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Month: September 2011

Of Castles and Airships… coming at some point

I did not get much sleep last night; I was up very late (or early), obsessed with finishing a new orchestral composition, which I think turned out very nicely. As digital composers may know, after you finish a piece, it gets completely stuck in your head and you are almost powerless to resist the urge to listen to it over and over and over with proud admiration. So I only got a few hours of sleep, and even that wasn’t very fulfilling, as I was nervous about not waking up in time for work and thus tossed and turned throughout those few hours.

And then, when I did set out to go to work, the car wouldn’t start. Just clicky-clicky-clicky. And I don’t know anything about cars. So I had to be chaffeured (sp?) to work and got in late, but oh well, what can one do? I was then promptly fired. No, just kidding.

Anyway, I think I will call my new piece Of Castles and Airships. A nice fantastical ring to it, and airships have been on my mind lately from my novel writing. I’m not sure what to do for the music visualization though; I feel the urge to do something besides an ordinary Music Animation Machine video; perhaps animate something by hand, though that may take forever. I’ll have to ponder…

Stuff I’m doing…

Been a busy week here. Animation Mentor semester 5 started this week. My mentor this semester is animator Jay Jackson, who has a very impressive 2D background. I’m very excited! Our assignment for the next few weeks will be to add facial animation to our last assignment from last semester, which I am both excited and nervous about… I’m afraid my work is going to stink. But I’m new to this, so I forgive myself in advance. Just as long as I don’t fail out! Anyway, our assignment for this week, which I haven’t done yet, is to shoot video reference and draw sketches planning out our work.

Novel-writing-wise, my novel is at around 29,000 words. The three main characters are currently traveling through the sky in an airship headed towards the kingdom’s castle. I am a few chapters away from the mid-point of the story, so my current guess is that the novel will end up being around 70,000 to 90,000 words total. We’ll see.

I also started writing some more music earlier this week. Not sure what I’ll call the piece, but it’s almost finished. Watch for it on YouTube this week or next week or the week after that… not sure when I’ll finish. It’s pretty standard Hannifin work, but I’m quite pleased with it. In fact, I’m tempted to offer myself much praise, but, being me, I’m quite biased towards myself, so I consider myself at an unfair advantage to receive such praise.

TV-wise, if you care, I started watching Person of Interest (mostly because it was created by Jonathan Nolan). I’m not exactly impressed, but it’s not horrible, so I’ll give it a chance; but if I get pressed for time as the Animation Mentor semester continues, it’ll probably be the first to go. I also started watching Terra Nova as I enjoyed the sci-fi-ish previews for it, but the pilot for that show I also found to be rather unimpressive, and, at times, downright awful. But it’s interesting enough that I’d like to see what the story will turn into. Fringe returned on Friday, which was OK, but not nearly as good as last season’s start. But the “Where is Peter Bishop?” story line should provide me with enough interest to continue watching. The first half of last season was excellent, but I thought the last few shows that ended the season were quite weak, and the cartoony-CGI episode was one of the worst TV-watching experiences I’ve ever had. I’d rather watch HR Pufnstuf several hundred times than suffer through that episode again. (OK, maybe I wouldn’t go that far…) I’m looking forward to House starting on Monday. So… four shows for me this season, plus I’m still slowly working through Burn Notice season 2 on DVD, which is a great show. And Shark Tank will return for a season 3, but I’m not sure when. And we might get a DVR sometime next week, so that will be nice, but I can’t complain too much if I miss something, since Animation Mentor must be the priority… not TV.

Reading-wise, I’ve been enjoying Neal Stephenson’s Reamde: A Novel. Definitely more mainstream (so far) than Anathem (the only other novel of his I’ve read so far), but still quite captivating.

Oh, and in other news, I can now touch my nose with my tongue. I couldn’t do that before. Two decades of practice have finally paid off.

On same-sex marriage

This is a semi-response to this post, but it’s more of a general response to the overall issue, at least in regards to my limited social experiences in relation to it.

I normally wouldn’t blog about this sort of thing, not least of all because not very many people are interested in reading it (it falls in the religion and politics arena, where emotions run high and people often flee for the sake of their sanity), but the growing social dichotomy of this issue (especially with the growing Hollywood trend of romanticizing it in film and TV shows) has been rather relentless lately, and I often get annoyed with both sides of discussion (if such a tepid term for implying disagreement can be allowed) for not framing the issue properly, or for beginning their arguments on completely polar premises and then not understanding why things fail to progress from there. As can be guessed from the title of this post, I speak of same-sex marriage.

From the point of view of one who supports same-sex marriage, perhaps even one who wants to partake in it or knows someone who does, it is Civil Rights issue, marriage being the right. One who denies them the right is at best morally naive or misguided, at worst an evil prejudiced bigot. (And if I do not represent this point of view properly, feel free to let me know in a civil manner.)

From the point of view of one who does not support same-sex marriage, it’s not truly even a question of “support.” It’s a question of meaning, and not merely a semantic meaning (how marriage is defined in words), but spiritual religious meaning. That is, marriage is believed to be a spiritual union before God for the purposes of procreation and family-raising. (For more detail on the religious definition, one can look it up elsewhere on the Internet; a complete religious definition is not the point of this post, but I’m surprised not many people seem to consider it when discussing this issue, as if it’s irrelevant.) It’s not a right just as being a man or a woman is not a right (the difference between a man and a woman is not something created by men for the convienence of something like bathroom sorting; it’s a biological matter-of-fact; it’s just the way it is no matter what we may feel about it). That is, a man does not have the right to be a woman by only the simple act of wanting so (the extent of what operations can change another matter). Understanding that is not like saying: “I don’t support the right for a man to be a woman.” Understanding marriage as a right granted or denied by men in office buildings doesn’t make any sense in the first place, from this view.

It’s odd, because supporters of same-sex marriage still recognize marriage as being special in some sense, otherwise why desire it at all? But why is it special? Certainly not for the same reasons. Perhaps for completely state-given reasons, such as tax benefits? It certainly cannot mean the same thing spiritually, yet it is the wholesomeness of the spiritual meaning that the tax benefits are meant to encourage. If same-sex marriage was objectively morally OK, why would those seeking it want legal confirmation, beyond seeing their religious beliefs reflected and supported by man-made law (which everyone wants)? If morals exist on a level above human authority (making them objective), why seek only something that can only be granted by other humans? If same-sex marriage was objectively morally OK, the state shouldn’t get a say in it anyway; it could just be done. They might not be legally recognized and might not get tax benefits and such, but why should that be more important than the objective moral truth? If men do not have the right to grant or deny marriage rights to others, why desire that sort of right at all? It would be like a child saying to an adult: “You don’t get to choose whether or not to give me a cookie… now give me a cookie!” If the child truly believed it wasn’t up to the parent, he should just get the cookie himself. Or like a child claiming that he doesn’t need permission to go outside, but asking for it anyway, or asking for permission to no longer need permission.

If it is religious equality that people seek, they will never get it, no matter what the man-made law justifies. Again, it’s not a matter of bigotry or intolerance; there is just no such thing as religious equality in the sense of specific beliefs; if you believe something to be true, you cannot logically also believe an opposing belief to be true. A man cannot logically conclude that something is both true and untrue at the same time. (The word “belief” does not imply uncertainty.)

Then, and this is what bothers me the most, there are a growing number of middle-grounders, who ignore the issue completely, perhaps out of fear of being hated by their friends or celebrities they admire who do feel strongly one way or the other, or perhaps out of not wanting to think of it much out of fear of being wrong or just plain laziness or plain indifference.

Or they see a marriage granted by the state as already being too separate of a thing from religious marriage that it simply no longer matters to them what state-granted marriage allows. (Self-marriage might as well be allowed; if procreation and family-raising are not essential parts of marriage, why is a second person even required at all?) They disagree that the state-governed laws of marriage should be guided by religious doctrine, and they don’t think that’s worth defending, even though other disagreements are worth defending, such as abortion and capital punishment. But would they deny that what is objectively morally right no matter what one thinks of it is above man-made law? Man-made law should ideally be exactly the same, but allowing for religious disagreements (as all such disagreements are inherently religious, even if being argued by atheists) and the practicality of law enforcement (no Big Brother, no mind reading, no perfect human justice), they are, at best, compromises. But are they to be denied attention for that reason? (Does legality affect objective morality? Does objective morality affect legality?)

And perhaps therein lies the problem that gives rise to this dichotomy: the idea of civil marriage not being a lawful extension of religious marriage but as being an entirely separate social construct, when it is considered not about growing closer to God and procreation and family-raising, but about pairing up for the fun of it, to feel special about oneself, to get tax benefits, to be seen by others as someone who is loved by someone else in a particularly special way, etc., which has only advanced a misunderstanding of (or at least rather strong disagreements about) its purpose. (Not to imply that such disagreements are new.)

My main point is: unless people understand and approach the argument in a religious context (even if the issue at hand deals with the secular laws), arguments on the issue will either be nonsensical, or simply won’t get anywhere. (Yes, one must start with the premise that God exists. Marriage is certainly ultimately completely meaningless without the existence of an objective moral right and wrong that exists beyond the human mind.)

That said, same-sex marriage is not a sin in and of itself, just as a man not being a man is not a sin; it doesn’t make enough sense for it to be a sin or not a sin. (Not to say it may or may not be associated with sinful acts, that is another matter; but to simply say it is or isn’t sinful doesn’t make much sense.) Nor is it a matter of tolerance or intolerance. A man is not restricted from being something other than a man because of other people’s intolerance. We do not say 2+2=4 because we are intolerant of 2+2=5. When we put murderers in prison, it is not out of intolerance or bigotry.

And justifying seeing the other side as all bigots (though some certainly exist, as evidenced by the existence of hate crimes) will only make things worse. I know people can get very emotional when people disagree with them, especially about a political-religious issue like this, but disagreements don’t imply prejudice or hate or bigotry. Seeing it that way will only cloud any hope for honest discussions. But maybe that’s not what people want anyway.

One of the worst parts…

It’s so sad how your dog’s death doesn’t really sink in to your subconscious very well, and you still have quick automatic thoughts about her…

Where’s the dog’s food bowl? Oh wait.

Is the dog outside? Oh wait.

I should probably get out of bed and let the dog out. Oh wait.

What was that noise? Just the dog. Oh wait.

GAH. It’s awful.

Hold on to the beard…

Very vague memories of this movie popped into my head today. (I was working on my novel and had a character say the phrase “land of far away” which suddenly conjured up half-remembered images from this film.) I was able to Google around figure out what it was… though this particular scene was far less cheesy and much more mysterious and magical in memory.

Magical realism: fantasy for snobs?

From the blogs I read and the people I talk to, I haven’t heard the phrase “magical realism” much. What is it, exactly? How is it different from fantasy?

From what I can gather from a post I recently read, called Why I Write Magical Realism, my best guess is that “magical realism” is fantasy for folks who don’t want to be considered fantasy authors.

Athol Dickson writes:

My novels include magical realism because I want to write more realistically about this world, not because I want to escape it.

This is either a meaningless statement, or a snobby statement.

In one sense, I’m not quite sure what Dickson means by this. If you didn’t want to escape this world, why write at all? Just because your fiction uses the real world as its place setting does not mean it is the same as the real world; it is still a different world in the sense that it is still full of fictions that you create (characters that aren’t real and situations that never really happened). Therefore, you still must escape the real world to write. So this is not justification for writing magical realism. I doubt Dickson is claiming that the difference lies in the escapist intentions of the author (as if to say, “not because I want to escape it, even if I inadvertently do escape it in the process”), as that would be pretty pretentious.

So, in another sense, it makes it sound like Dickson is distinguishing magical realism from fantasy in terms of to what degree the writer wants to escape this world. That is snobby, because it presumes to understand the intentions of other authors.

Dickson later writes:

So if I write a scene in which one character witnesses another’s transformation into something god-like or demonic, I’m not doing it because I want to create an escapist novel. I’m doing it because I want to describe life more accurately.

I’m not sure what Dickson thinks an “escapist novel” is. Firstly, every work of fiction, lest it be completely pointless, must be relatable and therefore must describe life to a certain degree of accuracy, especially in the realm of character emotions and decision-making. (That is, you can’t write: “Bob wanted the waffles so badly, he stabbed his brother in the neck with a knife several times; being in prison for murder for the rest of his life didn’t matter as long as he could have waffles that morning.” Unless it’s a strange comedy, but even then, at least the motivation is understandable, if completely ridiculous.) Secondly, as stated before, every work of fiction is escapist in the sense that the audience must suspend its disbelief to understand the story; it must deal in the hypothetical for the story’s sake.

So how do we define “escapism”? We could say that it has to do with the level of the suspension of disbelief required to understand the story. That is, how many elements differ from the real world compared to other works of fiction? (And perhaps Dickson would claim that that scale would also distinguish fantasy from magical realism, though that would mean that any work of fantasy fiction would always be more escapist.) But this definition implies that the reader is a natural moron and that the more he must suspend his disbelief to understand story elements as they relate to the story, the further he moves away from the real world, which is obvious rubbish.

Or perhaps we could say it lies in the reader’s hands. If the reader is reading and trying to forget some painful circumstance of the real world, he’s using the novel as a way to escape; if he’s constantly on the look out for lessons he can actually apply in the real world (though fiction novels do not often offer much in the way of concrete actions), he’s being less escapist (though he is being highly inefficient and he’s probably a moron). I think most readers are somewhere between the two; at the end of the fictional journey, the real world is not hard to come back to, and we usually don’t leave it completely, but we do suspend our disbelief for the sake of the story. (There is a greater philosophical / psychological subject here: “the problem of fiction.” How and why are we humans able to do this suspension of disbelief thing? But that’s a whole different subject.) Anyway, this understanding of “escapism” means that anything could possibly be escapist: music, movies, artwork, long walks on the beach. Even toasters, if a toaster owner studies and obsesses over a toaster’s design to forget the pain of a dead family member or something. In this sense, there are no escapist novels. Only readers who are able to escape while reading.

If we take the first definition, Dickson’s quote makes plenty of sense, but seems to assume that readers are stupid. If we take the second definition, which I’m more inclined to, Dickson’s quote makes little sense.

Dickson writes:

Fantasy stories convey truth without needing to be grounded in the reality of this world.

What? At first glance, that sounds like complete and utter nonsense, but I guess it depends on what he means by “the reality of this world.” As I already mentioned, there is plenty that still has to be grounded by the reality of this world for any work of fiction to be understood as one. I’m guessing Dickson is referring more to time and place settings, limits of magic systems, and the existence of things that don’t (and perhaps couldn’t) exist in the real world. Fantasy (to Dickson, perhaps) implies different time and place settings, magic systems with less limitations, and the existence of quite a number of things that don’t really exist. I think most fantasy authors wouldn’t understand the need to distinguish between greater or lesser degrees of these elements, at least not in defining fantasy. “Oh, there’s magic in this book, but not enough for it to be considered fantasy.” What? So, at best, Dickson is simply making up his own definition of the fantasy genre based on degree of the use of the fantastical.

Dickson describes the book One Hundred Years of Solitude and writes:

None of this is technically impossible of course, therefore it is not “fantasy” in the literary sense.

So “fantasy” “in the literary sense” is a matter of plausibility? This is too problematic for me. In this sense Gone with the Wind might be considered fantasy, because the events of that story are impossible. Or we could argue that magic is indistinguishable from any sufficiently advanced technology, therefore all fantasy stories are plausible(therefore there are really no fantasy novels).

I simply don’t understand the point or the method of trying to differentiate magical realism from fantasy. (My guess at the point is that academic literature professors are sometimes snobby morons, afraid others will be too reminded of the emptiness of so much commercialism to want to associate their fantasy with non-academically-written fantasy, therefore they must think up another name for it.)

Perhaps the most snobby-seeming statement from Dickson, though it has less to do with writing:

Perhaps Garcia Marquez (the world’s best known author of “magical realism”) has simply written about life as it really is for the millions who are driven to mass insanity by labor on the treadmill of materialism, exhausted to the point of forgetting why they started running in the first place, yet goaded to keep at it by the omnipresent advertisements which remind them they need this thing and that thing in order to continue to forget who they really are.

Woah! You assume the masses buy things in order to “continue to forget who they really are”? Firstly, what makes you think you know who people are better than they do? Secondly, how dare you assume to know why people buy things! Ads aren’t that effective.

Dickson ends with:

In other words, I write magical realism because most of us need to get a little distance from our lives to see them as they really are.

Uh . . . bit of an empty statement? Isn’t that at least a part of why anyone writes any fiction? “Escapist” or not? Or is Dickson claiming that only magical realism has the appropriate amount of distance?

In the comments, a commenter called Juliette wrote:

All fantasy needs a grounding in the real world or it would be meaningless. I must confess, I’m surprised to see someone quote CS Lewis but then go on to speak in such a derogatory fashion about other-world fantasy. Both Lewis and Tolkien’s fantasy worlds are firmly grounded in elements of our world, and in Tolkien’s case, of our history.

Magical realism is a sub-genre of fantasy, just like urban fantasy is. Both take place in our world rather than a fully realised fantasy world and both tend to avoid certain elements like swords and wizards but both are still fantasy.

Indeed, I agree.

The blog’s owner replied:

I confess I’m shocked that people are interpreting post as derogatory towards fantasy. We included the wording about fantasy just to try and distinguish it from magical realism, which are two genres with blurry lines and are often difficult to categorize.

Replying to the subject, perhaps trying to distinguish magical realism from fantasy is what feels derogatory towards fantasy. If you write what most fantasy authors would consider fantasy, but insist on some other term to describe the genre, it feels like you’re saying “I want to play with you guys, but I don’t want to be seen with you.” And that makes it feel like you’re saying: “I think I’m better than you.”

Animation Mentor, Class 4, Week 11

Here was my last Animation Mentor assignment (the end of class 4), rendered in HD with motion blur… And if you don’t know what that audio clip is from, shame shame shame!

Still needs some tweaking. We should be studying and adding facial animation in our next class, which I’m looking forward to. Why so serious? Let’s put a smile on that face!

Animation Mentor class 4 almost over… and the airship…

It’s week 12 of class 4 of Animation Mentor, the final week. There are no animation assignments the final week, so maybe I’ll have a bit more free time this week for novel writing, but I probably will try to touch up my last assignment a bit more since it will probably go on my first demo reel. I’ll upload my last assignment tonight after it finishes rendering; I’m rendering it at an HD resolution with motion blur, which takes about 6-7 minutes per frame, and there are 195 frames. Takes a while. But it should finally be done by the time I get off work today. I think my animation is definitely getting better, though I still need more practice. I’ll probably save my animation job searching until Animation Mentor ends (for me) in March 2012.

I didn’t write anything at all over the weekend. It was dedicated to working on my animation homework, and then just to reading and napping on Sunday afternoon, after I turned in my animation homework.

I didn’t write anything this past Friday either, but I did draw some maps of the layout of the five-story airship that’s about to appear in the novel, which was fun. Perhaps my future house will be based on it. OK, maybe not, but it has some cool features, such as a two-story library with a glass ceiling (good for exposition, when the characters need to research history or something, which won’t really be that important until later novels in the series, if I stick with this story), the helm is located in front of a huge 3-story wall of glass (though it can also be elevated to the top of the ship if the Second Captain (who is the main ship steerer) would rather be outside for some reason). The airship has air-conditioning, a water-recycling system, and an intercom system (anything is possible with a magic system, right?), as well as voice pipes (kinda like phones, used to communicate with the castle and other ships, which is very important during airship sky battles; these may play a very important role in a future story, I have some fun ideas).

Anyway, should be fun to write about; hopefully I can refrain from getting into too much exposition. It’s always fun for the author, but it can bore readers.

Novel progress…

Got another 852 words added today. I’m still not to the part in which the characters actually get on the airship, but I think the scene right before it is pretty much finished, so we’ll probably see the airship before the week is out (well, really only I will see the airship; one of the advantages of authoring your own work is that you get to see it before anyone else, which always an advantage). I spent a few moments rereading some of my earlier chapters out loud. I’m sure they’ll need editing when I get some feedback from beta-readers, but I’m still pleased with them. I know I’m quite biased though, since I know the world and characters so well. I always have a tough time continuing to write after I read back over something I had written that I am pleased with; I get worried that I won’t be able to repeat that. So then I go to sleep or something. Which is what I’m going to go do now…