Daily Prompt: Facing The Inevitable

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about mortality. Specifically, when you realize you weren’t immortal and how you reacted to it. This actually happened to me a couple of times when I was growing up, the first of which when I was still a child. When I was in elementary school, I’d always spend my Christmas vacation at my grandparents’ house. It was a tradition that involved weeks of decorating the house, wrapping presents, and cooking yummy desserts. But 1995 was different; my grandfather had been diagnosed with a brain tumor and was rapidly declining. I’ve already written about watching him die, so I’ll skip straight to the aftermath. That was the first time I’d ever been so close to death, and the realization that yes, it is a thing that happens. But I never cried over it; I never knew my grandfather as a person, but as an old man who gave out laughs and tickles whenever possible. When the adults awkwardly asked me if I had any questions about death, I shrugged and said no. He’d been sick for almost a year, and the writing was on the wall. With it came the understanding that death was an inevitability – it was just a matter of how and when – and that I’d have no choice to accept it. So I did.

Yeah, I was kind of creepy as a kid.

The second occurrence happened a few years later when I was in high school. I was walking onto the campus when I witnessed a car speed through the red light right next to me…and into a kid who happened to be in the crosswalk. I’ll spare you the details – pretty sure I’ve mentally blocked out the worst parts – but I’m sure you can imagine it. I pride myself on being a fighter now, but back on that chilly, bloody morning, I couldn’t do anything. I stood there, utterly transfixed by death’s proximity and brutality, and I watched a dozen or so people run to assist in what was already a hopeless cause. I knew it was already over, that other people were taking care of it, that I’d just get in the way. I slowly turned away, hands slightly trembling, and numbly walked to my first class. I don’t think I spoke that entire day, even when they announced the accident and death on the PA system.

It was then I realized that death wasn’t reserved for just the old and sick; anyone can die anywhere. What made more of an impression was the sheer randomness of it; there was no dramatic build-up, no final family farewell, nothing but a big hunk of metal zooming into an unsuspecting victim. And if could happen to some kid crossing the street, it could happen to me. If you look at the mortality rates provided by WHO and do a little math, that roughly translates to two people dying every second. Yeah, think about that. I’ve had that stat burned into my mind for years. It’s a sobering reminder that my – and everyone else’s – days are numbered. I don’t fear death, though; I’ve embraced my mortality head-on as I’ve grown older. I’ve come close to dying myself three or four times now, so I’d like to think we’re on good terms. I’m more afraid living a disappointed and unfulfilled life; there’s far too much to see and do, and I refuse to be just another statistic in a history book.

The acceptance of mortality is a double-edged sword, though. It’s a very liberating experience, but it can lead to a slippery slope of some rather grim philosophical pondering. Death is an inevitability; you cannot escape it forever. Most people try to ignore it by distracting themselves with whatever they can. The advent of social media has certainly ensured that people desperate to be remembered and acknowledged won’t (for better or worse) be forgotten so easily. For others, particularly anyone severely depressed, it underscores how vapid and pointless daily life can be; death is ever-present, so why bother sticking around? For me, I’ve come to realize that life’s inherent meaninglessness isn’t a bad thing; as Nietzsche once explained, you can give life your own meaning. Skipping out early is an option, but there are so many, many better ones to try first. Since death is coming regardless, might as well do – and be – something awesome to pass the time. It’s not easy to do – I still have moments when I feel the exact opposite, and I do not look forward to growing old – but it’s more fulfilling than the alternative. My problem is finding happiness and fulfillment, but that’s a whole other issue.

As for death, it’ll stop by and visit eventually. I intend to make the wait worthwhile.

RIP, Satoru Iwata

Yesterday, Satoru Iwata passed away. For those unfamiliar with his work, he was the president and CEO of Nintendo. But he was so much more than that; unlike countless other businessmen and executives, he earned his success the old fashioned way: starting from the bottom and working his way up. He studied programming in the 1970s, when video games were still in their infancy. He began as an unpaid intern for Commodore, then became a freelancer for HAL Laboratory while in college. After graduating, he worked full time and rose up its ranks in the early 90s. He had a hand in founding Creatures Inc., the folks responsible for bringing Pokemon to the world. He didn’t wasn’t just some guy in suit, either. He took over programming for Earthbound and saved it from developmental oblivion. He programmed the original Pokemon Red/Blue battle mechanics into Pokemon Stadium without any reference documents, using just the Game Boy’s source code instead…in one week. He famously compressed the all of the original game into the Gold/Silver cartridge, just to surprise and reward players for beating the regular quest. When Super Smash Bros. Melee was facing a delayed release date due to programming issues, he – already Nintendo’s General Manager of Corporate Planning – went downstairs and personally debugged the game hands-on, all in less than a month.

Yeah, he was that good.

He was in a unique position of growing alongside his industry; unlike many of his peers, his insight into game design came from the effort of making games the old fashioned way, with a focus on the fun experience while dealing with the hardware limitations. He understood that focusing so much on flashier graphics and processing power wasn’t necessarily the answer, and that appealing to people beyond hardcore gamers was incredibly important. Nintendo is often derided for appealing to kids instead of adults, but he was proud of it; he argued that children have an instinctual understanding of whether a game was good or not. He refused to let the company stagnate, constantly pushing them to try new things. He was initially mocked for bringing forth the DS and Wii – both consoles had unorthodox designs and admittedly terrible launch lineups – but was eventually vindicated via record-breaking sales numbers and some of the finest games in the last decade.

What was more inspiring is what Iwata did when the company wasn’t succeeding. Nintendo fell into a slump when it released the Wii U, mainly due to its high prices, strange design, and lacking lineup. The company was losing money, and he was being roasted by both gamers and corporate shareholders alike. Instead of stepping down, he voluntarily cut his salary in half to make up for it! That was the second time he did it, too; when the 3DS’s sales went poorly, he took the same action. When corporate demanded why he hadn’t fired employees for the sake of profit, he absolutely refused to do so, saying that it wouldn’t work well long-term, and that it’d wreck the company’s morale. If you look around online, you’ll find countless stories of people meeting Iwata and saying what a passionate, candid, and kind guy he was in person. When Ocarina of Time was released, he even went out and bought a copy on the way home from work. His hilarious “Direct To You” presentations and sense of humor have become the stuff of Internet memetic legend. The hundreds of thousands of tributes pouring in – even from Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo’s business rivals – shows just how loved and respected Iwata was.

I wish I had a personal story about meeting him. I wish I could say that we crossed paths at a convention, or that we shared an elevator, or that I pitched an idea and worked for him. But I can’t, and now I never will. Instead, all I have are the games he made, and the memories of how he helped shape my childhood. Yes, I caught all 151 of the original Pokemon, played almost every Kirby game, and spent countless hours fighting in Smash Bros. My gaming library is full of titles made with him as the Executive Producer; I wouldn’t be the same person without Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and other Nintendo franchises influencing me. While I don’t play nearly as much as I used to, gaming is still very much a part of me. It reminds me of something Iwata once said:

“On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.”

Thank you for everything, Mr. Iwata. We understand.

RIP, Monty Oum

Today, it was announced that Monty Oum passed away. For those unfamiliar with his work, he was the mind behind web animation series such as Haloid, Dead Fantasy, Red vs Blue, and RWBY. He wasn’t just some random YouTube personality; in an Internet full of creative people struggling to be heard, he was one of the few who really showed what could be done with hard work, dedication, and ideas. He set an example that others should strive for. I’m not going to pretend that I knew him, but I understood and agreed with his world view. His work was awesome and inspiring. I wish I had some funny story about meeting him at a convention, or that I could’ve had the chance to collaborate with him on a project. But I don’t.

And now I never will.

What I can do, however, is follow the Rooster Teeth crew’s advice and do something creative. I’ve been a fan of RWBY since its debut (think Harry Potter meets Final Fantasy by way of Wuxia) , and I had originally intended to do a review log of every episode as a lead-in to the Season 3 premiere in July. But now, I think I’ll move it up in my schedule. February is already going to be a busy in terms of gaming and reading, but I’m sure I can fit the reviews somewhere in there. In the meantime, I’ll just end this with an old quote from Monty himself: “Never let anyone tell you that something is impossible.”

Godspeed.

Weekly Writing Challenge: We Still Didn’t Start The Fire

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_writing_challenge/to-the-tune-of/

Inspired by: We Didn’t Start The Fire

San Francisco, Kosovo, Greta Garbo
Tiananmen, Simpsons, Hubble Telescope, Human Genome
Jim Henson, Noriega, Nelson Mandela, Imelda Marcos
WrestleMania, Iran-Contra, Ninja Turtles, McDonald’s in Moscow
Worldwide Web, Chunnel, Home Alone, Super Famicom
Gulf War, Cold War, Gorbachev, Roald Dahl
Desert Storm, Rodney King, TNG, Japanese economy
Starbucks on the go, Street Fighter II, Mount Pinatubo

We still didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We still didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we’re trying to fight it

Apartheid, Yeltsin, Clarence Thomas, Otzi the Iceman
Mike Tyson, St. Petersberg, Soviet Union’s gone
Oakland Hills, Perfect Storm, Robert Gates, Bill Clinton
Tom Clancy, Sophie’s World, Freddie Mercury, Terminator 2
Hannibal Lecter, Beauty and the Beast, American Psycho
Full House, Nicktoons, Black Or White, Clarissa
Jerry Springer, Graham Greene, Dr. Seuss
Twin Peaks, Mario World, Miles Davis, Nadine Gordimer

We still didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We still didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we’re trying to fight it

Johnny Carson, Cosby, and O’Connor
Bosnia, Aladdin, Gotti, A Few Good Men
Sister Act, Endeavour, Goosebumps
Ross Perot, Alex Haley, Unforgiven
Pentium, Boutros, John Paul II’s apology
Asimov, Raymond Burr, Michael Jackson, Janet Reno
Got Milk, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Stephen Hawking
Band of Brothers, Baghdad, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Siege At Waco

We still didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We still didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we’re trying to fight it

Windows, Magic, Buckingham, Arafat
Audrey Hepburn, Sleepless In Seattle, The Giver
Lion King, Jordan in Chicago, Madonna on Letterman
Green Day, Shipping News, Rwanda, OJ on the run
Kurt Cobain, Northridge, Tokyo and Sarin
AOL, Whitewater, Goodbye Jackie, Dahmer’s gone
Toy Story, Not Guilty, GoldenEye, Apollo 13
Atlantis Mir, DVDs, Mr. Burns, Oklahoma City

We still didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We still didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we’re trying to fight it

Game of Thrones, Green Mile, Independence Day
Dexter’s Lab, Pokemon, Deep Blue and Kasparov
Ozone Disco, Dolly Clone, 3D Mario
Chechnya, Atlanta, Esperanto Manifesto
Tupac, Beast Wars, Kabul Taliban
Info Free, Survey Mars, Gene and Ella
Princess Di, Everest, Harry Potter, Shots in Hollywood
Heaven’s Gate, Pol Pot, Mother Teresa

We still didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We still didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we’re trying to fight it

Jack and Rose, Jimmy, Ginsberg and Cousteau
Mason Dixon, South Park, Toonami, Denver
Seinfeld, Nagano, Wind-Up Bird, Truman Show
Google, Ellen, Sinatra, Matt and Alan Shepard
Star Wars, Euros, Matrix, The Sopranos
King is hit, Dalai Lama, Gretzky on the way
Columbine, Napster, Cowboy Bebop, Woodstock ‘99
Bones, Q, Milosevic, Macau, Y2K

We still didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We still didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we’re trying to fight it

Time Warner merge, Good Grief, PS2
Putin, Elian in Cuba, e-books, ISS and Mir
House of Leaves, Millionaire, Gladiator
Wikipedia, Bush, Enron, 9/11, War On Terror
One Ring, Shaved Trebek, Afghanistan
Douglas Adams, Buffy, Queen Mother, ICC
Columbia, SARS, Deep Field, Da Vinci Code
Nemo, Sparrow, Governator, DBZ

We still didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We still didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we’re trying to fight it

Facebook, Burj Khalifa, Massachusetts marriages
Indian Tsunami, Bolaño, Dark Tower, Alice Munro
Halftime show, Friends, Ken Jennings wins
Reagan, Reeve, Ray, and Brando
Northern nukes, Dan Rather, John Paul’s gone
YouTube, Deep Throat, Rosa Parks, and Pat no more
Hunter S Thompson, Hurricane Katrina, Vader, Evangelion
Saddam, Twitter, Doctor Who, McCartney’s 64

We still didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We still didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we’re trying to fight it

Stingray Steve, iPhone, Virginia Tech, Bhutto
Benoit, Marcel Marceau, Pratchett’s ill, Barker’s time to go
Vonnegut, Writer’s Strike, Hulu, Dark Knight
Hope and change, Castro, Breaking Bad, Georgia in a fight
Crashed economy, Failing banks, Politics in Thailand
Heath Ledger, Edmund Hillary, Arthur Clarke, WALL-E
Jackson off to Neverland, Reading Rainbow, CERN, Cronkite
Inception, WikiLeaks, Deepwater, Quake in Haiti

We still didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We still didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we’re trying to fight it

Watson, Arab Spring, Goon Squad, Pale King
Gaddafi, Bin Laden’s gone, Curiosity, Japan crisis, LHC
Kim Jong-il, Fifty Shades, Steve Jobs, Wall Street occupied
Skyfall, Snowden, Munro’s prize, Neil Armstrong flies
New Pope, Nothing written, Ebert, Let It Go
Marquez, Blood Moon, Kasem, Iraq with new foes
Health care, Student debt, marriage rights, dying vets
Russia and Crimea, Girls in Nigeria, Worldwide FIFA

We still didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We still didn’t start the fire
But when we’re gone
It will still burn on and on and on and on
And on and on and on and on

We still didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We still didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we’re trying to fight it

A List Of Mementos: A Work In Progress

A List Of Mementos: A Work In Progress

  • A finger painting of a clown, to remind me of where I began.
  • A bachelor’s degree, to remind me of what it means to overcome.
  • A chess set, to remind me why I love strategy.
  • A Galileo thermometer, to remind me of my inspiration.
  • A bottle of sparkling cider, to remind me to appreciate family while you can.
  • A glass sailboat, to remind me that the best memories are timeless.
  • A lanyard, to remind me that honesty and persuasion can work wonders.
  • An iPod that says Non sum qualis eram, to remind me to accept change.
  • A Necronomicon, to remind me why I love horror.
  • A copy of The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, to remind me to keep dreaming.
  • A puka shell necklace, to remind me of the spirit of Aloha.
  • A cave painting charm, to remind me to keep exploring.
  • An old walking stick, to remind me of the mountains I’ve climbed.
  • A stamp from 10,000 ft. up, to remind me that the climb is just as important as the view.
  • A miniature anchor, to remind me to keep taking chances.
  • A miniature gilded elephant, to remind me to seek opportunities.
  • A miniature Eiffel Tower, to remind me that some things are worth the wait.
  • A cable car ticket stub, to remind me some things aren’t.
  • A scorpion in plexiglass, to remind me of places to which I’ll never return.
  • A wooden Mayan charm on a string, to remind me what heat and time truly feel like.
  • A pewter Majora’s Mask, to remind me why video games are art after all.
  • A set of pins, to remind me to share my passion for literature.
  • A LEGO Hamlet, to remind me why I love being a geek.
  • A Hello Kitty Chun-Li, to remind me that I should accept all aspects of myself.
  • A pair of Buddhist prayer bead bracelets, to remind me to stay curious.

This Bucket List Kicks Back

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about bucket lists. You know, the list of stuff you want to do before you die? I don’t know about you, but mine seems to get longer every time I think about it. Here’s a (work in progress) list:

  • Earn my master’s degree, and least a few more bachelor’s degrees.
  • Learn many languages, most likely Mandarin, Arabic, Russian, and French for starters.
  • Learn how to drive. (I really don’t want to, but I’m going to have to.)
  • Learn a martial art. (My college freshman jiu-jitsu course was a long time ago.)
  • Learn coding, either in terms of sites or apps.
  • Learn how to create digital art.
  • Learn how to read music.
  • Learn how to horseback ride.
  • Relearn Calculus and continue beyond it. (MIT has courses for independent study)
  • Read at least one novel a week. (I usually have a couple on hand.)
  • Write and publish a novel. (Hopefully winning a Nobel Prize for Literature?)
  • Review 1,000 games. (I’m at 702 now.)
  • Visit all seven continents. (I’ve only got South America, Australia, and Antarctica left!)
  • See at least one new country a year. (I’ve managed this three years in a row, Italy is coming up in a few months.)
  • Visit an active volcano. (Visited Kilauea in December 2014)
  • See snow fall.
  • Celebrate Holi.
  • Participate in La Tomatina.
  • Participate in the Taiwan Lantern Festival.
  • Visit the Pyramids at Giza.
  • Visit Hagia Sophia.
  • Visit Easter Island.
  • Visit Stonehenge, preferably during an equinox.
  • Visit the Burj Khalifa.
  • Visit the Taj Mahal.
  • Visit Petra.
  • Visit Angkor Wat.
  • Visit Santorini.
  • Visit Vatican City. (This might be happening soon.)
  • Meet the Dalai Lama.
  • Ride the Trans-Siberian Railway.
  • Stay in Finland’s Kakslauttanen igloo hotel and see the aurora borealis.
  • Stay in the Rangali underwater hotel in the Maldives.
  • Return to Paris and explore the Catacombs.
  • See Japan’s Nabana No Sato, Shibuya, Mt. Fuji, and all of its castles.
  • See Machu Picchu. (This one almost happened this year!)
  • See Iguazu Falls. (See above.)
  • See Victoria Falls.
  • See the Hunan province.
  • See Holland’s flower fields.
  • See the Amazon and Sahara.
  • See Uluru.
  • See the DMZ.
  • See the polar ice caps.
  • Participate in a research expedition. Classifying new species in the Mariana Trench, archeological digs in Europe or Asia, etc.
  • Visit ALMA.
  • Visit CERN.
  • Visit Pic du Midi.
  • Watch all of Hayao Miyazaki’s films.
  • Go skydiving.
  • Earn a pilot’s license.
  • Ride a hot air balloon.
  • Walk the Great Wall of China.
  • Climb all the major mountains of the world. If I can only choose one, then:
  • Climb Mt. Everest. If I can’t make it to the top, then I want to see the mountain at the very least.
  • Learn how to play an instrument, preferably the guitar.
  • Get a tattoo.
  • Watch a space shuttle launch. (Or to go space myself!)
  • Experience zero gravity.
  • Finish a marathon. (Bay To Breakers is probably the closest I’ll get.)
  • Donate to or create a charity.
  • Do volunteer work abroad.
  • Attend Comic Con, E3, and compete in EVO.
  • Start a gaming/review channel on YouTube.
  • Do voice acting for a video game or anime.
  • Invent/discover something that would be beneficial for society.
  • Have an astronomical object or theory named after me.
  • Restore the old family house.
  • Further expand my personal library.
  • Find a house big enough to store my personal library.
  • Retire in Cinque Terre. (Open to other suggestions, though!)

It seems like a lot, I know. Kind of far-fetched, too. But looking through some other people’s bucket lists, I’ve now realized that I’ve already done a ton of weird and awesome stuff. I’ve seen most of the major landmarks and buildings here in the States, been to a dozen countries, visited a Buddhist temple in Thailand, fought a fire, lived in two countries, went to the Eiffel Tower and Versailles, was a pallbearer, camped out in the Sierras the old-fashioned way, gone on a cruise, went to Chichen Itza, ate durian, bought goods in a kasbah, spent a weekend on Alcatraz, grew a garden and trees, lead a wedding procession twice, graduated from college without loans…the list keeps going and going. Judging by everything else I’ve thought up, I’m nowhere near finished.

What’s on your bucket list?

The Inevitability Of Age

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/weekly-writing-challenge-golden-years/

Age. It’s one of the inevitable aspects of our lives. It’s like breathing; it happens to everyone, yet no one notices until you point it out. We try not to think about it too much – our society is very much focused on youth – because of all the implications and associations involved. We live day to day in unspoken denial, with the belief that, unlike those that came before us, we will enjoy boundless energy and health. That we are infallible and invulnerable. That we can mock and dismiss our predecessors for their supposedly outdated perspectives. That mortality – the ultimate equalizer – is of no consequence.

I know better.

Just a quick show of hands: How many you reading this care or have cared for an elderly person? I can’t be the only one. Due to the way the cards fell during the 2008 recession, I ended up staying with and assisting some of my older relatives. It’s been a learning experience just from a medical standpoint. Non-functioning immune systems, cancer, diabetic comas, blood sugar, blood pressure, tumors, growths, astigmatism, partial blindness, weak bones, failing organs, infections, sores, memory loss, muscle spasms, loss of balance, twisted ankles, dental work, infusion clinics, nurses’ clinics, pharmacy pickups, heart problems, depression, sleeping problems, bad backs, bad hips, bad joints, bad everything…Most of the problems are hereditary, so I know growing old will not be pleasant. I’ll be turning 30 this year, and I’ve spent more time in hospitals than any non-medical student should. Do you have any idea what it’s like coming home every night and seeing your family grow just a little weaker?

It eats me up inside.

The same goes for how elders are treated on a daily basis. The slow driver holding up your precious commute? Maybe he’s is too physically weak to drive, but he doesn’t have any friends or money to get him where he needs to go. That old lady at the grocery store that smells funny and is cranky all the time? Yeah, she has a life, just like you. Except that hey, maybe she doesn’t get to see her kids anymore. That her family doesn’t care about her, and they only show up at Christmas in a sense of grudging obligation. Maybe her family is dead, and she has to subsist on what little peanuts her social security provides. That, despite all the government policy claims to the contrary, she has to choose between groceries and medicine. And that maybe she lies awake in her bed at night, wishing her body wasn’t aching and her husband was still alive. Wondering how she’s going to pay the bill next week when she’s out of cash. That maybe she might die in her house and go unnoticed for months, simply because the world forgot about her.

That might be you someday.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t fear death; I’ve come close enough times to know how quickly and easily it can end. It will happen, and I’m at peace with it. The prolonged suffering that leads up to it, however, is something else entirely. It’s hard getting old. If you’ve got the love and support of family and friends, you’re much better off. I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s true. Rather than disregarding our elders, we should spend even more time with them. There’s a belief that age begets wisdom. It’s not necessarily true; everyone is flawed and capable of mistakes no matter how old they are. Some of the most immature people in my life are twice my age, and I’ve grown wary of those who use years as a mark of superiority. If anything, age gives you experience; the extra time is filled with possibilities and opportunities, and it’s just a matter of learning from them.

And passing them on, for that matter. I’ve written before about one of my grandmothers, and how she was easily the strongest person I’d ever known. Not physically – her body was badly broken and warped before she died – but mentally and spiritually. She taught me the value of determination; she lived her last agonizing year with nothing but sheer willpower. If a nearly 100 year-old woman can raise her frail, shattered body up to cook and tend to her flowers every morning, then I know I can do better. That’s the kind of thing you can learn only from your elders; It doesn’t matter how badly you age, but how well you live. I just wish more of my generation (and parents) would bother to listen and understand.

If you have an elderly person in your life, tell them you love them. They’ll probably appreciate it.

Chocolate Milk: The Nightmare Of Yesteryear

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about dreams. Not the goals or aspirations, but the ones you imagine while you’re asleep. This one’s kind of hard for me, because I rarely remember my good dreams. Or even the weird ones, for that matter; I’ve never dreamed of falling, flying, or taking a test naked. I do know that at least some of my dreams have continuity to them; it’s like revisiting another life for a few moments at a time. I’m much more prone to things like déjà vu and what could be precognition; I recall snippets of conversation and a few seconds of an experience, and I’ve dreamed about someone breaking in the same night a robber actually broke into a relative’s house. Just the other night, I was startled awake when I dreamed I heard the phone ring. When I woke up in the morning, I found out that my mother had collapsed and had spent the night in the hospital.

Weird, huh?

I’m not sure if I can explain it as mere coincidence, but the scientific part of my mind can’t just accept that. I’m not psychic. For now, I have to settle with the belief that we as humans don’t know everything about the nature of our reality, and are probably linked in ways that transcend current understanding. But what does that mean when it comes to nightmares? Unlike the weird and random dreams, I recall the scary ones just fine. They usually involve a place and people that look normal and familiar, but really aren’t. Once I realize I’m dreaming, they instantly drop the act and suddenly I’m cornered by things that are only pretending to be human. It’s really creepy, and I wish I could dream of something better.

***The following might be disturbing to some. I’m not joking.***

The most memorable of these nightmares was actually one of my earliest. I was maybe five or six years old. It was dinner time, and the family was sitting down at the table and enjoying the meal. Two parents and an older sibling, a completely normal weeknight. I had already finished eating, so I went to the kitchen to get some chocolate milk. It was the mixing powder kind, maybe Quik or Hershey’s. I made myself a nice big glass of the stuff – because chocolate milk is the dessert of champions for any 80s-90s child – put the jug back in the fridge, and headed back to the dining table. I sat back down and sipped at my milk, waiting for everyone else to be done so I could watch cartoons. But no one else was eating anymore.

They were all staring at me.

You never really notice how much you take family dinner for granted until everyone stops talking. The silence is unnerving. I peered up from my glass and noticed that they weren’t eating anymore, either. There was something wrong with their eyes. It was like they were bigger, or maybe the overhead light was casting shadows on their cheeks. Something must have been up with the light, because their skin seemed to be off color, too. Grey and cold, like a slab of meat that had been in the freezer too long. But that couldn’t have been right, because their arms and necks were covered with blotchy sores. Had they been outside without sunscreen or something? No. No, that wasn’t it at all.

My family was dead.

They were reaching for me. I sprang up from the table and began backing away. Reality slowed to a crawl. The glass of chocolate milk was forgotten. The things that were my family rose, and began sluggishly walking towards me. Chairs and silverware and maybe bones scraped as they moved. I made it about three steps before stumbling over my own feet. I could hear them coming behind me. As I struggled to stand, I caught a glimpse of my own forearm. It had gone gray and rotted, just like the others. And then I realized: I was dead, too.

I woke up screaming. I couldn’t have been more than six at the time, after all. And while you could easily chalk it up to an overactive imagination, keep in mind this was years before seeing my first horror movie, let alone a zombie flick. All I had to work with were LEGOs and cartoons like Thundercats, Transformers, GI Joe, MLP, TMNT, and Inspector Gadget. Where did a small child get the idea and imagery for a zombie nightmare?!

*Sigh* I just hope it doesn’t become another case of déjà vu.

Death And Life In The Family

Hey, folks. You might have noticed I’ve been incommunicado for part of this week. I wish I could say that I was on some wonderfully epic adventure, but my near-600 mile road trip down to Bakersfield was for something much more personal. If you were following my blog a couple of months back, you’ll probably recall a post I wrote about my grandmother. Just before the end of January, the inevitable happened; her body could no longer keep up with her iron will and spirit. She died just as we all thought she would: tending to that rose bush in front of the house. She had just finished watering and pruning it, when a neighbor saw her suddenly lay down. My relatives and emergency responders did everything they could, but it was over far too quickly. And that’s the best anyone could hope for. Aside from dying in your sleep, a fast, peaceful death is preferable to an agonizingly dragged-out hospital drama. While I’m sad she’s gone, I’m actually happy, too; her injuries in 2013 made daily life incredibly painful, and she must have despised being so limited. It’s only fitting that she died doing the one of her greatest passions.

She died almost exactly 19 years after my grandfather, and they were buried next to each other. I had the honor of being one of her eight pallbearers. It’s an tradition dating back to the Middle Ages, though not all coffins are covered with cloth anymore. I won’t go into details about the funeral out of respect for my family; it’s excruciating to see the important people in your life emotionally broken. What I will say is that my grandmother earned the love and respect of every person she ever met. I heard so many stories about her life in the last week. How she met my grandfather – a valedictorian with hopes of becoming a lawyer – in high school. How they in their mid-20s survived the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in World War II. How they once owned a coconut plantation. How she had a dozen kids, and became a master seamstress just to make ends meet. How the family suffered through floods and famine, starving and barely scraping by with nothing. How she sacrificed so much to keep everyone alive and well. How she taught her children how to kill and butcher a chicken the old fashioned way, to garden, to cook, to sew, to tell time by looking at the sun, to be disciplined, to be appreciate what little they had. How my grandparents took in stray kids and helped them survive to become pillars of their communities today. How much she loved to travel, and how she could be up and walking miles before sunrise. How the family came to the States in the 70s, resulting in multiple real-life American success stories. How her willpower was the stuff of legends.

To quote my cousin: “It’s a good thing Grandma died before the zombie apocalypse, because you know she’d have slaughtered every single one of us.”

Judging from what I’ve seen, that’s probably not an exaggeration.

I spent a lot of time with my extended family. I don’t get to see them very often – some of which I haven’t really visited with in 19 years – so it was very good to catch up. Religion is a huge part of our parents’ lives – it’s the reason they came to America – but it’s only one aspect of ours. I may be considered strange and rebellious by the older generations, but I discovered that all of us grandkids are far less straitlaced than we look. In a good way. I’m relieved to know that introversion, sarcasm, and geekery run in the family. My cousins are programmers, civil engineers, chefs, bakers, entrepreneurs, cosplayers, video game geeks, fashionistas, teachers, bankers, athletes, aspiring scientists, and so much more. Some like to go barhopping, while others prefer Disneyland, Comic-Con, and Austin City Limits. Others love Magic: The Gathering, Creepypasta, and Vocaloid. One of my cousins vowed to get all the kids together and throw me a Dirty Thirty birthday in Vegas this October. I haven’t decided if I’ll take them up on it yet.

Thank you for everything you’ve done, Grandma. Not just for all you’ve taught me in life, but for helping me become closer to my family even in death. I’ll miss you.