Well, since it’s been a year to the day I finished my first-ever (fantasy) novella, I might as well celebrate it with a writing post.
I just got back from coverage of the Panagbenga festival in Baguio. The reporters were billeted at The Forest Lodge, though we usually ate our meals at The Manor, both of them in Camp John Hay.
One lunch time, Forest Lodge’s General Manager Heiner Maulbecker sat with us and gave us a history of Baguio. Maulbecker had been living in the area for about 30 years. Then all of a sudden, he asked me to tell him about myself: how did I get my job, what did I write, all that jazz.
“Fiction,” I said. And then he asked me what sort of fiction I wrote, and I said fantasy and science fiction, though I wrote more of the former. He zoned in on the science fiction bit.
“But you still have human feelings, a human component?” he asked me. I nodded. He recommended me Frank Schatzinger’s The Swan and said he didn’t really like science fiction all that much but that particular book is interesting.
And then, question of all questions, he asked me why I wrote that sort of thing.
I no longer remember what I answered. But I nibbled on that question even as I took a bathroom break. Why do I write fantasy/speculative fiction? It was just like my thesis days.
Except I came up with an answer that I wish I’d thought of a year ago, though I guess I wouldn’t have been able to think of it due to my lack of life experience at the time. I think answering this question is going to take a good few years yet, but I think the building blocks for my (I believe weighty) answer sprung to being as I was washing my hands in one of The Manor’s cozy bathrooms.
I like to show what’s possible through the impossible.
I’ve been making too many puns on certain words lately, but hey, if they birth thoughts like that, so be it.
You see that poster? Do not let that poster fool you. In no way do that tattooed guy or the iron-clad samurai have the big parts the poster implies. This is the tale of the 47 ronin…or the 46 ronin and the half-Japanese demon played by Keanu Reeves, who seek revenge for their slain master.
The movie opens with a young Caucasian boy, Kai, running through a forest. He collapses in a little brook and is soon found by Lord Asano Naganori (Tanaka Min), daimyo (feudal lord) of the province of Ako, and his group of samurai, led by Oishi (Sanada Hiroyuki). Lord Asano takes Kai in despite Oishi’s attempt to kill the boy for his apparently demonic nature. Kai grows up an outcast in the long shadow of the palace of Ako and its samurai, loyal to Lord Asano and in love with his daughter, the Lady Mika (Shibasaki Kou).
Fast forward several years, Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) and rival daimyo Kira (Asano Tadanobu) come to visit Lord Asano. During a demonstration between the best samurai of the two lords, Kai is further cast out after impersonating a samurai. In the evening, through dark magic, Kira’s Witch (Pacific Rim‘s Kikuchi Rinko) tricks Asano into assaulting Kira, resulting in the Shogun ordering the former to commit seppuku (stabbing himself in the gut, an honorable death). The Shogun pronounces Asano’s samurai as ronin and orders them not to come after Kira on pain of death, then pronounces Mika engaged to Kira so that strife will not grow between her lands and his. After the Shogun leaves, Kira orders Oishi thrown into a pit.
One year later, the story really begins.
Normally, any dramatic adaptation of the 47 Ronin story will fall under a special body of work called Chushingura. But if I were Japanese and had any say in what goes on in Japanese culture, I wouldn’t include Carl Rinsch’s directorial debut in that body of work. Why?
It’s not just because the very presence of a white guy (I don’t care if they called him half-Japanese and half-English, his accent’s still American) skews the whole “To know the tale of the 47 ronin is to know all of Japan!” thing. Granted, as the movie progresses, Kai shares the screen with Oishi, even backs down a little at some parts (a feat for a Hollywood film). It’s that you can tell right off the bat which parts were probably insisted on by Hollywood film producers (who may have thought that American audiences need a white guy to relate to for a movie about another culture to be interesting) and which parts were true to the source story–and I’m willing to bet that you can tell which part dragged the story down.
Look, I love fantasy. The wonders of computer animation never cease to amaze me, and this movie delivers on that. The evil liveliness of the Witch’s silks, as well as every other manifestation of her powers–be they reptilian or insectile–is proof enough of this. Props also to Lady Mika’s out-of-this-world kimonos, as well as the tangle of galleons making up the haven of pirates (who don’t spend more than 10 minutes onscreen). In short, the movie is not lacking in spectacle department. But beyond spectacle, what has it going for itself except for well-choreographed fight scenes and a very strong source story that needed no embellishment?
47 Ronin would have been cool if it wasn’t trying to be too cool.
About a week ago, the Editor-in-Chief of our news site suddenly told me to head on over to activist-comedian Tado Jimenez’s wake in Marikina, all the way from our office in GMA’s main headquarters, thanks to the success of a previous article of mine. I almost immediately said yes, though I had to work out another schedule with my dad, as he and I would be picking up my mom from the airport at midnight.
Inside, I was panicking.
A little backgrounder: the one thing I regret about college was not taking more chances to learn how to commute. My parents were are overprotective, preferring to drive me around to and fro even at the cost of snarled schedules and long-standing irritation. Metro Manila public transportation is unsafe, especially for a girl, they’d often say. I learned how to drive a few years ago, but thanks to a complicated situation and the fear of my damaging the car, I haven’t driven since. My parents would continue this arrangement even well into my first year in the workforce.
Last year, thanks to my job, I learned how to take the MRT. It was a small, but very important step for me. But I still did not know how to get to and from places without a train line and using a jeep or a bus or (god forbid, my parents would say) a taxi. I would have preferred to learn it all slowly and surely, in the company of a friend who knows the area–a bit like riding a bike with training wheels.
I often complained that my parents need to let me learn to commute on my own–yes, the hard way, because how was I going to learn any other way? I don’t know if the bosses noticed the apprehension I was feeling at the time. But I was out of excuses.
So there I was. I hopped on the MRT, changed lines, asked directions from numerous people, hopped on the LRT and made it to Santolan Station in one piece. I took a jeep down Marcos Highway, all the way to Paket Santiago Funeral Homes, as the driver had been kind enough to drop me off at the pedestrian lane across the street from the home–only to discover that I was at the wrong branch, thereby losing 15 minutes trying to find another jeep that would take me to San Roque. The driver had no idea where that was but told me he could take me to a trike stand. And that’s how I made it, panicking, tired, shaken, to Tado’s wake.
I stayed about two hours, doing the usual journo work as best I could in the face of the rules (no photography) and lack of family members in the vicinity. I panicked again when I heard there would be an artist’s tribute later in the evening, very close to the end of my shift, but I was told I need not cover that. I killed more time chasing one of my interviewees, whose picture I had forgotten to take.
But here was the clincher. I needed to get back on the train. I asked more directions to a jeepney stop or maybe a trike stand. I instead came to a trike stand–and after some trepidation, the driver said he would take me to the LRT station.
For 20 minutes, panic once again balled itself into a fist in my stomach. That was exactly how long I spent in the tricycle, weaving in and out of traffic, in and out of the narrow Marikina streets as dusk fell. My mind was silently screaming: WHAT IF THIS GUY WAS GOING TO TAKE ME TO HIS HOUSE AND KILL ME WILL I BE ABLE TO RUN FAR ENOUGH CAN I JUMP OUTTA HERE OMGOMGOMG–
–Sure enough, he stopped before a narrow alley, then gave me directions to the station. I gladly gave him his fare, then ran.
Santolan to Cubao, change of trains, Cubao to Ortigas to meet my boyfriend (who was late, as usual, but he willingly treated me to a Waffle Time-I hadn’t eaten for 6 hours at this point), then Ortigas to Buendia. Cab to Rockwell, and we got there just in time for the (delicious) cocktail dinner before the movie began. My foot cramped during the (hilarious) romance-drama. Then we killed time in Starbucks before my dad came around and took us to NAIA.
So what is the point of this long-winded narration about my Great Train Adventure? Well, Eleanor Roosevelt famously said “Do one thing that scares you every day.” I haven’t done anything to scare me in the seven days since my adventure, but I think the commute certainly qualified as such. The act proved, not for the first time, that I can rise above my prim, rule-following, Catholic schoolgirl self and become more like the gutsy, curious wanderer I have always wanted to be.
I have been impatient this past year, but now I know that the war for being treated like an adult is a long one, and the battles situated at random distances, times. It’s also not all it’s cracked up to be, but adaptation is a skill refined with age (at least for me).
So, I think I won this round, at least. Can I treat myself to a massage yet?
Reading Catherynne M. Valente’s writing is both like taking in a slow breath and being unable to do so. Her words spiral upward, outward, then close in on you, and you will grow dizzy simply trying to keep up with the barrage of living, breathing, sensual ideas.
At least, that’s how her first-ever collection of short stories made me feel. The rare, out-of-print Ventriloquism encompasses six years’ worth of tales, six years’ worth of experimentation both failed and wildly triumphant. And I must say, whether you love or hate her work, this is one hefty, heady mix.
I didn’t read everything, however, having encountered many of the stories in The Melancholy of Mechagirlor in Troll’s Eye View: A Book of Villainous Tales. Maybe it’s just me (and it very likely is, as I often pick apart her writing even as I read a story–especially if it’s one of her form-heavy pieces), but I would have preferred it had the stories been arranged according to year published. Part of the joy of reading Ventriloquism was watching/reading someone whom many already consider pretty great improve again and again, even if the story just didn’t do it for me. There is something about reading her poetic prose, which straddles opulence and unreadability simultaneously, and then recognizing how she scales it back for particular stories, especially toward the end.
I am thinking particularly of the last nine stories in this 35-story oeuvre: “How to Build a Ladder to the Sun in Six Simple Steps,” “The Radiant Car Thy Sparrows Drew,” (which is going to be a novel in 2015, yay!) “Oh, the Snow-Bound Earth, the Radiant Moon!,” “Golubash (Wine-Blood-War-Elegy),” “Secretario,” “The Harpooner at the Bottom of the World,” “How to Become a Mars Overlord,” “A Buyer’s Guide to Maps of Antarctica,” and “13 Ways of Looking at Space/Time.” Minus the last one (which I’d read in Melancholy) and throw in “A Delicate Architecture” and “The Ballad of the Sinister Mr. Mouth,” and you have my favorite stories of this collection.
What do they have in common apart from all having been written by Catherynne M. Valente? I…don’t know. Figuring out what particularly attracts me about her stories is like throwing dice. Whether it’s a detective story of sorts (“Secretario”) or a science fictional elegy about wine and war (“Golubash”) or a retelling of a fairy tale/epic or a narrative encased strange forms (an auction guide, a segment of a collection of folktales, the transcript of a seminar), Valente does not fail to enthrall at best, to pique interest at least.
“Here an author throws her voice—and a family of strange dolls speaks, as if by magic,” reads the intro on the jacket flap. But it’s not just dolls. She can make cities and mirrors and video games and practically anything else she puts her mind to speak, sing, scream. And while she’s at it, she’ll give you incisive insight into human nature, into the nature of story. She’s really good at dissecting patterns then flipping them on their heads for her own purposes.
The only issue I have with a few of them is that a handful feel like novels-in-waiting–and indeed, some of them did turn out so (“A Dirge for Prester John” = The Habitation of the Blessed; Palimpsest; and now “The Radiant Car Thy Sparrows Drew” will be coming out in 2015 as Radiance). I’ve read in a lot of places that some people actually have novel ideas behind their short stories and that one must learn how to differentiate one from the other. Valente manages sometimes, and other times, she doesn’t. I am of the belief that her comfort length is that of the novella (have you read Silently and Very Fast? If you haven’t yet, you should).
And therein lies the problem whenever I review her work: I always end up talking about her range, assessing her breadth, unable to speak about her work on a micro level because I think to do that would take an entire thesis and a dissertation, and then some. The bottom line is, her fiction takes my heart in its lavishly decorated, well-manicured claws, rips it apart, then presents it again to me whole, but never quite the same.
And I cannot wait to read The Bread We Eat in Dreams.
I was feeling purely cynical toward it, at first. It seemed like The LEGO Movie was going to be a promotional movie for an amazing toy I grew up with that didn’t need a movie to boost its sales at all. I was thinking that the plot was bound to be mildly entertaining, at most.
Except, not only was The LEGO Movie intelligent, awesome, interesting, and special; it managed to be funny without relying on innuendo, poop jokes, and slapstick.
We begin with Lord Business (Will Ferrell) , extremely tall and evil overlord, who steals a superweapon called the Kragle from the volcanic lair of the wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman). Vitruvius makes a prophecy: one day, a being called “The Special” will find the Piece of Resistance, which will disarm the Kragle forever, and s/he will become the most awesome, special, most interesting person in the universe. The Lord Business takes out Vitruvius’s eyes, but whatever.
8 1/2 years later, construction worker Emmett (Chris Pratt)–who has never had an original thought in his life–is going about his awesome, ordinary day to a T when he meets Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) at the site. Through sheer stupidity, he stumbles (okay, falls) upon the Piece of Resistance in a hole way below ground and gets it stuck to his back. What follows is a wild ride through several LEGO worlds with Wyldstyle, Vitruvius, Batman, Uni-kitty, Benny the Space Guy, and Metalbeard the Robot Pirate. They are hounded all the way by Good Cop/Bad Cop (Liam Neeson), who will have his own important part to play at the final showdown with Lord Business and his Micromanagers.
My only concern with The LEGO Movie is that its funniest scenes may have already been played out in the trailers. I was expecting to laugh really loud along with a theater full of children–and I did, just not as much as I thought I would.
That said, I cannot think of anything remotely terrible to say about this genre-savvy film. Stunning graphics resembling stop-motion animation appear to do anything from pyrotechnics to tossing waves of the sea, the music is awesome and as stuck in my head as the Piece of Resistance is to Emmett’s back (“Everything is Awesome” by Teagan and Sara, featuring The Lonely Island), the humor is clean and silly, the characters are endearing–there is just no one you can really hate in this movie (but my ultimate favorite has to be Vitruvius)–and the simple quest story that so riddles the great epics of the world really carries the day, thanks to some pointed satire. I love the way this movie turns the entire quest narrative on its head toward the end.
The movie even goes off on a metafictional tangent, too–I am usually jarred by animated features that suddenly cut to real-time, real-life footage of people, as if the entire animated world we just saw wasn’t real or is less important (Happy Feet somehow suffers from this). But The LEGO Movie pulls this off rather well; the story in the real-world runs parallel to that of the LEGO world–they feed off each other, even.
There’s also an endearing “message” about creativity and practicality, of going with your gut and following instructions. It turns out, you need a combination of both to save the day and to make anything wonderful.
All in all, The LEGO Movie reminds me of my childhood and its best days. Anything that is capable of that is worth a second, third, and umpteenth viewing.
And if you are still unconvinced about parting with your hard-earned money to see this wonderful little flick, I give you the blooper reel.
I returned to the Ateneo Fine Arts office today for the first time in months, purely on a whim while waiting for my sister to get out of school. It was like going to a spa for my brain after the last few hectic weeks at work (which is also why I’ve been unable to post anything new lately, but I’m working on that).
I talked to some old friends and teachers. They showed me this year’s Creative Writing Seniors’ chapbooks, asked me about work, told me about this year’s contenders for the Loyola Schools Awards for the Arts. It hit me that all of that had happened to me a year ago; suddenly, I felt like I was home again somehow.
That, and I realized that I was falling into old habits with every room I passed, every hallway I walked in, every chair I sat in. Here are the things I used to do that I miss the most about being in school:
Spending a few minutes in the College Chapel every morning. When I first passed the ACET, I promised that I would go to the Chapel every morning and meditate or pray, the least I could do for being given the opportunity to study at my dream school. I consider myself more spiritual than religious, but nothing beats being able to spend a few minutes at the start of each day clearing your mind and setting goals. There is no quiet space at work where I can do that.
Greeting all the cats. The cats I used to love and say hi to any time we crossed paths at any time of day were not there when I went up to the FA office. I’ve heard a rumor that they were rounded up again, but I hope it isn’t true. Particular cats really brightened up my day, like the fat ginger we called Tapa. My mornings were incomplete without seeing them at least once. Today, I saw two unfamiliar cats who simply walked away when I approached. Yeah, I’m a crazy cat lady.
Hanging out in and around the FA Lounge. You never know what you’ve got until it’s got–and in this case, I once had an excellent place to sleep, eat, complete my homework in, write more of my thesis in, watch movies and episodes, read books and comics, draw, rant, joke around with friends, help hide cute baby rabbits. I looked at that area from the other end of the hallway, and suddenly, the ghosts of memories began going about all those activities all at once.
Getting picked up at the Gonzaga shed. I had no idea what a big part of my life sitting on those benches in front of the Chapel waiting for my ride home and watching the world go by were. The Gonzaga shed is a nice place at night, what with all the brightly lit lamps and a good wind passing through.
Walking across the Dela Costa-SocSci-Leong field at night. This didn’t happen every night, but man, that place is especially lovely during Christmas, what with all the lights strung around the trees. The field became really homely after Plet Bolipata sort of donated her cute animal sculptures and mosaic benches for the area.
Lounging around MVP Basement. Except it’s not quite the basement I know and love anymore. The LS Bookstore expanded its space and the little of it left is now occupied by a cute little coffee shop (Bo’s?). Gone now is the favorite pillar where I spent my long breaks watching movies, where I was deposited after a fainting spell by the bathroom, where I watched CADS practice their dance routines, where my barkadas met up and goofed around. Even the place where I had my first kiss is gone and there really isn’t anything left to do but move on, is there?
There’s more, so much more that I miss about college–more than will ever fit in a blog post. But what all this helps me remember the most is that I had a good run–a really good four years, maybe some of the best anyone can hope for.
Those are the best four years of my life so far, but I don’t want them to remain that way. I can’t wait to see what else in life is going to top that. It’ll be great to be able to impart a wealth of life experience to students–as a teacher–when I come back.
1. You are a true professional sneaky person and skillful fibber because your parents forced you to beat your craft throughout the years, whether that meant sneaking out or concocting a detailed plan to fabricate your whereabouts.
2. In high school you were the person who had an absurdly early curfew that required you to be home before the local evening news aired. You weren’t even given that opportunity to make live, local late breaking news for acting a fool because you were in your bedroom.
3. They always had your back, but to the point where it led to embarrassment on occasion. If any of your peers gave you a hard time, even if they were kidding, your parents weren’t amused or afraid to voice their dissatisfaction.
4. You’ve never experienced terror like receiving double digit missed calls/text messages in a scarily short span from a disgruntled parent who wants…