Daily Prompt: The Not-So Good Old Days

Hey, folks. Tonight’s Daily Prompt is all about “salad days.” It’s a saying that refers to a great or memorable time in your life, usually seen through the lens of nostalgia. This one’s kind of tricky for me, because I’ve realized that some of my “good old days” weren’t so good in retrospect. My knee-jerk answer is to say my university years, specifically the time leading up to my graduation. Getting my bachelor’s degree was, from an achievement standpoint, the crowning moment of my life. I strode across that stage in a black cap and gown, practically drowning in the sweat of a 110-degree June morning. Reaching that moment wasn’t quite so easy; paying for my entire college education out of my own pocket taught me the value of discipline, patience, and motivation. I still cherish those long commutes on BART, dosing off involuntarily every morning, and desperately trying to do as much work as possible on the way back. Those insane 2 AM essay writing sessions, staying awake just long enough to perfect every last sentence. Working part time jobs, scraping by with every last penny, learning to appreciate the taste of canned peas…It was physically and mentally exhausting, but it was so satisfying. Doing something for myself – be it working towards a goal, building something with my hands, climbing a mountain, whatever – makes me feel more alive. Something was forged in that academic crucible, and I’m still trying to figure out what it is.

Looking back, however, I now realize it came with a cost. I was so focused on academics and not wasting time, I sacrificed everything else. Most folks associate college with partying, beer, romance, and the development of one’s identity. I had none of that; I never went out for the sake of going out, never developed any relationships, nothing. You ever try talking about astrophysics or Renaissance Literature in a social setting? Not fun. I often had the same classmates in different lectures, but I only regarded them as familiar faces, not actual individuals with lives of their own. That was a huge mistake on my part; I may have been at the top of my classes, but I was an absolute dunce as social and interpersonal relations. Reading and learning are much more fun when you can share the experience. I’m still really introverted and shy around people, but even I recognize the importance and necessity of interacting with others. It’s not about being the life of the party or center of attention; it’s about finding common ground and helping each other grow. There’s an old saying that “no man is an island.” I’m 30, and I’m just now starting to turn my proverbial island into a peninsula.

If I have any legitimate “good old days,” they were probably in the summer of 2013. For the first time in my life, I had free time to indulge in more things I truly enjoy: traveling and exploration. I usually travel abroad once or twice a year (including a certain last-minute winter surprise that’ll be revealed soon!), but circumstances put me in downtown San Francisco twice a week. I had hours to fill in a city that I’d never really seen before. So, I walked. And walked. And walked. I’d intentionally get myself lost by taking random turns, navigating by my sense of direction and knowledge of certain landmark locations. I’ve mapped out about a third of the city on foot, wandering through neighborhoods, exploring foreign markets, climbing all the hills I could find…Those adventures made me realize how much I enjoy photography; before that, I was firmly entrenched in the written medium. Judging by the photo gallery here, my adventures paid off in spades. Most folks in the city are so focused on their phones, they don’t notice the marvels around them…The happiest moment of that summer was looking down at the curved city landscape from the top of Lombard Street, with the sun shining on my back, and a steady breeze blowing through my hair.

I hope the coming days will be even better.

Robin Williams, And Why We Need To Talk About Depression

When I started writing this, I was going to focus on the death of Robin Williams. But looking over all the coverage in the last 48 hours, I’ve realized that such an article would just be repeating the same stories already out there. I could talk about watching Mork & Mindy reruns on Nick at Nite as a kid, or how I saw Aladdin, Jumanji, and Mrs. Doubtfire enough times to memorize every line. I could talk about how legitimately creepy I found him in One Hour Photo and Law and Order SVU. I could talk about how the phrase, “It’s not your fault” still makes me tear up. But you’ve read – and likely experienced – all of that already. It’s amazing how one man can bring together millions of strangers with a common experience of laughter. I wish I had a better story to tell you, that I was trapped in an elevator with him for an hour, or that he held a door open for me one time. But I don’t. I’ve lived in the Bay Area for 30 years, but I never met him.

And now I never will.

If there’s anything positive that can come out of this tragedy, it’s that more people are talking about depression and suicide. It needs to be discussed. Our culture has many proverbial elephants in the room, but depression is one of the biggest and deadliest. Psychology has developed leaps and bounds over the last century, but there’s still so much we don’t know. Lobotomies aren’t a form of treatment anymore, though all the medications and their innumerable side effects aren’t much better. Most folks haven’t bothered to learn anything about depression; if something’s uncomfortable, it’s much easier to sweep it under the rug. There’s an unspoken stigma – especially for men – about mental health. Oh sure, we all know it’s there, but who wants to think about that? It’s so much easier going about your daily life, catching a movie, playing a video game…whatever it takes to keep you distracted from the darker, lesser-known aspects of our existence. Because there’s no way anything like that could happen to you, right?

I know better.

I know what it’s like having that little twinge of doubt consuming your every action and decision. It builds with each passing day, filling and weighing your down like molten lead. I know the burn of stigma and shame, that sense of worthlessness and isolation. That no one could possibly understand. That you’re different, broken, maybe a lost cause. That you shouldn’t bother asking for help, because it’s nothing, it’s all your fault, and no one would want to help you anyway. That you have to pretend and put on a smile, and how exhausting it is. That you can’t fall asleep sometimes, because your brain is spinning like a tire stuck in mud. That you occasionally dread getting up in the morning because it’s yet another day bereft of meaning. That every aspect of your life is conspiring to make you more miserable. That things are so bad now, and the future is a terrifying prospect.

Look, I know you’re out there. You’re sitting in front a screen somewhere, and you’re feeling trapped and alone. I don’t know you, your background, age, sex, gender, ethnicity, circumstances, none of the above. I’m not going to pretend that I get everything about what you’re going through, but I know enough. Depression isn’t just a habit you can kick; it’s there, and it’s a serious, potentially deadly problem. It doesn’t make you a bad or weak person. But leaving it untreated is like putting a rock in your shoe and running a marathon. So, let me ask (and you don’t have to answer, but just think about it): What’s stopping you from getting help? Is it fear of rejection? Insurance coverage costs? Guilt? Whatever it is, are there ways around it? Also, let’s make one thing clear:

There is nothing, nothing wrong with asking for help.

I’m not going to romanticize therapy, either; it’s difficult in ways you’d never expect. It makes you take a long, hard look at yourself, and there’s no instant cure. For some, a couple of pills a day isn’t going to solve your problems. But if you’re going to do anything, then at least talk about it. If you can get therapy, go for it. If not, talk to your trusted family and friends. If not them, support groups and hotlines. Possibly all of the above. If you need to call someone, there are plenty waiting to listen. People can and will help you, but they’re never going to know unless you tell them. And for those of you who know someone in need, be there for them. It’s not about politics, taboos, or whatever else; someone you care about needs your help. I don’t think you’re going to leave them hanging. If you want to learn more about depression and suicide, there are several resources online. Try starting with the entries on WebMD, Wikipedia, and TV Tropes.

I don’t know if this post is going to make any difference. If it helps someone struggling out there, then I’d consider it a success. I’m typically reserved and quiet, so all of this preaching about seeking help from others and whatnot might sound hypocritical. Despite that, I am living proof of my argument; I wouldn’t be here otherwise. I’m not an optimist, but I’d rather fill an empty life than throw it away. Look, I’m not idealistic enough to think that we can change everything about depression overnight; despite all our advancements, we’re barely scratching the surface. But the first step is talking about it. Too many people have lost their lives in the silence already.

I’ve been on the soapbox long enough. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll be on a Robin Williams movie binge.

Party Of One

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about birthday parties. Specifically, how you celebrate yours. Some people like to have huge, extensive spectacles involving hundreds of people. Others like to go out drinking, or having a barbecue. Others like to travel, or at least do something out of the ordinary. As for how I celebrate mine…

I don’t. No, seriously.

I’ve never been the type to enjoy huge parties. There’s just too many people, noise, and chaos to handle. I never know what to say, and trying to be on for hours is exhausting. I’m the type to slowly back away from the crowds, find a quiet place, and start reading. Other tired party-goers (or their kids) will inevitably drift towards me, chat for a bit, and head back into the fray. I’ll just sit back, sip on a beverage, and wait for the next person to approach me. Or not. It doesn’t matter either way. The problem with this strategy is that it only works when I’m a guest at someone else’s party; I can’t do the aloof thing if I’m hosting. I don’t drink, so barhopping it out. Also, I don’t have a good track record when it comes to throwing parties; no-shows, last-minute cancels, and forgotten dates were common. I’ve never had many friends, and people usually have their own stuff going on. After years of disappointments, I just gave up. I’d usually just end up with some ice cream and a movie, and call it a night.

I’ve done better activities over the past few birthdays, though. I visited the California Academy of Sciences one year, then crossed the Golden Gate Bridge on foot the next. I hiked all around San Francisco last year, stopping by Coit Tower, Lombard Street, and the Exploratorium along the way. Not sure what I’m doing this year, though. A trip to Rome is still in the works, but it depends on how things play out with the job hunt and everything else. If things go well, I’ll be celebrating on a train going through the European countryside. That’s what I’d call a happy birthday!

Why Did We Blow On Nintendo Games?

Video

Hey, remember how you had to blow on your NES carts to make them work? Lies, all LIES! It’s Okay To Be Smart explains cognitive biases with some old school gaming goodness.

Words Without Voice

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about expression. Specifically, how you express yourself creatively. This one’s pretty simple for me, because writing is practically the only way I express myself. I spend most of my time either reading or writing something, and I’m really shy. I absolutely thrive when I’m exploring and wandering alone. I’m fine in a professional or one-on-one setting. But adding lots of people makes things…messy. If you met me at a party (probably hiding in a corner with a book), you’d rarely get more than politeness and a smile out of me. I never know what to say in social situations, and my voice is too soft for most people to hear. Some people have said I’m intimidating. I also think much faster than I speak, so I have to make a conscious effort to slow down verbally. Otherwise, it can come out as gibberish. With all that trouble, why bother wasting my breath? Writing is much more natural to me; I can collect my thoughts and focus without worrying about scaring other people away.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m okay with that. It’s really frustrating to be the quiet type. Human beings are social creatures, and the Internet takes it to the logical extreme. We’re constantly bombarded with tweets, videos, ads, etc. about everything we can possibly think of. While it’s a great snapshot of the modern world, it’s tough to sort out all the ideas and find the individuals buried beneath it. That’s especially true for writers; I could weave together an incredibly detailed narrative about the history of a game company, but it’d probably get overshadowed by the latest funny cat-related video. I’ve been laying the groundwork for a Let’s Play channel on YouTube or Twitch – I even have a microphone and recording software – but I’ve found that my voice really is as soft as I feared. You think public speaking is tough? Try talking into a mic and making your live video gaming sessions sound interesting. It’s harder than it looks. I just don’t have the personality for it. Since there’s no way I can be as loud or obnoxious as most players, I’ll inevitably be drowned out.

It’s the same thing with music. I’ve memorized dozens – if not hundreds – of songs in my head, but I can’t actually sing them out loud. I’ve got Bohemian Rhapsody and Under Pressure down perfectly, but only a tiny fraction of Freddie Mercury’s range. I’ve tried karaoke exactly twice, and I ended up just reading the words onscreen. Yeah, it’s not fun being booed and laughed offstage. My sense of rhythm isn’t much better; I have trouble with dancing and even simple music-based games. I fare much better when it comes to capturing moments via painting and photography. In my college years, I could sit for hours with a canvas and a set of brushes and colors. I’ve got a good eye for shading and perspective. Drawing is much harder, though. I’ve grown accustomed to taking my camera with me everywhere, just in case I stumble across something fascinating. All of my photos – including the ones I’ve posted on the blog – are taken with no preparation whatsoever. Judging by the feedback I’ve been getting, I’m pretty good for a newbie. If I keep at it, maybe I’ll be great someday.

Until then, writing is all that counts.

Hey, Younger Me.

Hey, you. Yes, just you. Put down that Stephen King book for a minute and read this. Don’t freak out. No, this isn’t magic or telepathy. And no, this is most certainly not a joke. Just, look. I know you. I know all about you. Don’t ask how. I’m here because you need to know something. A lot of things, actually. Much of what you believe and perceive is wrong. Not all, but most of it. Your teachers say how smart and insightful you are, and they’re mostly right. But that doesn’t make you an adult. Don’t be too arrogant. You haven’t had nearly enough life experience yet. Don’t believe me? Okay. Try this: When was the last time you actually spoke to another human being? Forget stuff like school dances or birthday parties you never attend; have you even talked to anyone at all outside of class? Of course you haven’t. You’re too scared of getting hurt and bullied again. Besides, you spend so much time studying that a social life is nonexistent. You might think you’re weird, but normality is inherently subjective. Everything’s relative. Weirdness doesn’t make you a bad person. Nor does it make you deserving of all the guilt, stress, and abuse.

Yeah, I know all about that.

You’ve got to work on that anger, kid. I don’t mean by way of getting into more messy fights. Oh, I know what you can do. But it’s not going to help. You already know this deep down, no matter how cathartic being vicious feels. You’ll just wake up each morning with that rage and sorrow building, and it’ll slowly devour you inside out like a cancer. It’ll become all you think about. You’ll go so crazy that you won’t even recognize yourself anymore. Everyone around you will be terrified. It’ll be just like Wuthering Heights; do you want to end up like Heathcliff?!

No, didn’t think so.

So, what do you do instead? Avoid fighting, but never, ever be a doormat. Be assertive and confident, not frightening. Also, talk to people. It sounds really cheesy, but it’s true. You’re like Fort Knox; so many barricades and minefields to cross. Oh yeah, it’s so safe. No one can hurt you if they can’t reach you. They can’t help you, either. I know things have gone horrendously so far, but not everyone is horrible. Healthy relationships do exist, and they require work from both sides. People need each other. And you’re different, no matter how ridiculously responsible and independent you’re forced to be. Walling yourself up is akin to suicide; it’s like if Fortunato willingly entombed himself in The Cask of Amontillado. You can accomplish much more in life, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Speaking of which, I know you’re afraid. It’s the reason you’re sitting in your room right now with a pile of books. It’s called a comfort zone for a reason. Getting lost in a story is easy when you want to forget about your own. But you can’t, no matter how much you want to believe otherwise. Books are indeed awesome and you should continue reading wholeheartedly, but they won’t solve everything. You’ve got this fixation on the status quo; you don’t want things to change, because it’ll make things more complicated and you might lose what innocence you have left. You’re not afraid of death; you’re afraid that the rest of your life will be just as meaningless. The future is terrifying because your past was awful. You often ponder over how bad things are going to get. Even worse, you don’t let yourself live in the moment; you’re just observing at best. You’re so eager to please, you’ve gotten great at acting exactly how you’re expected. It’s all a character, and you know it.

Do something for yourself.

I don’t care what it is, as long as it’s something that you honestly want to do. Something that actually makes you happy, for once. As for the future, it’s already here. It’s not just some set date where everything will magically, automatically change. It’s an ongoing process, and it’s happening right now as you read this. There are so many choices and opportunities at your fingertips, and you don’t even notice them. Not yet, anyway. You need to start looking around more. There’s so much out there. Do not settle for the status quo. You can do better. Contrary to what you believe, life is worth living. Yes, it is meaningless. But that’s what makes it interesting. You must find your own meaning. It’ll be hard, but it can be done.

Don’t you dare give up.

I’m Blogging On Sunshine

Hey, folks. Tonight I was informed that The Part Time Monster nominated me for The Sunshine Blogger Award. I’d like to thank her for that; it’s really good to know that people are reading and enjoying my work. I don’t know if I have a sunny disposition, but if I can get you to smile and think, then I’ll know I’m doing something right. I couldn’t find the exact origin of the The Sunshine Blogger Award, so I’m just going to copy its rules from the aforementioned page:

1. Nominate 10 other blogs
2. Write 11 facts about yourself.

Aaaaand the nominees are….(In no particular order)

  1. Stefan Praetorius Naurin
  2. SathyaSaiMemories
  3. AngelArt Star
  4. LenzExperiments
  5. The Ellieverse
  6. Living in the Moment
  7. Ed Mooney Photography
  8. Lula Avila
  9. Morrighan’s Muse
  10. Shikha It’s The Little Things

Wow, that was actually really hard. I’ve seen some many awesome blogs already this year thanks to the Zero To Hero challenge, so choosing just ten is just…ugh. Anyway, 11 facts…

  1. I’m currently the sixth highest-ranked Chun-Li on the Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition PSN worldwide leaderboards…I play that too much.
  2. I have habit of memorizing whole movies, including The Shining and 2001: A Space Odyessy. Same goes with song lyrics.
  3. I once won a game of chess in four moves.
  4. I love LEGOs, particularly the Architecture series.
  5. I’ve talked my way into an exclusive museum exhibition and a software convention by just being honest, polite, and asking questions.
  6. My long hair gets me mistaken for being female constantly, even when I don’t shave. I’m still learning to enjoy it.
  7. I’ve come close to dying four times.
  8. The States aside, I’ve been to a dozen countries: Canada, Mexico, The Bahamas, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, France, Spain, Morocco, Gibraltar, Thailand, and Aruba. Someplace in South America is likely next.
  9. My writing voice is much, much louder and upfront than my real one. IRL, I’m the quiet guy in the corner with a book.
  10. I hunger for super-spicy food.
  11. I’m at a crossroads at my life; my previous career is over, and I have no idea what direction to go in. I don’t have a dream, and sometimes that terrifies me.