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.

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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.

Three Questions With Lois Lane

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about questions. As in, the three you’d dread being asked by a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist writing about your life. It’s an interesting prompt; it’s like thinking up ways to confuse yourself. It’s harder to write about something uncomfortable, but the thought of being grilled by the likes of Lois Lane makes me geek out in the best way. As for the questions, though…

Lois: You write about many subjects and have tons of interests, but you rarely talk about faith. What exactly is your stance on religion?

Uh, er…It’s complicated. My mom’s side of the family is devoutly religious – my grandfather was even a minister – but I often got into trouble for asking so many questions and not accepting the explanations given to me. The phrase, “Because I said so” meant nothing to me. Yeah, I was that kid. Though I was responsible and had perfect grades, I was often treated like a rebellious outcast. There are still some people at the local church who refuse to even look at me. There’s a lot of guilt and shame that comes with that kind of upbringing. I won’t deny the importance of religion – people need to believe in something, be it spiritual, philosophical, psychological, technological, etc. – but I can’t adhere to one over the other. For all the politics and bloodshed, religions often tell the same stories and beliefs in different ways. It’s like the human race; many branches, one tree. The problem comes when you use those beliefs to justify violence and oppression against others. Life is far too short, and people should be treated humanely regardless of what gods to which they pray. We should be helping and learning, not killing each other. I’m not naive enough to think everyone would act in such an idealistic way, of course. Conflict is unavoidable. We may never find out which beliefs – if any – are accurate. All we can really do is find happiness while we can.

Lois: Uh huh. Sounds like agnosticism by way of the Dalai Lama. So, what’s with the pretty hair? You’ve written that it’s part of your individuality, but is there something more to it than that? Is it just an expression of vanity? Gender dysphoria? Sexual orientation?

Whoa, Ms. Lane. Making a lot of assumptions here. Yeah, I can’t say that I’m the most macho guy around, but adhering to stereotypes is a fool’s errand. People are still shocked when they find out I know how to run a household; apparently men are supposed to be inept in that regard. Everyone is bombarded with expectations on a daily basis, encouraging them to achieve some kind of socially-approved image of perfection. It happens to both women and men, and it’s a tragedy waiting to happen. After years of bullying and being called girly, I finally decided to roll with it. I grew out my hair as a way to mess with expectations; you’d be amazed how many compliments and double-takes I get in public. I don’t mind being mistaken for a “miss” anymore. As for the gender/orientation thing…I’ll get married to an amazing woman (sorry, gentlemen) someday, but I want a relationship built on something more meaningful than an outdated ideal. I want to create my own niche in life, not be shoved into a category. I’d expect the same kind of drive out of my spouse. The important things are your capabilities and choices, not what’s between your legs. It took me a long time to realize that being different is a good thing. It’s made me a much more confident person. And yes, there is some vanity involved; my hair looks good.

Lois:…Right. All of this idealism and whatnot sounds great, but some of your articles hint at depression, insecurity, and isolation. Is what you’ve said thus far just a cover for your pessimism?

Look, it hasn’t been easy. In retrospect, I’ve gotten through stuff that should never happen to anyone. But it did, and it made me a better, stronger person for it. And yeah, it’s driven me to very bad places. I’m still making my way back, and sometimes I stumble. Fallibility is part of the human condition. Pessimism is a big part of who I am; it keeps me grounded and realistic. Here’s something to consider, though: People really like to refer to Nietzsche when they’re thinking about how pointless life is. He’s practically the go-to philosopher for it in pop culture. However, they’re not fully considering his work in context; Nietzsche argues that since life is meaningless, you should overcome and take it on your own terms. You’re a tiny speck in the grand scheme of things. So what? Since you’re going to die regardless, you might as well enjoy it. Live by your own virtues and morality, and make it worthwhile for yourself and others. If I can approach each day as such and continue growing as person, then maybe I’ll die satisfied.

Lois: Huh. You sound like Lex before he went insane…Anyway, enough questions for the day. I’ll be back tomorrow. Have a good one! (Wait till Smallville hears this…)

Zero To Hero Day 21: Building Upon A Post

Hey, folks. Day 21’s assignment was all about building upon and/or explaining the post from Day 19. I chose to use quotes because…well, I’ve tried pretty much all the other formats. Rather than sticking with a specific quote, I chose a group of them that not only reflected my thoughts on this blog, but arranged them in a way that would form something resembling narrative. I’ll just give them a brief run-down:

  • Jorge Luis Borges blew my mind when I first read his work, and the quote I used seemed to capture the feeling all too well. Causality is fascinating, be it in a philosophical or religious context. Borges wasn’t sure about what his storytelling was going to do, only that there were stories. It’s the same thing when I post something here; I find it cool and interesting, but I can’t account for others’ biases or beliefs. All I can do is tell it the way I can, and hope it’s good enough.
  • The dedication page for House of Leaves always stood out for me. That book is several mind-screws all bundled up into one, and “This is not for you” is just one of the earliest ways it messes with your expectations. I want to do the same with my blog; I want to get you to wonder, to think. And much like that quote, I don’t just blog for everyone else; I blog for myself, too.
  • The third quote comes from my favorite fighting game ever. If you want a great example of video game role models, Ryu would probably be high on the list. He doesn’t just want to fight for the sake of violence; he wants to experience and learn new things. His quote is kind of my unofficial mantra.
  • The fourth one is that infamous reveal from The Shining. It serves as a counter to the previous quote; if you spend so much time focusing on objectives and improvement, you can lose sight of who you are, and the life around you. There has to be a balance somewhere, and it’s good to have a reminder of that. On an unrelated note, The Shining is one of my all-time favorite movies.
  • Solid Snake’s rant is the capstone to the infamously mind-screwy Metal Gear Solid 2 ending. The entire game is essentially one long lesson on postmodernism, and this little speech is probably the most straightforward moment you’ll ever get. Snake basically argues that we as individuals are more than just producers of the next generation. We can show them – and each other – what is important to us. We are survived by what we pass on. That’s a sentiment I want my blog to reflect.
  • Blood Meridian is one of my favorite novels. Not because of the setting or the brutality – Judge Holden is such an amazing character – but how the story is told. The imagery is so vivid, and…I better stop now before I start ranting. The quote I used reinforces my curiosity; I want to be the one who pulls the tapestry and takes life on his own terms. And I want you to try, too; you can’t fully live if you don’t ask questions.
  • Moving The River by Prefab Sprout is one of many, many one-hit wonders I have on my playlist. I prefer the acoustic to the regular version, though. It’s about a guy who’s disappointed with life, and must comes to terms with his parents – and his own – expectations. I’m very much the same. As the title implies, living takes Herculean strength; the song even ends with “but it takes such an effort/to stay where I am…” The lyrics I chose reflect my doubt over the subject matter I choose to post. A few of my interests and hobbies aren’t exactly…mainstream, and I worry about alienation and abandonment over them.
  • …Like depression, for example. Out Of My Head is a late 90’s hit about personal reflection, regret, and doubt. Despite its simplicity, the song manages to be tear-jerking and introspective. I quoted it to reflect my issues with depression (and mental health in general) and how it’s one of those taboo subjects. How are we as a society supposed to combat such illnesses if we don’t talk about them?
  • The next quote is just a continuation of same idea. It’s worth noting that Gotta Knock A Little Harder is all about someone overcoming their fears and doubts, even if they have to bust through their own emotional barriers to do it. I’m working on that part. This song is part of Cowboy Bebop’s tremendous soundtrack, and I highly recommend that you give it all a listen sometime.
  • Stardust Melody is an old, amazing song. It’s not about love, but idealizing love. After time and lives have past, all you have are the memories. I worry about that; maybe I’m doing this all in vain, but I still do it. It’s an incredibly lonely, but peaceful song. I listen to it sometimes before going to bed. I wanted to link to my favorite version – Mel Torme with just a piano – but I couldn’t find a video for it.
  • The Late Lament is a poem that comes after the ending of the Moody Blues’ Nights In White Satin. It depicts a somber, lonely evening in which people settle in for the night. The part at the end struck me because of its defiant tone. Despite all the sadness and doubt, we are the ones who decide how to live. It’s a reminder to never give up.
  • The last quote is actually a quote of a quote. “You’re gonna carry that weight” comes from the Beatles song, but the line is also featured at the final screen of Cowboy Bebop. There’s a very good reason why it shows up, and I’m not going to spoil it for you. Basically, you have to live with the decisions and actions you take. Be it guilt, sadness, desire, pleasure…you carry those moments and memories around for the rest of your life. I want my blog to not only share such things, but to help me going into the future.

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.

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.

Six Months In San Francisco

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about–Oh cool, they chose one of the prompts I submitted! Anyway, it’s about doing something new. It’s actually hard for me sometimes. I’m really shy and uncomfortable around people, but I’ve got an adventurous streak a mile wide. I don’t just step out of my comfort zone; I have to shove myself. It’s usually awkward and potentially dangerous, but it ends up being a worthwhile experience.

The last half of 2013 was one long foray into new territory. I hate being out in my neighborhood – it isn’t safe even in broad daylight – but there’s something alluring about traveling and exploring. It doesn’t matter if it’s the city, mountains, beaches, etc. Just as long as it’s someplace different and memorable, even if it is just a temporary escape. This time, circumstances required me to regularly visit San Francisco a couple of times a week. A short meeting downtown, with hours of daylight left and no plans whatsoever. I couldn’t just let the time (and the commuting costs) go to waste; I was in one of the greatest cities on Earth.┬áSo, I tackled it like I would any other trip: I began exploring.

You might have seen some of the results.

The walks started small, but I branched out with each passing trip. I visited the Metreon for the first time since 1999. I wandered around AT&T Park and beyond, crossing over to the China Basin and checking out the preparations for Oktoberfest. I got a membership at the San Francisco Public Library and checked out their historical and art exhibits. I drifted over the specialty stores on Market and kindled an appreciation for gothic lolita fashion via Angelic Pretty. I spent far too long in the Alexander Book Company. I stunned crowds of shoppers at the Microsoft store with my Killer Instinct demo skills. I attended Litquake, even though timing forced me to choose only one event. I stumbled across the BMX Dew Tour completely by accident. I infiltrated the Salesforce Expo on a whim. I walked all the way down to Japantown, discovering an arcade, awesome figurines, and tons of anime. I visited museums galleries (the Cartoon Art Museum was particularly great) whenever they had free fares. I hiked the Nob and Russian Hills, and climbed Lombard Street and Coit Tower three times. I drifted through Chinatown even more, visiting Ying’s Hobbies and Toys, Jack Kerouac Alley, and City Lights Bookstore whenever I could. I saw sea lions at Pier 39 and piles of candy at Ghirardelli Square, and did a complete run-through of the Exploratorium. If I was in the neighborhood, I’d end the journey at the Ferry Building and get a loaf of freshly-baked sourdough from the Acme Bread Company.

Yeah, it was all amazing…But now it’s over.

My meetings there are done; I don’t have to go to San Francisco anymore. And I want to, so badly. But I need to find work first. It costs nearly 20 bucks of commuting, and I refuse to spend that kind of money unless I have a good reason. Now that I’m back at home, I have to constantly remind myself that I need to get out and explore. It’s safe and warm in here, but it’ll only get me so far. My six months in San Francisco doesn’t have to be an isolated journey. I may be shy and quiet, but I still have the heart of an adventurer.