Summertime, Coming Soon

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about summer. As in, what you’re looking forward to about the upcoming summer months. I’m more of an autumn type, but I won’t pass up the chance to enjoy the heat. Especially this year; for the first time in my adult life, I might still be unemployed this summer. I’m not hoping I’ll end up like that, of course. I recently applied for a community manager position at a major website. There’s a good chance I’ll be hired. If that happens, then I’ll be carrying around my laptop a lot in the foreseeable future. If I don’t, then I’ll enter UC Berkeley’s open-enrollment technical writing program and further develop a practical skill set. I could get the pursuit of my M.A. going, but that’s a whole other mountain of problems. I’ll also be delving deeper into the No Excuse List and doing independent studies while looking for another position.

…Doesn’t sound very fun, huh?

I’ve also been invited on a trip to Rome tentatively scheduled sometime in May. The itinerary is still up in the air – it might even be postponed until October – but I’ll take full advantage of the rail system to see more of Europe. The last time I was in that part of the world, I managed to visit Spain, Morocco, and Gibraltar in a single week. Let’s see if I can do better this time around! I’ll also be equipped with a better camera; before, my old camera malfunctioned on the first day, and I had to resort to my iPod. I’ll be sure to take tons of awesome photos for you guys!

That’s a best-case scenario, of course. If I’m stuck here in the Bay Area, I’m going to make the most of it. I spent a considerable amount of 2013 exploring San Francisco on foot, and I’d love to do it a second time. Those long, sunny afternoons wandering off of Market Street, climbing Lombard Street, and walking through Chinatown all the way Fisherman’s Wharf were some of my most cherished moments. I only stopped exploring the city because of winter’s onset; now that the days are getting longer again, I have more hours of sunlight to use. I live in a bad neighborhood of a terrible city, so traveling to San Francisco is like a brief, but lovely escape. I can’t wait to do it again.

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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.

You Wouldn’t Like To Be My Neighbor

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about the neighborhood. I’ve actually written quite a bit about my neighborhood before, and I haven’t exaggerated much. There’s the weird assumption that Bay Area residents live in one of the most affluent, progressive parts of the United States. Anyone that actually lives in the Bay Area knows better. Oh sure, we’re in this huge melting pot of international culture and history, but the whole wealth thing? Yeah, that doesn’t go so far. Unless you’re living in Silicon Valley, Marin County, or own a vineyard in Napa. Even San Francisco, for all its technology and splendor, has a huge homeless population. If you walk even just a couple blocks away from say, Union Square, you’ll notice that the Tenderloin looks and feels very different from Nob Hill. All cities have poverty, but San Francisco lets you see it up close and personal. I hate treating the Tenderloin like a modern Mordor, because there’s probably a lot of stuff worth seeing. Yes, there are strip clubs and prostitutes, but the food is cheap and buildings are decorated with murals! Not to mention it’s the only way to reach Japantown and the San Francisco Public Library from the north on foot…

Anyways.

I don’t live in San Francisco, though. I live in a smaller, but no less dangerous city about 40 minutes away. No, I’m not going to say which one it is (sorry, e-stalkers!), but I will say it’s one of the worst parts of the Bay Area. Not Oakland, but pretty close. I’m talking about a city that’s been mired in perpetual debt even before the economy crashed in 2008. It’s much like the Wild West out here; crime is rampant, and the police force is so underfunded, it’s not even funny. Someone tried to burn down the courthouse not long ago. No, seriously. The school system here is probably one of the worst in California, and that’s saying something. The other end of town has been developed into a modern urban sprawl, leaving this end perpetually stuck in crappy-1970s-crime-drama mode. This part of town is definitely working class…for those people that actually work. My neighborhood used to be one of the greatest districts in the city, but it’s long been forgotten about; the century-old buildings are in disrepair, and the former main street is a deserted husk of boarded-up shops. All the major chain retailers are, of course, at the opposite end of town. The closest business to the house is an adult bookstore, a yoga place, and a seedy corner drugstore. It is not safe to walk around at night, and it’s not much better during the day. A man was murdered in the street in broad daylight about three houses away. Police sirens are common at night, and gunshots only occasionally. I’ve heard screams a few times. That story I wrote about a drug deal going down in front of my driveway?

Yeah, that happened.

So, why do I still live here? Family. The house I live in has been part of my family since it was built about a hundred years ago, and it’s been my pseudo-base of operations for my entire life. The neighborhood has just gotten worse over the decades, but the house is still quite liveable. The recession hit my family hard, so a little banding together was needed to make sure we got through it. I’ve been saving up, but it’s hard when you have to take care of the disabled and elderly. Now that I’m unemployed, I can’t just strike out and look for an apartment. It’s expensive to live in the Bay Area, and I’d need something way better than minimum wage to maintain a decent standard of living. It just feels…I don’t know. Like I’m stuck in a trap. I know I’m smart and capable enough to find something better, but how? Where? No wonder I like traveling to the city so much; it takes me two miles to get to the nearest bus stop, but at least it’s an escape from all of this.

Somewhere Between X and Y

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about generations. Specifically, what you don’t understand or possibly learn from the generations that come before or after you. I have the unfortunate privilege of falling into the oft-maligned Millennial generation, and thus get to deal with all the little assumptions that come with it. I loathe being scrutinized and stereotyped based upon my age; you’re defined by your actions and experiences, not just decade in which you were born. No one ever gave me a trophy just for showing up. No one cared when I was being bullied. My parents were divorced and rarely around, so all those other happy, supportive families seemed unreal. You want to really teach a kid responsibility? Make them earn it. I paid for my college education the old-fashioned way: getting jobs and saving every last penny, barely scraping by until I earned my B.A. No parents or student loans to back me up, either. Yeah, it was miserable and rife with anxiety, but I got it done. I held a job for over a decade, and rarely bought anything extravagant. At 29, I’m still saving up for my eventual M.A. People think I’m insane for not owning a smart phone, tablet, e-reader, or any of that stuff. I get the most out of what little I have, and I’m not fueled by desire to constantly spend.

…Unless I’m in a bookstore. You know how that goes.

And for a long while, that was good enough. But now that I’m unemployed for literally the first time in my adult life, I’ve realized that everything has changed. I’m in this weird social limbo where my values, efforts, and independence have lost meaning. There’s an overbearing sense of shame and guilt in not going to work every day, simply because I know I can do so much more. I’m nowhere near starving, but I can’t idle around and eat into my savings. I’m not content with just sitting here reading; it’s very comfortable, but devoid of any real effort or personal development. And worst part? A lot of people out there think it’s normal. But I don’t. I’ve learned and experienced too much from the previous generation to just forget about things like being a breadwinner or the importance of interpersonal, non-computerized communication.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t learn new things.

While no Skype screen will ever trump a one-on-one conversation, the Internet and and its fast-paced technologies are undeniably helpful. I remember studying in a physical library, and (if I was lucky) with Encarta 95 at home. Encarta 95! Grade-schoolers like me would’ve killed for something like Wikipedia, JSTOR, or iTunes. There’s so much more stuff to learn, and it’s only within the last couple of years that education has caught up with the medium. We’ve got dedicated YouTube channels for all educational matters; the best I ever got as a kid was the Discovery Channel, National Geographic magazines, and Bill Nye.

However, not everything you learn comes from an educational program. Social media, for better and worse, has allowed people to become closer. Not necessarily in an emotional context, but through the communication of ideas. A lot of what we see in mainstream popularity is mindless drivel, but occasionally something clever or interesting shines through. Stuff like Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Stanley Parable would’ve been impossible 30 years ago. Not just due to the development of technology, but because now it’s much easier to blend concepts, influence each other, and question expectations.The younger generations have it far easier in terms of collaborating and quickly sharing opinions, but seem to be losing out when it comes to real world experience. These days, there’s this huge emphasis on safe and utterly, ridiculously politically correct topics. You know, how we as a culture supposedly abhor sex and violence yet revel in their fictional portrayals? Yeah, that’s not hypocritical at all. Despite all our new communication tools, conversations about some issues – particularly sexuality, gender roles, and mental health – are swept aside. Because not talking about problems makes them go away.

Wouldn’t want to offend anyone, right?

Ugh, this generational thing is complicated. What’s a guy stuck between two extremes supposed to do?

Predictions

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about predictions. Specifically, where you’ll be on July 30th of this year.  I have no idea, honestly. Everything’s so much up in the air right now, it’s not even funny. Suddenly losing my job near the end of 2013 kind of threw a monkey wrench into what little I had planned. However, it also forced me into actually making some long overdue changes; without such impetus, my growth as a person probably would’ve continued to stagnate. Now, the map of my life’s journey is entirely uncharted. And by no means am I in dire straits yet. However, I’m not naive enough to believe I can maintain this situation for any extended time. I can – and will – do better than that. The main priority for the coming months is finding another job.

To that end, I’ll most likely be in a classroom (physical or virtual) on July 30th. I’ve recently found out about an online technical writing program through the UC Berkeley extension, and to be honest, it’s very intriguing. Writing has always been my strongest skill, so it would only make sense for me to obtain the education and a second degree that best complement it. Going back for my M.A. isn’t entirely off the table, either. That being said, the prices for the individual courses are pretty ridiculous; I don’t want to sink thousands into something that’ll end up going nowhere. I’d much rather do self-education; information is out there, and I’ve done way more studying after getting my B.A. If I’m going back to school, then I’d better have at least some sort of meager income backing it up.

Assuming that my wishful thinking pays off and I find good work, then I might be traveling abroad on July 30th. A potential trip down to Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay was in the works last year, and I’d loathe to throw that away. I try visiting a new place every year; it gives me a chance to change up perspectives and have new experiences. And considering all the pictures on this blog, you can probably tell I’m a serious camera fiend. If I’m traveling abroad, it’s practically guaranteed that thousands of photos are coming back with me. If I can afford it, I’d probably pick up a better camera as well. But if my South America plans fall through, I might settle for Comic-Con or E3. I’ve been wanting to go to both for years, but never had the time. Now I have all the time in the world, and I don’t want to waste the money on them.

Funny how that works.

Regardless of how things turn out on the job and travel fronts (and I just noticed I completely disregarded any notions of romance, which is technically a possibility as well), I’ll be reading. At this hour on July 30th, I can safely assume I’ll be reading a book. Most likely something from Alice Munro, whose bibliography I’ll be tackling throughout this year. Gotta keep the time filled, after all.

Being The Weird One

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about being an outsider. This one’s such an omnipresent theme in my life (and probably in everyone’s in some respects), it’s harder to pinpoint parts where I’m not an outsider. You know how every family has that one strange relative? The one you always shake your head at and tell stories about during holiday dinners? Yeah, that’s me. I’m the weird one. On both sides. On one side, I’m the second oldest in my generation, and the only one with a university degree and who reads, writes, and studies regularly. On the other, I’m one of the older, quieter kids with an apparently rebellious, anti-religious streak. Never mind all that fancy know-how about science and the arts; why don’t I do all the stuff normal guys do? Family gatherings and birthday parties are ripe for awkward questions and confused stares. Conversations typically include gems like:

  • Sooo…do you have a girlfriend? Boyfriend? Any romance whatsoever? No?…Oh.
  • Uh, are you gay? Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
  • When are you going to get married and have kids?
  • You still go to church…right?
  • Did you see what so-and-so posted on Facebook?!
  • Ugh, you still have that long hair? I’m gonna cut it while you sleep!
  • Whatcha reading? …Oh, never heard of that. I loved Twilight, though!
  • Still doing that writing thing, eh?
  • See any good movies lately?…Who the Hell is Hayao Miyazaki?
  • Traveling again, huh? I…um, went to Las Vegas recently.
  • You still play video games?
  • You don’t watch football?! Uh, what sports do you watch?
  • Whatcha doing here in this room all by yourself? It’s too quiet! Don’t you want to chat with everyone?
  • What do you mean, you don’t drink alcohol?!
  • Hey, I can’t figure out this puzzle! Let’s see YOU do it!…showoff...
  • Oh…hi, cousin! Didn’t know you were here! I’ll be, uh, over there with everyone else. Bye!

Yeah, it’s so much fun being the weird one.

I think it has a lot to do with the way us kids are grouped together. Both sides of my family have always had their own little cliques based on siblings, proximity, age, and petty drama. I’m older than most of them, and I live pretty far away. I’m also the lone one raised as an only child, which means I didn’t get the benefits of sibling interaction or anything like that. Many of them attended the same schools and made the same friends – they’ve literally had the identical groomsmen and bridesmaids for their weddings – so they’ve already had years to build strong foundations. As for me, I’m the quiet loner from out of town that shows up maybe once or twice a year. Since I’m the clever and artsy one, I’m apparently too strange for normal interaction. At least some of the kids think I’m cool.

It’s not limited to just family, either. There are people at church who won’t even look me in the eye. I’ve been nearly excommunicated a couple of times. I could regale you with dozens of stories about being the “strange” one at the office. Apparently, bringing my homemade lunch is absurd when I can spend dozens of dollars per week on local fast food. And that there’s something inherently wrong with not owning a smart phone and checking its messages every free second. And that not going out for drinks on Friday nights is a sign of mental instability. Someone incredulously asked what planet I was from. It was very surreal being the only one on the staff who bothered to read books, news, and anything at all. I once had to explain to a college-aged worker that yes, Germany is, in fact, a country.

No, seriously. That conversation happened.

I wish I was exaggerating. I really do. Maybe I really am just too weird for people to accept. I know that I’m part of the problem, too. I’m shy and introverted, so it’s not like I’m going out of my way to talk to people. I should probably cultivate more mainstream interests. It’s just that I’m so much more used to doing and experiencing things alone. It’s not about superiority or anything like that. I just have different interests. And I usually enjoy being the mysterious loner…until the awkwardness sets in. I guess I should keep looking. Maybe I just haven’t found the right place yet.