Daily Prompt: Fight Or Flight, Or: A Day In The ER

Hey, folks. Yesterday’s Daily Prompt was all about flight or flight. You know, that reaction that everyone has to stressful situations? It reminds me of the time I helped fight a house fire, but something similarly stressful came up recently. You might’ve noticed that the updates this past week were kind of sparse. It wasn’t because I left the country again (though I wish it were), but I spent an entire day at the local ER. Not for myself, though. I got a call early in the morning from my aunt. My grandmother’s knee has been worsening over the past year, but she’s been too stubborn to see a doctor. Eventually, it got so bad that she couldn’t even stand up anymore from the pain. My aunt wanted to help, but she’s just gotten out of the hospital herself, so she wasn’t in any condition to do anything. I hadn’t left on my commute yet, and I was the closest one around. I got there as quickly as possible, consulted an advice nurse over the phone, and had her call an ambulance. They got her out of the house surprisingly fast – they had to haul her down two flights of stairs and part of a hill – and let me ride in the back of the ambulance.

Never had that on my bucket list…

Anyway, I oversaw her admittance from start to finish. I’ll spare you the personal and gory details – I’m pretty sure that a knee tap is the most agonizing medical procedure I’ve ever seen – but it basically boiled down to me stepping up and handling things personally. I’ve done it before countless times in the office (I was nicknamed The Boss Man, after all), but never in the thick of a medical emergency. There was this immediate realization and acceptance that okay, this is all up to me now. It must have been the adrenaline, but I never lost focus on what had to be done or what information needed to be communicated. I took notes, asked and answered questions, worked on logistics, and managed conference calls with family members over the phone in order to keep everything organized. Some of my relatives were surprised that I was the one in charge; I’m notoriously quiet and shy in most social and family situations, so seeing my all-business, no-nonsense persona was a shock. I had too many other problems to care.

In the end, we had to talk her into temporarily going to a nursing/rehabilitation facility. It’s the lesser of two evils; no one wants to lose their personal freedom, but they have trained staff and more physical therapy resources than she’d get at home. She’ll be there for another two weeks, but at least she’s getting regular visits from family. In the meantime, I’ve spearheaded Operation Get-Grandma’s-House-Prepped for her inevitable return. Handling someone else’s livelihood and personal business can be a hassle, but it’s necessary. I didn’t realize it until later that first night, but I’d spent the entire day without eating or resting; I had been running on adrenaline. Once I got back home, I collapsed into bed and slept better than I had in years. Amazing how much the fight can take out of you.

One last thing. If you have elderly family members, take the time to call them up and see how they’re doing. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind and overlook the important things. Don’t let loss be the only reminder of what you have.

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Zero To Hero Day 16: The Reputation Spectrum

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about reputation. The funny thing about reputation is how wildly it differs depending on who’s perceiving it. It’s a matter of an individual’s background or beliefs; we judge each other based upon our own expectations. A reputation is just an impression of only a part of someone’s personality; it’s like assuming a person’s whole identity based solely on their musical or literary tastes. Or their sign and Myers-Briggs type, for that matter; I’m an INTJ Scorpio, but such classifications have limited relevancy. Human beings are more complex than that, and everyone needs to be mindful of not cramming each other – and themselves – into little, stereotypical boxes.

If everyone I knew were to attend my funeral, no one would be able to agree on the exact way I’d be remembered. My reputation spans a whole spectrum of social expectations. Everyone would I agree that I’m intelligent, with a knack for observation and planning. Weird and quiet, too. But beyond that? It’s up in the air. Part of my family would disgustedly declare that I was decidedly unmanly, just because I don’t conform to their idea masculinity. They’d say my love of literature, humanities, and style was…interesting, but they couldn’t fathom why I’d rather be alone instead of going shooting, getting drunk, or watching sports for hours. Another part of my family would argue that I was an ungrateful, blasphemous rebel who left everything behind. They’d say I was just a distant, morose shadow who blatantly disregarded the rules, asked too many questions, and should’ve gone to church more. Other family members would claim that I was kind and thoughtful for keeping the house running, helping them when they were sick, and making them laugh when they needed it most. A few might even whisper about my fiery temper in hushed tones.

My coworkers and classmates would say that I was efficient, responsible, and withdrawn. Maybe a little insane. They’d all talk about how I’d traveled the world, and actually camped under the stars the old fashioned way. That I’d always somehow grab everyone’s attention despite being so shy. There would be anecdotes about how I seemed always able to explain something in simple terms. That I wrote papers and solved puzzles with reckless abandon. And switch from serious to snarky at the drop of a hat. They’d say I was crazy for not owning a smart phone, but admit bringing homemade lunches every day was clever and healthy. The higher-ups would say I was either a great mentor, a good sounding board, a vicious debater, arrogant, sarcastic, frightening, or intimidating. That I preferred stating awful truths instead of pretending. That I refused to play politics, for better and worse. Some would concur that I was a total charmer, despite my protests otherwise. They’d say I had warm, boundless energy and a knack for making people smile.

Certain circles in gaming community would say that I was an awesome reviewer with high writing standards. There would be tales of enigmatic emails featuring advice on critical writing and video game history. They’d mention how I’d always lurk somewhere in the background, surprise everyone with a new article, and vanish again. Some of the old timers would reminisce how I worked my way up from a crappy newbie. Anyone I’ve played against online would accuse me of being a flagrant trickster and a completely off-the-rails strategist. They’d moan about how I didn’t take anything seriously, yet somehow managed to beat them on several occasions. Very few could claim they ever spoke to me personally.

See what I mean? Reputation isn’t set in stone; it’s based upon others’ perceptions of you. A single person could have dozens of stories levied against them. The real danger is when you start buying too much into the expectations; if you focus too much on how you should act, you end up losing sight of your real personality. Everything I mentioned in the previous paragraphs has a bit of truth to them, but they’re ultimately inaccurate. They’re just like jigsaw puzzle: small pieces of a larger whole. I’m not sure what I kind of reputation I’m developing on WordPress, but I hope it’s a good one.

A Hairy Idea

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about ideas. Specifically, the best idea you’ve ever had. This one’s kind of tricky, because it’s not always clear whether the choices you’ve made are good or not. The old saying that “hindsight is 20/20” is totally right. You just don’t know. What seems like a good idea at one point could backfire spectacularly down the line, and some of the worst moments you’ll ever face may have some unexpectedly good results years later. Paying for college by myself felt like chopping off a limb with a butter knife, but it forced me to develop the discipline and focus that I needed. And though I’m currently unemployed, all the savings and lack of loans means I’m doing much better than countless others my age. Since I’ve already talked about it for another prompt, I’d rather talk about a less obvious great idea:

Growing out my hair.

No, seriously. I grew up in a devoutly religious and conservative household. Very traditional…except for being raised by a single mother who was always working. You might know how that goes. I was required to run the household and adhere to the rules and high expectations thrust upon me. And I totally bought into it. I was the golden boy; I always turned in perfect grades, maintained a part time job, and could have the house spotless and dinner cooking on time. I was praised for being so on top of everything. But questioning anything was…well, out of the question. Oh, I asked questions. I’m curious and tenacious by nature. But I paid for it dearly. You obey the rules, all is good. You fail to meet expectations, and you get tons of screechy criticism and passive-aggressive shaming.

It didn’t help that I was shy. I consider myself really introverted now, but I used to be a full-blown shrinking violet. Yeah, it’s not so cute when you’re one doing the shrinking. I was so drawn into myself and afraid of people that I had no social life whatsoever. I was the quiet, smart kid who aced his classes, went home, read books for hours, and did it all again the next day. I was awkward, wore glasses, and skipped a grade. And when you’re a boy growing up like that, it makes you a prime bullying target. You know how a lot of media focuses on the bullying epidemic and how terrible it is? Yeah, no one cared about that 20 years ago; not a single adult helped me. My feminine appearance made it even worse. I was (and still am) frequently mistaken for being female. Physically, I was a late bloomer; kind of short, a soft voice, and a head of thick curly hair. I still hesitate to wear shorts because the other kids used to accuse me of shaving my legs. There were people who’d shout slurs and throw things as they drove past while I walked to school.

My entire childhood and adolescence was like this.

Eventually, I started standing up for myself. Since trying to be nice and praying to God for a good day weren’t working, I began fighting back. And I was vicious. I was suspended exactly once, and it took at least three teachers to physically drag me to the office. Even now, years later, I’m still trying to get my anger under control. Work in progress, believe me. But lashing out didn’t solve the bigger problem: the repression of my personality. I lived to please and meet expectations, but I ignored my individuality and wants. I didn’t ask for much; I was never the kind of kid that demanded everything under the sun. And I was too busy schooling and working as it was. But I had to change something…I had seen some anime where the male characters could pass as women. Since everyone kept mistaking in a similar way, maybe I could do something about it…

Like my hair!

Yeah, I got the idea from watching anime. Feel free to laugh. But it was obviously more than that. So, I decided to refuse getting a haircut. Since my mother was the one that typically did it, she was shocked and possibly disgusted. I had to physically stop her from raising the scissors to my head. I went through years of her berating me for it. She screamed and moaned about how disobedient I was, and why I couldn’t be a better child, why couldn’t I just be normal, and that I’d never make it in the professional world. When I went to church with my hair tied back, I was openly mocked and came close to being thrown out. Rather than supporting me, my mother simply shook her head and said how sinful I’d become. My extended family were no better; I was – and still am – the subject of many jokes and incredulous stares. Some of my relatives occasionally threaten to cut my hair while I sleep. My coworkers just chalked it up to me being eccentric, but I had too many years of seniority for anyone to make a fuss. So I just kept letting it grow.

Skip forward to the present, I’ve got two feet of thick and wavy curly hair. I think it looks awesome, and lots of women – and men – certainly agree. I get questions about it at least a few times a month. Ever have someone ask if they can touch your hair? It’s kind of funny. I’ve got this weird Captain Hook/Kirk Hammett/young Robert Plant look going for me. People ask if I moonlight in a rock band. I’ve never even touched a guitar. And while I’m not exactly tiny, I still get mistaken for a woman constantly. Unlike before, however, I take it in stride. My decision to grow my hair was one of the few decisions I’ve made for my sake. It helped make me a much more confident, assertive person; I’ve been told that I come off as regal and intimidating. That’s a far cry from the mousy bully magnet I used to be. People see my style as a mark of individuality and act accordingly. I’m not afraid anymore; I carry myself with the understanding that this is part of who I am, and not some expectation imposed upon someone else. I may have never been the most masculine guy ever, but that’s okay. If I can’t be handsome, then I can certainly be beautiful.

The New Old School

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about school. Specifically, how and what would you change if you could design its entire curriculum. Now, this is my kind of prompt. If you’ve read some of my other entries, you know that education is really important to me. I know it sounds kind of corny, but it’s pretty serious once you start thinking about it. Even without going into all the stuff like terrible salaries and the Common Core debacle – messes I will most decidedly avoid – it’s a great, hard question that every society has had to tackle in one way or another. So, let’s just assume this prompt allows us to have an unlimited budget and focus on the bigger picture. What do you pass on to the next generation? What knowledge is essential to not only the making of a good citizen, but a person in general?

I’d draw my inspiration from history. Ever hear of a classical education? Students were taught the fundamentals of grammar, logic, rhetoric, and pretty much every facet of human activity as they understood it. Once the basics were covered, they’d switch over to stuff like arithmetic, geometry, history, and the sciences. Sound familiar? Even over a thousand years ago amidst the ruins of the Roman Empire, people understood the necessity of a well-rounded education…Except that literacy was pretty much reserved for the uppermost social classes. And technology and the sciences were limited and slow to advance because, you know, it was the Middle Ages.

It was a work in progress.

These days, we’ve got the opposite problem. We’ve progressed so far in technology, there’s literally too much for one curriculum to handle. It’s like trying to find a legit, in-depth scientific article via Google search. You’ve got to dig through pages of junk before finding anything useful. Now, just imagine doing that when you’re trying to create a multi-year plan. You can’t just throw out the essentials like reading, writing, and mathematics. You need those to understand everything else, and all of them need to be emphasized just as much as the others. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I could communicate in the adult world on just tweets and texts. I wouldn’t settle for teaching popular works; I’d go with the most influential. Not just Shakespeare, either; Homer’s epics, Aristotle, Thoreau, Austen, Orwell, Marquez, Borges, Doyle, Poe…the potential list is mind-boggling. As for mathematics, the basics would remain unchanged, but pacing and fully understanding the process would be important. I know the consequences firsthand; going into my freshman college year, I tested high enough to be placed in Calculus…but I’d never taken a day of trigonometry before.

Yeah, you can imagine how that turned out.

Once the basics are out of the way, the courses would expand to history, languages, humanities, sports, economics, music, communications, technologies, and the sciences. Well-stocked laboratories, networking with other facilities, and a robust athletic program would be expected. If you want to learn a new language or two, you could use the blackboard computer interface to contact with the corresponding teacher on the other side of the world. After spending a couple of years doing an overview of various fields, students would be allowed to choose what courses they’d like to take as electives. I’d try to avoid any of the watered-down “correct” stuff; kids need to have a greater understanding of the world around them. Mankind’s history is a fascinating, grisly tale of survival and discovery that still impacts us today. Hey, fellow Americans, remember the Declaration of Independence? The freedom we so stereotypically cherish? It’s based on the philosophies of the Enlightenment. You know, that major European cultural movement? The one that helped revolutionize the scientific method? The thing responsible for the evolution of Western society as we know it?

Understanding history and other cultures is kind of important.

Even if every course is somehow perfected and made available, it still only solves part of the problem. It’s not just about the classes, but how the students perceive them. It’s not just because they’re lazy or distracted; it’s because we as adults aren’t encouraging them enough. Anti-intellectualism is still a huge problem in our society; we can’t expect to thrive as a culture if our descendants aren’t as knowledgeable as we are. Then there’s the whole segregation of interests based upon things like gender or sexuality. There’s a reason you hear about women’s lacking education and career presence in the news all the time. And yeah, you’d better believe I’d encourage girls to pursue whatever academic interests they have. However, I wouldn’t do it just for female students. Male students deserve just as much attention, yet their interests are increasingly brushed aside under the assumption that they’re just acting out or can do whatever they want. It’s ridiculously biased and loaded with unfortunate implications; people should succeed based upon their own abilities, not out of adherence to political correctness or underlying prejudice. Wish I had that help when I was clawing my way to the top of the class. Look, I don’t care what you have in your pants; everyone needs help to reach their full potential.

Sigh.

You know, it’s a good thing I’m not actually an educator. If I can get this ticked off by just writing a blog post about education, I’d probably have a heart attack trying to implement it in real life. So, I’ll just stop now and leave you with this quote from Metal Gear Solid 2:

Solid Snake: Life isn’t just about passing on your genes. We can leave behind much more than just DNA. Through speech, music, literature and movies…what we’ve seen, heard, felt…anger, joy and sorrow…these are the things I will pass on. That’s what I live for. We need to pass the torch, and let our children read our messy and sad history by its light.We have all the magic of the digital age to do that with. The human race will probably come to an end some time, and new species may rule over this planet. Earth may not be forever, but we still have the responsibility to leave what traces of life we can. Building the future and keeping the past alive are one and the same thing.

Think about it.