Archive for February, 2010

058_kaliyantraSpring, he approaches like a long lost friend. Life spreading out in an awakening dark whorl of crushed and frozen currents.

Blasts of frozen wind gusting through the streets and paths, numbing bones and finishing off stragglers. There’s a radiance behind their efforts, driving them out into the open spaces to escape what is coming to awareness.

Recognition and remembrance of Kore nature and Kali power loosening up the drawstrings holding eyes of elements closed in dreaming of balance. The Oroboros curls and twines inside the heads of survivors shambling through the echoes of winter beasts from the unknown.

Energy is shifting and transforming all around our cold-numbed ears.  Despite our sniffling noses dull with crisping, the hidden secrets buried like Easter eggs wait for us to catch their scent.  The blind and mindless turning inward of huddling over an electric current is passing on.  Soon, we’ll crack open like icy creeks and know we are streaming once more.

Can’t move or think much this last week. The rumbling hunger in the wild for the blossoms of winter’s close have seized hold of me.  I see it in the chatter of robins and finches; feel it in the easing of my blood.  All is noise and rattling rolling tumbling rushes of sparks bursting out of nothingness and calling the slumber back into the unknown.

Spring hears her call and comes running, fresh joy and unleavened sorrow both at the ready—as the year of the tiger sinks its claws into the ground and roars, “Here I am bitches!”

Today, February 21st, is the anniversary of Yoshie Izumi’s passing away.  Yoshie Izumi made a timeless impression on the Fergus household during her visit in 1987.  Therefore, I asked my mom to say a few words in remembrance of our mutual friend.

We were saddened to hear about the passing of Yoshie Izumi.  Ferg and Moose still remember the visit of the Yoshies—Kimura and Izumi, when they visited us in the winter of 1987.  They were so excited and full of joy to be visiting Washington DC and staying with an American family.  I remember hearing the two Yoshies wake up early in the morning and singing quietly together like the Mothra twins while waiting for the rest of the family to wake up.  I also remember Yoshie Izumi fixing a Japanese meal for us – Oyako Domburo.  I still have her Xmas card she made for us in 1988 about the sleepy Yoshie Santa.  I know that Yoshie Santa has awoken up in a better place and not missed Xmas this time.

Okay, all right.  Permission to matter blah blah blah stakes whatever man.  What’s the DEAL?

The deal is, you’re going to have to play with these concepts until you can arrange them into a formula that works for you.  Your goal is to internalize them so that they influence what you create on an unconscious level—mental muscle memory as it were.

Just by reading about this, even if you don’t buy it, you are pouring ingredients one into the other and back.  The dance of temperance leads to more informed decisions and greater consciousness.

Here’s another thing to keep in mind:  Stories resolve.  That means they have an endgame, a way for a storyteller to say “I’m Done”.  This is often personified in the conflict—tension—resolution story formula.

This is actually harder than it looks.  Many writers can’t bear the thought of a resolution.  It’s much easier to do what’s called false tension, where you introduce a conflict, build up tension, and then back off from the resolution by removing the source of the conflict in some way.  They are revoking the principle of Permission To Matter for saw tooth storytelling.

Saw tooth storytelling is a kind of zilchplay.  But it carries with it another danger—running out of narrative ammunition.  There are only so many conflicts you can introduce before you begin to repeat yourself.  There are only so many conflicts you can repeat before the tension vanishes.

Think of it in half-life terms.  The first time the girl detective is faced with “follow my dream or please daddy’s image of me” is 100% tense.  The next time, 50%.  After that your audience is going to stop caring.

Get on with it.  Consequences are thrilling and exciting.  They inspire meditations—what if girl detective decides to please her daddy and become a hippy painter like him?  Is following her dream worth the cost?  Is it even right?  Or is it a case of “whoa that was a close one, that’s so cool she made the right decision?  OMG what if she hadn’t followed her dream?”

Keeps you awake at night.

What you’re looking for is a steady reward cycle.  Reader is rewarded for following the story.  Characters who do stuff are cool.  It keeps the narrative clip loaded and firing, bang bang bang.  If you keep firing and never hitting anything, you’re just wasting shots and soon to run out of places to go.

So here’s a simple formula:  Character plus setting equals situation—Resolve, repeat until done.

  • Newbie woman engineer plus starship equals keeping things running smoothly, or
  • Girl detective plus high school equals solving mysteries without flunking, or
  • Humaniform alien female plus stuck on earth while making escape ship equals survive culture shock without being discovered

You don’t have to buy it, just consider it.

My dear friend Kim tweeted this link my way, and since I enjoy finding out new nuggets of cultural development concerning female characters I checked it out.  Over in the Justine-land Broiler-anza the trail of the moment became the ingredients of compelling fiction.

Okay-okay already I’ll rattle this loose.  I got molecular prizes tumbling in my mind now that these two bad girls stirred things up without even realizing it.  Time for crazy time rumblings of doom as I pull out a few mental calculations I used to toss about a few years back.

What I draw a circle around is permission to matter.  That is, actions have consequences.  Not my idea; I’m adapting.  It rises up out of roleplaying game theory from a real phenomenon, wherein characters are blocked from contributing meaningfully to a creative exploration.

Very often this phenomenon is hidden from players’ (or readers’, or audience members’) view by a technique known as illusionism.  The illusion of permission to matter is fostered so that a game master (or writer, or director) can pursue an agenda.  When illusionism fails a follow-up technique known as force is used to railroad participants back to the agenda.

This results in dysfunctional play; players reach states of frustration and boredom.  Some resort to manipulation of the game master or the group to obtain their entertainment.  Whatever the case may be, it is a situation referred to as fun never.

You can apply this to other art forms as well.  Television and movies are especially prone to illusionism and force.  The agenda is to keep you watching passively, or to expect that the movie you are about to watch will entertain you because it is a “good movie”.

But getting back to writing.  When characters don’t get to matter they engage in what is known as zilchplay, or going nowhere.  Their actions have no consequences and what they do doesn’t matter.  You could substitute them for someone else and there would be no change.

Another name for permission to matter might be “agency”.  A character has to be able to affect the story.  If, for example, a woman is an engineer yet never gets to save the day with her engineering skills then it doesn’t matter who she is—zilchplay.  You could have a glass of water, call it an engineer, and watch as the designated character or plot element moves the story along because its time to go to the next scene—force.

Hand in hand with permission to matter is the concept of stakes.  When a conflict arises, there must be something to lose and something to gain.  Girl detective has to fast talk her way from the dinner table or else she’ll get to the crime scene too late to test her sudden intuition.

And not just the main character(s).  The minor character(s) have to be capable of succeeding and failing all on their own.

Permission to matter also requires consistency.  If the humaniform alien female demonstrates expert skill with computers only when the plot requires it, you have zilchplay.  A character doesn’t always have to succeed, but they do need to face conflicts with regard to established resources.

What you will find is that when you give your characters permission to matter, they will do things you never expected.  Complications will ensue and matters will unfold in ways that will surprise and inspire.  Even mundane outcomes have resonance—the girl detective predictably gets to go to the prom, but she’s earned it.  That is what being compelling is all about—being remarkable.

Chew on that for a moment.

Snowmageddon 2010 has knocked out main systems over here; we’re on auxiliary power in the honeycomb hideout.  But the killer bees are making a nice sound and keeping us in plenty of delicious honey.

02-10-10 ETA: What does one do when snowed in by ice weasels and snow mutants? K and I are up in the crow’s nest, bedding and cats huddled together watching Season Two of Chuck (ahh, nerd projections of competence).  Long as auxiliary power holds up, we have beef stew, popcorn and hot cocoa. Outside, I can see icicles two stories tall.

02-13-10 ETA: Driving out to fetch groceries, I saw something I don’t know what to make of.  But it’s appropriate, considering the big dude dinner that was this snow nightmare.  I saw a pickup truck with plow set-up ditched on the side of the road in a drift.  The entire chassis was hollowed out and burnt as if previously engulfed in flames.  Hard times out there when you mess with snow mutants.

Snow mutants crushing all! They rise while others fall!

057_sufferingwithOh yeah, you know it.  Here comes another bunch of Catcher In The Rye flotsam your way.  Especially because you’ve heard all about J.D. what’s-his-name’s passing on to new realms of existence.

I read the book in high school and thought it was dumb.  But I still remember it, after all these years.  Maybe I was too young to appreciate it fully.  Now that it’s passed before my view again I think I’ll crack out my copy and re-read it.

I heard some bleating on the Internets about Holden being a whiner, that when he grew up he sold out or became a loser.  That the author didn’t do a sequel because he couldn’t get his pen up to deliver the master stroke again, so to speak.

Yo, I’m calling that out.  I still remember Holden discovering what he wanted to be and articulating it as being “a catcher in the rye”.  That is, protecting young people from going bad, from falling off the cliff.  He moderates that with the balance of realization that kids have to fall down and get hurt to know life.  It’s an incredible vision of discovery.

Also a noble goal.  Because we are all phonies who need to awaken to this knowledge.  Only short-sighted people would be unable to look beyond the surface and not see this is where greatness comes from.  To see the fakery of our make-believe illusions with bitterness, yet still long to be of service is the birth of the heart chakra.  It is the opening up the human being to life.

Others may console themselves with imaginations of Holden selling out as he grew older, of failing to live up to his ideals and joining the treadmill of existence like everybody else.  As if anyone ever avoids this fate!  Guess what suckers, you still have to try even though you have lost your youthful innocence and are an adult now.

It takes very very very good karma to want to be someone who helps others.  If as a teenager he lacks the means yet to accomplish this goal, what of it?  We expect all our youth to know everything before its too late, even though they are doing the best that they can.  Even though they too shall lose everything anyway and come to wisdom in their own way and in their own time.

For this is where the seeds of the mature adult king or queen takes root, bringing order that will blossom later in life.  We should all be so lucky to have such a healthy vision of our destinies.

Wisely, the end is left open-ended, because like all advanced stories it is the reader who must write the rest.  It is their response that says more about themselves than the character or the creator of that character.

We’re all phonies.  Terrible, yes.  And also human, which might be our only hope.

Open your heart.

056_avytarThis one’s for Liephus.

Preliminary Note:
I went to see this flick on a matinee and all I can say is dang!  $7.50, plus $3.50 “3D charge”?  That was 22 bucks for K and I.  Talk about fleecing the customer.  The theater was about 80% full, which isn’t bad for a Sunday afternoon and six weeks into the release.

As a result of the high prices, I saw very few people buying concessions—way to keep the theaters in business Hollywood!  K and I smuggled in a water bottle and crackers.  May both the theaters and Hollywood burn in the fires of Eblis Tech.

K knew this already, but I was very surprised to learn that you don’t necessarily get new 3D glasses when you see the movie.  We both got used pairs.  Luckily, K brought antiseptic wipes and we cleaned our allotted pair.  Sure hope the person before me didn’t have a cold or worse!

Okay, okay, recycling.  I get it.  But what if I wanted a souvenir?  What if I wanted to bring my pair back to another showing, in case the movie was so awesome I had to see it again?  I don’t care about the “3D charge” always being tacked on, but if I pay I want to keep the glasses.  Let me decide if I want to give them back for re-use.

They were obviously used too.  The lenses were scratched and blotchy around the edges.  But the worst indignity is that the glasses have anti-theft devices in the plastic, so you look like a moron if you try to remove them from the theater.  Dude, I’m renting somebody else’s glasses?

So at the end of the film I stomped mine into several pieces and kicked them across the floor.  Childish, I know.  But it ticked me off.  Way to make me feel positive about the 3D experience Hollywood!

Technical Analysis:
Okay, so the big selling point of the film is the visual effects.  What else has Hollywood got these days?  Certainly nothing remotely near a good yarn, that’s for sure.  I’d say my visual experience was a mixed bag.

When the 3D visuals work, they work beautifully.  The depth and disassociation of immersion are really something.  I believed I was seeing another world and I felt myself plunging in.

Unfortunately, one thing 3D does not do well is breaking the screen barrier.  When it happens, it throws you out of the movie and you have to start over.

For example, I’d be rushing through a forest with the main characters and then a fern frond or an insect would move too far out of frame and towards the audience in an awkward way, reminding me that this is just a movie with fancy tricks to distract you from looking too closely at the story.

Quite frankly if this is as good as it gets after 170 years of the technology (Stereoscopy was invented in 1840!) then these limits will never be surpassed.  Regardless of high definition or whatever super realistic photo-realism you throw at the audience. It’s an illusion of depth, not actual depth.

One must always remember that the main vehicle of immersion is the audience members themselves—we fill in the blanks psychologically and naturally.  But when the line is crossed the spell is broken.  I just didn’t feel this medium has been mastered enough to make a push for 3D being the savior of the movie industry.

It’s hard to judge the computer-generated effects, particularly the giant blue cat people.  Again, it’s a mixed bag.  The 3D effect masks a lot of problems that might be more glaring in a non-3D version.  I couldn’t help but be drawn in by the action of the characters and forget they were just advanced polygon conglomerations.  But during slower scenes the characters at times seemed off to me.

Mainly I found my eyes growing tired two-thirds of the way into the movie and I just stopped noticing the 3D effect because I didn’t care anymore.  About that time my eyes also started to water a lot, which made me chuckle.  I wonder if those next to me were wondering why I was crying when the “super evil no doubt about it he deserves to die” bad guy finally was killed!

My thought is that the 3D did best when the movie was in nature mode—the National Geographic style exposition scenes really stood out.  The computer graphics worked best when there was lots of action, but not so well when characters were hanging around talking.

The Meat And Potatoes:
It’s an average movie, made remarkable by the fact that:

  • The dying movie industry has been churning out mostly poor material for a while, and
  • It relies on the “event” gimmick of 3-D, reminiscent of carnival attraction psychology.

There’s precious little that’s new or groundbreaking in the movie.  The world of the humans is pretty much cribbed from the dark realism of the Alien/Aliens/Outland vein.  The world of the giant blue cat people is spectacular to behold, but we’re never allowed to immerse ourselves in it for long.  The movie has an agenda (save the planet) and nothing is going to get in its way.

I seriously expected Michael Jackson to step out of a trapdoor and stand in front of the huge bulldozer plowing down the magic trees.

Which is funny, because if this were a real science fiction film, it would focus on the “shock” of the premise—humans becoming aliens to infiltrate and weaken them in order to exploit their world.  What we get instead is fantasy, specifically the tried and true romance melodrama of the wounded hero who suffers indignity so he can inflict revenge on the source of his pain. It’s all about the sensationalism.

The criticisms of the film I’ve read focus on the characters and setting as if they were literally real.  Watching the film, I couldn’t help but think it’s a case of most people being unable to distinguish between psychic, non-real facts and non-psychic, real facts.

To say that this movie is Dances With Wolves meets The Battle For Endor, or another story of “white hunter saves noble savages” misses the point entirely.  It only scratches the surface.

I mean, there’s nothing plausible about this movie at all.  It all takes place in the unconscious on a symbolic level.  Any relation to the real world is only in the most superficial way.

You have human reason using the psychological constructs of cloned surrogates, mechanical exoskeletons and various forms of missile-firing VTOLs to invade the primordial unconscious.

The giant blue cat people aren’t people at all.  They’re superhuman beings that exist in the unconscious.  One has only to watch them walk through the neon glows of their environment populated by chimerical amalgamations of real animals and realize one is viewing numinous material.

In the unconscious all beings are by nature linked by the collective.  It is the cloned surrogates, the avatars that allow humans to become hybrids and cross over into the unconscious.

What’s most disappointing to me is that this movie doesn’t depict any raise in consciousness at all.  Ordinary people get to live back home on a “dead world” (the real world), while the big decisions get to be made by corporate and military officers, with scientists in the background as advisers as long as they say the right things.

But it’s all hopeless.  The unconscious always wins in the end and human reason is annihilated—sent back to earth as POWs while the giant blue cat people get to continue living in the paradise of unconsciousness.

The movie begins with the main character watching his twin brother incinerated—a scientist representing the highest form of reason and the main character’s own connection to humanity—and ends with him abandoning his real body for a regression into the unconsciousness of infantile existence.  It’s a bleak statement on the human condition that is safe, boring, and done to death by better movies with a fraction of this movie’s budget.

In a metaphorical sense the movie is not too far from the truth.  The designated carriers of our own worst qualities are pressing dangerously into unknown territories from which tremendous natural forces might be unleashed to tragic effect.

Environmental catastrophe is a real danger, as is our running out of hydrocarbons with which to fuel our unchecked advance into the farthest reaches of outer space—so we can avoid inner space.  But the movie never engages with these issues at all.

“Unobtainium” (the goal of the “bad guys”) is a good term—it doesn’t exist and it never existed.  The whole military industrial complex is headed for a brick wall and all of us will be paying the price in work not done on ourselves.

The magicians of aboriginal populations have been using avatars for millennia.  They at least have the good sense to come back and use what they have learned to help real people.  Nope, not this movie.  Our hero is on a one-way ticket to the faerie realms.

The people back home have no clue what just happened.  The soldiers, suits and scientists haven’t learned squat.  The fortunate few who have “gone native” and fight for the giant blue cat people all die.  The giant blue cat people are embittered by their experiences and now hostile.  The main character abandons his real life body for a supernatural one—just like when one becomes a vampire!

The modern savior as embodied by the hybrid is discarded.  Nobody wins.

But if you are looking for an action flick that sells a vision of the powerless rising up to defeat their oppressors—psst, hey kid, rent these plastic glasses and go in that tent.

The fatal flaw of this movie is that it gets in it’s own way.

When the story is allowed to just happen it’s fun and engaging.  But too often the 3D, the computer graphics, the main character’s narration, the sudden attacks of  slow-motion (which always kick you out of the action)  and the rush to tell three complex acts in three hours—all serve to remind us we are watching a movie.

There were several scenes that cried out to be left alone to develop longer.  Too often I found myself letting go, only to cut to a scene that was painfully tedious or unnecessary.

Scenes like the main character’s first experience of his avatar (the joy and freedom of a supernatural body), the exploration and losing of his way in the forest as day turns to an alien blacklight night (departure of the hero into the unconscious), and the dizzying heights of the journey to the nests of the banshees (letting go of one’s earth-bound limitations and transforming them into spirit).  Great stuff.

Then the movie would trip over itself with an out-of-the-blue scene, like Colonel McEvil making a speech to the generic evil mercenaries using Iraq war references. JUST IN CASE I DIDN’T CATCH THE MOVIE’S DRIFT.

Because you know, American movie audiences are stupid and need to be told everything. They can’t make associations using their imagination, why the very idea is ludicrous!

The movie never turns off the Exit signs on this ride; there’s always one around the next corner. Lest you grow alarmed that the Pirates of The Caribbean ride might eat the guests.

Well, after Titanic where can you go but down?