Seriously, Story? Get Out of My Head! And Then Writing With That

So this was me a few days ago.

I already know that I need to work on my collaboration, but I have this story idea. It was supposed to be a minor one: one of my old usual one-off post stories I’ve made in another forum but something happened.

It’s not an unfamiliar feeling. I found myself staring at a blank screen. The story was there–mostly clear in my head–and I was looking at this screen and became very aware of the fact that I needed to move my hands to write the thing into existence. If I didn’t move my hands, or find the energy, this story would not exist at all.

So I switched away from my writing screen because I got tired of looking at it and vowed to go back and do something with it later. I was in the mindset of that I needed to get this story done so I could do my other work. So I sat at the screen again and condensed what I knew of the events into a post. I had a lot of details that I also needed to keep track of and I didn’t write them down because this was supposed to be a one-off story and it was also supposed to be one bloody post.

This occurred on and off for three days or so: with fits of procrastination and writing some posts for this Blog. The story sat in my head: sagging under this heavy weight that was beginning to put me into a very autistic or at least one-track mentality. I guess some would consider it borderline obsession, but the fact was I couldn’t ignore it and it was too big to warrant one post.

All right, fine. You win story. I’ll give you more room. So finally I started writing it and once I had that first line, I thought, “Okay, now I know you will get on the page.” I even changed one of the main character’s names as I wrote it and it worked. I had everything figured out more or less. So you think that it was smooth sailing from there, right? Right?

The answer is no. Hell no.

Then I found myself making more names. The next thing I know I am calling up back-stories and keeping them in front of my eyes like translucent membranes while writing character dialogue and interaction. After I made my first post, each one came slowly and methodically with many pauses in-between as I had to keep my concentration and self-discipline in line.

Before I know it, my one-off story has a whole ton of world-building behind it for something that was supposed to be a somewhat intelligent parody of a genre. I mean, I was prepared for the fact that I was layering my story and the nuances of my characters, but this was getting ridiculous: fucking ridiculous. I used to be able to write several pages of interactions in a day and I was getting bogged down because I wanted it done and out of the way so I could move onto other things.

I had to fight with some depression: with the possibility that no one was going to read it, with asking myself if I was just trying to impress people, with the fact that it wasn’t going to be any good, and the fact that I was spending way too much time and effort on something that should have been a one-off and very few people are going to see anyway. But I was also asking myself why I wanted to make this story. What was so important about making it and placing it where I did? And that was when I realized something: that sometimes when I create, it’s not a river rushing through the structure of me, but it’s me fighting against myself.

Basically, I was fighting against myself: trying to overcome myself to finish this story because I knew that once the damned thing was done, I would feel a lot better. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that sculptors sometimes beat the shit out of their clay to make what they want. It is just as much frustration as it is a need to create.

And I’m using profanity for a reason here. Creating can be tedious but also an ugly, messy business that tears into the blackest, dirtiest, filthiest parts of your psyche to express something from inside your mind into words. Sometimes, as I wrote this thing, I thought maybe I’m old. Like I said, I used to write several pages a day of things but my brain also likes to keep making things intricate and build-up a conflict to the boiling point.

Now, once that build-up was finished and I got to the action, I actually moved pretty fast and was caught up in the moment. It was so strange. Before this, it was like I was boring holes into a blank screen with my eyes–willing something into existence–and actually feeling my head get congested and feeling heat radiate off of my body as I sweated. It was like that energy kept ebbing and waxing–like I was visualizing something inside me consuming itself–until, finally, I found that rhythm and I just felt that creativity blaze inside of me again.

At one point, I had to eat voraciously because I had burnt that much heat moving and squirming around. But by that point, I was almost done the entire story. And when I did, I felt this tremendous sense of relief. I overcame myself. I’ll tell you, I don’t always succeed in overcoming myself but it is always feels like a success when I do.

Of course, I still feel like writing more things. I also have to remember to pace myself and not rush matters. There are other things going on with my life that also contributed to my sense of needing to do my primary work, but I know that I can’t put all creative and personal facets of me on hold to work on one thing, and I shouldn’t. I put pressure on myself. But at least, even though it may have been an engineered battle in my head, it was–this time–a battle that I didn’t lose.

Fate, Fortune, and Freewill: The Challenges of Table-Top Role-Playing

So during my last game session with my friends, one of my characters seems to have died. This would actually be the first time I had a character that died in a table-top role-playing game. Sir Vaeric Aedrin of the Order of the Imperial Knights was last seen drowning in a sandstorm in a desert on Mandalore. Why did this happen? Well, very simply enough: he failed his Survival and Endurance rolls on the D20 system and the last I saw of him was him being buried in sand.

I’ll admit. I wasn’t very happy. But for the most part I really liked how I role-played him. Sometimes you have to understand that, in at least a D20 role-playing game like Dungeons & Dragons or one that uses the former’s rules, a lot of your actions and their consequences are determined by the role of the dice.

It can be frustrating. You come up with these ideas and you plan out what you want to do–though some cases you have enough additional modifiers to add to the dice number to exceed the difficulty number–and then you have to basically trust in the die or dice not to fuck you over. And sometimes that D20, that twenty-sided die, is not always your friend.

That’s not the only challenge in role-playing this kind of game however. There is also the challenge in creating a personality for your character and to keep role-playing that personality consistently. I like to create back stories for my characters and then attempt to have the character act according the nature I made for them. The thing is, even barring the fact that you could make a roll that changes the outcome of a situation, you have to also take into account that your character will change. It’s impossible for them not to. You have to figure that stress and particular situations will greatly influence them. Your Dungeon Master or perhaps more accurately your Game Master–if they are any Game Master at all–will present challenging situations for you to role-play through. I don’t just mean creating physical obstacles or enemies to kill, but moral quandaries and interactive role-play situations as well.

For instance, Sir Vaeric as well as his commander Sir Kentari and the recent addition Sir Hett go into a Mandalorian base to investigate it: as one of their other team-mates had a calling from the Force that there was something important about this place. They end up getting caught in a fire-fight between two Mandalorian factions. Choosing a side becomes easy in that their new companion Sir Hett is on one side. But it’s what happened afterwards that I’m thinking about. Sir Vaeric is a bladesmaster and a man of honour, yet his allegiance is ultimately to the Empress, or as was his battle cry, “For Empress and Empire.” There are these refugees and the surviving Mandalorians that are protecting them. They are all headed to the same place to, presumably, the Resistance of a Death Watch ruled Mandalore.

Sir Vaeric tactically believes that having more Mandos on their side could bolster their chances of survival. He also thinks it’s the right time to do to allow the refugees–victims of Death Watch’s allies–to have some protection and be able to fight in the Resistance: maybe even as a gesture of good will so that the Resistance will be more inclined to give he and his fellow Knights their Prince back. Sir Kentari, on the other hand, along with Sir Hett remember their oaths as Imperial Knights and see their mission to get their Prince back as paramount. They also greatly esteem their abilities over everyone else’s and have a certain degree of arrogance that is something of a trademark among Imperial Knights. They rebuke Sir Vaeric–thinking he is delirious from a neck wound–and in the end even he sees that refugees would slow them down and attract more notice to them.

In the end, the refugees and their Mando Clan are free to leave and both parties go their separate ways: which is just as well because we also encountered a sandstorm that would have killed all of them had they come with us. But you see with this example of how Sir Vaeric’s personality and his oaths conflict. What complicates this even further is that I was also playing Dravas C’Tor: my humanitarian Force-sensitive archaeologist and he would have definitely wanted those refugees saved. In retrospect, separating the two personalities–as well as what I want to as a player–was definitely a challenge and it can be easy to confuse the two.

Another notable example was when we were all in the desert, Sir Kentari had to make a choice between rescuing his Knight Brethren that fell in the winds and C’Tor. Dravas C’Tor in another game accidentally killed his Master and failed to save the life of his Knight Brother in a previous quest. Sir Kentari would have loved to save Sir Vaeric and Sir Hett and left C’Tor to rot. But his mission was to save the Prince and C’Tor was selected by the Empress to be the negotiator between the Empire and the Resistance: since he had ties with the latter. In the end, Sir Kentari had to save a man he despises, “For Empress and Empire.”

I think another confusing matter that does tend to come up is remembering that there is what you as a player wants or knows, and what you as a character would do. You might think that after a long time of role-playing, it would get easier to differentiate the two, but doesn’t. You will always be challenged: especially when you play characters with different experiences and knowledge. I can’t tell you of the times I wanted to access computers just to remember that I’m not my NX droid, or examine the lore of a civilization and I’m not my scholar character, or even sometimes get aggressive and realize that is how my Sith character would be. Now it is wanting to go into direct combat and remembering that I’m not my Imperial Knight anymore.

The thing is that when I make a character, there are commonalities from my own personality. They tend to be knowledge-based or artistic in some way: even if it is being artistic with a lightsaber blade. But what I know as a player or, as someone who has lived a thousand lives as a player to adapt George R.R. Martin’s phrase, is not necessarily something I know or can do in-character.

So really, I can sum it up like this: I have an idea of where my character has been and where they want to go. There are rules in place to see if what they do actually works or how their actions actually happen. At the same time, I have to make decisions that are separate from the dice rolls. Sometimes, I really don’t like dice rolls and numbers: partially because I have difficulty with numbers, but also I tend to role-play or act out my characters more than rely or depend on my statistics. However, I also try to remember my statistics because there do need to be rules in place–to create a structure–and it is a pretty cool thing when you roll your die and you get a 20 or, in my die’s case, an “EQ.”

I would have been very angry if, say, Sir Vaeric died in the desert automatically and there was nothing I could about it. A lot of players would have been pissed that they hadn’t died in battle. But the way our GM did it made a lot of sense. We had to roll to pass Endurance and Survival checks. We had the chance to succeed or fail. We didn’t just immediately die in an arbitrary way. Also, it’s realistic. When you find yourself in unfamiliar terrain and you’re not prepared to be there or deal with harsh environmental conditions, you are at risk. Weather brings armies down. You can be the greatest swordsman in the galaxy, but when a sandstorm and static electric currents assault you, you’re probably going to be screwed.

I’ll admit that numbers and statistics and feats do play a role in something like a D20 game and I am not always the best at figuring our the rules. But I also know it is a lot more than just numbers or the equipment you get or the back-story you make. In my other article, Role-Playing as Interactive World-Building, I talk about how a role-playing is a creative collaboration and it’s no less true here. Your character will evolve. You will roll twos on your D20 and fail a medical procedure that could have saved a companion’s life. Out of character, you know that’s not your fault, but in character there is the reactions of everyone to consider. You incorporate the results of rolls and actual decisions you make into how you and your characters interact with and change the world you make.

In the end, I’d say that when you table-top role-play, your first collaborators along with the GM are fate, fortune, and freewill. There is a plan and the dice can randomize that plan, and your game might have a particular spirit of its own, but your decisions are still very much important.

Dreams and Dragons, Wolves, Wargs and Wights: Shamanism and Magic in A Song of Ice and Fire

So in my last post on this matter, I promised to talk about shamanism in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire: especially with regards to some particular characters. If you have not read the books yet or you have not finished reading the books in the series that exist so far, please stop reading this post now because there be spoilers here.

All right. So now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I’m going to unpack some interesting characteristics that I’ve noticed in some of the Targaryens and the Starks. These two Houses are descended from the Valyrians and the First Men respectively: making them the potential heirs to various kinds of magic that manifest subtly at first and then become more overt later.

First, let’s deal with the blood of the dragon. We know from the novels and the novellas in particular that the Targaryens–a family descended from the mystically advanced and dragon-riding Valyrian Freehold–have members with Dragon dreams. These dreams are highly figurative and metaphorical but they can essentially tell the future or even I would imagine say something about the past. Aside from these dreams, however, and inbred family members that are either genii or insane with predilections towards greatness and fire, the current Targaryens do not seem to possess anything else in the way of magic.
Even with dragon eggs and some knowledge of the maegi–with that mystical group’s knowledge of blood magic–other Targaryens could not bring their dragons back from extinction.

With one very notable exception.

daenerys and dragon

While her brother Viserys seems to have inherited the insanity and pettiness of the family, and Maester Aemon has only the dreams and the genius, Daenerys Targaryen has “dragon dreams” and awoke her dragon eggs. But how? How did she, out of all her family,  properly “awaken the dragon” within her? How did she become immune to fire for just enough time to stay with her dragons on Khal Drogo’s and Mirri Maz Duur’s funeral pyre?

The thing to understand is that is how it all happened. The reader already knows that Daenerys has the dreams. But the dreams aren’t enough. They are the first step it seems. When the dragons died in Westeros, a lot of Valyrian lore and ritual about them was lost over the generations: with details such as how to hatch dragons, breed them, and tame them disappearing into the mists of time.

Now the easy answer to how Daenerys awoke her dragons is to say that she used blood sacrifice to awaken them in the flames and access the latent power inside of her. Then you also have to take into account Melisandre of Asshai’s assertion that dragons can only be awakened by royal blood and then consider that Daenerys’ unborn son Rhaego Targaryen died in Mirri Maz Duur’s ritual so that Khal Drogo could “live” again. This–combined with the maegi’s own death–could have awakened the dragons.

However, there is something else to consider. When Ser Jorah carried Daenerys into the tent where Mirri Maz Durr was performing a ritual to “save” Khal Drogo, she either almost died or something far worse threatened to swallow her spirit. She had a dream of running away from a great blackness and, as she did so, she passed several generations of Targaryens urging her onward to save herself: from the earliest to the last. If I recall properly, even her son was there. It is at that point, that I believe, after this experience that something wakes up in Daenerys: namely the power of the blood of the dragon.

I’m not sure if her immunity to fire was temporary, but it probably was as she has burned her hands after these events. But it seems, to me anyway, that Daenerys accessed the blood of her ancestors and maybe even their spirits to become whatever it is she is on the road to being in addition to the Mother of Dragons.

One important rite of the shaman is to die and be reborn. The flames from which Daenerys Targaryen came from seems to cover that in a very symbolic way. But as I said before, there are others aside from the Targaryens who follow something of a shamanic path.

The Starks are the others that I am thinking about: particularly Bran Stark.

We know now that the First Men and their descendants have the capacity to be wargs: to be able to send their spirits into animals and either control them or influence them through symbiosis. We also know that the “simple minded” can be influenced in this way as well by a warg. An interesting real-world parallel is when you look at people accused of being werewolves, it had sometimes been said that they were sorcerers that shed a wolf skin or put in on. It is metaphorically similar to how a warg works and it definitely has shamanic undertones.

Off-tangent, the mere fact that the Westerosi Houses adopt animals for their sigils and familial-identity is pretty totemic. I’d imagine their ancestors also adopted these traits as protective measures: having the belief that by linking these animals to them they would gain their abilities in some spiritual way. They may have even had shamans or wisemen among them. But some of the First Men’s descendants go further than that in taking “animal skins.” In addition, some tend to have “wolf-dreams”: not merely living through their adopted animals, but sometimes having visions as well.

Bran and most of the Stark children, including Jon Snow, have been having these to greater and lesser extents: though not Sansa because of the death of her direwolf Lady. But Bran and Jon are the most striking of the Starks to this regard. We know that wargs are born, but I strongly suspect that if what Bran’s teacher, the Three-Eyed Crow, says is true about a rarer few among the wargs being greenseers, then something must set off this trait.

Bran Stark’s powers as a warg and dreamer only truly manifest when he’s pushed out of the tower and left to die. He is physically crippled: as though he paid the price for this death which he came back from. The young Stark even has an older teacher to guide him. In some shamanic traditions, a shaman loses a physical part of them before gaining power. Usually, it is their eyes or sense of physical sight but not always. They also tend to have mentors or teachers.

While I do think Bran had the potential for being a greenseer in him, there needed to be a traumatic event or powerful catalyst to bring it out: as with some shamanic awakenings. I also imagine that if anyone else had gone through that fall, warg or no, they probably would not have woken up.

But then we have Jon Snow.

Jon has his direwolf Ghost and has been seen to go into the latter’s mind sometimes. He can’t go into multiple animals yet and he probably isn’t a greenseer. But he does have “wolf-dreams,” and one prominent dream he had at one time was being in the crypts of Winterfell where the dead of the Stark family were viewing him from oldest to the most immediate (if only in perceived disapproval because of his bastardy). Does this sound familiar at all to another person having another dream about their ancestors?

As for Jon’s future, I am just as much in the dark about it as everyone else, but I suspect that if he is as close to death as he is now and he somehow comes back he will not be the same … or maybe he will be even more of what he is supposed to be.

These speculations aside, I know there are problematic elements to consider. I mean, Theon Greyjoy has nightmares of the Winterfell crypt and he isn’t even a Stark: not remotely. And others have dreams too besides some of the Starks and the Targaryens. But there are a lot of really eerie parallels going on here that I just wanted to draw attention to and put in some kind of framework.

I guess in the end it comes down to a discussion of what magic in Westeros and Essos actually is. What is fascinating is that the children of the forest had greenseers before the First Men and we know the children taught the First Men about the land and their magic. It’s stated that children and perhaps even humans that are greenseers change eye-colour or have strange eye hue to begin with. Bran’s eyes seem normal, but there is also a rite in which he has to ingest weirwood seed paste to fully awaken his greenseeing abilities: specifically in sending his spirit in the weirwood trees all over the known world. As such, he has to be physically integrated into a tree to do so.

What is striking is Bran’s master. I suspect that the Three-Eyed Crow is the Targaryen bastard Bloodraven and if he is, and I’m sure he is, he is not only an older man than Maester Aemon was–if you can still venture to call him a man at this point–but he is of Targaryen blood and is a greenseer. We know that Bloodraven was an albino and had red eyes. Targaryens have always had different coloured eyes from everyone else. I wonder how a Targaryen can be a greenseer: if only perhaps through his mother’s First Men-descended Blackwood line?

But the Targaryens themselves, like I said, have different coloured eyes and hair from everyone else and they sometimes have strange abilities. I wonder if there is any relation somehow: at least in how some magic works.

It also makes me ponder another matter. The red priests of Rh’llor in Essos use fire to heal, look into the future and even in some cases resurrect the dead by breathing their fire into a body’s mouth. It makes me wonder if there is some relation to them and ancient Valyria: aside from the fact that the Westerosi Prince that Was Promised or the Essoi world saviour Azor Ahai reborn is supposed to come from the Targaryen line if all things are to be believed or be consistent. I also wonder if Rh’llor was one of the gods that the Valyrians worshipped as well before their Doom: though it is also likely that worship of him came from Asshai-by-the-Shadow. Then you also have to consider that Rh’llor’s great nemesis is supposed to be the Great Other and, according to Melisandre, the god or ruler of the Others beyond the Wall. Certainly, like the Others, the priests can reanimate a person yet they lose their short-term memories, they do not heal properly, and they become essentialized versions of their previous selves … or the animated echoes of their last task.

And this brings me to something else. Aside from the fact that I wonder if the order of the green men on the Isle of Faces have any relation to the greenseers, there is also the nature of a greenseer to consider. They link with the weirwood trees and they know how to presumably influence animals and simple-minded beings: even take control of them. They are apparently so potent that it is suggested that the gods of the First Men are actually greenseers: either still conscious or comatose and dreaming in their trees.

The Others apparently use necromancy to animate their wights. The wights seem to have no personality but they do have remnants of memory that allow them to serve their masters. Their eyes also change colour into an ice-blue: a hue matching that of their masters: the whitewalkers. It is also notable that when the warg Varamyr Sixskins abandons his body for his wolf after he unsuccessfully tries to transfer his spirit into a woman, that he only sees the woman later animated as a wight and not his original body with it. Perhaps the presence of warg blood keeps someone from being possessed or being reanimated in the same way: the character of Coldhands being a potential example for instance.

We also don’t know what the Others–specifically the whitewalkers–actually are. They could be a people or maybe they are constructs? What disturbs me is that no one really knows about the lands they come from or like I said what they even are. There are hints of babies being sacrificed or being shaped into them. Certainly, the fact that they dissolve when exposed to dragonglass is a very strange phenomenon and may be indicative of the possibility that they are constructed, but a lot of that is just rumour and conjecture like a lot of this post.

But I wonder what lies beyond the Wall and the known wildling territories. I wonder if something else is lying in wait and also sleeping: but dreaming lucidly. I wonder if the whitewalkers really are the Others … or if the Others are something far more terrifying.

It’s fun to actually go through all of this. I know I don’t have thorough textual evidence or quotes to back up what I say, but I do see there being something of a pattern here. I just don’t know what it is. Ygritte once said, “You know nothing, Jon Snow,” and that makes at least two of us. I do look forward, however, as an avowed fanboy to learning more as the story continues to present itself.

A Collaboration Project in Progress

So a little while ago, I mentioned I was starting a new project. I know that for some people who know me, that really doesn’t narrow it down a lot. I’m always thinking about short stories still in the queue of my head, the graphic novel script that’s been languishing in my binder, and a few other things as well.

This one is different. A few years ago my friend Angela Jordan, now Angela O’Hara, wanted to do a comics collaboration. At the time, I really wasn’t that skilled with creating comics scripts and–even now–they take more effort to create than a play or film script, or even a short story. Our original idea was very ambitious and I eventually created a very elementary and simple first story that I hoped Angela and I could flesh out into a comic. I had no knowledge of panels then and even now I still have issues with figuring out anything other than some of the basics in my head of how a page layout is supposed to look like.

We went our separate ways for a while: Angela taught in Japan and eventually got married, while I moved out to York residence and started my Humanities Grad Program. Years later we got back in touch and I decided that there was a way we could side-step some of the difficulties we were facing before.

Superhero comics have been done so often that people often see it as the comics medium itself as opposed to a genre. It’s interesting because comics didn’t start out with superheroes–if you look at old slapstick comic strips and political cartoons as examples–but they did gain popularity for the medium.

Based on some of the work I’ve seen Chris Ware–a cartoonist who loves creating beings (including superhero figures) of basic geometrical shapes on vast, empty and existentially lonely backgrounds, the strangely small and greater world of Saint-Exupery’s Le Petit Prince and Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman’s Miracleman along with a great many other superhero comics I’ve looked at in my life something started to come together in my head. It wasn’t really until I looked at Sarah Howell’s silent comic pamphlet–reminding me of their power–that I found the form for this thing I wanted to make with Angela.

Yet a lot of the above is stuff that happened after the fact. Actually, the idea for the entire thing–still in development now–was brought on by a video game song. It’s amazing how music can help you visualize certain scenes in your head.

So right now, I am in the process of creating the story for this “silent superhero comic.” I’ve given Angela some sample art to look at as foundations or influences for the work’s potential style while telling her about the scene I made in my head. But right now I need to do more. I’m now developing a bit of the world and the main characters. I think I will have to crudely sketch out what I want them to look like. One thing I’ve learned through making a few “ordinary” comics scripts, is that drawing out a rough look at what the page should look like does wonders to help you and someone else know what it is you want to write about.

The difference this time is that we plan to make this a small pamphlet of sixteen or seventeen pages–possibly double-sided–for each part. I originally wanted this to be a one-shot thing to allow us to brush up on our skills again before doing anything else, but at the same time I can see the potential in some of this.

It’s funny. I once thought I’d grown past superhero comics but I’ve been researching and talking about concepts behind them a lot this summer. They have certain rules and conventions that can be followed, bent or broken. But I’ve learned that going back to the essentials or “the basics” can be very important no matter what else you might do and all the more so for superhero archetypes that are really extensions of the stories of heroes and gods. When you also think of cartoons and children’s illustrations as archetypes as well, you can see where a lot of my influences want to come in. So you can probably see why I’ve had a bit of a superhero obsession lately. Lately. Okay, somewhat.

Basically, I want to post updates of this as of officially unnamed silent comic project or, as Angela put it even more eloquently, this “superhero fairytale” whenever I possibly can. It’s been a while since I’ve written anything besides stuff on the creative process, reviews and articles: but finally I get to begin to play around with some world-building and alongside a really talented artist.

You can find Angela’s work in two of her Deviant Accounts: her Angela Jordan one, her Angela O’Hara account, and her professional artist’s website. Here is one sample of an image she created from our previous collaboration: one I always look at even to this very day.

As for me, I need to keep working and also keep my creative side fresh. As someone might have said, if it isn’t in writing it doesn’t exist. Well, now it is in writing and now, I hope to to do my part to make it happen.

What’s That Sound? It is the Sound of A Song of Ice and Fire … Singing

File:A Game of Thrones Novel Covers.png

I admit that last week I was not meeting my quota of a post on Monday and Thursday. But in my defense, I had a very good excuse: namely, finishing off reading George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.

I’ll tell you now: I didn’t originally anticipate writing an article on this series. In fact, it’s ironic because I never planned on reading the series in the first place. I know: that’s blasphemy and all that. So here I was at the turning point of finishing my Master’s Program, typing up and haphazardly organizing my notes on mythic world-building when my friend Noah messages me and asks me essentially where I’ve been for about a year now. I tell him I’ve been writing my paper for that time and more and as well going a little bit crazy.

So he tells me about A Song of Ice and Fire. Now, I only knew about it peripherally. I had friends who were–and are–still complaining that Martin is taking too long writing the books and they spend that time speculating about what happens next. You have to understand, I went through my epic fantasy reading phase where each book is a tome and a half long a while ago at this point. Not too long ago, I was reading and rereading books and articles for my Master’s Thesis. I’d also attempted to slog through all of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series and failed from lack of attention. In addition and I know this is really going to sound snobby, I sometimes have this inherent distrust for something that is that popular: though I’ve ignored that distrust multiple times in the past and this was no except.

But it was also more than that. I didn’t want to start reading something and investing myself into it. Because those kinds of books–if they are good ones which A Song of Ice and Fire is–they will do it to you and I was already becoming a master of procrastination. Moreover, I was afraid of letting more imaginary characters into my head space and investing in them if that makes any sense at all.

It turns out, though, it was exactly what I needed.

It was also very fitting. The irony that I had originally avoided reading a series of mythic world-building because of my mythic world-building project did not escape me and it was a problem that was rectified after letting myself table-top role-play again and hearing in tangent things about Westeros and that world in snippets. You know what I mean: your friends telling you little things about green men and fire priests and politics but not wanting to spoil anything for you because they believe that it is a crime that you of all people aren’t reading this story? Yeah, those kinds of snippets and previews that you read online as well.

So I will try not to go into any spoilers and just make a few writing observations about Martin’s ongoing masterpiece. The best way to start this is to talk about something that seemingly doesn’t relate to anything here but ultimately will.

I’m going to talk about Achilles’ shield.

When I was in Undergrad, I took a course called Interpretations of Homeric Epic where our professor told us about the shield of the Myrmidon hero Achilles in Homer’s Iliad. What is so special about this shield? Well, it is a shield that encapsulates the sun and moon, the world, the people farming it, warring in it, and serves as a microcosm of an entire world: the same world that Homer depicts in his narrative that he applies to our world when he writes or tells it. One possible literary term for the metaphor of the Shield, if you’d like to see it, is ekphrasis: which is essentially a method of describing and bring an experience to a reader or listener through the use of immense and multi-layered detail.

I will freely admit that I took some dilettante-like and potentially inaccurate liberties in defining ekphrasis as a literary device–which Achilles’ Shield represents–but I also think it really describes the intricate details inherent in A Song of Ice and Fire‘s narrative. The books themselves are a source of ekphrasis: along with the weirwood trees and other beings that find themselves becoming more immanent and saturated into their world.

Through a few perspectives, you will find yourself awash in a sea of beauty, sex, cruelty, filth, banality, mystery, hints, poetry, laughter, politicking, battle, subtle magic and death: lots and lots of death. And not just figurative character deaths, but brutal and literal character deaths. Through each chapter from a different person’s perspective, you will watch them interact with this finely woven world-tapestry of things right in front of them and inches away and either watch them change in the process … or wink out entirely. That is what A Song of Ice and Fire is: at least from my own understanding.

What amazes me, however, is not only how Martin can turn a phrase but also how he is able to keep so many details straight–large and small–and make his narrative more intricate, interlocking, and flexible than a Maester’s chain. I sometimes feel like I have to go to a Citadel of my own to get everything straight but his world stretches out so beautifully even with all the horror: and this is not counting the terrifying supernatural menace here either. It does make me despair of the humans in Westeros and that whole world sometimes: just as it sometimes intimidates me as a reader and especially as a writer. I wonder just how Martin is going to resolve all of this.

I could go on somewhat off-tangent to talk about the shamanic element in Daenerys Targaryen and Bran Stark’s journeys, but I might save that for another post. I will however say one thing. The real reason it took me so long to create another post on here was because I was reading George R.R. Martin’s Dunk and Egg novellas: stories that take place approximately a hundred years before his main saga.

I didn’t know if I would like them, but I did. A Song of Ice and Fire is full of intrigue, manipulation, treachery, and politicking–known fondly as “the game of thrones”–but the Dunk and Egg stories look at a hedge knight and his strange squire wandering Martin’s multi-layered world and bringing almost a … purity or simple wonderment to another otherwise dark yet beautiful place.

Now I think I will end this long post with a quote from one of the books. It encompasses everything I feel when I read good literature: especially from a genius like George R.R. Martin.

Martin states, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies … The man who never reads lives only once.” If you want to know the context of this quote or indeed of a lot of the things I just said, read the series. You will not be disappointed. I’ve already lived quite a few lives in various forms in the saga of Ice and Fire. I expect there will be more before this is all said and done.

My Best Friend Was a Sith Lord: Tony Pacitti’s My Best Friend Is a Wookiee

I found out on Facebook today that Tony Pacitti’s book My Best Friend Is a Wookiee: One Boy’s Journey to Find His Place in the Galaxy is going out of print. Now, I wrote a review of it on Amazon, but now I feel like I have to say something more about it.

Tony Pacitti himself has said that the Star Wars galaxy and culture has changed so much that his role is smaller in it now. Some of the Amazon commentators themselves have written that Pacitti talks about his own life more than Star Wars and that at the very worst, his reminisces are very self-indulgent and have no value.

I think it’s safe to say that I disagree with all of the above. Pacitti talks about a period of history: from the 1980s to the 2000s where the cultural impact of Star Wars and geekery is seen on people growing up. He uses himself as a prime example obviously, since his work is a memoir, yet what I find really striking is just how much his childhood and experiences have in common with my own. Pacitti talks about television shows and games that existed during the same period I grew up in: from Saved by the Bell to Magic Cards. But more than that, he captures that feeling many people had after the Original Star Wars Trilogy ended: that need to see more. It was the need to see and experience more of that universe.

So I too delved into the Star Wars Expanded Universe. I too bought as many books that described that universe in more detail. I role-played in that universe and so did my friends: so do we still in fact. My friends and I watched the Old Trilogy long after the 70s where we hadn’t been born yet and we had similar reactions to the Prequel Trilogy: reactions that have great sympathy with Pacitti’s own.

I’ve written about Star Wars on here before with regards to what my actual issues with were and what I think George Lucas had been trying to do in an ideological way. I won’t rehash them except to say that Lucas too had been influenced by his own childhood and young adulthood to create what he did. Pacitti was definitely informed by what Star Wars represents. Star Wars is a space opera: an epic fantasy with a backdrop of space, a setting with technology, droids, and aliens alongside human beings. It begins “Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away,” but it is closer than you think.

Star Wars contains archetypes that we can all relate to: facets of different kinds of sentient existence. These characters are accompanied by powerful leitmotifs–by thematic music created by John Williams–to bring out the terror and wonder in us. Is it that inconceivable that a film series like Star Wars, having ingrained itself into the popular consciousness and playing our collective unconsciousness, could have informed our time period after the 70s? I know there are many other films that have done something similar, that this element is what people look for when they want to call a creative work a classic or something seminal: a seed of an idea that leads to something else.

Shouldn’t a classic also be judged by how it influences not just a large amount of lives, but one life? Tony Pacitti manages through a caustic wit to identify himself, and himself in relation to a culture that has not changed at all: in that it is only still growing. So I agree that the culture around Star Wars is changing, but it is still Star Wars and I think that Pacitti’s role in Star Wars–at least with regards to what he wrote in this book–is still relevant and important. I for one am really glad that he wrote it and that I bought the thing when I did two years ago.

We all want to identify ourselves with the things we love because we adopt them or feel sympathy with them as a part of us. So once again Tony, thank you for writing this book and thank you for reminding me who my best friend is.

Lost in Books

I am at a loss. I wander down long stretches of bookcase winding into shadow, eternity, and dust. I’ve lost all concept of time. The spine of Alan Moore’s Minutemen with its vintage essential 1930s-style artwork next to his Watchmen does not help me: though it would be interesting to read …

I keep moving. The Twilight of the Superheroes–more Alan Moore–sits there in an alcove but promises no solace. I go deeper. There is a manga section on the other side of me. Tezuka Osamu’s Phoenix: Earth stares at me mockingly whole: completing an incomplete saga and a lifetime’s work. I shake my head and keep going. I keep going past the rest of Moore’s Big Numbers, all twelve issues of them, long since past the time to remember how many steps I have given away to be here in this place.

It gets worse. I find myself at a complete run of Marvelman and it’s hard–so hard–to turn away. It’s as though I’ve come to a dead-end, like the middle of a maze in my mind, like the conclusion of Gwendolyn MacEwen’s Black Tunnel Wall right in front of me.

I begin to run.

David Eddings’ Zedar: The Apostate sits on a shelf in loneliness. Myst: The Book of Marrim makes my heart-ache. There are so many Tolkiens. So many Tezukas. So much Alan Moore. Moore. Moore. More. More. More …

It is in the history section of this labyrinth of the literary bibliophiliac where I stop at Maus III: My Mother Breathes Silence–Art Spiegleman’s graphic novel based off the fragments of his mother Anja’s surviving journals from asylums and concentration camps–that I finally understand.

This place doesn’t exist. This is the place where I want to be.

I’m clutching my head in the darkness as the full implications of all this begin to sink in. Then I see something: something else in the dark. I walk past The Continued Works of Keats and The Will to Power that Nietzsche wrote himself to find a gap in the comics section. It is a small gap and I can barely make out the label on the shelf. When I read enough of it, I smile.

I can’t help it. In the Neil Gaiman section, the story of Morpheus before Preludes and Nocturnes is no longer here. It is somewhere else now. I’m smiling: hoping that the Marvelman section and its remaining additional issues will also disappear from this place sooner rather than later. It is is a small hope.

A transvestite Joker seems to laugh at me from a cover of Morrison’s Arkham Asylum as I slump down exhausted in a place more demented than Batman’s Rogues Gallery and more sad than a watch without a watchmaker: a library without librarians.

It is here, huddled in this dark corner, that I wish for a world that makes sense: a place where Homer existed, Shakespeare wrote his plays, Sappho wrote more poetry, and I–finally–know just who it is I am.

So What Now?

I know I said that I would write a post every Monday and Thursday, and that this is a little late, but I had to think a while about what it is I wanted to write this time. I do have a story I’ve been meaning to print out on here, but I think I will do that another time.

So what do I want to say? Well, this Blog now has forty-one Followers: forty-one followers and such one of you are awesome. It’s hard to believe that I started this Blog almost four or five months ago. In a lot of ways, it is a summer Blog.

I might have mentioned earlier on in a previous post that Mythic Bios had been a Blog I meant to create for a long time before I eventually got the impetus to do it. Part of the reason I made this journal was to showcase my strange reviews, articles from off the top of my head and, of course, my stories and creative works. I also made this Blog to get my bearings straight.

You see, this month is a weird one for me personally. Many Septembers ago I would have been going to University or school. In terms of University, I had been going there for nearly a decade. Now there is no school in my life. Mind you, school was different for me as a Graduate student because a lot of my work became very independent and existent outside of a classroom. Some past few Septembers I had my Master’s Thesis hanging over my head: my damned Damoclean burden I used to call it.

This September I find myself thinking about my student loans, finding a job and actually beginning to construct a whole new life. The fact of the matter is, it terrifies me. It’s been disconcerting feeling summer turn into fall in the way that only your body and a peripheral sense of atmospheric change can perceive. Once I was a student and I had classes to look forward to, now it’s employment that I’m having to face along with what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.

I can’t really get more eloquent than that and I’m sorry if you were expecting something more clever or creative tonight. It’s just: I was nineteen when I first started Undergrad. I turned thirty as I finished Grad School with few breaks in-between and a lot of life things happened during that time as life often does. There are no schools or planned lessons that teach you how to be an adult: and if there were, I missed them.

This Blog has been helpful in organizing a few things that I do and putting them in a space that I can influence. It is also obviously not my whole life. I do not want to always be creating reviews or be known solely for that. As is, I know that won’t be the case anyway.

I think that I’m going to retire some of my older projects that don’t inspire me at the moment and work on some new things in the meantime: the creative things that I am meant to be doing. And thus ends the update of this week. There will be something else on Thursday as promised. Take care.