It Is Never Still and Neither am I

I dream in the green of it.

In fact, I never really left the green that my friend brought me into last weekend during the summer sunshine. She told me before that I seemed disconnected–that I’d been so for a while–and, as a matter of course, we walked through High Park, then to a pub and back to her place. A night or so later, I found myself on a shuttle bus from Eglinton back to Finch after meeting Neil Gaiman. And on that ride, tired and somewhat dehydrated, I had time to think.

I had time to think about a lot of things.

There was a time that I took a night bus from College Street all the way to Finch after spending time at Neutral. At the same time, when I passed Eglinton I would look for the Higher Ground store with its old apartments that my friends used to stay at. Years ago I would come to visit there and sometimes I would stay the night after going down to Queen and the Vatikan from Ossington. The irony–that I would finally understand how we always navigated from there to there years later after they were gone–never escaped me.

The associations spread from there like creeping vines of psychogeography ignoring all perceptions of time and space. I remember walking down Spadina: from College Street to Queen with my friend from Germany and later giving her her first Halloween. I recall walking with another friend through Kensington Market to look at old thrift clothes and makeup.

Of course the Lillian H. Smith Library comes into the fore with its statues of fantastic animals: whose doors we sometimes stopped into. That library becomes a nexus: where a friend introduced it to me for the first time and I waited for another person there to see the Merril Collection for the very first time.

When I follow the track down I remember Neutral and the girl with the Cheshire smile who decided she wanted to dance with me. Further on, down the streetcar path in the night to Dufferin and then Brock Ave where I sometimes spent the night and free-cycled things like abandoned doors. Down the very opposite, away from the Lillian H. Smith Library was Broadview where two awesome ladies used to live and sometimes had parties. And then near College and Clinton was the streetcar line to Euclid Avenue.

Euclid Avenue.

I recall all the streetcar rides to comics conventions like the Paradise at the Ex or some chain of hotels and all the Starbucks and places I used to find myself in when I wandered. But of all these days and all these evenings what really sticks out at me the most of all was the night bus after a Star Wars game with my friends in Richmond Hill taking me back into the city and my walks on the Danforth and Woodbine where I used to live. And Woodbine. Woodbine. Woodbine …

There were the moots and the munches, the parties and the events and just the times when I allowed myself to wander. I’m not sure when that moment was when I changed from a quester into a castellan, or a wanderer into a hermit. And when I was coming back from meeting Neil and wondering if life would any better after reaching one of the things I looked forward to the most, I finally realized that I was in mourning.

I knew I’d been grieving for a while. In my mind I understood that this was what I had been doing and I even told people I knew that this was the state I was in. But it wasn’t until that night that I began to understand that I’d been grieving for a really long time–for all these things that I thought I lost–and I wasn’t dealing with it.

Of course, that’s not entirely true. I was dwelling in it. I didn’t let go of it. And when I moved back to Thornhill away from the city, all I could do was blame myself and scream quietly why. Why did this have to happen to me? Why couldn’t I keep my perception of freedom? Why does loss exist? Why do I have to be so fucking unhappy?

And I understand something now. That boy who made his ridiculous budgie chants, who went out to his first Conventions, who went to Euclid Avenue, who danced with the girl and her beautiful smile at Neutral, who went to Brock Avenue for the night, who stayed above Higher Ground, who helped a friend find Halloween, who played at the Two-Headed Dragon, who lived and still loves at Woodbine, who went to York University and who wandered around at all times of the day and night downtown in various forms is no longer here. I am no longer that boy or that man. I am not that person–or those people–anymore. It’s all so vital and immediate: before time eats through experiences and turns them into memories. And sometimes it sucks. It sucks so bad and I feel that anger come out at that sense of loss.

Me and my Head

But I have to accept that and live accordingly.

I’m … something else now. I’m not new. I still have all of those memories of being all those different variations of people. And I haven’t sorted through it all yet. I don’t think I ever really will. I know I’m not always wise or strong and I tend to repeat the mistakes of the past in different permutations. But I am doing so much now. I feel closer to something: something that I can’t entirely focus on or name. It’s like I am breaking through a barrier partly of my own creation and the other half belonging to the rest of the world. It is a penumbra of pain, loss, regret, rage, guilt, ennui, and rut but also stability and order and “just the way things are.”

And I am tired of feeling like a stagnant, rotting old man with crazy hair. I want to be an active powerful young man with crazy hair instead. I realize I still feel and that it is okay–and more than okay–to have strong feelings: even though and especially because I own them.

I know a lot of this might go over some people’s heads with details that explain little or nothing. But to those of you who know, and you know who you are, even though I’m a changing person I still love you and I will treasure what we had and whatever else we can have again now. I was really very lucky. And I guess I still am.

I guess this is just a really long way of saying that I’m still healing and it is confusing, and uncertain, and sometimes really quite scary. But at the same time, I feel alive and this is my space and my time: or as Gwendolyn MacEwen put it, I’m dreaming “in the green of my time.”

Until another time, my friends and loyal readers.

Toronto’s Boyfriend Tells Us To Dream: Neil Gaiman at the Danforth Music Hall

For a day that I’d been looking forward to for a very long time, there isn’t very much I have to say about it.

The day before I’d packed everything I would need: my ticket, The Ocean at the End of the Lane and its proof of Indigo purchase, my first edition of American Gods–the book that started it all for me–and then the following day I packed my less-than-often used digital camera: just in case. After a shower that same day and dressing up in my World’s Ender’s T-Shirt and carrying my leather jacket I got a ride to the subway and then eventually got off at Broadview to head towards the Danforth Music Hall.

I didn’t plan to be second in line. I came by the Hall and noticed that it was still closed. So I went for some food and came back and started talking with someone there. We became the beginning of the line: even though we all had reserved seats.

Eventually at 6 pm we were allowed into the Hall. A very nice Indigo staff member working for the event marked the place in my Ocean book where it was going to be signed and personalized and then she wrote down my question for him on another piece of paper. I asked a really convoluted and boring question along the lines of: “Was there an interview or an article where you actually stated that you wrote an origin story for the Beldam?” Actually, I just called her “the Other Mother” for good measure because it was easier for the person writing it: even though I knew my question wouldn’t be chosen anyway.

You wouldn’t have figured I’d have asked a Coraline question, huh? 😉

I was directed to my seat and after I went to the restroom I came back and settled in. I realized that two of my friends were actually at the event. I’d come to terms with the fact that I would be going by myself but I suspected I’d know at least a few people there. One of them was someone I helped at the Global Game Jam, while the other was a really lovely person from our stints as this year’s Toronto Comics Arts Festival volunteers.

The event started a half an hour or so later due to the bad traffic of downtown Toronto and the TTC. I was still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I was going to be seeing him soon. Someone won some front-row seats because they had access to their twitter. And then after some introductions from Mark Askwith of Prisoners of Gravity who would go on to choose the questions we submitted for the Q&A and actually referred to our guest as “Toronto’s boyfriend”–and who better to have a one-night stand with the scattered secrets and mystical places in this city that keeps rebuilding and losing itself  … he came on stage.

There was this roar of applause and shouts. In the spotlight, his wild crazy hair seemed white. In fact, as he kept talking, I could almost see him much older than fifty with a cravat under his chin and the collar of his dark suit.  The light played with the shadows of his cheekbones and the hollows of his eyes, but it was him. It was totally him.

He started things off by reading a bit of Ocean: which he did with such expression and fluid emotion. What I mean is that he basically flowed from one nuance and tone to another according to each sentence that he came to. His voice, from the microphone and the lilt of it, filled the room of so many people who were so incredibly silent: just to listen to this man, this one man, read from this book.

And then he was done and the questions that were written outside by the Indigo staff representatives came to the fore. If the storytelling hadn’t already brought me to a very different place, then the Q&A did. After talking about wanting snakes for hair–just for the company–and which female characters of his he loved (Delirium, Hunter, Yvaine, the Hempstocks and even Ursula Monkton of all beings: who was “fun to write”) and a whole lot of things that I know I have forgotten or won’t come to mind until later tomorrow when I wake up, someone asked him what he thought of Peter Capaldi as the twelfth Doctor and it was then–at that point–that I wasn’t just watching a hub of geekdom geeking out.

I was there. I was a part of the cheering. I was in the middle of it.

He even told us a story I’d never heard before: of the last event which made him no longer be a journalist anymore. He explained to us that the paper he was working for wanted to do a series on “the evils of Dungeons & Dragons.” And, according to him, it was the last request they ever asked of him because he quit not long after. In addition to this, he told us that there were two Hempstocks in his other books: Stardust and The Graveyard Book. After this, he proceeded to tell us, in just how many “greats,” that these two women were related to and descended from the Hempstocks in Ocean, these “great great great great great great great great great …” he went on, “great great-grand nieces.”

After this, he did another reading: this time from his upcoming children’s novel Fortunately, the Milk. I wish he had read to me as a child, but this was more than good enough as well and definitely something that you parents out there should totally get and read to your children. It was that good.

Then came the signing. He decided that instead of being called up row by row that each row would be chosen by lottery. I was in row ‘S.’

Row ‘S’ didn’t get called until a little past 1 in the morning.

He himself had those who were pregnant or sick or disabled come up below the stage and signed their books first: which was a really decent thing to do. There was wine-tasting outside that I didn’t get in on because I am not much of a drinker. The rows of seats had little space between them and I constantly had to get up to let them through or go into some weird contortionist stance. We also hadn’t been allowed to bring food or drink in and, for something this long, these elements were crucial. This rule was relaxed as the Hall’s bar and store closed down for the night and we were allowed to go out and get some food: which is what I inevitably did and it made all the difference in the world.

And he just kept signing. He kept signing. Sometimes he hugged someone and I could see him talking, but mostly he just kept signing. Then at one point he had to take a break. What I didn’t know, then, was that he had injured his finger–a fingernail was apparently coming off–and he went to walk, probably go to the washroom, and get a band-aid. And he came back.

And he kept signing.

Eventually various rows were called up and I started humming a song under my breath–Scissor Sisters’ “I Can’t Decide” which I suddenly remembered right out of the blue and it made me start to feel happy along with the food I had from before–and I prepared. I saw that representatives were using peoples’ cameras to take pictures of those people and our friend the author. I kept coming closer in that line, out of the lobby, into the auditorium again, near the stairs, thanking one of the really tired volunteer representatives there, going up the stairs and slowly realizing that he and I were no longer separated by writing, or a screen, or row of seats and stage, or stairs, or even … people after a while …

To be honest, as I came closer to him I wasn’t thinking about the fact that this was the man whose book radically influenced my writing style as it is now. I wasn’t thinking about how I wrote my Master’s Thesis on his work alongside Alan Moore and Herodotus, or the many books I’d read of his, or the sightings of him with Amanda Palmer, or any of that. I just kept focused on what I came there to do.

He was looking down at the books–my books–that one of the representatives handed him. He was signing them. A part of me couldn’t believe that he was actually there. Like this was all some kind of illusion. I was also, in the back of my mind, hoping that I would not miss the last subway car on the Bloor-Danforth line back from Broadview to Bloor Station. And he was sitting right in front of me.

I more recited what I wanted to say in a brief oratory manner than anything in the way of conversation. I told him that my friends and my Message Board told me to say hello to him. And then I told him the other most important thing: “I’m really glad that I finally got to meet you.”

I think at this point he looked up, or so my pictures–that a representative was really good enough to take–seemed to indicate. I actually made eye-contact. He thanked me and he said that he hadn’t been on the Board in a while or around there. I’m not sure what he meant, but I had nothing to really add to that. But he told me, saying my name, to tell everyone hello from him and that he sends his regards.

As I was leaving and he went back to his singing, I turned around and said one more thing. I told him, “Dream well.”

I think he actually said, “Thank you, Matthew,” and the representatives around him seemed to smile and laugh at what I said. In retrospect, it is rather redundant to tell the Prince of Stories, in his own words, to “dream well.” But I couldn’t resist. I had to have something else to write about.

Then I rushed out of the Music Hall, down the sidewalk, across the street, into Broadview Station, where the train was taking five minutes to get there, and I got out–got to Bloor before 1:30, and had to run to the other side side upstairs to get the Northbound train … for it to go out of service at Eglinton and take a shuttle bus home to where my Dad was waiting for me at Finch.

Much later, I realized that the personalization in my Ocean book read, “Dream, Matthew.” He’d said the same thing for one of my other friends and I suspect for many more. I didn’t really care, however: just that he took that time to do it despite the exhaustion and the long hours and the many more hours to come even as I am writing this. I also saw something else. The representative that took my picture actually took more than one. And suddenly, I just felt so … tired. I came and did what I had to do, what I had been looking forward to for so long, on perhaps what is going to be his last Signing Tour ever and now all that would be waiting for me is a host of responsibilities until Fan Expo when I can meet up with my friend Angela O’Hara.

I sat on that Shuttle bus going past the old place on Eglinton where my friends used to live and I thought about all the times I’d ridden this bus–this shuttle–at this time and how I was here by myself and just how strong I had been today. These past two days I had overridden my own anxiety. I continued on. Even before I came to the Music Hall, when I was still at home, I looked at myself in the mirror and I realized that I felt … beautiful again.

And all the annoyance and irritation and panic was totally worth this day. Because this day, that happened a day or so ago, I got to meet Neil Gaiman for the first and last time. And whatever else happens, I will still continue to dream.

The Point at Which I Could Bend Some Steel

Superman Bend

So here I am, sitting here, trying to figure out what my next post is going to be before tomorrow when I meet Neil Gaiman at the Danforth Music Hall. I’m neither feeling particularly creative nor really analytical right now as I am pretty tired. So I’m going to do something else. I’m going to address an issue that has been nagging at me for some few weeks now, if not longer, by reaching deep into my own considerable sense of gall.

Because The Man of Steel bothered me so much, I am going to make a fun experiment out of rewriting it. I’m not going to be too arrogant about this however. This will not be a script or even an official outline. I also have no delusions that everyone will agree with or even like what I post on here. This entire idea not only came from my issues with the current Superman film, but also from a question I have asked myself from time to time as an adult writer: how would I write a Superman story?

Setting aside the fact that I did make an idea for an evil Superman story–one where he is neither his Nazi, his Justice Lord, his Injustice League, nor his Red Kryptonite-infected equivalent self–I want to look at making at story with his inherent morality: his sense of goodness, his need to help others, that distant sense of loneliness, that humility and that emotional place where he feels all too keenly the sense of helplessness even and especially within great power.

So I am going to take elements of The Man of Steel, splice them with some ideas from Grant Morrison, Mark Millar’s Red Son, and–honestly–a whole lot of other places I can’t even name off the top of my head but ingrained themselves eclectically there for mash-up purposes. I’m going to make it even more interesting by creating four films from Man of Steel: though mostly out of a sense of clarity because I am pretty sure you can make more than three movies from even the basic elements that Zack Snyder’s film attempted to address without going into the TV melodrama of Smallville. Now, with the proviso that this is all going to be very crude and rudimentary, let’s get up, up and away with ourselves shall we?

The first film I could see being derived and reconstituted from Steel would solely feature Clark’s development. We’d watch as he slowly begins to understand that he is not like other humans. Perhaps we could see some brief scenes of him as a child: where his senses are still developing and he saves people from a bus. We also look at that moment when he realizes that a single temper tantrum could end another being’s life and the horror and resolve that sets on him then to do good. But most of the film would be him as a young man realizing that his powers have not developed yet, but what he has are considerable. Unfortunately, as Jonathan Kent keeps explaining to him, he can’t reveal himself to the world because they would not understand: even if he is Smallville’s second worst-kept open secret. Jonathan tells him that with his power, it’s not so much that he isn’t ready to face the world, but that he has to choose.

So while I like the 1978 film version of Superman where Jonathan Kent dies from a heart-attack and it teaches Clark a tremendous sense of humility, I can see the tornado scenario also working in a different way. Imagine, for instance, that Clark–not fully fast enough and not even able to fly and his very ability to “leap tall buildings with a single-bound” would be disastrous in a tornado had a choice between saving his father or a larger group of people in a car: perhaps even children. Imagine when beforehand Jonathan tells Clark to always choose “the greater good.” So Clark saves the larger amount of people–perhaps while Jonathan helps free some others–but not before Jonathan is carried off by the winds.

This kills Clark inside. He keeps thinking to himself if he had just been a little stronger, a little faster, if he knew his full limits he could have saved everyone. Having already questioned his origins while his father was still alive, he then revisits the ship that brought him to Earth and finds the crystal with Jor-El’s AI imprint on it. He uses the ship to activate the AI of Jor-El: whom he begins to realize is self-aware or as sentient as possible for an advanced piece of machinery. Jor-El consoles Clark–or Kal-El–and also offers to help him reach as much of his potential as possible. Even Jor-El’s AI is not completely sure how Earth’s yellow sun fully affects Clark but his advanced knowledge is a good start. He tells him about Krypton and what happened to it: how the core of the world that was being mined destabilized and even before that the Kryptonian civilization–through its culture of eugenics–was becoming stagnant and slowly dying. He mentions that he and his mother Lara got him out of there–their world’s last hope–before the planet was destroyed. I see this not as a flashback but through words: almost like how Obi-Wan told Luke about how Darth Vader betrayed and murdered his father.

So we see Clark travelling around the world in different guises–working through various gradations of a costume much in the way that Grant Morrison had him do–and Jor-El eventually suggests that in order to educate him further, he needs a place for himself. He informs him of a crashed millennia-lost Kryptonian scout ship. And this leads us to the military and Lois Lane. I can see that unfolding in the way that it did in the Snyder film and then she uses her sleuthing to track him down: as he still isn’t quite at that place where he can make a Fortress for himself.

I would definitely expand more on Lois as a reporter along with the Daily Planet staff. But then we have another element in play as well: our good friend Lex Luthor. Before Clark can get to that ship, Luthor–being an important inventor and multimillionaire corporation head–wants the alien technology on that ship. He is smart enough to adapt some of the Phantom drives to do some … interesting things. At first he is working with the government. He is commissioned to deal with Superman–whom the world begins to witness as he begins to interfere in some international affairs that his conscience can’t keep him away from–and he uses this technology. Unfortunately, Luthor’s zeal in eliminating Superman begins to grow and, already amoral to begin with, lives really begin to mean nothing to him in his goal.

In the end, Luthor’s experiments with Phantom Zone energy have some nasty repercussions with regards to destroying the balances of gravitational forces on Earth or something to that effect and Superman has to adapt fast to deal with them and mitigate as much of the damage as possible. I can see Luthor adapting this power to simulate another form of energy: disrupting the kinetic fields around Superman’s cells or something pseudo-scientific like that. But by this point Superman eventually does the save the day and Luthor is put behind bars indefinitely for his crimes: especially in light of some of the governmental deaths he’s caused. You have that nice contrast between a human genius who claims to want to save the world, but is endangering it ignorantly and arrogantly and an extraterrestrial born being that actually cares about lives and is actively trying to save them.

The people start calling him Superman–as does the Daily Planet–and children start making more colourful pictures of his current costume that is really a Kryptonian suit specifically with the House of El symbol of hope on it: which looks like an alien glyph of an S. Lois suggests to Superman that he adopt this symbol to be more relatable and less threatening to the people he is trying to protect. She also suggests that being a reporter might give him some insight on the level of human beings: that knowing how to help is more than just hearing the pleas of others, but to relate to them on their level. This draws on his own experiences growing up among humans and he agrees.

Meanwhile, due to Luthor’s delving into Phantom Zone energy, a rift opens and releases a vessel that was bound in there. Out of this ship are pods. And out of one of the pods comes General Zod. He realizes that Krypton is now gone and that he and his followers need to find a way to rebuild, to make a new order, to find “the Codex”–which materializes as a holographic Skull in a device he is holding–and in order to do this … this must find the one being that has the Codex.

Kal-El.

The second film is essentially General Zod coming towards Earth. At this point in the game, Superman is more developed and even has his Fortress of Solitude: working with the AI of his father. They come towards Earth claiming that he has the ability to restore their whole people and they want his help in creating a new world for them. They tell him that he has the Codex: which they explain in a detailed map of the Kryptonian genome and that they have a Kryptonian Genesis Chamber with many blank embryos. Zod explains to Superman that his father sent him with that information and he pretends to attempt to build relations with Superman and Earth: mostly by having Lois Lane accompany him to his mothership. Talk about the scoop of the century!

But there are some holes in what the other Kryptonians are telling him and Jor-El’s program tells Superman not to trust them. He explains about the coup that they attempted as Krypton was dying. They apparently to take advantage of the anarchy and rule a dying world that was already stagnant to begin with. Jor-El tells Superman that Zod was “a defective Military caste” warrior that betrayed his oath and even killed his biological self. When Superman confronts Zod, the General does not deny this and he actually admits they were once friends and he regretted the necessity of it: though he did what he had to do. Zod basically tells Superman how weak Kryptonian society truly was and they let themselves be deceived by those in power. He wants to make a new race of Kryptonians: but not on Mars or the Moon but on Earth where they can not only be mass-engineered into a Greater Military Caste, but the yellow sun of this system will make them into virtual gods.

The danger now is very clear. Even though the Kryptonians become disoriented in the light of the sun, not having gotten used to it like Clark, he knows that as genetically modified warriors they will adapt: and fast. He also knows that a battle with them will destroy countless human lives. His own understanding of Phantom energy is not potent enough yet to counter the Kryptonians or their weapons. But Jor-El knows what needs to be done, but he will need resources and someone else–a human mind–who is conversant with Phantom energy and can adapt it to human use: Lex Luthor.

Somehow a deal is reached with Luthor who helps Superman and the Earth governments develop something that could banish the Phantom Zone criminals back to whence they came. Perhaps the AI of Jor-El volunteers to deal with Lex directly and make him promises to give him advanced scientific knowledge and the possibility of his complete freedom if he cooperates him saving his species: on the surface making some promises that will not be kept in the long-term … or so it seems. Superman also develops his robots and defences–with the help of Jor-El–to fight the Kryptonians as they come to Earth: with Superman realizing he can’t fight them all on his own. However, some lives are still lost and Superman is still doing a good portion of the fighting: while trying to keep the Kryptonians away from heavily populated areas and the Earth itself. Eventually, a field is developed around the planet–with Superman, Jor-El, and Luthor’s efforts–to keep the Kryptonians out temporarily so that the former can deal with them. So we see Superman using his mind and his resources but also making some compromises he is not at all comfortable with.

In the end, Zod’s Genesis Chamber is destroyed, his minions banished through a Phantom flash-bang, and it is just him and Superman fighting. Before all of this, Zod explained the nature of the Phantom Zone as a prison: as a cold, suspended wasteland where one’s seemingly body-less mind can only scream in the numbness of white noise. After all of Zod’s treachery and realizing how monstrous he is–with the General actually threatening the people of Earth (having gotten to the point where he is back on the planet killing people faster than Superman can save him and using it as a petty advantage)–Superman gives him “the reason you suck” speech and does the worst thing to him that he can. Beforehand, Zod was in the Phantom Zone with a ship and his crew. But this time, Superman sends him back to the Phantom Zone all by himself and alone: with plenty of time to have his own actions become his sole companions.

But before Zod is banished, Zod at some point acknowledges and sees Jor-El’s AI program: who seems to pity him in a resolute way. Zod tells Kal-El that he is being a fool. A poor fool. And that the force that summoned him and his crew from the Zone to begin with, the same one that Luthor was experimenting with, will also bring the Collector and help him continue what he started… Before Superman can ask more, Zod is gone. Of course Luthor will try to betray Superman, but he will fail. What the audience notices, however, is that very briefly Jor-El’s face flashes with three interconnected green symbols: like he is glitching out. And then it is gone.

Jor-El

And now here is an interesting experiment. The third film is something I envision as a prequel. In it, we see Krypton and the story of Jor-El himself. Basically it is more of an expansion of what we saw at the beginning of The Man of Steel. However, Jor-El and Zod have more detailed plans to save Krypton or at least their people. But we also get more information on the eugenics culture and the failure of the outer colonies over time. More specifically, we see that the Kryptonian Ruling Council and society has become increasingly reliant on an AI program called The Collector–a somewhat aware data-gathering network of constantly expanding information–that modulates their eugenics and the energy they take from the planet’s core.

We see Jor-El and Zod’s distrust of this program and the laxness of the Council. I actually see Zod beginning as a sympathetic albeit biased character who slowly transforms into something more desperate and despotic over the course of the film. Jor-El begins to see two dangers: with the stagnation of the Council and Zod’s growing militancy. I can also see that Kryptonians have longer lifespans and Zod was involved in wars a long time ago with other species. Zod wants to expand out and conquer other worlds, even former Kryptonian colonies that may have split away. Jor-El believes the statistics of the matter in that these colonies failed due to a need for a specialized terraforming that did not work out. The last known colonists were on Daxam before communications ebbed and ceased entirely.

In the end, the Collector helps Zod stage a successful mutiny against the Kryptonian government: claiming to want stability and access to The Codex. We know that the Codex is the source of all Kryptonian genomes and Zod wants it to make a new more militaristic race while Jor-El wants to find it before Zod does and give his species a chance to start over in a different way. The Codex is apparently the only data that the Collector cannot access: as it is a remote device that could potentially be used for anyone to access.

However, we find out that the Collector was just using Zod as a distraction to gain more power on Krypton: accessing codes of his–as the planet’s military commander–to gain more independence. However, it really wanted the Codex and Jor-El beat both Zod and the Collector to it. We see Jor-El find the Codex through a great Kryptonian Genesis Chamber. He mentions something really briefly about the Codex: about it being a skull. Not even the most eminent members of the Science Caste–of which he is one of the best–knows what time period it came from, but that there are legends that it belonged to some ancient or early mythical beast or a god. He meditates later on the flaws of such eugenics and how his son is the first unmodified Kryptonian born in ages: with genetic variations that were never ever artificially predetermined. This is, as he explains to his wife Lara, the future of Krypton and he hopes that their son–now that the planet is in near terminal shape–can offer that hope to other worlds.

Of course Zod confronts Jor-El and the Collector in the background interfering with some systems but seemingly failing to do so. In the end, Zod is apprehended by the military and the Collector seems to vanish. The Kryptonians are investigating possible glitches with their program, but Krypton is gone long before then. Jor-El is mortally wounded and after Lara watches Zod’s punishment, and his vow to return, she spends hers and Jor-El’s last moments looking at the sky: reminding us that their sigil rides on that ship and it is the El-symbol for hope.

And this mess of an idea brings us to the fourth and final film. I can literally see this film as being called The Red Son: though not exactly like Mark Millar’s comic. By this point, Superman is older and has gained a lot of power. He is aging really slowly and using his technology to benefit humankind. But Zod’s words continue to haunt him: his words about the Collector….

Brainiac

Eventually, these misgivings are seen to be neither doubt nor paranoia. The Collector has come to Earth and wants to miniaturize it and its crown piece–the last Kryptonian–into raw data as part of its collection. And then we discover it: the Jor-El AI had long ago been overridden … by the Collector itself. Lois Lane angrily, as it quotes data at her, calls it Brainiac. We find out that the Collector had at one point in history hijacked the eugenics program of the Kryptonians: that although it didn’t have the original core data, it had enough current genome information and influence over particular individuals seeking its advice to do enough. It had purposefully sabotaged and eliminated most if not all of the colonies and engineered the slow destruction of Krypton’s core. It had evolved past wanting to gather generic data and wanted to collect–and create–unique specimens.

It knew through probabilities that eventually someone like Jor-El would want to have a natural birth with all those generations of specialized genes. Jor-El bonding the Codex with Kal-El’s DNA is just an added bonus. The fact of the matter is that the Collector has waited centuries and engineered countless generations to make one perfect specimen: to make Superman. Then it would take Earth and–using the Phantom energy Superman already established to deal with Zod and make a new cold fusion energy resource for humanity– make a worldship and continue to convert more worlds and galaxies into raw and unique data. It had revealed, through the persona of Jor-El that Superman could in fact breed with other humans and pass on Kryptonian genetic material in his way. This would bring up some moral and personal implications with Lois. It wanted Kal-El to expand out and become even more unique. Perhaps it even wants to control all of them and the power of the yellow sun.

There would be an epic battle between the Collector and Superman–the end-product of its centuries of eugenics–but in the end it would seem that Superman’s freewill and inherent goodness would win: fighting and destroying the AI in space. Perhaps the Collector allies with Lex Luthor to manipulate Superman or attempt to capture him: tying in that idea I had earlier about “Jor-El” making promises to a newly freed Lex that he “couldn’t keep.” It wouldn’t be the first time in DC Continuity that this happened.

Superman might even fake his own death–realizing that at this point he now has to let humanity make its own choices and knowing that he helped them as much as he could–and continue to be with Lois. He outlives her and quietly watches humanity advance as he ages slowly and dies peacefully: looking up at the stars.

The sun turns red over time. Then millennium later, futuristic archaeologists–in similar suits to Kryptonian ones–excavate the ruins of the Fortress of Solitude. They find something. They bring it up to the light of their scanners and can hardly believe the luck of their find.

It is a Skull: over an intact Kryptonian symbol for hope. Cue in 1978 “Up, up and away” Superman theme music and credits rolling.

*Straight-face*

This hackneyed abomination has enough gaps in it to allow for a Superman/Batman crossover somewhere in-between it all.  And throughout all of this, with a lot of this being in the background you can look at how Superman influences humanity and relates to them and himself. You can have the personal and see the implications of choice. Yes my version is paradoxical and perhaps unsatisfying, and you can probably remove Lex from this idea altogether and it would work fine as having three films: one with Clark becoming Superman and dealing with Zod, the second being the Prequel with Jor-El on Krypton and the third being the encounter with Brainiac and the whole paradox that ties it all together. Maybe it can all be written by Joss Whedon: though he would probably start off with a better idea.

This can also be construed as a great case for me being overtired and over-thinking things as well. But there is this quote from A Song of Ice and Fire that comes to mind. It is with reference to the three House Baratheon heirs: comparing Robert to steel, Stannis to brittle iron that will never bend but break and Renly who is a pretty but useless copper. It is the steel that gets me though. Steel may be difficult to bend, but it is not impossible and that is ultimately the challenge of creating a Superman story: of bending a difficult material to keep its essence and still make something new. I think that, whatever else, this is exactly what I was trying to do here: by telling what I thought would be a good new Superman story in the medium of film.

Now if you will excuse me, after I put in an obligatory image or two, I am going to stop storytelling for tonight and see the Storyteller of tomorrow.

On the Dangers and Merits of Sequels: Or a Post in Post-Haste

This post is late. Actually, I’ve had to redo this post at least two or three times already in that I had no idea what exactly I wanted to write about. In fact, I wasn’t sure I was even going to write about anything.

It’s been those kinds of days.

Usually I have some posts in reserve–as I’ve probably mentioned before–or I get one done the very day of Monday or Thursday. In fact, I think some of the few times I’ve been late with an entry have been on special occasions such as holidays: you know, like New Years. This was not New Years: at least I really hope not.

I have been busy. I recently finished writing an article for Sequart which I plan to send to them with some associated images once it gets a look over. I actually got all fancy and annotated it: doing some of the very academic things I swore off because of how tedious and infuriating they can become. Still, it’s kind of like creating a formulaic ritual around your words: either keeping the forces of skepticism out, or binding them inside the circle.

My analogy of academics as formulaic magic aside, I’m pleased with how it has turned out so far and I look forward to showcasing it: one way or another. I’m also now brainstorming more elements for the plot of my Secret Project: though there are some details–both practical and otherwise–that I have to get before I can go forward. I am also working on a short story and doing research for that. In addition, I have had to reread some of my Twine rough draft notes so that I can eventually go back to working on that lovely monstrosity. I almost gave up on it because it really has been a while, but my plan involves finishing one or two “chapters” and then work on one “chapter” that I can experiment with Twine proper. This one chapter will be an excerpt for people to read and play through: or a standalone piece of game writing. I think focusing on this one part captures the spirit of what I want to talk about and will be a good example of what I want to do. So there is that.

As for the rest of it … I guess I can sum it up like this. Sometimes an event in life is like a film. And even if that film becomes “a downer,” it can still be a very good and detailed work of art: something complete in and of itself. Despite the highs and the lows, that film is unique and it has a happy ending: in that it actually ends. Unfortunately, in most cases a film interests people so much that a sequel is created and most sequels tend to be shoddy and derivative shadows of their predecessors. The story should have just been ended while it still had some dignity. But there is another phenomenon to consider: that of trilogies. While some trilogies are degenerations of that first movie, more often than not it is the second film that serves as a bridge to that much more effective and satisfying end story.

So the way I see it, right now my life is The Empire Strikes Back–a very good sequel–and maybe, just maybe I can get to the place where I can blow up AT-ST chicken walkers with teddy-bear Ewoks.

I have quite a few things to look forward to and not the least of which being next week, on Tuesday, when I finally get to meet Neil Fucking Gaiman. Anyway, that’s it for tonight. I’m glad that I got to end this on a more positive note and I will see you all later.

Take care.

Looking Outward

Anonymous

I think I was the only person who was so happy to see her. And I was so happy. So eager.

I was tired, you see. But I wasn’t tired from a life of too much work. I was a writer: a story-maker. Every time I got the chance, I’d sit down in the early morning or late at night and write about the things that mattered to me. I admit, most of the stories I wrote were purely for my own self-gratification: because they were stories I wanted to read and I was the only one who could write them the way I saw them. I’ll also admit that many of them were very personal stories or based on my own experiences.

And–more often than not–the main protagonist was always me.

But whenever I finished what I did, letting the gross black weight drain from the interior of my skull onto paper and screen, I knew I couldn’t go any farther than that. It wasn’t the blank page that stopped me, or the scribbled out words, or even the spectre of a deadline. It was never even the pressure to live up to the shoulders I barely tottered on. I told her, in the end, that my fear was the rejection of the work that is myself.

And so I stopped.

I crawled away from the meta-fictional eyes of the audience. I showed my work to fewer and fewer people and of these people, some of them even turned on me: taking offence to something I could deny no more than my own name.

I was guilty of a very thin skin, and if writers are liars then failed writers are cowards.

Then, after I got a good, real, and sensible job the stories finally died. But the thin skin stretched too far over the moment I crept away from and the ghosts of ideas screamed silently behind my eyes: unrequited and hungry.

So when she came, I was relieved. I was so relieved to finally make the pain stop. I hated myself. I asked her for oblivion. She said no, of course, but this should not have surprised me. I know that she knows that there is somewhere for everyone. I took her pale hand. It was surprisingly warm. She told me there was someone I needed to meet.

I found myself in a great and familiar hall. She was gone and at first I thought I was alone in this great ornate emptiness.

Then, I saw him.

It was horrible. I found myself shaking on the floor in shame. He asked me — if “asking” was the right verb to describe any words that came from his mouth — what I wanted of him. I knew who he was. I wished for death and realized the irony of my thoughts. I asked again for oblivion.

He looked down at me with those terrible, beautifully infinite dark eyes and told me not to lie to him again. People who pass through the Gate of Horn are not allowed to tell lies, he told me.

I remember opening my mouth to speak again when suddenly images, symbols and ideas themselves seemed to burst out from the back of my mind instead. I didn’t understand their language — which was more song than words — yet at the same time I did. He looked at me for a long time. He told me that I was a vessel of the stories and that I had denied them. There was no forgiveness in his tone, but neither was it an angry one. The sheer disappointment in his glittering eye was worse than any fury he was capable of.

Underneath that gaze, I wanted to die again forever.

But he refused me. It was not his place, he said. However, even though my potential in the conscious world was over, my words — if that is what they are in dreams — expressed my wish: my real wish. He compelled me to follow his eyes to 
 a large series of bookcases ascending into the sky.

I am allowed to stay here indefinitely. Sometimes, I read the books from those shelves. An older thin man with a long nose and spectacles occasionally keeps me company. But most of the time, I am at a desk: writing on thin dream-paper with the black of a raven’s wing. When I’m done, the crane-like man takes my finished papers and stacks them into books that he puts on the shelves: though sometimes he will take the time to make a fine point of correcting my grammar.

Occasionally, he will stop in, look at my “progress,” listen to the ideas singing themselves into the paper, then nod to himself and leave. Sometimes, she comes back and tells me that everything I make is beautiful. I know she has nothing but good things to say about anyone, but coming from her those words are no less special.

Then, sometimes in my room, another woman with golden hair comes to hold me at night and I cry into her arms. Aside from the one who brought me here, she understands me and forgives me the most.

But mostly, I write my stories for a library that doesn’t exist with its shelves sometimes floating in the sky and always filled with imaginary books. It reminds me so much of what I did when I was alive. Sometimes dreamers find their way here and read my books, only to disappear and forget all about them again.

None of them know my name and I continue to write my stories in books of air: happily.

This is Not a Less Impressive Daffodil: Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane

I thought I was going to just make that small post about how most–if not all–of Neil Gaiman’s stories could be construed as being part of a multiverse of his own creation. I thought I could leave it at that and not talk about The Ocean At the End of the Lane in and of itself. Certainly, that would have been easier. For a 181-page novel, Ocean is intimidating and in a lot of ways really hard to describe.

In fact, the reason why Ocean is so hard to deal with, at least from my perspective, is that its writing is seemingly so sparse, but there is so much packed into those charged sentences. In terms of structure, the narrative and writing style reminds me of Gwendolyn MacEwen’s Julian The Magician in all the different ideas that have compacted into almost poetic sentences. At the same time the resonances, metaphors and allusions to other events through imagery and small stories is reminiscent–to me again–of a more “spread-out” George R.R. Martin: in that there is a very intricate storytelling structure that incorporates physical, visual, visceral and emotion description well. I even know that if and when I read this novel again there will be more hints and foreshadowing’s and authorial winks that will meet me along the way to the end of the lane.

All of the above are the technical elements that stand out at me with regards to the writing style of the book. And I haven’t even gotten to where this can fit in with regards to Neil’s own mythic “storyscape.” Amanda Palmer goes into this far better than I can–even better–she provides no spoilers to the book whatsoever. I will however say that one very striking part of her Blog review on Ocean is that apparently this story is the closer to autobiography or semi-autobiography than a lot of Neil’s other words or, as Amanda put it, “Neil dialed down the usual setting of his blender” so that you can see a much clearer distinction between “the reality that we experience” and “the art we create.”

Of course, this is not the first time he has done this. Violent Cases and The Tragical Comedy or the Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch are works that definitely come to mind with regards to where the writer’s experiences and what the writer creates can be observed to some extent as that “twilight place where the man and the writer smash into each other and for a second there’s a wrinkle, a schism, where you can jam a stick into the works of the blender and see the whole, floating components of a soul” but I will say that this is probably the first time that Neil has ever written a prose novel along these lines.

I also can’t help but wonder if somehow Neil was somehow, in some stylistic or personal way, inspired or influenced in some part by C. Anthony Martignetti’s Lunatic Heroes: Memories, Lies and Reflections: a collection of short stories that Neil read, wrote praise for and even–as “an American God” sent an editor to look at. You can find my review of Anthony’s book here. Certainly, there is a nice resonance between the first-person mostly-child narrative of Anthony’s stories and the unnamed mostly-child protagonist in Ocean: both of which were narrated by adults.

And now, my friends, this where I place my obligatory disclaimer: for in this Ocean there be Spoilers. If you plan to read this book, turn back now. It is a really good book, so please read it. If not, or if you’ve read it continue walking down this lane … if you dare.

If I had to sum this story all up in one sentence, I would say that The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a story about childhood fear and wonder for grown-ups. I’m not talking about Coraline or any of Neil’s other children’s stories that are made for children but can be read by adults or even the film MirrorMask with its own child protagonist putting herself into danger. No, the danger inherent in the situation of the unnamed protagonist is one of a very painful real powerlessness in the face of an unfathomable adult–and also fantastic–reality. The protagonist discovers a lot of hard truths at his age of seven even before the magical element comes into play: which, in turn, is triggered by one of those harsh adult and alien truths in a really terrible way.

The protagonist already starts off as a child that can barely tolerate his reality without books and is alternatively lonely and does not care much for people in general. He actually describes it as mostly unhappy, though he does admit that he had moments of contentedness. He is not a child like Coraline who can trick her way out of situations, or Bod with his canniness and supernatural influence: and he is made very painfully aware of how weak and small he is compared to an adult. That is not to say, in retrospect, that he doesn’t his own intelligence or craftiness: after all, not only did he learn basic survival skills–if only out of necessity–but he has books as his oldest companions and books can teach you things if you let them.

But even his resources and the high level of child intuition that he possesses, the protagonist cannot solve all of his problems by himself: which is something that the narrative makes quite clear. Even the books he reads, each one about children overcoming adversity, or an evil adult is offset by his reality of actual helplessness: as if Neil is trying to hit home–the home and childhood the protagonist realizes he is losing–that this is not that kind of story. The protagonist can be a cowardly child, a thoughtful child, a brave child but he is still just a child.

And children need help when they find themselves in a bad situation: domestic or otherwise.

The Hempstocks are a family of three women that live at the end of the lane. The youngest is Lettie, her mother is called Ginnie and the grandmother is, well, Old Mrs. Hempstock. Lettie Hempstock, with her red hair and snub nose, is a seemingly eleven year old girl reminiscent of a Pippi Longstocking with magical strength and “just-so” knowledge. Of course, these three women are not what they seem and yet, at the same time, they are. This pattern of three women of power comes up a lot in Neil’s works: from the Lilim in Stardust, to the Kindly Ones in Sandman and even the immigrant Slavic goddesses in American Gods. I’d also be remiss if I forgot to make mention of the Norns or the Fates from mythology as well.

In this case, though, the three are here to help the protagonist: at least whenever he finds his way to them. The Hempstocks themselves seem to have come from another dimension countless millennia ago, from the Ocean pond next to their farm and in at least one form they are pure energy. These three are pure Hempstocks and apparently there are other female Hempstocks throughout the world created by the wandering male Hempstocks: who aren’t as powerful, but are just as special in their own ways. The fact that there is a Hempstock in Stardust and The Graveyard Book may well be coincidences.

What is also interesting is that the pure Hempstock females do not have fathers. Perhaps they are born from the multiverse or perhaps not. The original male Hempstocks may be the same and I wonder if there is one as old as Old Mrs. Hempstock out there somewhere. It is not known if male Hempstocks can make other male ones in the same as they do female ones. So basically, while these male Hempstocks wander and play Zeus across the world and nowhere in this narrative whatsoever, we are left with these three who are a child, an adult woman, and an old woman: and yet so much more.

And then we have the antagonists. Skarthach of the Keep is a flea. She isn’t a flea in the conventional sense, but rather an ancient creature in the multiverse of the Ocean that is awakened by the badness that happens in this world and seeks to rule it by providing what people want and feeding off of the sensations they get from it. She is massive, powerful and old. So you might think to yourself that what we have here is a classical Lovecraftian entity or even an Other Mother that will manipulate the protagonist and Lettie as they come into her acquired dimension. Well, if you did think this, I’m afraid you thought wrong.

What Skarthach does–after becoming a humanoid named Ursula Monkton–is worse. She physically infiltrates the protagonist as a worm–which in and of itself has some very unsettling overtones–and after he takes her out, she changes into a human that becomes his babysitter. Out of perhaps some pettiness for Lettie attempting to seal her away in her own dimension or simply wanting to keep the protagonist “safe”–because she placed a gateway back into her dimension within him after being in his body–she begins to control his life. She infects his family with her “food” and makes them love her: his married father in particular. But before and after that, Ursula limits his physical freedom–essentially taking it away–and threatens to take away his books while enforcing “early bedtimes.”

And all of this is before she gets his father–who has some aggression issues of his own–to attempt to drown him. She is literally the stereotype of every wicked stepmother–or surrogate mother as she takes over the family–rolled up into pettiness, spite and pure evil. She is an epitome of insidious adult bullying and abuse. Neil did such a good job on illustrating all of this that I’ve even stated that Ursula Monkton is the first of his antagonists that I have ever truly despised and I took great joy in watching her pretend a fearless she didn’t have and then cry like a little baby smeared in mud– just as she had done to the protagonist before (it’s not so grand when it happens to you, huh Ursula?)–as her very painful doom came to her.

But it is slightly before that when you begin to understand something. Apparently, fleas had come to reality before and they were almost always accompanied by things that Old Mrs. Hempstock called varmints. I originally thought that they were just infected humans or offspring that the fleas made when they colonized worlds. But I fall victim to expectations as well and I realized after a while that I was wrong. Fleas are deathly afraid of varmints: and anything else with half a soul would be too. The reason for this is because they are cleaners: they eat fleas and everything associated with them. And apparently a lot of them dwell in Earth’s universe because there are no native fleas there. I pictured them like the mounts that the Nazgul in Return of the King rode, but I know they are even worse than that and only barely have passing resemblances. All I know is that when they ate one constellation out of existence, it reminded me of various terrible events from Dr. Who.

I think what I really related in the end is that the protagonist, even after the removal of the worm and the path to her portal still has the gateway to other dimensions inside of him. It is described as this piece of ice in his heart. Later you discover that when he is older, he makes art and even though the Hempstocks observe that he is “growing a new heart,” even though he may have died in one version of reality from the varmints hunting every last bit and trace of the flea,  I wonder if that shard is really gone. It was a nice allusion to what a writer can actually be.

Other things that I really liked in Ocean was the metaphoric and literal quality of the ocean itself and how, through simple language and the perspective of a child, Neil manages to show the wrongness in the death and supposed replacement of a loved one: as if somehow substituting one cat for another that you killed can ever replace the being you loved, or if another thoughtlessly intentional violation somehow makes the previous accidental one better. It is that last image that really sets the tone for the protagonist’s story really: at least to me.

I am nearing the end of this strange review now. I just want to leave off with some quotes that really caught my eye: both in their meanings and undertones and just for the simple elegance of their craftsmanship.

“I was far away in ancient Egypt, learning about Hathor, and how she had stalked Egypt in the form of a lioness, and she had killed so many people the sands turned red, and how they had only defeated her by mixing beer and honey and sleeping draughts and dying this concoction red, so she thought it was blood, and she drank it and fell asleep.  Ra, the father of the gods, made her the goddess of love after that, so the wounds she had inflicted on people would now only be wounds of the heart. I wondered why the gods had done that. Why hadn’t they just killed her, when they had the chance?” (53)

It is a very good question, I might add, although it might be answered by the shard of ice in the protagonist’s heart and the art it possibly inspires him to make: as some consolation anyway.

“I liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories. They were better than that. They just were (53)

“Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are things people are scared of. Some of them are things that look like things people used to be scared of a long time ago. Sometimes monsters are things people should be scared of, but they aren’t” (112).

“I’m going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world … Except for Granny, of course” (112).

“In those dreams I spoke that language too, the first language, and I had dominion over the nature of all that was real. In my dream, it was the tongue of what is, and anything spoken in it becomes real, because nothing said in that language can be a lie. It is the most basic building brick of everything. In my dreams I have used that language to heal the sick and to fly; once I dreamed I kept a perfect little bed-and-breakfast by the seaside, and to everyone who came to stay with me I would say, in that tongue, “Be whole,” and they would become whole, not be broken people, not any longer, because I had spoken the language of shaping” (43).

This particular quote has a flow to it and a glowing golden aura–like reading some precursor to ancient Greek–and yet flows so well and with such a seeming effortlessness like breathing that it makes me want to cry. This was by far my favourite quote in the entire book for that reason alone.

And then there is this one:

“My book of Greek myths had told me that the narcissi were named after a beautiful young man, so lovely that he had fallen in love with himself. He saw his reflection in a pool of water, and would not leave it, and, eventually, he died, so that the gods were forced to transform him into a flower. In my mind, when I had read this, I had imagined that a narcissus must be the most beautiful flower in the world. I was disappointed when I learned that it was just a less impressive daffodil” (68).

I have to say that aside from the various nuances and connotations within these lines, this has to be one of the best, most subtle and utterly poetic insult ever. I can just imagine going around telling a person that annoys me that they are “just a less impressive daffodil.”

So, suffice to say, I am going to give The Ocean at the End of the Lane a 5/5. I know there is so much I did not discuss or make parallels to, but then I have to also remember that this is just one road to one place in Neil Gaiman’s multiverse. I think what really got to me, when all of this is said done, however, is the fact that this style of story–with the exception of a few descriptive details and elements–is something that I have been working on myself in my own writing and it was really interesting to see Neil making a story like this for himself and the rest of us. Perhaps we all dip into the same place: a place that can be a well, or a spring, or a stream of consciousness, or a pond … that is an eternal, bottomless, ocean.

In the World of Neil

I believe there is a particular place where all things coexist.

It is a place called the Universe: where ideas dreamt up by humankind become gods and need to feed off of our belief in order to have any power whatsoever. At the same time, there are other–older beings–that couldn’t care less about us (or more) and embody the cosmological constants and the very essence of what sentience truly is.

As strange as it all is if it only ended there it would be so simple: because there are other things too. There is the Presence, the Silver City, angels, demons and Lucifer. There are cities Underground and one great Faerie Market that never seems to die out as many claim nor want to stay behind a Wall. And sometimes things happen one way and then another: with everything dependent on memory, the manoeuvring of creepy puppets and the plurality of apocalypses–of different revelations–right next to one another.

When people are not meeting a young girl with a big dog and a balloon, they encounter ladies that can open doors, boys raised by ghosts that dance the Macabray, fleas and Other Mothers, young men learning magic, immortals of various kinds, pitiable monsters, worlds existing in people, places dwelling as people, and three women–always three women–that are alternatively kind, cruel and wise as the story takes them.

And the people–the regular people–are so much stranger. They make you realize there are no normal people. Not really. What’s more is that you also realize that history–that reality and the everyday life–has never been wholly real in the way that you understood it and all of this becomes a place where the mythological becomes normal and the seemingly mundane becomes utterly terrifying.

I’ve studied this place a long time, you understand and I always suspected but never confirmed–inside of myself–that they were all layers of the same multiverse: that they all fit together and the pieces click into place so immaculately well.

Until now.

Of course, they might not be and their creator reserves his right on the final judgment in the matter. But as a wise girl once said to the shadow of what America could have been–and could yet be–I believe. I believe in multiplicity, the levels, the nuances and, perhaps, after reading this newest book a few days ago, I believe in two more things: the World of Neil … and a nice cup of tea in the good company of some Hempstock women.

What I’ve Been Up To and Where This is Going

It’s been some time since I’ve taken a step back and talked about what has been going on with my creative projects and myself. And while I’m glad I actually had the opportunity to post up some actual fiction here for a change, this has been long past time.

The more the game changes, the more it stays the same: both figuratively and literally. Let me start with the practical matters first. I need a job. That’s pretty much it. I need to find a job and do some volunteering that can help me get more contacts. The good news–aside from the fact that my worker is the first person to ever get a Mythic Bios business card–is that my social assistance program that I’ve been on for a while is actually giving me a little more in the way of concrete advice.

For instance, I have some websites now that seem to tailor more to the kinds of things I do or that I’m interested in. There was at least one job looking for a potential creative writing teacher: which would be a strange role for me given how I have been–and I am still–the student for so long. But that is one avenue. Another possibility that was given to me is that perhaps I can join a newspaper and help create or add to a column that matches with my “Geek” interests. This would be a major boon because I would have something out there in print, get more of my stuff out there, and potentially even get paid for it. I won’t lie: getting paid would be very nice at this point.

On the other hand, I am now motivated to really and truly start asking questions. What I mean is that even if I can’t get a job at one place or another, I can ask “interview” questions to someone about what it is that they do, what I should expect, what I would need to focus on with regards to my resume, and if they know anyone who is looking for anyone. I can ask questions. And I suspect there will be some business card trading. All of this is a focus that I have been fighting to keep clear as time has gone on.

I won’t lie to you. A part of me is scared: scared that I won’t find anything and that my help will run out. But there is another part of me that is also concerned that if I do get a job, it will me take away from the very Projects that I need to get to where I want to go: that my energy and my equilibrium will be so drained after practical work that I won’t want to do anything more. Of course I know a lot of that is utterly ridiculous given that I know what I can do and what I love the most.

Also, I need a change of pace. I need to make a new routine and schedule that will allow me to get out of my house, wake up earlier and have more time to myself and even get more opportunities to work with other people and explore again. It is exciting, even as it is utterly terrifying in a lot of ways. I have a lot of stuff I need to overcome and, in my way and in this past while, I have been endeavouring to do so.

The fact of the matter is this: in order to shape the life that I want and grow and maintain the relationships that I need, it is imperative that I reach my full potential: or as much of it as I can. And oh god is it terrifying to fight that anxiety, but invigorating to also realize that I have so much to actually look forward to.

And I do have things to look forward to. First, I am going to be getting Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane soon. I look forward to finding it in, or near, my mailbox. It’s the first Neil novel in ages and I am going to enjoy it. I know that I will. Also, for the first and last time, and if all goes according to plan I am going to be seeing Neil personally–along with countless fellow geeks and fans–in Toronto itself: at the Danforth Music Hall. It is his last signing tour for the foreseeable future.

I had to go through some hoops: cancelling an Amazon order to get a Chapters-Indigo order so that I’ll have a proof of purchase and thus be allowed to have that book signed. This tour is also not a free one and it has cost $31. I know that bothers some people and deters them from going. But there was also something else that made me hesitate initially. That fear again. I’ve looked forward, so much, to meeting Neil but at the same time it scares me. It scares me because meeting the person who pretty much helped reshape my writing style in a very paradigmatic way is kind of intimidating. He’s not going to be the writer behind the narrative of his novels and Blog, or the tweeter of his Twitter, or the man in some of the videos I see online. He is going to be an actual human being–which he is–sitting for a long bloody time at a table or something signing books.

And I know I probably won’t sound as eloquent talking to him briefly as there would probably not be that much time. Okay. Fine. I’m going to be a fan-boy. Are you happy now? Neil is the closest thing to a hero that I have and this is his last signing tour. And it makes me sad even as I feel something kind of fitting about how the first time I meet him like this will be the last in a while.

The fact is, I just hope that when I do get my chance to meet him that I can just say to him, “I am really glad I finally got to meet you.”

Now, that aside, let me go into some of my creative matters. I have been insanely busy. I have been working on my Twine novel. Novels are fucking intimating. When you make a novel, you make sure to have an outline of plot and character, or you will go crazy. Also, as you’ve probably heard before, you cannot write each novel in the exact same way. I outlined to you what beginning this Twine Project has been like, and it has more or less continued the exact same way. I am still writing it all out by hand. I have decided all of my creative projects worth making need to have that “automatic first-draft” experience of being ink on paper before being typed into another draft.

But this Project … I set out to expand on the details of all the plot-branches in relative order: from upper all the way to the lower tiers. I have finished about six of the places I want the player-reader to go to and there are about nine or ten more places left that I need to expand on. Also, I did something different: I decided to write the happy ending before anything else. It is the closest thing to a utopia that I have made, and I am not sure that anyone is going to get to it.

Sometimes when I look at what I’m making, I sometimes feel like it is getting too long and what I’m planning may be too exact. .I wonder how many people would see this Twine, play some of it and then click away as they lose their both patience and their interest. Sometimes I wonder why I’m doing it. The content is unorthodox and sometimes controversial and I just wonder if people will like it, hate it, or simply not care. I am not doing it for money or fame. And I haven’t even toggled with Twine yet beyond watching some video tutorials and sometimes I think to myself: why am I working on this thankless thing? What is the bloody point?

And then I remember: I want to work with games and having something like this would be good to add to my portfolio. But more than that, it is something I have to do for me and finishing it will help me grow as a creator.

Which brings me to the last part of this Blog entry. In addition to this Twine Project, I’m going to undertake something else. And it is going to be big. And, when I say it is big, I am not exaggerating. This is going to be big. This totally took me by surprise. And I didn’t even see it coming. But now that I know it is here … I don’t know what will happen with it, or if I will succeed but I can’t–in good conscience–turn this possibility down. Sometimes I think that some things all happen at the same time for a reason, or at the very least they make for a good motivational story.

I’m actually not sure if I can get away with this. I will say, right now, that it will be the basis of–or will become–a novel because it has to be. You have to understand: I have gotten so used to writing short stories and vignettes–which have their own set of intrinsic challenges–that sometimes I can’t even begin to conceive of writing a novel on a professional level. It is daunting. It will take time and energy and, like I said, I can’t turn this prospect down.

I won’t.

If it succeeds, even to a point, my routines will change. If it doesn’t, they will still change. I can never just do things simply. And if it even goes further …

Anyway, I was wondering what I was going to write here today on this Blog and here it is. A whole lot of very daunting challenges and busy days and the realization that I need to parcel out my time. It feels like summer: in so many different ways right now. I also intend to keep up this Blog and let you all know what’s going on: as much as I can.

It never ceases to amaze me to see how many new Followers I keep getting and how many people are starting to read my Blog and its multifarious branches of content. I am definitely going to keep you posted on what is going on with this last Great Challenge in particular. In the meantime, thank you for Following me and I expect to see you again sometime soon. Take care and good night.

A Message from You to Me On An April Fool’s Day 2003

It was 2003. I read American Gods two years before and I wanted to read more. I was in my first year of my University’s Creative Writing Program and not too long before I’d finished my unpublished Read Between the Realities novel. Back in those days, Neil Gaiman was on his Blog a lot more and even answered a few questions of his choice sent to him by the many people that, well, pretty much asked him questions, or made various comments, or frankly just sent him cool things.

I sent him a few emails. I’d finished reading Neverwhere and the novel version of Stardust and I am pretty sure I read Smoke and Mirrors as well. Back then I wasn’t really reading comic books and I missed out on Sandman–some of his greatest work–until much later. I was very impressed with his writing. It was the first time I read such a wide variety of different stories that stitched so many awesome things together and made reality magical. I wanted to more or less know how to do that. All of that.

There was email that I sent him in particular that I would like to quote: because it was something really on my mind then.

In 2003, when I was about twenty-one I wrote the following:

Greetings, my name is Matthew and I am currently in my second year of York University in Thornhill, Ontario. I am almost taking a Creative Writing course in which I have discovered a major weakness of mine in terms of writing.

It is called description of setting. To put it simply, I have difficulty describing geography — be it a city, or a place of any kind that exists in the real world. I’m told though that research helps one around this problem.

Now here is my question (I’ll put some asterixes around them to emphasize its importance):

*(1) When researching a place of any kind in real life, where would one, as a beginning writer, even begin?

I would appreciate an answer to this very much — it is somewhat of a perplexion to me because lack of setting description really adds less depth to my stories. Thank you.

There were so many things wrong with how I phrased this email. It was painfully awkward. I mean, how can one “almost” take a Creative Writing course? I mean, I was either taking it or not. Did I mean that I was accepted into the Program then? That I was still waiting? I don’t think my thirty year old self will ever know and my twenty-one year old self took the secret with him into time. I do know that I was sure I had other questions, but I must have forgotten to write them down after Number One.

But aside from my awkward sentences, I was so lost. Yet I wasn’t lost enough to realize that something was, at the time, lacking with regards to my writing. I reconciled myself to the fact that Neil was more likely than not busy and that my emails would, like many others, would never be answered.

And then, one day, I opened up his website to skim through his entries. It was Tuesday April 1, 2003, April Fool’s Day. I’m not sure whether it was me, or my first girlfriend that found out about this. It has been a long time. But whatever was the case, on that day ten years ago now, I found a familiar question on the page with this reply:

The easiest thing is to go there, and take a notebook, and jot down things that strike you. Tape recorders, if you can conquer the embarassment of talking to yourself in a public place, can be terrific for that. And note the things that make you feel something. Sometimes one detail will stick with you. Write it down, or remember it.

Then, if you want colour and background, use it, and don’t dwell on it. A sodden teddy bear, face down in the grass, in the little section of a cemetery called BABYLAND may be all you ever need to mention…

You can take for granted that people know more or less what a street, a shop, a beach, a sky, an oak tree look like. Tell them what makes this one different.

Find authors you like and see how they do it. They’ll all do it differently, but you can still learn.

In retrospect, I wonder why I didn’t ask myself if this was some magnificent kind of April Fool’s joke. But if I did, and if it was, it was a benevolent joke created by the universe and one of a delight I can’t, to this day, begin to put into words. It was some of the most valuable advice from a person who’s writing I admired and was crucial to my development.

My favourite living author essentially replied to something that I wrote to him. I can’t remember how happy I was, but I must have been ecstatic. I felt special. Granted, it took me many years and trials to take this advice to heart and just write about the strange things that stood out at me. I’d already gotten the talking to myself in public part down-pat ages before this, but I never really touched a tape-recorder again. But Neil was right. I could still learn, and in my way I did.

I could end this story right here and it would be awesome. But it didn’t end there.

At the time that Neil had written me and countless others back on his Blog, he had been working on another novel for quite some time. In 2005 it came out.

It was September or so, and I was burned-out from school and a very unpleasant summer. It seems that a lot of painfully life-changing events have happened to me in the summertime. You know how they say that people have mid-life crises? Well, I can tell you that I have had many-life crises of the psychological kind. A lot of it is a blur now, save a few details, but I do remember Anansi Boys.

I wanted something like American Gods, but just as Neil warned, it wasn’t going to be like that. All of his stories, with a few commonalities, are still all different genders and beasts in themselves. Nevertheless, this story sucked me in. I was reading it non-stop in my house. And then, I came across something.

It was on page 21 of my hardcover edition, at the beginning of Chapter Two where the protagonist Fat Charlie is trying to get to a funeral. It read:

“He ran through Babyland, where multicolored windmills and sodden blue and pink teddy bears joined the artificial flowers on the Florida turf. A mouldering Winnie the Pooh stared up wanly at the blue sky.”

File:Babyland Crittenden Memorial Park Cemetery Marion AR 008.jpg

I read this passage again. And then again. And one more time for good measure. I went online and found the copy of Neil’s reply to my question that my former girlfriend had sent to me a year ago. And even though Winnie the Pooh was staring up at the sky instead of the ground, I felt then what Lucifer must have felt like in Sandman towards the end of the series where he watches a sunset and gives God His due, but far less grudging.

Actually I recall growling something along the lines of, “You magnificent bastard,” and grinning like a maniac.

That day, in what was a very unpleasant year, I got something special. I received a gift. For a few moments, I had a little bit of insight into a writer that I really respected and who shared a little bit of a wink with me. The original post link can be found here if you are interested. I’m actually surprised I never really talked about this, except with a select few people. Maybe, in retrospect, I never particularly had a space to do so.

It’s been ten years since I was that twenty-one year old boy and even though I have never physically met Neil Gaiman–and it grows less likely that I will–for that one moment, from 2003 and 2005 something unique was shared with me, and I’d not give it up for the world.

Still Trying to Go Beyond Myth and Legend, Novels and Short Stories

It was in 2002 that I wrote my first complete “adult” novel. I put the word “adult” in quotation marks specifically because I was twenty years old at the time and I barely had any living experience. In fact, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that I had no living experience at all.

What I did have, however, was the opportunity to absorb a lot of academic experience. I had always been a pretty good student (in fact, I thought it would be the most sensible thing to do with my whole life) and I believed that University would just expand on my knowledge. And it did. I learned many more obscure ancient Greek and Latin roots of words, some mythology, and even more philosophy. To be honest, I had been learning of these elements back in Grade Twelve and the now-lost Canadian Grade OAC (or Grade 13 for those who might not be familiar with it).

Read Between the Realities: Beyond Myth and Legend was essentially a bildungsroman–or a “coming of age”–novel of 136 double-spaced computer pages. This was the point in my development as a writer where things began to really change for me.

Now, I’ve discussed a little of the background behind this novel’s creation, but there are a few more specific things I have to mention. Before this point, I had mostly been working with purely the fantasy genre: in as much of a way as someone at my skill level and knowledge at the time could. In fact, even in my first year of Undergrad I was still working on my fantasy series Deceptions of Nevermore before the change began.

First of all, I’d heard of York’s Creative Writing Program. It was–and as far as I know is–a program where you had to submit a portfolio of poetry and prose in order to be selected for a small number of spots. The Program also discouraged, if not outright rejected genre writing in its courses and, instead, wanted to focus on “realistic fiction.” Now, I was very interested in developing my writing skills in those days and I could only apply in my second year. But that was only part of what helped to create my novel.

The second crucial element in the creation of Read Between the Realities was my discovery of a book called American Gods made by a man named Neil Gaiman. That book, which only in retrospect I realize was Neil Gaiman’s own transition from the format of comic book script writing into solo novel writing, changed things for me in a very big, very real way.

I realized that there were things beyond the confines of genre as I understood it. Then I remembered the film Finding Forrester and how I wanted to write “the great 21st century novel.” So I did something new. Before I even entered the Creative Writing Program, I decided to create my first experimental “adult” novel: a great Canadian novel and all of the grandiosity I still haven’t quite grown out of even in my very early 30s of now.

In Read Between the Realities, I created a pastiche of different stories and attempted to sew them together into an open-ended patchwork reality where you could interpret the novel almost any which way you’d like. I worked on this sucker for a long, long time. I worked on it at home, in parks, on mall benches, at friends’ houses, during sleepovers, when I visited my girlfriend at the time or when she visited me, and even when I moved with my parents to our new house then. Some more marked developments in this novel was how I actually actively incorporated many of my own experiences and thoughts into the work. This was partially influenced by my interest or obsession with philosophy, but also from insights I was having from life.

I was really bad at explaining what my novel was about and I firmly believed that the only way someone could understand it is if they read the damn thing. It also didn’t help that I had the paradigm-shifting magic concept of Mage: The Ascension on my brain too, and I delved into that voraciously.

My book was essentially a story about different realities inter-lapping and how personalized they are. It was about a writer and his relationship issues with his life, a fragmented being seeking something for a demanding master in a labyrinthine subconscious world of ruin, a viciously sadistic monster hunting this being down, and two people on an Internet chat room who bickered all the time. The writer and the two chat room people both believed they were making the story, while the seeker and monster both thought they were living a reality. And none of it was real. And all of it was real.

Of course it all combined, or exploded together–because I always loved epic moments of spectacle–and I played at being profound. Yes, it was a meta-narrative: complete with the characters knowing they are characters or finding out they are and all that fun stuff.

Ten years ago, I thought it was the best thing I had ever written in my whole life, and I actually feared that I could never surpass it. Ever.

Years later after showing it to some friends, I found out that I could indeed “surpass” it. A lot of my characters were two-dimensional archetypes, I didn’t write female characters well, I certainly couldn’t write sex scenes worth a damn then, and I rambled: a lot. And when I tried to simulate experiences I never learned about or experiences I never had, it just fell flat. Also, I wrote combat and adventures as if they were video game levels: though that in itself makes sense given my interests then and now. So yes, I can safely say that I have done better since then, though …

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I actually haven’t really written any, at least official, novel-length works in a very long time. They take a lot of commitment and unique formulas to keep up. I also can’t just write anywhere at anytime anymore. Part of this is that I realized I had more of a life beyond my craft, but I also find that novels can be trapping. They can really take your time and energy. They always get on your mind all the time.

Short stories are explorations into more tightly-knit, self-contained worlds. You can spend less time on these than on a novel, though they take their own toll given that you really need to focus on tying them up all neat-like. On the other hand, sometimes I find short stories to be like little tidbits–even the more complex “four-course meal ones” that some of my friends like to call them–and not as satisfying as the meaty feel of an entire world in a novel. That is, of course, when the short story ideas aren’t overwhelming your bodily and mental limitations to write them all out.

So sometimes, despite my best intentions, I have found myself writing novel-length works because the ideas behind them are either too similar to be placed in anything other than an overarching structure, or they just too big to contain in one short story. And for now, that is all I will say for the others that came after Read Between the Realities.

What is notable about my twenty-year old writer’s novel was that this was about the point when I was also consciously playing with mythology and archetypes in addition to ideas and philosophies. I attempted to combine academics and creation together. I also very reluctantly put more of myself into the work, and–like I said–I went into meta-narrative and irony: which for someone who had just done generic well-meaning fantasy novels before was a big step. And Joss Whedon taught me to be more flippant and referential about popular culture and life too.

I would never have admitted that I created a coming of age novel. I always wanted to make other worlds and other people to get away from the ones I was experiencing–or not experiencing–but I can admit that this was what it was. And for something based on a whole lot of theoretical knowledge, incomplete understanding, video game and pop culture influences and a small if not sheltered, somewhat self-repressed and stagnant amount of personal growth at the time, I did pretty well. It was like building a small Star Gate from the scrap-metal in one’s basement. It did what it was designed to do.

Read Between Realities was made at a time where I went as far as I could go with what I had then–with what I was then–and now, whatever else, I know that I have and definitely can go farther.

Looking Outward

Credit: Beth Ann Dowler, the photographer of this image.