The Evolution of Discontent

phoenix by kuramaphoenix

phoenix by kuramaphoenix

Response to Creative Writing Challenge: Metamorphosis

When I first met you, I was a lamprey. Starving, hunting for blood; a pound of flesh with no shape nor form, just a circle of razor-sharp teeth that appears when threatened.

It had been a particularly harsh summer, and it had almost left me mindless and mad. My emotions took the front seat to a tornado heading down south; I was exposed and vulnerable, and so wanting of new possibilities.

I went to school exhausted, hoping to be rejuvenated by literary theory and dead writers. You raised your hand and answered in philosophy: my attention fully grasped with the lilts and tilts of your Wittgenstein analysis and Faulkner and Freudian comparisons.

I did what every lamprey would do and attached myself to your being without you even knowing it. Google became my best friend: I read every word you wrote on the internet and swallowed it whole in the span of 2 seconds. I was starving for your poetry, a famine for your language. I speed-read your adjectives and inhaled your metaphors: a rush of literature through my nose, injected into my brain and flowing through my bloodstream. When I sat beside you on the bus, I felt logic seep into me through osmosis. That’s what you became: the source of all stability, the sanity that would cure my madness and curiosity.

I was hooked from the get go; a lamprey hopelessly enamoured, an insatiable craving that took over my life.

You would never guess that I sought you, asked people where you hung out, where you spent your time, and positioned myself within viewing distance, awaiting your glance, awaiting your smile. Adoring you was a decision I set heavily in stone. As soon as the idea of being with you was born, it went manic; it took a form of its own and occupied every crevice of my mind, and convinced me that it will set to right everything that was going wrong in my life.

I loved you for months because I imagined a saviour—the poet who would show me a world only artists could know. You were the only man I was able to accept more powerful than I, in every aspect, in every form and I accepted it with a kind of graciousness and humility that I felt bettered me. The first night I read your poetry, I saw infinity. I embraced euphoria with as much force as your metaphors and alliterations could create images in my head so real that it started to breathe and grow into tangible beings I could touch and recognize.

Everything that happened between us was carefully planned. It was I who joined the English Society so I could meet you. It was I who asked to watch that play together so we could spend time outside of class. It was I who attended your party. It was I who stayed outside in the cold for you, as you smoked your cigarettes. It was I who laid her head on your shoulder. It was I who came to your apartment, that snowy evening, my socks and hair wet. It was I who first kissed you.

And from that first kiss I was transformed. No longer a lamprey, I evolved into a blue morpho whose bright, blue colours would blind you if it was set against the sun. It’s not your fault I imagined you — that was my own doing. You couldn’t control the world that my mind had created for me: a peaceful and serene place where coming home wasn’t a battle for my sanity, because you wouldn’t carry those problems with you.

You wouldn’t have despair nor misery. You would be pure. Your sobriety was the answer to all my problems: I wouldn’t have to hide my money around you because you had your own, and because you wouldn’t take them just so  you could score. Our decisions would be clear and precise: it wouldn’t be spontaneous. It wouldn’t be driven by grams and ounces, by empty beer bottles and skull-decorated Ziploc bags, by rolled-up bills and spent lighters.

By the time you stopped answering my calls, I felt my wings disintegrate. It was too easy now, to fall back into old habits, now that the possibilities I thought were forming proved to be a dead end. I lost track of this time; even in hindsight I wouldn’t be able to tell you what I felt or thought. I didn’t allow myself to be heartbroken. Everything was numbed down by chemicals and liquor. A year turned into sleepless weeks, time became a concept I could no longer grasp, friendships got in the way of my vacation, and school was a chore that just had to be done.

When you tried to explain why you left, I cut you off. You said that I made it so easy, and I agreed with you. “It is easy,” I said, heart pounding, my pupils as wide as an infinite abyss. The insanity in me took form and screamed: it’s easy to break off something that was never there for you, a dot in the span of your existence that doesn’t even warrant a chapter, let alone a footnote. I was just a five-second event, that happenstance you participated in one weekend and then forgot.

We can’t control what we mean to other people, just as you couldn’t control what I made you mean for me. So it is easy because there’s no responsibility. You weren’t at any fault; it is not your fault I imagined you. You wrote what you wrote not to seduce anybody or big yourself up — it was the voice of your experience and you grounded it into existence to create a clear demarcation in your life, one that has a beginning and a possible end. However I interpreted your words was not your guarantee,  I did that to myself. That was me: who spun it out of control according to what I needed. I’m sorry for the secrets you shared, I can never give them back, I’m sorry for the secrets I kept from you (that you can’t ever retrieve), I’m sorry this didn’t work out exactly like a romantic comedy would, but that’s just what you get out of English majors: Resistance, Stubbornness and Endless Expectations.

But I did love you once, within that second. My ego may far exceed my talent and my delusions may fabricate my actual implication – but I did love you, while you sat across from me, and told me how I made it so easy.

And if you ever want to take a glimpse back into the lamprey you once welcomed into your life, you wouldn’t find her. Because I had taken this footnote and wrote it up into an epigraph: one that tells the story of a girl who began as a parasite, evolved into a butterfly too quick and burned out only to be regenerated.

Narrativize me now as a a phoenix, mythical and fiery, who took this experience and forced it to un-bury her. Because it is only from the remnants of my mistakes can I draw strength, only from fiction can I re-write significance, and only from the ashes of my corpse can I be re-born.


On Being Freshly Pressed & Other Doubts

Writer by AmythePirate

Writer by AmythePirate

When I wrote “Absolute Certainty and Infinite Confidence“, I was sitting in front of my computer at the office, typing fervently yet sadly. I had stayed behind after my work day because I forced myself to keep working, even though all I wanted to do was  write. As soon as the clock struck 5, I opened my wordpress account and began typing.

This blog was always meant to be an escape pod. I tinkered with it and made it colourful, and it helped me get through my worst days. I find it hard to admit to people close to me when I am sad, especially when I have to formulate it into spoken words. I am never the one to say upfront, “Please stop doing this to me, because it hurts me”. Instead, I turn to my computer and write a poem or a short story to alleviate the pain, and transform it into something beautiful that I can read, and unashamed to share.

My friends have told me in the past that they had lost faith in blogging because it offers a venue for criticism: it allows you to be vulnerable and open to interpretation. This is all I think about when I write, and it proved to be incredibly limiting. I tried to find ways in which I can present my words to be selfless: to have it seamlessly combine with other people’s emotions and have it malleable to their experience. I wanted  some good to come out of my words, instead of a monologue about pain that was selfish and internal.

When I wrote “Absolute Certainty”, I was fully aware of my urge to write, and an adult voice telling me to “wait”, to “keep it inside until work was over”. And I suddenly had a longing for those days when I stopped at nothing just to write.

And halfway through the article, I began to discover the person I had grown into, whose behaviour crippled my  writing. Controlling that urge to write so that I can be productive while I’m at work made me so lonely because it brought me closer to the realization that I had transformed writing into a past time – a hobby, along with video games and watching TV, when it used to be the one and only purpose that motivated me, the one true weapon I had against the world.

And it made me so sad after I finished writing it, that I cringed when I hit “Publish”. I thought I was alone in feeling this way, that nobody else could understand that sense of loss we feel when we realize that we have lost control of meaning in our lives, that the purpose that once shaped our identity has become an illusion, and has left you disenchanted.

When I received the email about being Freshly Pressed, these were the words that stood out:

“We enjoyed this nostalgic post about your childhood love for reading and writing, and growing up and having less time for books. We think the rest of the community will agree.”

The first emotion I felt was sheer and complete terror. My old fears came back to haunt me: This was a terrible mistake. They read the article wrong. It can’t be this good. I’m going to have a lot of comments bringing me down and making fun of me — and to be honest, I was this close to deleting the post and shutting my blog down.

Because who could’ve thought that something beautiful could come out of  fears and insecurities? And yet it did, because I had forgotten why it’s so essential to document the narratives of our lives: so that we can all take part in the human struggle, so that we can build a community of support and encourage others to keep going despite obstacles, despite our own fears.

Reading your comments has revived that idea within me:

Writing is important because it is an extension of our souls – it is the process of creating something tangible and shareable so that we don’t have to internalize pain, so that we don’t have to be alone with our conflicts. It is the human mind solidified – and it can be a truly beautiful thing that evolves and manifests with each new reader gained, with each new meaning spun from the words we create.

A young writer from my university once told me that writing is a solitary activity, and to this I disagree. Because from now, every time I write, I take you all with me.


Absolute Certainty and Infinite Confidence

Creatures of literature by *BeatrizMartinVidal

Creatures of literature
by *BeatrizMartinVidal

When I was young, I used to fill notebooks with words.

When my mother found my secret stack (under the cupboard, inside a pile of garbage bags) she held them to the sunlight one by one and read each page with wide, disbelieving eyes. I stood there with clenched fists, watching her go through thousands upon thousands of words.

She cut my lunch allowance, which I was laundering to go towards my notebook addiction.

Not to worry: I learned how to use the computer instead. This is how I started typing over 80 words per minute.

Every day I felt this rising urge to achieve complete and utter bliss. I can only describe it as an overwhelming desire to write, and that full confidence that I could. I started out typing short stories copied from books. Lion King was the very first to be transcribed into MS-DOS. Eventually, I started typing out entire novels. As time progressed, I created my own.

Page after page of words. The only thing I remember from my childhood is sitting in the garden, writing words, and as I grew older, sitting alone in a room, in front of a computer screen typing out words.

I remember my friends yelling outside my window: “Ellise! When are you going to play?”

“Nope, gotta type,” was my reply.

When I was young I used to go through great lengths to quell my thirst for literature. I would sneak inside a library and try to borrow as many books as I could. I spent every lunchtime and recess in the library reading. I was the only person there. In retrospect I realize the librarian knew I had “borrowed” more books than I was allowed to because it was a very small library and I was its only customer. She smiled at me every time I left, even though I had books stuffed inside my shirt, inside my skirt, making me limp as I walked past.

I began selling my stories to get even more books. Eventually the teachers had to sit me down and told me I was in trouble for taking other students’ lunch money. I told them: “But they’re buying my stories.”

“Well, you’re not allowed to sell your stories.”

“So how am I supposed to buy books?” I asked, horrified.

“You’ll need to figure something else out.”

Now that I’m older, I’ve learned to quell this desire. Even though I thought of stories, I kept them inside, controlled, and had the patience to wait until after my commute to write them down. Of course, it never happened — by the time I got home, I’d be way too tired from work, that all I would want to do is sit down, watch TV, stories and ideas long forgotten.

Sometimes, I’d sit down, stare at my computer screen, forcefully will myself to write, only to be hindered by self-doubt and criticism: What’s the point? It’s too gimmicky. This is too much of a sell-out piece. Way to add to the cliche train. And before I knew it, I had paralyzed myself into immobilism, infinitely frozen into standstill, stories and ideas quelled and quenched by insecurity.

I find myself walking through bookstores and staring longingly at books I want to read. I devise a million reasons why it’s better I don’t read them all: full-time job, no time, no point. I try to make myself feel better that I did the right thing: you saved your money, now you can spend it on something else. Like phone bills. And rent.

And instead of feeling happiness inside bookstores, all I feel is loneliness, and that sinking realization that I will never have enough time to read all of these books, nor the mind to understand and remember them.

Ultimately, I think, I’d rather be the literature-addicted child who stopped at nothing to be transported into the world of words without any regard to the consequences that followed, instead of the responsible adult with a full-time job who walks into bookstores wistfully, hoping she could read all the books ever written and wanting so badly to participate and give back with words of her own some day.

The addiction is still there: the only thing that faded through time is certainty.

News, Reviews

Defending Jon Finkel: A Response to “My Brief OkCupid Affair With a World Champion Magic: The Gathering Player”

Photo from Digital Trends

Photo from Digital Trends

First off, let me start by laying out my biases: I love Magic: The Gathering and everything related to it.

So if you have an unusual hatred of this hobby, you might want to stop reading. Don’t blame me: I started you off with a disclaimer.

And so, let the rant begin.

I’ve forgotten what I was googling when I came upon this article: “My Brief OkCupid Affair with a World Champion Magic: The Gathering Player” by Alyssa Bereznak. Nevertheless, it happened. The title aptly sums the main premise of her article: she was on OkCupid after a drunken night, encountered countless creepy messages from illiterate men, found one normal-looking one, Jon Finkel, and after two dates, (one of which involved a one-man show based on serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer), intensive googling and discovering Jon Finkel’s career, Alyssa decided to drop the romance and cautions her readers against “filtered” profiles, or the things people decide to leave out.

To give her credit, she does admit to the shallowness of the internet dating world.

She states:

“But there’s a larger point here: that judging people on shallow stuff is human nature; one person’s Magic is another person’s fingernail biting, or sports obsession, or verbal tic.

No online dating profile in the world is comprehensive enough to highlight every person’s peccadillo, or anticipate the inane biases that each of us lugs around.

There’s no snapshot in the world that can account for our snap judgments.”

But I don’t believe a single paragraph renouncing yourself of the responsibility that comes with snap judgements is enough to salvage the fact that her 3 “strikes” involved Jon Finkel continuing to play Magic, the rate at which he played, and  finding his best friends through Magic.

So first, let me tell you a little something about Jon Finkel.

According to the omniscient Wikipedia:

Jon Finkel (born May 18, 1978[4] in Brockport, New York) is an American Magic: The Gathering and poker player.[1] Finkel is one of the most decorated players in the history of professional Magic: The Gathering play and is widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all-time.[5][6] During his career he has won 3 Grand Prix events and made the Top 8 of a record 14 Pro Tour events, winning three of those. In the year 2000, he became the Magic: The Gathering World Champion, as well as playing for the United States National Team, which won the team portion of the competition.”

In fact, thanks to Alyssa’s intensive googling, I discovered that he has a playing card dedicated to him: the Shadowmage Infiltrator.

I’m going to admit that I don’t know much about Magic: The Gathering. My experience with it is, at the most, casual and, in all probability, of passing interest. But I have seen what dedicated players are like, and what they have to do to stay relevant in the game.

It takes a lot of passion and hard-work to become a professional Magic Player.

It takes intense knowledge of approximately 11,665 playing cards (and that was the estimate 2 years ago), ways in which to counter each one, and constantly keeping track of the new cards that do come out.

And that’s not the end of it.

You will then have to keep track of the decks other professional players play with. I said it before and I’ll say it again: With Magic: The Gathering, you are only as good as the people you play with.

This means in order for you to excel in the game, you are constantly forced to seek other opponents, discover what their strategies are, and then meticulously calculate how you can counter each one.

Magic: The Gathering isn’t just some mindless clicking that’s so prominent with so many modern video games, where losing doesn’t seem to have any real consequences because you can always just start on your last save point. PCgamer once came out with an article with the argument that Call of Duty has destroyed a generation of first-person shooters.

Tripwire president, John Gibson was quoted saying:

“I feel like Call of Duty has almost ruined a generation of FPS players. I know that’s a bold statement, but I won’t just throw stones without backing it up. When I was developing Action Mode [for RO2], I got a group of people that I know that are pretty hardcore Call of Duty players (…).

And really, watching some of these guys play… one of the things that Call of Duty does (…) is they compress the skill gap. And the way you compress the skill gap as a designer is you add a whole bunch of randomness. A whole bunch of weaponry that doesn’t require any skill to get kills. Random spawns, massive cone fire on your weapons. Lots of devices that can get kills with zero skill at all, and you know, it’s kind of smart to compress your skill gap to a degree. You don’t want the elite players to destroy the new players so bad that new players can never get into the game and enjoy it.”

And that’s one thing that Magic: The Gathering doesn’t have–randomness. That means every card is worth something. Every creature is synergetic with an enchantment, or artifact, and with every new card released, you will need to refer back to your old collection and understand what this new card can do to your old ones: which ones are now playable? Which ones have become irrelevant?

It takes diligent and deliberate practice to excel at something and Magic: The Gathering isn’t an exemption.

It takes skill, fast-thinking and a thorough understanding of your opponent (think facial expressions, hand gestures, movements they can’t control such as twitching of their head or restless shuffling of  cards in their hand to give you an idea of how good of a hand they have). All these cues are skills you will have to develop to get an advantage in the game. 

Alina Tugend, writer for the New York Times, quoted Professor Ericsson, when describing what it takes to be the best in your field. He states, “It involves spending hours a day in a highly structured activities to improve performance and overcome weakness.”

So to close my argument: Alyssa, Jon Finkel is probably one of the most passionate and dedicated person you would ever have the pleasure to meet.

He has perfected determination and commitment to the nth degree. He has managed to turn one of his hobbies into a prolific career. He has decided that this is what he enjoyed, and went against all odds to make a living  out of it.

And not only that — he became so good at his field that he has been immortalized in a playing card. He has become part of the game he dedicated his life to.

While you were sitting next to him during a one-man show about a serial killer, unbeknownst to you, you were enjoying the company of the hero who inspired an entire generation of Magic players to continue enjoying what they do and striving to be the best person they could be. And most of all, he took the time he could be spending preparing for his tournament to get to know you, despite the fact that you had no idea, nor interest, on how to play what is conceivably the most important thing in his life.

That, in itself, wouldn’t have been enough to strike out with me.

Edit: Looks like I wasn’t the only one offended by Alyssa’s article. See the backlash and Jon Finkel’s reaction here.


A Final Embrace: The Most Haunting Photograph from Bangladesh

Article  from Time LightBox 

April 25, 2013. Two victims amid the rubble of a garment factory building collapse in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh. Read more: http://lightbox.time.com/2013/05/08/a-final-embrace-the-most-haunting-photograph-from-bangladesh/#ixzz2SoBbxwK2

April 25, 2013. Two victims amid the rubble of a garment factory building collapse in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo taken by Taslima Akhter

Many powerful photographs have been made in the aftermath of the devastating collapse of a garment factory on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh. But one photo, by Bangladeshi photographer Taslima Akhter, has emerged as the most heart wrenching, capturing an entire country’s grief in a single image.

Shahidul Alam, Bangladeshi photographer, writer and founder of Pathshala, the South Asian Institute of Photography, said of the photo: “This image, while deeply disturbing, is also hauntingly beautiful. An embrace in death, its tenderness rises above the rubble to touch us where we are most vulnerable. By making it personal, it refuses to let go. This is a photograph that will torment us in our dreams. Quietly it tells us. Never again.”

Akhter writes for LightBox about the photograph, which appears in this week’s TIME International alongside an essay by David Von Drehle.

I have been asked many questions about the photograph of the couple embracing in the aftermath of the collapse. I have tried desperately, but have yet to find any clues about them. I don’t know who they are or what their relationship is with each other.

I spent the entire day the building collapsed on the scene, watching as injured garment workers were being rescued from the rubble. I remember the frightened eyes of relatives — I was exhausted both mentally and physically. Around 2 a.m., I found a couple embracing each other in the rubble. The lower parts of their bodies were buried under the concrete. The blood from the eyes of the man ran like a tear. When I saw the couple, I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I knew them — they felt very close to me. I looked at who they were in their last moments as they stood together and tried to save each other — to save their beloved lives.

Every time I look back to this photo, I feel uncomfortable — it haunts me. It’s as if they are saying to me, we are not a number — not only cheap labor and cheap lives. We are human beings like you. Our life is precious like yours, and our dreams are precious too.

They are witnesses in this cruel history of workers being killed. The death toll is now more than 750. What a harsh situation we are in, where human beings are treated only as numbers.

This photo is haunting me all the time. If the people responsible don’t receive the highest level of punishment, we will see this type of tragedy again. There will be no relief from these horrific feelings. I’ve felt a tremendous pressure and pain over the past two weeks surrounded by dead bodies. As a witness to this cruelty, I feel the urge to share this pain with everyone. That’s why I want this photo to be seen.

Taslima Akhter is a Bangladeshi photographer and activist.

Read more: http://lightbox.time.com/2013/05/08/a-final-embrace-the-most-haunting-photograph-from-bangladesh/#ixzz2SoBxEhJM