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9:51 pm EST        33°F (1°C) in Rossville, TN

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I didn't think I was going to have another opportunity to update this tonight, but when I learned that I was going to be delayed a few hours in getting loaded here, I decided to go for it. I am waiting to get a load of frozen food loaded into my trailer; I will have until Thursday evening to get to northeastern Indiana with it.

As I mentioned at the tail end of yesterday's update, I am going to delve into some issues of the past here. Perhaps a month ago, I visited Detroit Catholic Central High School's alumni web page for the first time in forever; the alumni relations office has added a new "Get Connected" section to the site at some point within the last few years. As a 1998 alumnus of that institution, I decided to check out what the "Get Connected" section was all about, and I was sufficiently intrigued and impressed to submit a registration e-mail. It took two weeks to receive a reply, due to the school's two-week Christmas break, but roughly two weeks ago, I received an e-mail stating that my registration had been approved. I went ahead and submitted some of the most basic personal information to that site, but otherwise suggested that fellow alumni contact me via e-mail or AOL Instant Messenger. I also provided the URL of this site; other alumni can surf to my page in "Get Connected" and merely click on that link to come here, if they so desire.

In any case, I figured that if my fellow '98ers were going to start visiting this site, I should give them a little bit of background information regarding the person I was in high school, and how I've changed (or not changed) since then. Most of the friends I had there, especially toward my junior and senior years, were people who for some reason were among the other "outcasts" of the school. I was never hugely popular or well-liked, I admit, but I did manage to make a fair number of decent friends, either through running track or as a result of the "outcast" status I had in common with them. Generally speaking, the people I could count as friends were one or more of the following: (a) other super-intelligent academic über-overachievers who had IQs of at least 140; (b) some track teammates who came to respect me for my perseverance and hard work, in spite of my relative lack of natural ability; and (c) the guys that everybody knew, but nobody dared mention, were gay. (In other words, NBC's now-defunct sitcom Freaks & Geeks could very well have been the story of the crowd I fit into best in high school. wink)

As I indicated above, among most other types of people there, I wasn't exactly Mr. Popularity. Looking back on it with seven years' additional perspective, I think a major reason for this is that in a lot of ways, I was trying pretty hard to be something I really wasn't. Perhaps the most obvious manifestation of this was going out of my way to appear straight when I in fact already "knew," but wasn't yet ready to accept, that I was gay. I made some allusions to this in my November 2000 "coming-out" essay, but I never really got into a ton of details there. Basically, in response to the few stupid people who did actually give the unpopular types trouble with "you queer" or "you're a faggot"-style taunts, I invented a series of phantom girlfriends and phantom sexual escapades in an attempt to deflect any potential scorn, disapproval, or worse. Looking back on some of my tall tales, I can now say it was pretty obvious to a good number of people that I was making them up; I mean, seriously, how many guys can actually climax with a girl within 90 seconds? (That was one of the stories I told, all right.) In any case, I was at the point where I knew, in my heart of hearts, that I was gay — it was nice to be in an all-boys school, with no icky girls to look at wink — but I was deathly afraid of admitting that to myself, much less anybody else. (Really, that fear had nothing to do with the fact that it was a Catholic school, or with religion at all; I think it had more to do with a fear of being unpopular — which I'll explain further shortly — and my parents' tendency back then to sweep anything even remotely sex-related under the rug. Honestly, almost everything I have learned on that topic has come from books, school "sex ed" classes, rumors and innuendo, and experience since December 2000.)

It was probably during my sophomore year that I had a "sexual epiphany" of sorts; I can remember a couple of things that, had I not been so afraid of the idea of being gay, should have made my feelings clearer to me. A student from another school transferred into our school that year; he was only there for one semester and change, but I developed a close friendship with him, and felt a profound loss when he was asked to leave due to poor grades. He was also not all that popular, and looking back on some of the ways he acted toward me, I think he was gay himself and interested in me; in a way, he was probably my first true "gay" love, though that was a concept I didn't understand at the time. We never had sex or even any intimate physical contact at all, but the feelings I had toward him were stronger than just mere friendship. Later that year, during an off-season session in the school's weight room, I encountered this amazingly cute classmate of mine I had never met before; though I didn't really talk to him at all, for lack of knowing him, I was almost transfixed by him — it was all I could do to avoid staring and admiring him. By the end of my own workout, this young man's attractiveness had caused me to experience a certain "problem"; in the interests of preserving this site's PG-13 rating, let's just say that, after finding a place with sufficient privacy, I only needed 30 seconds to solve said "problem." smile

Moving on, my parents expected a lot of me — and in many respects, I have to give them a lot of credit for motivating me as hard as they did — but I must honestly say that there were some areas where their efforts backfired. In those days, I would have to say that both of them were perfectionists in how they approached raising me; they meant well by pushing me to do my best, but really took things a step too far by refusing to tolerate failure (or at least acting that way). In high school, this manifested itself in the lengths my mother went to in an attempt to force me to remain on the Quiz Bowl team; I can only surmise that, knowing that I was quite smart, she felt that pursuing non-academic extra-curriculars was "failing" myself and "wasting time" I "should" have been using to improve my mind. While her reasoning and intent were all fine and good, and I can appreciate the way she felt about my brains, methods such as "you will not run track next spring unless you rejoin Quiz Bowl this fall, and I will see to that" were not the right way to bring about what she wanted, at least within the context of my mental health.

In terms of how many or how few friends I had at any given point in time, I endured occasional destructive criticism (or taunts from my sister that were allowed to slide) over my lack of a large cohort of friends. I was — always have been, and still am — a generally sensitive, introverted person, not hugely interested in associating with my peers unless forced to do so; I sometimes have a tendency to be off in my own little world, with my head up in the clouds, thinking about a million things at once. I can only guess here that my folks saw my inability to be outgoing and popular as some kind of reflection on them; in other words, they must have thought that they had failed because I didn't exactly have oodles of good friends, and they wouldn't accept my failing at anything. Any kid wants to please his/her parents — it's part of the nature of being a child — and I learned at an early age that one way to do so was to do anything I could think of to be popular. Usually, my choice was to emulate (read: copy) the popular kids, figuring that would make me popular as well. Obviously, that backfired; I picked up a reputation as an annoying copy-cat type, but given my introverted nature, I couldn't think of any other way to relate to my peers that would accomplish the goal of becoming more popular.

As I got older, into high school, I managed to shed the copy-cat reputation, but that sort of morphed into a "he's trying to be something he isn't" reputation. I obviously really wasn't all that horribly athletically talented, but the athletes in an all-male school are by default the popular folks, so I figured I ought to act like and appear to be "one of them." I first got into track in my freshman year because I had been the fastest eighth-grader in my middle school, but being the biggest fish in a 10-gallon aquarium doesn't necessarily guarantee that one won't be eaten by much larger fish in Lake Erie, so to speak. In retrospect, I probably should have not taken up distance running in my first two years; I enjoyed my last two years as a sprinter much more. At that time, the track team was a no-cut team, and there was an unofficial policy of granting varsity letter status to anybody who ran for four years, regardless of their talent; I eventually set my heart on following that path toward earning a letter.

There was also a policy that varsity letter jackets, which I guess I believed were the ultimate symbol of "coolness" and "popularity," were only given to students who earned letters in athletic pursuits. That is to say, while I honestly would have had a far easier time earning a letter in Quiz Bowl, the only thing I could get to show for it was a cardigan-type sweater that I guess I believed was a better symbol of "dorkiness." Looking back on it, I have to admit it was a pretty lame, misguided attempt to be one of the popular folks, but on the other hand, I had become indoctrinated in the worldview that my lack of popularity was some fatal character flaw that showed just what a failure I was. In spite of the long odds stacked against me, I persevered in track, deaf to all the criticism from the less-forgiving true athlete types ("You can't run! What the hell are you doing out here?"), and eventually did earn the letter jacket I so highly coveted. It didn't matter to me that I got it as a result of the four-year policy (and, in my senior year, showing dedication by being out on the track in September, doing my own workouts while the same coach was doing speed-work with his cross-country kids); all that mattered was that I had it. I had finally reached the "summit" of being one of the popular kids, or so I thought.

It has been only in the years after high school that I have learned that being truly liked by people is based upon just being yourself, not what you think they want you to be. I think I can say that my coming to realize this was the source of much of the friction I've had with my parents in the last several years; that is to say, they had always known me as a person who tried to conform to what I thought they expected, and it came as a big shock to them when I realized it's better to just do what makes me happiest instead of contorting myself to fit into anybody else's pre-defined expectations (and began to act based upon that new belief).

There are some ways in which I really haven't changed all that much since I graduated; I still have tons of arcane, highly esoteric trivia stored in my mind. This would help me if I ever decided to go after Ken Jennings' record winning streak on Jeopardy!, but in real-life everyday situations, bringing any of it up is usually un-helpful at best, and annoying to other people at worst. This is a lesson I think I still need some practice with at times, though I'm not nearly as bad with that as I once was. Additionally, the friends I have today still tend to be somewhat quirky, at least within specific circles of people; a couple of them have, in conjunction with me, practically developed new languages that only we understand and use. (Examples would be Marc's system of using "grunting" type sounds of varying pitches to describe the relative sizes of Ford Motor Company vehicles, or Nym's "optimization" of English that involves the near-total removal of pronouns, substitutions for certain words, frequent references to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and violation of most of the standard rules on prepositions, among other things.)

In any case, I think I've rambled on long enough for tonight. This much is a start for my fellow '98 alums to understand how the passage of seven years has affected me. I don't know if any of them will ever bother to read this, but if they do, this will probably explain a fair bit to them. Until next time …