The new Blogger system forces you to see how many page views your blog has. I find it weird that my blog keeps increasing page views every day. Not in large volumes, just creeping upwards steadily. I know it's not me because I don't visit my own blog very much...

I don't know why I find it creepy to think people are even reading my stuff?

So anyway I have to abandon everything right now because I'm in a caffeine withdrawal, and can't think straight for more than 10 minutes at a time, and become fatigued really easily.  I haven't had caffeine for a week now, except a cup of tea about two days ago, which I hope hasn't set me back for another two weeks.  I remember that cup of tea being a huge caffeine rush for some-reason...

I was drinking caffeine like a fiend. My steady rate was 500mL of energy drink per day (2 small cans), but sometimes would drink 750mL (3 small cans) or up to a whole litre (2 large cans). Today is Friday, and I decided to quit starting Friday last week--cold turkey--when I turned up to work totally forgetting to buy some more drinks the night before. But I decided I don't want to be addicted to any substances. If I want my life to be dictated by my addictions, they will all have to be purely psychological, and ones that I choose for myself.

They say it takes two weeks for withdrawal symptoms to wear off. That means I've got another week to go. I know I can do this, I've managed to quit alcohol, even sugar--I had to stop eating sugar for some reason--it's a long story.  Another addiction I'm trying to quit is less substantial: shopping.  It's hard because there are lots of really cool stuff to buy right now, but I don't want to buy something unless I'm dead serious about buying it.  Another thing I've got to stop is picking at my face, which is a huge problem for me.

Here are a couple of interesting articles about addiction, including one about "relapse", which is important if you're deciding to quit something:


I've recently been fascinated by speed-reading, although haven't been practicing it as much lately because some books are better when you hear it in a voice, like Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald, both who I'm getting into right now. But nevertheless, my own discoveries in speed-reading have been a little different from the texts and information I've come across to teach you how to do it, though I haven't had a mentor ($$$) or any computer software ($$$$$) which seems to be highly recommended. So I'd like to take this opportunity to lay down my own version, cutting the bullshit (I'm not getting paid for this), and getting to the gritty substance of what speed-reading is all about. The trick isn't learning how to speed-read, that's something you can do overnight. In fact, I'll tell you how to do it right now.

Speed-reading is a series of breaking habits, which is much easier than making them. The first habit you must break is vocalisation. This is when you are reading to yourself with your lips each word one-by-one at a time. Chew some gum, or sing a song if you have to, but stop reading with your mouth! The next step is to quit sub-vocalisation. This is when you are reading the words one-by-one in your head, sounding them out in your imagination. You may have stopped moving your lips, but you might still feel the back of your throat trying to shape out words! Sub-vocalisation is a tricky habit to break, I find it easier if I'm listening to instrumental music, or some kind of drone-y noise in the background to distract my mind from trying to hear the sound of the words. Concentration is key. Once you've broken sub-vocalisation, you are already reading much faster than you ever were before! But it doesn't end here.

When you are reading a word, you are not simply following one letter after another, but all of them at once, taking the word in as a whole. The same idea can be applied to multiple words, to read a whole phrase, or a sentence, as a whole. Now you are reading in chunks. Think of a painting, and think of each brush stroke as a word. The brush stroke doesn't make anything on its own, but multiple brush strokes when put together form a complete image. The first thing in a painting you see is the whole picture itself. The same concept applies to speed-reading, but it's more than a static image: it's concepts, ideas, and whole experiences all at once. Concentration is key!

By the way, you don't need both eyes to read the same word (with apologies to the one-eyed possibly the blind). Mastering your peripheral-vision, pretty soon you are able to read entire lines of text at a time, as if reading a single word. Now you are now approaching the art of vertical-reading. Reading vertically will allow you to read up to 900 words per minute, but this is only the limit of the linear approach. To read even faster, you're going to have to take on the layered approach, which is much more complex and involved, and something I can't get into right now as I haven't practiced it myself. To be perfectly honest, I'm happy to be just reading linear. If you would like more information on the layered approach, I'd recommend looking up information or books about Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics.

The most important thing that needs to be mentioned is one of the biggest banes of not just speed-reading, but all reading in general, and that is regression. This is when you've read a sentence or two, maybe even a paragraph or a whole page, and you realise your mind has been trailing off, and you've absorbed none of what you just read. So you have to go back and re-read what you just read again. This will slow you down immensely, and needs to be conquered. Remember, concentration is key! But another way to help stop regression is by using a pacer. On a computer screen, you can use your mouse-cursor. On a book you can simply use your finger (It may not be so easy on an e-reader or a phone, but those devices are good for speed-reading anyway because you can make the text large enough to chunk-read vertically with ease). The practice is to move your pacer over the words you are reading at your own comfortable pace. It may feel awkward and cumbersome at first, but with enough perseverance it will keep your eyes focused sharply on the words, and less chance of your mind to wonder off. When you are reading fast enough, your mind will be absorbing more information than it can think about, which means it will be even less likely to be distracted. Remember to concentrate! Because this is the tricky part, as I mentioned before.

The trick to speed-reading is not knowing how to do it. It's adjusting your brain so that it can absorb large amounts of new information at a time. When I was first reading pretty fast, I never ended up reading any more than I usually do, because I got so exhausted I kept falling asleep after about an hour or so. The brain needs to be exercised regularly, and trained to deal with massive quantities of new ideas and learning at a time. Don't worry, it can be done! This is what will really take you weeks of practice, and the ultimate key to unlocking this potential is something more potent than concentration, it's patience.

Brain-training exercises, such as those found on the Nintendo DS or iPhone/Android apps, can be helpful in keeping your brain strong and analytical. Understanding patterns and associations is important, doing a lot of sudoku and cross-word puzzles are also a great help. It will also be important to have good vocabulary, because if you read over any word you don't understand, the mind's image will be incomplete. So if you have time, find a dictionary and scan through for every word you don't know yet.

God-luck and good read!

Minimalism. Dance.

Here are a couple things to tide me over:

The choreography in both of these are extremely well accomplished.

A Poem by Emily Dickinson

I've been reading poetry by Emily Dickinson lately, and come across this one poem which I so far claim as my favourite. It is untitled, and categorised under the "Nature" section in the book I have. The four sections are Life, Love, Nature and Death (actually called "Time and Eternity" but I'm not so coy), and so far I think Nature has yielded some of her best, but that's probably just my preference, as I think Nature encompasses all the other three in itself.

There's a certain slant of light,
On winter afternoons,
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes.

Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where the meanings are.

None may teach it anything,
'Tis the seal, despair, -
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the air.

When it comes, the landscape listens,
Shadows hold their breath;
When it goes, 'tis like the distance
On the look of death.

I'm not a poetical analyst, and I don't think I'd ever like to be, but I will talk a bit about why I like this poem in particular. In the first stanza, she gives light a sense of weight, or oppression. But not any kind of physical weight, as light is virtually weightless, but a moody weight, "the weight of cathedral tunes". I imagine an overpowering pipe-organ ringing through a large hall of a cathedral. It's interesting how she finds it oppressing, but comparing it to the "slant of light" appearing on wintery afternoons through its "weight", there is no question that this is a moody weight, a heaviness: melancholy, although I've never heard melancholy described more beautifully than here. It's currently winter where I am right now, so I know exactly what she's talking about insofar as imagery, but the melancholy is something much more universal that applies to any time of the year.

The first stanza sets the topic for the rest of the poem, from there the pronoun "it" comes down like a hammer, encapsulating the entire concept of the first four lines. This is one of the most beautiful mysteries of language and the mind, the way we can describe an entire experience, bearing all its narratives and moods, and surface it all simply through the word "it". In Japanese, they don't even have a word for "it", but rather a "zero-pronoun", where it's not even said at all.

It's fascinating. Perhaps the reverse is how creativity works. We start with the word "it", and all the experiences that it surfaces, and from there we lay it out into a form.

Another effect of "it" is when you take one of the stanza's out of context. Take the last stanza for instance (already odd, as it changes up the number of syllables), and "it" suddenly takes on a much larger meaning: hope, love, life, God?

I love the way she rhymes "breath" and "death", as if she encompasses an entire scope of life in one swoop. Considering, when you put the stanza back into context, that she is referring to a slant of light "on winter afternoons". In poetic terms, that's like saying "you have about two minutes left to live". Although, I always found it fatuous to think of seasons and days to only represent the cycle of life. Children still experience winter at least once a year, and the elderly can still experience spring and summer. I like to think of it as a link, that any point in your life you experience the melancholy of a winter afternoon, it is a similar feeling to your (poetic) winter afternoon.

I like her personification of landscapes and shadows. Perhaps it's a bit horrifying to think of shadows breathing, but looking closely, it's not what she's saying, it's only implied by our imagination. The shadows holding their breath, combined with listening landscapes, describes a suspended feeling, a stillness or anticipation, but for what? And the way the poem ends on the word "death" is almost like a knife jabbing into your heart, softened only by the fact it belongs to a simile.

But perhaps it's not all so glum. After all, a cathedral tune might be oppressive, but is it so gloomy? She describes it giving us "Heavenly hurt", is this some kind of masochism? Perhaps it's more about a transcendent feeling, finding resolution from an internal struggle, a mixture of contradicting emotions within oneself. Accepting death, but finding it beautiful.

And finally, the surrender. The solution is that there is no solution. We can not tell nature what to do, it is our master and we are its subjects. Obedience and loyalty is the key to eternal harmony.

That is until we're able to build weather machines.

Other ways to watch a film

What is it you are looking for in a film experience? Story? Characters? Comedy? Drama? How often are you fulfilled by any of these? Are these the only aspects a film can provide? Is a film not a film without them?

In my last post I mentioned briefly about ways to listen to music more satisfying and fulfilling than the conventional linear-progression format we are so used to. The same can apply to film, an epiphany I reached after watching the DVD MIC.MADEIRA by Simon Whetham and Hugo Olim (sample above). I bought the DVD at the Merzbow concert, as Simon Whetham was one of the opening acts whom I thoroughly enjoyed. MIC.MADEIRA is a project where Simon Whetham stood in various desolate areas around Madeira with microphones, recording sounds of nature plus various insides of metal poles and rails. From these he put together a 40 minute collage, and collaborated with Hugo Olim to make a film from it. I'm not sure what the film is exactly, my best guess is that it's multiple exposures of microscopic water droplets, varying in and out of focus. There is constant movement, constant focus-pulling, and eventually a split-screen where both sides are moving opposite directions (EDIT: Hugo describes how it was made in the comments below). There are points where it seems to be VHS-like static interference, which is either in sync with the sound, or is creating a sound, I can't tell, but it blends seamlessly into the film experience on the whole. But to analyse what it is and what it means would be missing the point entirely. The film is a kind of form, that doesn't rely on narrative, explanations or structure. There are no faces, characters or expressions to follow. The form this film takes is the purest form that film can be: the minimalist expression of form itself. I'm going to embed other films by Hugo Olim as examples of my discourse, but even narrative films can be appreciated in the same way.

To go back to my opening question, perhaps everyone will have their own answer, and that's fine, so here I will provide an answer of my own. What I look for in a film experience is to have sensations invoked. Film is perhaps the most powerful medium for doing so. It doesn't take as much effort on the viewer's part (not like reading a book or a poem). A photograph can invoke, but it's limited to a visual sensation. Music and sound can invoke, but it's limited to an aural sensation. The combination of image and sound opens up a world of possibilities, with a limitless catalogue of feelings to invoke. There is nothing more thrilling than reacting to a mixture of different emotions, especially contradicting emotions and dichotomies!

It is a mistake to think invocation can be brought forth through narrative only. A story is the least important aspect of a film, if it has one at all. This is a problem with especially American audiences and youthful critics. In response, film makers are creating sterile, space-less, disposable flicks with too much emphasis on plot, leaving no room for atmosphere or feeling. The photography can be beautiful, but leaves much to be desired when it's not given room to breathe. At the bottom of the barrel are modern action-genre movies, that don't so much as give plot but plot "markers"--the pregnant wife, the villain kicking a dog, etc--as a means to carry us over from one action set-piece to another, designed to be consumed and forgotten, like a factory-made can of soup.

It is a particular nature in our culture, especially Western culture, to be oriented towards a goal. All our lives we are in need of getting somewhere, it makes me wonder if we will ever know when we get there at all. It's understandable that we may not be satisfied with where we are, but with the attitude of always wanting to go somewhere, can we ever stop to appreciate being where we are? Isn't the journey just as important as destination itself? I think it is, in fact, I know it is. And this is why I choose not to aim for goals, but for roles. I choose the journey, not the destination, and I give myself all the time I need to stop and look at the scenery along the way.

I would like to repeat a paragraph from my last post, only retool it to apply to film: Strip away all the superfluous ingredients, and what do you have? It's just light and sound, playing in a pattern, playing together, to create an atmosphere. Things like "narrative" and "structure" are just theoretical, they exist as an explanation to what makes an audience respond to film, but they come after, not before film. Film doesn't have to be a linear progression, it can be crystalline, it can be realised as you are watching it, without concern for a beginning or an end. It doesn't have to be watched with just your eyes and ears, it can (and should) be felt, emotionally and even physically. You don't have to watch for the events to happen, there exists a space between events, which is just as important. And there is also framing, the effect of silence and darkness, as the images and sound continue ringing in your memory, sometimes for days.

I'd like to end with one of my favourite YouTube videos by animator Don Hertzfeldt. It's called "Watching Grass Grow" and it's a timelapse of about two years of banal, seemingly endless work on an animation, but every now and then the fruits of his labour show when it all comes together in the camera tests. I haven't seen the final animation, but I enjoy witnessing the journey to it all the same, without needing a final destination.

You're doin' alright.
You're doin' OK.
Just follow your heart
and don't rot away!

Andrew W.K. / Merzbow

note: Andrew W.K. didn't play "Never Let Down" in his set, but it's still a great song and should be listened to it often.

"A long time ago, I dedicated my life to making a fool out of myself", he said, "and I would like to thank all of you for making that dream come true!"

A rather profound attitude worth adopting, I think. I was already being a fool-hardy, devil-may-care buffoon attending a show on a Wednesday night, having to go back to my 8-4 job the next day. Which is probably why I spent most of the the show behind the crowd, trying to ignore how much fun everyone else was having, and convincing myself that I was being sensible conserving my energy.

"You see this?" Andrew W.K. asked, presenting a bare stage around him, "this is not a concert! This is a PARTY!". He had no band that night, it was just music playing and him singing along to it, or playing along to it on his keyboard. The crowd cheers, and they are all having a party, and I'm wishing I was cheering and partying with them, but I couldn't!

Or maybe I just wouldn't. Or didn't. Not until some big headed fucker decided to stand in front of me and block my view, and W.K. was singing Ready to Die (most of the set was from the I Get Wet album, which makes sense as it is still to this day a wall-to-wall punch-in-the-face of an album), that I decided it was time to let go of all concerns and preconceptions of tomorrow, and jumped into the crowd and became part of the party.

As the days goes by, I have my ups and downs, but mostly downs, I call it "my downtime". But I've found recently being up mostly coincided with listening to the music of Andrew W.K. He is like Jesus in that stupid "Footsteps" poem that Christians always cling to, only he's better than Jesus, because he Parties Hard, and doesn't give you any conditions. He kicks you in the teeth with his optimism, and dares you to change your life. Perhaps the secret is to never stop listening to his music? I don't know. When I saw him on stage, it made me think it was possible, maybe just possible, to be in a perpetually good mood, to live life like a party. Maybe it's not possible, but I know I don't ever want to feel down again. From this day forth I want to practice giving myself active self-encouragement, to fight any doubts I have about myself, and see where it gets me (so far I've managed to write this post, after an inexplicable hiatus, so there's that).

During the song I Get Wet, W.K. brought a fan on stage--a bearded guy with a Pokémon shirt and blue shorts, who looked like his life was changing on the spot--and they sang the rest of the song together. Then he said "good night" and abruptly left the stage. The crowd cheered for about five minutes, then sang Happy Birthday etc (it happened to be his birthday that night) for another five minutes. The stage-hand was packing up the microphones, and we slowly realised there was going to be no encore. While most were disappointed, I was thankful, because I had to go to work at 8am then next morning and get excited to see Merzbow the following night.

I found it interesting, but not surprising, that I recognised a lot of people who attended Andrew W.K. the night before also came to see Merzbow. Not that the two have anything in common, but I figured if I was fan of both, then it should stand to reason there are others who would be as well. It was reassuring to find I'm not the only one.After the concert, I sent the following text message to my housemate:
"jlyk; merzbow was solid hour of pure orgasm"
Although I don't think it was an hour, probably 30-40 minutes. Time didn't matter, there was no time, just Merzbow, and his heavenly noise.They were giving out free disposable ear-plugs before the show. I had them in for about five seconds before I realised I'm not getting the complete sound I was after. I took them out and my ears were taking it pretty well. Perhaps I've been to one too many loud shows that I am calloused. In essence, I'm going deaf. And Merzbow was probably the loudest show I've been to since SunnO))), which is saying something. I know something is loud when my entire body is feeling the rumbling vibrations, I guess that's the only way I know. I should be worried, but I'm not. I'm glad, because I got to see Merzbow, and hear him complete.

At first I was expecting just to see him sitting behind a MacBook, putting together some sampled noises or whatever like I've seen so many artists do. How do I know they're not just pressing "play" on their iTunes player or something? And it's always a MacBook, as if it's the only computer that can make sound? Well anyway, he had his MacBook, but he also had a table full of other electronic stuff, and pedals all over the floor. He carried some kind of instrument around him like a guitar, I don't know what it was, but it was basically a handle-bar with a large plate in the middle that served as a giant pickup, and he would scrape it with several different objects. The resulting sound was HUGE. From the rumbling bass to the high-pitch squealing of feedback, and everything in-between. I was lost in the sound, I don't know how to describe it other than being in a state of pure joy.

There were people dancing up in the front row. This isn't odd to me, as others may find it, as where some people may be hearing nothing but harsh noise, I was hearing melodies, pulsing rhythms, chords and discords. Everything you can find in "conventional" music, it was there, you just had to listen for it.

Merzbow, along with SunnO))), introduced me to all kinds of new ways to listen to music. Strip away all the superfluous ingredients, and what do you have? It's just wave frequencies, playing in a pattern, playing together, creating a timbre. Things like "time-signature" and "melody" are just theoretical, they exist as an explanation to what makes harmony and rhythm, but they come after the music, not before it. Music doesn't have to be a linear progression, it can be crystalline, it can be realised as you are listening to it, without a beginning or an end. It doesn't have to be listened to with just your ears, it can (and should) be felt, physically. You don't have to listen for the notes being played, there exists a space between the notes, the note itself is just as important. And there is also framing, the effect of juxtaposing a sound next to silence, as the sound continues ringing in your memory.

I try not to be an elitist snob with my nose up in the air, I try to explain to people that there are ways to listen to music that are much more satisfying and fulfilling compared to how we've been conditioned by the radio, TV and pop-culture. I would like people to be on my side, without any notion of superiority or inferiority, but in the end all they hear is harsh noise. Well, it doesn't bother me so much, as long as I can get personal satisfaction. I've been wanting to see Merzbow live for a long time, I was willing to even go overseas just to get the opportunity, but he came here to me, and I saw, I heard, I wept, and I am now complete.

Unannounced Hiatus

I hate it when they happen. But they do. I have a couple posts in the works, give it time. A couple months, maybe.

On the Weekend

Will I be ready? Probably not. My mind is just not accustomed to drawing-mode, not just yet. It's been a while, and it will take a while before it does. This weekend, I'll write about something else. A movie, perhaps, or a book? Or will it be something else?

Life, and stuff, there is a lot to cover.

Here at least is something to show I've been making progress:
and there's more to come yet, but I can't show anything until I'm done.


On Thursday

Thursday, in my country, will be A-Day. You might be thinking: What's that? Like, Asshole Day or something? Well, close, but it's actually Australia Day, which is also a public holiday. I have no particular reason to celebrate Australia, so I'm dedicating all of my time, energy and caffeine to update this blog.

If I don't finish Thursday, then at least I have the weekend. I fear I'm setting my expectations too high for this next post, and I may never get it done. But it's within my reach, as long as I repeat the four Orwell motivations until they set firmly in my cranium:
1. Sheer egoism.
2. Aesthetic enthusiasm.
3. Historical impulse.
4. Political purpose.

Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people's idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.
These may also apply to illustration, as we'll see...

Just so this post isn't totally devoid of content, I'd like to take this opportunity to talk about books! I've just finished reading Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, I won't do a post about it, but I highly recommend it, whether you've seen the film or not. The film is great, but I've seen it so many times it's getting tedious to sit through. The book is so much more grittier, bloodier, mind-bending and totally absorbing.
"We are the middle children of history, raised by television to believe that someday we'll be millionaires and movie stars and rock stars, but we won't. And we're just learning this fact," Tyler said. "So don't fuck with us."

Right now I'm currently reading Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. It's a good read, but anything by Kurt Vonnegut Jr is a good read. I'm currently waiting for my housemate Peter to get off his lazy butt and read Slapstick: or Lonesome No More, or anyone else in my vicinity, so that we can watch the film adaptation Slapstick of Another Kind, because there's no way in hell I'm watching that by myself, and there's no way in hell I'm watching it with someone who hasn't read the book.

But I do want to see it. I've read about it, in the MYOF article, and I get the impression that I will never be more insulted in my life. But that's why I want to see it, I want to know how far my buttons can be pushed. I want to feel my heart sink deeper into despair, for that is the power of film, that is the magic of cinema! I want to post about it too. When Peter did a post about Tank Girl, he told me "it's not so much a review, but a summary", to which I replied "yeah, but a summary with a tone". He liked that, and I like that too. I usually avoid summaries in my film reviews, because I find it's what every other critic does, and they don't dedicate too many words to actually reviewing the movie. But I like the idea of just doing a summary with a tone, as long as I'm not reviewing, and as long as the film is an awful, awful, awwwwful (there's nothing more to add to that).

Music for the depressed

A couple new ideas emerged from writing my last post, the first of which came from my commentary on George Orwell's third motivation for writing. In it I skirt the edges of existentialism, but held back so I wouldn't detract from the topic at hand. But I wouldn't mind going full existentialist mode some time in the future, addressing the heavy subjects, the big questions about life, love, religion, death, time, space, and so on. I'm pretty easily swayed by philosophy, but could never really get into the big name philosophical authors, as eventually I discovered they were all generally pretty terrible writers. Most of my knowledge about philosophy comes second or third-hand, from more accessible authors, but personally I want to avoid name-dropping as much as possible and just focus squarely on heavy concepts.

The second idea came from the opening paragraph, where I talked about some music I listened to while depressed. I thought this would make a good idea for a post (or even a series as there is a lot of music out there). In the second paragraph I talked about music I listened to while happy, which could itself make an interesting post as well, but for now: let's get on down to Frown Town, and listen to the sounds abound in our down-time! However, before we get on to the music, I'd like to take the time to ask: just what is depression?

The answer is simple: depression is a survival mechanism, naturally developed through millions of years of evolution, so that you can be here now, reading this blog. It's the result of chemicals in your blood, your mind interpreting signals, the sway of the moment. "But why is something so awful so necessary to live?" you may ask, but then maybe you should ask yourself: How do we know what to avoid, if it didn't make us feel so awful? And what is joy without sadness?

What is the cure? All moods will come and go, like rain or sunshine, it's beyond our control. Granted, some people experience depression worse than others, mostly due to a vicious cycle of despair, brought upon by bad parenting, peer pressure or even initiated by one's self (the worse you can do is try and control your moods). You may not have any control over your mood, but you have control over your actions, and the only way to get through depression is to ride it out, like a storm blowing over. It's during this period, however, there is no better time than ever to listen to some sweet, depressing music. And here are some suggestions I have already prepared, just to start you off...

In my last post I mentioned Type O Negative, and three songs from their World Coming Down album. World Coming Down is an acquired taste, if you like fuzzy guitars and a certain low-fi quality, not to mention the slow-paced rhythm of a drum-machine. It's not for everyone, but occasionally I still find myself singing the chorus to the title track:

And I know, I know, I know that my world is coming down, coming down, coming down.
Yes I know, I know, I know that I'm the one who brought it down, brought it down, bring it on down!

Too true, too true. But for a more accessible sound, I would recommend their album October Rust, which has been like my best friend at the worst of times. It has a much softer, fuller sound, like a warm embrace to melt away the icy pangs of loneliness. That is, until the album is finished, and you haste to play it again, or something else, before the cold sets back in. Their last album, Dead Again, also has one particular song I highly recommend giving a listen (depressed or otherwise), called "September Sun".

Another band I mentioned was Khanate, whom I would not recommend listening to while depressed, as they they are a little bit too depressing. All of their songs play like a suicide letter, and only serve to make you feel worse about yourself. Their music is also very much an acquired taste. I only listen to them because I'm rather esoteric and I'm totally into that kind of stuff, but here on I'll stray from the heavier bands and keep my suggestions to the more calmer sounds of melancholy.

A band I've recently grown into is a wonderful bunch from Liverpool, England, called Anathema. They started out making a kind of gritty doom metal, then gradually changed their sound to something more cleaner and atmospheric, retaining their doom-ish qualities. The one album I've listened to time and time over and over again, and willingly go back to in my drearier moments, is A Natural Disaster. It was the track "Closer" which initially caught my attention, where the vocals are filtered to sound somewhat mechanical, and repeats the following lyric:

The dream world is a very scary place...when you're trapped inside.

Ain't it so, Anathema, ain't it so. And after the build up to the big crescendo of "Violence", and the final calm that follows, perhaps the mood is right for the more haunting atmosphere of Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter.

My Introduction to Jesse Sykes was from the collaboration album, Altar, by SunnO))) and Boris. Jesse Sykes' voice was featured on the song "The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep)", singing in her trademark husky voice, blending with the smooth, tingling overtones within melodies within melodies. Members of The Sweet Hereafter (which sounds like a nice name at first until you realise they are referring to being dead) also contributed greatly to the album. Altar, once again, is an acquired taste, but I recommend seeking out "The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep)" as it is generally a lovely song, and is what made me seek out Jesse Sykes and her own music.

In my search I found her latest album at the time: Like, Love, Lust & The Open Halls of the Soul. Kind of a mouthful of a title, but musically a perfect spoonful of sugar to one's ailment of discontent. Jesse Sykes sounds like she's blowing smoke into your face with every breath, not with the foul stench of a cigarette, but rather like the haze of a daydream. The way she pronounces "s" like "sh", and her whispery voice only compliments the sweet melodic guitars and the haunting background ambience.

The last I have to offer is Life For Rent by Dido. This album didn't have as much impact as her debut, No Angel, which remains to this day one of the most beautiful albums I've ever heard. Life For Rent, on the other hand, is a rewarding experience after a few listens, and I can't help but conclude that Dido is a sad little lady. Even with her most intimate songs, like "Mary's in India" or "See You When You're 40", she addresses broader themes, like the insignificance of us all here on Earth compared to the vastness of the universe. It's a horrible thing to feel so worthless, but when listening to this album, you realise just how worthless everything is, and everyone, and you can feel content that we're all worthless together. At least I do anyway, or is that just me?


Archfriend: On Writing part 2: Writing

Just before I was struck by a certain tragedy, which caused me to fall into a deep depression, leading to repeated listenings of the most depressing Type O Negative (R.I.P.) songs such as "World Coming Down" and "Everyone I Love is Dead" and "Everything Dies", followed by a descension into the deepest abyss of the most depressing music ever made by an obscure band called Khanate (R.I.P.), dwelling in the darkest recesses of their 33-minute magnum opus "Hell Is Every God Damn Thing"...

Just before all that, I was about to write up a long self-motivational piece on writing, on why I write, and more specifically: why I don't write. But I'm feeling better now. I've since ordered a replacement copy of Pokemon White, which I'll have to play from the beginning all over again, but I don't mind, and I am now listening to the super-go-happy music of the J-pop trio PERFUME, who make such delightfully upbeat tracks such as "Oishii Recipe" and "Akihaba Love" and "Computer Shitty". I've also recently bought 13 Assassins on blu-ray, and I love that god damn movie, so it's hard to feel down right now. Right now, I can write about writing again. So here goes!

In part one I wrote about learning Japanese as one of the activities I want to continue this year under a more rigid régime. Another activity is writing on this blog. I've been terribly inactive the past few months, because I felt writing has become a huge strain. Anyone else who writes will agree: it's painful and time-consuming, and it doesn't get any easier. The more you write, the more you aim to get better, and better, and that means more to think about, and that's exhausting for the brain. If you want to be the best, it's going to hurt. When you know something's going to hurt, your initial reaction is that you don't want to do it. Just getting over your initial reaction is painful. It's like adding more fuel to your aircraft just to make up for the extra weight it's gained by adding fuel in the first place.

I guess one might conclude that I hate writing. This is true: I hate writing, but I want to write more. Why? This is the question one needs to ask before engaging any form of creativity, which I will ask again in different forms in my upcoming posts on drawing and music: Why do I want to write more, when I hate doing it?

There are many answers, and I will go over a few which George Orwell has outlined in his short essay Why I Write, but here I've thought about an answer for myself, and this is it: I like to read. Actually, I'll read anything as long as it's in legible English, that includes writing of my own. I suppose when I write, I am writing what I would ideally want to read, and that's where I find the joy of it all. But to re-iterate: it is the act of writing that pains me, and that is why I don't write as much as I want to.

This year I have resolved to write more, particularly in this blog of mine. For one thing, I know I am my own audience here, so quantity over quality is not an issue. That is why I have come up with a schedule to update this blog at least once or twice a week, on Tuesdays and/or the Weekends. I'm not worried about writer's block, as I know there is always something for me to write about. Last year I've wanted to write about many things but never did, but that was because of the pain, not because of lack of topics. This year, however, I want to write more, and so I shall, because I want to read, because I am reading, and I have read much.

George Orwell wrote an essay in 1946, called Why I Write, shortly after he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four. He was in a bit of a rut at the time, and needed to refresh his mind on the purpose of writing. He died before he could finish what he was working on, but I picked up this essay (published by Penguin with a collection of some of his other essays) when I was in a rut myself, hoping to find a way out. It didn't have an immediate effect, but over time I've come to appreciate his conclusions, and adapted them to my own causes. I'll cut straight past the bulk where he talks about his early years and focus mainly on his four motives, which he mentions are not all equally weighted within all writers, and each motive varying from time to time within each individual writer themselves, according to their surrounding atmosphere.
1. Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc. etc. It is humbug to pretend that this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen--in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they abandon individual ambition--in many cases, indeed, they almost abandon the same sense of being individuals at all--and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, wilful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centred than journalists, though less interested in money.
This motivation, when weighted the heaviest, I think brings out the worst in a writer. I've asked the question "Why should I write?", but if there was an answer to the question "Why shouldn't I write?", it would be sheer egoism. If you think you are a born genius, with a god-given gift of prose to bestow upon the world, that all mankind should bow down in your mastery of language, then you are doing it wrong. Most likely your writing is terrible, and people will say so. It's not bad to have an ego, because you need it to start writing in the first place, but I recommend a humility to accept you are still learning, still open to exploration, and discovery, no matter what point in life you are in.
2. Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or a writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc. Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.
This one is the closest to resembling my own answer: I write because I like to read, and I like to read what I write. If I didn't like reading, or reading what I wrote, then I wouldn't bother. I couldn't imagine a more boring existence for myself, though. And once again, too much weight on this motive will bog you down, without the following two motives to come, you'll resort to writing about just trivial things, which in the end are just trivia, no matter how fancy your words flourish.
3.Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.
This motive, albeit short, I think has most importance. You can write your heart out all you want but unless you have something to write about, then your writing amounts to nil. Its description may sound like journalism at first, maybe a bit of egotistic want of being credited for a discovery, but this motive is true not just of writing, but of existence itself. In Renee Descart's simple yet profound quote: "I think therefore I am", he expressed existence as a consciousness. In Brandon Carter's Anthropic Principle, he expressed consciousness as a means of existence, that being here is proven by the fact that we are being here. Socrates expressed "not knowing is the path to knowing", and knowledge is at the heart of writing itself. What would we be without it?
4. Political purpose--using the word 'political' in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people's idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.
Whether you're into politics or not (I certainly am not), I think it's true that all internal conflicts within every individual stems from their political environment. Jean-luc Godard was trying to prove this with his series Histoire(s) du cinéma, that all film, writing and art were products of the political surroundings of its time, one just needs to open their eyes and make the correlations. I think it's certainly true of my own conflict: why I don't write. I don't write because I'm exhausted, because I work full-time to make a living, that my time of leisure is waning at the limits of my expenses: the cost of living rises twice, maybe thrice, every year, and my paycheck only rises once, and not sufficiently. I feel like a proletariat, in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels' The Communist Manifesto, and my mind goes over the opening sentence: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles". I feel I'm being exploited for my labour, and I'm not being compensated for it. I might need another means of income, maybe I should become a writer? An artist? A musician? I know other countries have it a lot worse, and there are places I would rather not be right now. Even right here where I am, I think it could be better. And so I crave, I want, and want, and write, to be better, to better, to bridge the gap between author and reader, between time and space and culture and personality. So God luck and good speed (plus wizard fight)!

And so I leave you, dear reader (that's me!), with one final piece: an excerpt from Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s final novel Timequake. He wrote this book out of his love of books (as opposed to television), as well as a fine example of the four Orwell motivations above. But here, he moves past the why and on to the how.
Tellers of stories with ink on paper, not that they matter anymore, have been either swoopers or bashers. Swoopers write a story quickly, higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way. Then they go over it again painstakingly, fixing everything that is just plain awful or doesn't work. Bashers go one sentence at a time, getting it exactly right before they go on to the next one. When they're done they're done.
I'm probably more swooper than basher, which probably makes me a bit girly, but so be it! I'm probably about ready to go back to sleep, as I've had enough swooping for these past two days (yes it took two days to write this up), it's done my head in.

Up next in this series, I'll be talking about drawing and illustration, or will I be talking about music? It depends whatever I'm in the mood for. Maybe I'll talk about something else entirely. That isn't to say, I don't have plenty to say about drawing and music, but the pain! O the pain!

Archfriend: On Hold

I discovered this morning that I've lost my Nintendo DSi LL, which I spent a lot of money to get it imported from Japan, along with my copy of Pokemon White (also imported from Japan). It fell out of my bag yesterday, and I've retraced my steps twice. It's gone forever. I'm a little traumatised, like a significant portion of my life has been suddenly erased, and there's no Ctrl+Z to get it back. It's a bit materialistic to say this about a mere electronic object, but it's kind of like losing a best friend.

Even though it can be replaced, it will take me a few days to get over this. I don't remember the last time I've been so careless...

Archfriend: On Writing part one

Last year, I never fulfilled my New Year's resolutions because I never made any. It's my tradition to not try and set goals to achieve, because I like to keep my mind free to move in any direction open to it. Recently I've grown older into the age of boredom. New things don't interest me much as they used to, so this year I'll set myself down and carry over last year's activities, only with more rigid régime.

The first activity was getting semi-serious about learning Japanese. Since 2005, I've been on/off with learning this infernal language, but it's mainly because I've been trying to teach myself through books. I'm too busy to take classes, and I don't know any Japanese speakers who can give me the help I need. After a while, I ask myself "why do you want to learn it anyway? Seems like a waist of brain power in the end." But I have plenty of reasons to learn it. Firstly: about half my DVD collections are Japanese films and animation, and I never feel that the subtitles are giving me the complete experience. There are so many subtleties in the language, even the things that go unsaid. Sometimes, there can be more than one interpretation, and the subtitlist (is that what they are called?) only has one to choose from. Secondly: I have some video games in the original Japanese language, before they were either ported to the Western world, or some that haven't been ported at all. I've managed to play them just fine, and enjoy them on some level, but I think there is more to gain from them if I could actually understand the language. Especially the one game I've been playing a lot lately, Pokemon White. Thirdly: I'd like to get into some Japanese authors, such as Haruki Murakami, or many others I haven't heard of yet, to read their novels as they were written, and not through the filter of translation, which always feels weird when you read them. When I read a book, I like to think I'm absorbing the text, being influenced by it and even discovering new things about my own language I never knew existed. I love foreign books because I'm interested by other cultures, and the underlying humanity from all parts of the globe, but I hate how I have to read them through a translation. The English comes off as really weird and unnatural, and the case is ever more present in Japanese. Case in point: here is an excerpt of "Audition" by Ryu Murakami (not related to Haruki), translated by Ralph McCarthy. Admittedly I only read this book because I enjoyed the movie by Takashi Miike.
THAT NIGHT, IN THE hotel room, they watched a triple bill of Rambo films. Midway through First Blood, Shige declared it a great movie, and he even shed a few tears at the ending. But with the second and third instalments he grew gradually disgruntled, and by the time they got to the final scene of Rambo III he was downright indignant.
 'What the hell is this? It's ridiculous! How's a guy on horseback gonna take down an attack helicopter with a bow and arrow? They must think we're all morons watching this crap. What's he supposed to be, Genghis Khan?'
 It was past two a.m. when the third film ended. Shige said he was going to get online and wanted the room to himself, because he couldn't relax with a computer illiterate looking over his shoulder.
 'Go have a drink somewhere, why don't you?' he told his father.
On the one hand, the book was amazing, and gave a much more psychologically involved account of the story than film could ever achieve. On the other hand, the language is so straightforward and flat, even exclamations like "What the hell is this?" seem somewhat reserved. Lately, I've been improving in my ability to read Japanese by playing Pokemon, and even if I don't understand all the words, I've found that I can easily pick up on the tone. The subtleties of politeness levels and familiarity levels, crossed with effeminate or masculine sounding words, or words with harsh consonants, or extended vowels, or diphthongs, etc. it all adds to a tone. When I read "'Go have a drink somewhere, why don't you?' he told his father.", I can't tell if he's being familiarly impolite, or downright rude, or even casually suggestive, just by the words themselves. I have to rely on context surrounding the dialogue, and if I have to do that, then there's something lost in translation. I know English text can be injected with tone, just go read Moby Dick: read it out loud! You'll know when Captain Ahab is yelling at the top of his lungs, or softly rambling in an almost-whisper.

Then try to tell me what is the tone of "Go have a drink somewhere, why don't you?".

What got me semi-serious about learning Japanese last year was when I managed to import a copy of the Nintendo DS game, My Japanese Coach, which is getting harder and harder to find these days. There are a few things this game does right, which no other interactive teaching aid, be it CD-ROM or activity book, ever did: it has a neat game-flow, which uses a kind of reward-based system. You are locked from any future lessons until you earn enough "Mastery Points" (MP) in your current lesson, forcing you to actually learn your stuff before you can move on. You earn MP by playing mini-games that involve a complete understanding of your words, your grammar and, later on, your kanji. Some mini-games were well thought out, and couldn't be beaten without a complete understanding of the lesson. Others were easily beatable without committing a single word to memory. What's more, is that if you upped the difficulty (which mostly just decreases the time-limits), you earned more MP, thereby getting through the lessons faster, spending less time repeatedly drilling every word into your brain. The game was a good idea, but its repetitiousness, its unappealing (plus limited) design and its reliance on the user to do most of the work themselves made it another boring academic textbook on the Japanese language like everything else I've tried. It became another disappointment that never took into account the user, who perhaps wants to enjoy the act of learning. To laugh, to cry, to fall in love, to be in awe, and so on.

It has made me want to take it upon myself to design a learning game of my own, to single-handedly change the face of edutainment. I want a game that teaches you Japanese, but does all the work for you, and all you have to do is sit back and enjoy. And by the end of it, whether you wanted it or not, all of a sudden you have the ability to read, write and speak Japanese. Who says this isn't possible? Why are all teaching aids half-designed by "experts" who say otherwise? Why can't learning be an adventure?

That's what I have in mind, a kind of adventure game, where the user can dictate the course of their learning, but only through unlocking one lesson at a time. I liked the "Mastery Points" idea of My Japanese Coach, so I want to incorporate that into my game, except I would want to give more substantial rewards, like, say, rare sexy video tapes of your teachers when they were young, and it becomes your hobby to gain Internet cred by giving them subtitles. Oh yeah, I should explain that my game is not entirely kid-friendly. If kids want to learn Japanese, they can go take classes, because it's not like they have a full-time job or anything. Most schools have Japanese classes included anyway.

An idea clicked in my head today about this game idea. At the New Year's Eve party I went to, we were all having a go at Wario Ware: Smooth Moves on the Wii. I was dying of laughter and admiration at the various instructions for holding the Wii-remote, the ones that are read out loud by some laid back sleazy guy who calls the Wii-remote "the Form Baton", rambling on and on about how to hold it for the up-coming mini-game, contrasted with an epic writing style begging for a more Shakespearian over-actor, spoken loud and grandiose. These segments were brilliant, and in some cases, I think most people would only play this game for these segments alone. It crossed my mind that instead of teaching you how to hold the "Form Baton", if he was to teach you how to write hiragana, katakana or kanji.

The game-flow of Wario Ware was also ideal. You are first given a map-screen, then one by one you unlock a new area and new characters to go on a new adventure with. In each adventure, you witness an amusing little story, then you start playing mini-games (more like mini-mini-games), and every now and then you are shown how to use the "Form Baton" in new ways. This game-flow seems ideal for the game idea I had in mind: First off you are open to a shop (for when you earn points), and two areas: one to learn nouns and one to learn hiragana and katakana. You earn very few points if you learn nouns written out in roman letters ("romaji"), so ideally you have to start off with hiragana and katakana. Once you have mastered the syllabary, you can then either move on to kanji for earning even more points, or learn some nouns. Once you have learned some nouns, you are then opened up to two more areas: verbs and adjectives. All of these areas start off simple, but get more and more complex when you have to get through conjugation, particles, grammar, phrases, conversations, and so on. But hopefully all the adventures should be sexy and fun as well as educational. I say "sexy" because language is all about connections: the connection of letters to form words, of words to form phrases and sentences, to form ideas and so on. And let's face it: the word "connection" is also a euphemism for "sex". Heck, every second word in the dictionary has sexual connotation, so I don't see why we should ignore it. We should embrace it! I wrote this down today: it is a simple instruction on how to draw the hiragana あ (imagine it read out loud by the sleaziest voice possible).
To master the hiragana あ, first begin at the left of the horizontal line, then ease your way to the right by motion of an effortless flick of the wrist, thus taking care of the first of three strokes: no more, no less.

The second stroke begins gently above left-of-centre of the horizontal line, crossing over it downwards, finishing off with a slight bend to the right, mimicking the natural endowment of man, and ready to penetrate the open loop of the final pass.

Here, we begin at a point somewhere between the ends of the first and second strokes, and move round clockwise in a circular motion, but moving over past the starting position as if to draw a half-hearted spiral. Hence by now it should have wrapped itself around the flaccid tail of the second stroke, hopefully ensuring a rigid unity once completed.
I mean, that's just a first-draft, coming from my mind just rambling on and on when it thinks about drawing a hiragana, but I've been coming up with some lurid stuff for many others, and can't see why this couldn't be applied to just about every hiragana, katakana, and kanji (all thousands of them). This stuff just writes itself!

I do want to make this game, but the only thing holding me back right now is my lack of completely understanding Japanese myself. I was hoping that making the game would force me to learn it, but I doubt I wouldn't end up lost and confused half-way through development. And so I want to take another crack at My Japanese Coach, only this time go from semi-serious to full-on serious, with exercise books and everything. Over the course of learning, more design ideas for the game should come to mind. I mainly need characters, which range from sexy, funny, to cute. And mini-games, or "Tests" as I will call them. And ideas for stories and adventures. And to stray away from the dryness of textbook examples, to keep myself sopping wet with ideas, new ideas, and fun.

(end of part one, next up: writing, and why I write, and why not?)