A Life Writing Update

I’m glad I was able to open up with a review on this Blog again, never mind it being something of a short article on superhero media.

It’s been a minute. Or a century.

I just thought it might be nice to sit down with you, those that still follow this Blog where I basically free-wheel my writing, and tell you where I have been these days, where I am planning to go, where I want to be, and possibly where I might go regardless. 

As of this writing, I’m going to be forty soon. I was thirty years old when I first started Mythic Bios, back in 2012. I am not where I wanted to be, then, but to be honest I didn’t exactly know where I was going to be in any case. What can I tell you? Since I began this Blog, inspired by the written notebooks I used to keep – and need to keep again – I got published online, and offline, explored some independent scenes, went to New Orleans, went to a Learning Disabilities Workshop, and explored different parts of my life.

And now we are here, still in the Pandemic, and yet somehow life still goes on.

It’s been challenging. Three shots in, and a Trans-European conflict, several relationships gone, one partner deceased, and finding out things that I like – and don’t like – about myself, and what I’ve done, or haven’t done, and I can say for sure that these two years really haven’t been how I wanted to spend the last of my thirties. 

But I’ve done a lot too.

I created my Horror Doctor Blog, which I have mentioned before, and myself covering Creepshow there a great deal. Some horror luminaries even follow me. I’ve met friends from socializing on social media with fellow fans of Joe Bob Briggs’ The Last Drive-In, and we have watchalongs, and discussions, and even some Twitch streams. I don’t do as much writing as I would like, but I socialize more now even not going out as often anymore, but I feel that is important: to maintain those connections during this time of change. 

And I even submitted a writing about my experience with Lovecraft to Bobby Derie’s Deep-Cuts Blog. There are probably more things I’ve done too, but I think what I want to really write about is on the employment front. 
A few weeks ago, almost a month now, a friend of mine name-dropped me to their video game studio: where I got a chance to submit a Writing Test to become their narrative designer. I spent a good couple of days working with their prompts, choosing a story arc idea, fleshing out the first part of it, and creating items: including weapons, furniture, and armour. Many of these items were two that needed to be combined into three. I came up with a good plot and a twist, and not only submitted it all on time, but even rewrote elements to make the plot and momentum flow better.

Unfortunately, the studio decided to go with another candidate.

I don’t know how many you have been following this Blog long, but I have been trying to gain regular employment as a writer for some time. And eventually, due to time and also the current zeitgeist of the world, I stopped looking regularly. I’ve had some freelancing jobs in the past, but they have not paid much, if anything at all. And I suffer from anxiety and depression. So for me to submit something, and put all that work into having it seen was a big deal, and I felt like the universe was finally going to give me a break.

And that didn’t happen.

It would have been nice to have a remote job doing something that I am genuinely good at, and to have some gainful income. Then afterwards, someone came forward and offered to look at my work, claiming they were also working for a studio. I have not heard back from them, and I will assume that it didn’t work out, but what they did inspire me to do was put together a Writer’s Portfolio: which I have made into a Page on this Blog now. I may modify and change it as I have friends who are generous, and who I have done work for, that might be able to help me make it fancier, or add more detail.

Sometimes, it’s like what they say about North Americans acting like they are temporarily inconvenienced millionaires: that awkward place between musical chairs where you are caught out of it and everyone else has one, but you. Yet I know a lot of us are in the same boat, and some of us for quite some time. At least I have some more experience now, and I have some more of a foundation of things from which to start looking again for what I know in my bones I can do.

In 2019 I started Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass, and I continued it in 2021 despite everything. I stopped at a rewriting assignment, as I hate rewriting but I have been doing it more besides. It’s been a learning curve, and I hope to get back to this so that I can also continue writing the original work I’d talked about ages ago: the series that I was well into before starting that Masterclass, and – well – another phase of life.

There are so many things I want to do, but I am only one person, and my focus has changed. In some ways I can multitask a great deal, as long as they are all different actions. I miss being able to sit with a fanfic, and just spend most if not all my time developing it to where it needs to be. I am not the same person I was when I started this Blog, or even before it. But you know, that’s okay. That is to be expected.

An alien once said that we all change, and they were right. We are all in process. We all lose things along the way, and we gain them too. It’s navigating all of that which is the challenge. I kept meaning to come back, and talk about this. I’ve been both demoralized, but also encouraged. Having hope snatched away, when it was so close again, is infuriating, and tremendously disappointing, but it can also ignite a righteous fury, a determination to do what you need to do, and even a serenity and clarity to slowly find that entry through the hedge maze that you didn’t see before.

The point is, I will continue doing this. And learning from it. It is a struggle, but I am still going. I hope that you will all do the same. Take care all.

Also, here is my Writer’s Portfolio. Please have a look, if you are interested.

Flying Through a Mirror, Cracked: Adi Shankar’s The Guardians of Justice

A long time ago, I read a story by Grant Morrison in his Lovely Biscuits collection called “I am a Policeman.” The short fiction is prose reading like some postmodern, or hypertext writing where everything is referential and fragmentary, but it’s something of a kaleidoscope as well: a fast-paced merry-go-round in an intensely voyeuristic-participant culture. 

In a lot of ways Morrison’s story, despite being the mess that it is, anticipated the creation of the Internet and memetic culture. It’s this cracked rotating lens that reminds me of the relentless piece that is Adi Shankar’s Netflix series The Guardians of Justice

I will be honest with you: I’d heard about the project coming in passing, though like a few others I felt inundated with many of the superhero revisionist, and reconstructionist, series that have been released these past two years. I mean, between The Boys, Invincible, and Peacemaker alone following, in turns, the realistic and humorous – almost ludicrous – reinventions of caped and otherwise crusaders can get quickly exhausting. And I will also admit that when I watched the first episode of The Guardians, I wasn’t impressed.

It’s true. I love the premise. The Superman analogue in Shankar’s insanely patched together post-WWIII world made after the destruction of a cybernetically reanimated Adolf Hitler – one Marvelous Man – grows tired and depressed in preventing our species’ slide towards self-annihilation, and decides he can’t take it anymore: ending his life. It then becomes the task of the Batman analogue, Knight Hawk, to discover if his public death is really a suicide, or the result of someone else’s convoluted plan to destabilize the world Marvelous Man watched over for forty long years. 

The idea of this other alternate 1980s of heroes and villains, gods, and monsters,  is great on paper, but if you go by the first episode alone, the characters come out flat. They are barely disguised analogues to DC’s Justice League, and the narrative sequences jump all over the place. There are some great parts as well. Some of the characters act over-the-top, especially Knight Hawk with his best gruff, and gravelly Batman voice impression, and President Nukem, as played by Christopher Judge, is amusing as all get out, and I’ve missed him since StarGate. Even so, I just didn’t know where it could go after the first episode, and I was leery of committing to six more episodes. 

Yet I also needed something to get my mind into that place where I could stop being both over-focused on my other writing tasks, and loosen it up again to undertake more creative possibilities. It also helped that many other people were genuinely enjoying the series, and I decided to give it another shot.

So without going into spoilers, let me tell you what The Guardians of Justice is like. Imagine Adi Shankar’s Bootleg Universe, of which this is a part: where he takes concepts and he both makes fun of them, but also sometimes realistically depicts them, and handles them with care. The Punisher: Dirty Laundry, Venom: Truth in Journalism, Power/Rangers, and Castlevania all come to mind, right?

Now imagine the ethos in those creations, the equivalent of creating your own heroic action figures by soldering them together with a magnifying glass and glue-gun under the sun in the daylight that your parents force you to play in after school back in the Eighties and Nineties, and add some Ralph Bakshi rotoscoping segments, some Edgar Wright and Capcom 16-bit battle animation scenes right out of the video game that should be made from this complete with life bars and Mortal Kombat “Finish Thems!,” some Super Sentai Power Rangers and Turbo Kid moments, some 1990s Claymation segues that might as well be American Saturday “After these Messages, We’ll be Right back” cartoons, and sensibilities interjected into DC and Marvel hero and villain analogues and interactions that you can now find in any Steven Kostanski, and Troma film, and what you get is something that could be The Guardians of Justice

It’s kind of inspiring to see how incredibly mixed media this seven episode series is, and there are just so many references, and events going on at once of which it is incredibly easy to lose track. Seriously, watching these episodes are like being in the playground in the Eighties and Nineties, an informative period in many Millennial lives – a generation of which Adi Shankar is definitely a part – except while he definitely has characters that glorify war, homophobia, the war against drugs, and American machismo, their stereotypical depictions also serve to critique these aspects through the utilization of diversity: many people of colour, different nationalities, languages, and LGBTQ+ characters and relationships. 

The mixed media is that cracked kaleidoscope I mentioned earlier, but it just keeps moving around as it makes fun of itself, and yet sometimes stops for moments of painful clarity. This approach to different facets of storytelling or expression a Unified Field Theory barely held together by model glue does skip past many sequences, and it is so easy to get lost, and many tropes do unfold they way you would think. 

I’ve followed Adi Shankar over the years, and his Bootleg Universe. And I have read and listened to some of his interviews, even at one point asking him a question and interacting with him for a time, about his creative and personal struggles. Growing up in the 1980s as an Indian immigrant turned American citizen, and having a unique mind and a host of mental health challenges already gives you a unique perspective on the popular culture and franchises of that time that have been making their renaissance during the aughts and onward, such as they are. It’s like watching all of Adi Shankar’s stories from that time, informed by his production and creative work, and growing up unfolding all at once. And there is something incredibly eerie about the series, of which he’s worked on and off on, coming out during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and America’s own struggles with its identity internally, and on the world stage … and the rest of the chaos on Earth right now.

I feel like there are so many people, scholars and critics alike that could do more justice to The Guardians, so to speak, than I can. I just keep thinking about what it is like: and I imagine, again, something akin to an irreverent Watchmen, maybe even a Pat Mills’ Marshal Law reality on drugs, along with some Kostanski Man-Borg that is a spectacle entertaining to the discerning nerd and geek from those times, and everyone else informed by them. It is definitely not like the contemporary other superhero series I mentioned earlier: two of them live-action versions of comics or heroes, and one of them an animated adaptation. These are a series of mediums Frankensteined together, and I feel … The best way for me to phrase this is that just as one person both wins, and loses, at the end of this series, we as the viewers do the same. Perhaps with more re-watching on our part, and more reflection on this particular character’s, we might glean more over what we missed. And honestly? After that genuinely gut-wrenching twist and ending, I really want to see if there is going to be another season, and where this glorious nostalgic gestalt media chaos goes from there.

I feel like everything I’ve read, and watched – from the superhero genre to even the weird and horror genre – and played has prepared me for this, and it is a natural product of a global culture where all of these tropes and memes have been brought together. Perhaps, as Logan Lockwood – the Lex Luthor analogue as portrayed by Adi Shankar himself – puts it, it is all the result of branding and ideology. Maybe it is a mess for its own sake, and it is supposed to be just more ironic interpretations of the same. Yet like Grant Morrison’s “I am a Policeman” and other writing akin to it, I deeply respect it for the experiment in storytelling that it is. Also, I was entertained, and I feel like if my childhood self had the knowledge that I do now and the Internet and media access that exists in this day, I might have made something like this too, and it definitely bears mentions mentioning in this Mythic Bios: because the creation of The Guardians of Justice, and the love behind it, is utterly inspiring. 

How to Make a Jedi Warrior

It’s been a hot minute, hasn’t it.

Whenever I come back here, I feel like I have to say something introspective about my time away. I used to write here all the time, like almost every day. But sometimes you just need to experience something, or go through something — processing it — before you can write about it. 

In this case, it’s The Men Who Stare at Goats.

I know, right? Out of everything to return to talk about on Mythic Bios, why this film? So I have been writing a lot of indepth reviews on my Horror Doctor Blog started around the height of the Pandemic, and this writing is not going to be one of them. That’s not generally what we do at Mythic Bios. No, at Mythic Bios we online creative processes and ideas even more than we do at The Horror Doctor, or Sequart, or anywhere else I write about geekery. 

The Men Who Stare at Goats is a 2009 tongue-in-cheek satirical comedy about war: specifically how the American government used, or uses, New Age and esoteric concepts to aid them in combat. It was adapted into film from Jon Ronson’s book of the same name by Peter Straughan, and directed by Grant Heslov. I’ve not read the book. I’ve only watched the film.

To give you a rundown, as the summary goes, the United States government saw the Soviets were fascinated with psychic experiments and, to counter them in a war of propaganda — of a seeming of power as opposed to anything practical or concrete, simply doing it because the other side was feeding rumour, and they had to save face there — they made their own research team in the military to deal with them. It’s basically one Emperor having new clothes, and another Emperor wanting the same to one him up. Of course, in the story there are people who genuinely believe in the power of the paranormal such as Vietnam War veteran Bill Django who had a life changing near death experience that made him realize that the American method of waging war needed to be changed through the element of peace: with the motto of “their gentleness” being “their strength.” 

I actually found Django, and his student and subordinate Lyn Cassady’s methods of utilizing paranormal phenomena, or psychic power, fascinating. Django creates a force within the military called the New Earth Army: which essentially trains its chosen soldiers to use this power. It’s tied with the idea of the American government, and the CIA experimenting with remote viewing, clairvoyance, telepathy, invisibility, telekinesis, and even teleportation. Certainly, we know they did things with the development of LSD and attempts at mind control and brainwashing that have been covered before.

Essentially, the New Earth Army as portrayed in the film are “psychic spies” that are called “Jedi Warriors.” You see, Django created the concept for them from studying New Age concepts in the seventies of free love, appropriated branches of yoga, and quite possibly studying at other mystic lodges: his views and research being taken by the brass of the military to show up the Soviets, and even to support the beliefs of individuals like General Dean Hopgood: a man who consistently smashes into a wall in order to eventually phase his molecules through it, and phase on the other side with the power of belief itself. 

It’s all goofy, and insane. It feels like someone initiated into the Discordian Society created this whole paradigm as something of a joke that — like all shared jokes — has elements of truth inside it. And certainly the protagonist of the film, Bob Wilton, believes it’s all bullshit at the beginning of his journey … until a series of hijinks through Kuwait during the Iraq War make him seriously reevaluate what he thinks perceived reality actually is. 

I think there’s something great about a film during with the creation of “Jedi Warriors” — drawing from the zeitgeist of the 1970s with George Lucas, from his own studies into older films and Joseph Campbell’s examinations of the “mono-myth,” or the Hero’s Journey — that has Ewan McGregor as the central protagonist. Remember, this was four years after his role playing Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and no one expected him to return to Jedi Knighthood on the screen … until now, in 2022, when he will be starring in his own miniseries Kenobi

My point is, this is the closest film anyone was going to be seeing McGregor be a Jedi Knight again in any way, even this strange, yet charming lampoonish manner of a younger man trying to find his way, and prove himself to … himself in doing something meaningful. It’s a film that gets ridiculous, but oddly poignant at times. Lyn Cassady reminds me of a friend of mine who believes in powers beyond our understanding, and has this almost Don Quixote sense of wonder that is constantly tested by disillusionment and pain: elements portrayed well by the actor George Clooney. He serves as an ad hoc mentor figure to Bob Wilton, through example, while also serving as something of a fallen or a wounded warrior himself. And Bob Django, portrayed by Jeff Bridges, has a major charm, a bit of showmanship, and earnestness of a man who just wanted to negate the violence that he’d seen decimate his fellow soldiers: recognizing that humanity’s natural inclination was not to violence, leading to their incompetence and destruction in an armed conflict with the Viet Cong. He reminds me so much of an older Luke Skywalker: perhaps the way he could have been portrayed in the Sequels, and in some ways when you see what Django is like at the end of the film, he kind of is. 

But I think what got me was that each “Jedi Warrior” has their own abilities, and focuses in utilizing their power. For example, Gun Lacey stares at hamsters to will them to die: which is a smaller application of goats. And goats are used because humans generally feel bad about using dogs, which were the original test subjects for causing telekinetic deaths. Lyn can goad someone into attacking him, but immediately undermine them believing they will win, and using that fact against them when he decides to act. It’s hard to explain but some of the soldiers sleep and try to understand their dreams in locating a subject. Some study the Bible. All of these elements are found throughout our own culture. Hell, even LSD experiments and mental breaking are performed by the overly ambitious Larry Cooper: as played by the now infamous Kevin Spacey, who also seems to have mastery of a technique called the dim mak: the Japanese death touch. 

And I was thinking about these strange, eclectic soldiers — these “Jedi Warriors” — and I asked myself once the film was done, if they were possible. Would it be possible, in our world, with our reality’s rules, to create Jedi?

The reason I started thinking about, specifically in this patchwork paradigm of all of these concepts brought together in the film and perhaps by the novel as well, is how one soldier was criticized for stating that a popular author knew the location of a kidnapped dignity. It hadn’t been the case, and it became a source of embarrassment that, coupled with Cooper’s LSD experiments influencing a fellow Jedi Warrior to go berserk and commit suicide, changed the mandate and free flow nature of the New Earth Army: essentially rendering it defunct. 

But what if that soldier wasn’t wrong? What if by the tangential nature of the New Earth Army and its parallel thought processes, what they really needed to do was find one of these author’s books, read through them and the passages — or become familiar with them — and use some gematria, some numerical code associated with letters and words — to find the target. And it made me think about neurodiversity, the plasticity and elasticity of the human brain, and mind concepts. And again, the question I asked myself.

Can Jedi Warriors, as portrayed by The Men Who Stare At Goats, exist in real life? And, if so, how?

This is how I think ladies, gentlemen, and other psychic beings, it could be done.

You find a series of individuals with a fairly high IQ, and allow for neurodivergent additions that generalized testing might not pick up. Unlike The Men Who Stare at Goats, you pick men, and women, and other genders. You select them from a diverse background of cultures, subcultures, and ethnicities. You interview their commanding officers, their friends, their families and communities, and you test them to see how great their intuition and instincts are. These are actual traits you can find in hunters, trackers, profilers, and anyone with street smarts. How else did humanity survive earlier times of development without some kind of secondary or sixth sense.

The key is to refine that. You need to find and develop practices that can hone intuition and instincts. There are plenty of esoterica and even religious and spiritual practices to draw from. However, you need more than just breathing exercises, meditation, pain-management, and martial arts: though they would make for an excellent foundation. Personally, I can see aikido being extremely useful in knowing the force of one’s opponent, and using it against them in a flow not unlike a philosophy espoused by what many call Daoism. Tai chi would also allow for flow and constant movement, and you include elements of dance.

You see, what we want are well-trained people who are young — or who can still be conditioned and taught — that can move easily, develop greater reflexes, and be able to read an environment, field, lifeform, or person almost immediately. That’s how it starts. But it’s also a group effort. This New Earth Army would need a team of scholars, martial artists, philosophers, even art historians, doctors, artists, negotiators, and therapists to educate these Jedi Warriors. They need to be taught how to look at something critically, but also in a totality. Deductive and inductive reasoning — the first making a hypothesis and being able to examine the possibilities and come to a conclusion, and the last being able to draw a general and perhaps in this case more specific series of conclusions based on observation — are key, and feedback into that honed intuition, and instinct. Also, as Lyn demonstrated, certain vocal intonations and sounds can be key to affecting your own, or another person’s, psychological state. I also really like the plastic implement Lyn used to disable Bob. I wonder if it can be made in real life and, if so, if another non-lethal, non-permanent damage long range one such as net can also be implemented but that would be a whole change of the psychology of war and, indeed, human psychology.

And not all of these Jedi Warriors will be the same. Some will focus more on chemistry and substances that can hone or put the body into alternative states. Others will focus on altering their responses to pain and pleasure more than their fellows. A few will just specialize in sifting through information from disparate sources, and put them all together, or take them apart. And more will be looking at propaganda and doing more than just sending pamphlets stating to an Enemy that their “dicks are small.” I can see a branch focusing on memes and memetics on the Internet. I can see people getting into the cultural and personal profiles and psychologies of a subject. And there would be peacekeepers that would be able to know the cultural mores and study human behaviour to be able to put people off guard, or to talk them down, and relax them. I can see flash mobs being used as a tactic to distract, or eliminate someone’s need for conflict. You can do a lot of radical stuff when you, I suppose, “hack” your normal human or group behaviour.

A lot of this stuff actually does exist. I know if I were a Jedi Warrior, which I am not, I would look at geek culture and what it says about a certain event that could occur, or has happened. And especially examining Jungian archetypes in folk and fairy tales allows you to know a lot about human beliefs.

Telekinesis isn’t possible as far as I can see, or teleportation. But honing intuition, reflexes, inductive reasoning, and maintaining a state of mindfulness could go a far way. I guess I just see this New Earth Army as something like the Druids from Shannara in which everyone has different abilities, the Foundation with its facets of psychohistory, the Bene Gesserit with their martial arts and Voice, or the origins of how the Jedi Order was founded in the Legends canon of Star Wars.

And this is all fiction, but this is how I could see it going down. I also wish we could have seen more Jedi Warriors jn action, though there being few does make sense in the story, and in general.  Because one thing I got from The Men Who Stare At Goats is the real lesson: that psychic power isn’t so much concrete paranormal ability, but the power of belief — of human belief — and being able to understand and use that. Like when Lyn tries to become invisible. He doesn’t actually become invisible, but he changes his body language, his breathing, his mindset, to mess with someone else’s perception of what they might see: or so he believes.

For Bob, he understands that the true power of the New Earth Army is to believe in something greater than themselves: in a lie perhaps, or stories, that can jive with the human need to do something different. Whether or not he phases through the wall at the end of the film is almost irrelevant. The fact that he changed his mindset to know that he can do something outside of a pre-arranged behaviour, to go beyond the grind, to not let people in power obfuscate the truth from him, is more important. That flexible thinking is what a Jedi Warrior should have. 

It’s weird. I’ve been away from Mythic Bios for a while, but damn: I would love to make a Men Who Stare at Goats RPG, or a New Earth Army game, and I would be a scholar with nerd and Jungian ties, with some erotic elements that can predict some things, interact with people, and bolster my energy. Using LeGuin’s Farfetching exercises, automatic writing, and making creations and links like those of Hermann Hesse’s The Glass-Bead Game would be key to my psychic spy methods. Hell, if I wanted to incorporate a view of the Force into it, I could just get it to relate to the old Theory of Ether that used to define reality in one Western perspective. I would go for a bit of a variant of Chaos Magick in that eclectic approach. There is something noble in harnessing the power of the Wind Mill, of air, of breath, of belief during a time of darkness and uncertainty. And I think Inspiration or bonus points should be awarded to the silliness implementation of those concepts in those game ideas if they ever happen, because what is more sublime than laughing at one’s self while accepting the validity of the actions that lead to that laughter? What is funnier than belief? What more is worth feeling something about? What more is worth fighting for? 

It’s great to be here again, if only for a little while. Take care everyone.

Horror Experiment and My Newest Challenge

So this is something of a follow-up from my previous Blog entry “My Curve” that you can find by just scrolling back.

I’ve been thinking about the horror genre lately, particularly with regards to film, but being the person I am I also relate it back to horror writing. Better minds than mine have looked at horror and defined it through scholarship, or creativity. But after particularly focusing on cinematic horror, I see that there are so many different kinds of stories and storytelling, as well as production value, that make up the genre.

Some of it is psychological, or bodily, or just gore. Other parts of it are philosophical, or tacky, or just plain strange. It’s like how the comics medium has schlock and fine art, and all the variants in-between. You can find this in any genre or medium, I’m sure, but perhaps it’s because of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival and its bent on what I think in my mind as “weird movies” that I tend to view cinematic horror along these lenses. I mean, the Toronto After Dark particularly focuses on independent — or indie — films, both short and long-form, but I tend to see horror cinema in that spectrum between ridiculousness and campy-themed features, and sophisticated, and nuanced with some cathartic elements that could easily have their roots in ancient tragedy. Then again, some of the antics that happen in horror film can easily be found in old Dionysian slapstick become comedy as well, and there is a reason I feel why some comedians, like Jordan Peele, can make such great horror social commentaries. I always get the feel of observing, and playing with, glorious pulp with these “weird films.”

I’m not writing anything new here. But I think maybe it’s because of the pandemic and thinking about medicine and doctors, as well as my own critical skills, that an idea occurred to me.

It began when Joe Bob Briggs said that a film had been reviewing for The Last Drive-In would soon be out of circulation on Shudder. This happens a lot, where AMC — the company that owns Shudder — will have the rights to show the films for a while, and then they will be gone. I also know that Shudder in different countries can generally only show those films in the countries where the copyright exists. So as a result some of The Last Drive-In episodes aren’t available anymore. And Shudder isn’t always clear on when they will disappear like a ghost in the rain.

So I went to watch this particular film that would soon be gone from Shudder. And … This was interesting. It was an old film, but seemed older given the terrible production value. It had a lot of great ideas, but the way they were carried out, combined with the said production value, and a “too many cooks” of characters and ideas, it just got weird, and unfocused, and out of control. Sometimes art happens by accident. Sometimes, disasters do as well. I think that’s what horror does. It makes things messy and sometimes there is order in it, and other times it can just become senseless.

So it was after watching this film, complete with commentary, that I started to really think about what worked in it, what could work in it, and what didn’t. And then I did something that I learned to do as a Humanities Graduate student, and a creator myself. I began to think more about how it could work, and how to make it work. Think of it as something of a script-doctor inclination, except I would convert it into a story. Into glorified fanfiction.

And I began to think to myself, there are other films like these out there. I’m not talking about modern ones, or ones that have their own logic. I mean ones that could have their own logic and consistency, old and forgotten films, or smaller ones that could just been tweaked in some way. And, of course — and most importantly — I would not be doing it for money, or profit.

It’s an extensive idea, to do some Horror-Doctoring. And obviously, my tastes are my own, but I would need to make the revisions or “remakes” consistent with what they are, to go back to the theme of the entire film, and the tone, and make it more cohesive, snappier, and just entertaining. Disqualified from this possible experiment would be more well-known or mainstream works, and films that are focused and cogent. I can always write separate fanfiction for those, as I always have.

I am not knocking them, and I appreciate them for what they are — flaws and all — and I would definitely not mess with something like The Room, which isn’t horror, and is so in its own league of weird reality and insanity that it needs to stay there.

But I have a candidate — or specimen — lined up already. And it’s eerie how my ideas are working. I began thinking about it before, and then I was sending these thoughts to a friend whom I got to watch it before adding more notes to myself.

I might post it up. And depending on how well it is received, I might continue with those experiments. I might also not do it. My focus is more mutable these days, but it’d be cool to post a column or section on “Horror-Doctoring” on here, or make something and then create something entirely original from the previous specimen that I can use in other places.

Basically, I am getting inspirational fuel which is a start into returning to the process of creation where I need to be. To engage both my critical and synthetic brains. To continue my experiments with the mess to make something else entirely. I will keep you posted.

I’m Not Locked In Here With You: Todd Phillips’ Joker

So I wrote an article for Joker on Sequart a little while ago now, but while they eventually will post it, I have some other more personal thoughts on some of the themes in the film: mainly why I like it, and why I relate to it.

I tend to call this Joker, or this earlier phase of him, the Arthur Fleck Joker. He isn’t the same as the Mark Hamill, the Heath Ledger, the Jack Nicholson, or the foolish Cesar Romero depictions. He isn’t even the comics Joker, any of them. This is the phase, the dress rehearsal, before the agent of chaos that we are going to get. I’ve always been fascinated, you see, with watching something in the process of being created, or creating itself. I find the best kinds of art, or artists, are those that you can see are constantly working on themselves. Mark Twain has a quote about knowing the details behind the creation of a miracle, and how it can take away from the simple joys of just experiencing it, yet I am someone who likes to — to borrow a phrase from Neil Gaiman — see the work backstage, and how it adds to the performance that we are given.

This Joker is a moment of realization in progress, of living two different lies at least, and then finding out who he actually is. That is what I took away from this film. Let me be clear about a few things though: I do not romanticize the Joker that kills people for amusement, or is an abuser. The one in this film is very different from those other depictions, though there are some similarities with regards to his more destructive actions.

But I really, like I said, love the process. We see Arthur wearing the clown makeup when he is at his gig helping a shop sell its wares, but a man wearing a clown costume does not a Joker make. Even the nervous, involuntary laughter doesn’t make the Joker. Not even the killing of those abusive rich men out of self-preservation, or the one out of a sense of street justice makes for the Clown Prince of Crime. The flirtation with this image, the sensuality of it in the restroom with blood-splattered on his face, his wig and clown nose gone, and his ragged elemental features at that point are a start. But he’s still Arthur. He still wants to be loved. He still wants to be a comedian, and to stop hurting.

Even the white makeup he has on when he kills the person who betrayed him isn’t quite there yet, and this after he discovers what he is — where he came from, how he was betrayed far worse before — and preparing for what he is going to do. He wants revenge, but he also wants the pain to stop: for the joke that is his life to finally end. That is the tipping point.

I would even say by the time he makes it to Murray’s show — to the man he used to look up as a father-figure before he publicly humiliated his non-neurotypical behaviour on television for laughs, and didn’t think anything of it — and when he decides to kill him instead of himself on national television, he’s still not Joker. But what started as practice in that restroom, and then choreograph when he danced down those flights of stairs, and then self-awareness by putting on a clown mask to hide in the discontent of Gotham’s lower class that made his actions against the rich into a memetic force, followed by one great bellow of selfish vengeance on a man and system that failed him … ends when he gets out of that car crash, and he uses the blood coming out of him to make a bloody smile on the costume whose lipstick had already faded. It was cheap and artificial. Now, the blood makes that twisted smile real.

Watchmen is bandied about a lot in terms of comics references. Hell, it even made it into the title of this Blog post. I don’t need it to sell Joker that’s already sold its own soul to the Devil of our collective imagination. But there is this idea in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ work with the vigilante Rorschach. He starts out with a troubled past of childhood abuse as well, but that doesn’t make him Rorschach. It doesn’t make him Rorschach when Kitty Genovese is brutally raped and murdered publicly and her neighbours do nothing, and he vows to become a masked hero to stop other such incidents. He’s still just Walter Kovacs, an abused child taken to foster care, wearing the mask of Rorschach. Rorschach is still his alter-ego.

It isn’t until he hunts for a kidnapped baby, and finds out that the kidnapper fed the child to his dogs, and he burns the man alive that he isn’t Walter Kovacs anymore. He realizes he is Rorschach. And when he is hiding in plain sight as that Prophet of Doom in the background, Rorschach wears Walter Kovacs as his mask, just as the Joker wears Arthur Fleck’s face as a mask at the end of Todd Phillips’ film.

We can go into how in Star Wars Darth Sidious was the real self of the man who wore the mask of the politician Palpatine, or how Batman’s secret identity is Bruce Wayne — though that last is highly debatable, though appropriate given that this article deals a great deal with his arch-nemesis. What I’m trying to illustrate is that none of these alter-egos becoming true identities happened overnight, or had always been their true selves. Parts of these personalities, these culmination of experiences, were there but there were other circumstances, and reactions to those events that precipitated the processes that made these happen.

That is how I understand a lot of what I’ve been going through this particular year. I don’t romanticize these characters. I think there are aspects of them, as archetypes, that are really fascinating and relatable, but they are not heroes. The Joker is not a good person, even if there are parts of him — of this one, and even his “burn everything bad to the ground” or “watch this flawed, disgusting world burn” attitude that my Id can sympathize with.

I guess the best way to describe it is that 2019 has been a different year for me. I’ve new people. I’ve had some new experiences, or explored them in a whole other way. I’ve been angry, and scared, and frustrated. I’ve delved into that fear. I’ve confronted it. I’ve pushed my comfort zone. I’ve worn my makeup and my masks. But I’ve realized that identities, especially those that we associate with things and events, are fluid. They change. And trauma in particular is a massive force behind some of those changes. There are ways to explore that power — trauma — in controlled environments with calculation and experimentation. Writing is one of those outlets, and the confines of the imagination. But sometimes it’s also trading stories and interactions with like-minded people. Sometimes it’s putting old selves behind you. Sometimes it’s realizing you are angry, and accepting it, and knowing that you are changing.

I think the most painful thing is trying to hold onto the person that you were, with all those experiences — good or bad — to stay in the past, because you will never be that person again. You will keep changing. That’s part of your nature. Some core tenets will remain the same, of course. But you will not have the same experiences again. We hold on out of fear, or resentment, or a genuine sense of overwhelming purposelessness. Where do we go from here? What do we do? And why is it I have this inclination to know where I can go, or what I can do, but not quite get there before … something? Right?

This year, I felt myself let go of a lot of attachments and realize some things are gone. And that they, most likely, needed to be gone. I still have to deal with more of these due to logistics, but I now understand that I don’t feel the same about them as I did. I don’t feel the way I used to, because very naturally I’m no longer that person. And that’s not a bad thing. I can still feel sad about it, even angry, but it doesn’t change anything beyond whatever it is I do next.

I’ve been busy, confronting those parts, dealing with the anxiety. I have fascinating friends and explorations. And I’m lucky. I felt my old self beginning to wane, to fade, but to also be subsumed by my new choices, and activities. It’s sad and you mourn it, but there is no other way to go on: even if you do need to remember to pace yourself. Imagine being Arthur Fleck, though, and realizing that your old self never really existed to begin with. Maybe it’s not that different, as nothing is permanent. It’s not a science, but I will argue with you that it can be art.

And that’s what I’m making. Even if I don’t write as much as I used to, or stay indoors as much in front of my computer, I am still expressing myself, and thus making art. I might have been wearing masks, but they are closer to being who I am now than where I was. And even despite that, masks aren’t false things. They are organic and we are all different people in different situations.

The New Year is coming up. I actually had myself made up as the Joker a while ago, and this great, rumbling laugh came from my chest. I’ve dressed as the Crow, but as people like to quote from that movie and perhaps even the comic from which it came “it can’t rain all the time.” The Crow isn’t supposed to smile, apparently. But I laugh. I love to laugh. But I also like to be between states, and know how the meat is made, or destroyed. I like to hide in plain sight, and plan things out. But sometimes, when I can get past the fear I just go with it accordingly.

I’ve actually liked 2019. It’s so far been a good, but challenging year. I will keep shedding more of the old as I go on, and it won’t be easy. But we all know that “laughter” has an extra letter in front of it sometimes. And it isn’t so much that I’m trapped here with my challenges.

It’s that they are trapped here with me. And, when I can, I intend to have my fun.Laughing Me

Absolute Zero

And I am not talking about the weather where I live, even though it is fairly cold. :p

So, for a long time, I had this idea for a Matrix fanfic in my head based on a character I made called Zero. I even dressed up as Zero at a Halloween Party almost a decade ago. The story was inspired by a scene from “The Second Renaissance,” when a woman is attacked by a group of men, and her skin is ripped off to reveal the metal skeleton underneath. Back in the day of early science-fiction, it would just mean that she had been a robot or something unfeeling: an enemy or … well, a “trap.” I don’t think I need to really go into the social and gender prejudice connotations of what that might mean to others, but it impacted me a great deal.

I wrote at least two, maybe three, AI stories based on the feeling that this scene evoked in me so long ago, and the story of a person who knew that woman, and saw this happen to her … and how it changed them forever. But I never wrote the story down. I mean, sure, I did write about it a few times. I definitely talked to people about it.

All I know is that the seed of it was planted. That this woman who had been attacked by this mob had a lover, who had been a human AI sympathizer, who initially wanted peaceful coexistence but, after seeing this event, decided on vengeance instead. I also liked the idea that they were a contrast to The One, later on: that the Anomaly came from somewhere and, perhaps, someone’s genetics.

The way I figured it, whenever the Agents in the Matrix failed to defeat The One, there was a squad of these human sympathizers to the Machines, with their leader Zero, sent out to eliminate them: amongst other things. Zero can match The One, but isn’t used often. This is probably due to the act of potentially destabilizing the entire Matrix if Zero and The One ever fight …. and we’ve seen what happens when that occurs with the example of Smith and Neo. Zero, in that capacity, was meant to be a last resort … and there was some of this that I really wanted to explore.

I didn’t really end up exploring that aspect of it, however: only hinting on it. At the time I came up with all of this, I knew I wasn’t ready — with regards to skill or maturity level — to write the story. I just didn’t have a feel for the world, then, beyond snippets, and there were technical aspects that escaped me.

Time passed. In 2013, I got involved — peripherally — with the independent game design scene, and it led to looking into things like the Scratchware Manifesto, as well as luminaries like Anna Anthropy and Christine Love. And then, I found … others. One person, in particular. We bonded for a time over depictions of AI, and I told them my Matrix story. They said they wanted to read it. I told them I didn’t actually write it, and I didn’t see when I would do it. I did, however, promise them that I would show it to them whenever I did.

Six years later … well, it’s probably too late now, for a variety of reasons. But it’s never too late to create a story at all. It was at the bottom of my bucket list, but not forgotten. That thought: of “I should write this” never truly left my mind.

matrix b1-66er

The missing ingredients, as it turns out, were aspects of the old Matrix comics. I’d purchased them a while ago, deciding I wanted hard copies as I know that the WhatisTheMatrix site they used to exist on only remains on the Way Back Machine. There was one story in particular, created by the Wachowskis called “Bits and Pieces of Information”: which told the story of B1-66ER, the abused butler robot who murders his owner and attempted dismantler in order to save his own life. The robot goes to trial for the murders, and it becomes a major Civil Rights issue that begins the Human-Machine War, and then — with the defeat of humanity — the Matrix. I thought it was a fascinating story, but something of a tangent as I had seen it only in “The Second Renaissance,” but then I saw it in “Bits and Pieces of Information” in a bit more gory and technical detail … and that’s what made it. Combined with the fact that B1 and 66 were parts of the robot’s designation … I began drawing from my own geek exposure to AI in different films — one in particular — and I started to get a background on Zero’s idealism … before the death of the woman who was Zero’s lover.

So, as my television played reruns of Star Trek in the background and as I entertained my curious budgie who was flying on me, I reread “Bits and Pieces of Information” — written by the Wachowskis and drawn by Geof Darrow and thought I’d be seeing a comics version of “The Second Renaissance,” but finding the technical structure of someone accessing Zion Archives instead. It stuck with me for a while.

Then, I talked with a new friend, remembered my old friend, my story, and then gathered a few of the details above in my mind … and wrote the thing on A03, then reposting it on Mythic Bios. The ending was giving me trouble. I changed it three times before finally surrendering to sleep.

The next day, I spent too much time adding the technical “search” jargon onto the piece, dealing with the beginning and ending — doing it on my phone and then giving up and using my computer like a somewhat sane person — when I realized … that Zero could work even better as a Twine.

So, with Star Trek: Enterprise playing in the background, I took my story and put it into sequence boxes, piecemeal. I paid attention to specific words, and paragraph breaks to place an appropriate hyperlink. Transitions are important with this sort of thing. It’s like pacing a script to a show … or poetry. Then, I decided to try something new.

I figured out, relatively easy, how to add images into my Twine: something I’d never done before. As I said, it was simpler than I thought it would be, so much so I almost slapped my forehead in ridiculousness. Hell, it was even easier than adding them into my articles, and resizing them for such. I took the comics image of B1-66ER killing one of his would-be murderers, and then the image of the woman being torn apart by the human mob.

But I wasn’t done yet. There was more. And this … is where I really experimented. It wasn’t much, you have to understand. I just changed the colour of the Twine font to green. I found myself looking at CSS code and, after being confused for a while, changed it correctly to the green I wanted. The Matrix neon green. Then I set it so that the hyperlinks were Blue, and hovering the cursor over said links made it Red. I think you get the connotations of those aesthetics from Matrix lore. That was also, once I got the code, relatively easy.

What was harder was turning the border margins text green. The title, author name, Restart, Bookmark, and Twine Credits element. It took a really long time. I had to take a Deadpool 2 break before sitting down and actually figuring this little bastard out. I managed to get the title and author name, but the rest of the margins were being really stubborn. I thought of asking for help but … honestly? I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I just wanted to show myself I could learn something new.

I’d worked with some code before, though it had been a long time ago and nowhere near as advanced as those of my peers. Then, after much trial and error, and Viewing the Page Source which I had done a few times in the process of getting images, I finally changed all the words to neon green.

I never thought I’d go back to Twine, after this long. I used to think it was the future of people wanting to make games who were not coders, or one possible future. I’ll admit the font colour options could have been more user-friendly: especially for the margins. But I did it. That sense of accomplishment, however small, was fairly good.

So, this is what I did. “Zero” is not a Choose Your Own Adventure game. It isn’t even a game. It’s just a story that paces itself through hyperlinks. Bits and pieces of information, as the Wachowkis might say. I think “The Treasure of La-Mulana” was similar in that way. It goes to show you I can learn, or relearn new tricks.

Zero isn’t a perfect story, by any means, prose or Twine-vise. But I feel like it’s just one more step. To something, anyway.  In any case, in lieu of the new thing I am attempting to write now, I hope you found this post interesting if nothing else.

Peering Back In and an Update

I think it would be an understatement to say that I haven’t written here in a while.

There’s a pretty good chance, in fact, that I’ve even said this before. I remember when I used to write on Mythic Bios a lot. And when I mean a lot, I mean every single day. Then it became every other day. Then every two days, and after that, well …

Life happens, I guess is the best what to sum it all up.

How do I even catch up at this point? What highlights can I share with you?

Well, I can tell you that I’d been working on two very long pieces of fanfiction on A03. Both of them are set in the Fate/Stay Night universe. One of them, Fate/Stay Unlimited Bullets is finished — despite the errors I keep reading over and correcting — but the other, the longer one, Fate/Stay Life has gone into something of a hiatus. I know how I want to continue it. I know what parts need to be elaborated on. And I also know that if I sit down with it again, I will be able to continue more or less from where I started. But Unlimited Bullets really took a lot out of me: more than I thought. And given the content in FSL, I suppose it makes sense that because of a transitional period in my life it does make sense that I’m taking some time away from it. I do plan to come back to it, this 96 chapter monstrosity and ongoing thing mind you, but not right now.

But I know there are a few of you, who still read this Blog, that aren’t here to hear about my fanfiction, though you can definitely feel free to read it if you want as I am Ma_Kir on A03.

I’ve thought about writing more Alternative Facts short stories. I even have ideas and words and turns of phrase typed out in a draft somewhere. But … I don’t know. I just haven’t felt the impetus to continue for a time. Between having to find the right epigraphs, really focus on the language I’m creating, and think about what’s … going on, or could have gone on in Amarak, and just how derivative it all is, it is a lot of work to go through. I find that the stories don’t really work on their own, but you need to read through all of them in a certain order for them to get … some idea as to what is going on. I find it’s not as accessible, and I wonder just how good they really are when it comes down to it. If I have a story that is really pressing, rest assured I will share it with you. If not, they have been an interesting experiment in speculative political fiction.

I am, however, working a lot more on another universe. Actually, I have been working on two: creating one, and participating in the continued development of another. My original universe is derivative as well, with a Frankensteinian mix and mash going on, as these things go, and I hope to write two more stories in the series before attempting to get more readers to look at it. I play with horror archetypes and subvert a lot for human stories in that world. I hope them to be more accessible and while world-building is happening as a result or consequence, it is really the character interactions and more relatable characters that are forming that I hope to have stick. I look forward to sharing them, one day.

As for my other endeavour … I’ve written about 20th Century Boys before on this Blog, a long time ago now. In that manga, a group of children created a game — a game of make-belief — where they are a group of heroes fighting against the forces of evil. They made a whole mythology that someone, years later, adopts into an evil plan to take over Japan. I’m not really involved in something like that, but I can relate very much to a project or a world built between friends from childhood, and watching it grow with us.

My friends and I have been playing a homebrew world our DM created long ago for years now. I started playing it, with them, in 2001. I played one character from 2001 to 2004: developing him from a slave to essentially a demigod at the time. It was this process of collaborations and player verses player sessions, as well as solo sessions, that helped develop the game from a science fiction derivative to a more unique and quirky epic fantasy world. It isn’t entirely accurate, of course, but the the gist of it. I played again in 2005, as another character in the same world. Then I was gone for … about eleven years until 2011 when we continued the game where our old characters more or less became gods, and we played new characters in that world. And then, our DM made a multiverse in the form of various campaigns with these characters and elements which figured into it in 2012-2013 or so. They were fun in themselves.

I’ve roleplayed as wizards, mages, necromancers, sorcerers, alchemists, artificers, and the like. I have even been an assassin and a cleric at times. But the funniest thing is that the most enjoyment I’ve been having as both a player — and as a creator — is my current bard. I attempted to play a haunted bard in a Ravenloft campaign, and wanted to really add poetry — as an imitation of singing, or playing an instrument — to bring the bard to life. I had a choice, this current campaign and going back to our mainline homebrew world to either be a bard again, or a monk: which was another class I’d been thinking of trying out.

But I decided to be a bard. There was another game we were going to play where one of my characters in a faction setting was going to be one, and I just liked the idea. And she developed slowly from there, from a concept to more of a person. It’s funny. These days I tend to play female characters for some reason. Maybe I attempted to do so in 2012, to differentiate one alchemist character from another I was playing in a D&D campaign with my same friends. It … didn’t go well, for that character, and it impacted my experience.

But then in about 2016 or 2017, I tried it again, and I find I really like these characters. And my bard is one of the best. I have been writing whole epic “Ballads” of our adventures and certain world lore, in an attempt to spread information and misinformation on the world: to unify factions to deal with a greater evil. But I find I really get a lot out of this game writing these Ballads and actually reading them aloud in session. I haven’t really read anything I’ve written aloud in a while, never mind write something out by hand. I find it does affect the game, and not just because the DM gives us Inspiration or sometimes some bonuses, or even in my case EXP.

I just feel more immersed in that world. I feel like, when I write stuff like that, I am accomplishing something. Between that, and my own original creations … I could seriously live my entire life doing something like this. I wish I really could. If we ever made a studio, and I was asked to be a writer for it, I would do it in a goddamn heartbeat.

I find that the issue with my life right now isn’t that I don’t know what to do, or what I am doing. I do know what I want to do. Often, it’s just the world that won’t cooperate, or do what it’s told. Lol.

More realistically speaking, I just need material to work with, and collaborators, and people and resources that can help me make something tangible that will … support us. And the focus to do so, along with the determination in a hard, ridiculous world to keep going.

I’ve accomplished some other things too. I wrote some letters that got published in comics series. I’ve helped edit, and even make some character concepts for my friends’ — my role-playing group’s own game — Ankle-Biters: Pixies Vs. Gremlins game. And I wrote a Sequart article about the film adaptation of How to Talk to Girls at Parties that got retweeted by Neil Gaiman himself: which made my day for a really long time.

So I have not been completely idle or brooding in this time I’ve been away. Sometimes I think I should take my friend up on his old offer and see if I can redesign this Blog and make it look less … choppy, and plain with its ads. And maybe with something more substantial to offer besides my nerdy speculations and fanfiction, and the occasional story, I can build something more noticeable. Perhaps there is a way to get my works to interrelate. That would be sweet.

It’s been a stressful time, in an uncertain age. But I just wanted to write here to let you know that I am still alive, and I have not forgotten this Blog: or you. Hopefully, we will be seeing a little more of each other, if not here then elsewhere. Once again, thank you all for reading.

Alternative Facts: An Alternate Perspective On You and I

This is one of my first Mythic Bios revisits today. I said before that I didn’t conduct my examination of Alternative Facts in order. And now, to complicate things even further, I realized I actually forgot some things and instead of adding them to my previous entry, I thought about it, and came to the decision that these elements deserve their own.

In my last article, I mentioned how the first draft of “Lost Words” didn’t really work. The spirit of it was there, but it wasn’t really direct. I wrote about a few reasons why it had issues, and while most of them were structural and still trying to figure out what they were beyond a gimmick or two, there is one major change between the first and the succeeding drafts.

The first draft of “Lost Words” was actually in first-person. The narrator, who was a student academe, was talking to their teacher. They are separate from the reader, they and their teacher at the Freed Dome. The entire situation is outlined for the reader through the dialogue and some small description on the part of the narrator. In a way, they are basically telling you what is going on more than anything and as I said in my “Alternative Facts” analysis, it is a more “Gee Willikers this is the World, Batman” dynamic and feeling more than anything else. In other words, it felt cheap. It felt like, as I said before, a gimmick to sell one idea. And some of that is fair as I never thought there would be an interconnected story after this until a friend of mine said all but said they wanted to see a story about the Repos that survived their official disbandment and their exile from the main State of Amarak.

The first draft wasn’t even a Word Document. It was an inline text email that I’d sent to my girlfriend at the time, and then my friend a few months later after we reconnected. To be honest, I even forgot about what literary perspective I used. For a while, I even thought I wrote it in third person limited perspective because there were two characters having dialogue with one another. Talk about degrees of separation and cognitive dissonance: thoughts that are appropriate given the title of the series, and the times that has inspired it.

I don’t remember why I chose to rewrite it, and then rewrite and write the succeeding stories in second person perspective. Second person perspective is not a common literary narrative point of view. It is the kind of thing you would expect in a Choose Your Own Adventure book, or a video game, or the post-card fiction I was told about by my World Literature teacher back in Grade 13 or OAC. I thought it interesting, and I played with it when I designed Twine narratives and even some of my own Choose Your Own Adventure and Roleplaying Game experiments back in the day.

But as I planned to hone the story down … you see, it’s clever. Not me, but … one of those age-old exercises you always get in literary classes is to determine what narrative perspective you are using. And even as I reviewed my stories for this article, I see how tricky it is. Technically, “Lost Words” is first-person perspective. However … the narrator is talking to an audience. They are talking to you.

It isn’t as clear, perhaps, in the first story but from “Freedom” and onward, while there is an “I,” there is also a “You.” Certainly, Alternative Facts stories like “View From the Badlands” and “Beyond the Wall” actually have specific narrator characters, and the others have a clearly delineated group talking to the reader-audience, to you, but that is just it, isn’t it? It feels as though they are talking to someone. There is always a you in this narrative.

Even in “Lost Words,” there is a general “you” when the narrator talks about their research into the past. This tenuous link between the first and second perspectives in the narrative, arguably and from my obviously “unbiased” opinion, makes it so that you aren’t only watching an interaction, or passively having the information revealed to you. The idea is that you are involved in the process. You are supposed to be immersed in this world, through this pronoun become a verb. You aren’t separate from it. This isn’t another place or another time. And even if it is, you are there with them: actively discovering this.

Of course, you have to suspend your disbelief or pique your interest to do this little bit of roleplaying. You can remind yourself that you aren’t in this. That you are beyond it. But as I think more about it, in this convoluted way, given the subject matter about politics and horror, and the movement of a world, what is the difference between “I” and “you.” I refers to one’s self, but when “you” is used it refers to another. It can be exclusionary, but it can also be inclusive, an invitation, a realization that one is — that you — aren’t separate, but rather in the same place. Maybe not in the same situation, but you have that invitation to being invited to being a part of the story, to even the illusion of actively exploring it.

I’m looking at what I’ve written already, and I wonder if there was any point to it: if I have actually communicated anything worthwhile at all. I suppose, if I really look at it, the way that Alternative Facts takes “I” and “you” sometimes makes them distinct, but also makes the boundaries between them finer … almost erasing them entirely. It takes some doing to see where one ends and the other begins, to see which one is true, and which one is not. It gets muddy, and a bit unsettling even to talk about: and not just because of the strange hodge-podge language.

And maybe that is the point. Or something.

The Making of Sacrifice

It’s taken me a while to get back into this, into my Alternative Facts universe and the State of Amarak.

A lot of stuff gets lost in transition, and translation when I write these stories, I’m afraid. I think I go into it a lot more in my article Alternative Facts, where I discuss how this entire thing began, but to summarize the issue with my stories is that the language I attempt to create — the poetics — is by its own evolution very inaccessible, or limited. This is the language and syntax of a people — or populii — that has changed over at least a thousand years, if not more. I just attempt to extrapolate based on what I know, and what little I have read on the matter, and go with it.

But there is another issue as well. After talking about translation, there is transition to consider. I realize that most of my stories in this series are not really standalones as I might have originally planned them to be. I realized after “Freedom” and “The Spectrum” that I was essentially world-building from the roots of “Lost Words.” So here you have my poor readers trying to read my attempts at Newspeak and remember the context of groups and ideas from previous stories in that same vein.

Sacrifice is supposed to be different.

The first draft was very short and it was direct. At the same time, it lacked focus. It referred to other ideas, and it didn’t put emphasis on the Gilder Booms nearly as much as this one does. The Gilder Booms have existed ever since “Freedom” and they get talked about a little more in “Our Secret.” I don’t like to explain my stories, even if I did basically create a whole new language — or a basic attempt at such — for the world of Amarak. But I would like to discuss, briefly, the idea that led to this particular short story or, perhaps, chapter of this dark political speculative landscape.

I was, of course, paying attention to the recent school shootings in the United States. A lot of my friends and peers had been reposting and commenting on various articles. There were two ideas that came to me, one possibly in the back of my mind for a while, and the other more blatant. Let me start with the second one.

I thought about the Gilder Booms, as they are a group in the sub-cult of the Repo Party in Amarak: near or in the Borderlands away from the Repolitik proper. They are the cannon fodder, the militias, that go in and unleash the most bombastic and physical damage on those around them. I began to look at the religion or spirituality I extrapolated and formed around the Repo Party leadership and I wondered what the Gilder Booms thought of their “hallowed armaments.”

At one point, I came across this New York Review Daily article on my social media feed entitled Our Moloch by Garry Wills. It posited the idea that guns and firearms have a god: that this particular one is modeled after, or is, Moloch: an ancient god demonized by Judeo-Christian theology, and ultimately represents human — and especially child — sacrifice. The article, if you read it — and I hope you do — makes its point clear about guns and shootings in the United States along with its victims.

But then, I just couldn’t see the Gilder Booms blatantly worshiping Moloch: even with their time distorted idea of the Bible and folklore. So I thought of a deity that could represent the creation and power of firearms instead, on a warfare level. Unfortunately, Neil Gaiman beat me to it with his American version of the Roman blacksmith god Vulcan in his television series adaptation of American Gods. If you haven’t been watching the series, it is interesting, though I think the novel is better. Even so, Vulcan in that world represents gun deaths, and the military industrial complex of the United States. He is a perfect symbol and I realized I just couldn’t match that.

Even so, it still didn’t sit well with me. Two Mediterranean deities becoming the god of guns just didn’t feel … I don’t know, like they would be a part of Amarak. I tried thinking of Amaraki versions of them, but it didn’t work. And then, I remembered something about how the ancient Greeks, at least, thought of deceased children as heroes: and they were specifically buried in a ritualistic manner to almost deify them. I’d already touched on this in “Freedom” and “The Spectrum,” of course but I wanted to see what the Gilder Booms would do with it: how they would express it, and distort it to suit their spiritual and religious views.

And I realized that perhaps I was going about it the wrong way. The guns didn’t need a god. They already have spirits. It’s true that, in their theology, the Gilder Booms see the spirits of their hallows — as they call them — as extensions or servants of the Lohim, just as the Lohim has divine Masks or aspects representing specific old Amaraki ideas and figures. But I wanted to give the guns a life of their own, an animistic element, that ties them to the idea of nativity as part of the Land or the earth. The hallows themselves are a vessel of the spirits that they have … and the ones that they take.

I’m not sure when I started thinking about the Winchester Mansion. I know there is a film that had been released not long ago about it, and I’d always thought about the story in the back of my mind. It’s strange, when you think about it. I mentioned American Gods, and it has this idea that its holy places are specific focal points in the earth that attracts worship and belief. In America, according to Neil Gaiman’s novel, they are generally tourist attractions: the House on the Rock, and such.

The Winchester Mansion is definitely one of those focal points. It was created by Sarah Winchester, the widow of the man who owned the company that created Winchester rifles: which took many, many lives by design. The legend is that she started building an estate, after the deaths of her husband and child, to appease the spirits of all those killed by the family’s guns … or to get away from their curse. I wanted to find a quote about the Winchester Mansion and Sarah Winchester, but all I could actually retrieve was an old 1911 column about it: which I included as an epigraph in my story.

I … did the equivalent of meditate on that epigraph. I wrote some notes that, unfortunately, I deleted off of my phone. But what I realized was that according to the unnamed writer of the column, Winchester believed all would be well “so long as so long as the sound of hammers did not cease in the house or on the grounds.”

And then I started to think about it. What if the hammers are those in guns? What if the House is something more political? And what if the grounds are the Land, or a State, or a nation? What if Sarah Winchester and her actions, as fact, fiction, legend, or myth were a metaphor for a nation that profits from the construction, and deliverance of weapons? What if there is this large tract of grounds with different passageways leading futilely nowhere, or doubling back on themselves in circular logic, or hiding other secret places from those who would want to find them, or get out? What if there is a place that is made to hide rich people, or entrap the living, and attempts to forget about the growing dead?

What if America is the Winchester Mystery House? It was this idea, this image, that I ran with when I wrote this story, and then rewrote it and honed it down further. Perhaps I failed in telling this story properly in my Alternative Facts universe if I had to go into a digression about it here.

But it reminds me of something the narrator says in “Lost Words” when they are attempting to reconstruct the time before “The First Disunity” and a card game: about how the “House always wins.” And then there is also the idea, that can’t be discounted, of Sarah Winchester attempting to keep building on the House to actually pay restitution to the spirits, even with the problematic means of using the system her family made and the blood money to do so. Part of the column reads that her friends keep “persisting to visit her.” And either way you look at it, there is also that image of Sarah Winchester claiming that all will be well as long as construction keeps going … as long the House and the grounds keep expanding .. or the Land.

Sometimes, some things just speak for themselves, I find.  I hope that you will sleep well tonight. Take care, everyone.

Alternative Facts

I’m doing this all out of order.

This is an examination that should have happened either before I wrote my stories, or after when I had — or could still have — more of them. It is fairly clear that this entry is not a story in itself, at least not a fictional one, in my Alternative Facts series: whatever else it is. After all, where is the epigraph, right?

I started making epigraphs for some of my stories, in general, far before this point. You can blame Frank Herbert’s Dune series for my occasional, but fierce, love of putting quotes from other sources before my prose in addition to my love of classical science-fiction. In a way, while Dune has little to do with what I’ve been writing on my Mythic Bios Blog lately and before the New Year, it did teach me to look at the current world and what it could be in different ways, and I would be lying if I said that I had the idea behind Alternative Facts only recently.

It’s quite presumptuous of me, really. All of this is. Here I am writing, retrospectively, about a writing experiment as though it’s some kind of legitimate, published literature: as if it’s all finished, polished, and done. As if I may even continue it.

I’ve always known this world was imperfect. Even while, publicly and for the most part, staying out of politics I knew that human nature and what it builds is flawed on a fundamental, foundation of being. That’s why I always appreciated dystopian literature. George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm come to mind, but also Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, Philip K. Dick’s The Man in High Castle, and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. When you also add Russell Hoban’s and Alan Moore’s post-apocalyptic language play in Riddley Walker and Crossed +100 respectively, you can see all of these influences on a very basic and hardly comparable level with the series that I chose to share publicly.

It almost didn’t happen.

A little while ago, Neil Gaiman wrote a short story “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury.” In this story, you see this protagonist’s view of the world change dramatically, even degenerate, but ultimately becoming defined by the absences of where Ray Bradbury’s work, knowledge, and presence used to be within their mind. I found it utterly fascinating, this mnemonic shift, and I tried to replicate it in a poor attempt at a story about someone forgetting Neil Gaiman and looking at the world through their eyes. I wasn’t ready then. I almost understood what I was trying to do, as much as I can still even attempt to put it into words, but reason wasn’t enough. I had to intuit it, and pass that spark into some writing.

Fast forward this a few years. The politics of the Western world, of North America, shifted: or at least what already existed became clearer to me. The Internet doesn’t allow you to ignore the rest of the world as readily as other media anymore, or at least for now. I realized, far later than many other people more qualified than myself, that this was something I couldn’t afford to ignore. Then, at one point, the term “alternative facts” was introduced into the world conversation. It’s true that you can refer back to Orwell or even 1930s Germany when you think about those words, but they stuck with me. At one point, on my social media, I wrote something along the lines of taking “Alternative Facts” and making some kind of dark science-fiction or speculative series based off that title.

Even then, I knew I was only half-joking.

But I didn’t do this for a while. It was a nice, snarky thought as the world seemed to be proving itself to be more stupid and self-destructive than even I originally thought. I thought about the American elections, and how in my mind it should have gone: that forces utilizing hate and hate speech should have failed —  utterly — then turned on each other, and become utterly forgotten: an embarrassment to society and civilization, polite or other wise. I started off this post by saying I was doing this all out of order. And I remembered what ancient civilizations used to do with dynasties and regimes that caused them chaos before they finally fell. They would go out of their way to erase every monument, every artifact, every word, and every mention of those former ruling groups: for good or ill.

Then I remembered something else. I had a friend I used to talk with from Germany. Among many other things, we would discuss history. Of course, the Nazi Party came up. This was before a lot of the turmoil that became prominent during 2016 and now onward, which is reminiscent of parts of history. My friend, when we talked about Nazis, never called them Nazis. They called them National Socialists. And that was exactly what their name was, the National Socialist Party. But then it was abbreviated, and from then on and over time, they have been called Nazis. It doesn’t matter what they styled themselves, or what their original aims were in other forms, or even their influences. That is how they are known now.

Just like my Repos, the former Repo Party, mentioned in my first story and elsewhere.

At first, I just talked about the Repos. And then, one day during August of 2017 when so many people were talking about politics and fascism, when I was wondering if I would ever see my girlfriend or any of my other loved ones in the United States again, I decided to try my hand at uniting these concepts into a story. What would happen if something so bad occurred that even as civilization in one area reconstructed itself, it either lost much information, or actually went as far as banning it — erasing words — to make sure they would become lost?

The first draft of “Lost Words” wasn’t really good. It got clunky and you could tell that I was still exploring a lot. The protagonist talked with a teacher and it all felt like very scripted excitement, very “Gee Willikers.” And the ending was choppy and rather flat as well. I sent it to my girlfriend, but even before she said anything else, I knew I could have done better. So I abandoned it.

Four months passed. It was probably in the back of my mind, just as our conversations and my rudimentary notes sat in fragments  on a draft email. Science, and laws are being changed and challenged. Political horror as a genre is rising again, or people are paying more attention to it. I had time to think about the power of words and ideas existing, and being erased. Certainly, even before this working on Sequart articles focusing on Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providence, along with the “Agents of HYDRA” arc for SHIELD really helped me examine some concepts that, for me, still needed a creative outlet. I also thought about some of the work I did researching and looking at Lawrence Gullo, Fyodor Pavlov, and Kelsey Hercs’ LGBTQ+ Bash Back comic.

I honestly can’t remember why I resurrected and rewrote “Lost Words,” not when I left it for dead. Not when I almost let it no longer exist. I know I reconnected with a friend of mine and wanted to show it to them: thinking it right up their alley. But I had been working on it even before that. At least I think I did. As I say in “The Spectrum” story, it’s hard to say when something was born, or destroyed, or made when it seems as though it always exists on some level.

All I know is that I wanted people to see it: even the shoddy draft that I could just put on my Facebook and be done with it. But I didn’t leave it at that. I honed it down. I made the narrator more definite. And I added a layer of metaphor to it, something to mirror the main story and give it that resonance I needed. It was only later, after I wrote “Freedom” — from the perspective of the Repos of all people — that I added an epigraph retroactively into that story, based on the fact that I made one for “Freedom.” And the trend began, if such a thing can be said what with there being only four stories so far.

It is funny what you can tell about a world, like Amarak, by what isn’t said. I realized that writing each story from a different perspective, with epigraphs that complemented and contrasted with the narrative content, was effective for me. They are like dispatches from another place, another possible time. The word play is incredibly reminiscent of classic science-fiction to the point of it being very pretentious and derivative of classic science fiction of the twentieth century. I take fragments of Latin, I mess around with English and abbreviate words, attempting at times to make sure they have multiple meanings. It isn’t anything special. I am no Russell Hoban, or Alan Moore. And in terms of the stories and their conceits, as a friend of mine once said to put me in my place long ago, I am no Neil Gaiman. And in the wake of the twenty-first century, with its far more sleek and genre-savvy science-fiction and speculative literature I know there are many voices looking at these issues that are far more diverse than my own.

But I did it regardless. And I found it funny how Lost Words, which I thought was the most clever, was a story some readers just didn’t understand. I thought it was clever. But I suppose that is the problem: cleverness does not always a good story make if you don’t make it relatable. Weirdly enough, Freedom with its mythic and almost religious quality seemed more accessible, and The Spectrum in particular seemed to really hit a chord in people, or punched some subject matter rather unsubtly in the face. By We Are the Grass, though, I basically went “full circle” and wrote about what I thought: take it, or leave it.

I don’t really know, at this point, where to go from here. I just came back from a visit to the States and I am tired. But even before that, I wasn’t sure where Alternative Facts was going. I originally thought of it as something of a dark speculative anthology series, with tongue and cheek political tones, but a world — the land of Amarak — grew out of it instead. It is still a possibility of course that I will continue with my original plan if Amarak becomes too exhausted.

And I have some ideas. The fact is, I require more inspiration. I hit my stride with this, and another series I’m working on at the moment — a private one I was focusing on before this one attempted to supplant it like the usurper that it is — so I need to keep that fire going. I believe watching films like Get Out, as well as Netflix’s Black Mirror, along with reading Pornsak Pichetshote and Jose Villarrubia’s upcoming Infidel comics series in a few months could help recharge my batteries of pure dark fire towards the world. Or, you know, continuing to watch and read the news: that works too.

When it comes down to it, though, I feel as though every story I write, every story I’ve ever written is filled with “alternative facts”: is in fact an “alternative fact” in and of themselves. I don’t mean that they are lies, though some stories are lies and, as a great writer once said, all writers are liars. But they are all still stories and they do say something about the storytellers, and the place from which they come. And sometimes, some things just speak for themselves. And sometimes it is better that they do instead of remaining silent. Silence is the ultimate death though … sometimes what isn’t said can speak incredible volumes.

I think these are my thoughts for now. Feel free to read my stories if and when you have the time. It is good to place something on this site. It has been reposted on, and neglected for some time now. It feels good to put something on here again, especially something that feels worth while. Everything still is out of order. I should have ended this post with the previous paragraph. But, somehow, I feel as though whatever this is is just beginning. Or it is always here and I am just one more person speaking it: one more letting it speak through me. Take care everyone.