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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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…)

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.

Daily Prompt: Safety First, Or: Hanging On In Thailand

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt focuses on safety. Or rather, the lack thereof. Despite evidence to the contrary, danger is not my middle name. However, it’s something with which I’m all too familiar. My neighborhood is bad, even for this city’s – one of the worst in California’s – standards. Robberies, shootings, muggings, drug dealings, and yes, even murders happen with alarming frequency. You know all those TV crime dramas that are so popular? Yeah, it’s not so fun when you actually live in those places. It’s most certainly not safe to go for an evening stroll, and it’s not much better even in broad daylight. My morning commute starts (there’s still a bus and subway ride to undertake) with a nearly two mile trek through this urban wasteland, complete with the unspoken understanding that there is a high chance of me not reaching my destination. You’ve probably heard the term fight or flight. It’s an instinctive, physiological response to perceived threats. Everyone has it, even you. While most would assume that I’m flight – it’s easy to dismiss a quiet bookworm – experience has taught me quite the opposite.

I don’t fear death. Most people – especially men due to outdated gender expectations – simply state that as a form of false bravado or confidence. It’s nothing but silly posturing. For me, it’s not about bravery, mental stability, or even a lack of self-preservation. I’ve understood and accepted my mortality for years, because I’ve faced it directly. I’ve come within seconds and inches of dying a few times. I could regale you stories of fighting a house fire, weathering storms in the Sierra Nevadas, nearly falling from the peak of Gibraltar, or nearly freezing one winter night in Le Métropolitain. I’m not sure if it’s because death is stalking me, or I’m just too foolish to avoid it.

Remember the photo of a sunset I posted a few weeks back? That was taken one fine evening in Phuket, Thailand. The rest of the week there wasn’t nearly as glamorous. I was in Southeast Asia just in time for the start of its monsoon season. If you’re from California and think El Niño is bad, you haven’t seen anything. The downpours are relatively brief, but they’re strong. People have to scramble for cover because an umbrella just won’t cut it. It was like that for most of my trip in Thailand. But one morning, the clouds parted just enough that it seemed okay to explore the neighboring Phi Phi Islands.

Yeah, you can see where this is going.

The cruise itself was great, though a little bumpy. I was in a speedboat alongside a dozen or so other tourists. It wasn’t crowded enough to be unpleasant, and the drinks were free. The islands were absolutely gorgeous – you’ll see soon enough – and everything seemed to be going well. We had just finished lunch and cast off for the next island, right on schedule. But suddenly, the world turned dark. It was like something out of an apocalyptic movie. A glance at the sky revealed something far more real; we had sailed practically headlong into a monsoon. The crew scrambled to assemble the the overhanging tarp, but they didn’t get to it fast enough. Within seconds, everyone was drenched to the bone. It wasn’t pleasant like taking a shower, it was like being sprayed by a fire hose. People slipped and stumbled as the waves churned. A child was huddled near one of the front seats, wailing. The thunder roared. The waves swelled and knocked us around. The boat was nearly on its side, and I was feebly clinging to a railing. I managed a peek toward the island swaying in the distance. It was too far. Too far to swim. I am going to drown here. I’m not going to make it out of this alive. I’m not sure if it was the realization or the seawater that gave me the chill. I just closed my eyes and didn’t let go.

I’m not sure how long it lasted. It felt like hours. I didn’t dare take out my phone with all the water around. But eventually the waves subsided, and the torrent of water gave way to sprinkles, then tropical sun. I opened my eyes. Everyone was still there and drenched from head to toe. I couldn’t stop shaking. My legs didn’t want to work. All I could do was just sit down and breathe. Eventually we managed to get the boat back on course and to the next island, where we wearily stumbled off into white sands and the warmth of the sun. It didn’t take long to dry off, but we stayed on that beach for quite a while. The trip back was fine, but I never went out on the water there again. Photographing sunsets seemed better for some reason.

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Daily Prompt: Perspective, Or: Worth Beyond Likes

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt focuses on perspective. More specifically, how our perception of something we hate can be altered by something we enjoy. One of my biggest problems is with self-absorption. I loathe it with a fiery, unbridled passion. People who are so utterly, ridiculously focused upon themselves that they completely dismiss others and the world around them. The level of narcissism, the blatant me me me! attitude…it’s beyond appalling. The fact that our society encourages such behavior makes it even worse. You ever see a grown adult stamp their feet because the complimentary coffee ran out? Oh, how I wish that was an exaggeration. Or how about people who can’t make it through the day without obsessively updating their Facebook status or Twitter feed? I bet you’ve seen it. Next time you’re on a train or eating lunch with coworkers, take a look around. Is anyone actually interacting with each other? Yeah, probably not. For many people, the appeal of social media isn’t necessarily connecting with others or conveying ideas, but the acknowledgement of their own existence. On a subconscious level, everyone is aware of their fallibility and mortality. Some profiles and pages practically scream “Yes, I am a human being with a life and memories and needs! Please notice me! I deserve to be remembered! I’m interesting, I promise!” Machinima summed it up in graphic detail. We as culture are being raised on this unabashed sense of self-entitlement while sacrificing self-worth in the process. It’s a profound paradox with some really nasty implications for our successors.

I’m not immune to it, either. I enjoy the acknowledgement I get from my readers. It feels good! Every time the little icon on my WordPress header lights up, so do my eyes. Yes, I managed to reach someone! You’d think I was stuck on a deserted island with a ham radio or something. For those of you unfamiliar with my gaming writing, I’m a prominent amateur game reviewer. I’d like to think I’m still good at it, and my readership seems to agree. But for years, I thought that was all I was. Never mind putting myself through college, being well-read, traveling, or any of that. I thought that all I could offer the world was that ever-lengthening list of game analyses. I’d monitor my hits (which are apparently near 1.7 million at the time of this writing) with an almost religious zeal. Winning writing contests and getting fan mail was just icing on the cake. And I still appreciate it. But there’s always a little voice in the back of my head mocking me; Gee, another video game? Writing? Oh, please. You’re supposed to be smart, and THIS is the best you can do? When are you going to do something worthwhile? How’s that going to change the world? Does any of this actually matter? Do YOU even matter?

Self-esteem issues, anyone?

That’s something that I’m still working to get past. While I enjoy what I do, the guilt and self-doubt drive me nuts sometimes. But after a while, I realized that I was more than just that list of articles. That my importance didn’t revolve around how many hits or likes I got. The point was that I created something – an idea, an argument, a voice – and conveyed it to others. Innovation (for better or worse) without the conveyance of the concepts already learned. It’s something a lot of people (and certainly not just my generation) have to realize. Reality does not exist just for you. If the universe were an ocean, we’d be too small to even be considered subatomic particles. For all our insignificance, all we can do is influence our tiny speck of the world. Do you want to just sit around waiting for someone to push a button to acknowledge you? I don’t. Not anymore.