Summertime, Coming Soon

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about summer. As in, what you’re looking forward to about the upcoming summer months. I’m more of an autumn type, but I won’t pass up the chance to enjoy the heat. Especially this year; for the first time in my adult life, I might still be unemployed this summer. I’m not hoping I’ll end up like that, of course. I recently applied for a community manager position at a major website. There’s a good chance I’ll be hired. If that happens, then I’ll be carrying around my laptop a lot in the foreseeable future. If I don’t, then I’ll enter UC Berkeley’s open-enrollment technical writing program and further develop a practical skill set. I could get the pursuit of my M.A. going, but that’s a whole other mountain of problems. I’ll also be delving deeper into the No Excuse List and doing independent studies while looking for another position.

…Doesn’t sound very fun, huh?

I’ve also been invited on a trip to Rome tentatively scheduled sometime in May. The itinerary is still up in the air – it might even be postponed until October – but I’ll take full advantage of the rail system to see more of Europe. The last time I was in that part of the world, I managed to visit Spain, Morocco, and Gibraltar in a single week. Let’s see if I can do better this time around! I’ll also be equipped with a better camera; before, my old camera malfunctioned on the first day, and I had to resort to my iPod. I’ll be sure to take tons of awesome photos for you guys!

That’s a best-case scenario, of course. If I’m stuck here in the Bay Area, I’m going to make the most of it. I spent a considerable amount of 2013 exploring San Francisco on foot, and I’d love to do it a second time. Those long, sunny afternoons wandering off of Market Street, climbing Lombard Street, and walking through Chinatown all the way Fisherman’s Wharf were some of my most cherished moments. I only stopped exploring the city because of winter’s onset; now that the days are getting longer again, I have more hours of sunlight to use. I live in a bad neighborhood of a terrible city, so traveling to San Francisco is like a brief, but lovely escape. I can’t wait to do it again.

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Happiness Comes In Small Doses

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about happiness. This one’s kind of tricky, because…well, happiness isn’t something that happens too often to me. The things that people typically associate with it – other people, families, a home, etc. – have always been some of my most galling issues. Paying for and graduating from college on my own was arguably my biggest and most satisfying achievement, but it was triumph ridden with stress and a sense of emptiness and finality. Even my previous career in banking, from which I learned several skills, was an ultimately hollow and unrewarding experience. I wish I could’ve just played it safe and had that stable, 9-5 office career. I really do. It would’ve been so much easier. But it drove me nuts. For a dozen years, I went in every morning with my instincts screaming and begging me to turn and run.

Eventually, the decision was made for me.

So, what does happiness mean for me? This is going to sound really cheesy, but it’s the little stuff. Meeting someone whose kindness subverts my dreading expectations. Accomplishing and creating something. Exploring new places, climbing hills and mountains just to see the view. Being able to watch sunsets. Those quiet moments when I’m wandering far all alone, the wind in my hair and the sun on my back. Staying up late writing. Letting the thoughts flow out of me like a river of words, then crafting a narrative out of it. Seeing games, literature, and movies with an analytical eye, and enjoying them even more for it. Unlike some people who just brag about their book collections, I actually read mine. Finishing a book feels so good. So does completing a jigsaw puzzle. And mastering another language. And learning to draw with a tablet. And kicking ass in Jeopardy.

…And maybe a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. That sounds good right now.

If I Had A Billion Dollars…

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about winning. Specifically, what you’d do if you won one billion dollars, tax-free. I like that the prompt included that little bit on the end, because that makes things far less complicated in terms of structuring a portfolio. Nobody likes paying taxes, and doing it for a billion dollars would probably physically hurt. So, what do you do with that kind of money? A lot of people would spring for some kind of mansion, cars, an island, etc. Sorry to be boring, but I don’t think I’d go that route. Not immediately, anyway. Having that much cash suddenly dropped on me would certainly solve some of my short-term problems, but it’d potentially cause a ton more without a good amount of foresight and planning.

There’s a pervasive belief that being rich means you can retire. Maybe you’ll get a big coin vault and go swimming in it like Scrooge McDuck. Or maybe you'll fight crime. Spending the rest of your life in the lap of luxury sounds pretty awesome, doesn’t it? And while it’s technically possible to do with a tax-free billion, it would be inherently limiting. The amount of money in your account isn’t as important as how you spend it to maintain your standard of living. Basically, stuff adds up. Read up on Warren Buffett sometime; the dude’s lived in the same house since 1956. His lack of extravagance is something I’d like to emulate. For example: I don’t have a car, so I walk and take public transit. Sure, that makes me a scrub in most people’s eyes. But I’m saving thousands annually on insurance premiums and maintenance. The same goes with the phone; I’ve been using the same ratty old flip phone for the better part of a decade. Its data plan is almost non-existent. It doesn’t have a camera, a music player, or even the Internet. But it can make or take calls, and that’s all I need.

General rule of thumb/common sense: If you want to make a profit, earn more than what you spend.

However, that doesn’t mean I could or want do more. Money is one (and certainly not the only) means by which we get resources and opportunities. I may not need a smart phone, but it’d make managing a business and building relationships much easier. So, if I want more opportunities, I’d have to make more money. I’d get the immediate problems out of the way, like getting the house paid off and health insurance coverage handled. After calculating my standard of living and doubling it in case of unforeseen expenses, the rest would be left for investments. Since this money is tax free, I won’t have to put all of it immediately into my IRA, though a portion of it certainly would. Some of it would go towards at least a few interest bearing accounts or fixed-rate CDs, even though the percentages these days are pathetically low.

Did I mention I was in banking for 12 years?

The investments wouldn’t be just in terms of accounts, either. Technically, everything you own is an investment. They just have varying degrees of necessity and returns. I may be a huge geek, but I know a week’s worth of groceries is always better investment than a TARDIS replica. If you’re in the photography business, you don’t just get the best camera money can buy; you get one that doesn’t break your bank and still suits your needs. If you’re a diplomat en route to Beijing, it’s probably a good idea to invest in learning Mandarin. Everything you pick up along the way are just pieces of the foundation of your financial career.

Mine would likely include investments in real estate development, particularly in China. Renewable energy, psychology, educational, food, transportation, and health care technology developments would also be essential. Communications, preferably with a focus online streaming and messaging, would also be a priority. Privacy, too. The stock market is also plausible, but it’s way riskier. I still have chilling flashbacks of working at a bank when the recession hit. I’d rather have a good, steady burn instead relying on just finicky economic confidence. Once I have a solid return, I’d donate to charities, particularly those involved with world hunger, depression, and education. Maybe start a college.

…And build a personal library. Deep down, I’m still a bookworm.

Daily Prompt: To Boldly Go…, Or: I DON’T Have A Dream

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about contemplation. Specifically, about goals for 2014. This one’s pretty difficult for me to answer, especially as of late. One of my biggest problems is playing the long game. You’ve probably heard the phrase; it’s about long-term plans or objectives. I’m really good with daily schedules and problem-solving – going from Point A to Point B happens in seconds – but the long term? It’s like this nebulous entity, an endless and terrifying expanse of possibilities. It’s like being stuck on a life raft in the middle of the ocean, with no paddle or land in sight. Or tiger, for that matter. What do you do when you don’t have a dream? I don’t know. I’ve never known; I never thought I’d live this long. I’ve just been existing. After college, tangible achievements seemed to vanish as I let myself be consumed by my career. The normal stuff – you know, a family, house, retiring, and the rest of the American Dream – seemed utterly alien to me. Years of dismally working to maintain some kind of overblown standard of living and stressing over finances, and for what? Retirement? Right. Maybe they’d give me a cake before I left the office. Taking care of elderly relatives left me disillusioned over the prospect of living to old age. Why would I want to end up like that, shunted off into obscurity, a forgotten character in a picture, a remnant of a story that only gets told half-truthfully at Christmas dinner?

Yeah, think about that when your elders visit for the holidays.

See, that’s the thing. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t fear death. I’ve long acknowledged and accepted my mortality. I fear living a normal, meaningless existence. Looking back at the last few years I’ve been doing exactly that. It’s very easy to let yourself become complacent and comfortable. To play it safe. Nothing changes, but nothing improves. You let yourself get mired in the daily grind, and you get by well enough. Maybe you get some modicum of satisfaction out of it. But there’s always that lingering doubt, the sense of frustration, the implicit understanding that you could – and should – be doing more. If that goes on long enough, it’ll consume and ruin you. I think Captain Picard and Q summed it up best.

So, how do I avoid that? It’s a matter of living with purpose…Or something. Sounds kind of bland, doesn’t it? I much prefer Nietzsche’s take on the matter. He basically argued that life was indeed meaningless, but that every person could determine their own meaning. The concept of the Übermensch has always fascinated me; how far can an individual go in defining their own morality and world view? It’s harder than it sounds. I’m not sure if it counts as a goal, as opposed to a long-term process. But how does that work in the everyday scheme of things? I think I need to stop worrying so much about the high likelihood of a bland, meaningless future, and start making my own. I don’t have a dream, but I can live and die on my terms. Improving and capitalizing on my skills, instead of settling for something safe but unfulfilling. Studying and enjoying things that interest me, not trying to meet others’ personal expectations. Developing and defining myself as an individual, not cultivating a wonderfully complex but ultimately fake persona…

Yeah, you probably get the idea.

It’s scary, though. As any writer will tell you, good character development is hard. Doing it in real life? Much, much harder. It’s also possible to go overboard with it, resulting in a loss of identity and focus. Rather than being stuck in a lifeboat, it’s like being on sailing ship in the middle of a storm. All you can do is hold on and hope you don’t drown…Okay, enough with the ocean metaphors. You were probably expecting a list of realistic goals, anyway. Here are some (in no particular order) for 2014:

-Find a practical, well-paying writing job. Marketing or copy-writing, perhaps?

-Further develop my writing skills. (This does include an honest, non-NaNoWriMo attempt at a novel.)

-Expand writing subjects (and thus audience) to cover all interests, not just games. (This blog has certainly been a good start.)

-Obtain reliable and affordable health care.

-Travel more. (Iguazu Falls is currently on my radar. Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay by extension.)

-Further expand my literary repertoire. (The fantasy genre and graphic novels are at the forefront.)

-Learn a third or fourth language. (I’m thinking Chinese and French. Esperanto and Latin as well.)

-Learn how to drive.

-Pick up a new skill. Most likely drawing. Guitar, perhaps.

-Obtain a better camera.

-Start working towards my Master’s degree, or at least a second Bachelor’s.

-Have more self-confidence and better maintain interpersonal relationships. Work on shyness.

-Stay introverted, but don’t reject people outright. Romance a possibility, though highly unlikely.

-Start a review/commentary channel on YouTube.

-Watch every Hayao Miyazaki film.

-Complete at least one more jigsaw puzzle.

…I’ll think up more later.