Friday, November 23, 2007

Back-blogged

Another hopefully not futile attempt at reorganizing the contents of my various blogs is underway. I'm trying separate personal stuff from my politics and comics. What's maddening is that a lot of what I write about is personal regardless of the topic.

We'll see what comes of it. Wish us luck.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

My Brush with Talecraft

Dateline UP Bahay ng Alumni Building, 17 November 2007

How do you know a narrative is a Dex El narrative? Watch for these elements: a woman, an accident, feelings of deja vu or irony.

I wasn't supposed to be there-- It was a freak accident--
those have gotta be the Dex El quotes of the century. Remember, I'm the guy who's always looking left when he should have been looking right.

The Woman
Nevertheless, there I was, when a handsome woman waved at me and handed me and my friend Carlo a couple of flyers. That's when I found out about the game.

If it looks like perfume, mayhap you can blame the game designer. But I guarantee it's not anything you can spray on your body. Not unless you like the scent and feel of crushed cards. Talecraft is a card game, and a storytelling aid.

Some cards dictate the genre of your story. Other cards dictate the character archetypes you have to work with. The rest are key elements and plot points to help move the story along. because the cards are shuffled prior to the start of the game, you have little idea of what kind of story elements, genres, and characters you have to work with. You have very little idea of what kind of story you'll tell until you've looked at all the cards in your hand. That's when the groaning and the excitement and the cries of "what the--!?" begin.

The flyer offered a chance to win a DV cam if you managed to tell a story that would wow the mystery judges in the final round of the card-playing story-telling contest. My love life was in shambles and I wasn't earning anything while I was stuck working on my current project -- what did I have to lose? And I wanted that DV cam.

The Feeling of Deja Vu

When they started dealing out the cards (1 for genre, 2 for characters, 6 for other story elements) I started to get the creepy feeling that someone somewhere was reading my tarot. The way the cards kept being dealt, I could swear someone was showing me my own life story . Happily I also got cards that allowed me to jettison unsavory cards for cards of the same type.

Accident

Stories of romance and gothic horror partly based on my cockeyed interpretation of the universe brought me to the finals-- considering how I blunder into everything, I wasn't surprised that I kept getting more or less the same cards.

But what made my day in the long run was that the story I used for the win was in no way autobiographical, nor depressing and dripping with loss and undeserved sacrifice.

It was a fantasy adventure piece that starred Cain and his two sons Seth (the Evil Genius Albino) and Bob (the Loveable Rogue).

No pining for idealized women, no absurdist sisyphean striving against a God and Devil who love watching sitcoms starring you. No cosmic jokes or accidents involving Eros messing with your life and your friends indirectly causing self-imposed exile and hours upon hours of crying prostrate on floors of holy places.

It was just a story told for the fun of it, told somewhat half-assed because of the constraints of time and Carlo J. Caparas's promotional soundtracks being broadcast over the public address system.

I didn't finish the story, but I won. I couldn't believe it until after guest judges Marco Dimaano, Carl Vergara and Elbert Or announced the decision. I still couldn't quite believe it until the people at the Talecraft booth handed me the DV cam and my free deck.

For the first time in months I was pleasantly surprised. For the first time since August, I was truly truly happy.

It felt like coming home.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

There's a practice in my variety of Christianity that involves special prayers that are said throughout nine consecutive days. While this isn't strictly biblical, there's nothing stopping anyone from making their requests, promises and gratefulness known to the Creator throughout a period of X days and expecting, with the requisite Christian confidence, an answer within that time frame.

Looking at it from an anthropologist's point of view, it makes sense. You can't humanly keep praying for the same thing forever. Ending your series of praying sessions at a set date conditions the mind to accept the reality you are eventually confronted with-- an answered prayer, or God "telling you by his silence" that you're screwed. You give yourself the sense of making a bargain with the Lord, a time-bound chance to fulfill your side of it. And through this practice you give yourself a series of rationalized excuses for when God "chooses not to come through."

You messed up your side of the bargain somehow--
It wasn't the right time--
It's not what you need--

and my favorite--
"Your limited mind cannot see all ends."

It's not fair to rag on the Almighty that way because if you subscribe to Christianity in almost any of its organizational forms, then you must believe that he's got a plan that transcends human wisdom. I don't mean to. Much.

It's just that I feel insulted when I see what the leaflets require you to do-- Pray this six times every day, leave nine copies at the chapel every day you're on the novena. I recognize that a covenant means squat if you don't fulfil your end of the bargain. From a magical thinking standpoint, you lose something of value (time, blood, vitality) to bring about the desired effect--

God please make me rich--
Jesus bring my baby back from the middle east--
Lord please forgive me--
Lord please ask her to forgive me

With the conditions a standard leaflet sets, it's all too easy to slip into the trap of being overly procedure-oriented to the detriment of sincerity in your prayer.

Then there is the claim on the prayer leaflets. "This novena has never been known to fail." This last makes me want to choke the guy who wrote this.

Hey, a method, a technique, a magical ritual-- and yes, a prayer-- fails if it does not produce the desired effect. You cannot rationalize your way around that, even if you "cannot see all ends."

I am someone who has spent a large total of hours supine on the floors of sacred places, weeping into the carpet or my clothes and looking like an idiot. Praying. There is only one reason why I haven't been placing copies of novena leaflets with disclaimers in chapels. And that's because I've seen them work. I've seen prayer work.

Except, seemingly, with what I want the most.

Like everyone else, I've seen my share of prayers answered with "No." Unlike everyone else, I've bothered to spend time thinking about it.

Again, it isn't fair to say that God isn't holding up his end. And it's probably true that he has a plan. It's just not comforting to tell myself these things when I see my friends' spirits or fortunes lift and I still feel like the walking wounded in the Valley of Tears.

I know.

In the end, prayer isn't always about rubbing the magic chalice and watching a piece of bread become the Jesus-genie to grant me a million wishes.

I'm going to continue believing that (oh Gawd, rationalization!) prayer is a dialogue between God and me and the irritating silence is a part of this communication, not an indication of his unwillingness to give me a break.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Anime Musings

Contrary to public expectation, the first anime to blow me away was not Choudenji Machine Voltes V . Neither was it the (to my mind) superior Tosho Daimos. Even the awfully campy mecha designs of Mekanda Robo's enemies couldn't cut it for camp-loving me.

What blew me away was Aim for the Top! Gunbuster. While fast-forwarding the usual drek (Dragonball Z) back in the days of pirated nth generation VHS tapes, I came to a section of static and snow, which was suddenly replaced by Gunbuster's final battle. That was when it happened.

I know what you're thinking-- that it was the women protagonists and the depiction of their bouncing pulchritude that got me hooked. Well, you're wrong. What blew me away was the music.

Synth keyboards, crying electric guitars and distortion pedals, wind and percussion instruments coming together in a rousing theme that carried me through the hopelessly lopsided space battle. Heh, hopelessly stacked against the invading aliens.Whoever had produced the series (Gainax) had spared no expense where the music was concerned. This was one of the key observations that turned me into an anime freak in the nineties.

Super Dimension Fortress Macross, with its heavy emphasis on music (it was an essential part of the story) had already debuted in the Philippines sometime in the late eighties. But a year's worth of winsome singer Lynn-Minmei could not move me as much as that couple of minutes of Gunbuster kicking butt. Still, the Gunbuster experience made me appreciate the complexity and hard work that went into the music in these animated productions.

It bespoke of a love for the craft of making a robot show (heck, any show) that you just had to respect. Looking back, even the horribly campy old super robot shows with their overly simple story lines had kickass music for their day.

What galled were that I didn't know that Gunbuster was Gunbuster, and worse, neither did the person who rented the Dragonball Z video to my brother. I wanted more and I languished because of my sorely limited grasp of Japanese at the time. The internet was still a year or so from making itself well-known and my source could not identify the show.

When I decide to make an animated short, I'll do my best not to neglect the music. Considering how badly my note-reading and instrument playing skills have deteriorated since my old band went to med school, that's going to be a tall order.

Friday, November 09, 2007

(this is a cross post from my multiply account)

Evil Dex and His Big Bodega

There was a time when I could post stuff about everything that's happened to me. That was before the advent of communities of interconnected interactive blogs. Before I was formally part of a group of people who blogged interactively. I had functional (if relative) anonymity. People who'd stumble on my blogs wouldn't have the luxury of prejudging the content based on how well they knew me. Select instances from my life seen through my eyes would serve to inform and divert and (sigh) entertain to an extent dictated by personal, social and geographical distance and by simple common sense.

Then I started to have an audience: moral supporters, curious and bored readers, at least one critic who put my writing and ideas to the test. The dialogues between blogger and audience was still thankfully somewhat Hegelian, and they were dropped once we left our terminals. The topics we argued about online were important --comics, art, philosophy, love and politics-- but they didn't spill over into our personal lives and social interactions. At least that was how it felt back then.

I was very opinionated, very pompous, very angry, very happy, a little sad, somewhat paranoid, very much in love, and very reflective.

I could almost freely blog about what it felt like, being the houseband living with my then-girlfriend, my issues with mom and pop and God and authority figures. I had a very lengthy blog entry (two parts!) about writing, English and, of all things, my hair as a political statement. I could blog about how much I disliked lawyers and advertisers even if I'm as pedantic as a lawyer and was a college-trained ad man. I could look over my posts and learn and relearn things about myself and the way I think and write and live.

Nagusame's Dex, Shrinemaiden

Somewhere along the line my reflexive activity started to affect other people outside my life online. I think this happened sometime after I lost my wife (the girlfriend). She was my center, or a large part of what kept me together as a person. I lost track of why I was blogging. I stopped talking about politics and comics and America and Hegel and Nietszche and St. Augustine.

And everyone around me knew it, could feel it, was affected by it. Some were inconvenienced and debilitated by it.

I was shouting it on every online mountaintop: I love you. I was arguing, on my blogs, the nature and merits of a life lived for two. Off line I was campaigning earnestly, assiduously for such an alliance.

Reality TV

My online life and my off line life had become one and the same.

What used to be entertainment and diversion that could be shut off as soon as I left the terminal had become ...reality television. I was talking about the dynamics of a romantic affair online and, off line, I was living the equivalent of a romantic affair ending horribly.

And everyone in my social circles (active online and regularly meeting off line) could not help but see it, even if they couldn't bear to watch.

But I couldn't stop-- these were events, variables. These had to be recorded, analyzed, compared with the experiences of friends and colleagues. Future scenarios extrapolated from insufficient data so I could find the one with the happy ending and bring it into existence.

And I felt it then, everyone tired of me talking a topic to death. Everyone tired of me number-crunching scenarios and throwing them away. Everyone with a prepackaged pop psychology solution to something I needed to work out for myself.

How do you stop an Imploding Man?

Perhaps I could have lived these lives separately had I not been part of several groups of people who knew me online and off line. It certainly would have spared my friends the grief of seeing someone destroy himself. It certainly would have spared me the grief of being sorely vexed by people with the best of intentions, by people who loved me. But that's neither here nor there now.

The point is that this is partly why I destroyed my old blog, my old friendster account. Why I stopped going to the club meetings, to the martial arts classes, why I stopped seeing friends. Why I hid. Why I talked about my disintegration and other personal matters in other blogs and venues. And why until August, I didn't post anything about my latest interpersonal stuff.

Bottom Line

Perhaps the lesson is that familiarity breeds contempt, even in the most well-intentioned people. I know for sure though, that I'll be reviewing these musings and referring to them to guide my future interactions with the World Wide Web and the world beyond it.