“it’s finally over”

Confession: I did not write a novel this year. NaNoWriMo ended up being a month of plotting and pushing myself to do my usual (ridiculously convoluted) method of planning a story. I got to know my protagonist, and I feel that we can be good friends and enjoy meals and tea together. She told me her story and entrusted me to do it justice. I’m still learning the rules and intricacies of her world, so the journey has only just begun, and I am excited to galavant through its lush plains and trek through its harsh deserts; to learn about its governments and belief systems; to experience its magic and allure; and to gaze in wonder underneath its starlit sky. It’s a privilege to have gotten to know her this far, and it’s an honor to be able to go even further forward from here. The “problem” of writing is that the adventure is never truly over.

Write on, friends.

 

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an amateur writer’s advice for amateur writing

I hesitate to call myself a writer, and I often even hesitate to call myself an aspiring one. “Amateur” even seems too grand a term for me because I feel like other “amateurs” have a better grasp of this whole thing than I do and are way ahead of me.

When my friends call me a writer, I flinch.

It’s a great honor to be considered so by people who know and love you, but it also feels daunting and big, like there are high expectations to meet and big clown shoes to fill, and I only have size 7 feet.

In my head, I feel that I haven’t earned the privilege to be categorized among people like Toni Morrison, Joseph Conrad, Maxine Hong Kingston, Ray Bradbury, JRR Tolkien, Sandra Cisneros, etc., etc., etc. In my heart, I know they all sat where I’m sitting, agonizing over blank notebooks with a pen weighing heavy on their hand, needing to put to paper what makes sense in their own minds but may not translate properly outside of it. In my heart, I know they risked being misunderstood, I know they had moments where they didn’t know if they would make it, I know they had bad first drafts and more than their share of rejections and criticisms—fair or otherwise. The heart may be more deceitful than all else, but sometimes your head’s just as bad.

With this in mind, I’ve been thinking of all the things that I assume writers do that I’m doing wrong and learning to accept that none of it matters. We don’t write for others so much as we write for ourselves, and we don’t write for the finish line so much as we write to discover the adventure that lies on the path to it—whether “it” (the finish line) even exists at all. There are a lot of weird things that I do as an aspiring storyteller that I highly doubt anyone else does (though I’m sure I would be surprised. We are an odd bunch after all), and there are things others do that don’t work for my brain. Whatever the process, what matters is that we do what we must.

So here is a list of amateur advice from a fellow amateur that has been marinating and baking in my brain:

1) Don’t let anyone tell you how or what to write.

I was at lunch with a group of writers and aspiring writers who were all just meeting each other (it was introvert hell, let me be upfront). One of the guys had always written mystery, but he decided he would write romance this time around since there’s money in it. Perhaps he will find his groove and produce a wonderfully written romance novel. But if it were me, and I was writing to sell novels, it would read like a dry and boring piece that I wrote in order to sell novels. It doesn’t help that romance is not a genre I’m actually interested in. It doesn’t excite me or make me feel alive or accomplished. It makes me feel gross actually. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a little romance within the big narrative, but I don’t fancy it as the big narrative. For me, I feel alive and accomplished after going on an epic quest, slaying beasts and conquering foes. And it’s likely going to be other adventurers like myself who will enjoy the things I want to write about, so long as I’m honest with my words and myself.

But that being said…

2) Write outside of your comfort zone.

While you know best what you enjoy writing about, don’t be afraid to write about things you don’t know or understand (bonus points if you explore something you don’t agree with). If we all only wrote about comfortable subjects and things we totally get, we wouldn’t have books that touch our souls and make us sing and weep and grow. Stay within your moral boundaries and be true to yourself, but don’t shy away from uncomfortable subjects or situations either. It’s a delicate thing to balance, I know. But writing is about growth and discovery after all. Be forewarned, however, that your characters may not share your moral grounds, and you’ll need to be prepared for that tension and decide which is more important: your beliefs or theirs, your behaviors or theirs. One of you will lose the argument, and both options could have dramatic effects on your story. Whose voice is needed in what you’re doing? I understand it is not easy to walk the line, so give yourself a little grace, and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Baby steps are how we all learned anything after all.

Along the same vein…

3) Find your people.

Your people. Your tribe. Your crew. The ones who may “get” you and your quirks, but definitely the ones who appreciate it. This could be fellow writers or the people you want to take on your adventure (which I guess could also be fellow writers… we were all readers and adventurers first after all). Recently, I’ve been realizing how “compromising” some of my Google search history can look because I’m trying to write about something I don’t know that may be outside my comfort zone. If you judged me based off that alone, your conclusion would likely be that I am a pregnant serial killer who is deeply involved in a cult. Sorry to disappoint, but I’m actually just an office worker with lofty dreams of writing fantasy stories (and I’m most definitely not pregnant). In talking to other researchers, I feel at ease that it is not just me that the CIA/FBI/Interpol have their eyes on, and if we’re ever imprisoned together, we can rest assured we will never be bored. It would suck, yes. But we would be with our people. And we will always understand the struggle. 😉

4) Find/do what you need, no matter how ridiculous or small or crazy it is.

I’ve seen the way people outline their novels, and I am so jealous. It looks so… structured and simple, and it works for them. They have a pattern established, a formula to fill in, and everything just falls into place and clicks for them in their heads.

I can’t do it.

Instead, I write in the most roundabout and convoluted way that would elicit the criticism of being inefficient, and that criticism wouldn’t be wrong.

But you know what?

Who cares.

I’ll share my crazy method so that you can feel better about yours because I’m fairly confident that no one else is this inefficient in their plotting.

I like to interview my characters. Yes, I know there are character profile forms out there that I can fill out with their hobbies and favorite songs, but it’s just not enough to know them on paper or to only know about them. I want to know them. Who they are, how they’ll react to spiders, what happens after they eat spicy food. I’ll ask mundane questions to get to know their personality and mannerisms, and I’ll interview multiple characters together sometimes to see how they interact. But I don’t leave it at just this. I have my protagonist tell me the entire story from beginning to end, and ride along whatever rabbit trail or detour they want to take me on (and sometimes that I take myself on because I do not write from beginning to end. I’ll write the scene I want to write at the time I am sitting down to write because that excitement will translate into the scene itself). And I’ll ask supporting characters to tell me about certain big or small events that I find important within that grand story from their perspective. One thing I am not so great at yet is doing this with my antagonist and actually wanting to do this with my antagonist. I want to hate them so bad sometimes that being in the same room with them is unnerving. But their story is important, too. It also has a place in the larger narrative.

And once I’m satisfied I’ve covered all my bases and have looked at it from enough angles, I’ll get started.

I can’t tell you how successful this is or isn’t because this is one of the first instances where I’m spending so much time and effort, but I can tell you that throughout this process, everything that I’ve attempted so far has clicked in my head, and I feel like I can fill in the details and do the story justice once I really get it going.

Fair warning, though, you can very easily get sick and tired of your characters and story with this because of how much time you spend together. Which is largely why I’m fairly confident no one else is this crazy. 😛

Oh. And I also need to do everything with pen and paper first. My brain thinks differently with a pen than it does with a keyboard. This one I know other people run into, so at least in this, I’m not alone. Tack this onto “inefficient” as well, though. Like I’d just mentioned, I don’t write in order; I write what I feel like writing when I sit down to do it. I’d get lost having to scroll through a Word document and hoping that I’ve put it out of the way enough from the previous scene I wrote or that I pasted it back in the right place. My notebooks have notes all over that a certain scene “continues on page XX” or “continued from page AA,” etc. And THEN I can piece it together easily when I type it out and feel confident that I have things in the right places.

Speaking of pen and paper, here’s another ridiculous quirk I have that I’m convinced is important: I cannot use completely blank notebooks. I find blank pages to be totally intimidating, and I struggle to start and put something on it. It feels judgmental and sterile. Too clean. Untrustworthy.

But it’s more complicated than that. It’s not enough to just have a picture or something in the corner, and it’s most certainly not good enough to just have the same pattern or design on every page.

You can imagine how complicated and difficult it is for me to find a proper notebook! It’s hard to explain what kind of notebook I like, but the best I’ve got is “stained” or watercolored. I usually have a pretty good run with Ellie Claire journals, but even those don’t have everything I want (they have most things, though, so I like them).

My ideal journal:

  • Has stained pages that are unique to each page (MOST important – see image)
  • Is a thin hardcover
  • Lays flat (I will settle for a spiral bound, but I like the ones with a flat binding just a bit more)

I think that’s about it as far as what the non-negotiables of the perfect notebook are for me. But little details change here and there as I discover more notebooks and whatnot.

See? Don’t you feel better that your Type A brain is not as ridiculous as mine? And don’t you feel better knowing your plotting methods are probably not as complicated as mine? But you know what? This all works for me. And if this is what it takes to get me writing and moving forward, then it’s a good method, no matter what it may look like from the outside. I am completely unapologetic about any of this. Don’t ever apologize for being who you are. You do you, friend. No one else can do it better. 🙂

Finally…

5) Get out of your own way.

We’ve all heard it. “You’re your own worst critic.” It may sound cliché and trite, but you know what, it’s true. You really are the one that is and will be most critical of yourself and your work. There are days I feel like I don’t want to or legitimately can’t write. Whether I’m too full or too empty, some days I just don’t have the energy to transfer thought to paper. I’ve been told to write anyway because if you wait till you feel like it, you’ll never write.

I’m learning to take that advice with a grain of salt.

There is a lot of truth to that statement, but you also know yourself. If you need to discipline yourself to write in order to build good habits, then do it. Just remember that no one needs to see it if you don’t like it, and also remember that you’re writing to develop a discipline. You’re not going to fart rainbows. Allow yourself to have crappy writing because all first drafts suck (sometimes second and third drafts, too), and the sooner we accept it, the better off we’ll be. And don’t be overly critical of yourself or beat yourself up for not wanting to write or for needing to force yourself to write. I don’t want to get out of bed some days, and I don’t feel bad for needing to force myself to do so in order to get to work and make a paycheck to pay for all my complicated notebooks and pretty fountain pens, and I’m not sure if you’ve realized it, but traveling to new and exciting lands can be expensive (BUY ALL THE BOOKS!).

This is in no way a comprehensive list of things to do or not do, or to be or not be (that is, indeed, the question 😉 ) in order to be a good writer, but these are things to keep in mind in order to love what you’re doing and not let anyone convince you otherwise. Writing is for you before it is for anyone else. It doesn’t always “feel good,” but it is rewarding in its own way.

In writing, there is a vulnerability that most don’t realize exists. It’s not safe. It’s not quiet. You are not in control. It is a raging storm, threatening to overthrow your mental stability and challenge everything you’ve been taught and everything you believe to be good and right and true. Writing is an entire ocean trapped within a single, solitary tear. The writer is both slave and master to her words. She can give genesis to them in her mind, but they will do as they please once she does, and she will be as bound to them as they to her.

The road from amateur to writer is fraught with adversity and frustration, and you’re going to want to quit more times than you can count and certainly more times than you’ll care to admit.

But if this is what makes your heart sing and your soul breathe, hold onto it with all your might and then some.

Some days, I need to write more than I want to write. Some days, I have to remind myself that this is the dream that God put in my heart. Some days, I have to remember that writing is how I must worship because it is how I will best worship. When our passion and our talent brings us closer to God than anything else, then this is a gift that He has given us in order to bless and love us that we may, in turn, bless and love Him and work to His glory, and it is a waste to not experience what makes us feel so alive.

I don’t feel like a real writer yet, and maybe I never will. Maybe we never really do. Maybe the journey to becoming one is the whole point.

So, my fellow amateurs, novices, and friends, let’s keep our pens moving and put to page the story that is trying to escape from our hearts through every pore in our body. Let’s write and write and write as though our very breath depends upon each word, each letter that graces the page. Let’s build worlds that will welcome us home with warm tea and a fresh pie when we just need a little me time. Let’s allow the beating of our hearts to be heard through the words and imageries that are coursing and singing through our veins.

Write, writers, and see how we can change the world.

live life in music

I often hear sermons and talks, or read some uplifting article that compares life to music. In particular, they discuss major and minor keys; major, being the one that sounds happier and more vibrant and open, and is therefore the favorable one. Minor key sounds a little more somber and ominous, so choosing to stay in the minor is not ideal. Without fail, each message tends to push people to choose to live their life in major key.

I hate this illustration.

As it turns out, I happen to love music in the minor key. I find it gorgeous, powerful, and so deeply emotional. Most of my favorite songs and orchestral pieces are in minor.

And not all songs in major are particularly wholesome—they just tell a different story. Sure, some songs I like are also in major. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional pep, but really poppy and bright and exciting music can be exhausting after a while (at least for me… I’m sure deeply emotive music is exhausting for others).

So I don’t think that it’s fair to urge people toward a major key just because it sounds more uplifting. This is a very base judgment, and it paints minor key music in a negative light. Plus, it’s just not realistic. You don’t always get to choose to “live in” a major key. Minor key times—serious and sometimes solemn times—come. You can’t just force it to become major so that you can bury and ignore it. That’s not a healthy reaction.

I find that to be what’s beautiful about the minor key. It weeps with you, drives you forward, and, yes, it can even rejoice with you. It’s the quiet, awkward kid in the room that likes to collect bugs and lectures people on the importance of the Oxford Comma. But once you get to know her, you find layers of complexity and feelings that can’t always be expressed properly, causing her to be misunderstood and avoided.

Major key music is a little more straightforward. Sure, there are also layers, but at least to me, major key feels like that friend that doesn’t get too close, or the extrovert that meets you in a new group but doesn’t connect with you very deeply. They get you in the door; the kid with the bug collection keeps you coming back.

Major and minor keys serve different purposes. (Like Imperial March conveys a vastly different message when performed major.) Our lives will be filled with both. Major key may be “happier” and more “attractive,” but rather than advising people to strive for the major and avoid the minor, isn’t it wonderful that you can make beautiful music in minor key? These layers are carefully constructed to show all the wonderful moments of your life, including the more serious and melancholy ones. The victory fanfares that come at the end of a long phrase in minor is pretty epic, too, but they would feel less so attached to a major phrase.

Much of my life has been in the minor by most speakers’ portrayal of the minor key. Yet I find that beauty can rise above the ashes. I never want to repeat any of those times, nor do I wish them on anyone, but I sure do appreciate the lessons I learned and the ways I grew because of them.

Maybe this is why I love the minor key so much.

fix it with a plothole

The September update for Final Fantasy XV came out yesterday, promising to disclose the details that lead to the Astral War. Having been discussing the world and its history with several others, I was very much hoping this update would canonize the Pitioss Ruins theory by Perona77 (don’t read that if you don’t want major *spoilers*, but it’s totally fantastic, so you should read it if you have a love for storytelling and won’t be bothered by *spoilers.* Have I said “*spoilers*” enough yet? *spoilers*).

It seemed to do the opposite.

I have loved this game since choosing “New Game” and getting introduced to the boys. This is the first time I’ve truly been disappointed with regards to the story. Yes, the game has a few issues to address (particularly in pacing), but as for the continuity of the story, I felt they did a pretty fine job for the most part. Tabata mentioned that we might not get the most “complete” story because it’s told from Noct’s perspective, and he’s not omniscient. They don’t get specific on history and mythos in the game either, so you do have to dig around a bit for that, which is particularly why the Pitioss Theory was so goodit seemed to fill in the blanks almost perfectly.

But this.

**SPOILERS AHEAD**SPOILERS AHEAD**SPOILERS AHEAD**SPOILERS AHEAD**SPOILERS AHEAD**SPOILERS AHEAD**SPOILERS AHEAD**

In the established storyline of the game (prior to this update), Ifrit, the astral of fire, is called “wicked,” “fickle,” and “the Betrayer” because he turned against humans and sparked the Great War of Old. It’s been a while, but I don’t recall there being an explanation as to why he did what he did, and it seemed a little unprovoked considering the language surrounding the betrayal.

In the new patch, the player has the option to ask Shiva, the astral of ice, about the past. She has always been described in the game as the astral who held the most compassion toward humans and the one that was most likely to be in their corner, yet she explains that she once held disdain for humans (cue still image of her freezing them to death for some unknown reason. If we track with everything that Shiva said about her feelings toward humans in this update, it sure sounds like she’s actually the fickle one here…), but Ifrit was fascinated by them, admiring their willpower, and so blessed them with fire, which helped them advance their civilization, etc. He eventually warmed her up (pardon the pun) to humans as well as himself, and they fell in love. Then the humans became prideful and rebelled against the gods, and Ifrit reacted by attacking them. But because the astrals had sworn to protect Eos, they fought alongside the humans. Ifrit then is used by Ardyn and corrupted by darkness. Shiva pleads for Noctis to free her love from the bondage of darkness, and Noctis accepts.

There are several issues:

  1. How does one get labeled “the Betrayer” when one is more accurately “the Betrayed” according to the update?
  2. The battle with Ifrit becomes problematic, as Shiva comes in near the end, proclaiming, “Pyreburner. That heart of flame was turned to ash once. A dead flame must burn no more. Taste again the chill wind of death.” (Basically, “Hey Ifrit, you supposed to be dead. Time to go back to being dead.”) I get that killing the guy would essentially “free” him of the darkness, too, but her request didn’t seem to suggest that’s what she wanted. And then she comes in and kills him. Also, for Noctis to fulfill his new promise to Shiva, wouldn’t he have to actually seek Ifrit out? They never planned to meet him; it was Ardyn who had a plan to “introduce” them (by throwing them into a boss fight), but we can’t exactly rely on Ardyn to do anything we want him to.
  3. What the heck kind of purpose does Pitioss now serve? Granted, it was a theory to begin with, but it made so much sense that it really might as well have been officially canonized. You go through this dungeon and see the story unfold through Ifrit’s eyes (as his testimony of innocence), showing why he did what he did to start the war (I’d argue chaotic good for him as well). This was the one piece in the world that told the truth about what happened. Instead, you now have a random woman, represented by a statue deep in the ruins, that Ifrit went to save despite being in love with Shiva.
  4. I have to wonder, considering how freaking insane Niflheim is, and their goal is to become the Solheim of the new age, if Niflheim bears any resemblance to the old civilization of Solheim (who themselves are guilty of pride as their reason for turning on the gods), it almost seems like fighting against the humans would protect the world more so than fighting against Ifrit.
  5. The scars on Ifrit’s body were described in the update to be a result of Starscourge, but they seem more consistent with the burns that Noctis and Nyx both got from tapping in to the power of the Crystal.
  6. The patch said that some time in the age that followed the war (however long it took for the nations to be developed, Ardyn to be named the Chosen King, and Ardyn to be corrupted and shunned by the gods), Ifrit is revived by Ardyn and corrupted by the Starscourge for Ardyn’s own plans, which awakens Shiva to rush to help him. If I remember correctly, Episode Prompto said that Shiva was awakened because of the experiments at the First Magitek Research Facility where the Empire was attempting to create daemon-Magitek superhybrids, such as Diamond Weapon. She purposely goes after them in an attempt to stop these dangerous and immoral experiments. This aligns more closely to her being the compassionate astral who actually likes humans (lawful good, if you will). She set them back, killing much of their army while sacrificing herself in the process, and the Empire began developing weapons to fight the astrals.
  7. Even if we nixed #3 on the list, the rest are still valid issues, and the question of the purpose of Pitioss Ruins is also a valid question. Why put a 2-3 hour, crazy confusing dungeon in this game without giving it a purpose, when everything else seems to have been quite deliberate? I’d heard that Tabata himself said that this dungeon told a story, but what story can it possibly tell now? (EDIT 10.6.17: I’ve now heard that Tabata has denied Pitioss has a story at all, that it was just a creative outlet for a designer’s imagination. So the Ifrit statues, the statue of Titan, the woman in chains, the barreling skull that is probably Doomtrain… all of it is random. It makes even less sense for it to be random.)
  8. Shiva’s story does not describe how the darkness came into the world, despite previous notes in the game that said Ifrit brought the darkness when he betrayed the humans and the gods. It’s suggested that he was resurrected by the darkness, and corrupted and driven mad by it, so again, where did the darkness come from now, if he is now not its bringer? But as it seems Shiva transported herself into the Messenger Gentiana when she died; I’d always figured that the body we see Ifrit in was also that of a Messenger, which was why he looked a little more human than depicted in Amano’s Big Bang art.

Speaking of Amano’s Big Bang…

We can identify Ifrit by his horns. And that blonde woman in his arms is definitely not Shiva (you find her slightly right of center), so what is he doing with another woman, and why is he trying to rescue her when she doesn’t seem to have room in this plot anymore? This blonde woman happens to also be bound at the wrists and in the same position (link credit: Perona77) as the unnamed woman in Pitioss. It’s been long speculated that the unnamed woman and the blonde woman in the Big Bang art is Eos, the goddess of the Dawn, herself. She had always been important to the story, but now I’m not sure how she’ll fit. Considering she’s the goddess of this world, it seems strange that she would be glossed over in favor of something this basic, something that leaves no room for her story.

(EDIT 9.30.17: According to FFPeasant’s video on this, the FFXV Ultimania says that Eos is not only the name of the world in which this story takes place, it is the name of the “goddess whose power is bestowed upon the Oracle.” So yes, she indeed is supposed to be important to this story.)

There was one thing about this update that I very much liked, and that was the extended clip about Luna’s feelings toward Noctis. You do see many other clips in the latter part of the game, showing exactly what Luna felt for Noctis, and you can infer how Noctis felt for Luna based on his reactions and mannerisms. They now make his feelings a bit more explicitly stated in this new clip. However, those of us who have been paying attention to the changes in his behavior and demeanor when it comes to Luna figured it out fairly early on—pretty much right when we first met Umbra at Longwythe. You see a much more gentle side to Noctis where Luna is concerned. So while I thought this scene was beautiful and heartbreaking, and while I am glad that it was included, we have also had many beautiful and heartbreaking scenes showing exactly how these two feel about each other. Had it not been added to the story of the War, I doubt this scene would’ve warranted an update by itself.

(EDIT 11.10 I was going through some of my saved images and videos, and I just realized that they completely forgot about Ravus in the above mentioned scene. While Luna is in thought, Ravus comes, and they argue. Then Luna starts her emotional monologue, and Gentiana arrives. But Ravus is not shown or mentioned again. I think this scene is supposed to connect with one in the main storyline, and Luna tries to give Ravus the ring, but Gentiana is not in that scene. September update was a horribly written fanfic.) 

**END SPOILERS**END SPOILERS**END SPOILERS**END SPOILERS**END SPOILERS**END SPOILERS**END SPOILERS**END SPOILERS**END SPOILERS**

This seemed to be a pretty big miss, so I’m hoping that I’m just missing something that will be revealed at a later date, and I’m hoping that the potential something doesn’t just convolute the story more. It seems the September update decided to fix missing information (that realistically could’ve stayed missing, at least for now) by creating several new plotholes. I’m hoping that this is not the full story but rather, another “doctored” account, much like how the history books don’t mention Ardyn, or how Ifrit has been excluded in the Genesis painting, among other deliberate deceptions in the game’s story (one thing I believe is a big deception is the role and person of Bahamut. I really think he’s secretly a villain and has passed himself off as benevolent and good. I guess we’ll see if I’m wrong in the next year or so).

In my mind, I’m going to jettison this update into an alternate universe. I do very much still love this game; it is very dear to my heart, as it is the tool by which God reminded me how I best worship Him.

To bring us back to a more positive view of this game, check out this article from Geeks Under Grace on God and FFXV (again, **spoilers**). I was a hot mess when I finished this game, and, if I’m honest, **SPOILER-ish** it’s been a month, and I’m still mourning. This article really let me see that other geeks are also finding God in the small things like video games and other media. It was nice to know I’m not alone, and also that there are other people who also don’t limit the ways God wants to reach people. I came across a disturbing image from a group that called themselves “Christians Against Final Fantasy” while searching for something FF-related. It was captioned something along the lines of, “allowing your daughter to play Final Fantasy is like allowing her to be groped by thousands of sex-scented hands,” and depicted a naked little girl with a bunch of photoshopped man-hands all over her. Right, that image came to your mind, but FF is the problem.

I’d written my final Soteriology essay in college on Final Fantasy X. I never got it back, but I passed the class, so it must’ve been pretty good. FFX was not as Christian-friendly as FFXV (as the Geeks Under Grace article mentioned, XV is the first double-digit FF that isn’t totally anti-religion/anti-Christian). At another time, I will try to re-explore that here, but for now, I’ve deviated enough from my original intent.

Game on, brothers and sisters. ^-^

Journey to the Badlands

“The wars were so long ago nobody even remembers. Darkness and fear ruled until the time of the barons, seven men and women who forged order out of chaos. People flocked to them for protection. That protection became servitude. They banished guns and trained armies of lethal fighters they called Clippers. This world is built on blood. Nobody is innocent here. Welcome to the Badlands.” – opening introduction

In recent months, Into the Badlands has become one of my favorite shows. In the wake of a certain superhero “martial arts” show failing to live up to its hype and the popularity of its predecessors, Into the Badlands provided a refreshing look at how a martial arts show should be made. Rather than zoom in so close that you can’t see the action (in an attempt to mask how badly the “martial artist” fights), ITB pans out so that you can see the full scale of the choreography and work these actors and stunt people have put in. Rather than splice up the fight scenes (in another attempt to cover up the Living Weapon’s lack of skills), the camera follows the action properly so you don’t miss the details. Rather than teaching the Immortal One his fight choreography fifteen minutes prior to shooting, the actors of ITB come together for fight camp during the offseason to learn and train with the masters behind decades of successful Hong Kong martial arts movies.

It was also a new story. They created a post-apocalyptic world with its own system of government (however flawed), and centered it on martial arts. It’s awesome seeing Daniel Wu and Stephen Fung doing successful things in American media. Into the Badlands also gives us a type of media representation we hadn’t seen much of before in Hollywood: a strong, multi-dimensional, desirable Asian male lead.

As a quick summary for the two of you who still read this blog, Into the Badlands stars Daniel Wu as the main protagonist Sunny, the head clipper in service to his baron. Sunny is very stoic at the beginning, having become desensitized to years of service to his baron. His back is covered in hash marks–one for each successful kill. As the season progresses, we see Sunny struggle against the norm and have to learn how to become more human. He has a small group of people to protect, one being a young boy named M.K., who is also one of our protagonists. In the second season, Sunny befriends (I use that term loosely) a man named Bajie. Bajie is a bit of a “chaotic good” alignment–he follows his own moral compass, which, while good, may not align with the rest of the population. I introduce these three main characters for the following reason.

Despite having caught up on both seasons, it took me till almost the end of Season 2 to draw a connection between Into the Badlands and Journey to the West. Journey is a folktale about Tang Xuanzang, a Buddhist monk tasked to retrieve the original sutras from India (“the west”) and bring them back to China, but he is often accosted by demons and evil spirits because the flesh of a righteous person is more delicious (*cringe*), and—if I’m remembering correctly—grants special properties. Throughout the story, he gains three disciples: Sun Wukong, the Monkey King; Zhu Bajie, the pig demon; and Sha Wujing, the sand demon. Wukong joins him as penance for wreaking havoc on the heavenly kingdom, and this journey is also part of his own spiritual journey to deification.

I know, I know. What’s a professing Christian like you doing reading and watching stories about Buddhism? Right?

As it turns out, I was raised Buddhist for the first fifteen years of my life. My house was adorned with many idols, and it constantly smelled of incense. My mother was often found chanting the sutras, praying, and serving food and drink offerings. We spent festivals and holidays at the local temple, doing much the same in a larger community. I took the oaths (I’m not sure that they’re called in English, actually) when I was ten-years-old. One of the things I committed to when I did that was observing a vegetarian diet on specific days of the lunar calendar (because I was on the school lunch program, I made up for it on weekends), and those were the worst days of my life. I often felt very afraid of and even judged by the ceramic idols in my home. We had them in the living room and one of the bedrooms. If I forgot something in the living room at night, I either decided I could live without it for the night, or, if I couldn’t, I reached into the next room and flipped on the light before I entered it, and would do so with every single light in my path. Then I’d turn them off behind me and run toward the light of the next room. Once, we noticed a green scepter in the hands of a small Guan Yin we had in the living room and to this day, we are convinced she did not originally have that. So yes, I understand the darkness of spiritual matters quite well. And you should take time to learn about things you don’t agree with so that you know why you don’t agree.

Anyhow, back to the point.

I’d seen how “Bajie” was spelled throughout the entire second season (I like subtitles and captions), but they pronounced it “bah-jee,” so I didn’t think much of it (more on why this is relevant later). Over the summer, I bought a Playstation off a grad student (refer to this post for details), so for the first time ever, I had Netflix on my TV in my living room (what a time to be alive!). (Note: Yes, I know people have had this ability for many years, but my most recent system up till then was a Playstation 2, sooo… yeah.) One thing I enjoy is watching Chinese movies and shows with my mom, so since Netflix had The Monkey King and The Monkey King 2 available, we gave it a go. Despite no longer being Buddhist, this story is still a part of my childhood, and I shared many hours bonding with my mom and grandparents over this story.

And it was the first time I noticed that the romanized spelling of “Zhu Bajie” looked familiar (in Chinese, every vowel is pronounced: “bah-jee-eh”—see? It was relevant).

So of course, this made me connect “Sunny” with “Sun Wukong.”

From there, I did some googling and discovered that this show actually is loosely based on my childhood stories, though the article was written early on before more players and plot were in put in play.

In Into the Badlands, M.K. holds the key to find a place called Azra, which exists outside of the Badlands. It’s fabled to be a utopia, but as no one has ever left the Badlands, its existence is shrouded in myth and legend. I’m considering a connection between Azra and “the West,” and I’m going to draw a parallel with M.K. and Xuanzang. Sunny and M.K. decide to find Azra, and Bajie eventually joins them. Both Sunny and Bajie protect M.K. like Sun Wukong and Zhu Bajie protect Tang Xuanzang. While it doesn’t seem that Sunny does this out of penance, as his identity slowly begins to shift away from being a clipper and more toward being a regular human, he does realize he has much to do penance for. Another connection is that Wukong is the best martial artist who can even take on the strongest demons, like Sunny is the best clipper in the Badlands. In Journey, Zhu Bajie is lustful (which is actually what got him kicked out of the heavenly realm and turned into a demon) and sometimes a total blunder, though he has the party’s best interest in mind. He and Wukong give each other a lot of grief and grate on each other’s nerves. Bajie (ITB) is also pretty lustful and a blunder, and, as I’d said, chaotic good. He and Sunny butt heads a lot and definitely frustrate each other (sometimes comically, like Wukong and his Bajie).

The characters I have not placed are Sha Wujing and the White Dragon Horse.

I’m impressed by and I really appreciate how they’ve creatively re-contextualized a popular folktale. They don’t call it Journey to the West because it is not Journey to the West. It is something all its own while also drawing familiar elements from a beloved fable. This is what it means for something to be “inspired” by something else. It is still respectful to Journey because it hasn’t dismantled it to make it something else while still claiming it’s the same thing. It’s difficult to explain, but I hope you can kind of grasp what I’m communicating.

Lewis Tan just announced that he’s been cast in a recurring role in Season 3. If this goes in the same trajectory as it has been, I’m secretly (not so secretly) hoping that Gaius Chau is Sha Wujing, the Sand Monk, so that we can see more of him as the story progresses. Fitting for the man who could’ve been the Young Dragon in a corporate drama cosplaying as a martial arts show to instead be on a martial show cosplaying as… a martial arts show.

I can’t wait to see what’s in store.

This is what storytelling is all about. It’s the details and the intricacies that make it what it is, for better or worse.

status update

I’m considering using this blog as a place to post status updates and general things happening in my brain while I’m writing. I’d definitely like to keep this still going, even if it’s not so frequent.

To start, there are lots of things I have to research in order to be able to write, and this gives me an awkward Google search history. If you look at my search terms when I’m researching, you’ll probably assume I’m a serial killer, in a cult, or pregnant. Or all of the above.

Other research requires more than a simple search, so I’m currently in a self-defense class (I’m primarily in the class because I’m a very small woman, and I’ve always wanted to learn, but the research is great, too). I’m also making a case to learn how to use a sword because that’s definitely necessary as an aspiring fantasy writer.

These reasons are totally valid, right?

Or maybe it’s like I said in my previous entry, and I’m experiencing quarter-life crisis.

Either way, it’s going to involve swords.

stand by me

Hello to my handful(?) of faithful followers.

I wanted to say thank you for walking with me through my blogging journey thus far. As you may have noticed, my regular posting has declined in recent years, and I have made several promises on my Facebook page for more posts, and I haven’t followed through.

There was a long, dry season where I felt as though I was going through the motions. I didn’t write because I didn’t have anything to say. I did not pray very much during this time because I was struggling with shame and probably depression (though I was not diagnosed). It was difficult for me to get out of bed and do anything because I just felt like I would screw up the rest of my day the moment my feet hit the floor. I felt like the biggest screwup on this side of eternity, and I saw no way of God ever wanting me. Yes, I knew that I’d walked this path many a time, and He has always taken me back, but there’s always that one little voice that says, “What if that was it? What if you’ve exhausted God’s grace, and He’s tired of cleaning up the same messes over and over? What if God has no purpose for you anymore? What if you never hear His voice again?”

I leaned into all of those thoughts and did not look to God for answers (which just perpetuated the shame and sent me deeper into the spiral).

Then one day, I bought a used Playstation and Final Fantasy XV off a seminary student.

Not where you thought I was going, was it? But bear with me for a bit.

I started playing this game and seeing how well-written the characters were. Rather than feeling like a game that I was trying to beat, it felt like I was among friends, exploring a vast and gorgeous world (albeit a little daemon-infested). I started piecing hints within the game together and seeing how the world works, seeing the stories within the story, and putting all of that together to assemble the overall narrative and the history of their world.

Around this same time, I was also waiting to hear if I got accepted to seminary myself. There was a time in my life where I was very interested in seminary, if not for the money. I got one of my BAs in Bible/Theology, and I’ve pretty much always enjoyed exegesis and inductive Bible study. I love seeing the way things fit together and how perfectly they connect. I love finding out the cultural context for why God did things a certain way. I also loved seeing the meanings of words and the message they convey. Funny enough, this sounds like all the reasons I loved FFXV.

So June comes around, and I get word that I’d been accepted, and we’d figure out the deposits and such in the next week or so. At this time, now that it was real, and there was a deadline, I started asking if this was what I truly wanted to do. I was going to be able to do this at a discount, but did I want to spend years and money on a degree I didn’t know what to do with? One I wasn’t sure I still wanted? I went back to leaning on my logic (which has failed me every time in decision-making when what’s logical doesn’t line up with what I actually want), and I thought that I should do this. It seemed wrong to not want to study the Bible and theology when this opportunity was open for me. And I needed to do something different to get me out of my funk.

That weekend, I took a drive to see a former English student of mine graduate from university. Heading home, I was stuck in two hours of traffic, so I had lots of time to contemplate the meaning of life and what I was doing with it (hint: it wasn’t much). Since I had time, I called a friend (hands-free, of course, because I’m safe like that) and kind of verbally vomited on him, discussing my conflict between seminary and suddenly feeling pulled back toward storytelling. All those times leading up to this conversation when I was talking about the depth of the story of FFXV were times I was most alive. You could hear the excitement in my voice inflections, and I could not stop talking about it. My friend suggested I take a few days to pray about it and decide what it is I really want to do, and I realized I didn’t need a few days; I knew I wanted to create worlds that people will want to visit, characters that people will fall in love with, and stories that will make people cry tears of joy and sorrow. We realized that seminary was not the right environment for what I wanted to do, and I withdrew my application and acceptance.

I’ve said that fiction has a way of getting past people’s defenses to teach them lessons they were too stubborn to learn head on. It seems God agrees and used the same tactic on me. Don’t ever tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor when He is the same God that used a video game to set me back on the path of writing. Writing has been the way I connect most to God, and it is the way I worship Him best. I spoke to another friend after getting home from that long drive, and he asked me the same question. What is it you really want to do? I answered a little more confidently this time, just an hour or so later. He then asked me if I thought pursuing this would hinder my relationship with God, to which I answered that I think it would be the exact opposite. He replied that he figured this was the case, and when it is, when our passion and our talent brings us closer to God than anything else, then this is a God-given gift, and we need to use it to worship Him because this gives Him our best worship. It becomes less of “I want to write” and more of “I need to write,” and I definitely feel this when pen meets paper, and I fill several pages with ink and story.

Since then, I’ve been trying my best to write regularly. I’ve been going through an online novel workshop, taking a few hours to put pen to paper, and occasionally meeting up with a friend to do some work. I am also trying to find a mentor to walk this journey with me, as I am not a very skilled storyteller. I’m not sure I’m really even a novice—novices seem to be ahead of me in this area—but this is what feeds my soul and makes my heart sing.

yes, i’m a grown woman, and i like video games.

Writing has also propelled me into other interests. I picked up sewing because I wanted to have a bag for my notebooks and pens, and I couldn’t find anything that was the right size and feel. I don’t usually like carrying bags, so I figured if this was the best way, I’d carry a bag that I liked, and since I couldn’t find that, I decided to make it. It actually didn’t turn out half bad, and it fits everything perfectly. I have more fabric to try so I can have more writing satchels, and I’m pretty excited about creating things. I’ve also turned a few old t-shirts into totes.

reversible tote, ftw!

Aside from sewing, I’ve also acquired an interest in hiking. I suppose with how epic things have been in my brain, I feel that real life should be a little more epic, too. Or I’m going through a quarter-life crisis and just want to try all the things (I also want to learn how to ride a motorcycle and am currently learning self-defense). Either way, I get out of bed a little easier these days.

All this to say, I think my season of regular blogging has run its course. I hope to still post irregularly (as I have been) when I have something to say or ponder, but I am going to be focusing on a new writing adventure. I’ve been thinking I’d create a weekly episodic blog with connected short stories every week or bi-week (like a podcast for readers). This may well happen once I build my world and work out the rest of my outlines and character sketches, and I will announce it here once it does. I am most definitely not a good novelist presently, but I may do all right in short bursts, and the practice can’t hurt.

Anyhow, I just wanted to close with another thank you to all of you who have stuck with me to this point, and also to those of you who will walk with me in this next season of writing. I can’t do this without you.

Walk tall, my friends.

daughter day one

“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”Luke 8:48

“Daughter.”

In a time and culture where fathers advocated for their daughters, this woman came to Jesus alone and ashamed. She was known to all as unclean, and there was no father to defend her or speak on her behalf.

Upon touching His cloak, she was healed from her ailment, from what made her unclean.

Yet, it is the word “daughter” that restores her identity and heals her soul. In a situation where no other defended her, Jesus chose to be her father. With one word, Jesus filled the lack and accepted her. She was clean. She was directly addressed. She was seen―seen by a man who would call her His child.

I have always been uncomfortable with this relationship of father and daughter. It is the identity of God that I relate to the least. While I never expected God to hurt or betray me in this role, I simply didn’t get it. I didn’t understand who I was in this relationship or who He was. I didn’t know how to be a daughter to a father, and I didn’t know how a father would normally relate to a daughter.

Several months ago, I felt that God was inviting me to discover this with Him. I felt that He wanted me to know Him fully, and this was the relationship that was most awkward for us.

So I did what any daughter who grew up with an absent father would.

I turned around and walked―no―ran the other way. I could not get away fast enough.

Because I know that exploring this would ultimately bring me back to the father I never had, the father who never wanted me.

I spent years trying to heal, forgive, and move forward from the abandonment I experienced at his hand. While in college, I had finally done it. I was at peace that he was not there, and I decided I would forgive him so as to not be eaten alive by the pain and anger I felt toward him. His sin was my sin―just manifested differently.

This was the place I refused to go. I already healed. That was it. I would revisit this no more. So I built up my walls, hardened my heart, and wondered why I felt so empty.

(Pro-tip to those who receive an invitation from the God of the universe, Maker of heaven and earth: take it.)

Last night, my mom and I somehow got on the subject of my father. My mom asked me a question about his new family, and I wasn’t sure what she was talking about. So she told me about an article she found, and I looked it up.

Within seconds, I realized this was the biggest mistake I’d made in quite some time.

What I was looking at was an interview about my father, conducted by a girl who could possibly be my half-sister.

I read about his upbringing in China, which was similar to my mother’s. I read about how he did not want his children to experience not having food or clothing like he once did. I read that he came to America in 1988 and struggled until he learned English and could open his own business.

And I was angry.

In one sentence, he managed to insult both my mother and me, as he didn’t seem to care if we had food or clothing. The factual error of 1988 tells me that no one knows about my part in his history because we were a family in America by 1987. There were no details of how he came to America because that would have to include the ugly story of how he married a woman so that he could join her family, who was beginning to emigrate from their side of the Pacific. And then sired a child with her that he did not raise.

And then at the end of his interview, he boldly proclaimed that what he was most grateful for was that he would not have known Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior had he not come to America.

I was livid.

We may have happened before this, but we still happened. There was no attempt to reconcile, despite having been in contact with one of my uncles for years. This made me furious, but my anger only served to mask the deep hurt that was coming from a wound I thought was long closed.

This was why I didn’t take that invitation. This was why I ran. I had been hurt by this man long enough, and I did not want to invite him to live rent-free in my head once more. It took too much to heal the first time.

I have written countless letters, journal entries, and at least one poem regarding what I was feeling toward him, how I was processing, what I needed to do. And a few years ago, I wrote him an eviction notice. I was free from him. Finally.

I do not regret my life without him, despite having wondered more times than I’d like to admit, “why not me?”, “what would it have been like?” I was sent into the fire early, and from there, one can burn, or one can rise. It’s no one’s choice but your own.

But in the midst of this, God blessed my father and allowed him to gift the character “phoenix” toward my name as part of His plan: before I was even born, God declared that I would be victorious.

I was afraid to come to this place because I did not want the wound to reopen. I feared returning to a place of darkness, anger, hatred. But it seems the difference this time is that the wound is shallow and uninfected, and I am pressed to address it while it is so. And it is God who will have to help me keep it this way because my natural leaning would be to pick at it.

To be here now, as difficult as it is, God had gone to drastic measures to barrel through all of the walls I had built up, for the sole purpose of extending His invitation to me again.

God is a God of second chances, and when your heart is as hard as your head, He will break that rock-hard heart to give you one that beats and lives, and ask you to try again.

A spiritual mentor recently told me that because I have endured this much pain, my capacity for hope is this much greater. My wounds and scars run deep enough that the foundation is set for hope and love to be poured in to fill these broken places.

Months have passed since I was invited on this adventure. I was not ready to accept it then, but I think I am now.

It feels like the first step toward something huge.

I am terrified of the idea, but I am also feeling something I didn’t feel the first time.

Hope.

The one gift my father gave me is also my greatest burden. To bestow the name “phoenix” is ironic and fitting and everything I don’t want to bear. But it is a name that is redeemed because God called me something else.

Daughter.

He saw my lack and chose to fill it. He saw my wound and chose to heal it. With one word, He claimed me as His own―His own daughter. With this word, He chased away the hurt, shame, and lies that I had chosen to believe for much of my life.

He gifted me the bearing of a phoenix to fulfill the promise He made to me with this name. I will be refined with fire in the furnace of affliction. (Isaiah 48:10)

And a phoenix will always rise.

Above the ashes.

I am a daughter―His daughter. And I will learn to live what that means.

This is day one.

One More Choice

I’ve had Facebook for the last 3 elections, and I have never seen things get as personal as this one. Discussions were not being had; people were being talked at. If someone voiced a different opinion, they were not welcomed into the discussion, but belittled and attacked.

And this happened among friends.

The damage has been done, the words have been said, and the wounds have been inflicted. We are tired. We are all tired of hearing one thing or another, and being made to fit into one box or another. We are numb and weak from fighting back.

But I’m asking that we all make one more choice.

Decide if it’s more important for you to be right, or if it’s more important for you to be in right relationship with those in your community and your circle of friends.

These are the people who will go to your kids’ soccer games, run the booster club with you, or sit with you for coffee or a meal. The politicians will continue to be faces in the crowd and our TVs, and they will be perched on a mountaintop we cannot scale. They will never love us back, nor will they feed and clothe us when we are broken.

But we, the people, will be in each other’s lives, day in and day out. We, the people, must be each other’s community, and we must hope for a successful term, whether we voted him in or not.

Because what he does in these next 4 years does not affect only those who voted for him, but it affects all of us and even the world, and the generations that follow. If the captain doesn’t know what he is doing, the ship will sink with all aboard.

So pray for our neighbors, pray for our leaders—both locally and federally. Decide if a relationship is worth it, and say what you need to say in order to mend it or move on from it. Think before you speak and act. Listen before you pass judgment. Learn what it means to truly love, sacrificially and unconditionally, to the point where it is uncomfortable and asks us to give everything we have.

“Love your neighbor as yourself” is not a nice sentiment. It is a command. Love your neighbor. Love your African American neighbor. Love your Mexican neighbor. Love your Asian neighbor. Love your gay neighbor. Love your hypocritical neighbor. Love your white neighbor. Love your Muslim neighbor. Love your racist neighbor.

Love like Christ loved the church and gave all for her.