writer’s blessing

“If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”

― Ray Bradbury

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“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.

 

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’m only 5’1″(ish) and 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 along the way. 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. 😉

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.

 

kaboompics_Black vintage typewriter.jpg

 

fix it with a plothole

Image Credit: http://finalfantasy.wikia.com/wiki/Ifrit_(Final_Fantasy_XV)

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. 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. 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 read 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.

Image Credit: http://finalfantasy.wikia.com/wiki/Big_Bang_(artwork)

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 11.10.17 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.

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.

life as a plant – a parable

I have three plants.

Each one is at a different stage in its life and growth. Two are dying. One is thriving.

One of these was planted in haste and in selfishness. I wanted something to have control over. I wanted this in my future. I wanted a little security when everything was going crazy. But the landscape I planted this seed in was harsh and unworked. Rocks and gravel covered the ground; soil slept deep in the layers beneath, untouched and unused.

I was academically drained, emotionally unstable, and spiritually starving. It was impossible for me to have made such a decision wisely.

But I did it anyway.

I planted this seed and watched it sprout in record speed.

But the problem with unworked, harsh ground is there is no soil to provide any depth for the roots to continue to develop and reach further. So it sprouted quickly and just as quickly started to die.

There’s no doubt I tried to save it. Oh, did I try. But feeding a dying plant, pruning it, watering it will do no good if I did not go after what was killing it. So this one is dying. And I cannot save it. Maybe God will replant it one day when I am allowed to work this land and make it able to sustain life. But for now, this plant is no longer mine.

I have two plants.

This plant was grown in very good soil. It was fed well and strengthened in every way possible. Roots dug deep into the soil, and the plant grew and grew.

The bark tells a story filled with adversity, triumph, and love. This plant was burned and cut, yet it still stood where it was, roots so deep in the earth that nothing could extinguish it.

Except old age.

There’s no doubt I tried to save this one, too. I challenged nature and God to a duel for the ages to keep this plant alive. The rings held too many memories of laughter, heartache, and lessons learned for me to let it go without a fight.

But when you take on God, you should expect to eat it pretty bad.

One cannot cure old age no matter what one may believe.

Thus, this plant is also no longer mine.

I have one plant.

This one survived several years of neglect from me, as I was too focused on desperately trying to resuscitate the other two. But what right do I have to choose one life (or two) over another? Thankfully, God doesn’t play by my rules, and He took care of this one Himself, growing it and pruning what hinders its growth. And soon enough, this plant had grown too big to ignore without me realizing it.

Jesus Christ: the greatest ninja gardener of all time.

It is by His green thumb this little one not only survived my neglect and abuse but is thriving and growing beyond my control.

The roots have dug in deep and are being strengthened in the soil. A world of possibilities lies ahead of this young life – transplanting, germinating, replicating – the sky is the limit.

I have one plant.

Now that I’ve realized it’s here, I have a responsibility to build it up and feed and prune it alongside my favorite Ninja-Gardener.

Little buddy, have we got an adventure ahead of us.

The Man Who Waited

There once lived a man who loved his sons very much. He was a wealthy man, lacking in nothing, who owned land and livestock and could provide for his family and all who served him. Everyone loved the man dearly. He worked hard every single day alongside his servants, doing the same work and more. When they were old enough, the boys began working the fields with their father. As a father and as a man, he couldn’t have been any prouder than to have these two as his sons.

Then one day, his second-born – a man still very much a boy in every respect – boldly approached the man and demanded his share of the inheritance that would one day be his. The servants murmured in hushed tones about this interaction: the blatant disrespect, the selfishness, the unspoken wish and curse.

The man, however, looked at his son with kind, sad eyes. The man knew his boys, and the child standing before him knew nothing of economics and business and moneyhandling. No, all had been given to him from the beginning, and he knew little of responsibility. But the man loved his son deeply and held hope that he would one day become a respectable and honorable man that no one could speak poorly of. Without hesitation, the man divided his land – his only investment – and gave the deed to his boy. As the boy ran off to sell his land that his father worked and tilled for so many years, the father stood in one place and watched his baby boy until he could see him no longer. And then he went back to work.

The next morning, the man ate his breakfast, pat his older son on the shoulder, and went back to the same spot where he bid farewell to his youngest. There he stood for several moments, staring intently toward the direction his son ran off yesterday. The last thing he had seen of his boy was his back, straight and unwavering; he never looked back.

Everyday the man did this. Even when he was in the field, his eyes always drew toward that path where his son chose to carve out his future.

The servants had begun to whisper amongst themselves regarding their master’s routine. “What a loving father,” some said. “What a deranged fool,” commented others. “No matter what, he was his son,” yet more added.

The man’s older son, however, had very little to say. Instead, his eyes grew colder and colder day by day as he watched his father – the honorable, powerful man whom he had tried his entire life to please – pine pathetically for that worthless brother of his. Having abandoned his work and his kin, the younger boy no longer held any part of his brother’s heart.

Still the man continued to wait. Day after day, he waited. Though he grew weary, he always waited. Some mornings were more difficult than others in getting started and moving about. “Master, why not rest today?” his servants would say. “Master, today will be like yesterday and the day before and the days before that.” To each, the man would smile politely and, with hope sparkling deep in the apples of his eyes, he would answer, “But today is today. It is not yesterday or the day before or the days before that. Today could be the day. Today I could be welcoming him home.” And the man continued to wait.

Days continued to pass, and even the servants had grown weary. The man’s labor had begun to take a toll on him. On a particularly difficult morning, a servant said, “Master, you have been working from sunrise to sunset. Why not rest a little longer today or even just leave everything to us?” However, like always, the man smiled and shook his head. “Today could be the day,” he answered as he and his servant left to begin the day. They walked toward the spot he had stood every morning since that fateful day. “Today, I could be welcoming him home.”

As he glanced toward the horizon, the man’s usual joyful face beamed and erupted into a smile that rooted itself in his very soul.

And, his body forgetting its fatigue, he took off in a sprint as the wind carried his deep full laughter toward the fields.

The Butterfly Circus

The Butterfly Circus – HD from The Butterfly Circus on Vimeo.

I was re-watching this short the other day, and it always tends to make me cry.

“A perversion of nature. A man, if you could even call him that, whom God himself has turned His back upon.”

He hears this over and over everyday. Constantly. And then braces himself for the laughing, the shock, the pity, and all the difficulties that come with people. When this is the only truth you’ve ever known, it’s easy to believe it.

The names the world has given us, the names that we have given ourselves, the names that the enemy has used in his lies… why do we believe them? Why do we give them control over our lives? When we allow the world to name us, we take all of the world’s junk and rub it all over ourselves to the point where we are nothing more than dirty, smelly, putrid things. Our identity is lost, and we ourselves cannot find it.

But God has a name for us.

Child.

He calls us His child. His son. His daughter. This is our identity.

Somehow, it is easier to believe the lies, no matter how horrendous they are, than it is to believe the truth even though it is so extraordinary. Maybe because it is so extraordinary.

We hear it all. Over and over. Everyday. The world calls us useless and broken. God calls us His.

Which one will we believe?

see, believe, obey

Story #1

A flood was threatening the lives of a city. Everyone began evacuating before the flood was to hit completely. A man sat at his house and thought, “God will save me from this flood.” A car drove by and had an extra seat. “Do you want to get in?” those riding in it asked. “No, it’s fine, God will save me.” So the car drove off. A few hours later, the flood was really settling in, and the man felt a little nervous but reassured himself that if he kept praying, God will save him. A man came by on a rowboat and called to him. “Do you want to get on?” he asked. “No, it’s fine. God will save me,” answered the man. So the boat rowed off and left the man on his roof. A while later, the flood had overtaken most of the town. A helicopter flew toward the man’s house. “Do you want to get in?” the pilot asked. “No, it’s fine. God will save me,” the man answered. So the helicopter flew off to find others who were trapped in the flood.

A few hours after that, the man drowned in the flood.

When he met God face-to-face, he asked, “why didn’t You save me from the flood?”

God answered, “I sent you a car, a boat, and a helicopter, but you refused all three.”

Story #2

A man was mountain climbing when a severe snow storm hit. He hung to his rope and tried to shimmy down, but in complete darkness and against the biting cold, he soon lost his confidence and strength to continue onward.

Not knowing what else to do, he began to pray to God and voiced his fear and asked for help.

“Let go,” he heard.

He continued to hold on because of his fear. It was the middle of the night in a bad storm, and he could not see farther than a foot in front of him.

“Let go,” he heard again.

He tried to muster his strength but could not, and instead continued to hang mercilessly on his tether.

In the morning, a rescue crew found him dead and still hanging onto his rope. He was two feet from the ground.

~*~*~*~*~*~

what do you gather from them?

food for thought.