April Challenge Summary

First, I would like to thank the organizers of the A to Z Challenge for creating a place for people to write, write, write and share it with the world. There’s so much stuff out there that was written this month and I haven’t read even a fraction of it. Most of my reading came from checking out the blogs of people who stopped by here to comment (thank you!) or who followed/liked what I’ve written on WordPress. I’ve found a handful of new writing blogs to follow which is great because reading good writing is how your own writing improves.

I’d also like to thank Pizza Maid for creating the 30 Days of ARPil challenge in which people answer questions about their main character(s) in the MMOs they play. I hope I didn’t go too overboard with all of this grimdark Secret World stuff. I tried to keep it under control, but there’s only so much you can do in the face of a filth epidemic that floats around and turns people inside out. You can search the hashtag #30DaysofARPil on Twitter if you’d like to find posts by others who have written about their characters.

Also, go read Duke of O’s X-COM Fiction @ Null Signifier. It’s good stuff even if you’re not a fan of strategy / RTS games.

So, about this April writing thing. Part of the problem I have with writing fiction is convincing myself that it’s OK to let go and just write. I’m normally thinking that everything has to be described perfectly using carefully selected words that have been sculpted into a statuesque sentence that retains its strength every time I read it. What I’ve learned from the A to Z Challenge is that the most appreciated fiction entries are those that resonate with other human beings without regard to how they are written. Interesting and amusing tales from Liling’s childhood seem to be the best-received, as far as I can tell, and I can understand why: we’re human beings and we like reading about ourselves.

Sure, there’s a time and a place for ethereal poetry that touches on the things that are going on within me emotionally. Imagery abounds in well-written prose. This kind of language channels a direct connection to my soul. It doesn’t always translate into things that other people can understand, so it must be placed strategically – used as background decorations rather than as the magic carpet on which the main actors sit.

I seriously feel like MMOs just don’t do it for me any more, but at the same time they are the blood that runs through my veins and the thought balloons in the comic strip that is my bumbling, mundane life. They’re stories told via a tedious medium. They’re mechanics conveyed using time-consuming, content-gated systems. They are experiences that beat around the bush instead of just fucking their players and taking them to heaven. Here I am, though, still playing them.

(Too much coffee? Perhaps not enough.)

What did I learn from April? Nothing, obviously, because I keep doing these “post every day this month” challenges despite having burned out on them a long time ago. It’s a little easier with fiction because all I have to do is come up with stories and work in references to whatever I’ve read or experienced in my life that happens to be floating about in my mind at the time. Some of the most memorable words I’ve read on the topic of coming up with ideas for what to write about come from Silvia @ Silvia Writes:

One of the most common questions a writer is asked is, How do you come up with all those ideas? One answer is life, just live life, but that’s too easy.

Observing the world can be inspiring. Reading. Moreover, there is the muse — I wait for my muse to talk. And if it doesn’t, that’s called writer’s block. Some writers despise the idea of writer’s block. No such thing, they insist. Just sit down and produce copy.

There are as many answers as creatives, none wrong. We all live within ourselves, within our perceptions. It is in such places, I think, that art is born.

As I grow older, I am easing into an existence which increasingly values creative expression and the practice thereof. Games continue to be the conduit for this; I don’t really see myself writing about anything outside of the realm of fantasy. The tropes are all overdone and tired, but somehow we never seem to tire of using our imaginations to string together new ideas and come up with novel retellings of the same tales we’ve heard hundreds of times before. So what I’ve learned from April is that my interest in games has diminished but not evaporated and that my interest in writing has increased.

I thought about creating separate blogs for writing and gaming, then stopped thinking and realized that there’s no separation between the two in my mind. I’ll continue to categorize and tag them appropriately, but I’m not going to place a partition between them right now. Play what you like, blog what you like, write what you like, when you like. Don’t care about page views. The end!

Advertisements

Zero

Daimon Kiyota is a man of many words and little tact who wears loud suits that are only surpassed by the volume of his voice. He runs a pachinko parlor in the heart of downtown Tokyo. “Let’s laugh in the face of chaos,” he says. His office, in contrast to his sentiments, is nice and orderly; I wouldn’t mind spending time there as long as I didn’t have to listen to him prattle on in his 1920s speakeasy vocabulary that he picked up from his great-great-grandfather who spent time with gangsters in Detroit and brought their smooth moves and fast-talking back to the old country. I could also do without his corny come-on attempts.

The strange thing is, I’ve never actually heard him speak Japanese. (His English is delightfully novel, just not something you want to listen to all the time.) For all I know, that high-pitched, nasal rambling of his might turn into deep-throated baritone power chords when he decides to turn his native language on. I’m guessing not, though, given what I’ve gleaned of his style. If the fabulously dressed women he’s chosen to guard the front of his parlor are any indication, his Japanese must be even more interesting than his English. I’ve no doubt that he could pun a geisha into oblivion.

Lilyann-2016-04-28-00-36-44.png

There are some people in this world that positively ooze life and vitality, which is why I find it wasteful to have someone like Kiyota running a racket like this. There must be more to it, of course. I’ll find out soon enough – Daimon’s faction, whatever that represents, has thrown in its lot with the Dragon. Sow the seeds of chaos, laugh in the face of certain death, all that nonsense. The Jingu clan, headed by Gozen of Susanoo’s Diner, have sided with the Templars. (Why not? They’re both on an epic quest to rid the world of evil.) Inbeda’s wicked band of naughty, hedonistic demons engage in contract killing for profit, so naturally they’ve turned to the Illuminati.

I’ve never cared much for money despite being raised by parents for whom finances came after health and were on roughly the same level as education. There were no epic quests in our household, however, since I wasn’t doctor or lawyer material and further children were not part of the plan. Hence, you could say that the sum of my ambitions was roughly nil. I just wanted to live a nice quiet, secure, peaceful life in uninteresting times in a place where nothing much ever happened. (I’m not doing very well in the career goals department thus far.)

Which is why I don’t think Daimon and I would ever hit it off. Opposites attract? No. Yin and Yang? Hell no. I’m like water – I fill whatever vessel I’m poured into. Daimon, on the other hand, is snake oil: saccharine, luscious, full-bodied snake oil that slithers its way into your veins and sends you to a poisonous death with a smile on your face. He’s also a very interesting man who attracts all sorts of attention. Boisterous, noisy attention, the type you find downstairs in his pachinko machines.

Oil and water don’t mix, so our chances of getting together are roughly zero.

Yes

I’m thinking whoever was responsible for the architecture in these most recent missions was a person who just said “Yes!” to everything without really putting much thought into it.

“Should we include red lasers of instant death?”

“Yes!”

“How about razor wire that shoots out of the wall at periodic intervals? I’ve got an engineering team just itching to try out their latest design.”

“Sure, sounds great!”

“Oh, and how about an Indiana Jones-style boulder that rolls down staircases you’re trying to climb?”

“Absolutely! You know what? Why don’t we put two of them in there? I bet nobody else has ever thought of that.”

This…this is why I hired you.”

It must have been a fairly lucrative contract when all was said and done. It’s just too bad that it didn’t work out the way they intended. I’ll skip the details about the self-collapsing bridges and somewhat more…exotic trappings that briefly prevented me from confronting and slaying a seven-toed demon.

I met the engineering team’s handiwork again at the local Hyakumonogatari (“One Hundred Tales”) apartments. This time they had spilled water all over the place and electrified it. I sense tripwires and landmines in my future. I’m not psychic, I’ve just lived life. I’m writing this entry on my phone while hanging out in the lobby. I’m hesitating, but I’ll eventually go and do it, just as I did at the dig site in Egypt.

“Want some noodles before you go?” Samurai guy asked me as I was preparing to head out the door of Susanoo’s Diner. I thought a moment before saying “yes.” I was then handed a bowl of steaming hot ramen with fairly hefty chunks of beef in it. At home we use meat sparingly in our dishes; I didn’t relish the thought of looking like a dog trying to tear the stuff apart with my teeth.

Lilyann-2016-04-22-23-41-11

“I put meat in your ramen to give you enough stamina to take on those demons!” Samurai man said with a gruffness that somehow complemented the smile hidden on his hairy face. I bowed my head slightly and sat down at the bar next to a patron who was occupied with their alcoholic thoughts. I didn’t want to get a sore back from sitting on the floor.

The noodles were good. So was the beef. I don’t eat a lot of meat, but I have nothing against it. I could feel it in my intestines as I got up from my seat and excused myself to the restroom. Samurai guy had previously told me that I’d get free noodles for life if I came back from my encounter with Ibaraki in one piece. I did, and he meant it, so I was more than happy to say “yes” to free food.

And that’s what I’ve found to be my greatest source of inspiration for reflection in these diary entries: living life by saying “yes” to it without regard for the multiplicity of “no”s floating about both within myself and out there in the world. I like to think of living as my way of sticking it to dark times and dark thoughts.

Xenophobia

Once upon a time I thought I would take the plunge and do what other young people like me had done and travel the world while teaching English. The most popular destinations were Korea and Japan; you could also make fabulous money teaching in Saudi Arabia as long as you were willing to spend most of your free time – actually, all of it – on the sponsor company’s compound. Being the bookworm that I am, I spent my summer days doing lots of research on potential host schools instead of relaxing with a nice glass of lemonade on the beach and dozing the midday away.

I quickly ran into horror stories told by the participants associated with various programs. Many of them seemed to stem from acting as if they were still in the United States rather than adapting to the local culture. One young man told of trying to cross a busy Seoul street between the back of a car and the front of a bus; the bus driver inched forward so that there was no space between his front bumper and the car’s rear bumper. “I couldn’t cross,” the poor young fellow wrote. “He had an angry look on his face. I think Korean people are mean to foreigners in general.”

Woe betide the party boys and girls who show up drunk for every staff meeting and don’t cross the street using the marked intersections required by law. I wondered to myself whether “james0728” had ever thought to research his destination before heading off in search of good times, a paycheck, and probably a local girlfriend. At the very least, he could have been considerate enough to not generalize the behaviors of an entire nation of people based on the actions of one bus driver who may very well have been sick of seeing all these young American kids crossing the street wherever they pleased without checking for oncoming traffic. Perhaps he had been incensed by the news of American soldiers who had run over two young girls walking home from school in their military vehicle because they weren’t paying attention. Or it could be that a tourist had just gotten on the bus and didn’t pay the fare despite being told several times that this was a requirement for riding the bus. “I don’t speak Korean,” is the common refrain. To which I stick my tongue out and make farting noises.

Lilyann-2016-04-28-00-08-24

You don’t need to speak the language to know these things. I’m sure there are more genteel responses. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with people in rather dire circumstances for whom (most of them, anyways) the fear of strangers is washed away by the presence of an invincible superhero armed with bee magic. If the world weren’t in the throes of a global filth epidemic I’m sure there’d be more time to think about all the cultural differences that exist the second someone who doesn’t look like me and doesn’t speak my language shows up. Filth: the ties that bind us.

At the very least, though, I’ve researched my mission destinations well enough to behave in a way that is understood by the locals. I typically don’t stick around long enough to become fluent in the language beyond conversational basics. I didn’t have to worry about this when I met with Inbeda, head of the House in Exile – demons who got kicked out of hell – and communicated with him in his bathhouse resort through an ancient mask that was fluent in every language ever. He had a penchant for human females and told me several times that he wouldn’t mind at all if I wanted to remove my clothes and relax in the onsen. He (it?) even offered to scrub my back for me. No xenophobia there, not even between species.

Lilyann-2016-04-28-00-04-52.png

When I returned to Gozen to deliver the mission’s tangibles, I touched my right arm lightly with my left hand as a gesture of respect I had picked up in Korea – elders are given items with both hands. As I did so, I thought back to a time when I had been invited to my friend Thuyên’s house for breakfast. They were having bún riêu, a popular morning meal, and I was asked to help serve. I had inquired about the ages of the relatives present beforehand and made sure to serve the person with the most seniority within the various birth orders that were present in the extended family. I didn’t need to be familiar with the multiplicity of Vietnamese terms for the myriad aunts and uncles that were there – I just needed to know who was number one, number two, etc. Never mind that among my relatives we’re much more liberal about these things. It wasn’t relevant in the context. What was relevant? Research. (Do I sound like a nerd?)

It’s the sum of all these small things that would have made life less difficult for people like james0728 and his compatriots. He might have even come to the realization – if he had put enough effort into thinking about it – that for every apparent cultural difference, there’s usually a similarity that goes unnoticed because we’re too wrapped up in cultural exoticism. “Write a paper on all the differences between North Korea and South Korea!” says the young Californian English teacher to his South Korean student. The student groans after the phone is hung up and dutifully writes a laundry list of everything he can come up with to satiate his instructor’s lust for information on the “hermit kingdom.”

You know what they have in common, though? They have the same blood. Same with me and my Taiwanese friend Ting Ting. That one’s pretty important. That’s why when I go into these places expecting the unfamiliar, I’m already armed with something that’s only slightly less important than my sword and my assault rifle: knowledge of what’s expected, and the places where our seemingly vastly different behaviors find common ground in the shared experience of being human.

Wild

“Wait!” shouted Grace as I jumped off the pier into the water headfirst. Moments later I felt something tugging at my ankle – were there snapping turtles in the lake? I started panicking, then suddenly found myself upside down with my long black hair almost touching the surface of the water as it dripped a bucket’s worth of itself back into itself. I reached backwards with my hands and magically levitated back onto the wet wooden planks of the deck. Mother and Father’s hands released my ankles; they had each grabbed hold of one leg to hoist me up out of the water.

Grace looked mortified, as she normally did in unfamiliar situations. I wore what she called a poker face – I never reacted to the unknown or frightening with a visible facial expression. I don’t know why. It’s just not something I’ve ever done.

“How many times have I told you to check with me before you go swimming, Liling?” Father was doing his best to look stern. He secretly coddled me and bought me the sweets and toys mother wouldn’t. He then, of course, carried the burden of having to hide them whenever she was around. I would know when she had found one of them – in one case, an expensive tablet – by the sound of my father’s name in an abruptly loud voice rumbling from anywhere in the house.

“Several times, father. But I’m afraid it will rain soon so I wanted to go swimming as soon as possible.”

“No, you cannot swim now,” said Mother. She was not pretending to look stern – it came naturally to her, though I’d never dare tell her that. I thought about doing it once and almost felt physically ill. I wondered how other children with parents who came from around here were able to disrespect their parents – like when Chloe brought a puppy home and swore at her mother when she was told she couldn’t keep it – without feeling any sort of remorse?

“Yes, mother.” I didn’t wait for the reason. I didn’t need to. It came on the heels of my words without prompting. “There are snapping turtles in the water. They told us moments ago. They thought they had relocated all of them, but they found their way back here. They are very persistent.” Persistence wouldn’t get me in the water, so the conversation was over.

20160421214620_1.jpg

Nowadays, I head into the water when I don’t want to. I have more independence than I know what to do with, provided it’s in line with my overall organization objectives: disrupt everything, gather information, steal important things that other people want. I’m like a spy, but without the glamorous lifestyle and ground-to-helicopter briefcase exchanges. Actually, cancel that – I think I did one of those in Romania, come to think of it. My point is: I wouldn’t make a very good actress in a spy movie. I play the role of the wild child and look nothing like whatever that’s supposed to mean.

Now the Iele, on the other hand, a creature who doesn’t speak as far as I know but prefers to convey messages using the songs of the forest, looks, walks, and talks the part. She’s supposed to be a mythical creature, but out here the line between normal and paranormal is pretty much nonexistent. Same goes for swimming: if you want to go for a splash around the pond, you’ll usually find you’re in over your head before you even thought about getting ready to jump in.

Case in point: Ibaraki, the demon leader of the House of Sworn Revenge. He hangs out in the oni camps conveniently located not too far from Susanoo’s Diner. I acquired the necessary sashimoto flags from lesser-ranking demons before I could formally challenge him (they enforce their hierarchical combat system quite strictly to the point of declining to murder me if I don’t meet their requirements). I slapboxed him around pretty good and then chased him into the sewers thinking I’d just go for a run and end it when he ran out of room to maneuver. The next thing I knew I was being laid out by industrial-strength filth concentrations putrid enough to make a skunk vomit. I said in a previous diary entry that I had earned the right to be smacked down. Well, here I am on the floor, where the aforementioned foot has been firmly applied directly to my rear end.

20160422232142_1.jpg

Knocked down seven times, get up eight. (七転び八起き) Every problem is a nail that sticks out, and I am a hammer. (出る杭は打たれる) I got those from a book of proverbs given to me by Gozen after I expressed interest in learning more about the Japanese language. I’m going to be here a while, so I might as well act like I know what’s going on rather than flailing my arms about wildly.

Not that I’d ever actually do anything like that. It’s just an expression, you know.

Verisimilitude

My looks haven’t changed since the age of five, glasses and all. Others grow up, grow their hair out, shave it off, gain weight, lose weight, age considerably, get married, get divorced, get drunk or hooked on drugs – me, I’ve done none of that. My goal when I’m as old as my parents is to look the same way I did when I got out of high school, right down to the part in my hair and the types of clothes I wear. Deep down I think it’s a hidden belief that youth and beauty are inextricably intertwined and I don’t want to lose either of them.

My friend Grace once noticed this after we had spent a week in each other’s exclusive company while my parents were in China for the passing of a relative. She asked me whether I was a control freak. I don’t think so. I take comfort in the constancy of maintaining appearances. Yes, I do have a soft spot for the innocence of youth. I know it fades away eventually, just as everything must. I want to hold on to it for as long as I can. When it’s gone, I’ll keep pretending and hum wistful remembrances while sweeping the front porch in the breezy summer twilight.

Us

Demons don’t get under my skin the way wood ticks do. One of the few Americanisms my mother picked up on was sending me off to the land of sweet dreams with “Good night! Don’t let the bed bugs bite!” I think it might have had something to do with having more than one experience with lice when she was a child. My bedroom has always been neat and orderly to the point of being borderline sterile – any insect infestations would have resulted in a full tactical cleaning product response from mother and my aunties. Fastidious cleanliness is a family tradition.

The omnipresent filth and sloth in Kaidan don’t bother me physically. I have no control over those things, so I let them go mentally. Their unsightliness stands in stark contrast to the parts of the city that remain untouched – they give the appearance of effortless perfection. Shibumi is what it’s called, or so I’m told. I’m in love.

Lilyann-2016-04-22-23-45-15.png

Beneath the spreading sakura tree
Ai shiteru and yugami


That’s about the only love I’m going to find here. Between traumatically scarred refugees and salarymen going about their dreamy day I don’t think there’s much of a selection. I know, I’m painting things with brushstrokes much too rough for the fine canvas of this place. My heart’s already made up its mind, though. It’s back in Egypt just outside the entrance to Agartha. Not an unrequited love, but one that is outside the realm of possibility.

So, I’ll devote my love to the perfect imperfections I’ve found here.

So.