Friday, October 26, 2012

Ninety-Nine

Remember that game where you take a dream and write something based on it?

Yeah.

-

1/18/12: Chinese grocery store with lots of different rooms - antechambers - like a labyrinth or palace

Ninety-Nine

All I wanted was a packet of instant noodles
A bag of lychee candy, perhaps,
Or exquisitely seasoned eel
Not to wander through hexagonal doors
Through exhibits of boar’s blood
Tanks of doomed fish, staring
At me with a dull sort of sympathy:

They’re trapped, too.

The first sample table I passed
Employees in smudged smocks
Offered potstickers and soy sauce
But now the men have thin beards
And queues, and the women
Mince around on lotus feet,
Swathed in silks. I want to tell them
My ancestors never bound girls’ feet
Not on my mother’s side, at least,
So they can stop looking at me like that:

As if we have anything in common.

I roll the shopping cart, which has become
Wood, and a donkey is in front of it
So I stop pushing. People shove,
Shout in dialects I don’t know
Though I recognize the phrase
“Capitalist running dog”, from
That one episode of that one drama
That I watched, hoping I’d feel more Chinese
Though my mind holds no analects
Beyond the irrelevant phrase:

We are going to lose him.

- which, I suppose, will suffice.

--

No, it suffices not. I'd like to revisit that ending - it seems a bit facile.

Btw: in January 2012 I was reading Borges' book Labyrinths. Make of that what you will.

Written September 2012. Sorry for missing Tuesday's post.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The System

This post is a quasi-rant. Be warned.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the school system hinders me. Most of the time I’m okay with school in the sense that I’m not actively wishing I was somewhere else - but most of the time, I’m also thinking that I could be spending my time more productively.

For example: in Italian, why do we spend so much time on localized activities that purport to review, say, possessive adjectives, instead of talking and reading in Italian and therefore getting a sense of how to put sentences together? Language grows organically, and I want to be able to hold a conversation in Italian more than I want to be able to conjugate (though, ideally, I’d be able to do both).

Another example: my history class rarely deviates from the daily quiz, notes/lecture format. I’d rather talk about religion or ethics or philosophy with the guy who sits behind me (the guy with whom I had the gourment v. glutton conversation).

I get that it’s important to understand our country’s history. But surely it’s more important for us to develop our own thoughts and opinions about topics, leading naturally to research into the past to make sure we have a solid foundation for our beliefs.

A third example, since I seem to be on a roll in dictating how my school should be run: my math teacher is excellent as far as the system goes. But with examples and notes and problem sets, I can see why some people have given up on math. Surely there’s a way of teaching math that shows how interesting it is.

I decided a while ago to take my education into my own hands. First, I’m reading all the books I’ve bought; I am also teaching myself how to code (progress reported on my other blog, Knowledge is Power). I’m also paying close attention to myself so I can figure out what to do for optimum performance.

Trouble is, the school system and my system sometimes fight - and because I care about my grades (what a shame, that so much of my pride is tied up in school), usually the external system wins.

Trouble is, also, that it goes against my instinct to work with the system: I want to bring it down.

So, at this point I’ve reached an impasse. On weekends I read all I want, explore, talk things through to myself. During the school week, homework eats my time. What to do?

I’m not sure. To do the things I want to do is to pile more work on myself; not to do them is to let the external system beat me. What to sacrifice, my sleep or my pride?

This isn’t a real answer, I know, and I don’t want to leave you with just my whining and speculative insurrection. So here is an image that, in my sleep-deprived mind, is relevant:
Drifting Clouds
Caspar David Friedrich
(source)

At the very least, it offers a refuge from the frustrations of the high school student. I mean, who values my time more than I do? No one. Who can best decide how to spend it? Being an arrogant sixteen-year-old, I say me. Certainly I know more about what's good for me than school administrators...

But enough. It will not be a restful weekend - but I must believe that I can be happy in the midst of it all. My life is, in relative terms, easy. And to bear this worthily is good fortune.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Myths, part I

Enjoy.

--

East Asia:
-pearl as source of dragons' power
-Bardo Thodol: Tibetan guide to death + otherworld
-Kui Xing: exam god
-oracle bones

Asia Minor/Central Asia/Arabia:
-Barometz: vegetable lamb
-Bahamut: what lies beneath the darkness under the water under Bahamut is not known
-rukh: giant bird of prey
-Hadramaut: "death has come"
-Book of Kings/Shahnameh (Firdasi): Iranian legends
-Avesta: Zoroastrian holy book; Vendidad/Videvdat: Laws against Demons
-Angra Mainyu/Ahriman: Evil Spirit, archdemon, can be lizard/snake/youth
-all demons live in north
-demons: Aeshma (fury/outrage), Azhi Dahaka (three heads, six eyes, three jaws, lizards + scorpions)
-Ardvi Sura Anahita: water/ocean, source of life
-mace of Mithra: Mithraism popular with soldiers (sun god, slayed bulls, honor, courage)
-Tishtrya: god of rains, fights as white horse against Apaosha (black horse)
-seven regions of the world, central has humans, big as other six put together
-Saena Tree: World Tree
-Gaokerena: healing plant
-jadugar: magician/sorcerer
-riding through fire to prove innocence
-Tiamat: saltwater sea
-precious stones: those who sided with Ninurta, Sumerian war/hunt god
-Marduk: chief god of babylon, dragonslayer
-magi: interpreting omens/dreams, practice magic, astrology
-Enuma Elish: Mesopotamian Creation story
-Cybele: mother goddess

Greece/Egypt/Rome:
-"If Hell is a house, the house of Hades, it is natural that it have its watchdog; it is also natural that this dog be fearful." (Borges 59)
-Rhiphaean Mountains: where hypogriffs live
-Iolaus: companion of Hercules
-nymphs:
-dryads - trees
-nereids/oceanids - sea
-naiads - lakes/streams
-oreads - mountains and caves
-napaea - glens
-alseids - groves
-Parthenope: dead siren, namesake of Naples
-Isis cult
-Bes: household god, amulets in battle
-Sekhmet: lion-headed war goddess
-Amalthaea: goat that nursed Zeus
-cult of Prometheus
-Asclepius: god of healing
-Roman festivals: Lemuralia, Feralia (day of dead, merged w/ Samhain), Floralia (spring fest, merged w/ Beltane)
-Vestal Virgins

Celtic Europe:
-Druidic nature worship: water heals, gods all around
-digging pits/shafts to commune with underworld
-stag gods
-mistletoe is sacred peace token
-horned one Cernunnos: fertility and abundance
-horse goddess Epona
-Morrigan: "phantom queen", horses, war, death
-Niamh: goddess of Irish otherworld

Scandinavia:
-Norns: Urd, Verdandi, Skuld; rule the fates of gods and men; also personal norns who decide individual fates
-Aesir and Vanir: two races of gods
-sacrifices by hanging at temple of Uppsala, Sweden
-Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson
-World Serpent Iormungand
-Heimdall: watchman, herald of the end of the world
-Caucasian demon: Syrdon
-Gefion: virgin goddess, associated with ploughing
-Ginnungagap: "beguiling void" btw. Muspel (fiery south) and Niflheim (frozen north); site of creation
-Embla: elm or vine, one of first two humans
-Bifrost: rainbow connecting Asgard to midgard

Russia:
-white stone latyr from which all rivers come
-submerged city Kitezh
-water-dwelling dragon Chudo-Yudo
-not allowed to let the fire go out
-leshii: forest spirit, must follow rules of the hunt or get led astray/killed
-"In still waters devils dwell." (Warner ?)
-rusalka: kind of like sirens
-Koshchei the Immortal: hides death "in a duck's egg, inside a duck, inside a hare, inside a box, at the food of an oak tree, on an island in the middle of the ocean"
-"She came, that evil murderess, cold from the blue sea, hungry from the bare open field." (Warner ?)
-Marya White Swan: sorceress
-"walking near and far, low and high, shallow and deep"
-malevolent magpies
-unwillingly receiving sorcerous knowledge
-koldun: male wizard, killed only by brass button, hair has special powers
-throw handkerchief, create bridge/lake/sea
-Baba Yaga's chicken-leg house, gate of human bones
-"beyond the thrice-nine lands, in the thrice-ten kingdom"

South America:
-tigre capiango: werejaguars
-Popol Vuh: Mayan Holy Book
-Huitzilopochtli: Aztec war/sun god, "blue hummingbird of the left"
-Tezcatlipoca: "lord of the smoking mirror", summer sun, harvest, drought, darkness, war, death; obsidian mirrors used to predict future

North America:
-Great Serpent Mound in Ohio
-Iroquois myth: giant stone people of the west
-Sedna: Inuit sea goddess, queen of the underworld

Sub-Saharan Africa:
-Cagan: Kalahari creator god, magic power in teeth

Australia:
-Dreamtime, walkabout
-Rainbow Serpent: creation and fertility

Etc.:
-dragon hiding stone in brain: carbuncle
-mirror worlds
-"For the dignity of science it was essential that Salamanders exist." (Borges 197)
-in the summer dragons drink elephant blood
-start with a formless deep (Nu/Nun)
-rejection of human sacrifice
-new year celebration in spring

--

Need to learn more about: East Asia, Rome, Scandinavia, Americas, Africa, Australia. This site looks promising.

--

Borges, Jorge Luis, and Margarita Guerrero. The Book of Imaginary Beings. New York: Dutton, 1969. Print.

Curtis, Vesta Sarkhosh. Persian Myths. Austin: University of Texas, 1993. Print.

Davis, Kenneth C. Don't Know Much About Mythology. New York: HarperCollins, 2005. Print.

Page, R. I. Norse Myths. Austin: University of Texas, 1990. Print.

Warner, Elizabeth. Russian Myths. Austin: University of Texas, 2002. Print.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Little Things

Even with Monday off, it's been an exhausting week. I feel as though I'm getting more and more weeks like that - an avalanche of schoolwork, my own initiatives, all piling up higher and higher...

But I'm all right. So, partly for myself and partly because others might want to know, here are some little things that get me through:
  • angry music
  • rereading old Goss posts
  • writing
  • cold tap water
  • cloudy skies
  • imagining that I am:
  • here
    or here
    or here
  • reading poems like "Thanatopsis"
  • "...When thoughts
    Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
    Over thy spirit, and sad images
    Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,
    And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,
    Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;—
    Go forth under the open sky..."
  • writing, and writing, and writing

What little things keep you sane?

Good weekend, my friends.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sidereo

Stanotte, vediamo le stelle?

Corriamo giu' per la collina
La luna un occhio torvo e cieco
L'erba ci prude le camicie
Mentre ci sdraiamo per terra
Sopra di noi il cielo si apre
Piu' scuro dei tuoi occhi ma meno profondo
Non sai come sei meraviglioso?
Non sai che il tuo sorriso e' una cometa?
E' raro, e bellisimo
Un universo nasce nel tuo viso
Quando sono con te, tocco il firmamento
Sei piu' celestiale della luna
Non ho bisogno della nerezza giu'
Perche' tu sei il mio cielo
Amore, sei tutto

Vediamo le stelle, eh?

--

Da S a L. Si innamora(no) moltissimo.

--

I decided to translate Sidereal into Italian because the characters involved are in an alternate-history Tuscany. Thoughts? My grammar okay?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Verisimilitude and Falseness

All writers must deal with verisimilitude.

(Okay, I can think of a counterexample: the avant-garde meta writer who throws together every bizarre element possible to make a point about reality and its fluidity. But even then, without some sense of groundedness the work will be dismissed as something produced under the influence of drugs.)

Most fantasy writers want their magic systems to feel like they could kind of work, that the sorcery, given the rules the writer has made up, is plausible. Scifi writers, too, may loosen the screws of physics a little, but will maintain internal consistency.

Historical writers research. (Fine: Shakespeare had rifles in ancient Greece.) Contemporary writers adhere to the rules of the world as they are today - Riordan characters go to school, have issues with the opposite gender, behave like modern adolescents.

But I'm not sure if any of this (except the last part) has a direct bearing on what has been bothering me lately about my own writing.

Can you write a lesson you have yet to learn? Can you portray characters whose personal development is farther along than yours? Who have lived longer, more, more fully than you?

How can you write truthfully, respectfully, thoroughly, and realistically about people who are completely different from you? This is not a rhetorical question. I want to know.

Some experiences cannot be understood except by those who have gone through them. If you haven't, what can you do, how can you think, so that when you do write about the experience, it rings true?

How much do you need to research in order for your writing to pass muster when inspected by credible people? Stephen Crane's Red Badge of Courage, incredibly, was not written by a soldier. What did he do, that I can use as a guide, when I write about war?

I may speak only obliquely of Death. Today, a small ensemble from my school's band played at a funeral. I did not know the man who died; his younger daughter, who plays trumpet, has exchanged perhaps five words with me. My grandfather, whom I met only twice many years ago, died late 2011. My sister's hamster died when I was in sixth grade.

What do I know of Death? What can I say? I put great faith in the power of my imagination, but it feels wrong, somehow, to imply that I have had truck with grief.

I have never been in love. Currently, I have feelings that asymptotically approach a crush, so I know what it's like to stare at someone and feel you can never look enough, to feel the tension go out of your shoulders at the sound of a voice, to get teased by friends (or in my case, friend singular) who know of your interest.

But love? I've never felt that. I've never even had romantic feelings reciprocated. My image of "true love" is a partnership between equals who respect one another's independence and who, when necessary, rescue each other from fortresses.

Is it actually like this? I feel as though my image is more accurate than Romeo and Juliet's superficial all-consuming attraction. I don't believe in love at first sight. Am I right, or have I just not seen enough of life?

Research takes you only so far. Theory falls short of practice. Are there other ways to overcome the problem, or do you have to accept that there are experiences and themes about which you have no right to speak?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Villa, pt. I

Let me tell you about my villa.

It doesn’t exist yet, except in my head, and even there, not completely. Speaking about it will make it exist more: so shall I do.

Welcome.

-

The villa is perched on a hill overlooking the ocean. You get up to it by a winding pathway, broad enough for two bicycles side by side but narrow enough that cars are distasteful.

The paving stones are mostly gray, but you pass spirals, nebulae, suns. The path’s borders burst with graceful trees, some of which have signposts nailed to them: Giardino dei Sogni, La Mar, Zauberschloss. Dirt tracks edged in driftwood and seastones wind away into their shade.

Benches with metal sides and wooden seats recline almost out of sight along these paths. Some have claw feet. Others sprout iron branches, iron leaves, iron flowers with glass marble centers. One, facing the ocean, is shaped like the shell from which Venus stepped, and if you look closely you will see fish fossils hidden among the flutes.

When you finally reach the top of the hill, a semicircular courtyard greets you. In the center is a statue of a monster covered in eyes: if you count them, you will discover that there are 108.

The villa reclines across the courtyard, sphinxlike, more noble than elegant, more patrician than graceful. As you cross the courtyard, you feel your back straighten.

Stairs cascade down from the imposing double doors: broad steps, on which perhaps a cat sleeps in the sun. Marble steps, though rough-surfaced in case it rains. You walk up to the first terrace, and from this perspective you can see carvings hidden in the threshold. When you get to the second terrace, you see a mural on the ceiling of the doorway. Eyes look down from a mass of vines - strange eyes, that seem to follow you.

Two niches line the sides of the deep doorway. Sometimes they hold flowerpots; other times, they hold urns in which feathers are planted, and twigs, and rusted old keys.

There is no conventional doorbell. Instead, you fill out a calling card, and clip it to a string that dangles from the mouth of a snake carved around the doorway. Through a rectangular pane of glass you see the gears moving as your name and message disappear, shooting up out of sight into the villa’s insides.

Now, you have nothing to do but wait by the door for the master of the house to receive you.