Antisocial Socialites and Lonely Loners

We have been taught there are two types of people in a variety of divergent options. One of the most common dualities is type A versus type B. Type A people are the outgoing folks, the talkers. Loud and sometimes obnoxious, friendly even if a little bossy, always the center of attention. Type B dudes are more bashful. They are shy and quiet, studious, laid back, and avoid the spotlight.

The A/B theory is an oversimplification of anthropology. As we have discovered more about human behavior, we have identified more than two types of personalities. We have learned how our character traits are fluid, giving us the ability to demonstrate different personas in different situations. We humans tend to change as we mature and as we gain education and life experiences. The scale between introversion and extroversion is a spectrum and many people do not fit at either end, instead the term ambivert would be a better label to describe them.

However, for the sake of simplicity, I am dividing humankind into the two basic and most widely understood forms: extroverts and introverts. One draws energy from crowds and being social while the other feels better and finds comfort in solitude. I narrow down the abundant variety of our existence into these two descriptions because I have observed two general reactions with the directives to stay home in response to the pandemic stressing people all around the world.

image courtesy of NPR

My most extroverted friends are the people who are most vocal about society’s need to self isolate and flatten the curve. They are knowledgeable on what the various international, federal, state, and local government officials are doing to minimize the impact of the coronavirus. They are checking updates from the CDC and watching daily briefings. They trust the science behind medical professionals’ recommendations and elected officials’ mandates. They are urging everyone to stay home, pleading with their friends and families to avoid going out in public. They thrive in social situations yet they are the biggest advocates for social distancing. It is as if they are saying, “I love you but keep away from me.”

The extroverts are the cheerleaders chanting, “Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, stay at home, isolate!”

My introverted friends are a more curious case. Common logic would assume they are perfectly suited for self isolation. All of the shelter in place orders should be easy for them because the government is only asking them to do what they are already inclined to do: be alone. Perhaps the first couple days of quarantine were utopic, but the allure faded. After a lifetime finding comfort in seclusion, they are struggling now when solitude is their only option. It is easier to be alone when you have the ability to go places and do things with other people. When that privilege is removed, the world crashes down, even for the most intentional loner.

The introverts are the crooners singing along with that Joni Mitchell song, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.”

It is a weird world we live in and the various quarantines, curfews, and shelter in place orders have only made it weirder. Up is down, down is out, and out is in. My socialite friends are growing antisocial, while the typical loners are feeling lonely. Everyone is trying to cope while the normal rules of society no longer apply and the results are contrary to logical expectations.

These distressed introverts are demonstrating a fact I have known for a long time yet have not seen proven in such a tangible method. The truth: we need each other. Humans are fundamentally social creatures. We are tribalistic and function best in the confines of a group. Whether we are talking about the immediate family unit, our neighborhoods and communities, large nations, or the global body of the human race, we are all in this together. Even while social distancing, no one is an island. I need you and you need me as long as we are both following CDC and WHO recommendations. If we are to make it through the COVID-19 pandemic with our sanity intact, we will do it together.

So stay home for me and I will stay home for you. Listen to the extroverts screaming at you to wash your hands and quit hoarding toilet paper. We have the blessing of technology allowing us to communicate with people from remote locations, use that gift to be sociable safely. We do not have to be in the same room to enjoy each other’s company. While you are at it, check on your introverted friends. There are a lot of lonely loners out there who would appreciate some human interaction.


What It’s Like to Be Me: In the Beginning Pt 6, Young Love

Do you remember the first time you fell in love? There’s something about your first time that sticks with you, a memory that remains longer than the relationship lasted as if it were a ghost that haunts you. For some, it was a lesson they wish to never repeat, for others it’s a greatness to which they compare all who follow. For me, it was somewhere in between those two extremes. Still, she turned me into a fan of reggae music and gave me my first taste of wanderlust. She wasn’t my first girlfriend, but she was the first girl who made me want to be a better person. I fell hard for her; I was hung up over her for years after we parted, and you can see the theme of unrequited love in much of my creative writings between my late teens and early twenties.

Her name is irrelevant now. My life has turned out wonderful without her, yet her story is still significant in creating the man I’ve become. We met during my freshman year of high school. She attended a rival school and we dated for a few months. She spent the following school year in Mexico (not making that up, I received letters postmarked from Acapulco) before returning to the states. We dated again for a few months before drifting apart. I saw her again the summer after I graduated and I gave her my number in hopes to revive our relationship. But in a cruel twist of fate, a parade float drove through our driveway and tore down the phone line to our house leaving us without phone service for a week. I guess we were never meant to be. Decades beyond the last time we spoke, there are a few songs that still remind me of her.

311: “Purpose
She got me hooked on reggae, but my brother introduced me to punk rock. 311 seemed to masterfully blend the two genres. “Purpose” reflected my conflicted feelings of hope in what could be and grief over losing what could have been. “I believe in your purpose, baby,” Nick Hexum sang to open the song, later admitting to holding on to more than he should, “Still got all the things that I woulda give her.” He finally bares his intentions, “Whenever you come back, I’ll be waiting.” This perspective was my attitude for far too long. She was gone, but if she came back, I’d be waiting.

Matchbox 20: “Long Day
The opening lyrics to this song freaked me out the first time I heard them, “It’s sitting by the overcoat, the second shelf the note she wrote that I can’t bring myself to throw away.” I thought to myself, ‘how does he know?’ There were some shelves outside my bedroom door that I used for storage: CDs, some clothes, books, and (on the second shelf) a little Tupperware container holding all of the love letters and notes she wrote for me. And I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away, even after we broke up. This song also provided an important lesson that I didn’t learn until later in life. When it comes to my problems, wherever I go I’m still there. “It’s me, I can’t get myself to go away.” Side note, I did eventually dispose of those old love notes.

Super Deluxe: “Years Ago
I didn’t date much after high school. But every time one relationship ended, I felt a tug in my brain, wandering back to her and wondering about all of the what ifs and where is she nows. No song encapsulated my feelings better than this ballad from Super Deluxe. “Somewhere else again then with someone else, my thoughts drift straight into you.” I had to grow out of that phase. It just took me a while.

Dinosaur Jr.: “Out There
“Out There” carries the theme of love lost and the lingering hope for rekindling romance. J Mascis admits an awareness of reality while baring a bit of regret, “I know you're gone, I hope you've got some friends to come along.” He moves on to provide some updates about how he’s doing, “I feel OK, sure I know that's not what people say, maybe they're wrong.” His final pleading “Maybe I’ve changed,” is the idea that we could prove ourselves if given a second shot.

Fuel: “Shimmer
This is a song about heartbreak, written after Car Bell got dumped by his first serious girlfriend. He’s a little jaded and emotionally exhausted. When it came to the presence of a love lost in his life, he shared confusion and a hesitancy that resonated with me, “Can she take me for a while? And can I be a friend? We'll forget the past or maybe I'm not able.” He notes the distance between them and the finality of their relationship, singing she’s “too far away for me too hold.” Bell ends the song with a realization I eventually had to make for myself, “Guess I’ll let it go.” At 22, that’s what I did, I let her go.


Geeks Will Save the World

With a headline like “Geeks Will Save the World,” I know what you’re thinking. It’s all about the social isolation. The geeks and nerds of the world are prepared to isolate because we’ve been doing it for decades. When we were younger, we were developing a very particular set of skills never knowing it would become desperately needed in a future era of crisis.

All of the years you spent alone in your room reading and rereading Harry Potter, Marvel comic books, the collected works of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, or the Song of Ice and Fire series? It was preparation for today. The thousands of hours you devoted to playing World of Warcraft, alone in a dark room surviving off Mt Dew and frozen pizzas? That gave you the determination and talent to make it through our current shelter in place orders. Those nights you spent watching horror movies alone because all of your friends were too chicken to join you proves you have the courage to survive a pandemic. The work you committed to research a field of study or perfect a creative craft on your own while everyone else was partying at the beach is the same commitment needed now.

We didn’t know it then but we do now; our nerd powers of self isolation is the one thing that could save our planet and protect vulnerable lives. A word of motivation for all of my geeky friends: we are superheroes.

While all of this is true, it is not the reason I believe geeks will save the world. Life, as volatile and fragile as it may be, is bigger and more enduring than the current pandemic or our personal and political responses to it. Once the orders to shelter in place are lifted, this world will still need nerds and we will continue to rise and meet our noble calling. We’ve been given superpowers, and this week, I met a man who was saved by our nerd powers.

It was a random encounter in a public restroom. I generally loathe conversation in the men’s room. It’s a sacred space and if you really want to talk to me, you can wait until I’ve exited the facilities. However, we were both washing our hands while attempting to maintain a safe social distance when he noticed my t-shirt. It has a spider webbing pattern superimposed over Captain America’s shield with the radioactive spider that bit Peter Parker crawling in the web.

“Spider-Man?” He asked.
“Yup. Spidey and Cap. Mixing the two.”
“Nice,” he said, “Spider-Man is my jam.”
“If it wasn’t for Spider-Man, I probably would have never learned to read.”
“Oh really?” Despite my aversion to bathroom conversation, he had me interested in his story.
“See, I’m dyslexic. And my dumbass school didn’t teach me anything. I couldn’t read. Didn’t know how until I found Spider-Man comics. I still wasn’t learning at school so I taught myself to read through Spider-Man stories. They literally saved my life.
“That’s awesome,” I said.
“Yeah. And now I’m seeing some of the same signs in my daughter. She’s struggling in school. So I’m like: here...”
“Have a comic book.” I finished his sentence for him.
“Hell yeah. If Spider-Man helped me learn to read, he can help my daughter too.”

Comic books have long been viewed with scorn and disdain. They’ve been blamed as contributing to the delinquency of minors and shaded as a lesser type of literature. However, the vernacular comics use is more complex than most people’s spoken conversations. They employ advanced words comparable to college level communications. Studies into the art form from Boston University and California State University have praised comic books for being a great entry point for people reluctant to read and for helping students improve their reading level and vocabulary.

If you call yourself a nerd, consider this a note of encouragement. Because of writers and artists and perfectly decent geeks like us, my new friend learned to read after public education gave up on him. Our culture has more to contribute to society than our superhuman ability to isolate. We will save the world, even if it’s one dyslexic kid at a time.


What It’s Like to Be Me: In the Beginning Pt 5, Theology & Doctrine

Adolescence is the time in a kid’s life they begin to ask and answer some of the most important questions of human existence. Who am I? Where do I belong? Why am I here? What do I believe?

Church was a dominant setting in my life while I was going through this phase. I often asked those questions in the halls, classrooms, and sanctuary of Marysville Nazarene. The answers I found were formed inside that environment. My background was legalistic, and when I solidified what it was that I believed, a lot of it was a reaction to the church culture around me. The answers I have now, the hill that I’d die on is far different than what I was taught as a kid. And that’s OK.

Looking at theology, the study of God, I turned to music. The poetry and melody, rhythms and distortion, it helped me see the divine. These songs were released while I was at an age exploring and desperate for answers. They helped me understand the doctrine, the specific beliefs and principles I would follow. In this small set of songs, I found what I’ve used as my tenets of faith, my axioms that guide how I lived and continue to live my life.

Grammatrain: “Believe
One of my most fundamental beliefs is that faith is impossible without doubt. I found this tenet echoed in the song, “Some say that doubt's disappointing, but I say to question is to understand, and I won't swallow poison of faith placed in faith in experience.” I question so that I can understand and that understanding leads me to deeper faith. I believe because I doubt.

Black Eyed Sceva: “Ecumenical
I didn’t know the word ecumenical existed until I heard this song but the definition blew my mind: “Unity in what is essential. Liberty in non-essentials.” I’ve clung to this phrase through my various frustrations with organized church. After 24 years, there is still an important message for modern Christians in its lyrics, “Victims of religion, be forewarned. Try to exchange substance for form.” When I see differences in how people approach God, I find comfort in these words, is it a matter of substance or form? Is it essential or not? If it is non-essential, it’s not worth arguing.

Pedro the Lion: “Whole
Pedro’s song was always about hope for me, even as pain reverberated within David Bazan’s voice, “A hole that big I'd never seen before.” As someone who is easily distracted, the song provided a valuable lesson, “And all the charms that never were enough, It seems the hole was always twice as big no matter what it was” Nothing could ever take the place of God in my life. And my feeble attempts to do so always proved fruitless.

Havalina Rail Co.: “Total Depravity
“For weak and for strong, for every intention that ever went wrong.” This melancholic track opens with a confession of inadequacy. Matt Wignall continues to offer a list of his underwhelming contributions, “An old tattoo, shag rug and a recipe for stew” in a self-deprecating dirge that introduced me to the concept of total depravity – that on our own, humanity is corrupted and undeserving of God’s love. Yet, God still loves us in our brokenness. Understanding the disparity between God’s love for us and our complete inability to reciprocate it, Wignall provided the question I’ve asked time and time again, “Who am I to cry out when I suffer or to question you when I feel pain?”

The Swirling Eddies: “Multipurpose Man
One of my favorite Bible verses is 1 Corinthians 9:22 – “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” Paul’s message to the church in Corinth is the intent behind this Swirling Eddies song. “I’m a room for your love, I’m a factory for war, a hungry artist knocking at the rich man’s door.” This is the kind of person I’ve always wanted to be, someone who could relate to anyone regardless of their political or religious beliefs, their hobbies or profession, their financial or cultural status. I wanted to be a multi-purpose man, all things to all people for the sake of the gospel.

All Star United: “Bright Red Carpet
The denomination I grew up in was founded on a ‘come as you are’ principle, this idea that God accepts you just as you are. Generations later, wearing your Sunday best became more of an expectation than a tradition. Show up to Sunday morning services in jeans and you might get some dirty looks. Naturally, I rebelled. I’d be the punk wearing t-shirts and a baseball cap every week when everyone else was dressed in slacks and a neck tie. This All Star United song was a breath of fresh air for me, validation that I didn’t need to dress fancy to earn God’s love. Some of the older people used to tell me I should dress nicer to church because it was respectful to God. Any time I was given that argument, I’d hear these words in my head: “And that's OK, 'cause Armani likes the way you wear your clothes. But Heaven's gate is no place for fashion shows.” Church isn’t a fashion show and we shouldn’t make it one.

Plankeye: “Open House
This track from Plankeye’s sophomore album was like a post-grunge psalm. In Psalm 51, David wrote “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” In this song, Plankeye sang “Face down in a pool of my own sorrow, will it last or will it leave tomorrow? Broken man, he's got you on his mind.” Different words with the same spirit. This song provided a raucous way of expressing what David penned in another Psalm – that God is close to the brokenhearted. It’s a reminder I needed often while growing up; in my personal defeats, in my heartbreak, God had me on his mind.



The last solid food I ate was Wednesday and I will not be able to eat solid food again until at least tomorrow. Why? Doctor’s orders. I was admitted to the hospital for a perforated and infected colon. It’s a level of pain I’ve never before endured and not one I would recommend experiencing. Medical staff had me on an IV drip and a clear liquids diet until my discharge at which point I graduated to a clear and full liquid diet. I can’t eat real food, but I can ingest anything that would melt at room temperature.

It’s difficult to explain how hungry I feel. I am reminded of the emptiness in my stomach every time an advertisement for a restaurant specialty or grocery item plays on TV. You really don’t realize how heavily food is advertised until a doctor places you on a liquids only diet. Every edible product in every commercial looks like it might be the most delicious treat ever cooked by God or human. Even foods you wouldn’t normally consume.

For example, I don’t like seafood. Can’t stand it. One of the most commonly aired commercials during my hospital stay was for Arby’s new fish sandwiches. After being confined for 24 hours without any solid food, and delivered meals consisting of chicken broth and jello, those fish sandwiches started looking tempting and tasty.

image courtesy of Arby's

This is the depths of hunger I attempted to describe to my kids when their mom brought them to visit on Thursday night. They came around dinner time. Room service delivered my liquid meal seconds after they arrived. They were curious about my food and I had to stop my daughter from stealing my honey packet. I told them they couldn’t begin to understand how hungry I was at that moment. “Those Arby’s commercials for fish sandwiches? They look delicious and I hate seafood.”

The kids laughed but Bekah had a different response: “Speaking of which, did you know Wendy’s serves breakfast now?”

Of course I knew that. It’s also the kind of food I should avoid for the rest of my life. But as soon as she mentioned it, I was hungry enough I could have probably eaten every breakfast item on their menu. She proceeded to describe in mouth watering detail Wendy’s potato wedges. She was torturing me. Intentionally. We’ve been divorced for several years but I’m sure she still finds immense satisfaction in teasing me.

When it was time for them to go, Chloe wanted to stay. She and Christian both had school the next day so Bekah reminded them they’d need to exit if they wanted time to watch a movie before bed. The kids both stalled and lingered a little longer so Bekah tried a new tactic. “C’mon. We gotta go. If you want to get Chinese food, we have to leave now. Do you want Chinese? We're going to go get Chinese.”

The last thing I heard as they left was Christian pleading, “Mom please stop.”

The torture didn’t end the moment my ex-wife was out of earshot. I was discharged the next day and out of the hospital before lunch. I stopped by my office to talk to my boss and walked in while site leadership was serving barbecued burgers and potato chips for an employee appreciation day. Annie asked me to deliver a bacon cheeseburger and fries on my way to see her. Friday night, Chloe baked a chocolate cake. Saturday morning, Christian cooked pancakes from scratch. Saturday night, I picked up three medium pizzas from Dominos. Sunday morning, I got donuts from the donut shop and fried bacon for a special breakfast. I didn’t eat any of it.

Instead of the parade of delectable delights moving through my kitchen, I’ve survived on jello and protein drinks. And I am starving. Figuratively speaking.

Those fish sandwiches still look amazing. And I don’t even like fish.