Swimming Through the Cesspool

I was having a conversation with a game developer friend of mine recently (aspiring – still learning the ropes, and there are many of them) about the problem with stagnation in the video game industry. It’s sort of funny how often you see a lot of people talking about these enormously successful game franchises with such blatant contempt – even gamers themselves who actively play them. A lot of what is being churned out again and again by these immense companies is the equivalent of completely forgettable action movies, he says to me. Where are the other genres? Where are the games that are trying to push the medium forward? How will games ever be taken seriously if they keep resorting to formulas and tired tropes that seem to cater mostly to twelve-year-old boys (or men who think like them)?

Although the games industry has its own set of problems to confront, I don’t think this one is particularly unique. Because, just like all other forms of media, there’s always going to be copious amounts of entirely forgettable, expendable trash. Most of it will be mindless escapism because that’s usually what people want when they sit down with a piece of entertainment – an enjoyable respite from reality. A lot of it will also be safe and rely on formulas because people who sink so much of their time, money, and energy in creating it obviously want to see it get something back. Familiarity is often the ideal because there’s less chance to offend and challenge the audience. There’s less risk-taking because creators are just too afraid (especially if they’re aspiring) or too comfortable (if it works, why not keep milking it?). Movies and television suffer from this issue too.

But I get it. It’s easy to get lost in the cesspool sometimes and forget that there is also incredible art out there too. I think it’s extremely important to point out what things need to change in all media in order to make any progress (in the case of my friend’s problem: why aren’t there more black protagonists in games?). These challenges need to be acknowledged. But it’s not enough to just talk about it – we also need to make our own books, movies, games, and share them with others as much as possible. I think it’s much more important to focus specifically on what you enjoy most (and what you’re good at) and to never apologize for these passions. If there’s a relatively unknown book or movie or game that you’ve fallen in love with, tell your friends about it! Spread the love. Help make it seem worthwhile and get it the recognition that it’s due. Don’t just criticize – create as much as you can yourself. If you have a friend like I do that needs some help getting the word out, share it with anyone who you think might give a damn.

Internship, First Ever Publications, Guest Blogging Adventures

I’ve been keeping quiet lately about some of my projects because I haven’t been sure of what’s going to happen and what isn’t. I didn’t want to build myself up only to have myself torn down before anything was even clarified. My god, I’m still so incredibly insecure. But I guess I’m still nervous because this is the first time I’m having anything of mine published. Fortunately, things have been going fairly well and I feel confident enough now to divulge some of these things:

  1. I’m now an intern over at Hobart. My job is to help read and review some of the submissions. This is my first time helping out with any kind of literary journal. Currently I’ve been reading through novellas. I recently heard about how some of the stories that have appeared in Hobart are going to be anthologized this year in The Best American Short Stories series, which is pretty exciting.
  2. I’ve been working on an essay/book review of the novel Zazen by Vanessa Veselka. Specifically, it focuses on characters raised in dystopian societies who refuse to rebel. It’s supposed to run in Paste, although I’m not sure when exactly yet.
  3. I finished writing a guest post for Read.Learn.Write. It’s about my attempts at converting non-readers (specifically, my family) into readers, as well as my own awkward stumbling into the habit of reading. There is a backlog of guest bloggers, but I’ll let you know when it goes up.
  4. I submitted a short story to Little Fiction, but I’m not sure when it will be going up. It might not be for a while. What drew my attention to them originally was the idea of “listerature,” which is a short story form – popularized by Jennifer Egan – written in the form of a list. I decided to try it out myself and liked what came out of it. There’s already been a compilation of listerature already, so maybe they’ll include mine in the next collection.

Carousel #4

  1. I came across the story of Joyce Carol Vincent, a 38-year-old woman from London who died alone at home and whose skeleton wasn’t discovered until three years later. It’s horrible to think how this could possibly happen, and probably happens a lot more than we think. I think the most awful part for me is the fact that she was wrapping Christmas gifts when she died – it’s clear that she cared for some people in her life enough and thought they cared for her, but  how mistaken she was in the latter.
  2. An online acquaintance of mine, Swankivy, made a video about frequent grammatical mistakes sometimes even writers and well-read people can make. Check it out – you may be surprised by what you didn’t know.
  3. I discovered the fantastic slice-of-life full-color comics of Melinda Boyce. So lovely and charming. She first drew my attention when she did a drawing of Anaïs. She also has a Kickstarter project where you can get copies of her comics.
  4. Aubrey Plaza, an actress several friends of mine have fallen in love with, is now working on a young adult novel. My sister and I only really know her as Julie from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. I wonder if her characteristic snarkiness will be a part of that high school experience she describes. I know it was a part of mine!
  5. Writer Edan Lepucki is starting a new column for The Millions in which she will be answering letters from writers. She’s asking people to send in questions. Seems pretty useful!
  6. Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison spoke about how her life isn’t interesting enough for a memoir. Kind of shocked, since I’m sure anything she writes would be worth reading, regardless. Always inspiring.
  7. I came across this article on how people’s brains are stimulated by reading good fiction. Among the observations made are: how reading affects multiple, critical areas of the brain, how vivid imagery and metaphors stimulate the sensory cortexes (and not cliches), and how reading novels is an excellent way to improve one’s empathy and understanding of the world. I’m not entirely surprised by any of these results, but it’s always nice to have scientific evidence for support.

Writing for Yourself

After all this time, I’ve never really kept a private journal for myself. I mean, I wrote stories in black-and-white composition books when I was little and I had my own online journal when I was a teenager (still kind of do), but other people always read these things.  My family and teachers enjoyed reading my books and my friends commented on my journal. There was always this audience, even though I claimed to be writing for myself.

Well, I’ve finally decided to change that and start writing in a simple brown notebook that no one knows about. No one knows about it and no one reads it. It’s only for my unfiltered, unedited thoughts. There aren’t any stories, just these wide strokes of feelings vomited on to the page. I don’t plan on articulating myself properly with this – it’s mostly just for therapy. Looking back on everything else, I don’t know why I haven’t done this sooner. I don’t know why I didn’t find a place for this before. No big deal I guess, except for how strange it suddenly makes me feel and how it’s made me realize that maybe I haven’t really been writing what I feel, and how, maybe, I’ve still been a bit too safe in how I go about it.

If someone finds it, I’m not going to act like a teenager. If they read it, they can be horrified or disgusted or amused. Probably a combination of all the above.

It’s also made me realize how awful I am in verbalizing my own feelings. I can’t seem to spit anything out. I usually end up laughing because it makes me so uncomfortable. Maybe it makes me scared. Either way, I seem to treat my emotions like they aren’t really my emotions. Writing about them in a fictional way has never been difficult, but writing about them without the fiction is something entirely different.

Carousel #3

I don’t have much to post here this week because I’ve been busy working on writing things and spending less time just scouring the internet. Hopefully I’ll have things to post about my writing soon. Anyway, enjoy!

  1. I stumbled across the artwork of Baran Sarigul. Love when metaphors and symbols become real and lush like this. Particularly here and here.
  2. Writer Jonathan Franzen has notorious unpopular opinions and one of these is being stubbornly opposed to all forms of social networking. The thing is, he’s already a well-known writer and he doesn’t even know (or has to know) a thing about it. Roxane Gay wrote this excellent post that pretty much encapsulates my opinions as well.
  3. Infamous Latina writer Isabel Allende visited my alma mater and discussed her books, the writing process, language, her family, her idea of being a stranger in a strange culture, and feminism. Charming and outright hilarious woman.
  4. My friend Nikki recently discovered the website Least Helpful, which seeks out the internet’s least helpful (and most hilarious) product reviews. Just take a glance at those reviews of Animal Farm. Do people like this actually exist on this planet?
  5. Here is a short list of recommended books for teenagers who want to be better writers. I’ve only read His Dark Materials, but this seems like a pretty decent list (The Shadow of the Wind is sitting on my bookshelf though!).