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.

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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.

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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.


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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.