Sunday, January 31, 2010

Off the bandwagon- again

So I haven't done any of my workouts in a week and a half. Sadly I only started this month, and I've already fallen off the bandwagon. Why can't I be more like these awesome girls?

Turbo Jam's Chalene Johnson says, "If exercise isn't fun you won't do it!" Sounds catchy, but dead wrong for me.

You see I'm one of that select group of people who has to push herself to do EVEN the things she likes! AAAAARRRRGGGHHH!!!

I must find a way to get around it. Sigh.

Tomorrow, we shall start again.

The odds

I'm still looking into doing an MFA program (or USC's MPW). Last night I looked at a cross section of the "best" traditional and low residency programs. I ignored programs which were over $12000 a semester without funding. It's just not doable for me.

Something I noticed that I hadn't seen before.


Oh my gosh! Are MFA's the most selective programs in the world? The first MFA I saw selectivity stats for, was Boston. It was something like 400 applicants, 8 get in! And I thought, maybe that's just Boston. So I checked some of the "not-so-up-there" schools and the odds weren't much better. I think the best was maybe 10 out of 200.

So now I'm worried about getting in. Partly because my undergraduate transcript is the ugliest thing since Betty. Partly because my writing is untested, and the writing sample is the main judging point.

But then, I thought. When you aim for publication, you're hoping to be in a group of a few hundred, when maybe half a million are trying to get published. And if you're not good enough to gain entrance to an MFA, will you ever be good enough to make publication?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Culture Clash: The Japanese Bureacracy (FoF)

I was none too thrilled by the way the big wigs handled the dissemination of information after the recent death of a colleague. They decided to just not tell us.

Why should THEY need to tell us? Well, out here, we live pretty far apart. My prefecture is huge, so it takes 4 hours by train to get to the furthest parts. And heaven forbid you live in a area not serviced by a train line. Most of us don't have another foreigner living nearby, and it's possible to go weeks and months even without seeing the others. In fact, there were some people who I only saw once all last year.

So if anything were to happen to someone, there'd be no way for anyone else to know. Except that in Japan, your office is like your family, and if anything happens that's who they contact. If you have a car accident, you have to apologise to your employer. Crazy, right?

So anyhow, they decided not to tell us.

I was at my neighbour's house. The 4 foreigners in my town (3 JETs and one wife) get together every week and have a WII night. A little after 10 pm, my neighbour, C signed on to facebook to send a message to my other neigbour who'd just left. T messages him. "Have you seen Rodger's facebook status? It says he's dead."

"What? That's gotta be some strange kind of joke." -C
"It would be an awful joke to play though. Since he's in Japan and all his friends are back in America." -me

I call B. He's a Prefectural Advisor (PA). If something happened he will know about it. But B doesn't pick up. Next idea, call M, because he lives in Hanamaki. But I don't have M's number so I call D. I don't tell D what's going on. I don't want to freak him out, especially if it is some warped joke. He gives me M's number and I call.

"Have you heard anything strange about Rodger?"
"No. Why?"
"His facebook says he's dead."

M starts a mini-freak out and decides to go over there, because he only lives 5 minutes away.

My phone rings. It's D. M called him freaked. I tell him what's on Rodger's facebook. I tell him I called B, but he didn't answer and I don't have the other two PAs' numbers. He says he has A's number and he's going to call her. He hangs up.

M calls me back. There are no lights on and no answer at Rodger's. But it is almost 11 on a weeknight. He could just be asleep. His phone beeps. He says he'll call me back.

M calls back. It's true. A confirmed it. He sounds shook up. Apparently another (young) friend of his also died recently. He also has a message to keep it under wraps til the big wigs announce it. Under wraps? It's on facebook!

I nod to my two neighbours as I talk to M. We hang up.

My phone rings. It's B.

"I just wanted to check about Rodger. I found it."

"Please don't spread it around. I wanted to tell you guys today, but-"

Yeah, I know. In Japan the company comes first. They probably had to notify all the way to the Japanese Minister of Education, before we could be told.

I tell him okay, but remind him it's on facebook.

The next day we get a message giving the details that the prefecture had.

He became ill in the middle of the night, and died early the next morning in a hospital in nearby Kitakami.

I was pretty angry at the Japanese system that day. I thought I understood the differences between cultures because of my languages. But the difference between Francophone or Hispanophone culture and Anglophone is like the hole in a toilet paper roll. And the difference between Japanese and Anglophone cultures is like the Grand Canyon!

The whole day I kept thinking how horrible it must have been for M, getting a call after 10pm to go check if his neighbour's dead. And D, who really had nothing to do with the whole thing, except I need M's number. I was glad our other neighbour had gone home and hadn't had to go through the saga with us.

By the way, I'm in the capital tonight and I ran into B, and he told me the cause of death was on his youtube page: acute pancreatitis. I felt sorry for B. In his position he deals with all these confidential things on his own. It must be very lonely being a PA. :(

And then, on top of regular confidentiality, having to deal with the Japanese madness...

Anyhow, here's the second instalment of Iwate Swan, as promised.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

RIP Iwate Swan!

I received the sad news that one of my colleagues on the JET programme, Rodger Swan, took ill suddenly and died. He was just 23 years old.

I didn't know him very well. In August, I went down to Tokyo to work at the programme's orientation. I met the new Iwate (our prefecture) JETs and give them information about their placements and the prefecture.

Later back in the prefecture, we got seperated. Iwate is the second biggest prefecture in Japan. It takes 4 hours to drive from where I am to some parts of the South. From my town to Rodgers is about 2 hours by train.

Even though I didn't know him well, I am deeply saddened by his passing. I wish to extend my condolences to his parents, his girlfriend and his friends. May Good be with you in your time of need.

Rodger also had a huge web presence. He made a vlog of his time here, first as Tokyo Swan, then as Iwate Swan. As a tribute, I'll be featuring the Iwate Swan series. It will be a part of my usual Far out Fridays.

Requiascat in pacem, Rodger.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fly by night, or Plot ya Stops! (waw)

I'm sure you all know what fly by night means. Something that just pops up over night. Plot ya stops, which I just invented, is quite the opposite. It involves thoroughly planning each step before it's taken.

This is one of the biggest debates I've seen among writers. In fact, I can't think of a single argument which can divide a room of authors so fast.

Fly by nighters, also know as seat of the pantsers, have an idea and sit down to write. Sometimes, it's no more than a character, sometimes it's as vague as a single phrase. "Try to steal the crown jewels." And they sit down, start clacking away, and in a month or two, they've clacked out a novel.

Plot ya stoppers, also known as outliners, start with a network of lists. They make a list of characters, their motivations, their conflicts, the settings, the major plot points, the minor plot points, etc.

Some people intrinsically know which method is better for them, but just in case you don't here are a few of the pro's and con's of each.

Fly by night
Story is always fresh
First draft is usually turned out very quickly
Can feel like you live in the story, because it unfolds in front of you in real time

Editing can be tedious because of greater likelihood of plot holes and inconsistencies

Plot ya stops
Easy to keep characters' names, motivations, etc straight
Easier editing, because of fewer plot issues
Keeps writers from meandering away from their focus

For more "creative" types, it can feel very scientific, since the story is preplanned
Pre-plotting can restrict the story, as it will limit the authors ability to adapt the story as new paths reveal themselves.

I should mention that I wrote my first novel fly by night. I had the characters, and the outcome in my mind for a month beforehand, but I didn't write down a single word. I found that my characters changed a lot as the story progressed, and I liked the characters I ended up with better than those I started with. The climax of the story also changed. It came out of nowhere and blindsided me. I prefer the new ending, story wise. It feels more realistic, even though the Disney Princess part of me would have liked it to wrap up on a happier note.

My second novel I outlined. I made this decision specifically because my second novel was a fantasy. In a fantasy, you often have to create an entire world. So I would need to be keeping track not only of characters, but of properties of trees, magical powers and ancient languages. I found it helped a lot to just be able to glance over at my spreadsheet. I instantly knew if a character was doing something that was "outside his character" as well, since I'd defined their motivations and conflicts ahead of time.

I don't believe anyone writes completely fly by night or completely plot ya stops.

When I was in the Coast Guard we did a band trip to Montreal. We had the evening off and me and my friend TK decided to explore. We knew nothing about Montreal. We found the train station and a station map. We found the stations where several lines intersected and decided if more than one line was stopping there, there must be some sort of something happening.

Looking at the map was literally plotting our stops, but going there with no clue about what we were going to find was fly by night. In case you wondered, we ended up in the red light district! :)

Even though I wrote my first book without an outline, I did know who the main characters were, and what they were like. I had a general idea of what the result would be as well. For the second one, I did preplan most of the characters, the cities, the plants, the magical powers, but I had a lot less in the way of plot than I did for my first novel. When I started my only plot was: these characters will meet up (the good guys), they'll face these characters (the bad guys) and good will triumph over evil. Awful starting point, but it all fell into place.

If you're trying to decide how to write, look at the other things in your life. If you like things more orderly and planned, try a mostly plot ya stops approach. If you prefer to just get up and go, try the fly by night route.

Even though writers could argue forever which is "better", they all agree, they write best under the method they choose. It's a personal choice.

Which way do you fly?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Jewlia Goulia's giveaway

My blogger friend, Julia is having an awesome Sensory Overload Giveaway.

The items in her package well make your taste buds salivate, and your other senses do whatever the equivalent of salivating is for them. :)

Be sure to head on over and check it out.

Oh, and one of the best things about it, is that's she's going international! SO for those of you who don't live in the US (like me) and are sick of hearing valid for US residents only (like me), it's no worries!

Those who can't do, teach! STUUUUPPPPSE! (Momm)

First off, let me explain what a stupse is. At home, in the Caribbean, stupse is the sound made when you suck your teeth. The meaning of a stupse is the same as rolling your eyes, or saying, "Whatever."

Those who can't do, teach.

As a teacher, I hate this phrase. Heck, even before I was a teacher, I hated this phrase. It's an insult to all teachers. And an insult to all students.

If teachers teach, only because they can't do:

It would mean that they are not at all concerned with the welfare or enlightenment of their students, or at the most, concern for students is a peripheral effect.

It would mean that, as parents and students, we are satisfied knowing that those we entrust our children and our education to, are second-rate citizens.

It would mean that we accept less than the best, and are comfortable with would-be neurosurgeons being trained by failed pharmacists.

It would mean that those who they train are also doomed to failure.

It would mean that everyone in the teaching profession is a bitter waste, resenting the world, the society, their respective field and every one of their students.

I don't know about you guys, but I'd like to believe that my neurosurgeon (should I ever need one) was trained by a successful doctor in the field.

So I choose to believe that teachers teach because they can do. But in addition to being able to do, they find themselves called to something higher. Instead of just doing, and bringing acclaim to their own name, they subvert themselves to society. They choose to make a contribution to another generation, so that our quality of life may continue, and even get better.

What a noble calling: to give up your own fame and glory, face the ridicule of those who don't understand, and serve for the good of others!

Thank you teachers!

Monday, January 25, 2010


That's what I spent the entire day doing at our recent snowboard trip. Screaming. My vocal cords are sorer than any other part of my body.

It took mountains of courage to even put the boots on. I'd been on ski trips in my Coast Guard days, but I never actually went anywhere near the slopes. The only reason I went this time, is because Prince Charming dragged me. Still, my courage almost faltered. As soon as I stepped outside, a snowmobile came down the slope dragging an injured person in an orange body bag!

Btw, Prince Charming was awesome. He was my tutor all day long, devoting several hours to entertaining me on the last 100 m of the course. He was really patient with all my shrieking and freaking.

Snowboard experience number one was successful! By that I mean, I neither died nor killed anyone!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Full of character!

As I said in an earlier post, characters make all the difference between an okay story and a great one.

Most authors and screenwriters are smart enough to put a lot of effort into developing their Main Characters. But recently I've found that a hallmark of some of the stories which really touch me is the depth of the peripheral characters.

Paper characters shouldn't exist. Just like in real life, no matter how important or unimportant someone is to you, they still have a life completely independent of your point of view. They still have favourite colours, books, movies, songs; they stil have families who they love or hate or both; they still have triumphs and disappointments.

I'm just beginning to reread my first novel, for a first edit, and realising how paper thin one character is. The sad part is that, even though he's not the MC, he's the reason for the MC getting into her situation, and the book opens with him... :(

Back to the drawing board!

Must ... sleep... now...

I am fighting with insomnia. Almost every night since January 9th, I've gone to sleep between 2 am and 5. And I get up at 7 for work! I feel like hell, but I can't seem to get to sleep any earlier. No matter what time I physically go to bed.

To top it off tomorrow I'm skiing/snowboarding. I've never done either before.

Maybe the two will go well together. Maybe I'll be too worn out to freak out!

Daydreaming of nightdreaming :(

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Real Thing

Scamming has never been easier.

Once upon a time, if you wanted to set up a business scam, you had to go throught the process of finding a physical location to set up your business, and you'd have to have someone be there etc. It was an expensive process and a risky one.

These days, it takes nothing to fake it. A webpage, that you can design yourself, and you're on your way. Noone sees your face, and you're safe.

How does a consumer protect themself these days?

It's simple really. Before you jump in, check it out. It takes a few seconds longer, but it's worth it. You wouldn't buy a pair of shoes without trying them on would you?

There are companies that help you with this. You can easily search "Verification Software". These can check a websites security certificate.

Do an independent search of the company or person. I am always amazed when people forward emails to me with fraudulent information, then when I input it in a search engine, the first 20 results say hoax or virus.

If possible, call one of the phone numbers they list.

Look for links to other agencies you can trust, or umbrella organisations that the company belongs to.

Where's this all coming from? I just discovered a new literary agency. They're running a fiction contest, and I'm very tempted to enter. On top of that, they're a new agency. They probably don't have the volume of work that an older, established agency does, and it might be a foot in the door.

But I'm waiting to find out. Is it the real thing?

From the Pencils of Babes! (Fo!F)

As you guys already know, I currently live in Japan, where I teach English. That can be so entertaining at times!

One of my kids once wrote:

Whose penis this? (In Japan they don't leave spaces between words, so they miss the importance of correct spacing in English.)

And this week, I got another gem:

My girlfriend is the lovest of all the girls.


I personally think that's fantastic! I want my boyfriend to be the lovest of all the boys!

Today, I taught at my itty-bitty elementary. I love that school- 31 kids. It's like a big family. And because they're so few, the school will sometimes randomly take 3rd period off and do soemthing crazy like "Toy Festival" or "School Olympics". Plus we're like a family over there. Even me, the foreigner.

I was a bit surprised when several of the teachers came up and asked me if Barbados had any effects from the earthquake in Haiti. I'm always surprised when Japanese people have a clue, because they never follow international things. And I was also surprised, they thought it through long enough to remember that Haiti and Barbados are both in the Caribbean.

I guess I have taught Japan something. Or at least, I've taught the 8 staff members at that school.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Anybody out there????

I wonder what's up in the blogosphere. My feeds are pretty dead. It's like everyone went on vacation at the same time or something. Wonder if they're all hungover from Christmas...

Scanner or diver?

I don't fit the mould. In fact, I don't fit any mould ever. I guess none of us do. Some of us just feel it more than others.

For as long as I can remember, I've been on and off the beaten track. I've hardly ever done the things girls or Caribbean people or Black people were supposed to do. I've just done what I felt like right in that moment. Living life like that leads to all sorts of interesting things like training with the US Coast Guard, working with a passenger submarine, and teaching in Japan.

On Eagle, the USCGC tall ship

There is a downside to this sort of life. It's rather like chasing your tail. And even though that can be quite fun, you don't make a whole lot of progress running around in circles.

I spend a lot of time trying to "solve" this "problem". I do a lot of research into various personality theories to uncover what's "wrong". While I was in Australia, I came across Barbara Sher's book, "I could do anything if only I knew what it was". It sounded just perfect. I am well qualified. I have a Bachelor's degree in French and Spanish, certification in Event Planning, 2 years military experience, 5 years in Tourism, 3 years in teaching, and I speak 5 languages to varying degrees. I mean I really should be able to do anything. So why don't I?

In the book, Sher identifies several type of people, and then goes into what's holding them back. I am prety sure I fall under the scanner/diver category. Scanners and divers look the same to the naked eye. Scanning is skimming the surface. There are some people who like to know a little bit about everything as opposed to most people who prefer to know a lot about a few things. Those people are scanners.

A diver is just the opposite. They like to get as deep as possible into one thing. However, if for some reason, a diver can't dive, they scan. She gave three reasons for not diving. One stuck with me. A diver who never learned how to learn, will scan.

Never learned how to learn? Say what?

Not to toot my own horn, but I'm brilliant. I made it to the best high school on the island, got into the hardest school to get into in the US, got an honours degree from the university at home. I did all that and I only started studying in my second year of university. And I slept in EVERY single exam I ever did until my final year of university.

That might sound fantastic to you, BUT it means that if something looks like it might possibly require work, it goes out the window in a hurry. Why bother about hard work, when you get by just fine without it?

BECAUSE you only get by! You can't move forward or up. You just chase your tail forever.

But sometimes I wonder if I'm not a scanner instead...

I mean I don't really mind having bits and pieces in lots of areas. And I can't imagine ONLY doing one thing. FOREVER! You know how men freak out at the mention of forever? Well, I'm the female equivalent. Say forever, and I am out the door. I can't stay in a relationship, I can't stay in a country, I can't stay in a job, heck, in a working life of 12 years, I've been in 4 different fields! And I am only 28!

Relationshipwise: Guys start talking about forever and I find a way to sabotage. I dream of being married, but as soon as I am, my husband conveniently dies. If husbands are getting run over by trucks in my dreams, that's not a good sign.

Jobwise: I just stop working after a while and go into bare-mininum mode. Then a new pretty somethin catches my eye, and I'm off!

Locationwise: After being in a place for 2 years continuously, I start going stir crazy. I can fend it off by travelling, but short trips only work for so long.

The worst part: I have a son! I don't want ot drag him to the ends of the Earth every other year. But staying in one place is a fate worse than death.

I want to want it, but I don't. I want to want to be with a family forever, but I can't even imagine it. I want to want to live in one location, but I can't even pick a country. I want to have job stability, but I don't want to do the same thing every day.


I just tell myself God must have a purpose for me. And when I find that purpose, I'm going to nail it so hard, it's going to reverberate all around the world!

Hi, my name is Claire, and I'm a blog-aholic!

Okay, I'm not the blogging-est person out there. I usually only get on here to post 3 or 4 times a week. Still, I love it. I'm a writer and it gives me an opportunity to write. Plus I get really strong feelings about things and I feel like I have to spread the message.

But apart from all that, I think my blog saves me from going crazy!

I think a lot. By a lot, I mean, not a second of the day goes by when my brain is not engaged. If I am not doign something that requires my brain to be engaged, I am thinking. Puzzling out some great philosophical question, planning my life 40 years into the future, or dreaming up characters and premises for my stories- novels, screenplays, songs, etc.

It sounds kinda cool, but it's actually really difficult. The constant chatter in my brain. Could you imagine if someone sat next to you and chattered from the minute you opened your eyes til the moment you fell asleep? How long do you think you'd last before you screamed, "SHUT THE HECK UP!"

And the blog gives me an outlet. It gives me a reason to write down all the crazy thoughts. Hopefully, it will give them a reason to stop coming back, and eventually my brain will cound like the soothing rhythms of jazz instead of the jarring 24-hour Fran Drescher radio station it is right now!

But until then, my name is Claire, and I live being a blog-aholic!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The devil is in the details! (Waw)

Two weeks ago, I borrowed "You got served" from the video shop in Ninohe (the city North of mine). My neighbour laughed at me and asked if I was a teenager. Kiddie movie or not, I really enjoyed it. I love musicals, but I'd forgotten that the one thing that can possibly make me as happy as a musical is a dance movie. Two sides of the same coin really.

Last week I rented "How She Move."

It's a movie about a Jamaican-North American girl, Raya and her desires to escape the ghetto. While the story follows Raya, it also highlights the Caribbean-African-American artform of Step. Step is a type of dance which centers around making rhythms with your hands and feet and occasionally with props. It's like gangsta tap dance!

I love the movie. I've watched it every day since I got it. I love the triumph-whatever-the-odds story, I love the identifiable-even-though-I- never-lived-in-the ghetto characters. I love the fight to get ahead, but not leave yourself behind. I love the driving-rhythms-dance medium used to tell the tale. I'd never heard of anyone on the cast before, yet I thought they were all amazing. I was really pulled in. I thought the dialogue was well written. And I thought the characters were so deep, that I wanted to jump into the screen and hug them from time to time (Quake especially).

JSJ Team: L-R Bishop (Dwain Murphy), Quake (Brennan Gademans), Wayne (Daniel Morrison), Trey (Shawn Desman), Manny (Tristan D. Lalla), Raya (Rutina Wesley)

As an aspiring writer, I show respect where it's due. I'm recently in the habit of noticing not directors of films so much as actors. I mean people are always raving about directors, but it's a partnership. Great writer+ great director+ great actors+etc= great movie!

So I looked up the writer. Her name is Annemarie Morais. Other than the fact that whe went to York, you'd be hard-pressed to find any info about her. (Now I understand what Nathan was saying.) Writers, you NEED to have an internet presence.

Anyway, as I searched, I uncovered one site that called the plot formulaic. It bugged me a little, but I pride myself on being the type that tries to be objective.

You've got your trynna make it out the ghetto bit
You've got the whole young person OD'ing bit
You've got your bristling, barely under the surface attraction between two characters
You've got the older brother, who can't see the worth in his younger brother and the younger brother, who would eat two Jamaican hot peppers for his brother's respect. Literally.

Ok, yeah, maybe it is a little formulaic. And then my mind jumped back to another time I'd heard the same argument. A few weeks ago, after seeing and loving Avatar, I heard it referred to as "3D Pocahontas".

And maybe it is. But you know what, that doesn't matter in the least. It's still great! And so is How She Move!

All stories fit into categories: Love, Crime, Action, Drama, Comedy, Thriller, Horror etc. Recently, most of them have a 3 act structure. Problem-Work hard-Solution-Collapse-New and better solution sorta thing. Breaking news: Stories are formulaic things!

On top of all that, we're at least 2000 years into the existence of this planet. People have been telling stories since before the Year 1. There's no way we can have completely new ideas. The best we can do, as writers, and artists in general, is hope to put a new shine on and old toy.

It's a thin line. How can we stay on the right side of it? The side where we have people exclaiming, "Heavens to Mergatroid! That was fantastic!" instead of "Dizamm! Not another one!" What makes "How She Move" a great movie? I said it earlier- loveable characters, quality writing, original medium, relevance, identifiability etc.

You CAN teach an old dog new tricks. The devil, my friend, is in the details!


That's a Japanese word which literally means "longed for" or "missed". For example, if someone was talking about the good old days in school, they might say, "Aah, natsukashii!"

Today was my first day back at school. In Japan, teachers don't technically get school vacations off. So we still have to go to work. On my program, JET, people who teach in Junior High and elementary school are based in the Board of Education, so we spend our school vacations, sitting in the board, doing a lot of nothing.

Yesterday, on my last day at the BOE, I was really not looking forward to going back to school. Even though, it's the short term, it would mean that I would actually have to work, instead of sitting in an office working on my novel all day.

So I was rather surprised to find that I was happy as I turned into the school's parking lot. As per usual, the school's only special education student was standing out front. She shrieked "HELLO" across the lot, and in that instant I realised how much I'd missed my babies, all 440 of them (among 4 schools- 1 JHS, 2 elementaries and a kindergarten). I missed the crazy JHS third grader who bursts into giggles every single time he sees me. I missed my 4th graders from the big elementary, who learn lines like "Hey Baby!" from movies, so they can greet me with them. I missed the crazy teacher at that same elementary who speaks fantastic English, because that's what he studied in university, but who refuses to be an English teacher, because he, "hates grammar". I missed my itty-bitty elementary (31 kids) and all the crazy antics.

And then I realised it's term 3. In Japan the terms are pretty much the same as in the West, but the school year starts in April. My kids will be graduating in March. Graduation always turns me into a faucet. Even at the elementary schools, and the kindergarten, where the kids feed into my other schools, so it's not really goodbye.

Apart from back to school, January is also another important landmark for us JETs. In early February, we have to decide whether we will recontract for the next year, starting in August. It's a difficult choice, because from February to July the following year, is essentially signing away 18 months of your life.

I have a lot of practical reasons to stay.

1. It's a stable job, which you pretty much can't be fired from, or have a pay cut.
2. I need to raise money for my Masters.
3. I have lots of free time to write and study.

But today, I realised what might be the greatest reason of all, even though I hadn't considered it before. There's really no way to describe it in English, so I'll just use the Japanese.


Monday, January 18, 2010

What? The King of the World? MoMM

As a writer, I like to watch how others weave stories together. I do it subconsciously as a study of sorts. How do certain plot devices make me feel. While some parts of story-telling are medium-specific, the art itself, spreads across forms- from books, to movies, to music, and so on.

I've just finished watching some of my anime, and it got me to thinking about some of the things we allow in various types of storytelling that are:

a. not permissible in other forms of stories
b. completely unreal
c. stereotypical

After watching today's instalments of Bleach, One Piece, and Naruto I realised how many times they pull a Deus Ex Machina. Deus Ex Machina is latin for God from the machine. Centuries ago, when storytelling was still young, if your characters got themselves in a fix they couldn't get them out of it, no worries. Just insert random superpower and fix the problem. You don't need to explain where random superpower came from. That was cool back then.

It's not cool now, except in anime, were it happens all the time.

How often is there a fight scene, where the "bad guy" proves to be too strong and the "goodies" pull a new move out of the hat mid-fight? Where did that move come from? We've been following every minute of your training for the last several months, you can't just develop a new move without us knowing. And if you had this new move, why not use it early? No, you wait til your energy's almost expended and the bad guys have pummeled you into the ground.

Luffy in Gear Second- a move invented midfight in Enies Lobby

And of curse there is the random insertion of new information. It's like "Oh, you've killed everybody, and dominated everywhere, but you don't win yet- look, here's the King of the World!" And you wonder, if you've gotten to this stage, why you never knew about the King of the World before. I mean one of his citizens should have mentioned him. Or you should have seen his picture somewhere. He shouldn't be a secret for you to stumble upon.

In this category, you'll find Impel Down and Enies Lobby in One Piece, the higher levels of hollow in Bleach, Uchiha Itachi, Uchiha Madara and the Jinchuriki in Naruto. Seriously, let's think about these things. A pirate who doesn't know about the justice system. A good guy who only knows about the 1st of 3 levels of bad guys. Or not explaining characters who are central to the story and have always existed.
Ulquiorra- one of the Arrancar in Bleach.

Another thing that I noticed is weather control. Ever notice how, when a character says something really deep (in live action) or just before two characters fight (in anime) the wind suddenly whips up and their hair is ruffled? Because the likelihood of micro-tornados is directly proportional to badadassness. ACK!

While these things annoy me, I appreciate why they work. One Piece, for example, has been running for ten years, and there's a need to introduce new information, because the story would have gotten boring by now.

But even if I understand them, they're a lesson in what not to do for me. It's okay for anime, and even film, to be stereotypical. Less so for books. A lesson in craft. My character's problems need to seem insurmountable, but they have to triumph, in a way that obeys the laws of our world. Even in science-fiction and fantasy, they still need to obey some of the same rules. Stuff can not crawl out of the woodwork and save them.

And that's what's on my mind this Monday!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Crap! Ookyook! (FoF)

That's how I feel right now. Ookyook be damned. (It's fuyu in Japanese, and snow is yuki- which is the best word I know for snow.) On Wednesday there was so much snow that the train took 15 minutes to make a 6 minute trip to the next stop. There's another 40 minutes of train line North of that stop. They didn't even bother to try, they just cancelled the Northern part of the line.

Here's a picture from one of my schools last year when we had a normal amount of snow. This year, we had about 18 inches in 8 hours. It was ridiculous.

As if that isn't bad enough, it is -7 degrees celcius! IN MY HOUSE!!!

That's right. In my house. Japan hasn't been on the insulation bandwagon too long, so only houses built in the last 15 or so years tend to be insulted. Except, it seems in Hokkaido, the northernmost island.

I live about 4 hours by train south of Hokkaido, and every year we drop down to -10 or lower in winter. For those of you in the North midwest USA or in Canada, -10 Celcius (14 F) is nothing. I agree. Except we you go inside your houses, it's nice and warm, and when I go inside my house, it's so cold I have to put my toothpaste in my fridge to keep it from freezing!

Today my washing machine froze in 3 places. The drain froze and I had to beat it open with a broom. The hose froze and I had to melt the contents with hot water. That took about 20 mins pouring in water and draining it off. And it froze inside the basin, so I had to reach in elbow-deep in freezing cold water and manually unclog it. I can't take it!!! I'm generally a good tenant, but I think I'm going to go grumble to my supervisor on Monday. I can't keep living in fear of losing my toes.

And now that I got that off my chest: a little fun. Asians are notorious for mixing up the l sound and r sound. I can't speak for the rest of Asia, but in Japan, there's only one sound. They write it as 'r' but it's somewhere between the two sounds we use in English.

Last week, we had a demonstration lesson for the Elementary school teachers in our area. This is from the lesson plan.

In case you can't see clearly, the last line says "cRap your hands." I almost choked trying not to laugh out loud.

Sorry I'm late this Far Away Friday, but things have been crazy busy.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

WaW- Mas vale estar en la cabeza del raton...

...que en la cola del leon.

It's a Spanish proverb, which means, " It's worth more to be in the rat's head than in the lion's tail."

This proverb came to mind while I was thinking about something I saw in a movie yesterday. Recently I've been all over dance movies, so I watched Center Stage. At the beginning of the film, people audition to become a part of a ballet academy, and the film follows their year at the school. Before they have their first class, the director asks for the new students to raise their hands. About 15 hands go up. Then he asks for those who were the best at their last school to raise their hands. The same 15 hands go up!

It reminded me of my secondary school days. In primary school, I was top 3. Literally. I was one of 3 kids who alternated between coming first, second and third, every term. Every Single Term.

Barbados still uses the Common Entrance exam. You Brits will know what that means. For every one else, at the end of primary school, there's an exam and you go to a school based on your score and the school's you chose. The ranking is decided by the choices of the parents. If every single parent picks a certain school as their first choice, then only the top ranked kids get in. I got in to the top ranked school.

I immediately went from top 3, to just another kid. Head of the rat to tail of the lion.

Because of the intense competition, classes didn't have positions. But individual subjects had places. I don't think I ever came first again.

That's what it feels like trying to break in as a professional writer. I've been through years and years of being told how good I am. I've won prizes- at my college in the US, at my college in Barbados, and even at a national level on the island, yet managed not to even get an honourable mention in an online contest with THIRTY entrants last week.

It makes me think...

Is it really better to stay in the rat's head? I could easily be the biggest fish in a little pond.

Or are there perks of the lion's tail? Maybe one should take it as an opportunity to learn, to compete, to grow.

And maybe, just maybe, one day, I might even find myself up there with the J.K. Rowling's, the James Patterson's, and the Stephen King's. A household name. In the Lion's Head!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Married in Fiction

I was watching Bleach (an anime, for those of you who don't follow them) and I realised that none of the captains in the show are married. Then I realised that I couldn't think of any major anime characters who were married, except for those from the Dragon Ball Series. It made me wonder if Japan were suggesting that life ends when you get married.

When I approached my coworkers with the hypothesis, Caleb (another English teacher here) pointed out that there weren't really many cool married people in tv and film, outside of sit-coms, which often talk about family life. I'd theorise (blindly) that at least half the adult population, has been or is married. Yet there doesn't seem to be any demand for protagonists who are married.

What are we saying here?

Are married people not interesting enough?
Does marriage mean life is over?
Don't we want to hear stories of people like us?


The Twelve Pounds of Christmas

Christmas is the time of year when people gather round their loved ones and celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ. For some, less religious or not religious at all, it's a time to see people they haven't seen in a while and to exchange presents with those who are important to them.

But for weightwatchers everywhere, Christmas is a dance with the devil.

Things like these appear on tables across the world, tempting people who've avoided over-eating all year round. 'Tis the season for packing on the pounds.

Maybe as a direct result of Christmas, one of the most popular New Year's Resolutions is weight-loss/fitness/diet. As a said earlier, I don't do resolutions for New Year's, but I am at the point where I need to make a revolution with several things in my life.

I gained 6 kilos over Christmas- that's about 13 pounds for those of you who need the conversion. Thir-frikking-teen!!! I don't know how. I didn't overeat. I guess it must have to do with the fac that I ate more sweets and drank more wine than I usually do, as well as eating more meat (Japan is a starch country).

Whatever the reason, the recent scale-tipping activity has forced me to get back on the fitness bandwagon.

Just yesterday, I discovered a new fitness program, the Fat Burning Furnace. I'm pretty excited, because some of the things the guy is saying line up with things I've known for years. Like the secret to diet, is not to starve or eat low carbs or low protein or only grapefruits, but to eat the correct number of calories, every day. And the secret to weight loss? Intensity. I'm not going to give away all the secrets, but it definitely piqued my interest. I'm going to try to put in 12 weeks with this program and see wear it gets me.

Hopefully, I'll never have to worry about the twelve pounds of Christmas again.

Chicken and the Egg- MoMM

We all know about the chicken and egg dilemma. Which came first: the chicken and the egg. Eggs come from chickens and chickens come from eggs... The actual chicken and egg are a non-issue for me. I believe God made chickens and that's where eggs came from. Even those who are non-believers, would probably think that the chicken came first. Just because babies need mommies to take care of them.

In life, we're often faced with real chicken-and-egg dilemmas. I remember in school hearing my cousins and friends who were a little older than me talk about the situation they were facing, where they needed experience to get a job, but needed a job to get experience.

Over the last few months, I've decided that I want to do my Masters in Writing. And now I find myself in a tight spot. I didn't do Writing or even English as my undergraduate degree, and the programs all want references from accomplished writers. The only way I would have access to accomplished writers/editors/publishers, would be if I was already in the industry or a program! ACK!

Chicken or egg- something HAS to come first!

That's what's on my mind this Monday.

Friday, January 8, 2010

FoF- Western Australia

I had a beautiful time in Western Australia. There were a lot of crazy unusual animals, and I got to meet the "long-lost" fam. It was great!

One of the roo's hanging out on the golf course at my grandmother's Country Club.

I went to the beautiful beach and tried surfing (and sucked-lol, but I'm not giving up yet)

Here I am with a goanna!

Rum and Raisin and Maple -something at Simmo's in Dunsburough.

Simmo's had some crazy signs.

And a bonus: An emu!
Strange Aussie outlets. I like that you can turn the power off at the outlet though.
Uncle Tim, showing me his car, the oldest in the world I think. lol. 30 years old, in case you wondered.

Christmas morning. Jerry (my grandmother's husband) is Santa Claus-ing. On the left is Vaile, my grandmother, backing is my Super-Hero greatgran, Marney (89 and still driving!), and Uncle Tim( 5 years my senior).

In Australia, you can license your car to say whatever, so long as it's unique to your car!

Christmas Lunch with the whole crazy lot at Rebecca's.

Tim, wearing half the decorations off the table.

Redback and egg- I'm told this is the 2nd most deadly spider in Australia. Every gathering we'd end up talking ticks, spiders, snakes, crocs, sharks, or some other thing that could kill or make life miserable...

18 hours of sleep, 5 hours eating, 1 hour of sex! Who wants to be a koala?

Bye Granny!

Even the roo's on my grandmother's property came out to say goodbye
and the flies...

This must lead to STD drive- lol!

Only foreigners have AIDS. You don't need to use a condom at home.

And the best sign of my trip!
So that was my time in Western Australia.

This is Claire, signing out. Remember, let the sun shine out of your buns!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

WaW- Starting the year off Right!

Well, all my writing world friends seem to be starting the year off with a bang.

Nathan Bradsford, Agent/blogger extraordinaire is running a contest to promote one of his client's books, "The Secret Year", which is being released this week. Much of the narrative is the diary of a dead teenager, and his challenge to us writer-cygnets is to write a diary entry 500 words or less, in a teenage voice.

Natalie Whipple, one of Nathan's client's and supercool author/artist/blogger is hosting her own contest. Write a story of 500 words or less about this picture.

(See what I meant about being an awesome artist?)

Marsha Sigman, aspriring author starts her year out with some tips from "Writing the Breakout Novel" by Donald Maas.

Me? I'm starting my writing year by adding the prologue to my last WIP and emailing to a friend for feedback. But before I do that I have to write entries for Natalie's and Nathan's contests. And then I have to write a poem to do at a Balck History month reading in Tokyo.

How are you guys starting your writing year?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Bajan songstresses take the world by storm! (MomM)

I am a Barbadian, or Bajan as we call ourselves. I come from the most Easterly of the islands of the Caribbean, Barbados.

Ten years ago, if you knew Barbados, it was because you wanted to vacation or retire there.

Now, you might know it because of one of 3 powerhouses who call the island home! Probably for the first time ever, 3 Barbadian singers have been on the International music charts.

1. Rihanna (Robyn Rihanna Fenty)

She broke onto the scene back in 2005 with "Pon de Replay". This year she made headlines after a public altercation with then-boyfriend, Chris Brown the night before the grammies.

This year she charted on the Jay-Z/Kanye collab "Run this Town" and on T.I's "Live your life"
and then on her very own "Russian Roulette".

2. Shontelle (Shontelle Layne)
The next Bajan Diva to burst onto the scene was singer-songwriter, Shontelle. She released her debut album "Shontelligence" last year. The lead single "T-shirt" made the Top 10 in the UK. She opened for Beyonce on the UK leg of the tour. This year she collaborated with Akon for "Stuch with Each Other" featured on the Confessions of a Shopaholic soundtrack. (PS I actually went to school with Shontelle. My brother went to school with Rihanna. Wow, that makes Barbados sound really small, doesn't it? lol)

3. Livvi Franc (Olivia Charlotte Waithe)

British-Barbadian Livvi Franc released her first single "Now I'm that Bitch" in mid 2009. The video, featuring Pitbull, is CRAZY HOT!!!

I also love her song "Free" because it feels like Barbados to me.

Barbados: 270,000 people (yes, we're one of the densest populations in the world), 14 miles by 21- 166 square... just a little rock... but I'm so proud to call myself a Bajan!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

International Date Line? Meh!

Well, I made it back from Australia- safe and sound and in one piece. I was supposed to be hanging out with Prince Charming in Tokyo, at his family. However they decided instead of Saturday in Tokyo, they'd hang out Sunday in Saitama. That would have involved jumping through too many hoops and I've already decided 2010 is not a year for hoops.

So instead of booking a night bus for Sunday night as originally planned, I took the Shinkansen (bullet train) back on Friday night. I got back to my capital late that same night and stayed in a hotel since I'd already missed the last train to my town. Thankfully, I had my credit card with me, because silly Japanese ATM's have a bedtime. (5 pm on weekends and holidays. GRRR!)

Anyhow, I made my way back to my town Saturday morning, and spent the grand majority of the day in bed reading Marian Keyes "Brightest Star in the Sky" (which I loved, by the way).

I woke up this morning, showered, dressed, ate breakfast, and set off for work. Walking up the road, I think it funny that I'm only seeing the Chinese from the shop going to work. Usually, there are lots of people around at 8 am. Wait just a cane-cutting minute! I yank my keitai (cellphone) out of my pocket and flip it open. The calendar pops up.


Who needs help from an International Date Line? Meh! I can screw up days all by myself!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Not so New Year Resolutions!

I don't do New Year's resolutions. Partly because I generally have a hard time keeping promises to myself any time of year. Partly because I think it's kind of arbitrary...

Either way, a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was going to try an accountability deal, I read about on Randy Ingermason's website. I haven't actually put it into motion, but here are the things I will be making myself accountable for:

1. Writing
Write or edit 4 days a week.
Blog 3 days a week.

2. Languages
Study Japanese 4 days a week.
Refresh Spanish, French or Italian 1 day a week.

3. Fitness
Work out 4 days a week.

4. Cleaning
Clean once a week.

I've got an exercise book and made it into a register of sorts to record what I do and when. Everytime I miss out on one of the categories, I will put 500 yen into a bottle, and I will give the contents of that bottle over to a charity/friend at the end of the year.

I'm really hoping this helps me stick with it, because I really need to stick with something. I'm getting too old to keep chasing my tail.

Happy New Year peoples. Here's hoping that you manage to grow over the next 365 days!