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 That we can mock and dismiss our predecessors for their supposedly outdated perspectives.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.

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Zero To Hero Day 1: Introduction

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/zero-to-hero/

Hey, folks. Got a question: How curious are you? No, seriously. Think about it. How often do you take a proverbial step back and just wonder about the world around you? It’s so easy to get distracted. To never explore and merely take things for granted. To let the awesome, crazy, beautiful, mysterious aspects of our lives fly completely under the radar. Even when you do notice, understanding and learning from it is tricky. Pushing yourself like that is hard; it’s the kind of effort that can build or shatter your identity. Maybe both.

But it is worth it.

I titled my blog “polymathically” as a reflection of that effort. A polymath is one whose expertise spans several and varied subjects. It’s commonly associated with individuals like Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Benjamin Franklin, etc. I’m not arrogant enough to think I’ve attained such lofty heights. But I do share one trait with them: curiosity. You want to learn something? You ask about it. It’s one of the driving forces behind everything I do. The basic concept of Renaissance humanism has always struck a chord with me. What is an individual truly capable of, and how far can they develop it? It’s something that I’ve striven to apply to everyday life. For some reason, there’s a pervasive belief that a person can be interested in subjects based solely on his or her personality, gender, aptitude, or employment. It’s not only silly, but inherently limiting as well. You choose your interests, no one else. Live with purpose. Try something new, anything that will expand your horizons just even just a little bit. You might surprise yourself.

…Just don’t do anything illegal. Use common sense. Okay?

This blog is an outlet for my curiosity. Aside from a journal and Daily Prompt entries, I’ll post about anything that happens to catch my interest. I have a fiery, unbridled passion for literature, movies, anime, pop culture, and video gaming, so expect references, analyses, and reviews of them. I’ve got a soft spot for great music, particularly video game soundtracks. I’m also a huge history and humanities geek, so you might come across posts about modern mythology or the importance of a holiday. Or links to something scientific, like the mass of trees or rare precious metals. I also fancy myself a bit of a world traveler (12 countries and counting) and take tons of awesome photos to capture it all. But deep down, I’m a storyteller; there will be plenty of real-life narratives (including a Freshly Pressed one) to read as well. Or if you’re like me and struggle with introversion, you’ll have another perspective to read. Regardless of what you enjoy about this blog, the point is that you learn something new.

I never lost my sense of wonder. I hope you haven’t, either.

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.