The underlying chords are warm— enough to remind me of streetlights warding off the darkness of night, but the harmony woven into these basic chords tells a complex story. The notes twirl upward like snowflakes blowing in the wind, the notes going down in brief respite before launching upward towards the sky.
The constant rhythm of the backing chords mixes so well with the conflictingly sorrowful but playful harmony. It evokes a sense of yearning as the tension builds. There is a sense of bittersweet nostalgia, especially for one’s childhood memories. All of these thoughts come from the right hand’s soothingly gentle but firm stance accompanied by the supportive but empathetic left hand. From these two hands weaves the thread by which the music flows.
From within the depths of quiet winter nights, the music suddenly shifts. There is now a bounce of staccato in the left hand with an uplift to the higher register from the right hand. The urgency grows exponentially, reaching a breaking point.
Swinging back and forth, like a pendulum with no center, the hands shakes the keys. Just as it becomes unbearable, the tension disappears and fades away, like a wisp of vapor from a cold breath.
The artist solemnly lands the harmony and cushions the final vibrations, letting the echoes reverberate as he looks at his keys, contemplative and lost in his wonderland.
the Rain, it falls and splatters on my head
tipping and tapping all the way home
as the thunder strikes
the world shakes to presence
i could take the light pole
and waltz my night away
You ask such a simple question. I see the innocence on your face. I wish it didn’t have to be this way, but it is. Why did I shoot? It seems like an easy answer in the language of the prosecutor: I am a tormented veteran who sought out revenge for the hell I’ve been though while at war. I deserve to be locked up because I an too dangerous for the public. From the mouth of my lawyer: I am a severely traumatized man who needs mental health, not the confines of a prison that would only torture me more.
My wife likes to tell me I have a problem. She sounds a lot like my lawyer. She likes to stash away my guns out of fear of what I would do to myself. She wakes up often in the night after the first incident, screaming my name. I would go from my own nightmare into her nightmare, everything merging together in hell. I never know which is worse.
My brother thinks I have some sort of psychopathy. He claims that he saw me torture animals when we were kids. He did not understand that birds are not animals I particularly like, but I never tortured them. I played with them a little rough, but there was never an injury under my watch. I always returned them to the wild when I was no longer playing with them.
My parents probably would say I am a sweet innocent child who does no wrong. As much as they were great parents, I don’t think they knew what was going on behind the scenes. They rather look away, then look behind the stage I dance across everyday.
So why shoot my best friend? The truth is I don’t know. He was the closest person to me—the one person who knew what I’ve been through. I guess I didn’t want them to know. I didn’t want them to try to take away my last redemption...I couldn’t do it after that. Shock got to me.
By the time you read this, my life is over anyways. I got what I deserved in the end for my wicked ways. No one will miss me now. Tomorrow is the day they decide my fate. I can never let them know why.
It’s the end of the line for me, kid. Maybe you can do something more worthwhile than me. There’s still a chance for you. Me? No, there’s no hope for the wicked.
Tell your mom, I love her, and I’ll see her on the other side one day.
Psychosis Part Two
When the leaves start to turn, the dance of the leaves falling remind me of the twirls of ballerinas. Around and around, towards the center of gravity, each leaf floats downwards, pirouetting till the very end. Sometimes in the rays of dawn, the yellow leaves merge into gold. For a brief moment in time and space, the leaves captured my attention. The very next moment, I’m rushing down the sidewalk, feet trying to hold onto shoes slightly too big. Ephemera can be enjoyed, but never too much. Reality beckons one to race against nature, not to enjoy it.
As I stepped onto the bus, I shied away from the eyes of the driver. I fell onto a seat just as the driver started to move, no seconds left to spare for the last unlucky rider. I fumbled through all my items to make sure nothing was lost and swore when I realized I forgot my purse. The guy next to me looked up from his phone and then back down again.
Fortunately, I would not need my purse for the day. I cooked lunch for myself, and it was the third day of the same old pasta. It was made, with the least amount of patience, on Sunday night. I never cook until I got hungry. It’s a habit I should break.
At least without my purse, I could not be tempted by the delicious choices that litter the streets of the city. The sounds of the cars and people around me persuaded me, once, to try an expansive plate of sushi at a nearby restaurant. There’s a certain mood for all kinds of foods, and it seemed like the world was trying to entice me into spending more money than I had.
The bus screeched to a halt. The truck in front suddenly stopped for a child running onto the road. The rubber on the road barely halted the giant beast. My shoulder slammed into the person next to me. I apologize profusely, but the older student is gracious and understanding. The bus driver was relieved she stopped in time, but the annoyance was also obvious. She was already running late. There’s no time in her schedule for an accident.
The parent, seeing that her child was gone too late, was running behind her and scooped her up. The child had already burst into tears at the sight of a large body of metal screeching to a halt. She was still too young to know the consequences, but she intuitively sensed that she had done something wrong.
The mother screamed at her for disobeying her commands, and the child started to sob harder. As I looked out the window, I couldn’t help but think that it was quite irrational for someone to yell harder when the culprit has already admitted fault. No one seemed surprised by her response. There was an air of implicit understanding that a frightened and terrified mother would lose her temper.
I shifted my gaze back towards the front of the bus. Yelling at a child would not change the past nor make the situation any less stressful than it already was. Fear would live in this child’s brain, and perhaps it would save her from the next car, but perhaps it would also contribute to anxiety of being around roads when she grows up. Perhaps there is some rationality in emotion, but does a child need more reason to cry than she already had? Does remembering require emotion?
The bus started to move again. It lurched forward and made its turn. I sat there wondering if an angry response would truly solve any issue better compared to a cool, calm, but stern response would.
The remaining leaves still hanging onto their branches were swaying with the wind when we passed the park. Every sway meant a shower of leaves onto the sidewalks. They went back and forth, like tormented brushstrokes. When I got off at my classroom, I broke out of my thoughts to the sound of wind trying to send me flying. Running with the wind is exhilarating, but fighting against it feels like a face of tiny icicles pressing into your skin.
The temperature of the classroom made my face redder than it already was. I took my seat among the hundreds of seats available. I slowly unpacked my books and slumped into the chair, twirling my pencil. The students next to me were chatting about the coming exam. I swore the conversation was for me based on the way the people would talk. I almost opened my mouth to respond, to say that I knew the exam would be difficult and that I knew that it was all a game in the end, but I stopped myself. I did not want to embarrass myself or be in a risky position talking to strangers that may or may not be possible friends.
So I held my tongue, and grumbled under my breath every time they mentioned something that pertained to me. They complained about the exam and the poverty of teaching. I mumbled in agreement and whispered that I wish there was someone who would have intervened. For the most part, the group did not notice my comments, but occasionally the student closest to me would give me a side glance that may have been a message to me. I never did find out because class began just as I struck up the courage to confront the offender. There was no more time to talk.
Class was a blur of programming that was already familiar to me. The diagram on the board reminded me of neurons. Each arrow drawn from a node, a circle that represents an abstract object that can store information, pointed to another node. Just like how neurons connected to other neurons at the junctions of the synapse and dendrites, so did nodes connect at the junction of arrows.
I wondered if my brain was like the
diagram. Perhaps memory was never retrieved like clothes from storage, but rather, memory retrieval is relived every time it is recalled. Trauma would scrambled the connections in away that each relived memory would be represented by frantic neuronal connections firing in the brain. The neurons wound themselves in a way that the more relived the memory is, the stronger the connection.
Although the classroom was mostly filled with the voice of the instructor, a pencil would fall at the most precise and opportune moment, and the ache and groan of the old building resisting the wind outside would echo across the room, communicating to me something sinister. Each sound confirmed my suspicions. I was very pleased to have made such an eloquent guess about the nature of the brain and memory itself, but there was something wrong lurking about.
When class was over, I stayed in the hall, trying to relax and clueless about my next class. I was conversing with someone, an old familiar friend, when I realized I needed to catch a bus. They were an old friend from the past that came out of no where. I felt discomfort at their presence, but I also felt trapped. The conversation circled around my thoughts about neurons and memory. The friend, despite our interactions in the last, was surprisingly supportive with my ideas and made many sounds of agreement.
Each agreement drew my suspicions even higher, but you got a sense of the enthusiasm by the frequency. Like neurons, the greater the frequency, the greater the strength in response. Perhaps they were really supportive, but I was starting to lose it. The thoughts in my head shifted from one idea to the next.
When I got onto the bus to goto my next class, my friend followed me. They were in my head, taking over my inner voice and telling me about the plot against me by the students that I saw from before. The conversation had shifted suddenly, and I could not stop it. They communed with me through the rise and fall in the rhythm of my surroundings, and I started to become irritated. I needed quiet, and it was clear no one acknowledged this need. Instead of going to class, I made my way to my dorm. I cursed everyone around me for being so rude and demanding in their space.
The bed was comforting, but my friend did not leave me. By now, I was very frustrated by their incessant complaints. Who are you to tell me what to do? I asked into the empty room. The rustling of the vents replied: because I am you.
When I opened my door to the sound of knocking, I became aware that they were watching. The person, dressed in all blue, briefly said hello and then disappeared. Time fluctuated so quickly that night became day outside of my awareness.
I did not know why the voice told me that I was in danger, but I feared that from behind the desk and from behind the windows, the shadows were ready to kill me. I didn’t see them, but I felt their presence. I felt the knife pointed at my throat. When I tried to run for safety out of the building, I was faced with locks I could not solve. I tried so hard to guess the code. Up and down the hall I went, jamming number after number into the device that refused to let me go. How could people not understand the obvious? I was in danger; my heart flew upside down and my friend screamed at me to get up and run. Where was I? The days and nights became one, and they passed on with no end.
The blue dressed person came back again, but the face was not the same. He came and interrogated me, but I lied to protect myself. This was not normal. I laughed to myself.
They gave me things to eat and told me I needed to try this medication. I eventually gave in, horrified at the potential of poison running through my veins and killing me, but exhausted at the thought of fighting them back mentally for another day. Eventually, I was allowed to go.
The bus lurched forward, and I was forced to hold on to the bottom of my seat. The sun was setting, and I needed to get home before the dark came. No children were playing at this time in the evening.
Opening the door, I started to grieve. There was a reality being lost. They had finally left, and I was safe now. I could breath now. I was going to be okay.
The next morning, I woke up.
Death, an old friend
Immortality is often portrayed as a desirable good. Whether it is the search for the philosopher’s stone, a magical panacea to kill age’s mortal wounds, or a mad scientist’s quest for biomedical immortality gone awry, we are all accustomed to movies, TV shows, books, games and other media that show us the follies and benefits of a pursuit for, ironically, putting an end to death itself.
I will not lie in that the concept of death does scare me. The thought of my beating heart slowly ceasing sends chills up my spine. The thought of all that about things fading to black and entering the last great unknown (other than space) is something that I would prefer to leave as a secret for many years to come; however; despite all the fears that death brings up, death serves an important role for me.
Death is an equalizer for all of humankind. It is an equalizer for all living creatures. To die is, in many ways, tied to being human as, currently, it is an experience that everyone must eventually go through alone. To remove it, seems to me, to remove something that relates all of us together. If we were to simply cure all ailments in life and to defeat death, we would be removing one of two things that connects us all. It might seem strange to want to know what grief and loss and suffering feels like and to fully embrace its raw power over us, but I do think that feeling these emotions are viscerally human. They are reminders of the value of human life and the pressing need to stay present with the moment. These emotions are reminders that bind people together in shared suffering. To know death is to know what drives your life. When all physical and material wealth disappears, where does your heart wish to sit?
For me, death and reminders of death, are reminders to be confronted and fully experienced. They help me remember that the most important parts of my life lie in my relationships. If all of life is suffering, then at least it should be suffering in solidarity with others. All the wealth in the world cannot buy relationships that resonate and compels us to grow. Just as the artist sees limitations as a source of great frustrations but also the source of ultimate creativity, so is death the muse and the compass of my life.
Do you love me?
When you pour into my cup
and sing me a song
When you cook the eggs
just runny for me
When you hold my hand
and tell me
“I love you”
Are you saying
With your heart filled to the brim
That what you feel
Is that elusive thing we call
How can I know
That behind your pale eyes
The love you feel is the same as
Does it feel as secure and deep
Formless and unwavering
Absent of “me”
But full of “you”?
Does it bring to mind the same memories?
of each other’s essence,
The difficult nights
The shared pain
Or the embraces we fall into?
Will there ever be a bridge to carry me to your world
Across the void that words and gestures
Leap at but never cross?
Can I ever know the secret to certainty
That the enduring happiness I feel
Is not mine but our’s?
like all beliefs
takes a wisp of faith
to anchor each of us
to our humanity
and ties the islands
of our lives
What is fair?
The definition of fairness often revolves not being biased, lack of discrimination, or lack of favoritism.
Intuitively, fairness seems like a simple and easy to understand concept. If someone wins a race from their own efforts, then they have won “fair and square”. However, if you dig a little deeper, you might point out genetics and upbringing differences that contributed to the outcome. You might argue that life itself granted more benefits to this person that was “biased”.
Someone else may point out that it is impossible to live in a purely fair world in which everyone starts out the same as it would mean requiring everyone to be the exact same copy of each other and growing and training in the exact same conditions, so the definition of fairness should not based on effort, but rather based on something else.
Someone may take this and run very far with this prior argument. They may define fairness in terms of equal outcomes rather based on effort. In a truly fair world, then everyone would win the race.
So who is right? That depends on how you think about fairness. The first argument defines fairness in terms of what influenced the outcome. If an outcome happens that is influenced by forces outside, then it’s really not one’s own effort. The second argument, however, pokes a hole in how we define fairness in terms of influence because there can never be a perfect starting point that makes things purely without advantage. How, then would you define fairness if you can never truly untangle the messes of genetic, socioeconomic, ancestry, and upbringing lotteries from personal effort? How much personal effort is needed? How can we decide what is personal effort and what is not? To what extent is anything personal effort? We can think about clear cases of unfairness, but how about the gray? The third argument abandons this question entirely as it is a lost cause to argue about what is personal effort when it is so deeply entangled with what is not personal effort. Instead, it posits that fairness is about looking at equal outcomes.
The word “advantage“ automatically implies undue benefit that allows someone to achieve an outcome easier than someone else. Abstracting away from this loaded term, we can think of certain circumstances that may have influence on someone that can be seen as unfair.
Considering that we live in such a complex world in which the simple rules that govern fairness are often ignorant of this complexity, one could argue that having certain circumstances that lend greater likelihood of a certain consequence is fair simply because diversity and unfairness is embedded into our universe. Unfairness is fair. No one was intentionally discriminated against, and as a part of an imperfect world, there will always be advantages. One could even argue that these advantages are even a good thing because they imply diversity that otherwise would not be there. Not only would a lack of diversity doom the species evolutionarily, but diversity is to be celebrated as everyone has something advantageous or un-advantageous over others, so everyone can play different roles.
If we define fairness in terms of an outcome in which all are equally likely to reach, then we would be talking about equity. In equity, some individuals would get more benefits to compensate for those innate or circumstantial differences. Fairness in this definition would see any circumstances that leads to a difference in outcome (whether beneficial or not) as a sign of unfairness. This position may seem extreme at first, but consider other scenarios more acceptable to this idea such as securing basic needs like food. Is it fair if someone has a greater advantage in securing the bare necessities because they were born lucky? People who think the world is fairly unfair might say that this is fine, but people who argue for equity see fairness in making sure that all individuals have the bare necessities.
How we define fairness may even need to change depending on the context of the issue we are discussing. While racing may be more compatible with a fair unfair world concept, securing basic necessities may not. There might not be a “right” answer to what constitutes fair because, at its core, it is a moral judgement about what is right and what is wrong. While some contexts are easily seen as unfair or unjust, such as comparing a child to an adult runner, other situations are not so clear. Just like the famous trolley problem, there can be many different interpretations, justifications, and gut feelings that govern why someone may think a situation is fair or not, but there is no “right” answer. It’s an area of gray that underlies most complex moral questions.
As unsatisfying as it is, if you asked me whether or not advantages can be fair in some situations, my answer would be: it depends. Tell me more, and then we can discuss.
Sunday evening. The clouds are hovering low on the horizon. The sun is sinking. And then there’s just us.
Here at the end of the boardwalk, where the wooden boards are chipping, we stood there, waiting.
I placed my hand on her shoulder and felt it. I turned away so those old eyes couldn’t see me.
If by miracle she knew, she didn’t say anything. She just looked at the waves crashing onto the shores and breathed in and breathed out. Breathe in and breathe out. There was not much else that her body could muster.
You know that feeling that you get when you know it’s going to be the final time? It’s not something you become aware of because we like to believe in fairytales that never end. When reality crashes through the delusions we tell ourselves, after the initial shock, it’s a gradual descent of memories and emotions that builds on itself and collapses into a mess that refuses to pick itself up and simply. Stop. Crying.
So there we were, our final trip together. A day not unlike so many others, but punctuated by the end. I already know what’s coming. How can I not know the drowning and the thoughts that haunt you with regrets? How can I not know the sorrow that diffuses into your identity, a constant leech of your happiness, and the hole that oozes of heartbreak no one can heal? How can I not know the hollow support that never fully reaches you but echos just enough to mock you? How can I not know the ones that don’t dare take a step through the door so they don’t see what’s raw? How can I not know the alienation and the isolation, the feeling that no one can understand this pain?
The stars grew brighter as the sun disappeared. It was time to go, and there wasn’t much that could said about what needed to happen. I took her with me. I shut her eyes, and singing softly for her but secretly for me, I said goodbye to this reality one last time.
The emptiness of the universe flies by me, but yet I do not feel lonely. It is here among the vast continents of nothingness that I can so clearly see my flames drawing light onto the canvas of space. In the darkness that surrounds me, I am a herald, my flame, a single guiding light among the widening gulfs. I may be a single piece in the grand physics of the universe, but my magnificence has no end in the empty vacuums of space.
My experiences are numerous and vast. In my travels, I have witnessed the birth of stars. I have seen the explosive creation of light so powerful that I am almost certain I would have been engulfed if I was near. I have also seen the death of my older brothers. Their implosions leaving a scar in time and space, as if its heavy end was already not enough for the universe to bare. I have witnessed floods of diamonds coming down on oceans frozen solid in the dark nether worlds of galaxies. I have observed the tornadoes of fire ravaging barren hell wastelands. I have encountered plains eternally bathed by the flames of their stars, their stone bleached a glistening white so blinding, the reflection could set a planet ablaze. Each new world is another addition to my unique journey from the asteroid belt where I came.
There are very few entities in the entirety of the universe that can compare to my own existence. As I travel further into the void, I know that I will only become more experienced in my travels. When my end finally comes, it will be a well earned one. Until then, you can find me in your night sky when the time is right.
Life and Death
Life and death are seemingly polar opposites of each other. One is celebrated with joy among the pangs of pain. The other is loathed and shatters entire worlds. But although these concepts seem antithetical to each other, perhaps they really give each other meaning.
Would anything have meaning if our time in this world was eternal? Sure, we could find meaning in seeing the birth of stars pass by each millennia, but would a story with no end have its same taste of success or passion or fervor? Would love be so powerful if it were to last forever? What if meaning is derived not from how long it can last, but rather in how precious it is?
Without darkness, there is not light. With no light, there is no darkness. In trying to sustain the unsustainable and to try to prevent the unpreventable, it rips away the boundaries of what forms the essence of our most meaningful concepts. If such is true, then a meaningful life is captured in not how long it is lived, but how much quality can be found in every second breathed. Death may be the end of all things, but it is the ultimate reminder of what truly matters in life.
So take those risks. Dream a little bigger. Climb a little higher.
Every second matters.