond my comprehension to think of it simply as an alternative lifestyle. At first I simply said that, although it was a sin, in a secular society homosexuals should not be discriminated against. It was not until my Freshman year at Calvin that I finally came around to the idea that it was not a sin.

Pre-marital sex was the same. By the time I was in 12th grade I had become very angry about the over-attention this issue received, but the idea of pre-marital sex being wrong was so firmly entrenched in my brain that I didn’t start to openly advocate otherwise until my Sophomore year at Calvin.

But again, I’m getting ahead of myself. As a 12th grade student I was only just beginning to express liberal views. I kept myself relatively quiet at school, but I started to have arguments with my friends in youth group. I argued that most of the people on welfare were not lazy, but victims of circumstance. When they found they couldn't talk sense into me, they would pull out their usual trump card. "You come from a rich family, so you just don't understand what the poor are really like." I was always somewhat amused by this as it was the exact same argument people used against me when I had been arguing from the conservative side.

In those days religion, politics, church, school, teachers and parents were woven tightly together for me, and any disappointment by any of them would shake up my faith in all of them. Also for those of us in conservative communities, religion and politics were always linked.

Again returning to the example of homosexuality: it was difficult to argue for equal rights and dignity for homosexuals, when I belonged to a church that was constantly reminding me they were sinful. For a while I tried to argue that, while homosexuality may be a sin, in a secular society homosexuals' rights should be protected. But this was a strained position, because at the end I always had to admit they were morally flawed. I was uncomfortable with this, but what could I do? I couldn't argue with God.

I thought about how bible verses had been pulled out of context in the past to justify slavery and the subjugation of women. Might the same thing type of thing be happening now? I brought the point up at a youth group meeting, but the youth pastor responded the bible was so clear on this point, he didn't think it was comparable.

But depending on which part of the bible one wants to emphasize, isn't the fact that women are not supposed to be in authority very clearly stated? Isn't it very clearly stated that the black man is supposed to draw water?

And I began to notice that the bible was very selectively emphasized. Jesus tells us that if we want to be right with God we must sell all our possessions and give the money to the poor. How many Christians do we see doing this? The John the Baptist preached that "If anyone has two coats, let him give to the man who has none." But how many Christians do you see giving away their extra coat?

In fact much of the New Testament, and especially the teachings of Jesus, instruct the rich to share their possessions to the poor. Not just give generously, but share all they have. The gospels almost read like a socialist track. By contrast condemnations against homosexuality appear mostly in the letters of Paul when he is just listing off sins. Yet which verses get the most attention? Which verses are we told must be taken literally?

And why is this? Because the condemnations against homosexuality are directed against other people. That's why these versions are so often quoted by the religious right. They can stand on the moral high ground and condemn other people with these verses while ignoring Jesus' condemnations of the wealthy. It is the same with sex. Although adultery is forbidden, the only time one can find a condemnation against fortification is when Paul is going through his list of sins. And yet what has the church treated as the ultimate sin? Pre-marital sex. Contrast that with the attitude towards war. Reading the gospels one gets a very clear since of Jesus' pacifism, and yet why is war accepted but sex condemned? Because the old people in the church, well past their sexual peak, enjoy nothing more than telling the young people that pre-marital sex is evil. But they realize full well they need the young people to march off and die in their wars, so the church never takes a strong stand against militarism.

As I considered these points my understanding of Christianity and religion began to evolve. I began to realize that so much of what had been preached at me for so many years was wrong. And if these people were wrong on one point, might they be wrong on another?

One thing I had never felt comfortable about was the idea that non-Christians were condemned to hell. It just never made any sense. I could understand the idea of evil people being sent to hell, but I couldn't understand the idea of good non-Christians being sent to hell. Why would the gates of heaven and hell be determined by one's intellectual beliefs, with disregard to their actions? I could understand salvation by faith, not by works, but I couldn't understand condemnation by lack of faith. It's not like the non-Christians made a conscious decision to believe in the wrong faith. From our perspective as humans, knowing the real truth is impossible. Even the best of Christians experience moments of doubt. Are people condemned to an eternity of suffering because they made the wrong choice in the "religion roulette"?

Also there seemed to be questions of race and geography. Christianity has historically been the religion of white Europeans. Asians believed in Buddhism. Was this because Europeans were better people? Of course not. Simply someone growing up in a Christian family would adopt Christianity.

The idea of salvation only through Christ was another idea that had been so deeply imbedded in me it took a lot of thinking before I finally rejected it. But they (my teachers and church leaders) had been wrong about so many other things, could not they be wrong about this too?

From a logical standpoint, the concept of hell didn’t make any sense. If God is all powerful, we must assume he has the ability to save everyone from hell. And if he is all loving, why would he choose to condemn good people who had unwittingly chosen the wrong religion?

Having grown up in the church, I was well aware of all the “Sunday School” answers that were used to explain away this apparent contradiction. Most of the responses ran somewhat along the lines that, “We can’t understand God’s plan, all we can do is have faith.” But these answers, which asked us to suspend logic in return for faith, only seemed to work as long as I had respect for the people who told me this. Once I realized what liars they were, there was no longer any reason to accept anything just because they said so.

I began to realize that Christianity has no monopoly on the truth, and all religions are equally valid paths to God. To believe otherwise, that Christianity is the only legitimate religion, is

My Worst Moments
(As I mention in the introduction, this was an attempt at self-humility. I began to think that my previous blogging had been too focused on my good moments, and I thought to present a more honest picture of myself I would have to talk about my stupid moments as well. But as I continued working, it seemed not humility, but exhibitionism on display, and I shelved this.)

In the previous entry I wrote about how blogging paints an unclear picture of our lives because during blogging we tend to focus only on the interesting things, thus perhaps giving the impression that someone’s life is more interesting than it actually is.

Continuing in that vein of thinking, the other obvious problem is that sometimes we might give into the temptation to write only about the events which put us in a good light, and leave out all the times we do something stupid. I began to wonder if I haven’t been guilty of that during the year and a half I’ve kept this blog up.

I thought it might be a good exercise in humility to force myself to write down all the stupid things I’ve done since I came to Japan. Not just funny little self-deprecating antidotes, but really stupid stuff. Stuff that is so embarrassingly stupid that it’s almost painful to think about; that when it comes into my mind I want to just shut my eyes and cringe, and say to myself, “How could you possibly have been so stupid.”

(I guess I could have written about all the stupid things I’ve done over my whole life, but then the subject would become to vast to deal with. Plus there might be a temptation to dismiss the older stories as stupid stuff I did while I was still growing up and developing, and therefore doesn’t represent the person I am today. But since I arrived in Japan at the age of 23, I can’t use that excuse for anything that I’ve down since I arrived.)

Once I began to collect stories in my mind, I decided that actually most of them, for one reason or another, were inappropriate to post on the internet. Perhaps I was too lenient on myself, but I ended up eliminating the majority of the stories. However, I think you’ll agree that even if the most stupid and embarrassing things have been self-censored, what is left is still some terrible examples of human stupidity.

One final note before I get started. Neichze once said that he who despises himself still respects himself as one who despises. (Actually I don’t read philosophy, but I do watch a lot of movies. You may remember that quote from “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.”) This shows the problematic nature of self-humility. For one thing there is a temptation to split the self into two halves, one which committed the stupid deed, and one which recognizes and condemns the stupidity. Secondly, even in moments of self-reproach, the very act of writing about oneself betrays a certain amount of self-centeredness. But then, you’re probably used to that on this blog by now. Anyway, with those two caveats made, I’m going to go ahead and proceed.

Stupid thing number 1.
When I lived in Ajimu I used to teach an English Conversation class on Wednesday nights. The class was intended for adults, but some of my junior high school students would sometimes come to the class, and I was pleased with this. I don’t know how much they got out of my class, but I was happy they were enthusiastic enough about English to come on their own time.

To help create an informal atmosphere in the class, I always reserved the last 30 minutes for just free conversation. The idea was to talk in English, but since I was the only native English speaker at the table, the conversation would often just naturally revert to Japanese, and I tried not to be too strict about it.

One day we were talking about the usage of Japanese names, and among those present was a junior high school student and her mother. They were explaining to me how adults were called by their last names, but students were called by their first names. “But sometimes the teachers call you by your last names,” I said to the student. “Like last week when the teacher yelled at you, ‘Ms. Sato, don’t sleep in my class.’”

Honestly, what I was thinking I don’t know. My mind was still stuck on college setting, as if I were out with a bunch of my buddies from college, and I would say something to embarrass one of them, and they would all laugh, and then he would say something to embarrass me back.

For whatever reason, my brain lapsed long enough for me to forget that this kind of banter might not be appropriate when directed at my student in front of her mother. The student immediately looked fearfully at her mother. There was a tense moment, and then the mother said to her, “Its okay. I know you’ve been up late studying every night.”

That was the end of my good relations with that particular student. She used to be one of my friendlier students, but from that moment on until she graduated, every time I passed her in the hallway she would glare at me instead of smile.

Stupid thing number 2I don’t know if this is just me, or if this is something more universal that a lot of guys do, but I tend to regard every pretty face I see as a potential romantic interest. Or that is to say I show interest in just about every girl I meet. And it is not until I notice that a girl is showing interest back at me that my brain begins to kick in, and I start to think about whether this is something I want to pursue or not. Unfortunately by the time that happens, the girl is often convinced I like her, and it is hard to get out of the situation easily without hurt feelings.

This characteristic tends to lead to a lot of awkward situations. The worst example was probably at Calvin College, when I already had a girlfriend.  I met another girl outside my usual circle of friends and she was unaware that I was dating someone. Such was my characteristic that the fact that I already had a girlfriend didn’t stop me from being friendly with this other girl, until I realized that she really liked me back, and only then did my brain began to kick in and I realized that this situation had the potential to become really messy. I tried to down grade my friendliness to this girl in question, but it was too little too late. When she was saying good-bye to me for the summer, she embraced me and attempted to kiss me, but I resisted.

It was probably the worst way I could have possibly handled that situation. Of course the ideal thing to do would have been to explain to her long before that I already had a girlfriend, but even failing that, and given the circumstances at the time, I should have at least spared her the embarrassment of turning away when she tried to kiss me. She was left completely embarrassed and red faced. It would have been harmless enough to kiss her at the time, and then I could have explained things afterwards. What can I say? I’m an idiot.

But that was Calvin. And at Calvin I never really got that much attention from girls anyway. But now as a foreigner in Japan, I receive that much more attention from girls, and, given my stupidity, it tends to get me into that much more trouble.

There was a similar situation played out in Japan. At one point there was one girl I had been paying a lot of attention to, and then I noticed that she liked me back, and my brain kicked in and for the first time I began to think if this was a relationship I wanted to pursue or not. I debated the merits for maybe a couple of weeks. During this time I tried to keep my options open by paying her just enough attention to make sure she stayed interested, but trying not to overdue it. Eventually I decided I wasn’t interested in pursuing this girl, and did my best to try and down play things.

A couple months later, I eventually hooked up with another girl. I was still in contact with the first girl, but I had been ignoring her lately, and I was pretty sure that she had gotten the message that I was no longer interested.

But I was wrong. One day I was at the bar playing pool with my new girlfriend. I got a cell phone e-mail from the other girl asking what I was doing. I said I was at the bar. She asked if there were a lot of people there. I answered truthfully that there was hardly anyone here, and that, given how empty the bar was, it probably wasn’t worth her coming over. She e-mailed again to say she was on her way over. I realized it might be awkward if she saw me with my new girlfriend, but I just shrugged it off.

Insights Into My Insanity(I wrote this during the summer I stayed at Shoko’s place when I was absolutely bored out of my mind, and my thoughts had a lot of time to wander around and bounce off of the walls in my skull. I thought since I had the time, maybe I should write a series of long blog posts to explain everything to everybody about the quirks in my personality. Like the blog on politics, I shelved this because it got too long and started turning into a manifesto.)

I suppose the best way to introduce this piece would be simply to recount the thought process that lead me to it.

I was doing one of my long drives, and my thoughts were wandering, and I began to think about the ways in which I’ve tried to deal with different aspects of life, and the various systems I’ve set up, and the various problems I’ve encountered. As someone who admittedly has the “blogging bug”, I thought that this might be something that would make a good blog entry, or perhaps a short series. As with my series recalling the back stories of my Chimes articles, it would be a short break from the usual update to a reflection on events during high school and college.

In the sense that blogging is primarily a release, the main benefit of this would be to me, but perhaps someone else might be able to find some inspiration off of it, or more likely learn from my mistakes and save themselves the trouble of repeating it. I thought I would do a short little series on some of my half-baked philosophies, and entitle it “Experiments with Truth.” The title is stolen from Gandhi’s autobiography, but I’ve always liked it. It would imply that I haven’t found the truth, but here are the results of some of my experiments in my attempts to find it.

But as I began to think more about it, it began to occur to me that what I would be describing could more accurately be described as insights into mental illness or neurosis. And I thought that this might be as good a time as any to come out and acknowledge straight on what I perhaps have always been dancing around ever since I started this blog: I’m not normal, and I realize that.

I’m well aware that everyone else knows it, so I just thought I might as well just admit it rather than trying to pretend.

I’ve always been a little bit different. I remember in kindergarten being too shy to talk to any of the other children around me, but I don’t remember this bothering me at the time. I guess at that age maybe you don’t have a sense of self developed, so maybe you can’t really feel like there’s anything wrong with you.

It was during middle school that I remembered feeling really upset about it. I wanted to be popular and I wanted to be liked by the girls, but I just didn’t have a clue as to how to go about it. I couldn’t carry on a normal conversation, I didn’t know how to talk to girls, I had no idea of what was cool or what wasn’t, or how to become popular, and all of these things seemed to be things that my classmates just intuitively knew. I wondered why it was that everyone else seemed to know these things, and I didn’t. It was as if I had been absent the one day of school when all of these things were explained, and I felt like I was playing a game in which everyone else around me seemed to know the rules, but I didn’t.

Of course middle school is a rough time for a lot of people. High School was a bit better, or at least it became better by the end (the first couple years were a rough start).

I began to discover that I had an unintentional sense of humor, and that people often found me hilarious when I was trying to be serious. People liked having me around because they found humor in my oddities, and I learned to capitalize to this to a certain extent and tried to play up the aspects of my personality which they found humorous. I began to realize that many of the more popular kids were always happy to have me hanging around, and I began to shift my social circles.

In high school I achieved what I suppose might be regarded as some degree of popularity. I was voted on the home coming court, voted the friendliest person in my graduating class, and selected by the chapel committee as one of the seniors to speak at the “senior chapel” at the end of the year.
There were perhaps two aspects to this. One was a desire for acceptance at all costs, which occasionally disguised itself as kindness or friendliness. At times my desire to be liked was a pleasant aspect of my personality, at other times I became someone without principles or backbone. I remember sitting silently when racists comments were made, not having the courage to speak up because I desperately wanted the approval of the person making the comments.

But the second reason I was popular was because my personality quirks were an object of interest.

I remember one of my classmates saying to me once, “Whenever I talk to you I feel like I’m tripping. For someone who has been walking the straight and narrow for a as long as you have, you sure have a whacked out perspective on things.”

Despite the fact that the first couple years were pretty rough, I always had the feeling that Christian High had been pretty good to me. I had absolutely no social skills, but had achieved a degree of popularity anyway. I thought if I had been at any other school I probably just would have been completely ignored. One of the reasons I choose Calvin is because I thought the social environment would be similar to Christian High.

There was a time when I wanted very much to be normal and act like a normal person, but I’ve made my peace with that. I’ve concluded that there is no such thing as normal. Everyone has their quirks if you look closely.

I am well aware that my brain often doesn’t seem to be on the same frequency as everyone else. I know I’m perhaps a couple clicks away from rational thought some of the time. I know that I have the social skills of a twelve year old. I realize that if I lived in another time period I would have starved to death long ago.

I also have would perhaps boarders on an obsessive compulsive need to make systems and sets of rules to run my life.

When my friend Brett came to visit me in Japan, he did a great deal of complaining about how dirty my apartment was. But at one point he said, “Alright, when you do clean, what’s your system? Because I know you’ve got some system for how you clean.” I tried to deny this at first, but Brett insisted. “I know you too well. What’s your system.”

I then admitted that I had several rules for how cleaning should go. The first was that any kind of food matter or organic garbage had to be picked up off the floor first. Then next I had to wash any dishes in the sink. Thirdly I had to remove clothes from the floor and do a load of wash. Only then could I move on and clean trouble spots as I saw fit. When the load of wash was done, I had to immediately remove it from the washing machine and hang it out to dry. Unless of course I was gone by the time the washing finished. If I was putting on my shoes, it counted as being gone, but if I was just walking towards the door, I had to come back and hang up the wash.
Cleaning had to be done everyday. The only exceptions were if I left the apartment for social reasons or for exercise. If I got back late, I still had to clean, but I didn’t have to stay awake past whatever time I needed to go to sleep to get 8 hours. But I couldn’t ditch out of cleaning for any more than 8 hours sleep. Unless I was sleep deprived from the night before. Then I could take a nap in the afternoon, which would get added onto the sleep total from the previous night.

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. I had so many rules I made for myself. But I felt like I needed these rules. If I just told myself, “I’ll clean whenever I feel like it,” it would never get done. And in order to keep food from rotting in the sink, or clothes from molding in the machine, I felt like I had to make rules about this as well.

In the next few days I’ll try and post my experiments concerning my relationship with material possessions, time, and food. If anyone can get any benefit out of reading these, or learn anything, so much the better.

Otherwise if these strike you as just neurotic or crazy, maybe you can get a laugh out of them.

Insights into my Insanity 2: Wealth and Material Possessions

Whether excessive materialism is a uniquely American phenomenon, or whether it is something that all human beings struggle with, I will leave for others to debate.

I think it is safe to say, however, that as Americans we are all immersed in a materialistic culture, and that even as children we begin the craving for material things. Or maybe I should say especially as children. I think we’ve all seen a child throw a temper-tantrum in the toy store because he didn’t get the toy he wanted (or been that child). Or we all remember as children ourselves being obsessed with the toys we would receive on Christmas day, and no amount of preaching from Sunday School teachers could turn our attention to other aspects of Christmas.

But somewhere along the line I began to get the impression that I was even more materialistic than most of my classmates. During middle school was when I first started to notice it. I was obsessed with getting things. What exactly I wanted was always shifting. At one point obsessed with getting certain action figures, at another point comic books, at another point trading cards, at another point certain books. But whatever it was, the anticipation of owning it was always occupying much of my free thoughts.

I went through the standard stages. At first I told myself I wasn’t materialistic; I was a collector. Lots of people have collections as hobbies.

Then I began to justify it by focusing on the small value of everything I was accumulating. But of course that was only relative to my small income, and my interests.

Next I went through a period where I felt guilty about things. And finally I decided to take action.

The first thing I did in Middle School was to attempt to divide up my income. I didn’t have a lot of money in those days of course. Just my monthly allowance and in the summer extra money from cleaning the pool. Of course in those days, I didn’t have any expenses either. I didn’t have much of a social life, so thing I needed money for was to buy things I wanted.

Whatever money I got I would divide into little jars. 50% of the money would go to the poor. 10% would be tithed to my local church. 10% in saving for the future. And the remaining 30% I could use for buying things.

The problem with this was that it didn’t decrease my desire for material goods any less. All it did was increase the amount of time it took for me to save up for them. I began to notice that a majority of my thoughts were still focused on material objects I wanted.

The next stop was to attempt forbid myself from spending any money on material goods I didn’t need. The problem with this was my weak will power. I would see something I wanted, buy it, and then tell myself that it would be the last time. Soon it became almost a joke. I was spending all of my money on material things again, while promising myself sometime soon I would stop doing it.

Near the end of my Sophomore year at Calvin, I decided I would just get ride of everything once and for all. This would prove to myself that I wasn’t fooling around. I wouldn’t be able to buy anything on impulse any more, because even if I did temporarily break my own rules, I would still know that in the end I would have to just get rid of it again.

This was also a result of the growing awareness that materialism is not just the desire to acquire new things, but also being overly attached to the things you already have. I thought that if I could just get rid of all these material possessions that were distracting me, I could focus on the things that were important in life.

This philosophy had a lot of problems, and I’ll get to those in a minute. However on the whole, I do still believe that this was a step in the right direction. After all, did not Jesus command us to sell all that we have and give the money to the poor? Can we truly be a follower of Christ without attempting to follow this commandment?

In my view, the church has chosen to selectively interpret which sections of the bible are to be taken literally. For instance the gospels and the book of Acts command over and over again to share all that we have with the poor. But the church tells us we are not supposed to take these literally. However condemnations of homosexuality and fornication, which in the New Testament appear only in the epistles of Paul, and only appear briefly when he is listing off numerous sins, are where the modern church has chosen to focus its political energies.

But interpretations of scripture are a broad subject for anther post.

It was my belief that material possessions, beyond what are needed, do not bring any happiness. I, like most college students, was very into collecting CDs at that age. But does having a CD increase my happiness? There was once a time when I had never even heard of “Radio Head”. Was my life in someway deficient before their CD came out? Did people who live in previous generations have an unfulfilled life because they didn’t have the CDs that we did? What about people who lived before recorded music was possible?
Thoughts on the Post-Calvin World
(This started out with a very simply question: has anyone else besides me noticed a big difference between our Calvin circles and the post-Calvin world. But then it got too egocentric and too self-centered.)

This is probably a bit random, but my thoughts just happened to lingering on the difference between my life now and the Calvin bubble, and I thought I’d write up some thoughts and throw it on the blog to see if anyone had any similar experiences.

Now my experience might be especially unique, in the sense that even for a Calvin graduate I was more sheltered than most. I went to Christian schools all my life. In my old neighborhood I knew the kids on my block, but we moved when I was in third grade to a much bigger house with a much bigger yard in a neighborhood where the houses were far enough apart that neighbors didn’t really interact. Growing up all of my friends were either from my Christian school or church youth group. I spent two summers working at a grocery store, but then after that worked for the Calvin dorm cleaning crew, and further isolated myself into the Calvin bubble. Forget non-Christian friends, I would have been hard-pressed to even name any non-Christian acquaintances.

Now granted even at Calvin there are two different worlds you can fall into. There was the world of underage drinking, smokers pits, Friday night house parties, and even the occasional casual marijuana, made up primarily of other Christian school grads who, like me, ended up at Calvin out of tradition instead of conviction.

And then there were was the other half of Calvin, made up of late night dormitory devotionals, Monday night bible studies, and daily morning chapels.

Because of my introverted nerdy nature, the fact that I was more comfortable studying in the library and getting to bed at a decent hour than I was partying all night, I ended up in the second group, even though my views were probably more at home in the first.

Of course having written that I realize it is a gross oversimplification that doesn’t do justice to the real people I knew, but the point being I realize I can’t complain too much about being the odd man out, because it was by my own decision. I chose to hang out in the circles I did. And no complaints, you were a great group, all of you. But it wasn’t without its tensions.

The political debates were always great. I complained sometimes about always being outnumbered, or always expected to defend the liberal position whether I was in the mood or not. But for the most part I love a good political discussion as much as the next guy. I usually enjoyed rolling up my sleeves and getting right into the argument.

The political discussions were abstract enough that they never got to personal. The only times I can recall the discussions getting a little heated was on the issues of abortion, or homosexuality. (Although I’m sure he’ll hate me for bringing it up 9 years later, I remember a roommate of mine once saying he wasn’t sure he wanted to room with me if I didn’t believe homosexuality was a sin.)

Things got a little more tense when it concerned my personal life. For instance I don’t know how many hours I spent defending my decision not to go to Church on Sundays. I do know it sabotaged things with some girls I was interested in, but then again I have no one but myself to blame for choosing social circles where I knew I would be the odd man out.

(I primarily objected to church because of its passive nature. My own idea for a more active Church, “Open Church”, never really took off to well, but I always liked it. The strength of an idea, after all, should never be judged on its popularity.)

Although I was never a huge drinker, my belief that there was nothing morally wrong with under-age drinking (old enough to go to war, old enough to have a beer I say), and my insistence on putting this into practice on a couple of occasions, also caused some tensions. I’m reminded of one instance in particular when some Bennick girls, on the pretext of inviting me out to watch tennis with them, ambushed me into a lecture about my drinking habits. I tried to laugh it off, but they were dead serious about it, and it proved to be a very awkward tennis game.

And then of course there were the conflicts over my views on pre-marital sex. Even years later, I’m reluctant to write too much about that debate because of the emotions and strong views involved.

But perhaps most

Retrospection Rejects
I originally got the idea for my restrospection project [see main blog] when I was still in Gifu. However I waited until I got back home to America and had acess to my old journals and saved e-mails before I officially started it off.
In the meantime, because I was bored stiff at work, I occassionally would start writing some of these up in advance. I had originally intended to have a lot of these kind of reminiscings in the retrospection, but I later decided that I would just keep it to actual photos or written stuff I had saved, in order to give it more authencity. What remains here then is what I wrote up but didn't use.

My 12th Grade Speech
This was the framework around which I wanted to insert my 12th Grade Chapel speech. I think I still may use the speech someday, but this framework is a little too whiney.
Continuing the Retrospective Project [LINK]
(I’ll try not to get into too many wandering digressions on this one, but it’s hard to be succinct about high school. Apologies in advance.)

During noon break I was hanging out in the commons areas talking to my friends when a female classmate came up to me. “Joel, can I talk to you a minute?”

“Sure,” I said, immediately wondering what in the world this could be about. Girls never wanted to talk to me.

“I’m on the chapel committee, and we were discussing who we wanted to speak at the end of the year senior chapel, and we all agreed that you would be perfect. Would you be willing to speak at the chapel?”

Yes. Sure. Of course. It would be an honor, I quickly answered.

She thanked me and went away. As soon as she had left, my friend said, “Boy, she really suckered you into that.” He launched into an imitation of the girl’s sing song voice, and the way she had been flirtatiously touching my arm during the conversation, and concluded that I could get suckered into anything if a girl asked me sweetly enough.

Which is true of course. I wanted to speak at the senior chapel because I felt it was a huge honor, but at the same time I intensely did not want to speak at senior chapel. I hate public speaking.

High school everyone is always wondering, “What do others think about me?” [LINK] and I was just as confused about this as anyone else.

I was the dictionary definition of a nerd. All through middle school I had classic thick oversized square glasses. I parted my hair on the side and plastered it down with gel to keep it in place, like a nerd out of a 1950s comic book.

By high school I had traded my glasses for contact lenses, and by Junior year I had eased off on the gel. But I was still obsessed with Star Trek [Link], comic books [Link], and ancient Roman history [Link]. I had trouble finding someone to talk to during noon break. I hung out with a group of boys, who I knew tolerated me only to make fun of me, simply because no one else welcomed me into their circle. Eventually I began taking refuge in the library and reading books during noon break.

I had absolutely no social life. And when I say that I mean absolutely none. Outside of the Church youth group, and the sports teams I was on, I had no social interaction outside of school.

This never bothered me at the time because I didn’t have any idea that life was supposed to be any different. I went home, read comic books, watched Star Trek, or worked on my story [Link], and thought it was like that for everyone. It wasn’t until my senior year, when I began to expand socially and go out more, that I realized for most people all four years of high school had been social. They talked all the time of memories from Freshman year, or the big drinking party Sophomore year. It was at this point that I began to feel regret for not being more social during my high school years.

(Some of you may remember at Calvin that I was obsessed with time management, and refused to do things like watch TV, or even attend school plays or sporting events, because I considered them anti-social. I know I drove a lot of you crazy with this, and I apologize, but I was trying to make up for loss time from high school. In retrospect, I wish that I had spent high school being more social. And during college, instead of being obsessed with socializing, I wish I had been more concerned about preparing my future. But I seem to never have a clear perspective on a stage of life until it is already passed).

And yet, all that being said, throughout my high school life, I also had the sense that many people approved of me, and enjoyed having me around. In fact, given that I fully knew I had no social skills or interesting conversation, it seemed people were often unduly nice to me. I often got the sense (and I know this sounds pretentious, but its how I really felt at the time) that people could see something in me that I couldn’t see myself. It was the only way I could make sense of all the unwarranted kindness that was shown to me.

As I advanced through high school, I began to feel like I was making inroads towards popularity and acceptance. Halfway through Junior year I started trying to hang out with the popular crowd during noon break (in part because I felt I had no where else to go) and they seemed to tolerate me. My senior year I was elected to the “Home Coming Court”. I was voted “The friendliest Person” in my class. And, out of all the graduating seniors, the chapel committee chose me to be one of 3 people to represent the senior class. And all this when I couldn’t find anyone to hang out with on Friday night. I couldn’t figure it out.

And ten years later, I still don’t really understand it. I think people must have seen me as sort of a mascot type figure. I wasn’t the kind of guy you would want to invite out on the weekend, but I was considered likeable and friendly enough that people liked to cheer for me when I was on the “Home Coming Court”. That’s the only way I can make sense of it. And even then, when I was so quiet and shy that no one in high school really knew me, I have trouble realizing how people saw any positive qualities in me at all. What was there to separate me from all the other quiet introverts who passed through high school in obscurity?

But I’ll have to leave my high school angst at that, and get back to the topic at hand.

As a sort of “mascot of the senior class”, I was one of the seniors chosen to give the final chapel. The only problem was that I had nothing to say. I spent the whole weekend in my bedroom trying to write a speech, constantly throwing my draft away and starting over, and thinking about killing myself rather than go through with it.

The idea of speaking in front of the entire high school student body terrified me to begin with, but it wouldn’t have been so bad if I at least felt like I had something intelligent to say. I was absolutely horrified of the idea of getting up in front of my whole school with nothing to say. I was beginning to understand what my friend meant when he said I got suckered into this. It was a lot of work, and even more stress.

Eventually I wrote something. I wasn’t completely happy with it, but it was the best I could come up with.

I think the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life is when I gave my oral report in 10th grade. But this was a close second. As my sister later observed, my hands were visibly shaking when I was up at the podium.

And yet, it went over incredibly well. People laughed at all my jokes. In fact they laughed generously and heartily at all my jokes. Even two or three years later, I would meet Christian High graduates at Calvin who would say, “You’re the guy who gave that senior chapel, right? That was the funniest thing I’ve ever heard in my whole life.”

The actual text of the speech is clearly not that funny. I can only think that the good reception it got was due to a combination of the jokes with the mascot like persona that people projected onto me. In other words, I don’t think people would have thought this was as funny if someone else delivered it. But that’s just my guess. I’m as much at a loss to explain this as I am to explain Homecoming Court.

Anyway, here is the text of the speech.

[Insert Text here]

Commentary on the Speech: I think everyone is embarrassed when they look back on High School work, because they have intellectual progressed since that time. Old papers and speeches are like a snapshot into an old, now outgrown, way of thinking.

Almost all of my childhood, I was always trying to be the “teacher’s pet”. I wasn’t perfect, but that was my goal. In elementary school, I was always the kid who told on the others. In middle school, although I was too afraid to say anything, I always got mad when other kids talked bad about the teacher. The teacher was like a god to me, and their approval was the most important thing.

During the last couple years of high school, my view began to shift. Why was I always siding with the teacher, when they were so old and boring? Young people were so much more good looking, exciting and fun to be around. And besides I was one of them. I would never be accepted as an equal by the teachers. All these years I had been siding with the wrong people. I should be on the side of my classmates against the teachers, the parents, the pastors, and the other dark forces of adulthood.

And so, the last couple years of high school, I started adopting the “generational conflict” view of life. Everything young is good. Everything old is bad.

Obviously this view creates a great amount of intellectual dissonance. I was greatly attracted to generational polemics on the value of youth from the 1960s, while trying to ignore the fact that all the people who wrote these essays had now grown old themselves.

As I got to know many of my classmates better, I discovered many of them were extremely conservative, or even racist, but I did my best to ignore this as well.

The key to overcoming any intellectual dissonance is just ignore ignore ignore. Just ask any Republican (sorry, couldn’t resist that jibe).

Part of what I wanted to say during this speech was, “Hey, don’t listen to what those adults are saying. You’re all great.” I felt teachers were always berating our class for being too exclusive and too cliquey. And many of my fellow classmates had joined in this refrain. I was committed to defending my class against any accusations, so I had been debating some of my classmates on this point throughout the year. That’s why I made a point of defending this point in the speech.

This was an easy position for me to take, because I felt like I was on the verge of becoming accepted myself. In retrospect though, it was stupid, stupid, stupid. I grimace every time I think of this part of the speech. I, of all people, should have realized the pain of exclusion. Young people are not good by default. Children and high school students can be the cruelest people in the world.

E-mail Exchange
Originally I planned the retrospection to have a rotation of one memory from college, one from Childhood, one from Japan, and one political. I ended up ditching the political because it was stretching me too thin, and causing me to insert little flame war e-mails as memories (like you can see here). Again I was writing this from Japan, so I didn't have the exact e-mails with me but I remembered the jist of them, and was able to construct a frame around which I planned to insert them. I may actually still use this someday if I ever feel really desperate for material
(Continuing the Retrospective Project) LINK

I realize that reprinting this e-mail exchange here might very well fall under that “Aren’t I witty” category of sickening smugness, but I’ve always been proud of the way I handled this situation.

In the summer of 2000, after returning from the protests in Philadelphia against the Republican National Convention [LINK], I sent this e-mail to the Calvin College Social Justice Committee list serve


The e-mail went out to the entire list serve, but I received one response in particular. To protect his identity, we’ll just call him Jonathon C.


I never met Mr. Johnny C., and as far as I remember he never attended any of the Social Justice meetings, but I’m guessing that:

1). He’s a Republican
2). His Freshman year he signed up for the “Social Justice Committee” at the Cokes and Clubs meeting. Being a Freshman, he didn’t know that “Social Justice” was Calvin code for “place where the liberals can come out of the closet”.
3). Laziness got the better of him, and he never bothered to attend any SJC meetings, so he never realized they might have been a bit more liberal than he was.
4). But, because he had signed up for the club, his e-mail address was added to the SJC list serve. And he was outraged, absolutely outraged, to find out that there might be liberals on this list serve.

I sent Johnny C. this e-mail back


And he replied


And so I sent this:


I was beginning to have a bit of fun with this, so I showed Bosch the e-mails. He wanted in on it, and so he e-mailed Johnny C., “I’d be happy to step in as a mediator if you need me. Joel’s the king of mind games, so it’s no use trying to outwit him.” (Or something to that effect. I never actually saw Bosch’s e-mail, he just told me about it.)

To my great disappointment, however, Johnny C. never wrote back, and that was the end of our little correspondence.

The next two are alright, but relay solely on reminiscing, not saved documents. If I ever run out of stuff, I might sink to use these, but for now I feel like stuff written at the time has more authencity.

Conservative Upbringing(Continuing the Retrospective project) [LINK]

I think every single human being pushes against their upbringing in someway. That’s part of growing up. No one says, “My teachers and parents were exactly right about everything, and I wouldn’t criticize a thing.” If they did, they would still have a child’s mentality.

Those of us who are raised conservative, and turn out liberal, tend to develop a certain smugness about it sometimes. “Sure, it’s easy to be open minded and progressive if you grew up in California or New York, but I was brought up in Grand Rapids, Michigan surrounded by reactionary Bible thumpers. Were it not for my superior intellect, I would probably be burning science text books at this very minute.”

And yet thousands, millions of people, were brought up conservative and turned out liberal or radical. Memoirs of this kind have even developed into their own sort of genre.

There’s a famous Michael Moore clip (I think it’s from “The Big One”) when he talks about his conservative Catholic upbringing. I’m quoting from memory, but it goes something like this: “The nuns told me that impure thoughts under 7 seconds were only a small sin, but over 7 seconds became a damnable sin. So I spent my entire adolescence timing my sexual fantasies. ‘One two three four five six…okay let that thought go.’”

Although my teachers and youth group leaders never attempted to numerically quantify the exact amount of seconds that made the difference, I remember being repeatedly told a similar thing: “If a lustful thought happens to pop into your brain, the devil put it there to tempt you, and it’s not a sin. If you linger on the thought, it becomes sinful.”

And I emphasize “repeatedly”. Throughout my middle and high school days I heard that refrain over and over again from teachers and youth group leaders. The emphasis on “sex” as the ultimate sin is ridiculous enough in itself, but that this extends to trying to stamp out even sexual thoughts is something that strikes me now, at 28, as the height of idiocy. At the time though, I went along with it, just like I went along with most of the crap I was taught.

I could probably right a book about all the ridiculous stuff I was taught growing up (I’m sure many of you could as well), but just for the hell of it I thought I would list a few brief examples. I’m not sure if these are the most outrageous examples or not, but they’re just the moments that happen to stick out in my memory.

* In eighth grade, one of my classmates was reprimanded by the art teacher for painting, “Party On,” on her art project. “This is a Christian school. We don’t say Party On.”

* In eighth grade, when we had to pick names for our intramural teams. Most people just copied names from college or professional sports. One team selected “The Rebels”, but this was vetoed by the teachers, who said, “It’s wrong to rebel.

* I was in seventh grade playing an intramural Soccer game. Someone accidentally kicks the ball too high in the air, and one of the eighth grade students yells out, “holy cow.”
The teacher yellow carded him. “God is holy. Cows aren’t.”

* On an eighth grade field trip about 8 of us boys were in a van driven by a parent volunteer. We were a bit rambunctious. After we arrived at the school, the mother marched into the principle’s office and told him she was never driving a group of eighth grade students again. The principle had a long talk with us, and then our homeroom teacher had a long discussion with the whole class.
The primary issues were that we were wrestling in the backseat, and that some of the boys were singing a limerick, “My name is Chuck. I like to…” humorous pause “…Sing!”
Look, lady, you don’t take a group of 8th grade boys in a van and expect them to act like angels. I don’t care what Christian school they’re from. If they get a little rambunctious, you just yell at them to settle down. What you don’t do is just keep driving quietly the whole time, and then give the principal an earful after everything is over.
Okay, okay, so you’re not a professional educator, and not accustomed to discipline. I can dig that. But the song? Come on, if that’s one of the worst things we were doing, I’d say you had a pretty easy ride. You need to get out of Grand Rapids.

* When I was in first and second grade, in my old neighborhood before my family moved to the house we have now, there was a Chinese Buddhist family on my block, and a Jewish family.

Since all my friends were either from church or my Christian school, I was in awe when I discovered they weren’t Christians.

Non-believers! I thought these were people you only read about in books. I didn’t think I would actually meet any of them.

Naturally I set to work on the task of converting them. I invited “Han Chen” to attend Church with my family several times. When he didn’t immediately convert, I took to shouting, “Love Jesus!” or “Love God” whenever he went by. In a similar way I shouted “Jesus!” at the Jewish boy when he rode by on his bike. My mother eventually put a stop to this.

When I was slightly older, in 5th grade, I tried to continue my missionary work by converting some of the younger kids at my bus stop. I figured they were young enough that I could mold their minds easily. I told them the gospel stories, but most of them didn’t look like they understood.

For years afterwards I used to be mortified when I thought back on this. Then one day in high school I was at a Cross Country team bible study, and everyone began telling stories about their youthful attempts at evangelicalism. As we went around the circle, I realized everyone had these kind of stories. “I wouldn’t give any cookies to my friend until she converted” or “I locked my friend out of the house and wouldn’t give her the key back until she accepted Jesus.”

When I think back on the heavy indoctrination we got in Sunday school, it is inevitable that this kind of thing happens. I remember in second grade my Sunday School teaching telling us how important it was that we share Jesus with our friends, because otherwise our friends would be doomed to a life of damnation.

The church even had a skit about it that I remember seeing. Two friends are on the bus together. One asks the other, “why are you always busy on Sunday,” the other one says, “I’ll tell you later.”

Later in the week, the bus is in a traffic accident, and all the kids are killed. One is allowed into heaven, but the other one runs off stage crying because her name isn’t in the book of life.

Is that laying it on thick or what? Convert your friends now, or they’ll die next week and be doomed for all eternity.

I also remember once being shown a video on “how to convert your friends to Christ” in Sunday school.

So with all this indoctrination going on, what is your average 1st or 2nd grader going to do? Are they going to carefully and tactfully share the gospel of Christ, well at the same time respecting the different religion and cultures of their friends? Of course not. How much tact does your favorite 2nd grade student have?

As I’ve grown up, I longer believe that God would damn people to all eternity because of their intellectual beliefs. But I hesitate to speak with certainty about the mind of God. Who knows? Maybe when I’m dead, I’ll find out that those people in my church were right after all.

But it is a bad, bad, bad idea to put so much pressure on elementary students to convert their friends. They just don’t have the social skills to do it. If anyone reading this is teaching Sunday School, please, please stop it. You’re not helping anything, and you’re just creating bad memories for the children when they get older.

My Friends
(Continuing the Retrospective Project) LINK

Some people go through life with lots of friends, and it’s hard to keep track of them all. People like me have only a handful of close friends at any one time, and I can write it down as a narrative.

I was painfully shy in pre-school and kindergarten, to the point of not being able to talk to any of the other children at school. I had no friends these first few years.

Then, in first grade, TJ befriended me. Every time I was on the playground by myself, he would always call out to me, “Hey, Joel, over here. Come play with us.”

I had no idea what I had done to deserve this kindness, and was overjoyed simply to have a friend. He once mentioned that our friendship all started when I joined him in some sort of make believe fishing game, but I never remembered this, and the event had obviously not made a big enough impression on me to stick into my memory.

Although TJ was the same age as me, I treated him like a big brother. I would follow him around and do what he did. When our class played any sort of sport, I always called out, “I’m on TJ’s team.” I embarrassed him occasionally this way, but he didn’t seem to mind too much.

The next year, David joined our group. David had been TJ’s friend from Kindergarten, but they didn’t hang out in first grade because they were in separate homeroom classes. In second grade the three of us were all in the same homeroom, and the three of us hung out together all the time.

But the following year, TJ was in a different homeroom class. This doesn’t seem like a big deal now, but at the time it was the beginning of the end of our friendship. We never had a big fight or anything dramatic like that. We just gradually drifted apart. We only saw each other at recess, and then he was always playing games with the kids from his homeroom class, and I felt more comfortable with the kids from my homeroom.

I tried to make an effort to spend time with TJ during recess, and hang out with the other homeroom class, but I felt more and more on the outside. David, on the other hand, made new friends with Matt and Josh. And I was soon sucked into this new circle as well.

Matt was someone I had always liked, and wanted to get to know better. He was neat, organized, and was a good student without being a nerd about it. And he was really funny. He had a way of making us all roll on the floor with laughter with his sharp one-liners or monologues.

This new group of friends was completely centered around Matt. The rest of us didn’t care so much for each other, but enjoyed being around Matt. David and I had been friends before of course, but we didn’t get along well with Josh. Josh had been Matt’s friend from the previous year, and I think he saw the rest of us as impinging on that friendship. He treated us with a certain coldness and distance.

Josh was very loud, opinionated, and had a sometimes abrasive personality. Matt picked up on this, and loved to egg Josh on about one thing or another, just to see Josh’s reaction. Josh tolerated it from Matt, but would get absolutely infuriated when the rest of us would start in. More than once I remember him stomping away from us on the playground, too furious to speak.

One example of this: In 4th or 5th grade Josh had a special kind of retainer that involved rubber bands going from one part of his jaw to another. He could only open his mouth a certain distance. If he opened up too wide, the rubber bands would snap, and he would have to spend five minutes in front of the mirror getting everything back in place.

Unfortunately for Josh, quietness was not his strength. Matt immediately picked up on this, and would egg Josh on about something until Josh would shout, the bands would snap, and Josh would have to go the bathroom mirror to fix everything.

I thought this was the funniest thing in the world and continued this game long after the Matt had gotten sick of it. For years afterwards, I think Josh held a bit of a grudge about that.

But in 5th grade, the unthinkable happened. Matt’s parents decided they could no longer afford private school, and Matt told us he wouldn’t at our school next year. We were all devastated.

Matt himself knew that the other 3 of us were only held together by him. “What really sucks,” he remarked to me one day, “is that after I’m gone, the group will be over. You and David will still be friends, but you and Josh won’t still hang around.”

I thought the same thing would happen. But instead the opposite did. Once Matt was gone, Josh became my best friend. Matt had always dominated things, so I never really got a chance to get to know Josh. But once Matt was gone, Josh and I began to hit it off very well. He was loud, and he loved talking, and many people thought of him as annoying, but since I was quiet, shy, and incredibly introverted, we seemed like a perfect fit. He had the courage to walk up and talk to anyone in a way I never could, be it the most popular girl or the strictest teacher.

In those days we were a lot more religious and a somewhat given to the middle-school habit of hyperbole, and once Josh commented to me, “You know, I believe God sent Matt to another school so that the two of us could become better friends.” And I said that I had often thought the same thing.

Throughout middle school, David, Josh and I were always together. Many of the rest of our classmates thought we were geeks, but I didn’t care. If you have friends, who cares if you’re popular or not?

It wasn’t until high school that I really felt on the outside. Our school, Ada Christian, had been the same small group of people from kindergarten all the way through 8th grade. But in 9th grade, we started at “Christian High.” Suddenly the world I had known since first grade was shattered, and we were now in a big school, with classmates from all of the area middle schools.

I assumed the 3 of us would go through high school just like we did in middle school; maybe not popular, but strong friends. Josh, however, wanted to make a break for it and try for popularity.

The first day of school he inserted himself into a group of jocks from Ada Christian, and tried to make himself part of the conversation. David and I were somewhat confused by this, but nevertheless followed him into the new circle. Josh was less than pleased. “What are you guys doing?” he asked. “Quit following me everywhere I go. This is high school now. We need to go out and make new friends.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked. “You’re talking to a group of people from Ada Christian.”

“People from Ada Christian that I wasn’t friends with yet,” he answered.

I wanted to tell him that he had the past nine years to make friends with other kids from Ada, and if he hadn’t done it yet, there was no use starting now. Also those kids had spent the past 9 years making fun of him, so why did he want to try and break into their circle?

But I kept my mouth shut. He was right. The three of us couldn’t spend the next four years only hanging out with each other. We had to expand our circle.

Making friends in high school is difficult, especially if you’re by yourself. Most people spent most of freshman year still in their middle school groups, and only gradually expanded their circle. The cliques were grouped still grouped by the old schools. It’s rough to try and force your way into another clique of kids that have know each other since elementary school.

But I wasn’t by myself. I was with David, which was worse than being by myself. As shy and socially awkward as I was, David was even worse. The two of us were lost without Josh, and David would have been completely lost without me. He followed behind me silently as I tried to integrate myself into one clique after another. It was bad enough trying to force myself in. I couldn’t do it with David next to me.

All I really wanted was just a place to stand. I wasn’t much of a talker, and I didn’t really care if I was involved in the conversation or not. I just wanted to be able to stand in a group and feel like I was part of it. I would walk up to a group and try and take my place in the circle. David would follow behind me, and sometimes stand in the circle with me, sometimes just stand behind me the whole time. I hoped to just slip in un-noticed, but I felt like David was a huge weight I was dragging around. And 9th grade students are very unforgiving. Sometimes we were blatantly told to get lost. Other times someone would ask me coldly, “Yes, may I help you?” or gesturing to David, “Who’s your friend?”

I guess I should have just had a talk with David the way Josh had talked to the two of us on the first day. But I liked to avoid these kind of direct conversations, and so I tried to settle the problem by just ignoring him, and hoping he would get the hint. I would speak to him as little as possible, and try and let him know I didn’t want him following me around. I could see the hurt in his eyes, but he never said anything about it, and eventually stopped trailing me around.

The three of us still kept in touch, and every now and again would get together on the weekend but it was maybe three times in a year. None of us really found any new groups of friends that we were comfortable in, but we roamed around from different groups on our own.

By about Senior year, an eternity later, I seemed on the verge of breaking in and gaining acceptance. I didn’t know why then and I don’t know why now. I was by no means the big man on campus, or a ladies man, but I started hanging out with the popular crowds, and they seemed to tolerate my presence. I started to get invitations to parties and social outings. I was on the homecoming court, voted the friendliest person in the class, and asked to give a speech at senior chapel.

Josh by contrast had entered senior year bitterer than ever. He had tried so hard for three years to force his way into the popular circles, and the harder he tried, the more they abused him and made fun of him.

Since he was the one who had broken up the three of us, he was well aware of the irony of our fates four years later, and I think on some level believed that it was Karma or divine retribution. He repeatedly apologized to me for the way he had treated me freshman year.

I was still friends with him, and valued him as one of the only friends I could be myself around, but at the same time did not hesitate to run him down in front of my new friends when it seemed necessary. Once I was at a party and a popular girl was complaining about a phone call she received from Josh. “Who does he think he is calling me?”

“I don’t know,” someone else said to her. “Hey, you’re pretty good friends with Josh, aren’t you Swags?”

I threw my hands back to indicate refusal. “Whoa, let’s not start throwing around accusations. Who can really fathom the Josh mind when it comes down to it.” This got a good laugh, and the issue was dropped at that.

Comic Books and Me
Originally supposed to be a series in 4 parts, I didn't even finish the first post. At the time I started doing this I was on a comic book kick, but soon it wasn't long before I decided I had better things to do.

(A series in four parts. For no particular reason other than I felt like it. Which is always a good enough reason for blogging).

As a child I was always in love with comics. Most children are. I guess it's not hard to understand the appeal. It's halfway between reading a book and watching a cartoon, both of which are things most kids like doing. There's no need to over-analyze the appeal.

There was a time when I might have added something about the connection between the Y chromosome and the appeal of comic books, but my time in Japan and exposure to Shojo comics culture has taught me otherwise. Girls can like comic books just as much as boys, they just need comic books that are target to them. (Comic book companies in the US are missing out on a huge demographic here. They could really take a lesson from Japan. But that's a different subject for a different post).

When I was a kid I would read anything and everything if it was in a comic format. Even educational or Public service announcement anti-drug comics I devoured. (Yet another thing the US could learn from Japan, where educational comic books are very popular, and kids actually are more than happy enough to read them. I'm not saying we don't have them in the US, but they're not mass printed like in Japan. US educators have missed the boat on that one).

Access to comic books was another issue altogether. The Sunday paper comics was one of the highlights of my week. I loved reading the weekly PIX (Picture Bible) from Sunday School.

For a long time the only proper "comic book" I was able to get my hands on was "The Peanuts Treasury" in our school library, which I checked out of the library numerous times and read to the point of memorization...All without really ever thinking "The Peanuts" were all that funny. I just loved reading comics.

Super hero comics were out of the question for me, even though this is a hobby most of my peers got started on at a young age. My parents disapproved of the violent content and were not going to buy me any. I had little money to buy comics on my own. (My allowance for most of elementary school was 50 cents a week, which even back in the late 80s would have meant saving up for a couple weeks to buy just one comic). And I didn't have transportation to any places where I knew comic books were being sold.

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