Sunday, September 25, 2016

Core

Now Playing: Peter Murphy - Cuts You Up

My parents and brother were watching Inside Out a little earlier today, and I got back to thinking to that whole art being either beautiful or useful. (And how ideally you want both but one side of the scale tilts, whether a lot or a little).

My whole last semester of creative writing made me certain I wanted my art to be beautiful. I considered often--but briefly--what it might have been like to write the kind of book that would be dissected in English classes of the future, and every time I thought, "I'd rather be shallow. I'd rather be good at being shallow."

I admire Inside Out for being one of those rare films that can be both beautiful (great animation, vivid colors, emotionally poignant, funny) and useful (thoughtful, layered, unique message). But maybe all this hostility towards art that is useful happens because I fear that it can't ever change people.

My education argues otherwise. I never went through a literature or film or history course not being reminded (subtly or blatantly) that art influences people's opinions and feelings, that entire wars can start because of books, that a film can humanize or dehumanize a living being.

And I love my parents a lot. But due to many external circumstances, they're the kind of people who have a very complicated relationship with "negative" emotions. Mainly sadness and anger. Sometimes we've argued about our arguments. It's the strangest thing to be angry and sad at them because they don't always let me be angry and sad. And to be fair, they don't do it out of malice: they try to push those feelings away from themselves on the belief that they're unproductive.

When they were watching Inside Out, on my brother's last day of his quick, mid-semester visit, I wondered if that hour and a half could really change them. Today or tomorrow or ten years from now, when they're reflecting on it.

I have doubts. I don't know how many people came out of that movie--came out liking that movie--and had newfound appreciation for emotional complexities and the merits of accepting and addressing sadness. Or if it only reached people who'd already had a disposition for embracing that message.

Closing questions: is there a book or movie or video game or even a song that changed me fundamentally?

How did it do it?

How long did it take?

What is it called?

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Flakes

Now Playing: Silversun Pickups - Tapedeck

Early disclaimer: this post is kinda weird. I sound like a bitter fangirl. And maybe I am. But this is me writing as someone who hasn't even begun their literary career and panics at everything.

There's two versions of author Tahereh Mafi. There's the real version: New York Times best selling author, traveler, charismatic interviewer, recent contributor to the middle-grade market as well as the YA one, lover of fashion, currently working on a TV adaptation of her successful first series, an artist who's accumulated a hundred loyal fans, and married to another successful, deeply loved, equally good-looking author.*

(*I doubt the hyphen in this sentence so much).

Then there's the version of her I think about. The one I made up in my head.

The Tahereh Mafi in my head shares all the previously listed qualities as the real-life Tahereh Mafi. But the real-life Tahereh Mafi has a lot more struggles than the one in my head. I can't prove it but objectively I know she has bad days. Days when she's unsure, when she's sad, when someone or something tries to hurt her. I know that because she's human. Plus, her two heroines so far have been girls who are born special but are ostracized by society at large. I think she admitted in an interview with a BookTuber that the more she writes, the more she realizes what she's drawn to, and she's drawn to the judged and the forsaken because of her life and experiences. The Tahereh Mafi I made up is pretty much just her success, her work, her beauty, her fairy tale romance/marriage.

I have to be honest: I don't like her writing. I have many, many, many issues with her Shatter Me series, and I read the Amazon preview of Furthermore and realized that her prose still doesn't reach me. It feels like it tries too hard to be whimsical and lyrical but it ends up being nonsensical. Whenever I read Gillian Flynn, the images and phrasing are unique without being distracting, but it's the exact opposite with Mafi's writing, which is so overbearing it completely drowns all cohesion and keeps me from connecting emotionally.

I can list all the ways in which I think Shatter Me is a not a very good series--plot, character, and prose wise--but I also realized sometime in the last few years that I admired the series because of what it means for teenage girls everywhere. I can't admit that Juliette and, say, Throne of Glass's Celaena/Aelin are good characters, but they're better role models than, well, Bella Swan.

So. You know. Progress.

But accompanying that lukewarm but sincere admiration of the Shatter Me series were a few flakes of jealousy. Which I'm not all that ashamed to admit. I'm jealous of a lot of authors I like: Chuck Wendig, Marie Lu, Laurie Halse Anderson, N.K. Jemisin (especially after The Fifth Season. Wowza), Jay Kristoff, Naomi Novik, Ken Liu, George R.R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson, Robin Hobb . . . .

At the same time, I'm not jealous of a lot of authors I don't like: Earnest Cline, Christopher Paolini, Stephanie Meyer, Pierce Brown, Veronica Roth, John Green.

There's also authors I adore whom I'm not remotely jealous of either: Octavia Butler, Neil Gaiman, William Gibson, Anne Bishop. I used to think I was jealous of J.K. Rowling, but truth is, I'm not. I find her life story fascinating and I'm happy for her success, but I can't say I want it for myself.

Tahereh Mafi is in a very rare tier: author I don't particularly like, author I find myself envying.

"Jealousy" has a lot of negative connotations. It's not one of the deadly sins for nothing. But my jealousy isn't destructive, I think. It doesn't inspire hate.

I'm jealous of Ms. Mafi for many reasons. Maybe because even if her writing doesn't work for me, it does work for a lot of people. She inspires readers and she makes them feel empowered and she creates all kinds of stomach butterflies with the way her romances and action scenes play out. And while I consider it nonsensical a good chunk of the time, it is imaginative, and it can flow and feel vivid and enthralling.

I dislike her series, yes, but there's a passage from Ignite Me that has always been a favorite of mine. For context, at this point in the story, Juliette has super strength and is invincible. Think Superman in a world where kryptonite don't real and nobody gives a shit about the rest of the Justice League.

Here's the scene, from the climax:

I slam my elbow into the door behind me, shattering the wood into splinters that fly everywhere. I turn around and punch my way through the rest of it, kicking the door down with a sudden burst of adrenaline, and as soon as I see that this room is just a small bunker and a dead end, I do the only thing I can think of. 
I jump. 
And land. 
And go right through the floor. 

It's the use of the line break. This is one of the more straightforward passages of her entire series--no flowery metaphors or crossed out sentences or overbearing repetition.  The climax doesn't get my heart racing, but I love those three sentences; they make the entire scene click perfectly.

Plus, while I don't admire her prose all that much, it is very clearly trying to be one thing: hauntingly beautiful. Mafi wants it to be lyrical. She wants the sentences to be carved forever in your memory.

A lot of authors use the words as a vessel for what they think matters, be it plot or character. Mafi's writing reads like it's beautiful for the sake of being beautiful--which can be both a blessing and a curse. And in a way, it's where some of that admiration/jealousy of mine comes from. The Tahereh Mafi in my head is one whose life and work and artistic merit revolve around beauty, from her written work to her visual pieces in fashion and photography:

A photo posted by tahereh mafi (@taherehmafi) on

A photo posted by tahereh mafi (@taherehmafi) on


[More from her Instagram].

But despite all the possible negative connotations, I don't write any of this with disdain or smug superiority. If art is supposed to be either useful or beautiful, I prefer it to be the latter with hints of the former rather than the other way around.

So what was the exact moment I envied Tahereh Mafi?

It wasn't when I read hundreds of Goodreads reviews from girls who adored Mafi's Juliette and her romances and struggles.

It wasn't when I saw pictures of her wedding ceremony to Ransom Riggs and got to find out not only what a ceremony at a bookstore looks like, but how much I want  a beautiful bouquet made of the pages of a book:

(From her Tumblr).

It wasn't when I stumbled on articles about her daily life as a full-time author and saw a picture of her and Riggs in their study, which in turn made me imagine briefly what it'd be like to have a place like that to call my own.

It wasn't even the pictures of her strolling through rainy picturesque London or sipping a latte with foam art of a kitty.

A photo posted by tahereh mafi (@taherehmafi) on

No, it was because of this tiny clip of her on YouTube during a book signing, right when she's retelling a few amusing anecdotes involving her family's reaction to her work. I don't know what it is about those stories. I don't have any burning need to have my family read my books, but hearing her talk about her mother and brothers reading (or attempting to read) her novels, and relating that to an audience of giggling readers, while also mentioning how her brothers' voices sneak into her writing--

It makes me happy. Happy for her and wishful for me (but not all that hopeful).

Which is an apt way to describe the jealousy I experience towards all creative types. It's a lot of happiness because I want them to continue to be successful and to entertain and capture the public. But it does, admittedly make me hone in on my insecurities and my wishes.

This whole post was partially inspired by my occasional browsing of Tahereh's twitter page, btw. (I follow Marie Lu and she retweets her fellow YA authors a lot).

 It was also inspired by this one line in X Ambassadors' Renegades:

All hail the underdogs 
All hail the new kids 
All hail the outlaws 
Spielberg's and Kubrick's

That's a brilliant line, in my opinion, since it manages to convey both their individual artistic accomplishments while also hinting a reminder of their friendship. But I thought about them a lot and--

Kubrick's an artist I like, but don't envy.

Spielberg's an artist I kinda dislike, but don't envy.

You know who I envy?

J.J. Abrams. I've envied him since he did Super 8, which was basically made in homage to Spielberg's E.T.

But to reiterate, I don't actually envy J.J. Abrams, as I don't envy Tahereh Mafi. I envy the J.J Abrams I made up in my head, who only exists as the man who took the reins of the two most important franchises of pop culture and the sci-fi genre.

I'm not trying to dehumanize Abrams and Mafi. I know that they don't lead perfect lives and that they'll have bad days and, hell, maybe literary criticisms like mine reach Mafi and pain her a little bit. But given the way social media and how public images are built, I inadvertently separate who they are as people and who they appear to be as artists. I try not to let it rule me, but I've heard writers are just always the jealous type. How can we be anything else when the arts are so competitive?

I wonder if it's inspiring me to be driven or if it's simply causing me to despair.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

In Absentia

Now Playing: Elliot Smith - Needle in the Hay

EDIT: This won't make sense unless you've already read the post but THAT'SSSS WHY IT SEEMED SO FAMILIAR.

Because of the Smashin Pumpkins album! Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.

LOLWHOOPS.

Okay. Rest of the post remains. Now I have to call my dad out for it, but the sentiment shall stay.

Monday morning, I texted my dad to let him know Steam had betrayed us: no Labor Day sale.

We'd agreed to buy Rise of the Tomb Raider together, split the cost 50/50. It's possible now that we actually have a decent graphics card. After an entire summer of fighting giant jello blobs on Doom rather than the terrifying demons they were meant to be, the pixels are finally all prettied up and perfect. But we missed the summer sale and didn't particularly feel like buying an Xbox One to play Tomb Raider back on release day. So we had longed and wished and prayed for another, later sale that never came. Now we either bite the bullet and buy the game full price or wait for the Fall sale. (When the hell is that. November . . .?)

Twas tragic. So tragic, in fact, that when I texted him on Monday to let him know, he texted back, "melancholy and infinite sadness" along with a crying emoji. I found that wording way more amusing than I probably should have.

I wrote it down on a sticky note at work, folded it up, and walked around chanting it in my head. Repetition is my one main downfall as a writer. Next to sucking at endings.

I know those four words put together are hyperbolic emo-ness cranked to eleven, but I don't know. I like how it sounds. It's how I'd describe Elliot Smith's and half of The Neighbourhood's music. Or that hollowed uneasiness I felt when I read Gillian Flynn's Dark Places or whenever I got high.

I suppose the difference between the two--"melancholy" and "infinite sadness"--is a profound emptiness vs. a searing ache.

I'm not in pain. I'm not hollow either. I'm not directionless or confused. I don't need guidance or inspiration. I'm not stuck or stranded. Not numb but not hurting. I know who I am and what I want and what's likely and unlikely to happen.

But I am absent. I'm not here. I want to say I've been operating on auto-pilot for months now, but it isn't a feeling that's persistent for months. It's more like it comes and goes, ever since I was around eleven or so, all the way to the present day. I disappear for some indefinite amount of time and lose entire weeks or months without noticing. Not until I resurface and think, "oh, it's been six months since [random thing] happened."

Everyone lives for milestones and I don't expect to feel vibrant and fulfilled every single second of my life. But I need to ground myself. I fall into routines and start to disappear.

Whenever I'm gone or barely here, I obsessively think back on the mini-milestones. When I wrote this, when I did this thing, when I spoke about this and that, when I was with so-and-so, when I read or saw or played or heard X and Y.

My fixation with repetition lifts me from the ground and makes me disappear. I think the only thing that grounds me, temporarily, is songs stuck on repeat.

And cats.

And plushies.

And taking pictures of them.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Cats and Plushies and Rando!Inanimate Objects

Productive blog post incoming.

There's cats:
He has a name. But he's "Little Prince" to me.
One of Emzy's kitties
Tsundere Cat

and plushies:


and miscellaneous inanimate objects:

Bonus Background Emzy. Non-Inanimate.


Bonus narcissism: 

Red hair goes great with that Led Zeppelin shirt.
"Science and science fiction have done a kind of dance over the last century... The scientists make a finding. It inspires science fiction writers to write about it, and a host of young people read the science fiction and are excited, and inspired to become scientists...which they do, which then feeds again into another generation of science fiction and science..."
- Carl Sagan, in his message to future explorers of Mars.