Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A Letter to Myself While Recovering from a Virus

Image source:https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2796/4215836509_55a8b7a7ce.jpg

Dear Priya:

You were sick last week. You are sick this week. Because of that sickness, your writing output went down. That is nothing to be ashamed of. You still managed to write a fantastic artilce and now you are fighting to get back on track and prove that you are not a waste. I say this because the negative thoughts need to battle with ongoing affirmations. You already know that you are not a waste. You submitted two columns this week, and have sent off a story to an anthology.

Not everyone can write when sick. Neil Gaiman suffered acute meningitis and couldn't write for months afterward, until he produced the brilliant "Problem of Susan". Probably there are other writers that were bedridden and needed to muster the energy, just as you have. While your nose is still runny, and you have a mild headache, the sickness isn't making your head fuzzy.

Image source: https://c1.staticflickr.com/6/5606/15552378181_94ebe34801_b.jpg

The blog hasn't updated for about two months, not since Valentine's. That's because you are making a transition to another blog that has a Wordpress-based server. You also hope to post more optimistic content, since the most recent draft concerns the closing of Ringling Brothers, and you have content on your phone that you need to translate over to it. That blog will update more frequently and have constant feedback.

Reminders for this week: You will be attending RetroCon 2017 this weekend, at the Miami Airport Convention Center. You will be selling books with Phil McCall III and ideally show off your writing repertoire. You are also filing taxes for the first time, and learning what income to track. A writer's friend wants content for an introversion contest, and a column about literacy activism has a deadline on the 23rd. You also need to update your blog with a proper profile picture, an Instagram, and probably a buffer of more positive posts about writing and gaming.

Image source: https://i0.wp.com/floridasupercon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/FLORIDA-supercon-site-header-logo-1200PX-blue.jpg?w=1200

Spring is here. You know it's spring because the curry leaf tree has new tiny leaves, a sign of warmth. The sun warms the water when you swim, and the air when you run. Starlings fly in and out of the hole in the roof, smugly noting that you and most people cannot reach them. A hole and leak sprung in the house library, which led to a lot of waterlogged books, but you managed to save most of them and will later figure out which ones should go to donation or recycling. There's still time to read through all the books on the shelf, to see what treasures you have missed.

In short, don't blame yourself for getting sick and not being able to write. It happens to the best of us. Your mother broke her arm, and so she could not cook. You learned to hone her recipes. You are writing now, and you are back on track. Reusing the tools that worked before, like writeordie.com, has proved a huge help. This morning you looked over one of your drafts as well as the comments that a thoughtful reader left on such a story. Sunday you did the same thing, on a tale that you wrote two months ago during a tough time and which nevertheless came out fairly well. You mailed a Netflix envelope without a problem, using priority mail, and you managed your Treasurer dues at Toastmasters. What's more, you are still creating.

Image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0e/Stipula_fountain_pen.jpg

Write on now, while you are healthier. Find ways to return to fiction, and to remember the deadlines and self-imposed goals. Camp Nanowrimo may have gone off to a rocky start, but you can still add more to the black comedy about trolling. You can block out the events that really happened, and add fiction to make a dysfunctional family lovable. The story you have coming out this year from Alban Lake will prove a treasure. You have someone you trust reading it, and hope to poke them in two weeks if they don't respond. Other emails will get responses, courtesy of you.

Good luck, Priya. You will master this week's goals. Feel better after the runny nose goes away.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Start of the Year: On Loving and Living

I have a draft of a post about the Ringling Bros. Circus closing, but with the current events of the past week it feels inappropriate to post about nostalgia when an unconstitutional executive order is tearing families apart and has killed more than thirty people. That will have to wait for another day.

Image source: https://c1.staticflickr.com/6/5463/9613456054_886486eff5_b.jpg

Things have changed. On one hand, people are more united against anything our current president mandates, in due part to his not having signed off on any beneficial executive orders. On the other hand, our republic has turned into a dictatorship within a week. Most news items are train wrecks. My opinions and fears have caused me to doubt some people while allying with others.

Despite all this, we have to keep living. We have our jobs, our hobbies, and our families. While we make donations and spread the news, the dogs need walking, the dishes need cleaning, or our library books need returning. Sometimes living in the face of such disaster feels surreal. Yet we have to keep going through the motions, to find meaning in the little things while not knowing when the end comes. Sometimes watching other dogs, like the Animal Planet Puppy Bowl helps.

Image source: https://c1.staticflickr.com/8/7340/12280786944_b0750a7036_z.jpg

Loving isn't that much different. We say that love is eternal, and in some cases it is with families and with good friends. When love ends, however, say for a fictional work or for someone we once admired, our heart breaks. Hearts don't care if Orson Scott Card once wrote books with diverse casts and now shows racism in his diatribes; they fragment, and repair slowly. Yet, as Aaron Burr in the musical Hamilton puts it, despite love taking our feelings and our hearts, "we keep loving anyway, we laugh and we cry, and we break, and we make our mistakes".

Valentine's Day is coming up, and it usually focuses on romantic love. This year, I think I'm going to focus on all kinds of love. We writers are more than romantic beings. We adore the craft, we adore the authors and books that came before us and that are coming out now, and we love the readers. We also love the people that support us, and the fictional characters that come to life. My friends have been there for me during the past two months, and so have my family.

Image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/33/-LOVE-love-36983825-1680-1050.jpg

On Valentine's Day, I'll explore different kinds of love in detail, since at the moment the definition feels murky. The patron saint Valentine died converting people to Christianity; that sort of sentiment doesn't reflect the candy and flowers of today's holiday. I'm going to attempt to appreciate love again, and simply joys from knowing a person or an object is in your life. I'm also going to attempt to love living.

We are living in tough times now, but living is the greatest source of rebellion. The best way to fight an attack on the arts is to make art. The best way to fight injustice is to expose it. The best way to care for innocent strangers is to spread their stories, and to never let them go out of mind. We need to love those strangers and lend our hearts to them, to give them the chance that we gave.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Why I Couldn't Manage Nanowrimo This Year, and more on 2016

Hey all, it has been quite a year. We've seen so many tragedies and losses that it seems almost laughable. We've also learned that a good number of people don't know how to behave decently or to recognize when a rich man cons them and promises them castles in the air. Haters in the night will paint swastikas, and celebrities will pass when we expect them to live for an eternity. 

 I'm not sure what kind of year it has been personally, so I will attempt to recap. 



I graduated with a Masters in Business in May 2016. I attended my graduation because it felt like an accomplishment to finish the year in between job interviews, attempting to write seriously, doing freelance work for a hair salon corporation. Having that graduation photo, and my diploma in hand, brought to home the work that the past two years entailed. 

My friends from grad school are doing well. One who asked me if I could take in a black kitten moved to Las Vegas with her family, and she posts happy updates on Facebook. Several others have received lucrative job offers, gotten married, and bought houses. I'm really happy for them. 

Then I went to my first three jobs, finally settling at the company where I work now. My supervisors and coworkers are nice and honest, while helping me learn how to do my tasks better. Right now my goal is to work my hardest and accomplished the tasks set out to me.

Publications and Writing

This year I wrote three pieces for Enchanted Conversation, and one got published: a poem about "Donkeyskin". Roar 7 published my story, "The Golden Flowers," and I plan to submit to the year 8 anthology.

Book Riot's sister website Panels hired me as a freelance columnist, and then I started working with Book Riot. I was lucky to attend the live event in November, and to meet my coworkers.

I sold my third story to a professional publication, "Memoriam," to Where the Stars Rise. In addition, Nightmare Magazine reprinted "The Opera Singer," and Beneath Ceaseless Skies released "The Jeweled Nawab Retreat". I wrote four short stories on commission, and will be do more in 2017.


Nanowrimo is National Novel Writing Month, when hundreds of people across the globe try to write 50,000 words. I've been attempting it for the past few years, though the only time I came close to the 50,000 word goal was in 2013.  At the end of November 2016, I had 5300 words, not due to a lack of time, but due to a lack of faith and structure.

To write well, you need to figure out your safe space. You also need to figure out what will nourish your writing. A story is like a plant in a cultivated garden, and a novel is like a bonsai. A bonsai is a tiny tree that can grow in a flowerpot; gardeners take years to cut the roots, shape the limbs, and attend to the leaves. The end result can stun many a viewer. 

In November, I couldn't take care of my novel. I hadn't written a plot outline or a journey, due to making up my project on the fly. The characters has to stand on their two feet. Thus I could have either written it as fan fiction or taken a step back to evaluate it honestly. 

I did not do any of the above. No plan for the novel ever came to mind. I did write small pieces and poetry, as well as columns for Book Riot. Then the election happened.

For a few weeks, as shown by my November blog post, I felt immense despair about the power of words. It felt like words couldn't make people feel the way I do or see things the way I see them.
My faith in people and justice shook, and has fragmented. It's only coming together now.


Gravity Falls sadly ended this past February. Wander Over Yonder ended this summer. We hope that Wander gets a third season, though the creators are doing a Ducktales reboot that looks promising. As for Gravity Falls, I do hope that we get a reunion or a Christmas special in a couple of years.

Hamilton without a doubt saved the Tonys in June. After a terrible day that started with the Orlando shooting, it seemed one could do nothing against the despair of more tragedy. Then the actors took the stage, and performed with joy. They showed that 

Steven Universe in the meantime continues to surprise me, and helped during this past summer. Voltron entertained my brother and me. We got a show called Stranger Things which went viral and reminds us of the power of an entertaining story.With luck, Moana when I see it will follow suit.

As for video games, I stand behind Undertale wholeheartedly. I also think that The Last Guardian is a work of art and that one should watch a playthrough of it at the least. Trico and the Underground monsters make for creatures to protect in the fictional world.


This year I am going to do more writing for myself. I'm going to figure out how to write what I want to write, rather than make other people happy. While I'm happy to do it for my friends, who I trust.

I am also going to build on my writing stamina, to do longer tales and to perhaps finish an actual novel. I need to work on my structure for stories, especially with setting and characters, so that the finished drafts become stronger. I hope to recapture that structure and more of the passion.

Happy New Year, everyone. Raise a glass to fighting oppression and writing in the face of uncertainty!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Dancing: Thoughts on the Nutcracker

We really need to end this year on a good note. Christmas is in a few days, and with luck we can put 2016 behind us and look to a new future. To do that, I'm considering the best winter story for this time of the year, to dive into a new world that promises hope in the face of darkness. 

The Nutcracker is a fairy tale by ETA Hoffmann, which later became a ballet and Western pop culture icon. Marie, a young girl, receives a strange toy soldier from her godfather Drosselmeyer. At night, mice creep out from the cracks in the wall, including their seven-headed king, and attack the nutcracker, while Marie tries to defend against magic and against how outward appearances deceive. In the ballet, seven-year old Marie becomes teenage Clara, which takes away the "ick" factor for when she later falls for the nutcracker, who turns into a boy her age that wants to marry her. 

Every winter our elementary school would take a field trip to see The Nutcracker at a local theatre, probably offered by the Miami City Ballet. I have good memories of listening to the music live, and watching the dancers. The mice mourned their fallen king with surprising pathos, while the Doll Kingdom remained ethereal and elegant. At home, I would watch our cassette of Fantasia, Disney's experimental and transcendental approach to classical music, and later on find the Russian cartoon of the Nutcracker on PBS.

I can't really explain what makes The Nutcracker appealing. The music certainly has persisted in staying with us, and with the Western world. The story, as it starts, certainly captivates us with the fairy tale lore and the hunger for adventure. In addition the dancing is memorable and soothing, a perfect remedy for a day outside of the theater.

Between the many versions, I prefer the original fairy tale the best, which has a longer story than the ballet does. The Mouse King retreats after losing to the nutcracker, and Marie falls ill in bed from cutting her arm on glass. While she lies bedridden, the Mouse King returns through a hole in the wall and extorts all of Marie's toys and candy at the threat of killing the Nutcracker. She finally decides to take action and borrow a toy sword from her little brother. The Nutcracker makes good use of it in the final confrontation.

I do recommend reading the book illustrated by Maurice Sendak, since it's got the most interesting illustrations, and he choreographed the Pacifist Northwest Ballet's interpretation. The ballet itself is a beacon of calm during the bustling holidays, and no commercialization can cheapen the music's impact on the mind. Plus, nothing is better than a girl who when shrunken and threatened, tosses a shoe at a mouse.

Merry Christmas Eve to all, and I hope you have a good Christmas Day. This year has been really weird and disappointing, but with luck we can end it on a calmer note.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Survival Has A Price

Disney has kept with the times, acknowledging the decades' worth of shifts in female roles. Frozen has princesses that take action and responsibility for their actions, while Wreck it Ralph and Big Hero 6 show female characters in roles unusual for animated film -- gaming, science and technology. We see progress in that the medium acknowledges that these women exist.

At the same time, Disney's live action films have dived into remakes, from Sleeping Beauty to Cinderella. They insist on rewriting animated history, to give Maleficent depth and Cinderella's stepmother some sympathy. The princesses take charge of their destinies when they previously didn't. With that said, I feel that the original princesses were survivors-- they endured harsh circumstances and remained sweet-natured people. Slowly but surely, Disney drops their survivor narrative to suit the times, and lose a valuable, poignant quality.

Image source: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/LmoO_crrptQ/maxresdefault.jpg

I admit, I have a great deal of nostalgia for these original films, despite their storytelling and characterization flaws, since they demonstrated high quality animation and music that is a rarity in this day and age due to cost.  As a child I watched and rewatched them, regretting the day I brought my Sleeping Beauty cassette to school and lost it, for the animation and music have stayed with me. This nostalgia makes me wince at the backlash towards princesses in modern days, and how parents stress that they won’t buy princess dresses for their children in favor of  better role models. I believe in princesses, and I believe that their existence in fiction makes the world a better place.

Snow White, Bambi, Dumbo, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella were Disney's original survivors. Most of these were also princesses who in modern times are viewed as anti-feminist. The male protagonists Dumbo and Bambi were infant animals, but they engage in more free agency, albeit with help from their friends and family respectively. No one ever calls Dumbo passive, because insulting an elephant calf that has lost his mother is wrong, which the film itself notes.

Image source: https://c4.staticflickr.com/3/2840/10838834563_c111f41068_b.jpg

Princesses, however, are fair game to the modern viewer, even to Disney. People ask why Cinderella didn't rebel against her wicked step-family, or why Snow White accepted an apple from a stranger and wanted a prince to rescue her. We forget that Disney mainstreamed the animated film genre, and to insult the earlier films for the characters they portrayed is quite a disgrace. Passive sexism has reared its head and dismantled a necessary narrative.

Survivors rarely get lauded as heroes in mainstream media, with few exceptions. That's because survivors, by definition, have to endure in a harsh environment and have fewer opportunities to change their situation. They have little to no control over their circumstances, and must hold out for a drastic improvement, or to go to desperate means. Surviving requires enduring war, death, or despair-- and the feelings stay with the victims long after circumstances have improved.


Image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/51/Child_survivors_of_Auschwitz.jpeg/1024px-Child_survivors_of_Auschwitz.jpeg

Most survivors tell their story, in the hopes that others will listen, and yet the media ignores their narratives. Some people even attempt to change the narrative, to blame the victims. I imagine some people wonder why displaced people in Syria or Rwanda didn't fight back against war or genocide, for example and Lithuania has even started a campaign defaming Holocaust survivors in 2006 that has continued to this day. We lose our humanity when we condone such defamation and victim blaming, because we hold those who have suffered to a high, impossible standard. Thus the survivor narrative becomes more important, to restore our compassion for the helpless and displaced.

Snow White was the first Disney princess, and the first animated feature film star. She is a fourteen year old girl whose lost both her parents at a young age and lives at her stepmother's mercy. Her stepmother, who is also the queen of the land, forces her to dress poorly and do tiresome chores like washing the cobblestones, and Snow White really has no other place to go. The Huntsman reveals this when the Queen orders him to murder Snow White in the woods, and instead he tells her to run away and never return to the castle. Her only home is gone, horrible as it is. After she gets lost and terrified, and calms down, she points out to her animal friends that she doesn't have a place to sleep for the night, and asks for help. When the dwarves consider whether or not to let her stay, after she's cleaned up their cottage and cooked dinner, she tells them that if she leaves she'll most likely get killed. Although she puts on a cheerful front, Snow White knows she has an unstable situation.

Image source: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/OCLAowUanSk/hqdefault.jpg


Most fourteen year old girls would freak out at the thought of their guardian attempting to murder them, and more so that no one will stop their parent. Still more will freak out at losing the only home they have, and relying on the mercy of strangers. Snow White does freak out a little, but she turns her previous humiliation into a strength by offering to cook and clean for the dwarves, even joining them in their merry song and dance. Her dreaming about a prince rescuing her is really a dream for a proper happy ending, where she doesn't have to fear for her life and knows that someone will love her. Snow White's kindness ends up nearly killing her, in the end, because she cannot believe that an old lady peddler would come and offer her a poisoned apple. She also will not let her animal friends attack said old lady, who is the Queen in disguise. We modern viewers call her naive for not seeing through the convincing disguise and missing the vulture, but she also practices basic decency on a regular basis.

Cinderella in the original film handles a lot of burdens, not realizing how much power she has until she has reason to rebel. Orphaned after her father dies and her stepmother reveals herself as a cruel gold-digger, Cinderella finds herself placed in the role of unpaid housekeeper and domestic help. This role limits her, but also gives her a reason to wake up early each morning and greet her relatives with kindness, even when they do not return the favor.

Image source: http://orig02.deviantart.net/fde9/f/2008/163/c/5/stained_glass_cinderella_inv__by_chibi22.jpg  

Cinderella in the original film handles a lot of burdens, not realizing how much power she has until she has reason to rebel. Orphaned after her father dies and her stepmother reveals herself as a cruel gold-digger, Cinderella finds herself placed in the role of unpaid housekeeper and domestic help. This role limits her, but also gives her a reason to wake up early each morning and greet her relatives with kindness, even when they do not return the favor.

I'm going to digress and let Roald Dahl explain how Cinderella ended up in her stepmother's power, by quoting from his book Matilda: "I think that I am trying to explain to you .  . . is that over the years I became so completely cowed and dominated . . .  that when she gave me an order, I obeyed it instantly. That can happen, you know" (Dahl 199). The quote can apply to any victim of parental abuse, or in this case guardian abuse. Cinderella was only a small child when her father died, and Lady Tremaine has a domineering personality. By the time she grew up, without any inheritance or acceptance into a university or trade, Cinderella has gotten used to the role that Lady Tremaine has imposed upon her, and any step she takes outside of that narrow label invites immediate suppression. When she points out that she can go to the prince's ball and in fact has to per the royal command, for example, Lady Tremaine makes sure that she has no time to make a new outfit, and then encourages her stepdaughter to shred the dress that the mice and birds have made. The film only showed several instances of such punishment for wanting to be a normal French girl; Cinderella probably endured similar punishments for years.

Despite these inner and outer limitations, Cinderella remains a sweet woman who politely starts to fight for what she deserves. The royal decree starts that motivation to fight, so that she demands to have one evening out where she doesn't have to be the servant girl. She also brings out the best in her friends who want her to have that one night; the mice and birds that she feeds and dresses end up making over a dress for her, which is quite a feat given the dress towers over them like a poufy skyscraper. After that magical night, Cinderella for the first time in the film disobeys orders from her stepfamily and prepares to try on the slipper, no matter what excuses or obstacles they throw towards to or to the inquiring Duke. What's more, the Duke and his servant witnesses the blatant cruelty, so that her stepfamily doesn't attend the wedding, and if one discounts the sequels, can never hurt her again.
Image source: https://c2.staticflickr.com/8/7431/14009222829_c1febb6f64.jpg

Sleeping Beauty provides the most problematic case of a survivor's tale, because said survivor gets little screentime and characterization, but her story matters. Princess Aurora starts the film as a cursed infant, and she spends most of her screen-time singing, dancing or talking to her aunts, actually her fairy godmothers. She grows up happily in a small cottage in the woods, without the luxuries of royal life and away from most people. Animals are her closest companions, and she's been warned not to talk to strangers. We do know that she trusts her aunts to have good judgment of said strangers, especially if they dance with her in the woods, but that is about it. Yet she matters to her birth parents, to her godmothers, and to her friends. She leaves a good mark on the world that Maleficent wants to stamp out.

Aurora's story matters, however, because she represents every innocent person that has had to go into hiding for their safety, whether they are war victims or royalty on the wrong side of politics, like Dowager Empress Marie of Russia. Her life uproots abruptly on a day when she's supposed to be happy, and the narrative expects her to accept that drastic change. Aurora displays stoic resignation after an understandable burst of tears, going to the castle with her godmothers, and crying a bit further when they offer her a crown as a final birthday gift. Even so, she remains gracious towards her "aunts" about the ordeal and doesn't lash out. She has to leave the cottage's safety to return to a castle she doesn't remember, so as to prove that she will survive the finger pricking, and for a long time after that anticipate Maleficent's next move, for the dark fairy is vengeful and can draw from the powers of Hell. The fact that Aurora wakes up from her enchanted sleep with a smile and reenters royal life without batting an eye is a testament to her strength, and ability to adapt to a new situation.

We need the survivor narrative to remember that sometimes, all we can do in a terrible situation is endure it until a better opportunity arrives. When you take away that narrative, you take away that endurance, and the hope in a dire situation. As Disney moves forward with their newest live-action additions, I hope that they pay adequate homage to the past.