Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Antaria: Wayward

Arianne closed her eyes. She could hear them from where she sat, and she knew that they were making no effort to hide their approach.

It was obvious that they were not here to talk. She could hear the scraping of metal upon metal as one of them -- the shorter one -- drew his sword.

Arianne opened her eyes, regarding the two men who stood before her. Both were dressed in burnished armor of silver and white, unscuffed and untainted by the rigors of the wood. Although she could not see their faces underneath their helmets, their stance was unmistakably hostile... albeit cautious.

They were almost certainly afraid of her.

Arianne smiled.

The taller of the two removed his helmet, although his companion still held his sword in a threatening manner. The knight was young, perhaps less than twenty years of age. He was handsome, olive-skinned, and almost certainly still a novice. Arianne wondered exactly why they had come here.

The knight cleared his throat. "You are a Druid?" he asked.

"Well met," Arianne answered.

"What?"

"Well met," Arianne said, with uncharacteristic patience. "I had thought that the Galenics were respectful enough to bid a proper greeting, but it seems that I was wrong."

The knight glanced at his helmeted companion, who did not relax from his hostile stance. The second man only nodded slightly at the gesture.

"W... well met," the first knight conceded. "My name is... Ostran, of the Allandrian Galenics. This," he said, gesturing towards his companion, "is Kessler. And you are..."

"Arianne," Arianne said.

"You're a Druid," the second knight said, in a muffled voice.

Arianne gave them a narrow look. "I know," she said.

Ostran cleared his throat again. "I wonder, then, if you could offer us some assistance."


* * *


"What do you think, Silverwood?" Vordan asked.

The old healer stared into his bowl of tea. "There have been more killings of late," he said. "There have been far too many killings as of late."

"Yes," Vordan said, deep in thought.

"I've seen a lot of grevious wounds in the last few months, Lord Vordan. We have acquired a certain reputation among most travelers now."

"This is wrong," Vordan said. "We're wardens of nature, not zealous murderers."

"Too many of the younger ones engage in it," Silverwood cautioned. "They claim to protect the sanctity of the land, yet kill interlopers for sport. Some of the teachers even encourage their behavior."

Vordan glanced at the healer once again. "We cannot prevent people from passing through the wood," he finally said. "I don't know how they see it, but the Druids still have to live together with the rest of the world. How can they not understand that?"

"It is the isolation, perhaps," Silverwood said, sipping his tea. "Isolation unhinges the minds of men and forces them to deal with true reality. It is our task to teach them how to live with these new perceptions."

Vordan watched the old Druid, marveling at his composure. "Do remind me why you never became Grandmaster, Silverwood," he said in passing.

"I refused," Silverwood said.

"You know you would command far better respect than I, in this position."

"The fact that you are Grandmaster in the first place, Lord Vordan, implies that the Druids hold much faith in you as it is."

"Then why do they refuse to listen to me?" Vordan snapped. "Am I the only one who sees that their hatred is tearing us to pieces?"

Silverwood remained silent for a while before finally giving his answer. "I am not afraid of the possibility that they do not know, Lord Vordan. What I fear, however, is the possibility that they simply do not care."


* * *


"What sort of assistance?" Arianne asked suspiciously.

"We're looking for a murderer," Kessler said. She could not see the expression beneath his helmet, but she knew the threat for what it was.

Ostran held up a hand. "No, no," he said, "we're... merely looking for... someone."

"A murderer," Arianne said, her eyes narrowing.

Ostran gave a nervous sigh. "A man named Yseth passed by this area about a week ago. He followed the same trail as this one. He was about as tall as I, with black hair and brown eyes, and he wore the robes of a Galenic healer."

"Yes." Arianne said, listening carefully.

"Someone killed him here," Ostran said. "The peasants found his body at the edge of the woods, rent from side to side like a slab of meat."

"You carry weapons," Kessler observed in a flat, unfriendly tone of voice.

Arianne's hand strayed towards the blades tucked into her belt. Kessler tightened the grip on his sword. Ostran tensed noticeably.

"Yes," Arianne finally said. "I carry weapons."

Ostran took a deep breath. "No bandits operate in this area, Lady Arianne," he said. "Every peasant for ten leagues knows that this is the domain of the Druids, and we know that you are very... protective of your home. What I... what we... I mean... what we mean to say is..."

"What we mean to say," Kessler said in a dead voice, "is that one of you did it. You will tell us which of you bastards killed my brother, and you'll do it now."

"The man was your brother, then?" Arianne asked.

"Yes," Kessler said, through clenched teeth.

"I saw him pass by this trail some days ago. It was perhaps a week since then, just as you mentioned."

Ostran leaned back. "So... you know?"

"He reached this same clearing in the gathering twilight, and hunted for food. He caught a baby rabbit for its meat and fur, then killed a grouse with six hatchlings. And he roasted them over a fire made from the roots of an ancient tree."

Ostran's eyes widened slightly. Arianne had to admit that he was far more perceptive than his companion.

"I felt that he would gain a far better perspective on things if he were to experience the same pain he caused the land," she said. "He asked for mercy only once, near the end. But as he showed none, so did I give him none."

The clearing was silent.

Arianne turned to the second knight, who was now breathing heavily. "What do you say, Sir Kessler?" she asked him. "Perhaps I should have let him plead for his life a little longer?"

Kessler roared, charging towards her with sword held high.


* * *


"I have a favor to ask of you, old one."

Silverwood leaned forward, and something in his eyes told Vordan that he already knew what it was. "Name it, Lord Vordan," he said, "and I shall fulfill it to the best of my ability."

"Guide my apprentice," Vordan said.

Silverwood nodded. "Arianne, you mean?"

"Yes," Vordan said, feeling the strange taste of the word across his tongue. "Arianne."

"Surely you do not mean to speak of her in that way."

Vordan closed his eyes in quiet frustration. "The bear is a peaceful animal -- great and majestic, and very protective of its family. But some bears acquire a taste for human blood, Silverwood, and those creatures threaten our way of life to the point where they have to be destroyed. Arianne has tasted the same, and I fear that she has found it to her liking."

Silverwood hesitated. "I may not be the best teacher for her, my lord. The younger ones may commit such atrocities right now as we speak, but I must admit that even I was not sheltered from such beliefs when I was young."

"You learned, Silverwood. It is far better than I can say for many of the others."

"Yes, Lord Vordan."

"She no longer listens to me," Vordan said, sadly. "You may be the only one she would listen to."

Silverwood nodded. "I understand, my lord," he said.


* * *


Arianne sidestepped the blade rather easily. Hatred focused a man, but rage quickly unlearned everything he would have known.

Kessler recovered easily, however, and swung once more. The blade passed mere inches in front of Arianne's face, although she barely noticed. She dropped to the ground, avoided another of the rampaging knight's wild strikes, drew her blades, and rolled away.

"Stand and fight!" Kessler roared at her. Arianne ignored him.

She waited in a defensive stance, watching him carefully. Her eyes flicked to the side only once, to see what Ostran was doing. The olive-skinned knight had taken a few steps back, unsure of how to proceed.

Kessler's war cry brought her attention back. He swung once, then twice from two different sides. Arianne dodged the first blow, and caught the second one on the hafts of her blades. Then Kessler bellowed his displeasure, and smashed one armored knee into her stomach. She staggered back, winded.

Kessler advanced with murder in his eyes. Arianne took two steps back, and waited for the strike.

She didn't have to wait long. The knight was gone, taken by the throes of bloodlust. He swung his blade one final time, cleaving the air where she once stood.

But by that time, Arianne was already in the middle of her leap. She cleared the path of his sword easily, brushing one gauntleted arm as she aimed for the slits in the visor of his helmet. Her weapons struck with a violent, meaty sound, and this time it was she who roared in the face of Kessler's whimpering.

The knight fell back, blood streaming from the openings in his helmet. He pulled the straps open with shuddering hands, and tore the metal gear from his head to expose the terrible wounds to the sunlight.

And in one fluid motion, Arianne buried her blades into the knight's skull. The sound of metal shattering bone filled the clearing.

Then there was nothing but a sodden, forlorn sound as Kesslar's corpse hit the forest floor.

Arianne raised her head to the heavens and howled her victory.

...

And then she remembered the other one.

She smiled.


* * *


"She has blood on her hands, Silverwood."

"We each have blood on our hands, Lord Vordan. It is merely a question of whether or not we choose to wash our hands."


* * *


Ostran moved quickly, running as fast as he dared among the rocks, the trees, and the bushes.

He didn't want to think of what would happen if she caught him. Not after what had happened to Kessler.

There was a rustling in the trees. Was it her? Was it something else? Was it the last thing he would ever see?

He had to get out of the woods. Aran help him, he would never insult another Druid again.

"Aran help me," he said.

"Aran's not here," Arianne said, from right beside him.

Ostran shirked violently, losing his balance and falling into a bramble patch. He thrashed about in confusion for a few seconds before finally locating the scabbard at his belt and drawing his sword.

And she was there, standing right before him, blood drying on the blades she held by her side.

"No," he said, nervously.

"I have no argument with you, Sir Ostran," Arianne said. "My matter, it seems, was only with Sir Kessler, and we did eventually resolve everything."

"What do you want?" Ostran asked in a shrill whisper.

"Nothing beyond what we already have," Arianne said. "This is our home, Sir Ostran. This is our land. This is our life."

Ostran shuddered.

"You only come here as guests, Sir Ostran. While you are here, you follow our rules."

The young knight paused, somehow finding a coherent moment in the face of madness. "But what are the rules?" he asked fearfully.

And to that, Arianne only laughed.

Ostran ran.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Connecting...

The modem's on the fritz again. This is likely to put a damper on my updates, considering that I usually write up my posts late at night on the computer at home. I could almost swear that the infernal device runs and hides every time I even so much as think about blogging.

And for the statisticians out there: This isn't the shortest post on this blog so far. I've written exactly one entry that was far, far shorter.

:)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Bear in the Bubble

If my memory serves me correctly, Trevor's been sitting in the back of my closet for a couple of years now. In that amount of time, a veritable collection of knickknacks has built up around him, and it would probably have made Trevor the ruler of his own little kingdom if I had only remembered to take him out of his gift-wrapping.

Trevor's a bear, you see. He's around two feet tall, has a pink ribbon tied around his neck, and is most likely stuffed with some combination of cotton and foam. Trevor first came around as a present to one of my female friends from an unwanted suitor, and when she considered disposing of him, I pleaded for her to let the bear live. He's been sitting in the back of my closet ever since.

I'm sure we all know that time has a tendency to wear on stuffed toys. That's why Trevor was still swathed in his original gift-wrapping and hermetically-sealed plastic cover, and that's why Trevor was still in remarkably good condition when we unearthed him a couple of hours ago.

My sister was hanging around when I finally pulled Trevor out of his shell of bright-red wrapping paper, and on a whim, I posed him in front of the TV for her opinion.

She only spoke after a long, uncomfortable silence: "He has evil eyes."

I laughed. "It's not as though he's going to come around and kill us in our sleep," I told her. She had just watched an episode of CSI that took place in a creepy-looking doll repair shop, and her reaction did not surprise me in the least.

After a moment of reflection, however, I had to admit that she could have been right. I mean, how would you feel if you were rejected by your potential owner, saddled off with some literary loser, and stuffed in the back of a dark closet for two years?

You'd be homicidal, that's what.

Or you'd have a nasty aversion to bright light, at the very least.


Trevor, the bear with the evil eyes. He's probably plotting his revenge upon the rest of the world even as we speak. It just goes to show that you really can't trust stuffed toys, especially if they happen to big fans of Lillian Jackson Braun.


Ultimately, we did have to ask ourselves what we were supposed to do with the bear. Fortunately, I was still in contact with Trevor's former owner, and we ended up batting around quite a few ideas. There was the prospect of selling him off to a second-hand store (not likely to happen), giving him away to an orphanage (a nice default idea, really), or simply repackaging him as a present to some lucky kid (as opposed to buying them that Nintendo DS they always wanted, I suppose).

Luckily, everything became moot when my sister expressed an interest in adopting him (evil eyes and all). On the other hand, the possibility suddenly lost a lot of its appeal once I realized that her own room was already filled to overflowing with stuffed animals. As nice and cuddly as these things may look, you wouldn't want to be buried under a mountain of them.

That, and there was still the possibility of Trevor going all Charles Manson on us. It's not easy to sweep two wasted years of your life under the rug, after all. The way we saw it, it was only a matter of time before we would find him sitting among the remains of a roomful of stuffed toys with a knife in his hand and a hideous smile on his face.

Yes, we're going to keep him in that hermetically-sealed plastic bag for a little while longer, thankyouverymuch.

...

Hey... would anyone out there be looking for a stuffed bear, by any chance? We could let him go for a fairly low price, I suppose.

Just don't blame me if he does anything funny in the middle of the night.

Look at it this way: If you don't like the way he stares at you, you can always stuff him back into a dark closet for a couple more years.

:)


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Leonardo's Cipher

News just came in that The Da Vinci Code was given an R-18 rating by the local Movie and Television Review and Classification Board. For the people out there who aren't well-versed in the nuances of a Filipino-American grading system, that means that the movie's been restricted to adults 18 years or older.

Now, I'm not quite sure what the majority of people are going to say about this. I do think, however, that the rating is correct. At the very least, it's quite an improvement for a governing body that once gave an overblown, undeniably excessive penalty to Schindler's List.

At the moment, it's almost certain that the movie will draw large crowds despite religious leaders' opinion that the story is dirty, blasphemous, and otherwise detrimental to moral health. That won't necessarily mean that it's a good movie, of course. It would only mean that the controversy has succeeded in stirring peoples' curiosity, adults and children alike. We're likely to see a lot of crowds queueing up to see the picture, and they'll all be composed of people in varying stages of mental maturity.

It is precisely the presence of this mental variance that makes me feel that the R-18 rating is correct. It's not a question of how blasphemous the subject matter may be, or the graphic depiction of certain scenes; I think that it's more a question of how we accept the things we see on the big white screen in the middle of the movie theater.

Movies are undoubtedly a major influence on us, if only because it's easier to take their messages to heart. We may bear in mind that we're watching actors who are obviously following an indifferent script, or costumes imagined by the warped minds of studio researchers, or computer-generated special effects that only resemble the real thing, for example. But despite all that, a movie will still stick to the inside of your head. It's more memorable than reading a story because it gives you a clear visual of what the characters and the locations look like, and it's more memorable than looking at artwork because you can actually see them move, talk, and otherwise interact with each other.

We may belittle movies as a form of media alongside other literary forms, but there's no doubting their effectivity. Where everything else merely presents a story, a movie presents a simulated experience that is simply easier to keep in mind.

Is it any wonder, then, that the local clergy fears the influence that The Da Vinci Code may produce?

This is really where mental maturity must come in. The biggest argument against these fears is that the story is clearly advertised as fictitious. The major premise has extremely little in the way of evidence to back it up, the writer has quite a few previous works of fiction to his credit, and the paperback volume tends to be stored in the "Fiction" sections of all major bookstores. It's fictitious, and we know it. It's right there for all to see.

But then again, people do have a strange habit of missing the obvious. When Orson Welles debuted War of the Worlds on radio in 1938, listeners became hysterical with the belief that Martians were actually in the process of invading the Earth. Streets became clogged with people desperately looking to escape the "alien attack", houses of worship became filled with refugees waiting for the "inevitable" end, and there were more than a few panicked attempts at suicide. And all this came about despite the fact that the program was broken at various intervals for the ever-present commercials, and that the station gave regular disclaimers that the narrative was nothing more than a radio show.

When it comes to The Da Vinci Code, then, I believe that the R-18 rating shouldn't be there because of accusations of blasphemy or immorality. I believe that it should be there for reasons of mental maturity: Only those people who are capable of processing it properly should be the ones watching it in the first place. (Of course, we can't assume that all people 18 years or older are capable of such coherent thought, but it's the closest generalization we can work with.)

The problem we're looking at right now is that too many people are taking the movie's content merely by itself. But the fact is that it shouldn't be taken by itself, I think. It's only a movie, after all -- a simulated experience that just tends to sticky itself to our minds.

We need to look at things in a much bigger picture, especially with regards to matters of both religion and personal logic. Is The Da Vinci Code likely to influence our beliefs and faiths simply because it presents a fictitious theory in a fictitious plot using fictitious characters? The answer to that question really depends on how easily you accept the viewing experience, and how well your mind works on its own.

It really shouldn't, though. When all is said and done, and no matter how carefully both sides may argue or step around the real issue, the fact still remains that it's just a movie. So watch it if you want, but bear in mind that it really shouldn't exert that much influence on anyone in the first place.

Just make sure that you're at least 18 years old, though. You wouldn't want to annoy the censors, after all.


-----
If you're interested on reading up on a few of the issues described above (and you probably are, if you've gotten this far without falling asleep), I can offer you some informative links:

- A brief summary of the encounter between Schindler's List and the Philippine MTRCB, as given by The File Room, an archive of recent events regarding the issue of censorship
- An archive of news articles following the wake of the original War of the Worlds broadcast
- The official response of the Prelature of Opus Dei in the United States regarding The Da Vinci Code (which happens to be a good read)

- Dan Brown's take on the novel and the controversy

I'm also interested in reading a logical assessment of the situation from an anti-Da Vinci stance, only it's difficult to find a statement that doesn't automatically assume that the story is nonfiction. Does anyone out there know where I can find some of these?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Booby Traps

I suspect that I may be writing too much in the way of Antaria, and too little in the way of general fiction.

It's not healthy to stay in one universe. I suppose that moving around talking to the characters and experiencing the locales makes for a very nice exercise in world-building, but there's a fine line between developing as a writer and getting stuck in a realm of your own creation.

It's "Fan Fiction Syndrome", if you think about it. Too many writers of fan fiction find themselves enamored of a certain setting, and thus spend their entire literary lives scratching out mediocre works that happen to be based on it. They neither find the inclination nor the effort to move on, and therefore never harness the true potential of their creativity.

While Antaria is an original creation (as opposed to a work created by some distant author), it may pose a similar danger. It is, admittedly, one of the crunchiest settings I've ever conceived (and I've gone through a few), but the last thing I want it to do is to prevent me from writing other pieces of fiction.

As of this post, I've written no less than thirty-one pieces relating to Antaria's story or setting for this blog, yet I've featured only two short stories ("Untitled", "Body Parts") that stand on their own. That's a huge gap.

On the other hand, the reasons for such a discrepancy may be attributed to any number of things. There's the possibility of copyright, for example: Maybe I am writing enough stories, for instance, except that I just don't put them up on this blog because of copyright worries. (In contrast, I don't hold similar concerns for Antaria because any plagiarists will have to copy a massive number of works.)

There's also the fact that a lot of writing contests have cropped up over the last year. No contributing writer is likely to place his submissions online, after all, especially when the better works are selected for publication and the worse ones are best left unread.

And then there's the nature of Antaria. It's clearly not meant to be a short story, for one -- it's a fully-realized setting with characters and places and tense political situations. Its tale is at least series-length, now that I think about it. And you really need to immerse yourself in the universe to understand what's going on.

That's probably why I only expect to come out with an Antaria post around once a month. Writing more often than that would entail a partially serious commitment (or at least an indication that I have nothing better to do), and writing less often than that would risk my losing the story completely. I'm looking at an undesirable situation either way.

It's a fine line, all right. If it were any finer, you'd string it around your knuckles and wrap it around somebody's throat.

So now there's the question of what I plan to do.

Ironically, there doesn't seem to be much that I have at the moment. If I'm inclined to write something about Antaria, then I might as well sit down and write something about Antaria. If some majestic plot for an independent short story comes to mind, then I can write that instead. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of choices involved in an effort that depends so much on inspiration, after all.

I suppose that, while I'm languishing in this train of thought, there's only one thing that I can do: Write. The topic shouldn't matter, really.

All I ask for is this: If I seem to be leaning one way or the other, do let me know. It's probably the only way I can learn to right myself in a sea of uncertainties.

And if that somehow helps improve the pace at which I write -- Antaria or otherwise -- then I'm all for it.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Bloggled

Kat had an interesting little exercise on her blog the other day, and it involved the bright glowing sign in front of Big Red Hen, a food concessionaire in one of the local malls. It's a backlighted sign, you see, and it resembles a three-by-three square of nine different colors, each square holding a single letter. Taken all at once, it easily reads:

b i g
r e d
h e n


If you still can't quite imagine what it looks like, follow the link above and have a look at Kat's photograph. It's a nice sign.

The challenge here is simple: Make as many words as possible using only the letters in "big red hen". The letters don't have to be adjacent to each other, but you're looking to get as many words as you can.

It kind of reminds you of Boggle, doesn't it? You know, that weird game that requires you to search for words in a random four-by-four grid of letters? I remember actually saving up to buy a copy of the game more than ten years ago...

One of my observations about the random word grid, if I recall correctly, was a strange little formula that worked an uncanny number of times: If you can find multiple words of (n) letters in the grid, then the chances are good that there's at least one word of (n+1) letters in there.

Let's take a sample grid, for the sake of argument: (Generated via Braggle)

E S E J
A G E U
U A T Y
A P I P


Now, you know that you don't have a good grid when over half the letters are vowels. In fact, there's even a whole column of them running down the left side of the square.

Careful examination, however, shows that we can find a number of five-letter words regardless: geese, pages, gates, pat├ęs. The formula implies that there's at least one six-letter word in there, however, and I can see agates.

Maybe I can make my point a little clearer with a second example:

H E S K
P C R B
A A I N
E T G I


This one looks odd... there's an entire row of consonants in the middle of the grid.

With that said, I can spot races, bring, brain, parch, perch, crate, birch, aches, pairs, parks, tapes and tears. Those imply the presence of some six-letter words: pacing, scrape, arches, arcing, riches, rating, paring.

That's still a lot of six-letter words, so some seven-letter words are bound to be in there. While parches and birches might be contested as words, I'm sure potential opponents will accept teaches, tearing, bracing, and scaring.

Then the formula comes in, and tells us that there must be an eight-letter word in there: teachers. (I could make an argument for teachering as well, but that's usually when the potential opponents would probably start beating me up.)

Contrary to popular opinion, an expansive vocabulary doesn't help you all that much with most word games, especially when other players are involved. In fact, an expansive vocabulary will usually get you more arguments as opposed to scoring you more points. I couldn't even begin to describe my experiences with words like rove, sot and fez, for example.

What does work, however, is an approach that emphasizes prefixes and suffixes. Everybody probably knows, for instance, that having an "S" in the letter grid will virtually double the number of available words as you invest in plurals. Similarly, it's easy to hinge on endings like "ing", "ate" and "er".

Verbiage aside, however, one of the stranger things I've found about Boggle is that writing speed might just be a factor. The person who can scribble their words on paper at a faster rate usually ends up covering a few more words than the other players, which invariably translates into more points. I've actually known a couple of people who write their Boggle responses in script, due to this minor observation. :)

Ironically, I'm not actually playing Boggle at the moment. It's been about ten years since my last game, I think, and it'll probably take me a few days to look for it in my landfill of a room. And even if I do find it, I suppose, it'll be hard to shake off the stigma of being "that writer guy who plays a lot of games". I lose a lot of potential opponents that way.

But then, that's why I write stuff like this. I get to see my notes down on paper, you get to see what you can try to do during a game, and maybe someday we can get together and have at it.

And for that matter, the longest word you can probably make out of the letters in "Big Red Hen" is the eight-letter breeding.

There's no sense being boggled about that, I suppose.

...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Faces in the Crowd

What was your face before you were born?
- Zen koan

Every person holds many faces.

We wake up every morning and put on a face. We say hello to our families and friends, and show them a different face. We put on brave and reasonable fronts for our teachers, clients and superiors, and we show them yet another, even more different face. We walk by complete strangers in the middle of the street, and we make sure they see another totally different face. And when we finally go to bed late in the evening with the stars as our only witnesses, we take off the masks we wear all day to reveal a final face underneath the layers of pale skin.

These faces can change by the second. If we become happy, they tend to curl upwards in a sort of sheepish smile. If we become angry, they crease and wrinkle with the kinetic movement of emotion beneath the surface. They wither and soften in the throes of human sadness, and they stretch far and thin with the prospect of naked fear.

But they also change with age: They get heavier, dirtier, more burdened with the weight of years. The eyes and the voices beneath them almost never change, but the faces we own right now are quite different from the faces we wore when we were children. Those faces, for their part, will be long forgotten twenty years from now, when we regard ourselves in the mirror once again.

We place such a strange premium on these faces. Sometimes we're paid to put them on and parade them in front of people, stage or no stage. Sometimes we refuse to emerge from our solitary lives without finding the right face for the occasion. And sometimes we find ourselves slighted or persecuted, merely for wearing faces of our own personal choice.

Underneath, we're all afraid. We're afraid that everyone around us will see us for what we are, all skin and muscle and blood and bone. We know that truth holds little when placed against perception, and that perception will always win. And that is why we have such a collection of faces on our mantelpiece, all waiting for us to put them on.

What pitiful people we all are, to hide behind such facades of white lead and black eyeliner.

We have hidden behind such faces for so long that we no longer know the people underneath. We know nothing of soul or spirit anymore; Such things have been lost to the mysteries simply because they did not register on a human mask. We know only the basest of emotions now, and we're forced to guess at what lies beneath through all the empathic tricks in our arsenal.

If only we could sit at the table one day with a sharp knife in hand and carve all these faces off, one by one. But we cannot, because we are afraid of drawing blood and exposing muscle to the world. We are afraid that others will judge us for who we are, instead of the beautiful faces that we constantly show them.

Every person holds many faces, yes. If we are not careful, then eventually we shall become mere faces ourselves, with no evidence of the person that lies within.

And when that happens, only a solitary existence shall remain for us, punctuated every so often by the rolling, shifting appearances that hide what can no longer be drawn out.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

No Connection Whatsoever

Saturday

Internet access starts getting unruly somewhere around the late evening, spontaneously shutting itself off for no good reason at all. We chalk it up to the fact that a lot of users are surfing their favorite hardcore sites, and fire up some Starcraft to compensate.


Sunday

On a cursory check, nothing seems to be wrong with the connection. My brother checks his e-mail, my sister fools around with some file-sharing software, and I check out some por... er, online literary dissertations. Except for a bit of lag every now and then, everything seems fine.


Monday

Internet access suddenly gets cut off in the late morning, while I'm working on this blog. The good news is that I manage to finish one post before it gives way; The bad news is that the article happens to be one of my monthly disclaimers. (While I try to make them relatively interesting, let's just say that none of them is likely to win a Palanca Award anytime soon.)

Repeated attempts to reconnect meet with no results. Finally, I run into an error message that tells me there's something wrong with the connection on our ISP's side, and I leave it at that. It's a hot day, and it gives me an excuse to head to the mall for some badly-needed air-conditioning. I don't complain.


Tuesday

I go back to work after the three-day weekend, and I start putting together a user manual for one of our more demanding clients (among other things). Between the tedium of methodical business writing and the unlimited DSL connection at the office, I remain occupied for the whole day.

Around late afternoon, my sister calls me at work and tells me that the internet access still hasn't kicked in yet. I check our ISP's web site, jot down their Customer Support numbers, and send them over. When she asks me why I don't call them myself, I tell her that I can't walk through our home setup while I'm at the office. She agrees to talk to them herself, but she doesn't get anywhere with her inquiries.


Wednesday

My sister calls the office again, telling me that we still don't have internet access. I tell her to give our ISP's Customer Support another try.

She calls me a couple of hours later, and tells me that the support guy on the other end mentioned a bunch of stuff she couldn't understand. He did advise her, however, that the problem was most likely on our side. I snap at her, pointing out the error messages we earlier encountered and the troublesome yet letter-perfect technical setup we currently use. She tells me that she doesn't understand a thing I'm saying, either, and I promise to have a look at the system when I get home.


Thursday

Past midnight, I confirm that everything looks okay. The setup is running fine (apart from the inability to connect), the various components are perfectly compatible, and the correct cords are plugged into the right places. I'm covered in dust, and I'm not looking forward to the possibility of washing myself in ice-cold water before heading to bed.

As I move the modem back into place, I pull on the cord a little. Surprisingly, it turns off.

Intrigued, I follow the modem's cord all the way up to its power strip. I try the plug, and find that it's a little loose. So I tighten it and switch on the computer again, all the while getting this funny feeling about how technology enriches our lives.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I happen to be writing a blog post tonight.

...

I knew I should have moved out to a solitary life in the wilderness when I had the chance.

...

Monday, May 01, 2006

Of Cat-Girls and Dragons

When it comes to literary creation, the roads less traveled hold plenty of advantages over the main highway. You don't get bogged down by the weight of past endeavors, for one. You also run into far less competition than you would in the mainstream, and whatever you produce tends to be more original and far less derivative.

That's not to say that the literary roads-less-traveled are easy, of course. With the sheer number of writers trying to make a name for themselves nowadays, even finding the roads less traveled is a chore in and of itself.

The local writing scene has run into a lot of competitions lately. In less than a year, we've had a speculative fiction anthology, a fiction-writing contest sponsored by a major bookstore, and the annual national writing awards. It feels as though the forces of nature are giving us incentive to write, although their reasons are probably unfathomable at this time.

Three months after his deadline, Vin Simbulan has released the final selections for his Dragon anthology (now titled "A Time for Dragons"). While it's probably interesting enough to leaf through the book's eventual table of contents, I find Mr. Simbulan's selection notes to be far more insightful. For that matter, I find one of his observations to be of particular personal interest: While his anthology received a lot of different, stellar approaches to dragons and draconian aspects, no author wrote about the concept of dragons in a science fiction setting.

What truly gets my attention about Mr. Simbulan's remark is that I've observed something similar during my attempts at writing. I put together six or seven drafts for his anthology, and half of the rejects tried to marry those two aspects. Up until Mr. Simbulan posted his comments on the subject, I was scratching my head on why I hadn't been successful. After all, it turns out that if I were, then I would have had an entry that was unique among all of the submissions.

The sentiment is most definitely not a new one. Months ago, Dean Alfar also released a similar set of notes regarding the creation of his Speculative Fiction Anthology. While Mr. Alfar did not bewail the lack of submissions in a specific field, he did mention something interesting in his attempt at classification:

4. Manga/Anime fantasy. Thinly disguised variations on Japanese manga/anime, with cute girls with cat ears.

That roused my curiosity back then, and it still raises my curiosity now. Is there a specific category of manga/anime that deals exclusively with cat-girls? Is it well-known among enthusiasts? What specific qualities do these works have? And most importantly, is it possible to write a piece of fiction and that can be unmistakably recognized as being of "the cat-girl genre"?

Yes, it's a very narrow and extremely specific point of thought. Not everybody goes around wondering how to write cat-girl literature, after all. But now Mr. Simbulan's posts have raised the question of why nobody handed in a marriage of dragons and science fiction, and it's apparent that the issue is far more open than we originally thought.

Again, it's a question of the road less traveled. These are obviously avenues that few people walk, much less notice past the weeds and the brambles and the disused road signs. We don't know why few people choose to walk them, but we do stand around and wonder where they lead. We wonder if they really go anywhere, and regardless of whether or not they do so, we wonder if the experience is worth the time.

Now, it's not merely a question of getting one's work published just because it stands out from the rest with regards to genre issues. It's a question of writing something that is truly unique simply because it follows a path that nobody else seems to bother with. Readers of Philippine literature will realize that there are a lot of overly popular subjects out there: Social realism. Political commentary. Cultural discussion. Even traditional fantasy starts to feel a little old when you take in the sheer number of people writing it nowadays.

Cat-girl literature and draconic sci-fi are probably more important than we realize in this manner: They're fringe topics -- fields that are so narrow that you wonder if it's really possible to write about them. But then that's probably the best part, I think. If we can actually pull them off and produce a work that can be accepted by the reading public, then we'll have a unique piece that is incomparable to anything in sight. We won't necessarily win any awards or get any royalties from them, but they'll be unique and incomparable regardless.

For my part, I'm going to take a closer look at Mr. Simbulan's remarks and see if I can make something out of them. Dragons and science fiction aren't the most elementary of topics, and I already know that it's difficult to build a logical story out of the combination. It was difficult enough to shut out an entire circle of potential ideas, after all.

But then, that's probably part of its charm in the first place. Better to say that you tried something difficult and untested than to say that you just stuck with something that was familiar and comfortable, I suppose.

Disclaimer: May 2006

It has come to my attention that nobody (as far as I know) has stolen anything from this blog yet.

That means that either these disclaimers have been more effective than I have ever dreamed, or that my writing just isn't worth stealing in the first place. I strongly suspect that it's the latter, although that may have more to do with my sense of self-improvement than anything else.

Whatever the case, I still put up these monthly disclaimers on a regular basis. It gives me something to do, I suppose, and it provides me a way by which I can arrest my feelings of insufficiency and morbid neurosis. Hopefully, these internal conflicts will mutate into a full-blown case of criminal psychosis within the next few years, so that I'll feel a lot less remorse when somebody finally plagiarizes something from this blog, the thieving scoundrel.

For now, however, I'm content to play the mild-mannered man. I make sure that almost everything written in this blog is clean and original (even the derivative, hackneyed posts), for one. In addition to that, I make constant references to various works outside my writing, and I make certain that each mention of these items notes the rightful author and title in some way. In the event that I forget to reference an owner in this regard, or in the event that I mention the wrong source for this purpose, the members of the audience are welcome to correct me. I monitor and make these changes as often as possible.

Of course, others are welcome to reference anything in this blog as long as they fulfill three requests of mine: First, that they directly request permission from me or place a reference to my name somewhere in the quotation; Second, that they do not quote me out of context; and Third, that they attempt to take the authorship of the quoted work away from me. That latter point includes those who place their names in the byline as well as those who argue that they were the direct influence of my work. If I write something based on somebody else's writings, you can be sure that I'll mention exactly who I'm talking about except in the most sensitive and criminal of revelations.

Now, let's see... does that cover everything? I suppose that, if anything's unclear to any of the potential plagiarists out there, the main Disclaimer on the right-hand column of this blog should explain things in far better detail.

That just leaves the threats, then. So I'll say this: If you steal any of my writings from this blog, then I'll track you down, corner you in a dark corner of your apartment, and rip your limbs off.

Okay, maybe not. I'm not strong enough to rip anybody's limbs off, much less win a one-on-one fight. For that matter, if I arrive at your apartment, I'm more likely to introduce myself in a low, whining voice and wait for you to slam the door in my face.

But I suppose that it's easy enough to hire a huge, hulking biker-type dude to do the job for me, in which case I'll just sit back and hold the alcohol. Because you just can't torture a human being without the alcohol. It's just wrong, man.

As always, it's the thought that counts.