Fear Of The Finish Line

finish-line

Not long ago, I had a strange epiphany-like moment. It happened when I was mulling over precisely why it was that I haven’t been writing fiction like I used to.

In the not-so-distant past, I eagerly strode out of my home to one of a myriad of cafes within walking distance and would sit down for hours at a time, drafting, editing and scrivenizing raw prose. Sometimes it was arduous, and sometimes it flowed like a cluster of frog eggs from your adolescent hand during a hot summer’s day.

How’s that for a visual?

So naturally, life distractions happen. Every writer’s bane is the internet itself, for all its usefulness. I have YouTube channels I like to follow that release daily content, all manner of websites full of interesting articles, and of course Wikipedia. Perhaps worst of all is Facebook, the ultimate time sink.

In case it may interest you, I’ve recently restarted using an app for Google Chrome called StayFocusdUsing this deceptively nifty little extension, you can limit how long you browse certain webpages. If you’re anything like me, and you easily lose track of time while browsing or “doing research,” it’s a great tool to help limit the internetical meandering.

By the way, no one gives me anything for this little endorsement.

Anyway, throw in any excuse with which you are most familiar. I have responsibilities, I don’t have enough time, I have a boy/girlfriend, I have appointments, deadlines, — whatever. It’s easy to fall into the trap of telling one’s self these things, as though to excuse one’s self from actually working on one’s personal projects. The world is full of distracting things.

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Turns out I had the time, and still do, occasionally, have an extra hour or two between busy-ness and business. Granted, I have been monumentally distracted, but had I focus, I could turn those spare moments into productive writing time. I will gladly and freely admit that I am a fundamentally lazy person, but have endeavored to change my behavior to become more productive.

It has worked. Over the course of the last few years, I’ve effectively turned myself into the type of person that gets extremely antsy and anxious if I’m idle for too long. I’ve got more projects in my life now than I know how to complete. As far as writing is concerned, this includes:

A short story for my writer group, the Sky Writers, a short story for Masque & Spectacle (Vietnam Edition), any number of whimsical blog posts, and, of course, the all-consuming, all-powerful novel project.

The truth is I have had the time to work on any number of these. Energy, on the other hand, is arguable. Willpower has waned. So I’ve been getting very introspective, repeatedly asking myself the fundamental question: Why?

I, like many writers, think we need (or possibly delude ourselves into thinking we need) to be in the right state of mind in order for our time to be conducive to creativity. In other words, lots of us just sit around and wait for inspiration to strike us, which I’ve come to believe is most certainly the wrong way to do things. I hear it all the time, and the result is always the same: they aren’t actually writing anything.

Steven King, a man I cite often here, is a notoriously prolific writer, and in the book I cite just as often (if not more so) than the man himself, On Writing, King makes it clear that you can’t wait for the muse; you have to train your muse to know where to find you. That means making the habit of setting aside time, honoring it, and sitting in front of a notebook or a screen with a pen in your hand or a keyboard under your fingers. Make it habit. Personally, I like to have a cup of ice coffee nearby.

Elizabeth Gilbert makes a counter-intuitive point to the idea of “your elusive creative genius” in her TED talk. This is among the top TED Talks that have left the greatest impression on me.

So even while knowing these things (even though I haven’t been putting them in practice quite as often as I would like, or would otherwise have you think, considering the preachy nature of this blog post), I still found myself asking the question: Why?

Then it hit me.

I think I am afraid of completing the novel.

Schmendrick

Bear in mind that, once finished, this would be my first, and were I to buckle down and write the last damn final chapters, the manuscript could be completed in something like a week or two. You would think that with the end in sight, I would be rushing to the finish line, but as it happens, I think I discovered an unexpected hurdle.

You see, I’ve been working on this thing for years. It’s conception first came about like the result of a prom night gone wrong, and about as long ago. That’d put the earliest bits of development around ten years before this post — but I’ve only recently taken my writing seriously as of about two or three years ago. Before then, my stories and ideas were but musings of an idle mind. Since then, the writings have taken on various incarnations; the novel I started is far different than the novel that will be finished, as it has been scratched and started anew several times.

In fact, almost nothing in common with the original story remains, except a slight sense of familiarity. It’s like an old computer you’ve had for ages, but you’ve gone about upgrading the hardware and software over the years. At which point does it, or did it ever, cease to be the same computer you started with?

The point of all this is this:

I discovered in myself that I might have actually fallen in love with the romantic ideal of “working on a novel,” rather than actually finishing it.

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The project has been in development for so long that more than once I’ve actually lost sight of the end! I mean sure, as per the reassurances of my writer-peers, I can and will always get involved in the next book.

Like I said, there’s a series planned. Standalone fantasy books are an excellent gulp of fresh-air, but that’s not what this particular story arc is.

The problem isn’t inspiration, or a lack of time, or even being in the dark about what will happen next in the manuscript. Usually what it comes down to is forcing myself to a place where the muse will find me: in a cafe somewhere, wearing giant headphones and with one or two drained coffee cups nearby, my laptop open and my notebook at hand.

I’m in fact emulating that as I put the final touches on this post.

Swallowing that strange thing that I can only describe as a fear of finishing.

Have you ever reached the finale of a game you’ve loved? Or a T.V. series? Or even a sequence of books or movies? There is always this sense of emptiness afterward. I’ve felt this after turning the last page of a few books, but in fact I’ve felt it strongest at the end of an anime or a classic JRPG of old.

Some of the most influential games for me were Final Fantasy 6, Final Fantasy 7, Chrono Trigger. Mario RPG was one of the greats, as well. Each of these games I had beaten several times, but the first time I saw the credits roll, I sat and gazed at all the foreign names, letting the magnitude of my experience sink in.

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I can even remember a sense of depression after seeing the credit rolls halt, and reading a final “~FIN” or “The End” or “Thank you for playing.”

And writing about this has actually inspired me to dig up and start a new one. I haven’t played a JRPG in years; perhaps it’s time I see what all the hallabaloo is about Earthbound.

It ended. It was really over. Sometimes there would be looping music. Sometimes dead silence. Always stillness.

Now what?

book-hangover

Substitute the word “book” with “RPG” and it rings just as true.

 

Every now and then, I regain the encouragement or wherewithal I need to remember my purpose. I swear, half the things I write about on this blog are about why I’m having trouble writing and what I do in an attempt to combat that. But I wonder how many others ever have felt this same anxiety?

The truth is that once I am completed with one novel project, there will always be another one to write, whether it’s a sequel or a separate piece.

It’s just merely a matter of getting over myself in order to write the blasted thing.

Funny how we are our own worst critics, our biggest hurdles, and our own only hope.

Do let me know whether you’ve experienced anything like this in the comments.

~~~

This post’s music comes from an OverClocked Remix of Final Fantasy’s Prelude, a part of the Balance and Ruin Remix Album for Final Fantasy 6. It never fails to remind me of my dreams as a writer.

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Three

I really like the number three.

Not in that obsessive way, but rather in that geometric and philosophical respect that seems to be overlooked all too often.

Why not the number two, you ask? We are, after all, a dichotomically inclined race of creatures. And we get our natural disposition towards two’s, or halves, or opposites, from a variety of things found in nature.

This post is something of an essay, so here’s some carefully chosen music for you to enjoy.

Dividing something in half is easy for our brains to understand; I remember a High School math teacher of mine (that terrifying old woman with arm hair like a gorilla and a small jar on her desk with a plaque reading “Ashes of the problem students”) once informing us that human brains are incapable of performing equations of more than two sets of numbers at a time.

Which, in fact, happens to be the very definition of an equation.

Our world consists of two very important celestial bodies: the Sun and the Moon. Our very race is composed of two biological genders (I’m not talking about the sexuality spectrum). And we see this translate into a lot of our thinking and impressions on the world — bicycles, binomial nomenclature, a binary computing system that will one day rule every aspect of life as we know it, a bipartisan government (in some places anyway) and of course the Yin Yang.

We have phrases like “On the other hand…”, “Two horns on the same goat,” and “…on the flip-side.” Two comes very naturally to us.

Even in Fast & Furious 7, the character Ramsey, in her monologue about why she trusts ‘the family’ inside a span of approximately seven seconds, explains that:

“Life is binary, zeros and ones. Only two things keep a group like this together, fear or loyalty. And I don’t see a drop of fear among you guys.”

Sounds cool, but I believe anyone who seriously thinks of life as “binary” needs to rethink the meaning of the word analog. I find programmers, and otherwise people I’ve met with a low E.Q., tend to think this way.

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Therefore, as a philosophical argument, I posit that Three is a superior number, and not in that simple additive sort of way.

Rather, I speak more of the triangle, and it’s influences on my own philosophy of life, as well as for writing.

Triangles form the strongest geometrical shapes, and as such are used in a lot of architecture and design. Our visual spectrum is composed of three primary colors (and of course the three secondary colors). In English, we have phrases like “Two’s company, three’s a crowd,” or “Three strikes and you’re out,” and even Stephen King, a man I end up quoting often on this blog, said in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft —

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, shame on both of us.”

I didn’t become a big fan of the English Language until later in my life though, nor did I ever really care about baseball, or crowds, or architecture. My influences for the number three came from a few eclectic sources. Most from my youth, but shaped over the course of my life.

The first of which you might recognize if you have any passing familiarity with games.

  • 1/3 The Legend of Zelda series

The Legend of Zelda is easily one of the most iconic Nintendo franchises, though I have admittedly played none of the games after Ocarina of Time. I have, however, been able to follow along many of the games thanks to such notable internet personalities as EgoRaptor (who provides an entertaining and interesting argument between which is the better Zelda game; Ocarina of Time and Link to the Past) and PeanutButterGamer, creator of Zelda Month. Those of us in nonGamer meatspace call it November.

By no means are these people self-described experts at the games. But they do love them and they’re often a joy to watch.

In any case, the notable theme of the Legend of Zelda, first introduced via an unskippable cutscene in Ocarina of Time, describes the creation of Hyrule through the efforts of three goddesses. As such, you see this theme, symbolized in the series throughout as a set of golden triangles, and it is a prominent motif in various structures, symbols, and clothing fashion throughout the mythos.

The three goddesses, their work in creation of the world completed, retired to the Sacred Realm, the Triforce being the mark of their departure. There are a number of recurring themes throughout the series, but I’m only going to linger on the prominence of triangles, and threes.

Perhaps most notable are the symbolic virtues bestowed upon the three primary protagonists of the games – Wisdom, Power and Courage.

The titular Princess Zelda reincarnates with the blessing of Wisdom.

The reincarnating antagonist, Ganondorf, returns with the blessing of Power.

And you, the recurring and reincarnating Hero of Time (canonically named Link, though you can of course name yourself whatever you want at the title screen), are always given the blessing of Courage.

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Trivia: Something a lot of people don’t know is that the Triforce symbol is also the clan insignia of an ancient samurai clan known as the Hojo. Being a game of Japanese make, this should be no big surprise.

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But if the samurai origins is any surprise to you, check out the origin names of companies like Mitsubishi.

Zelda, with her wiseness, is often depicted as a clairvoyant, or at the very least, a seer, and if she isn’t a recurring damsel in distress (a theme that’s been diminishing in Fantasy for a while), she’s a source of guidance and direction to the player.

Ganon, a man always described as evil and ambitious, uses his power to bid for dominance of the world, with varying degrees of success. Like most cookie-cut villains, he hasn’t much to which we can relate, and without much effort he is quickly designated as the source of all problems in the world and must be eliminated.

Link, with his courageousness – cunningly exemplified through a thirst for adventure and curiosity to explore a fantasy realm on part of the Player – is stoically able to delve into dungeons and temples the likes of which most mortals simply have no business visiting.

Zelda, Link and Ganon are characters that always return in nearly every Zelda game incarnation. Just once, I’d like to see them switch it up a little – Ganondorf with wisdom, the Player Character as Zelda with courage, and Link (as an antagonist) corrupt with power.

In any case, everything in these games is centralized around this ‘Theme of Three” (along with a fair share of delightful geometric patterns in the clothing), and I find it satisfying on a number of levels.

For whatever reason, this influenced me at an early age to possess an interest and respect to the triangle.

  • 2/3 The Dark Crystal

The Dark Crystal was another huge influence on my interest in the number three. Anyone who has seen this, especially at a tender, malleable age like I did, can imagine why.

Tell me this isn't mystical as shit.

Tell me this isn’t mystical as shit.

The world of Thra, is a fantasy realm with three suns. As such I hesitate to refer to this place as an actual planet, as opposed to a plane, which certainly doesn’t have to follow the same rules as our world.

Anyway, one doesn’t actually see a prominence of Three, as a recurring theme, throughout that film, and being a stand-alone fantasy, there’s a fair amount of exposition but they don’t really get that deep. It’s pretty clear that the movie’s climax is all about it though – The Great Conjunction, when the triple suns become all conjuncticated.

“When three shines the triple sun…”

I remember reading in a book called Jim Henson: The Works, a sort of “making of” for various Jim Henson productions – including but not limited to the Dark Crystal – they mentioned something about how the presence of three suns would shape every aspect of lifeforms in a world, including their culture and thought.

I wish I could find the original quote. But you get the idea; while we humans on Earth very often and easily think of things in sets of two, imagine an entire realm where thinking in trinary terms comes just as natural?

The events of the story are set forth by the last Great Conjunction (about one thousand years before the movie starts, as the next one is imminent), when a race of all-powerful creatures known as the Urskeks were divided into two separate other races, each race representing one half of their collective personality; the cruel Skeksis, and the gentle mystics. It’s not until the end of the film that (spoiler) the Dark Crystal is healed and the “two halves” are reunited to form the Urskek race once more.

This is arguably a powerful play on the Number Two (two halves of one race, after all, and the creators were no doubt into Taoism), but the triple-sun thing is a recurring event on that world, with every Great Conjunction every nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine, and one years, there is some kind of big event that always happens.

Prophecies and cycles are fun toys to play with in fantasy.

  • 3/3 Something My Teacher Taught Me

I once had a teacher who I have long since forgotten. I believe it might have been Mr. Davis – 6th Grade, Phoenicia Elementary. He was not an English Teacher – in fact his area of expertise was Social Studies, if I recall. But he passed onto me one of the single most long-standing pieces of writing advice that I’ve ever heard in my formative years:

“To make a solid point, cite three reasons for whatever you’re talking about. Two sounds like you don’t know enough. Four is too many. Three is balanced and perfect. Also, never end things with ‘…and stuff.’ What it really means is ‘…and I don’t know what else.'”

For whatever reason I have never forgotten this and have adhered to it whenever possible, subconsciously or otherwise. If you’re the type of reader interested enough to actually look up my previous posts, you’ll see that’s how I often describe things: in sets of three.

In fact an observant reader may in fact notice that *gasp* I’ve listed three primary sources of my interest in Three.

  • So What’s The Point?

Having spent a lot of time thinking about the number three, and the world we think we exist in, my personal philosophy and view of the universe has evolved. Here’s how I like to think of things currently, in the context of three.

People, the world, the universe, concepts and ideas, are not divided into the classic binary categories as we know them. For fundamentally opposite ideas like Good and Evil, Black and White, or Fire and Ice, it’s not really too hard to imagine. We have Neutral, Gray, Warm. Things that are pretty easy to grasp.

But what about more abstract things? Like Life and Death?

What would be the third balance of such a thing? Undeath? Unlife, maybe?

Triforce

Sets of three to all things, a perfect balance, the pillars of geometry and thought. If there appears to be only two of something, only two polar opposites, perhaps it’s merely a matter of thinking outside the box (a dangerous phrase, as it often smacks of pseudoscience) to discover the third perspective. I’m not saying there always is one, but I offer that it is always worth investigating.

But, I also like to think that to all things there is an opposite. Balance comes in many forms.

This I shall extrapolate in another essay to come, which I entitle “The Three Borders.”

Happy Writing.

Review: Interstellar

I finally got around to seeing Interstellar, almost five months after it’s release.

As such, this review unabashedly contains spoilers.

I don’t expect movies without plot holes or unexplained things that happen — you know, because plot. But Interstellar gets damn close. It’s cerebral, action-packed, and as I watched it, in retrospect, I realize I could not predict where the story was going.

But hey, at least the black scientist didn’t die first.

First of all, when talking about Interstellar, one must understand one thing – this is a Christopher Nolan film, the man behind such so-called mind-blowing movies as Memento and Inception. That being said, I don’t know why I didn’t go into this expecting some form of brain-bending imagery or concept at work.

And apparently they had a theoretical astrophysicist named Kip Thorne on the film crew – a guy who gave up his professorship (I didn’t know one could do that) to pursue writing and movie making.

Does that mean Interstellar is bullet proof from scientific criticism?

Certainly not. No more than story elements would be safe from smug critics like me.

One thing I could not help but notice is that the premise of Interstellar is very much based on a story-telling trend we are experiencing now: concern for the environment. Dystopian future. We’ve seen these trends, lived through them, and new ones arise.

In the 1950s, Hollywood movies produced a plethora of films focused on the fear of nuclear fallout. Later, experimental films got more popular, possibly reflecting the nation’s increasingly un-ignorable drug culture. The 90s showcased a variety of movies stating that…

“…genetic power’s the most awesome force the world has ever seen, but you wield it like a kid who found his dad’s gun.” ~Ian Malcom

Then the terrorist films got more popular following 9/11, followed shortly by dystopian stories — usually featuring zombies, battle royale-esque gladiatorial games, or impending, inevitable global disasters. As of this post (April, 2014) I believe we are undergoing a story-telling trend still in that mindset focused on a nearly-hopeless future, concerned predominantly with an environment that we ourselves fucked up with continuing abuse and negligence.

In other words, as far as tropes go, Twenty Minutes Into The Future.

I find it interesting that films tend to prey on the current fears of the audience. It is something of an insight into how the pubic viewed the world. There are, however, some interesting resources, such as this one and this one that help put these trends into perspective.

Which is a little ironic considering one of the major story reveals at the end. And by no means am I complaining, rather, just observing. In fact the presence of a drone as a prominent element of the setting early on (though, frankly, the scene didn’t add much to the plot) turned out to be a moment that left an impression on me. I remember when drones first starting hitting the headlines – the fear mongering and distrust and the anger. Then, after some time, it became just another part of the media that sorta kinda got lost in the blur of distraction we call “news coverage.”

I actually rather liked that the drone’s presence in the story wasn’t some sort of heavy-handed statement, except, perhaps, the statement being that “they’re already here and they’re going to continue being used. Get used to it.”

The mention of “corrected” history books got a rise out of me as well. I tend to get emotional when I hear about education systems (even fictional ones) messing with history for whatever agenda they have. I’ve heard of textbooks in California wording that the Conquistadores came to Latin America “with peace in their hearts.” When the Japanese Empire took over Korea, they committed a multitude of unbelievable atrocities which they – to this day – have taken no responsibility. History textbooks in Japanese schools describe their “occupation of Korea” as though they were performing a favor for Korea.

You could fill volumes of books with the information that’s been twisted, or purposefully omitted, from the descriptions of our various American presidents and events in our so-called education. This kind of stuff should not come as a surprise to the literate, but by all means do your own research should it interest you.

What else in our textbooks now has been “corrected,” one wonders.

It was satisfying to see John Lithgow, who I first came to recognize around the time of 3rd Rock From The Sun, in another movie about space. It was awesome to see the concept of a modern farmer as not a laborer, but as more of an overseer for semi-automated robotic harvesting equipment.

I once read a quote about how the true purpose of machines and mechanics and, eventually, what we would call robotics – was to the performance of physical labor so as to unchain our collective mental performance. In other words, robots freeing humanity from all forms of menial labor. The speaker of that was pretty dated, if I recall, as it was in reference to the American Industrial Revolution, but is still as relevant today as ever.

Anyway, back to Interstellar, I have to admit that I was waiting for those cubist robot helpers to betray the humans at a crucial moment. I found myself pleasantly surprised that they didn’t, and I also found them to be thoroughly enjoyable to watch and listen to.

The movie elicited quite the range of emotional responses from me, as well. I felt goosebumps wash over me at various key moments – particularly the reveal of the wormhole, when someone in the meeting room stated that “someone is looking out for them,” especially since, supposedly, wormholes are not a natural phenomenon.

I experienced Adult Fear right alongside Cooper as he watched the video-messages of his aging children, though I also found myself (pleasantly) surprised when, at the “present” time, we as the audience traveled back and forth between Cooper’s perspective and that of his now-33-year-old daughter Murphy.

Which at last brings us to the finale.

The representation of the so-called Fifth Dimension within a three-dimensional space was rather interesting. The tesseract was quite the mind-trip, though I had some troubles with understanding a few base concepts. And I’m not talking about quantum physics (which are of course beyond me), as well as Relativity (which I get on a fundamental level, but largely goes over my head).

Things like that are explained in great articles like this one. There’s a video at the end with Neil Degrasse Tyson talking about the dimensions — always a treat to hear this guy talk.

Rather, things that don’t make sense to me are how Cooper was able to interact with the “past,” using the tesseract, to communicate with his daughter across space time. We saw him manipulating the watch in her old bedroom by plucking strings of space/time that connected to the second-hand of that little time piece — I remember sitting there and having my suspension of disbelief shaken as I watched his 3rd-dimensional finger pull the “string” in, as best as I could tell, was the 5th dimension.

And are we seriously expected to believe that he transcribed quantum data, collected by TARS, to her in morse code?

I guess he had nothing better to do. But you think he might have slipped in a “hey, this is dad” message along the way.

And besides, if the tesseract and wormhole were placed there by “them,” who are strongly implied to be future humans rather than aliens (though I guess technically they would be extraterrestrial) during that specific time. One wonders why they wouldn’t have done it earlier? Or closer?

Perhaps humanity would not have developed the technical skill to know what to do with it, if the wormhole had formed around the time the Blight had started. But then, everything changed anyway when the wormhole was erected in the first place — so the same question remains: Why then?

Or perhaps the future-humans of 5th Dimensional superiority had in fact been trying, throughout history, to warn us past-people about things, but we’ve simply been unable to comprehend what we saw. Possibly relegating eyewitness accounts to the realms of paranormal superstition, or religious events, or plain old mental illness.

Perhaps the time that the wormhole appeared was carefully calculated because the ascended future-humans would know the precise time when humanity was capable of doing something about a wormhole, since to them it’s in their history books.

Such is the nature of these paradoxes. Honestly I’m more concerned about how Cooper pushed books from the shelf and manipulated settling dust when, with that kind of ability, he could have potentially just written in the dust anyway.

The whole thing felt like more of an illusion than it felt like a scientific representation of a theory.

And regardless of those little nit-pickings, I loved this. I loved it all.

Much like Jevon Knights puts it, Interstellar Could Be The Greatest Science Fiction Movie Ever. I have found that I am in agreement with him, because true science fiction is about taking a scientific principle, or concept, or theory, and exploring a dramatization of that theory expanded through narrative. In other words, you take an idea, and you create a story around that idea, asking the question “What if?”

Science fiction isn’t about asking questions like “What if a group college kids got marooned on an island with some science experiment roaming the jungle?”

That is a slasher/monster flick.

Science fiction isn’t about asking questions like “What if there was a race of sentient mechanoids capable of disguising themselves as vehicles and household appliance?”

That’s a series of movies supported by people with no respect for the art.

Science fiction is about asking scientifically or philosophically based questions, and providing a scenario where that question is extrapolated and explored.

But quite frankly I lost all suspension of disbelief when I was expected to believe that Cooper was 33 years old.

And when Matthew Mcconaughey didn’t take off his shirt once, had I been eating popcorn, I would have thrown it at the screen.

This movie gets 9 black holes out of 10.

Black Books and Red Wine

Black Books is a situation comedy (sitcom) following the lives of three twits who spend the majority of their time in the titular book store. It’s a British show, rife with British-styled humor (often confused with “unfunny”) and a number of references that have admittedly gone over my head, but I consumed it over the course of a few days and found a few things worth sharing.

As Stephen King put, and I cite this all the time, it’s characters that make the story, not the situations they find themselves in. A sitcom is as much a formula as it is anything else, to be sure, but the reasons any of us watch any of this stuff is to see how characters we’ve come to “know” react to various situations. To do that, we must know our characters.

Bernard, the owner of the titular bookshop. A veritable pessimist, hedonist, nihilist. A riot to watch, played by the comedian Dylan Moran, a man who beforehand I knew nothing about and after watching this show decided to go and dig up some of his standup. In Black Books, he plays a disheveled schmuck who lives in contempt of people and the world outside his bookshop, which – thanks to the magic of film – somehow remains in business. Rarely does a scene pass when he isn’t sipping from a wine glass or puffing at a cigarette.

Manny, the bookshop’s assistant, a mostly-good-natured and dull-minded fool, serves as a veritable sidekick who is almost constantly at odds with Bernard. Yet they have a fun relationship; Manny enjoys serving others and taking care of the place, while Bernard can barely dress himself in the morning.

Fran, the last major player, serves to provide the occasional feminine perspective on things, but is easily just as mad as the others. Sycophantic and selfish, she is also Bernard’s closest and possibly oldest friend. Early on she owns and runs a bric-a-brac shop next door to Bernard, but as the series progresses, her story follows silly events in her life separate from the other two.

The more Aussies and Brits I speak to, the more I find out how popular this show actually was. Recommended to me by an itinerant Tazmanian, turns out this short-lived series was quite well-received. To hear one friend put it, the show had a cult following, and granted I was undergoing the circus of indoctrination we call American Public High School around the time Black Books aired, so I was barely sentient at that time.

This’s an overseas production, and by overseas what I mean is non-American. The humor has a distinctly British flavor to it, mixed along with the canned laughter and occasionally formulaic antics of sit-com writing, but one thing this show really has going for it is the distinct lack of extendeditis (one of my biggest complaints about Breaking Bad).

Black Books ran for only sixteen 23ish-minute episodes, most of them bottled as might be expected, and much of the story has little to offer in terms of intriguing plot or storytelling — it’s comedy, and not that gripping stories can’t be comedic, but the majority of comedy is composed primarily of silly antics and impossible premises. I enjoyed it for what it was.

What I really wanted to talk about was the emphasis on the habits of the protagonists; there’s a lot of casual drinking and smoking going on here, something we would not expect in a typical American sit-com.

This can’t be anything exclusive; there must be many series with characters puffing on cigarettes and sipping glasses of wine. But as someone who almost never watches T.V., I found it intriguing how utterly casual it was to watch the main characters of a comedic sit-com draining bottles of wine and lighting up fags in every other scene.

Perhaps it is due to my being American that these things stand out so much, but one thing stood out to me even further.

The characters read. They sit and read books a lot.

And no, not those kind of black books.

Now, this might make logical sense. Two of the three characters live and work and a bookshop.

But when the last time you saw a character in an American sitcom just sitting and reading for reasons completely unrelated to the plot?

The Britishisms and foreign references I can deal with, but something that struck me was the often poetic and creative insults being used. I couldn’t say whether this is an effect coming directly from characters that spend a lot of time around books, or whether this is a common thing in British television, but it seems the vocabulary is noticeably — appreciably — elevated.

Maybe I just need to watch more T.V. shows to get a more well-rounded idea, but I’m inclined to think the chances of that are slim. This is merely my impression.

Besides that, what makes a cynical, smoking, drunken shouting Irishman with a penchant for violent outbursts so enjoyable — dare I say lovable? Even as I watched the antics in play, I could already imagine the legions of American fangirls (the same types who read and write fan-fiction about Snape) giggling so much that their combined vibrations could alter the course of next season’s tropical storm.

If you have the chance, give this series a try. It’s short and sweet and kinda makes you want to open a bookshop. And spend my days in a wine-induced haze of cynicism and scorn.

A most admirable life path.

Eight full wineglasses out of ten.

 

Thai Adventures Pt. 4 – Majesty

Another picture-heavy post.

Because I was a tourist.

And while this is not a travel blog, what I’ve seen is relevant to fantasy writing.

Seriously, though. As an American, the concept and of royalty is something distinctly foreign. I only know kings, queens, princesses and princes from story and history books, most of which are based on people and places “Over there.” You know, as in across a large body of water.

While a quick, respectful bow is nothing strange to me, I’ve found that as a former Jew, I find it difficult to kneel before anyone. My ancestors kind of had a problem with that since the Ancient Egyptians.

You are welcome, world.

But experiencing majesty, like the presence of real royalty, is something I never before experienced. I imagine very few people the world over in fact have.

While I won’t go into huge detail about King Abdulyadej, I will mention that he’s got quite a collection of interesting trivia to his name. Born in America (Cambridge, Massachusetts, which I suppose makes him technically an American). Involved in a rather unfortunate incident where his older brother (heir to the throne) was killed in an accident involving guns, when the two were alone. The longest-currently-living monarch (born in 19827) – he’s been ruling since 1950.

As a foreigner, and a brief traveler, I can’t be expected to understand to full breadth and scope of his influence from a reading Wikipedia. I defer to others when it comes to this area of expertise, but it’s my understanding that the king is rather well-received by most Thai folk.

The legacy of the monarchy, however, might be a bit different.

In any case, I, like most people, did not get to see the guy himself, but what I did do, like many travelers, was visit one of Bangkok’s major tourist sites: the Grand Palace.

A dress code is enforced at the gates. This would not be the first time I came upon one of these signs…

…nor was it the first time I did so unprepared. After exchanging my shorts for a pair of billowing trousers, I entered upon the palace grounds, and decided nearly everything I saw was nothing short of majestic.

I recalled visiting palaces in South Korea, some restored after Japanese occupation blasted much of that country’s cultural heritage to ruins, and there was a certain modernity to their construction. Much of what I saw there did not compare to the palace in Bangkok, for no living monarchs live in Korea (and haven’t since 1910 when the Japanese took over), and as such the palaces served as little more than tourist destinations or cultural heritage memorials.

For that, they served their purpose well. The modernity of their restoration/reconstruction, however, could be seen in other places as well; something I’ve seen in a variety of places throughout Asia – the whole “quickly and inexpensively built in order to maximize profits” thing.

While walking across courtyards or between buildings at the Grand Palace in Bangkok, I found myself continually reminding myself that no, what I looked at was not some ancient representation of monarchy. “This is how we think they lived.” What I saw was not hastily or cheaply built structures as might be found around the world when trying to lure tourists.

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I’m not an architect, and while I can appreciate the so-called “exoticness” of foreign architecture, I have no doubt that the finer details of such a craft are lost upon me. I was, however, able to awe-stricken at some of constructs I walked around, under, or through.

I was able to peer inside one of these smaller doors on the ground level, and beheld a massive collection of ancient arms from around the world.

I was able to peer inside one of these smaller doors on the ground level, and beheld a massive collection of ancient arms from around the world.

When we read about palaces in fiction, often enough we have our own definitions of what it means to be part of a royal family. We expect servants, lavish cushions, food on a whim, and personal bodyguards.

Authors don’t usually get into detail about the architecture, in my experience. Perhaps we can learn from this.

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The entrance to what was apparently a sort of royal temple. Pictures inside were forbidden. The walls were gilded with gold paint and meticulously placed reflective shards of glass and stones.

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I couldn’t understand half of what I was looking at, but I knew it was important.

 

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As I’ve said, royalty is something I’ve always had a little difficulty wrapping my head around, both on the simple grounds of being a secular American, and even on a philosophical level. Kingliness, royalty, regality, whatever you may choose to describe it, exists on the concept of divine right, that is, the gods chose that person (or family) to rule, so therefore it must be so.

It takes a significant amount of brainwashing, I think, to really get the idea into the heads of anyone that someone deserves to rule simply because everyone else says so.

It’s something I encounter often when reading and writing fantasy. The simple question of:

“Why would anyone follow that person?”

Fear helps, I’m sure.

But its things like this that make me question how monarchies manage to stay stable, and how dynasties manage to keep from crumbling. Truly, the idea of divine right is a strange thing.