Friends and Challenges

This is an essay I wrote for my English class this year in college. I wrote it because Adam was my best friend, and I’ll probably never have one as good again, so I’ll do anything I can to see that he is remembered, and that he did not suffer for nothing.

I believe friends are the people who challenge you. I met my best friend, Adam, over a game of ping-pong when we were both attending college at Bob Jones University in South Carolina. I had just finished playing a game with a friend who then had to leave and go do other things, and Adam was playing a game with someone else.

He was almost six feet tall and gangly with short, buzz-cut hair and an intense look on his face. When his game ended (he won) and the person he was playing wandered off, I suggested we play a game.

While we played, we talked, and found out that we had a lot in common, and that we both cared about analyzing and thinking deeply about things, even silly things like a game of ping-pong. He beat me in that game, and in many others; although, I got in my fair share of wins over the years.

I only stayed at Bob Jones University for one semester, returning home to my family in Georgia without telling any of my friends at the school that I was leaving. But Adam tracked me down even though I’d left no contact information, and called me at home to find out why I wasn’t there when the semester started.

We stayed in touch, mainly through my almost monthly visits to the school so I could see friends. During that time, Adam and I would usually spend entire Saturdays hanging out, wandering around the campus and talking.

One day not long after his graduation from Bob Jones, Adam called me and asked if I wanted to move to Kentucky with him. I didn’t have to think about it long. I was tired of living at home with my parents, and I felt like my life was going nowhere.

I learned a lot of things in Kentucky, many of them Adam taught me. One of the things he taught me was that I could write. While living in Kentucky, I decided that I wanted to be a fiction author. Yet I didn’t write much. I would have ideas for stories, but I would never do anything with them.

Adam noticed, and he asked me, “If you really want to be a writer, why aren’t you writing?”

I didn’t have a good answer apart from “lack of motivation.” A lot of friends would have let the conversation drop, but Adam kept digging. He asked questions and listened to my answers.

In the end, we started a writing project together, a collaborative story, even though he had no real interest in being a fiction writer. We lived together in Kentucky for two years. We had a lot of good times, and a few bad ones. I wouldn’t change a minute of it.

After Kentucky, we parted ways for a time. He got married (I signed his wedding certificate) and then he moved to California with his wife. A few months later I moved back to Georgia to live with my parents again, but Adam and I stayed in touch.

He called me when he found out he had Lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes). I didn’t get to visit him during that time, because the cost of a trip to California was just too high for me to afford. But the treatment went well and his Lymphoma went into remission. His wife divorced him right after he got out of the hospital, before he was even fully recovered from the treatments.

About a year and a half later, a month after his last alimony payment, he found out he had Leukemia, probably caused by the treatments for the Lymphoma.

He sought treatment at the cancer center at Duke Hospital in North Carolina, where his parents live. He went through months of chemo and radiation, and while he was at Duke I was able to visit him. I was with him in the hospital when they started the chemotherapy for the Leukemia. We watched the first five episodes of “House of Cards” in the hospital room together.

After several months, his Leukemia went into apparent remission, and he returned to San Francisco to recover and work. But the cancer came back quickly, and the only option for saving his life was a bone-marrow transplant. He got the transplant done at Duke, and when he told me about the treatments later and what he went through, I was appalled at the torture his body had endured.

The last time I visited him, we sat at a pizza place in downtown Burlington, NC, and talked about math and physics. That conversation made me realize I could understand math concepts better than ever before, and I made my decision to return to Computer Science.

For a month after that, Adam and I spent almost every night playing computer games together online, and talking about software engineering. He designed programming problems for me to solve, and walked me through the parts I couldn’t figure out.

One night we were playing a game together and he mentioned that the next day he was going back into the hospital to have some tests done. His body was having worse symptoms of rejection, and they needed to find out what was going on. I assumed he would be out again in a week with some minor modification to his drug regimen.

Instead I got a Facebook message from Adam’s brother-in-law telling me that Adam was dying. I wanted to drive the four hours to North Carolina that night, but Tim (the friend) told me they were only letting immediate family visit anyway, due to the risk of infection.

Five days later Adam said, “I love you,” to his sister, then closed his eyes for the last time. He died of liver failure when his body finally gave up trying to process the poison that had been pumped into him over the last four years. I helped carry his coffin to the grave at his funeral three days later.

Not a single day goes by when I don’t think about him, miss him, and wish I could talk with him. Some days I feel like giving up college completely, because it doesn’t seem worth it to become a software engineer and not be able to share it with him.

But I know that he would want me to succeed, to grow, to be happy, and to live. So I do. I try harder than I would try if I were just working for myself, because I feel that whether or not there’s a God or an afterlife or just nothing, Adam is still out there somewhere cheering me on. Friends challenge you.

Rock Control

Hey everyone. This is the part of the blog where I TAKE ON THE ISSUES!

By, “THE ISSUES” I mean anything that has something to do with current events, or news, or people I know, and which for some damn reason I care about.

The first issue I plan to “take on” (read, talk about until I get tired and go to bed) is Gun Control. This is a big issue. Not because of how scary it is, and yes, I agree it is scary. It’s big because its roots go back to the very beginning of humankind’s emergence onto this crazy rock.

The first major problem with the current gun control issue, meaning the arguments that are happening in the major media, and ALL OVER the internet, is that both sides are full of extremists and reactionaries. Even this post is reactionary. It’s a reaction to all the stupid shit people scream at each other when they are frothing at the mouth over gun control.

Here’s the thing: Violence is startling, scary, and, well, violent. The only people who don’t react strongly to violence probably have serious mental problems. Particularly when that violence happens to you or someone you are close to. A strong, emotional reaction is not just expected, or acceptable. It’s indicative that you are a human.

Legislation shouldn’t be based on strong emotional reactions. Legislation is about everyone, not just one person, not just one perspective, however emotionally logical or human.

Because Gun Control is such a complex issue, I want to cover it thoroughly. Probably over the course of several posts. This post is the beginning, so I will start at the beginning. What makes us react to gun violence so strongly, one way or the other? Pain, fear, anger, outright terror, completely reasonable caution, a desire for freedom. The short story: Guns Are Scary.

Guns are scary because aside from nuclear weapons and remote assault drones (which allow the killer to push a button and completely disconnect from the humanity of the killee, not a word, I know), they are the easiest way to kill other people.

Guns are, like all weapons innovations throughout history have been, an escalation, a reaction. They increase the ease of violence. I’m going to talk later about why that’s a good thing in some cases, and not always the bad thing it seems to be. First, let’s go down in history.

I’m fairly certain that the first murder was when some dude strangled some other dude to death with his bare hands. At least, it is if you believe in science. If you believe in the Bible, which I don’t really, then the first murder was accomplished with a rock. Probably something like this: Cain v. Abel

Which undoubtedly lead to the first murder investigation: Cave Police

A person can kill another person with their bare hands. But it’s difficult (for most of us). It’s personal. You have to be pretty damn committed to the idea of staring into the other person’s eyes as they slowly die to death in front of you to do it. Unless you’re a Navy SEAL, in which case you do it from behind… was that in bad taste? Oh well.

In other words, killing with your hands takes a lot of… effort. Physical, emotional, mental. It also pretty much requires you to be stronger than the person you’re killing.

So if you’re weaker, what do you do when someone stronger threatens you with violence? You cave. You give in. You do what they want. You beg for mercy. Or, you get a rock. Now if we’re talking Cain and Abel, I think Cain just went for a rock right away because he didn’t want to break a nail.

The rock is an escalation. Rocks have to be respected, because even a relatively weak person can kill a strong person with a big rock and sufficient preparation. It follows that once someone gets killed with a rock, the people who see it happen will decide that something needs to be done about rocks. This brings on the invention of the mighty stick.

So, think the cavepeople, let’s put a rock ON a stick. Genius. Now that tribe across the river won’t screw with us. All they have is rocks. We have rocks on sticks. Some of them are even sharp!

The tribe across the river, though, realize their vulnerability (probably by dying a lot) and invent the Even Sharper Rock on an Even Longer Stick.

You can pretty much extrapolate from there. Every single damn weapon since then has been just another way to put a better rock on the end of a longer stick. Even guns, missiles,  nuclear weapons, follow the rock-stick formula. It’s just that the stick has been replaced by powerful inertial forces and chemical reactions, and the rock has been replaced by… better rock. (Well… metal. But they FIND it in rocks!)

Every new weapon, EVERY SINGLE WEAPON, has been invented in the interest of the weaker person killing the stronger. The prey turning on the predator. And these things are necessary for the following reason: humans are full of violence, rage, pride, cowardice, envy, lust, and generally all the other “sins” we all hear about.

This will not change.

Maybe, with the help of intelligent laws and progressive ideas, we can start to make it more and more unacceptable for people to prey on each other. But until the “singularity” comes, and we are all combined with our computers and ascend to quasi-godhood in the far reaches of space, violence will be a human problem.

It’s easy to ignore most of the time. Most of us, most of the time, don’t get assaulted, or shot at, or hit with rocks. The news, of course, tells us that violence is happening constantly, but it’s all far away. Except when it’s not.

The conclusion of this post, though not of the discussion on Gun Control, is that weapons are a terrible necessity.

Personally, I long for a time when swords were ubiquitous, and guns had not been conceived. I wish the world were full of honorable warriors who would challenge each other to duels, rather than killing thousands of badly armed peasants in pointless struggles over a field or two.

I consider it lucky that we live in a world where we can protest about guns. Where we can scream at the government, rail against laws we hate, and generally make a lot of noise about weapons. Please remember that the world used to be a place where if we screeched about Sword Control, we would get our heads chopped off. Or at best we’d get whipped by the Duke and sent back into the fields to pick the wheat. Unless you were the Duke, in which case, you asshole!

There’s probably a sequel to Fifty Shades of Grey in the above somewhere, but I won’t write it. “Whipped By the Duke” could be a great romance novel. TOO BAD IT SUCKS!


Brief Notes on Essay Writing

On Friday, my girlfriend, who is studying for the SAT a little late in life, asked me to help her recall/relearn how to write formal essays, of the 5 paragraph variety.

I wrote her a couple of pages of notes that turned out to be fairly succinct and apparently helped her figure it out.

Just in the interest of posterity, and helping anyone who randomly wanders across this page and also needs to write an essay, I’m going to post those notes here:

Notes on Essay writing:

1. Thesis Statement

1a. Beginning paragraph in which you elaborate on your Statement/concept.

2. Topic Sentence — present your first “proof” or argument supporting your Thesis Statement.

3. More proof/argument. Each of these three middle paragraphs should, ideally, be like a mini-essay with its own sub-thesis statement and its own sub-conclusion that point the paragraph at the original Thesis Statement.

4. More proof/argument.

5. Conclusion – reiterate your Thesis, then tie together your arguments, pointing out how they “prove” your Thesis.

The following is a tiny example essay about thesis statements.

A strong essay must begin with a strong thesis statement.

A weakly stated opinion, even if it is backed by facts and reason, is easily ignored.

A strong thesis statement will grab the attention of the reader and allow credible proof to be presented in a compelling way.

The strength of an essay depends on strong arguments, and a strong thesis statement paves the way for excellent arguments.

The conclusion should revisit the thesis without repeating it, and a strong thesis always bears revisiting. The thesis represents and implies the heart of the essay, and beginning with a strong thesis is the only way to give an essay the foundation it needs to find its strength.

I said it was short. Anyway, some final basic but important advice about how not to get a terrible grade on a school paper: do not speak in the first person (don’t use the word “I” or “me” or in fact refer to yourself at all.)

Don’t refer specifically to the reader, “you,” “yourself,” “your,” anything like that, and finally, don’t refer to a generic unnamed person, “one,” “oneself,” “someone,” etc.

A formal, school-style essay should be written in third person, be made up primarily or entirely of statements (avoid rhetorical questions!) and not use nearly as many commas as I do when I’m writing other stuff. Notice how the essay I put in this post above, though it sounds instructional, does not take the form of person-to-person advice. I do not say, “If you want a strong essay, you need to have a strong thesis statement, or your teacher will get bored instantly and stab out their eyes with a knitting needle.”

The primary effect of “formal” writing is that it does not refer to a person in any way unless you’re specifically talking about or quoting a person, and citing specific references at the end of the essay. That’s usually a whole other thing than your average formal essay, however. I think they call those “research essays” and I stay away from them as much as I can because I hate research. Especially research about any topic an English teacher happens to pick for me to research, because usually that topic is not “rockets and/or explosions” or “sexy women” or “weird animals”. Usually it’s more like “social trends among the working class in the 21st century.” Although since I’m part of the working class, that one would be a gimme.

“Mostly they hate people even more now.”

I would fail that class.