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Blogs & Short Stories

Letter to My Younger Self

July 20, 2021 This "letter" was a submission for an anthology series from my alma mater. The theme was "The Light in Darkness"... Show more

Dear Mark,

It’s you. From the future. I know this is going to sound weird; even I am still trying to grasp the complexity of this situation. If you don’t believe my disbelief, look at how I began this letter. How do you even address a former version of yourself? I’m pretty sure you don’t start by calling yourself a dear; that somehow gives off a vibe of conceitedness. Anyway, how’s it going? Ugh, I need to get better at this. I digress.

If this letter finds you correctly, you’ll be about 18, the age that society starts calling you an adult. The age that people are supposed to have the rest of their lives figured out when most haven’t even gotten to the first quarter mark of their lives. People are going to start dumping their expectations of who or what you’re supposed to be in their eyes. Those people aren’t around long enough for you to allow them to have a lasting impact on your future. Along with that nugget of advice, I have a few other things I’d like to get off my chest.

Do not spend so much of your life planning to a point where you allow opportunities to slip away. Of course, setting goals and making plans for where you should be at a certain point of your life is great, but don’t spend so much of your time waiting for some big break or perfect moment; they either won’t come or will arrive in such a form that you will not be able to notice it until it’s gone. Even if you are able to execute on methodical strategies or recognize that big break when it is present, life has a funny way of showing up, seemingly washing away almost everybody’s ‘5 year’ plans. Even if you are at the place where you wanted to be 5 years ago, there is no guarantee you still want to be there once those 5 years have come and gone. Don’t let a job title force you to let go of other interests in your world. Your occupation should be a verb that describes what you do, not a noun that envelops who you are.

When you feel unmotivated, change your environment. Some people will try to pass it off as laziness. They’ll say “you just need to work harder.” Sometimes you’ll even convince yourself that maybe there’s something you could be doing differently. You can run through an array of hypothetical and real-life scenarios, trying to get to the root of what you are doing wrong. Ultimately, when you do things you care about, especially when you’re feeling validated and useful in that situation, motivation comes easily. Dad always says “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Also, listen to your parents more. The delivery may come off as cheesy, overused cliches, but there are truths to (almost) all of them.

There are going to be times when things don’t go your way. It’s going to happen. Don’t let fear of failure keep you from experiencing life in its fullest or force you to settle for less than what you deserve. When you do experience these failures, do not ever allow anyone to diminish the strides you took to better yourself or those around you. Don’t allow yourself to deride anyone else for trying the same things for themselves. You’ll come to find out that those who bring others down further for falling short of the greatness to which they aspire are the same ones that were too afraid to try reaching for their own stars. A majority of life’s experiences are going to be those mistakes you make to help you grow and learn; learning opportunities don’t just disappear after you become an adult. Don’t always be so hard on yourself when they happen. Acknowledge the opportunity to grow, own up to the mishap, and move past it. Time has already done the same thing.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help or accept help from people when they offer. Somewhere down the road our society has developed a mendacity where we sense weakness in those who request any type of assistance. Don’t let false judgments from those with whom you barely have any acquaintance keep you from getting any succor. Even if you don’t necessarily need the help, if you continuously decline their help over and over, they may feel less useful around you or feel like they’re doing something wrong that keeps you from their support.

Consider interactions between humans to be more of a course in chemistry than a social study. Sometimes people won’t agree or even like you. One of the many aspects of life, aside from the ones already mentioned, are the innumerable variables that come into play with every single exchange throughout a human’s time on this planet. Everybody is going to react differently to certain people and situations. Even the same people in the same situation could render different scenarios, as our emotions play so much of a bigger part of our existence than we realize. Our innermost thoughts and feelings seem to tear down and construct new realities with each passing day. When feeling great, we feel like we can take on anything and come out on top. Conversely, when we’re feeling down, some of the simplest tasks can seem like such an obstacle. When we’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, we can’t seem to find that word in our brains that we seem to use every day, and finally come to it while we’re driving home, about 4 hours after the conversation has passed and we don’t even remember what we were even talking about anymore.

It’s still amazes me to this day thinking about the duality between our nature and our own chemical balances or imbalances in the brain. Our environment can have such an effect on our emotions, just like our emotions and how we react to certain circumstances can affect those around us. When reactions become poor, we have an obsession to pinpoint what happened or who was at fault. There are times when it’s just a perfect storm, a combination of people, present emotions, and past experiences that become incendiary.

Regardless of your environment, your emotions, or who you do or do not get along with, always choose to shine bright in your reality and in the realities of those around you. Do not let fear of rejection get in the way of perpetually striving to make a positive impact for everyone you meet. No matter what happens in life, whether in your future or even in mine (even though we’re the same person), don’t let bad experiences and previous heartaches callous you. Some seem to say that we’re living in a dark, dreary world; both in your present and in mine. Be the light that proves them wrong.

Yours Truly,

You

PS: As you can tell, I haven’t gotten any better at addressing myself in letters. Should I have said “You Truly”? Oh well.

PPS: Buy post-it notes whenever you see them. It’s a vicious cycle of redundancy when you can’t remind yourself to get more because you already ran out.

Dreams

July 20, 2021 This short story was a submission for an anthology series from my alma mater. The theme was "The Light in Darkness"... Show more

Everybody has their own intuitions about dreams. Some think they are just a recap of the day you had, creatively melding everything we know, telling a story using recent experiences. Some are lucid dreamers; they are able to dictate almost anything in their dreams. The more experienced lucid dreamers know exactly when they are about to take control in a dream, as they can program themselves to have something out of the ordinary show up in their dreams, notifying them that lucidity has begun. I have been a lucid dreamer for as long as I can remember. Determining reality from fantasy used to be easy for me until late.

Over the past few months, my dreams have seemed to blend in with my state of awareness. There are times when I walk down the street or sit at my desk at work and wonder if I am in a state of awake or if this is just a movie that my brain is showing myself to grasp at the remaining fringes of my sanity. Obviously, when I am flying or hanging out with a dead relative, I can at least count on those times to be my dream state. Anything else, I seem to drift in and out seamlessly, a helpless buoy in the oceans of my mind.

In my most recent dream, I was in the back yard of the farmhouse in which I grew up. Behind me stood the deep-rooted, sturdy childhood home with the white siding and black shutters. Even after a hundred years of being a home for my family’s lineage, it still looked as though it could last another hundred years. To the left was the old barn that sheltered livestock and horses for my family for generations. The stories this large barn could tell, if it could talk, would be plentiful. One of my most memorable stories is standing outside in front of it talking with my dad. I still remember -- as though I am there right now -- my father telling me to do what makes me happy in life, no matter what. As the moon and street lamp were starting to glow in unison and the sun had gone away, we were taking care of the horses for the night, and I recall him turning to me after our discussions of my future. He said “Do what you love in life, and everything else will fall into place. You will understand more once you are older, but life can be far too short and people can deprive themselves of genuine moments of bliss if they live out their existence in false pretenses and false hope” This took me by surprise, as I was always under the impression that he would want me to be a rancher like his father and grandfather. I had asked “What about the farm? You mentioned so many times that I would be in charge of this place after you? What about the tradition?” He paused for a second and then said “I know you aim for something beyond this. I can see it as I watch you grow. Besides, sometimes tradition is just uninhibited peer pressure from dead people.” I chuckled a bit as a building wave of liberation washed over me. The freedom of being able to live my own life, while having my parents by my side, was such an overwhelmingly joyful feeling that unfortunately not enough people are able to experience for themselves. That memory had to be one of my first genuine moments of bliss that my father had talked about that day. In front of me, the sun was setting over the small pond. Painted lines of pink, orange, and blue shined brightly on the water as it mirrored the darkening sky. The cool breeze piercing through the warm air told me it was late summer, quickly turning into fall. I was able to take influence by dreaming a red ball bouncing past me, signifying that I was not awake. This was my go-to technique to determining consciousness, and it seemed to work almost every time. In a moment of impulse and curiosity, I asked myself where the ball goes when I construct it. I have nothing but time, right? I decide to follow it.

The ball continues past the border of the yard and into the neighboring field of wheat. I stay on its track as it continuously bounces through the waving golden straw. Even with the sky progressively turning into a violet and navy blue, keeping track of it becomes easier as it increasingly becomes brighter and brighter, as though the sun has transported some of its brilliance into the ball itself. The ball makes its way through the field of wheat and into a field of corn with stalks towering over me, but I am able to follow it effortlessly. The ball, now looking incendiary, reaches the end of the corn field and stops near a single trailer in the middle of an empty parking lot. I do not recognize this place, and the sky is now a matte black. Where have I wound up? This newly discovered office trailer, illuminated only by a lone street lamp nearby, seems only to contain a large filing cabinet sitting next to an even larger computer monitor according to my view inside the front window. My inquisitiveness led me this far, why not take a look inside?

As I open the trailer door and fumble for a light switch, an overwhelming feeling of unease washes over me. I find the light switch and flip it, only to find that the power does not work. Why do the lights never work in your dreams? In a stroke of brilliance, I remember the glowing orb and bring it inside. I put the ball on top of the filing cabinet and start opening drawers as a spy looking for intel would look in a movie. Oddly enough, intel is exactly what I found. It was a manila folder with big red words screaming CLASSIFIED, but the only thing inside the folder was a scrap of paper with a message that read: “You need to see this.” The other side, unfortunately, did not show any information or data; it only showed letters and numbers:

“m0b51m | 51mul4t3”

After reading the back part of the scrap paper, the filing cabinet vanished, making the glowing ball fall to the ground and shatter. The pulsating brightness that was once contained in the ball expelled and radiated throughout the room, sending enough blinding waves of light and electricity to throw me backwards. As I sat up and the ringing in my ears from the shockwave had started to subside, I can see there is only one light that still remains… from the computer screen that is now turned on.

The humungous screen only showed two textboxes. As I looked at the scrap of paper, surprisingly still in my hand after the blast, I realized these letters and numbers would fit as log in credentials. As I entered the last character into the second textbox, the screen went black. I barely had enough time to realize that this is the most vivid and intense dream I have ever had before the screen had flickered back on with a list of what appeared to be numerous articles about a company called ‘MOBSIM, Inc.’ While skimming through and occasionally clicking on some of the articles, a similar pattern of words and phrases start to show in each one. Quotes like “this highly controversial company…” and “…taking a deep delve into virtual reality and simulations…” start coming to the forefront of my attention. After scrolling to the bottom of the articles page, I noticed the last link was to an email. The email read:

“Members of the Board,

I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime years ago when you hired me; I would also like to thank you in advance for taking the time to read what I have to say.

When I first got hired, Floyd was on the verge of creating simulated life, and I was astounded by his intelligence and acumen. When I was a part of the team that created the Adam and Eve project, the beta simulation tests, I was eager to be his understudy and see what else we could accomplish. I was even his second in command when we launched Project Z, our most polished version of the simulations that were available to the public and financially catapulted this company to what it is now. I still remember how Floyd had the groundbreaking idea to pitch ‘sleep mode’ as a venue in which people could do the impossible, which, as you now know, was just a dwelling for bugs still in the system that developers did not have the time to fix due to the shareholders forcing us with a tight deadline.

Together, we have created worlds, but during immersion into our new project -- which includes fixing aforementioned bugs and allowing our clients to pay for premium, purchasable services such as stronger genetics, higher chances of luck/money, and being able to inject emotions and feelings straight into their system -- it appears as though Floyd is starting to lose grips with his clarity and memory while inside the simulation and making these upgrades. I feel as though his worsening condition could hinder the shareholders’ views on this current venture. He knew the risks of syncing the simulations directly to the brain, which is why he refused to allow anyone else to go in and work on the prototype, but I think with his age and the mental state in which he entered the simulation after losing his father, it is time for him to be pulled out. Should you agree, I believe it is the right time for me to take his place, spearhead the project, and have a press release saying that he has chosen to retire as we have discussed earlier.

Thank you for your time.

- Sloane”

My heart sank. It started thumping so loudly I was able to hear it clearly as the computer screen went black again. Something tells me this time it will not be turning back on. Am I in one of these simulations? Is that the reason for the recent blur between fantasy and reality? Why in the world would I get this information in my dreams? Have all of my dreams merely been release valves to allow for glitches these people were not able to debug in time? This certainly does not feel like any glitches are happening. I have never felt more in the dark.

As I sit alone in the darkness, thoughts racing through my mind, I try to gain control of my dreams. Maybe gaining some sort of lucidity can help me figure out what is happening. However, the only object that keeps flashing in my brain is a boot.

Booting...
Functionality normal.
Extracting attributes from storage S:\MOBSIM\simulate\dreamscape\Floyd\project_phoenix.
Operation complete.

“Welcome back!” Sloane exclaimed with excitement.

“Shut it down, delete every file and remove any trace of this new project ever existing,” I alerted the development team with a stern tone while ignoring Sloane.

“Floyd, what the hell do you mean?”

“I have spent so much of my time constructing and perfecting new lives for people that I forgot about the only one I have that is truly real. I exhausted so much time trying to get things right for simulated worlds and virtual realities, but does it not seem like a way to abandon our own world we have right in front of us? While ice caps are melting and trash piles up in our very real planet, people are looking forward to inhabiting other planets, whether it be Mars or virtually created worlds. When are we going to take a moment of self-reflection and realize that maybe we are the problem? When do we connect the dots that Mother Earth tried to create an entire pandemic to show us that we, in fact, are the virus?”

“What about the board? The shareholders? They will not have any part of nixing the project whatsoever. They are expecting a record year, what are you going to say to them?”

“I am going to tell them that I quit. I am going to say I do not want to spend any more of my life selling false pretenses and false hope to a society that is imploding just for a quick buck.” I look into Sloane’s eyes with vehemence and say “Feel free to continue your petty games and politics, though; it seems I have outgrown them.”

“But we have created entire worlds here. Are you really able to turn your back on the tradition and precedence that we have set within our fields of work?”

I chuckled at thought of tradition and said “Why not? You, as well as this company, have turned your back on me.”

I walked out of the office building and got into my car. As I drove out of the parking lot, out of the headquarters, and out of the bright lights of the city illuminating the darkened sky, I started to wonder about a life inside the simulation. For those in the simulation, would I, the programmer, be their God? I would not want to be recognized as a God of a world so flawed. Thinking about the specifics of the virtual world, the details became somewhat ridiculous over time. Celebrities were put on a pedestal by “regular” people for writing and acting out stories that were ironically made strictly for the “regular” users; some of these best stories were written about what these celebrities truly wanted -- a “normal” life. People would compete in games for a chance at money that the hosts would make in a single episode. CEOs started to make over 200 times more what other workers would make. People allowed their entire livelihoods to be centered around jobs and money so much that those with little or no financial status were not even able to get proper health care. The contrast of success and power in these virtual worlds became unmanageable, and those selected to prevent these sorts of things did not seem to care whatsoever, as they were paid off by the successful and powerful. I mean, what sort of silly simulation would allow such stupid things to happen within a society, made-up or not? I guess that is what happens when you let interns write code because a deadline is staring you down.

I pull into the old childhood farmhouse as the sun is starting to rise above the horizon like a Phoenix setting fire to the darkness. I needed to be here. In my earlier days, I would always go here to remind myself of where I started off. It reminds me that no matter how well I do in my field of work, no matter what kind of technology is being created in a mile-a-minute city, this is a place where time just seems to slow down. You can come out here and just take a second to relax and self-reflect. I will always love this place.

I close the car door and see my dad coming out of the barn. He just got done tending to the horses, I am sure. He sees me, shows his wholehearted smile, and waves me over to greet him. I run towards him when a familiar warmth washes over me.

Confirm purchase? [Yes] | No
Bliss.

Facing Adversities 2.0(20)

March 31, 2021 As we get into full swing of the new year and things are starting to open back up... Show more

As we get into full swing of the new year, vaccines are being distributed, things are starting to open back up, and life is starting to show a glimpse of what it used to be like before the pandemic, I'm still here trying to discern what. the hell. just. happened.

I think we can all agree, 2020 was a loaded burrito of anguish, frustration, hopelessness, and straight up bad times. It also forced us to slow down, take a break, and reflect on our daily routines. It showed us areas of our lives upon which we can improve as well as the things we're doing correctly. It made us realize how therapeutic something simple like spending a day with family and friends can be. We saw how fragile our lives and livelihoods are and how quickly our entire world can be turned upside-down. We also saw how quickly humankind can adapt to hardship.

One of the biggest adaptations I've seen throughout the last year was the multitude of companies, big and small, realizing how important it is to implement current technology in this day and age. I knew I would be asked to create more online systems for my employer to keep up with the need for virtual communication, and as I added those systems, we were met with good feedback and even better web stats. I've also heard a lot of businesses bring their work online while employees were asked to work remotely, and it's worked so well for some that their seemingly temporary situations are starting to turn into permanent work-from-home jobs and office spaces are being sold because of the convenience and cheaper costs.

These kinds of transitions are much less likely to be seen unless push comes to shove and change becomes a necessity. Even some of the smaller things that people were able to do to find creative workarounds to recent perils was a true testament to how resilient we are as a species.

"You get out what you put in"

March 4, 2021 None of us would be where we are now without other human beings... Show more

None of us would be where we are now without other human beings. We would not be able to walk or talk without learning and observing from those around us and mimicking their actions. I would not have been able to write this without the help from teachers and my parents teaching me how to write, just like you would not have been able to read this if it weren’t for those in your life.

Throughout our life, we join social groups and those social groups form a life of their own, no matter how big or small the assembly of people is. Within these groups, trends are set. Cultures and traditions are made. Random tidbits of information are dispersed. An entire environment is created, an ambiance comprised of each individual within the constructs of your conglomerate. Oddly enough, our very way of thinking sometimes differs as we go from one group to another.

If you’ve heard the saying “you get out what you put in,” you’ve probably heard it said in a way that describes the hard work and effort that’s needed to have the life we all want and deserve. While this is true, this saying can also be accurate when it comes to our attitudes towards our environment. If you go into a situation looking for the worst or interact with others seeking the nastiest qualities about them, chances become exponentially higher that you are going to find them. If you experience your life with more optimism and try connecting with people with more empathy and patience, well, you’re still likely to get hurt, but that likelihood does go down at least. The demeanor you radiate to those within your environment is going to be the same energy you’re going to get from them. If it’s one of vileness and toxicity, who are you really hurting but yourself in the long run?

Another hinderance of our small ecosystems happens when there isn’t enough diversity. I’ve heard people complain that to them, diversity and inclusion is just a fad or trend. To me, however, it’s a necessity to maintain relevance. While it’s nice having likeminded individuals surrounding you, there’s a certain point where moderation dissolves into disproportion and people fall into a rut where they are only hearing what they want to hear and anyone who thinks differently is wrong without any further context or questioning. That’s when vileness and toxicity start to rear its ugly head.

Essentially, (in most cases) we are the ones in charge of our own environment. If you decide to stay in an environment of negativity, that despondence and despair will burn through you like acid. If you’re keeping yourself in a position where you’re always hearing just one side to every story, you’re doing yourself as well as those around you a disservice.

Facing Adversities

April 7, 2018 We all go through a time or two in our lives where we have to face adversities; it’s one of life’s few certainties... Show more

We all go through times in our lives where we have to face adversities; it’s one of life’s few certainties. In most cases, we as social beings are able to find a group of likewise individuals, who share these adversities with us, and are able to go to this new found group for support and questions you may have. There are times, however, that this is not an option. Whether it may be you’re too proud to ask for help, or can’t find those facing the same issues as you, there are times where we have to face these obstacles alone. In my opinion, these can easily be some of the harder problems we face in our short time here; because these problems are the ones where we have to learn and grow on our own, without the possibility of asking those who have faced this issue before. These can also be the times in which we grow the most.

For me, the biggest adversity was being unnaturally short, or so I thought at the time. To give you an idea of how this affected me growing up, when I was 16 and got my license, I was 4’6; four feet, six inches tall. I always dismissed it, thinking I would grow eventually, but it wasn’t until I was 17 when I finally found out something was wrong. That was when they did an MRI at St. Louis Children's Hospital and found out that at the base of the brain, where the pituitary gland should be, there was no gland there. I was born without one. For the next four years, I had to take daily shots of Human Growth Hormone and then monthly shots of Testosterone to simulate the glands that weren’t getting the instructions to release the glands' hormones naturally. To this day, I still have to apply Testosterone gel daily.

This is an odd, rare condition, so it's hard asking those around you for help when they have little to no idea of what is even going on in the first place. Even doctors that I've talked to seem to have very limited knowledge on the subject. I did a lot of research of the condition online, and most of the stories I’ve seen were much worse, as a lot of those without the gland don’t even have the motor skills fully developed to function without assistance.

In an interview, I was asked “What would set you apart from other applicants?” The first thing that comes to mind is obvious… facing adversities. Being able to face something that very few people have had to go through has given me a lot of strength, in my opinion. While the condition in my life could’ve been much worse, it’s something with which I had to learn to be flexible. I had to learn to improvise within an instance. I learned to take something that can be considered a burden and used it to become a more patient and resilient person. It taught me that it’s not what you have; it’s what you can do with what you’ve been given in life.

Ready for the Next Chapter

March 19, 2018 As they called my name at the graduation ceremony at my now Alma Mater, Full Sail University, so many things were running through my mind... Show more

As they called my name at the graduation ceremony at my now Alma Mater, Full Sail University, so many things were running through my mind. It’s hard to keep track of it all as it all happened in an instant, but the most prominent thought in my brain was “don’t trip.”

When it was all over, I returned to my seat (without tripping) watching other graduates walking up to get their diplomas, and I was so relieved to finally achieve my Bachelor’s degree. A little over 3 years of going through school full-time while working over 50 hours some weeks, while volunteering at my favorite nonprofit (Chakota Therapeutic Riding Center – working with the children and maintaining the website), and while freelancing for clients on the side can seem like an eternity some days. Now that I look back, however, I’m glad I was able to take on these tasks and come out unscathed.

Doing this all while taking an accelerated Web Design and Development program, I was able to prove to my peers, to my friends and family, to my potential clients or future employers, and most importantly – to myself, what I’m capable of accomplishing. I can take on a pile of responsibilities assiduously and I can succeed with my immense self-discipline, attention to detail, and composure. That’s enough of patting myself on the back for one day.

Now two weeks after graduation day, I look back at the past few years and it didn’t seem long at all. In fact, I am kind of grateful for the times I was up until 6 am finishing my C# programming assignments. The nights I could only see lines of code in my sleep when I couldn’t figure out an issue with my PHP project. The times I zoned out at my job trying to improve my Node back-end server application. These are the strenuous experiences I had, some of which made me question my decision in this field, but these also shaped me into the Developer that I am today. These experiences are also hopefully the foundation upon which I can build a lucrative and flourishing career in Web Development. Looking forward, I am ready for the next chapter in my career, and I hope you are all ready for me as well.