Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Poetry Jam #14

The new year is upon me, a full seventeen hours earlier than usual.  With 2013 slipping out the door, I thought, what better celebration for the turning of the calendar than another batch of poetry?

Other than Dayquil and chamomile, of course.  I have quite the sore throat, unfortunately, so I won't be reading any of it out loud.  Did you know I usually read them out loud?  Of course you didn't.

You might do the honors instead, if you're interested.  Poetry is for the ears as much as for the eyes, if not more.  These poems date from February to July of 2013, so keep that in mind for your pronunciation.

Have a happy, multi-sensory new year.

Real Strange Genes

There ought to be a song about
the way your fingers do that thing
they do sometimes, when you are trying
to impress a crowd of girls.

That thing they do is brave,
bizarre, and just a bit offensive;
"got himself some real strange genes"
they'll sing around a minor chord.

But no one ought to sing this song
in public, if they have good taste.
That thing your fingers do will get
us all arrested soon enough.

You will know me by the time I'm gone

You will know me by the time I'm gone
and you won't miss me.
You may wonder where I've gone today
but you won't wish that
you were with me:
it will already be so.


Sometimes I don't get sudoku.
Sometimes it seems arbitrary,
like there's no solution,
almost like the rules are changing
while I scribble in the boxes;
sometimes, it's a bother.

Other times I want to break them,
force the numbers into order;
sometimes I can do it.
Sometimes I take weeks to solve it,
then the obvious solution
kicks me in the stomach.

Sometimes I dislike my puzzles.

Law and Order

Anyone like me can see you're happy
in your little house, where
anyone who'd like to hurt you only
has to force the locks;

that's just life in human cities on the
walls of planet Earth, where
freedom and security are promises
of little talks.

Silhouettes can vanish from the window
of a little house, where
law and order keeps us happy, sleeping
in our little box.

That's just life in human houses under
stars and moonlit nights, when
anyone can soundly fall asleep in
little city blocks.

Cognitive Red

Nothing's red about red
and none of you can prove it;
keep your reds and I
will do with mine as I
see fit.
If I see fit to deny it,
I will deny,
and if I see fit to claim it
for myself,
then all the rest
will have to make do with other
hiding under every bed,
with what is right
and what is red
and white.

Keyhole Wisdom

Hold your own and shake your head,
before you're beaten
on the field of crimson flowers
bloomed in triumph,
blooming in the sunset,
stained with crimson
by defeat.

Don't allow your fate to flower
in these fields;
hold your own and shake your head!
That's what father
in his wisdom

That is what I overheard while
listening that night
before the field was stained with red.

Glory is a Lie

Glory is a lie,
is a fiction that we tell ourselves
when other lies are stretched
beyond the breaking,

is the last resort of human minds
that must acknowledge truth
when they are murdered

by ideas - killed by politics,
immediate, abstract
and calculated,

bleeding out because of economics.
Glory is a lie,
a comfort to the ones
who face the Terror,

for the living and the dying, but
no comfort to the dead
or those who miss them,

or the ones whom Terror takes
without remorse.  The violence
is not redemption,

nor a path to everlasting lives
with noble, selfless friends
who've lost their heads and

hands and heartbeats, but retain their smiles
at their duties done.
Their death is death
and glory is a lie.

How to Talk about Scallions

How to talk about scallions
in a format that is not a cookbook,
garden magazine,
or esoteric journal?

The work of some alchemist
who wouldn't settle for less.
How to talk about scallions
in a way that

everyone would accept was worth the talking,
not a waste of alchemist's breath
or ink from inviscid pens?

How to talk about scallions
like a professional,
when what you really want to talk about is

and its flavors and its uses
and the peculiar facts of its

How to talk about scallions
without pausing to mention
without pondering the steps

by which an "a"
becomes an /i/
without anybody noticing?

Keep it focused, keep it flavored,
keep it peppered with the love
that is its due.

How to talk about scallions
in a poem about onions
that smells like a kitchen
preparing the most incredible soup
the chef has ever boiled?

How to say enough about


Memory is chemicals
and everything is chemicals
and everything we know and love's
a chemical illusion,
but we love it and
we wouldn't have it any other way.

Understand the chemistry
and everything's a mystery
in spite of everything you know:
the beauty of our love is
that the mystery
persists in spite of everything we say.

Memory is wonderful
for making love, and chemicals
can turn you on, and turn you off,
before you can remember
that you love it and
you've waited for those chemicals all day.


When I was young I learned from baseball
all I ever had to know,
that there was no sense in living fast, except
when chasing first or passing second,
rounding third or running home;

as long as there are sunny days
and summer afternoons for baseball,
standing still between the blades of grass
and hearing passing cars,
there is no sense in living faster
than the crack of bats,
no sense in speeding up.

Backyard Nature Reserve

The long grass rippling in the wind -
I will not mow the lawn.
This is where the deer have played,
and this is not my lawn,
this is no concern of mine.
Sun shines on the waving grass,
I will not cut it down
because I like to see it waving
on a blustery day;
it's no concern of mine, except
I hope the deer come back to play.

Against Solipsism

After careful thought,
consideration, and deliberation,
I've concluded that you're real;
on a leap of faith, I'd say the same
of planets, purple flowers,
stained-glass windows.

Their reality I cannot prove,
but yours is indisputable,
beyond a reasonable doubt:
for all my powers of imagination
and my skills of self-deception,
I could never hope to dream you
up from scratch.

You must be real,
or I must be perfect,
and, my love, we know
the latter simply isn't so.

Rockwell Court

In this old house of mine, where I was happy,
I was angry, I was sometimes just
depressed, I am spending one more night,
and I am likely never coming back.

My memories cannot do justice to
a home where I knew shame and found release,
through triumph, and through quiet maturation:
where I screamed 'til I was hoarse and learned
that screaming was against my nature, and
I lacked the time to practice.  Here I dreamed
about amazing futures in the stars
I fixed across my ceiling, and I held
her naked breasts behind closed doors, and made
ridiculous mistakes that will be haunting
me for years.  My poetry cannot
reveal the pain and comfort, or the loss
and joy of living here, of leaving in
a broken state and coming home to be
renewed.  I lack the words to say it right,
and all that I'm prepared to say before
I go is thank you, sorry, and goodbye.

The Tragedies

The truth is the way
things have been since the day
she was born, and the best
of the truth makes her ache
in her conscience and tremble
with rage in her chest.

So she prefers fiction
and speaks "revolution"
and makes life a chore
for the comfortable people
who settle for facts
that they ought to ignore.

The Last Song on the Album

With a few hours left
before I fall asleep again,
I wrote that song, you know the one.
It ends the album on a quiet note,
but gets louder in the middle
like it still remembers glories past
and doesn't want to fade away
like so much noise from little speakers
in my head.
It gets the usual chords and then,
as usual,
gets its melancholy lyrics,
then it fades against its will
before I fall asleep again.


Commentary is brief because I'm sleepy.

The title of Real Strange Genes comes from the lyrics of a Who song, and this is not the first time that has happened to me.  The Who are just really good, ok?  As for what the fingers in this poem are doing, I'll never tell.

Law and Order is my deep and meaningful commentary on our persistent vulnerability to improbable and unpredictable violent rampages.  It is very deep and meaningful.  Honest.

Cognitive Red, Keyhole Wisdom, and Glory is a Lie all go together like a triad.  A triptych, if you will.  Or maybe just a trilogy.  A very bloody trilogy about strife and fighting and dying and all that good stuff.  Like most sets of three, the middle installment is the weakest.  I do like the metrical work on the others, though.

How to Talk about Scallions is a poem about poetry and trying to write it when you have no idea what you're doing.  I never really know what I'm doing.  But also it's about scallions.

Chemicals and Against Solipsism are both love poems for Tara, of course.  I love her so much, I just keep writing her poetry!  Here I express that love in more philosophical and scientifical (?) terms than before.

My landlords went on a long vacation last spring and neglected to arrange for the lawn to be mowed in their absence.  Hence, Backyard Nature Preserve.  I honestly liked it better that way.

I wrote Rockwell Court fully believing that I would never again set foot in the house where I spent my teenage years, as my mom was moving out soon and I was on my way back to Oregon.  It turned out that, when I returned a few months later, I had to go back two or three times to help fix something before the new owners moved in.  Life is never as clean as poetry.  Anyway, it's a poem about being a sad, weird teenager in a setting that's doomed to disappear from one's life.  Or rather, being a grown-up (?) with all kinds of feelings about being that sad, weird teenager.  It's complicated and weird.

The Tragedies is sort of my tribute to girls (and other humans) who don't take shit from the crowd that says "that's just how it is."  Rock on.

You know the songs The Last Song on the Album is about.  If you listen to albums, anyway.  Does anyone listen to albums anymore?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas in Korea

I remember learning when I was a small child about the various ways Christmas is celebrated all around the world.  A list of peculiar customs, however, can't really get across how different the holiday can seem when you step into another culture.

Here in South Korea, nearly thirty per cent of the people subscribe to Christianity of one kind or another.  It's not the kind of cultural domination I've been steeped in for a quarter century of life in the United States, but it's a minority to be reckoned with.  Churches stick out around here (there's one not far from my apartment), and I've rarely known Christians to be shy about sharing their traditions.

And yet, the grocery stores aren't blasting Christmas music today.  They aren't festooned with decorations.  The outside world looks pretty much like it did two weeks ago, and as I expect it will continue to look until the snow melts.  Things were different when we visited the city last week; Christmas K-pop and Christmas deals were readily found in the mall.  But here in the outskirts, one would hardly know it's Christmas.

As I've had it explained to me, Christmas is simply not a huge deal here.  It's known, of course, and people tend to get the day off from work.  But rather than the pole around which the other holidays revolve, a time when everyone goes home to be with their families, it's seen as being something primarily for young couples to enjoy.  

And that's ok, I guess.  We're a young couple, and we're enjoying ourselves.  But Tara and I agree that this Christmas, for us, is definitely different.

I'm not complaining, of course.  I think the omnipresence of Christmas festivities back home can be off-putting.  But it's also something we've become accustomed to.  It's probably the strangest difference we've encountered so far.

Tara's a little under the weather today, so we didn't go out today.  Instead, we stayed in and did Christmas the best we could.  We gave each other presents and watched Christmas movies (and also, Buffy the Vampire Slayers).  We worked together to make a delicious Christmas feast.  There's little snowmen on the microwave, and a strand of lights on our wall.  Bing Crosby's singing White Christmas.  There's a bottle of wine chilling in the fridge.  There's no fire, but it still feels about right.

Addiction as a Means of Inspiration

The following is a guest post by Eve Pearce.

Origins of Addiction

Addiction is defined as a great interest in something or a need to do or have something, and the dictionary suggests that the word originated at the end of the sixteenth century. However, artists and writers for many years had been concerned with man’s addiction to certain personality traits. As such a relatable and sympathetic trait, it can be used as a fantastic tool when creating works of fiction. One of the primary traits of many classicist texts is hubris, a key example being Icarus, who flew too close to the sun: while considering his flaws, the addictive qualities of flight and adventure, coupled with the tremendous feeling of freedom must surely be considered addictive. Many such human flaws are defined by the addictive qualities of emotions, and those characters which have remained timeless are those which drive relentlessly towards fulfilling these emotions. Even as the idea of addiction seeped into the language of everyday life during the sixteenth century, the chief writers of the day could be said to have evolved the concept. Is Marlowe’s Faustus not addicted to power, redefined as a thirst for learning? Is Othello not addicted to the love of Desdemona, jealous that it might be enjoyed by another? Shakespeare’s own sonnets demonstrate a craving and a lust beyond the simple yearning of a lover. These emotions, when viewed through the prism of addiction, demonstrate how truly great characters can be utterly addicted to emotion.

Mainstream Addiction

As addiction became more quantified and understood, and especially as addictive substances entered the mainstream, humanity’s ability to cope with addictive substances is doubted. Hogarth’s 1751 painting Gin Lane depicts the evils of drink in England, enough to form part of the argument for the creation of the Gin Act, a political policy which worried about the addict qualities of alcohol and the effect this might have on an impressionable public. The characters within the painting as depicted as debauched and criminal; Hogarth’s work is a throwback to the portraits of hell painted inside medieval churches, where addiction has become the new and fashionable sin. Although only officially repealed in the Sixties, a nineteenth century amendment reduced the power of these licensing laws. By then, not only had Britain become addicted instead to newly-imported, non-alcoholic tea, but the effect of alcohol was far less threatening. In its place, authors had found new addictions. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was a character essentially defined by his addictive personality. We are offered two key examples: Holmes, when bored, relies and feeds upon his cocaine addiction; however, when a suitably challenging case is laid before him, this is instantly replaced with an addiction to mental vigor. This is one of the first characters demonstrating a literal chemical addiction, and it seems fitting that it should be placed alongside a character renowned for their own hubristic narcissism. Holmes is the paradigm of addiction in fiction; he feeds relentlessly and tirelessly in a manner which is utterly engaging.

Addiction Redefined

Throughout the Twentieth century and beyond, art and its approach to character has become a great deal more abstract. Now, thanks to post modernism, work is not only informed by the literal contents, but by the context, the creator and the consumer. Many works now concern themselves with humanity’s growth into a society of addicts. A notable depiction would be Huxley’s A Brave New World, wherein the people are in thrall to a drug called soma, unable to imagine life without the miracle medicine. But what about addiction holds such a sway for authors? What about the flaw makes us, as an audience, so fascinated, and how can this be turned towards the advantage of those hoping to write?

Addictive Personalities

Addiction is an exercise in wish fulfillment. Feeding into so many character traits, addiction represents a maximized desperation for a familiar emotion. However a character might need to fulfill that craving, whether it be for love or money, lust or power, their journey becomes relatable to an audience. Like so many emotions in fiction, addiction is useful to the writer not because it is necessarily a realistic depiction of human emotion, but rather because it is human emotion on full volume. The character has a need, a desire and is now filled with an utter compunction to achieve their goal. When creating the arc of a character, making them desire something is simple. Give them a small taste of what they could have, and then take it away. The withdrawal and the chase then become the main concern of the text. Heavily reductionist though it might be, addiction is the perfect means by which an author can demonstrate a character’s desire for an item or an emotion. While it may not be a textbook case of addiction, characters in fiction are typically written as fiends, driving relentlessly towards their goal; Ahab is addicted to his white whale, addicted to the chase and the glory. We are not necessarily fascinated by the goal (a whale) but by the addiction itself (Ahab’s desperate pursuit).

An Additive Plot

Addiction is also incredibly useful as a plot device. As mentioned above, as society has grown to understand addiction, the properties of addiction can be used by an author as a way of structuring a plot. Consider the book and film Trainspotting. All of the characters contained within are addicts, chiefly dependent on heroin. Their journeys are defined by their successes and failures in relation to battling this addiction. We as an audience understand addiction; we know the dangers of sharing needles and the other inherent risks of drug dependence. As a plot device, the character’s relationship with addiction plays a huge part. We see them battle with, beat and lose to heroin, and many of the characters are defined in relationship to their addiction. Tommy is corrupted, Renton is the corrupter. Addiction itself is the looming overlord, dictating the paths of these characters. There individual traits are exacerbated by the properties of addiction and we view their actions through the lens of their dependence on heroin. As part of a society fascinated by addiction – drugs, drink, tobacco and consumerism – we can relate to the concept of addictive personalities. Even though we may have never tried heroin, it becomes a heightened facet of humanity; the audience’s sympathy created and embellished by their understanding of human nature.

The Chief Concern of Character

Addiction is a traditionally fertile ground for fiction. Humans are essentially built as addiction machines; instincts and chemical conditioning program us to pursue pleasures and desires often to our own detriment. With so many artists themselves victims of addiction, it should be no surprise to see properties of addiction seeping into so many works of fiction. Indeed, art not only exaggerates addiction, but exemplifies it, redefining it as compulsion and obsession. When so many people are addicted to so many little things, when culture is so intoxicated with the fascination and fixation, it should be no surprise that addiction is a core tenet of the creative process. Either as a motivation device for characters, or as a pillar around which to build a plot, the properties and nature of the addict can be the key to creating wonderfully engaging works.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Be warned, there are some spoilers here!

I may be half a world away, but no matter where a person may find themselves on this planet, certain things remain constant.  In my case, that's Tolkien fandom.  So for our first full weekend in Korea, Tara and I made sure to ride into the city to watch the latest installment of the Hobbit, known around these parts as 호빗:스마우그의 폐허.  And I'll say this for the film; you have not truly experienced The Desolation of Smaug unless you've seen it as it was intended: on the big screen, in a packed theater, with Korean subtitles.

Joking and gratuitous Hangul aside, this was more or less the film I've been expecting since last year's Hobbit spectacle, truly spectacular in the most cinematic sense.  Some things left me disappointed, while others worked better than I had hoped they might.  It was often funny and never boring, which I suppose was the main objective all along.  It's still not quite a right adaptation of the book, but perhaps it's taking shape as something truly worthwhile in its own right.

So once again, the name of the game is running across the natural majesty of New Zealand and the artificial majesty of New Zealand's finest computer software.  Gravitas and fun mix in just the right proportions, keeping the setting both credible and bearable.  We get a few more battles than the book might have lead us to expect, including some epic wizardry from Gandalf and some bucklin' swash from Legolas and Tauriel, a new character who truly enriches Peter Jackson's Middle Earth.  Indeed, this movie makes even clearer the message that the Middle Earth of the movies has grown quite distinct from that of Professor Tolkien's own labor of love.  Existing somewhere betwixt the realms of faithful adaptation and ecstatic fan fiction, it can only be fairly judged on its own terms.

There are a lot of little ironies in Peter Jackson's approach to the Hobbit series.  The man who decided that Tom Bombadil was inessential and could be left out of the script, gives us a heaping helping of Beorn the skin-changer, whose presence in the book is not exactly critical.  Maybe if Tom Bombadil could become an enormous CGI bear, he might have warranted a cameo in The Fellowship of the Ring.  Legolas was one of the most fun characters to watch in the first trilogy, but while his insertion into The Hobbit does make a certain amount of canonical sense, the role of Tauriel in the story almost renders him unnecessary.  In fact, Jackson invents an entirely new orc fight sequence (in the streets of Lake Town, though most of its inhabitants seem to have slept through it) more or less to give Legolas something to do, while Tauriel contributes much more meaningfully to the plot.

Speaking of Tauriel, there's a lot I'd like to say about her!  Much as I admire the vision of J.R.R. Tolkien, there is no denying that women are hard to find in his works.  In fact, if memory serves then the only named female characters in the original text of The Hobbit are Bilbo's dead mother and greedy cousin.  Insofar as adaptation is about addition as well as subtraction, then the addition of more female characters is a perfectly valid choice for a more socially conscious age.  Tauriel is a good example of such a character done right: she fits credibly into the world of the male characters without seeming like an exception, as though it were perfectly natural that the captain of the Elven-King's guard might be a woman.  Legolas gets all the attention, but this movie could easily have been made with Tauriel as the central elf.

Now, amidst all the additions and other goodies, it can be easy to forget about poor Bilbo and the dwarves.  That's a crime, because once again Martin Freeman's one-on-one with a CGI character is the highlight of the movie: the mighty Smaug is not to be denied the limelight.  As glorious a computer graphic as was ever put to screen, Benedict Cumberbatch's voice work gives the dragon the simple fairy tale arrogance that defined him so well on the page.  Smaug is Gollum writ large, less complicated and more bombastic, yet alike in their fierce intelligence and sinister playfulness.  Compared to these, the Necromancer seems almost like a distraction.

I could go on and on about this and that, because The Desolation of Smaug is bursting with characters worth talking about.  I'd like to write about how Thorin's evolution into a tragic hero is handled so sympathetically, or what the social and political conditions of Lake Town imply for fantasy fiction into the future.  I'd really like to, but we could be here for days.  There is an awful lot to take in, and multiple viewings may be in order.

I re-watched An Unexpected Journey recently, and while it holds up a year later, there is little question that The Desolation of Smaug is the superior movie.  It still remains to be seen whether the third installment will tame Jackson's madder impulses and bring us a truly satisfying conclusion.  When all is said and done, will the whole work be worthwhile?  I sure hope so.  But even if it ultimately fails in its artistic goals, at least The Hobbit will have given us plenty to talk about.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Now Broadcasting from the Republic of Korea

The title says it all, doesn't it?  I've actually been here a week, as my other blog will attest, but I haven't had a chance to make an update on this blog.  Not only have I radically changed position on the globe, I've also radically changed employment status from "not" to "full time."  It's kind of exhilarating.  Kind of exhausting too.  But the point is, my girlfriend Tara and I are now living and working in Cheonan, South Korea, and will be for the next year.  What a year it's going to be!

Of course, as I mentioned, we have a blog for talking about Korea.  I imagine more people are actually reading that one than this one at this point, but that's all fine with me!  That's the exciting stuff, after all.  This blog has always been more about illustrating my occasional fits of creativity or exploring my myriad obsessions.  It will still be about that.  It's just that, now I'll be illustrating and exploring from our little apartment in South Korea.  You probably won't notice much of a difference.

Speaking of things like that, I saw The Desolation of Smaug yesterday, and you can be darn sure I'll write a review of it tomorrow.  In America or in Korea, Tolkien remains a priority.

Other updates... since coming here, I'm poor as hell for the time being (I don't get paid until January Tenth) and I don't have wifi, which is kind of like being back in the 90s.  All we have going for us internet-wise is an ethernet cable, which is actually pretty great!  It means only one of us can use the internet at the time, but at least it's fast internet.  So it's not quite like the 90s after all.  We're working on getting wifi, but we need money and our Alien Registration Cards before we can make it happen.  I miss using my tablet, but all things in their due course as they say.

Anyway, I'll be here doing my thing like I do, eating Korean food and doing my job (read about it on my other blog), and sharing my occasional brain stews with you.  I hope they're delicious.