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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Daily Prompt: Fear Factor, Or: Rejection VS Individuality

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about fear. Namely, what do you fear. Don’t be fooled by anyone who claims to be fearless. They’re either covering up insecurity, a computer, or an alien. Maybe all three. Everyone has a fear; it’s one of the defining aspects of your humanity. It’s a natural, instinctual response your body has to perceived threats. It’s just a matter of exactly what it is. For me, it’s nothing tangible. I don’t fear death, the dark, insects, etc. I mentioned recently that my fear is living a meaningless existence. Life is inherently meaningless; it’s up to each individual to find their own meaning. Putting that into practice is not only hard, but scary as well. What do you do when the whole world is out there, and you don’t have a dream? The scope of it is downright terrifying.

While this kind of fear works well for philosophical discussion, this particular prompt calls for something a little less…overarching. So, how about something a bit more intimate: Rejection. I’m not talking about the romantic kind; given the amount of barely-averted looks and flirts directed toward me, I wouldn’t have any problems…if I actually tried going with it. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a textbook introvert. I’m really shy and I try to avoid being in large groups of people. Not because I necessarily despise them, but because interactions are tiring, and I never know what to say. Hey, let’s see you bring up the psychologically manipulative set designs of The Shining or the recurring themes in Haruki Murakami’s novels the next time you’re chatting a party. By all means, go ahead. All I get those confused stares, a request to speak up, or a lingering sense that I never should have opened my mouth in the first place. I get through it with a (hopefully) charming smile and heavy doses of sarcasm. A lot of people find it endearing. Others ask me what planet I’m from. I scramble for the quietest corner, take out the book I smuggled along with me, and leave my horribly awkward real world behind.

But why?

It’s a lot easier to close yourself off from what you fear. Since I dread rejection so much, then why bother interacting with people at all? Oh wait, that’s right! Social interaction is the core tenet of human civilization. Can’t get around that one, can I? Well, technically I can, but it’d cost me my sanity. Pretty sure that’s something you want to hang on to. So since shutting everyone out isn’t feasible, that means dealing with the fear in question. How exactly am I supposed to do that? That’s not a rhetorical question; I really don’t know. It’s been a part of me for as far back as I can remember. A lot of my elders were – and still are – religiously conservative. Look, I’m not going to start a debate about this. I have no problem with religion; some folks need something to believe in. But when you use religion to oppress and slaughter people who don’t share your views? Yeah, humanity doesn’t exactly have a spotless record. Now, imagine trying to be the model son raised by conservative, often absent parents. Sound difficult? Try doing that with an independent streak as big and deep as mine. I’ll give you a hint: it’s not very fun. I was the kind of kid who’d always ask the difficult questions, the one who wanted everything explained in non-sugarcoated detail. The phrase “Because I said so!” was never good enough for me, and I refused to accept excuses. Many adults found it irritating, and it hasn’t won me many fans in my adult life. There are some at my church who still won’t even look at me.

Well shucks, I’m so sorry that I can’t just play along. That must be such an inconvenience.

I’m not trying to be rebellious. I’m really not. I just need to experience the world on my own terms. New ideas and concepts are fascinating, but not necessarily feasible for me. My concern isn’t so much about religious beliefs, laws, structure, etc. The only thing that matters is if it works. And a lot of what does work for me doesn’t do so for the people in my personal and professional life. I’d been rejected, bullied, and dismissed so many times growing up that I learned to expect it. Trying to conform to others’ expectations left me an emotional wreck. I’ve let myself become less restrictive, though. My contempt for gender roles is probably the most noticeable result. I’ve got enough long, curly hair to resemble a young Robert Plant or Dustin Hoffman’s Captain Hook. I rock the androgynous look. A lot of women find it fascinating and ask me about it, but others just frown disapprovingly or assume I’m transgendered. I stopped caring years ago. If I’m in a suit, I’ll occasionally get asked if I moonlight in a heavy metal band. I’m one of the few people on either side of my family that actively reads and writes. People think I’m weird because I don’t spend my free time on Facebook, clinging to my phone, watching sports, or going bar-hopping. I don’t know anyone else my age that doesn’t drink. You try being the only sober person in at a party. Or how about hearing the phrase, “Why don’t you have a girlfriend?” Gee, I don’t know. Maybe because it’s hard to trust people when you’re an outcast.

Just saying.

Gah, what a mess. I need to work on the self-confidence thing. How do I get over social phobia? There’s got to be a niche for me out there somewhere. If not, I’ll just have to carve out my own. That’s got to count for a little bit of courage, right?

Daily Prompt: To Boldly Go…, Or: I DON’T Have A Dream

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about contemplation. Specifically, about goals for 2014. This one’s pretty difficult for me to answer, especially as of late. One of my biggest problems is playing the long game. You’ve probably heard the phrase; it’s about long-term plans or objectives. I’m really good with daily schedules and problem-solving – going from Point A to Point B happens in seconds – but the long term? It’s like this nebulous entity, an endless and terrifying expanse of possibilities. It’s like being stuck on a life raft in the middle of the ocean, with no paddle or land in sight. Or tiger, for that matter. What do you do when you don’t have a dream? I don’t know. I’ve never known; I never thought I’d live this long. I’ve just been existing. After college, tangible achievements seemed to vanish as I let myself be consumed by my career. The normal stuff – you know, a family, house, retiring, and the rest of the American Dream – seemed utterly alien to me. Years of dismally working to maintain some kind of overblown standard of living and stressing over finances, and for what? Retirement? Right. Maybe they’d give me a cake before I left the office. Taking care of elderly relatives left me disillusioned over the prospect of living to old age. Why would I want to end up like that, shunted off into obscurity, a forgotten character in a picture, a remnant of a story that only gets told half-truthfully at Christmas dinner?

Yeah, think about that when your elders visit for the holidays.

See, that’s the thing. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t fear death. I’ve long acknowledged and accepted my mortality. I fear living a normal, meaningless existence. Looking back at the last few years I’ve been doing exactly that. It’s very easy to let yourself become complacent and comfortable. To play it safe. Nothing changes, but nothing improves. You let yourself get mired in the daily grind, and you get by well enough. Maybe you get some modicum of satisfaction out of it. But there’s always that lingering doubt, the sense of frustration, the implicit understanding that you could – and should – be doing more. If that goes on long enough, it’ll consume and ruin you. I think Captain Picard and Q summed it up best.

So, how do I avoid that? It’s a matter of living with purpose…Or something. Sounds kind of bland, doesn’t it? I much prefer Nietzsche’s take on the matter. He basically argued that life was indeed meaningless, but that every person could determine their own meaning. The concept of the Übermensch has always fascinated me; how far can an individual go in defining their own morality and world view? It’s harder than it sounds. I’m not sure if it counts as a goal, as opposed to a long-term process. But how does that work in the everyday scheme of things? I think I need to stop worrying so much about the high likelihood of a bland, meaningless future, and start making my own. I don’t have a dream, but I can live and die on my terms. Improving and capitalizing on my skills, instead of settling for something safe but unfulfilling. Studying and enjoying things that interest me, not trying to meet others’ personal expectations. Developing and defining myself as an individual, not cultivating a wonderfully complex but ultimately fake persona…

Yeah, you probably get the idea.

It’s scary, though. As any writer will tell you, good character development is hard. Doing it in real life? Much, much harder. It’s also possible to go overboard with it, resulting in a loss of identity and focus. Rather than being stuck in a lifeboat, it’s like being on sailing ship in the middle of a storm. All you can do is hold on and hope you don’t drown…Okay, enough with the ocean metaphors. You were probably expecting a list of realistic goals, anyway. Here are some (in no particular order) for 2014:

-Find a practical, well-paying writing job. Marketing or copy-writing, perhaps?

-Further develop my writing skills. (This does include an honest, non-NaNoWriMo attempt at a novel.)

-Expand writing subjects (and thus audience) to cover all interests, not just games. (This blog has certainly been a good start.)

-Obtain reliable and affordable health care.

-Travel more. (Iguazu Falls is currently on my radar. Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay by extension.)

-Further expand my literary repertoire. (The fantasy genre and graphic novels are at the forefront.)

-Learn a third or fourth language. (I’m thinking Chinese and French. Esperanto and Latin as well.)

-Learn how to drive.

-Pick up a new skill. Most likely drawing. Guitar, perhaps.

-Obtain a better camera.

-Start working towards my Master’s degree, or at least a second Bachelor’s.

-Have more self-confidence and better maintain interpersonal relationships. Work on shyness.

-Stay introverted, but don’t reject people outright. Romance a possibility, though highly unlikely.

-Start a review/commentary channel on YouTube.

-Watch every Hayao Miyazaki film.

-Complete at least one more jigsaw puzzle.

…I’ll think up more later.