Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: July, 2011

A Sardine out of the Can

I once had a semi-argument with my father about traveling. I was all for independent exploring. My father was for the bus tour. “You’re safer traveling in a group. Your meals will be provided. And you won’t have to go through the stress of finding a place to sleep or where to go next. You won’t have to worry about getting lost. Especially in a place where you don’t know the language.”

We would probably have to agree to disagree. I think it comes down to our differences in our expectations on what one should get out of a traveling vacation and our tolerance threshold for other travelers. Maybe it’s a bit of a cultural and generational difference, too. I was certainly thinking about this when I was reading about a journalist’s report for The New Yorker about Chinese bus tourists in The Grand Tour.

I like exploring places on my own. The problem I have with tours is that they’re so regimented. You’re forced to bustle from place to place, ticking off each monument like another item on an onerous to-do list. You don’t get to linger anywhere. And other people can be annoying. It’s one thing to travel with friends and family. It’s another with random strangers. In a tour, you’re just part of the gaggle. There’s no point when you’re by yourself, able to soak in your surroundings without another camera-wielding tourist blocking your view.

Sure, there are going to be people out there who actually like bus tours. And perhaps it’s a good introduction for a first time traveler. What I object to, particularly intimated about the Chinese travel industry in the article, is that everyone must go on a bus tour with no other alternatives. Tourism itself is an industry, but it doesn’t have to become industrialized to the point that people are systematically bustled from place to place like parts on an assembly line. Everyone has a different philosophy on travel, particularly travel for pleasure. Some people like efficiency–they want to see as much as they can with a set amount of resources. I’m all for travel efficiency when it comes to work. But when it comes to going somewhere for fun, I want to experience as much as possible with what I have, even if it means just staying in one city and poking around. To me, seeing and experiencing are not the same things.

I once went on a bus tour to France for a high school trip. Of course, there were annoying parts. Not only did I have to put up with the lectures and crowds, but I had to put up with teenagers from other schools, let alone my own. The happiest memories of that trip came from those rare unstructured afternoons. I wasn’t the sort to tag along with anyone else, so I almost always went by myself, discovering shops, streets, unusual scenery, and ultimately trying to make my own experience individual rather than cookie-cutter.

However, I’m aware there are a lot of people who can have a great time despite the fact that they’re doing exactly the same thing that everyone else is doing. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just that it’s not for me. It’s kind of like country line dancing. There are those who find moving in sync with a whole bunch of other people great entertainment. I’m not one of them. I find fun in doing my own thing.

The Old and the New

Lately, I feel that there have been more than the usual number of articles moaning about the eventual disappearance of the old ways in favor of newer, more technologically savvy alternatives. Maybe it’s a function of my own age and generation, because I don’t feel particularly threatened by any of this change. Now at least. I’m sure by the time I’m seventy, there will be plenty of other things to grump about, too.

Take, for instance, electronic books. The biggest thing going for them is convenience. They can be viewed, manipulated, and transferred as easily as any other electronic file. A library’s worth of them can be stored in one device. The biggest downside, I think, is the power problem. As long as an e-book reading device requires a limited power source, you can’t take it with you everywhere. And until that particular problem is solved, traditional books will still be around.

Paper books, on the other hand, can be quite hefty and take up a lot of space. A bibliophile’s argument is that an e-book doesn’t have the tactile nostalgia that a paper book has and that people seem to learn better reading on paper than a screen. The look and feel and smell of paper are all object properties that have nothing to do with the educational value of the book. If one likes a book due to its physical properties rather than its intellectual properties, then books are no longer objects of intellectual taste but rather aesthetic taste. In this case, paper books will still exist, but they will be in the same category as a handmade chessboard–an object that can be used for entertainment but be mostly on display. As for learning, well, I’m pretty sure humans are fairly adaptable in learning from different mediums. To say that paper books are the only way to go would only short change our own abilities.

In an aside that may or may not be related, I’m reminded of fashion. Nothing old really disappears. For instance, glasses. The technology is already here to correct vision at the eyeball level, but I think it’s still not cheap or easy enough for everyone to get it–thus people still wearing glasses for a real purpose. But there is already a movement of people wearing glasses for fashion (hipsters and Japanese schoolgirls) so I don’t think glasses will ever really go away even when everyone has 20/20 vision. As for other articles of clothing like corsets or codpieces or stiff-necked collars–if they don’t come around in the next wave of fashion, they’d still be worn by cosplayers and historical reenactors.

And then there is the lamentation on handwriting, specifically cursive, going the way of the dodo. People cite anecdotes about how the quality of cursive has gone down through the generations, how people have abandoned cursive for print, or even abandoned writing altogether in favor of typing. I’m not sure how I feel about this. While I suppose it’s a shame that young people these days don’t have the patience or artistic discipline to master and maintain cursive skills, one would only have to look at the history of script to see that writing is always evolving. I think I’d just be happy if everyone knows how to write legibly by hand. At least that way, you’d still have a way to communicate with other people if all of your electronic gadgets are dead.

Overall, I think some people prefer doing things the old way because of the nostalgia, the psychological comfort, the ingrained conviction that since it’s worked before it would still work in the future. Younger generations will have grown up with computers and its ilk and would have no such attachment to the old stuff. Of course, you might lambast me, there are all of these other reasons that I haven’t listed to bolster the view for using paper books and handwriting. You might argue that there is absolutely no way that any of the old stuff will go away. I am no seer, but if there’s one thing for certain, things will change and people will adapt. If the old technology has enough versatility to be still useful, it will stay in our everyday lives. If it doesn’t, it’ll still be here, just in a different form–as fashion and home decoration or as an interesting widget in a museum archive.

Starts and Fits

I have about ten thousand more words that I need to write before Sunday for Julnowrimo/Camp Nanowrimo, unless you count all the short stories I have also been working on at the same time.  In that case, I’ve already finished writing 50,000 words.  But my goal is to get that many words on one story this month, so I guess I’ll keep chugging along even though the words at the moment are trickling out of my head like treacle.

As for next month, I still don’t have any concrete ideas.  But I’m contemplating doing something that is not strictly a novel so I don’t feel burned out as the days progress.  Maybe a series of short stories that are somehow connected.  A choose your own adventure story.  Interactive fiction, even.  Or perhaps something that doesn’t have a recognizable narrative structure.

Catching Up

There isn’t much to say on the writing front except that I’ve been pretty busy the past week working on other things so I haven’t had much time to really devote to Temperance and the Devil.  This weekend, however, I’m trying to catch up.

I’ve also been trying to brainstorm for ideas to use in August.  So far, I haven’t had much luck.  I might end up writing by the seat of my pants next month, too.

* * *

Meanwhile, here’s an excerpt from Chapter 15:

Instead of getting disturbed by Death’s comment about his scythe, Cherry was laughing. “Oh, that’s a good one. You must be one of those anime fans.”

“Anime fans?” he asked. “What does that have to do about anything?”

“Dave was just telling me the other day that Babel was going to be holding one of those anime conventions this week. My boyfriend isn’t really into that stuff, but several other students in his department are and that’s what they’ve been talking about for the past month. He says that they dress up in strange costumes and everything. I bet you’re here for the convention, aren’t you?”

Death shrugged.

“Oh, don’t be shy,” Cherry exclaimed. “You can admit your geekiness to us. Heck, I’m dating a geek. We have nothing against geeks. Don’t we, girls?”

“I have nothing against geeks,” Tem said as she paused between bites. “But I don’t think he is one.”

Lani nodded. “I bet he ate geeks for breakfast.”

“No,” said Death as he watched the waiter place a salad in front of him. “I actually had scrambled eggs.”

If There Was a Pill We’d All Be Shakespeare

I was reading this article titled “How to Be a Writer.” What struck me the most about the post was not the advice–all writers are different so it may work or not work depending on what sort of writer you are–but who asked for the advice. The daughter wanted to be a writer, but it was the mother who was querying for writing tips. Does anyone besides me see something that is wrong with this picture?

Cranky old people probably claim that kids these days have no motivation to do anything let alone have any urge to pursue dreams other than an all-day video gaming marathon. Maybe they’re right. But you’re not going to solve the problem by having the parents do all the work for their children. What sort of life is it, anyway, if you grow up coddled with no obstacles to bar your way, no failures to toughen your skin, no stress or unhappiness to avoid even a modicum of psychological discomfort?

Maybe other people are fine with the thought that they are molding the next generation into happy, ultra-successful eloi with no cares in the world. That actually kind of disturbs me. What kind of society will it be if everyone caves into the smallest pressure and lacks the resilience to bounce back? What if no one ever indulges in personal curiosities or intellectual pursuits without a guiding hand and fawning cheering squad? Won’t this produce a class of people who fail to empathize with others who didn’t have the same privileged upbringing that they had?

I guess the thing I object to the most in this particular instance is the mother thinking that the author of that post has some kind of magic pill to make her daughter into a famous writer. But like everything else in life, if you want to be very good at anything, you need to work for it. Nothing is free. Nothing is handed to you on a silver platter.

Anyways, I have nowhere near forty-two journals and notebooks like the author of that post. I mean I do write in notebooks, daily even, at times. But these days, I write most things on the computer. It’s faster and takes up less space. But no matter how much I do this practice writing, I feel like I suck at it. Terribly.

My feeling is that these days, there are way too many people who think that they can be writers and only writers. My question is: what the hell are they going to write about if they haven’t experienced anything else? Writing about being a creative writing student is not interesting. And unless you have the most awesome imagination ever–doing some quickie research on Wikipedia is not going to make your prose sound authentic. For me, the best writers out there do not spend their days at writing camps and workshops. They live life.

Small Monsters 023

Cleaning House
Ink and Post-it Note

Small Monsters 022

Goat-Dog for the Discerning Heiress
Ink and Post-it Note

Small Monsters 021

Electric Drum
Ink and Post-it Note

Thinking in My Sleep

Having dreams can be really annoying sometimes.

Oh, it’s not about the content of the dreams, whether they’re stressful nightmares or boring drabbles that could be forgotten after five minutes. It’s the quality. I’m one of those people who can dream vividly. Things are in color. I can hear things. I can taste and touch and smell. I can apparently read things, too.

You might think, what are you complaining about? It sounds like I can get immersed into a whole new world when I go to sleep. How can I find that annoying? Well, I find it annoying because I also find it exhausting. When I wake up, it don’t seem like I’ve gotten any rest at all because I feel like my brain has been working double time.

I’m blaming it on the freakishly early daylight at this time of year. It makes me wake up at approximately the same time no matter when I set the alarm–sort of like a sadistic sleep lab technician, always cutting my sleep-with-no-dreaming phase a little too short.

Cracking Open the Story

Yay! I have passed the 25k mark, the halfway point in the 50,000 words in a month challenge.

Basically, I’m writing this story by the seat of my pants. No outlines. Making stuff up as I go along. But despite all of that, the story is at a point where the plot is rolling along whether I want it to or not. That’s because it’s turning into a bit of a murder mystery. And because there are clues that the main characters are finding, the rest of the story will have to follow logically from those clues.

For those of you following along, I do plan on including these characters in the next couple of chapters:
*The High Priestess
*The Lovers
*The Wheel of Fortune
*The Magician
*The Star

As for the rest of the cards that haven’t shown up yet, for some of them, their appearance will depend on where the plot goes. Others won’t be so important.

* * *

Here’s an excerpt from chapter 11:

“What makes you think I’ll do you any favors?”

“If you don’t do me a favor, I’ll rip up your couch cushions and get your neighbor to attempt to set me on fire on top of the remains. In your living room.”

“Is that a threat?” Another Tequila Sunset was placed in front of her, but she didn’t touch it. “I want to know what this favor is before I accept this drink. Will it involve theft?”




“Torture? Blowing things up? Breaking laws? Giving annoying people wedgies?”

“No. Nope. Nada. And that sounds fun, but not that either. We’re going to be visiting a psychic. I set up an appointment via e-mail for ten thirty in the morning.”

She was nonplussed. “A psychic? They’re all frauds. Are you planning on driving one mental by giving her real visions?”

“Well, there isn’t anything more hellish than seeing things that you know aren’t there.”

* * *

I’m currently working on chapter 12. Here’s the opening teaser paragraph:

The Devil had wanted to go gambling, to destroy fortunes. He had wanted to go to a strip club to wallow in the illicit pleasures of the flesh. He wanted to go drag racing on the Strip just to piss off law enforcement. But no. He wasn’t doing any of these things. Instead, he was at a grocery store staring at macadamia nuts. Macadamia nuts! He could kill someone with those things. If only he had the creativity to figure out how.