Sunday, June 22, 2014

Writing Micro Questionnaire

Good evening,

 My friend Megan tagged me in an online questionnaire meme-thing, so let's skip straight to the business!

What are you working on?

The short answer is, depending on the day, not enough or too much. The long answer is a novel that I've promised to The Alchemy Press tentatively called "Legacy." This was originally going to be a short story, as teased in my interview with AP last year, but I made it too complex for an 8000-word story and I'm fixing to make it into a full novel.

Otherwise, I'm working on an array of short stories, any freelance projects that come my way through Elance (my last assignment was back in March), and articles for the arts-and-culture magazine Archenemy.

How does your work differ from others in its genre?

In a lot of ways, my stories are send-ups to things about genre fiction that I enjoy, including bizarre monsters, over-the-top fight scenes, and weirdly endearing characters, and it's something that I try to emulate. Beyond that, I'd have to say I like the idea of selective irreverence, or the idea of targeting everyone and everything I can in a story, from prejudices and morals to people and their quirks, and poking it under the ribs until I decide when to stop. Often, I feel like this gets me in trouble, and probably explains why so many of my stories are unpublished, but it's still something I want to perfect.

Why do you write what you do?

Boredom? Actually, it's because I was a sickly, unpopular child with asthma and a baker's dozen of learning disabilities and often found myself retreating into flights of fancy in order to escape from reality. Later, I found that I had a taste for it, and upon realizing more and more that storytelling and art is an integral part of human existence, decided to perfect my storytelling ability. 

How does your writing process work?

In the beginning, I would just make up a story as I went along, coming up with scenes and names and not knowing what to do with them. These days, I tend to throw together an outline first and then build the story around it. I still begin at random intervals, though, because usually I have a set idea that I want to put on paper (or .doc file, as it were) first before I proceed. Sometimes I begin with a fight scene or a piece of dialogue. Very rarely do I begin writing at the beginning.

Thanks!

 If anyone wants to do this, you're free to. Usually people are tagged, but I'd rather leave it as an open invitation to whomever wants to do this. Enjoy!

See you next time,

RWI

Monday, May 26, 2014

A word on Elliot Rodger

It distresses me to say that I'm not surprised that Elliot Rodger, the psychopath who brutally killed six people last week, has achieved a level of fame and notoriety among the bastards of the internet. Mad people have always had a tendency to ally with people who act on their darker instincts, seeing aspects of themselves in their horrible actions and damaged lives.

This is not okay. It's not okay to worship killers and rapists and criminals. Condoning violence against women and banging on about Beta Male Retribution is abysmal. Yet, there is this increasing trend of misogynist bantering and vicious rhetoric that has reached endemic levels, online and offline. It terrifies me, makes me afraid for my female friends and colleagues and family members and neighbours, and makes me genuinely angry.

And I want to make my stand, as both an ex-social outcast who himself nearly went down some dark roads, and as someone who was - and is - considerably unlucky when it comes to romance: I hate him. I hate men like him, and I hate the men who like him, and I hate everything they stand for. Elliot Rodger and his ilk do not represent me, who has been pushed to the limit by my peers and my own uneven mind, nor should they represent anyone ever. They are unhinged, dangerous human beings who should be institutionalized and subjected to the correct levels of electroshock therapy until their brains are realigned into something vaguely mammalian.

Stay Dead, You Utter Bastard.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Cinemarena - Kick-Ass versus Super

Good day,

            I hope you don’t mind if a steal a line from a movie here, but it’s one that rings very true: we all wear masks. Plus, if you let me appropriate and modify a quote from a different movie, no-one cares who we are until we put them on. The fake-it-until-you-make-it mantra is popular with people because we’re attracted to the idea of leading a double life. Modern society, after all, enforces blending in or adopting personas in order to be more appealing to employers, friends, colleagues, and potential lovers.

It’s for this reason (and others) that we’re attracted to costumed vigilantism and superheroes. If society were to dictate that we have to have a Work Mask, a Social Mask, and a Private Mask, then we’re led to fantasize about other Masks we could wear. Often, we envision a Mask that should be worn to protect (or terrorize) the Average Joe, one associated with thrills, adventures, and death-defying feats. This is a fantasy we’ve entertained since the days of Spring-Heeled Jack and The Scarlet Pimpernel, and one we want to see realized.

Now, people have tried to become superheroes in real life with very mixed results. Most Real Superheroes are nothing more than fancy neighbourhood watchdogs, promoting safety and going around making criminals laugh rather than intimidating them, with the few who do decide to take justice in their own hands ending up arrested. It’s always fun to dream, though, but never forget that behind all good dreams is a terrifying nightmare.

            Two films that explore that dream are James Gunn’s bleak-‘em-up black comedy/psychological horror film Super, and Matthew Vaughn’s superior adaptation of Mark Millar’s comic cruel and unusual Kick-Ass. We are going to talk about them now. Strap in.

1.    Why We Fight

Why become a costumed vigilante, anyway? Is it because you believe in truth and justice, or is it simply to satiate some vile desire? According to Kick-Ass and Super, the answer is “both.” It’s all just a question of how that justification is portrayed.

In Kick-Ass, costumed super-heroism is synonymous with altruism. To paraphrase the film: everyone wants to be Paris Hilton but nobody wants to be Spider-Man. Now, if this sentiment on its own was to be taken figuratively, then I would agree wholeheartedly. Rather than build a world based on mediocrity, excess, and consumerism, we should promote fairness, intelligence, compassion, and a healthy sense of humour about ourselves. However, our bullied comic nerd lead David Lizewski is speaking literally. He sees injustice out in a world where evil succeeds because good stays silent and wants to do something about it. And by ‘doing something about it,’ I mean putting on a gimp suit and introducing his batons to muggers’ jaws, because that always goes over well.

With Super, the literal interpretation of masked vigilantism is one associated more with insanity. Anyone who puts on a mask and goes around beating up wrongdoers must be out of their tree. Someone who really wants to do good in the world would do so by volunteering, or working in the public sector, or training to become a teacher. This is not so in regards to Super’s protagonist Frank Darbo. Inspired by a psychotic episode and reruns of Bibleman parody The Holy Avenger, Frank adopts the Crimson Bolt persona so he can rain hell on anyone he thinks has wronged society. This is, however, more of a violent reaction to his ex-junkie wife eloping with the drug-peddling gangster lothario Jacques, hinting at the fact that this is more of an excuse to vent his frustration than anything else.

This is the big difference between the two leads. Dave’s anger is at the exploitation of decent people, leading him down the road of self-discovery and liberation as he finds his feet in a complex world. Frank’s on a quest for revenge, with the scenes of him beating up muggers and kiddy-fiddlers feels more like a training montage preparing him for the end fight, but this revenge is not just directed at bad guys, but at society in general. He’s a lone madman rejected and trod on by a world that hates and fears him, and when he puts on the mask the road takes madder twists. Dave’s story is one we can relate to; Frank’s is the one we’re afraid of living through.

2.    Lady Killers

We can’t go into superhero territory without hitting some familiar notes. Now, both films deal with our heroes squaring off against crime-lords instead of the usual costumed nemeses, although Red Mist was a nice parody of one himself. This, in itself, is a nice nod to caped crusaders like The Shadow and Batman who almost always fought the mob but two bigger staples of the superhero world that need to be discussed are the presence and portrayal of ladies.

With the love interests, I’m just going to say that Katie Deaumax was just pandering to juvenile teen-boy fantasies of getting with the American-as-apple-pie super-popular cheerleader – which is funny, because in my experience geek boys (and one-tenth of geek girls) tend to prefer a girl they can enjoy a Babylon 5 marathon with. Meanwhile, Sarah in Super was a play on the damsel-in-distress idea, but throughout the film we learn she’s a recovering drug addict with a tumultuous life, easily charmed by seedy guys in fancy cars and lots of crank. Plus, unlike the fairy tales, she’s unable to be saved – at least not by men like Frank.

There’s more to say about the femme fatales in these movies, though. Representing Kick-Ass is Mindy Macready AKA ‘Hit-Girl.’ Trained from a young age by her ex-cop (or bored maniac if you follow the comics [and why would you do that]) father Damon to become a killing machine, she’s a human weapon designed to take down evildoers. She’s crass, vicious, and, in true Hollywood fashion, a loveable murderer with a heart of gold, making her an unhinged and deadly Grrl Power ambassador.

Meanwhile, Super’s Libby AKA ‘Boltie’ is another kind of crazy. Libby is a damaged comic store clerk who gets inspired by the main character’s rampages to don a costume of her own and join him. Possessing all of the mental problems but none of the heart, however, Boltie is a ruthless sadist who only cares about breaking people who have wronged her and Frank, from the gangsters he chases to someone she merely suspects keyed her friend’s car.

It’s important to note that both of these girls are completely out of their tree. Regardless of whether or not Chloe Grace-Moretz’s more positive portrayal of a mad person was seen as a victory by mental health Social Justice Warriors while Libby’s (and Frank’s) brand of nuts would be seen as considerably more damning, we can all agree that they’re both crazy. Let us not forget, however, that these characters also form strong bonds with the male leads. For Dave, Mindy is a role model, someone capable who is always prepared and driven to get the job done. For Frank, Libby is a mirror – he is her, and she’s him: a broken and horrible human being with violent tendencies and a need to get things done one way or another. He’s just never seen it from the outside before.

When these girls enter our boys’ lives, they evolve. With Dave, he becomes a better crime-fighter, unafraid to take out people who are bigger and stronger than him. By the end, he’s transformed into a true superhero, and he has Mindy to thank for it. Back in Super, Frank and Libby’s partnership leads to Frank becoming a worse person. In a troubled relationship worthy of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, she feeds into his violence, forces him to destroy public property and steal cars, loads him up with weapons, and even straight-up rapes him before releasing him into the wild like a rabid panther.

Can you guess what I’m leading up to?

3.    Violence Is Golden

            The rationales for our heroes’ decisions to become spectre of justice and their own personal mental landscapes set the tone for the films, and reflects the sort of “justice” they stand for deep-down. Because Dave is a teenager with teenaged dreams and a skewed view of the world, the violence in Kick-Ass is colourful and fun, set to exciting music and demonstrating that the human body is actually held together with pipe-cleaners and paper. Fighting is not anything to dread, but enjoy – unless you’re a drug dealing gangster, of course.

            Super, meanwhile, understands that violence is a problem-solving method employed by children, psychopaths, and the emotionally stunted. Frank Darbo is all three; a simpleton from an abusive household with an unchecked mental condition and a child-like view of the world. He applies cartoon logic to reality, with terrible implications. The violence of Super, therefore, is not fun, nor should it be. It’s visceral and cruel, like anyone who’s ever actually been in a fight or came home from a war can contest. There’s no clever choreography in the real world, no catchy songs to trade blows to; just pure, unadulterated brutality.

            The type of violence both films try to convey gets better realized as they progress, too. Kick-Ass’ fights begin realistically enough, and then tilts significantly after Dave’s second outing as a hero. By the halfway point, we’re treated to an eight-year-old in a fright wig carving up a room full adults, and get an ending involving the main character soaring up to a penthouse strapped to a jet-pack. Meanwhile, Super’s humorous style fades when Frank assaults someone for cutting in line at a movie theatre. From there, the black comedy becomes a bleak tragedy as Frank and Libby begin their reign of terror, pitilessly crippling and murdering everyone who stands in their way until Frank is shooting men who are begging for their lives.

            Even their names reflect this. “Kick-Ass” is an expression for something great and for the action of kicking ass, something you can shout at the screen while Dave’s beating up gangsters outside a diner. “Crimson Bolt” is called so because he has a screw loose, and is trying to “fix” society – hence the wrench he wields. Plus, crimson is associated with blood, which he spills in order to get what he wants.

4.    Identity Crisis

It would be inane for me to say that these films are only about superheroes. Not even superheroes themselves are about superheroes. Rather, Kick-Ass­ and Super are both about life, and about society, or rather the sides of it we want to acknowledge as far as masked men are concerned. Kick-Ass tells us that anyone can be a hero, sends the message that gumption and bright-eyed wonder lies in us all, and that we have to answer the siren’s call of our desires to become the person we want to be. Super, meanwhile, is a reflection of America’s violence subculture and our fascination with macabre imagery. It’s about marrying the real world with the four-colour one, and the consequences of being “super.”

Moreover, both films have a lot to say about being an outcast. We who face troubles fitting in to normal society do whatever we can to try and fit in somewhere. Many of us become characters, or rather caricatures of actual people, rather than grow up and become normal. We fear loneliness, persecution at the hands of our peers, and so we adopt identities that are aggressive and brusque, flighty and childish, or stoic and cool-headed, because we want people to love us. For Kick-Ass, this is desirable, saying that we will be loved if we adopt a persona, and that it will do wonders for our sense of self-worth. Super, however, tells us this is a terrible idea. Spend enough time as another person, and you start to believe that you are them, with little hope for recovery. Stare into the abyss long enough, and it will stare back through the eye-slits in a domino mask.

            In conclusion, Super is a better Watchmen movie than the actual Watchmen movie.

See you next time,


RWI

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Lessons Learned - Love and Junk

Good day,

            I hate Valentine’s Day. Even when I was taken, I found it ridiculous. Hallmark Holidays like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Valentine’s Day all occupy a space in my mind reserved for things I consider unnecessary. A special day set aside to show how much you love someone? Shouldn’t that be every day? Sadly, ours is a culture that shames people into buying things and ‘going that extra mile’ to prove that they care, so we’re saddled with these days like these.

My problem is that such holidays propagate the myths we tell ourselves about ourselves. In spite of our drive to claim we love everyone for who and what they are, regardless of what they do and do not have, what the continued existence of these days tell us is that we favour uniformity. The hidden message behind Valentine’s Day, for example, is: “I’m in love, and it’s so much work showing that I love them. What’s that, you aren’t? Let me pity and console you! Plenty of fish in the sea!”

Eat uranium. We the single don’t want your pity. We just want the only things in life single people desire: distance, respect, and the occasional blowjob (and cunnilingus for those of us who possess ladyparts).

And yet, in spite of my disgust towards this day, I feel it necessary to write a special Valentine’s Day post. The things I do for views.

            I’m going to come right out and say that I am not a wizard at romance. I have only been romantically involved with four women, of which two of them could actually count as girlfriends, and I’ve officially been single since October 2009. The past four years were spent dating around and testing the waters with different women and going nowhere. This is owed to the fact that I am terrible at escalating a relationship, the unreasonably high standards I started imposing upon myself two years ago, and the fact that sometimes I get very, very jaded about the whole idea of getting back into a relationship.

I’ll explain: unlike most men in my position, I’m not nearly as afraid of being told ‘no.’ Most of the women I’ve asked out in my life have said ‘no,’ so it’s something I’m quite used to. What I’m most afraid of, in fact, is being told ‘yes.’

Yes to a date, yes to a movie and dinner, yes to holding hands and kissing and vows and all that. I’m scared I won’t be able to hold it together, that I’ll say the wrong thing or lose the right job and I’ll end up cold and alone again. Possibilities enthuse and terrify me, thoughts swirling around my head so violently that I can’t make my mind up over making the next move. Perhaps the most prominent thought I’ve had is along the lines of, “If I do this, will I get decked?” This is the greatest threat to my chances of finding someone. I can’t count the number of times I’d be locked in a woman’s arms staring her in the face or walking next to someone who starts to move in closer than normal and then just …drop everything and pull back, and return to that comfortable world of loneliness I’m accustomed to.

Wait, yes I can. Five. Five times. God, I’m a mess.

            So, no, I’m not a love guru. What I will say is that it’s not easy being a guy, and nor has it ever been easy to be a woman. We both face major societal pressures to bend into a shape we’re supposedly meant to be in. Men, as I ranted in a poem from way-back-when, are expected to be movie-version James Bond (not the pseudo-rapist from the Ian Fleming novels); classy, charming, tough, experienced, and dangerous. Women, meanwhile, are expected to be the Sphinx from Greek myth, a beast-woman hybrid who channels grace and ferocity, but is also highly secretive and self-destructive. Looking for love becomes a chore when you put these expectations on someone.

Plus, all the rules for dating can be annoying, with whole checklists imposed on people ranging from appropriate attire to recommended levels of closeness per date. All this is arbitrary. True romance doesn’t flourish through such regulation. It grows and develops over time, like anything else in this world, and those who fall in love with someone right off the bat are fewer in number than we think.

It doesn’t help that asinine romance advice columns have spread across magazine racks and the web. “Ten ways to charm her.” “Five signs that he likes you.” “How to tell if he’s serious.” “How to win her back.” How many people actually benefit from these? Then there are the sites and books about pick-up artistry, the path to devaluing and dehumanizing the other sex and treating access to their loins as a victory. To me, they’re almost in the same boat, although manning different oars. Advice columns enforce gender-normative stereotypes about typical and acceptable male/female behaviour, and pick-up artists enforce deception and cruelty wreathed in the concept of “getting what you want.”

            If you were to ask me for advice on getting with females or fellas, however, then this is the only piece of wisdom I’d pass on to any hopeful on the hunt for love:

Sort yourself out first.

Remember that any kind of romantic relationship requires time and resources. Making one work also requires a lot of emotional maturity and mental fortitude. If you’re lacking in any of these four things, you might have a hard time. Bear in mind I’m saying might, here, because some people can do fine with half of these. The fact is, you need to figure out your standards, not just in a romantic partner but also in what you want out of life. Get to a point where you think you’re ready for a relationship, then consider pursuing one.

And maybe along the way you’ll find out you’re not fit for romance. That’s not a bad thing. So many people think that the answers to life’s problems will just unfold before them the minute they find a partner, but that’s the message vapid romance-injected media and advertising enforces, that our worth is only measured by our attractiveness to others. Lots of us are better off alone anyway, but minds can change, but only if you decide to change.

How do you do that, though? What steps do you take to figuring out who you are and what you want? What do you need to improve on, what matters, and in the end how will these improvements make you attractive to the kinds of men and women you want to attract?

I don’t know, it’s your fucking life. You figure it out. Godspeed.

Happy Valentine’s Day,

RWI

P.S.: I have a special message for the hopeless guys who say all the good girls like bastards and that all the nice guys live in the Friendzone: Stop It.


Those “bastards” only look like bastards only because they’re dating the girl you want. What you’re thinking are actually lizard brain impulses telling you to rip the competition’s throat out and mount the female while the blood’s still warm on your chin. Being a “nice guy” doesn’t mean expecting anything in return. Being a nice guy means dong the right thing, even though and especially because it increases your chances of people treating you like dirt and ignoring your kindness, because being good to people is the right thing to do and is its own reward. The sooner you realize that, the happier you’ll be.