Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Uneventful but Productive

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Neil Gaiman everyday keeps boredom and bad dreams away! :D

Guess it’s time for another RL update.

April has been pretty run of the mill. We encountered some problems regarding our internship, but everything has been sorted out lately. We were supposed to start our OJT at Cedar Media, a tri-media company Sir Gil Santos referred us to, this week but we postponed it because of some matters getting in the way (I mean that one went down like a lead balloon—I received a text message early in the morning saying ‘you may start this afternoon’ and well, we were kind of swamped recently *teehee* we were waiting for other companies to respond and a classmate’s going in Cavite for Confirmation).

This does not mean the work does not start today, though. I’m currently working on a narrative report about Masbate and the vote-buying and one-day-millionaire system that abound in it during elections period, and my deadline is on Thursday. Sir Peter and other staff members will leave for Masbate on Friday for field research. So far I don’t know what other parts we will play in this documentary-making, but I hope they will let us explore other aspects of the project aside from writing.

We also applied for OJT in three other journalism-related companies last week. I hope one will consider us…we are not actually planning to finish our OJT in Cedar (we have been promised full immersion in the project but we’re kinda…uh, skeptical about it…but what the hell, we can’t be picky lol!).

Anyhoo, our Cedar sched will only fill in small portions of our day so I guess it won’t hurt to apply for another OJT. *smiles sheepishly*

So basically, without anything else to do, I spent the whole month of April bookworming, tumblr-ing, and writing. Neil Gaiman and a tall glass of Halo-halo is a perfect combo on scorching hot afternoons; I can’t remember a day getting bored when these two are in my hands. I haven’t started J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye yet because I’m still binging on Good Omens (Gaiman and Pratchett) and on American Gods (review coming soon)—I’m jotting down some quotable quotes and sketching fanarts for my favorite scenes. Do give these books a try, they are all worth the time! Pick Good Omens if you want something that will make you crack up every page and American Gods if you want something dark and heavy—man, I met almost all the deities in Norse, Egyptian…even in Arabian mythology! Nerdy time, yaay! Lol.

Anyway aside from the aforementioned activities, I have also commenced ‘attempting’ to beef up my résumé (lolol). As of yesterday I’ve joined two writing competitions—one’s children story writing (which I think is made of fail, I wrote that entry two hours before the deadline, half-asleep, fought writer’s block with all my might…just thinking about it makes my writer spirit pant LOL) and the other one's essay writing. I’m feeling no luck in winning either but they will still accrete my activities list on my résumé. Tonight I’m completing my entry for yet another competition; I have penned seven poems already—eight poems to go and I can finally submit the set. I’m also not expecting this to win, but who knows? I don’t. :P

I think reading a lot of books contributed a lot to my writings. Being an aspiring writer/journalist-in-training, I always make it a point to have three goals in my mind when reading: one, to enjoy the story; two, to scrutinize the style of the author; and three, to apply what I learned from what I read. In the end I always write a review or critical analysis of a piece to check myself and to keep practicing critical thinking—Sir Gil taught us that. It doesn’t mean I should stop analyzing just because I have already finished the course subject that required it. So far it’s getting better. I consider it a preparation for my thesis subject this semester.

Update ends here!
Mission accomplished.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Summertime, Springtime [For Debbie Part III)

(sequel to Is Summer Over?)

Time is a cruel teacher. It ticks away too fast when you think you’re enjoying the life lessons you’re given, and without a warning it slows down—it’s a torture, I tell you—when you’re in the examination period. You look down, and all you see on the paper are questions like “how many shards can your heart break into?” or “are you sure you’re willing to endure the pain?” It’s always like that. There will come a period when you’ll realize life’s not just about laughter; you will suffer, and it’s going to hurt badly. But in the end it’s you who will get the prize, who will benefit. You learn, and when you get the pattern, the next exam’s going to be a piece of cake.

I learned. I think he learned, too.

“You’ve changed a lot,” he said with a tilt of head and a ghost of a smile. He dragged the chair from my study table and slumped on it. “You really did.”

“Look who’s talking,” I responded, rolling my eyes. “I think you’ve sort of…grown up. Stop grinning like that, I’m not talking about the growth spurt. It’s as if I’m not talking to the ‘you’ I’ve known before. You’re not the you who left last summer.”

His smile grew wider. “Tell me then. Do you think I changed for good?”

I mirrored his smile. “I think you changed for the better.”

We spent the next few minutes grinning at each other like morons, letting minutes trickle between us like a clear little brook. No matter how cliché it may sound, I think it’s still true that time heals. The calendar pages I’d torn, the wordless ticking of the clock—or was it the beating of my heart?—that we’re sharing then…it’s all part of the process, of the lesson I’ve been taught. Way to go, Professor Time. You’re the greatest mentor I ever had.

“Say,” he broke the silence, “since when did you become a geeky little lass? I mean, this,” he gestured toward my desk, which was covered with opened textbooks and crumpled yellow paper, “I’ve never seen you doing this before.”

“Necessity calls for it,” I replied. “I’m a senior college student now, you know. There’s time for mindless frolicking and there’s time for seriousness. Today falls on the latter category.”

His face curled up in a grin that could rival the Cheshire Cat’s. “Summer the nerd?”

“Summer the responsible,” I snapped.

He swatted my arm playfully and I cringed in mock-pain. After a round of pointless giggling, he slouched to the chair and waved a hand vaguely.

“All right, all right, catching up time,” he suggested. “Me first. I decided to go back to school this coming June. It does call for some kind of celebration, eh? My treat in the beer garden later, I’ll tell the guys. Things have been messed up lately but everything’s slowly falling in place, thank goodness. I’ve put up a band last November and I’ve penned the majority of our songs in our first EP—I’ll give you a copy next time—and I’m playing bass.”

I waited expectantly for more.

“Well, that’s it. Pretty uneventful, huh? It took me forever to move on from my childish soul-searching stuff and by the time I resurface to reality, I got to fix hundreds of stuff I left, say, broken and messed up.” He shrugged. “Which almost took me another forever. It’s awful, but in the process I think I help myself grow up. Well…how about you?”

“It’s pretty much uneventful too, really. Aside from the baby theses and school crap, I don’t have much to do. Every once in a while I organize photo sessions and I enjoy it, it’s kind of a stress-reliever. And then…well, I think I…found my personal springtime.”

Both of us knew what that meant.

“Summer meets Springtime, hmm?”

I nodded.

He crossed his skinny arms over his chest. “Tell me about it.”

I fell silent for a while. Well, my springtime—Lentz is his name and the little bastard cheerfully told me, oh fate, his name came from a German poetic term for Spring—is very much like the real thing. A season that comes after a sorrowful fall and cold winter. I don’t believe in destiny before, and bumping into Lentz is some kind of a punch in the nose. It woke me up from my bitter slumber. I have to admit that his demigod-like features and exceptional kindness are something an average girl would drool over, but there was something in him that was more than what other people see…

“Summer?”

I shook my head and blinked. “Oh. Yes. About springtime.”

He crossed his legs. “Well?”

I admired how there was no trace of sullenness in his voice or his face. He even appeared to be happy about it.

“Well, it’s the season that comes after winter,” I said with a shrug. “And we don’t have it here in our country, because, yeah, the only season here is hot summer and hotter summer.”

He laughed, and in that instant I felt as if he knew who Lentz was. “Good ol’ girl.” He stood up, slouched beside me, and arched one arm over my shoulder. “I’m happy for you,” he whispered to my ear.

And I knew he was. If Time would pick the best student, I think he’d choose him.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

[Faux] Review: Good Omens

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Nowadays, when I plunge into the info superhighway or when I just lurk around a local bookstore, it’s almost impossible not to find something that relates to the end of the world. Internet memes discussing the Last Generation, tomes about 2012 rapture and Nostradamus’ prophecies…there are even a bunch of flicks about the coming Armageddon. Bogus or not, it’s clear that people are drawn to this topic; most of them, I have to say, are now panic-stricken and are readying for the last days.

In my case, it’s different. When I hear someone pronounce the word “apocalypse”, my face will curl up in a toothy grin because a certain creation of two literary rock stars will automatically pop in my head. It’s called Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch.

What’s so funny about the end of the world, you ask? Terry Pratchett (Father of the Discworld series) and Neil Gaiman (Creator of The Sandman graphic novels) illustrate all answers to that in this droll masterpiece and cult classic. The story is about, well, the end of the world…or perhaps how Heaven and Hell comprehend the ineffable plan of God about the day of reckoning, and how a hassled demon messes the whole thing up by a switch-at-birth mistake. The infant Antichrist ends up in the care of the wrong family—away from heavenly or demonic influences—and grows up to be a normal child, resulting in a series of events that will undoubtedly make the reader laugh out loud.

I’ve always been smitten with the Book of Revelation as far as I can remember. There is something in it that appeals to me—oh, yes, I did spend some time before obsessively attempting to decipher the metaphors or to figure out what a leviathan or a behemoth really is—and I think it has contributed a lot to the fact that my cup of tea today when it comes to literature is apocalyptic, paranormal, and science fiction. Neil Gaiman is my favorite author of all time (and my hero, his myriad of works inspired me to be a writer), so when I found out that he penned a book about the end of the world, you wouldn’t imagine how high my fangirl heart leapt.

I think the genius of Good Omens is that at its heart, it is more than just a four-hundred-page of bon mots and silliness; its satiric foundation lies not too deep beneath the thick layer of guffaws and giggles. The authors are able to convey their message through adroit storytelling, never letting the reader feel a minute of boredom while tackling issues concerning the environment (Global Warming in particular), government, war, and poverty, most of which are told via the anthropomorphic characters of War, Famine, Pollution (Pestilence retired in 1936 when penicillin was invented), and Death, also known as the Four Horsemen—or motorcyclists in this case—of Apocalypse. Human behavior and the workings of mortal minds are as well discussed very efficiently especially in conversations of the two main protagonists.

Aziraphale (an Angel and part-time rare book-dealer) and Crowley (an Angel who did not so much Fall as Saunter Vaguely Downwards) become the best of friends after six thousand years of thwarting each other’s deeds on Earth. Usually it is through Crowley’s introspection that the readers realize “the good are half-bad and the bad are half-good”, and the fact that most of the time humans don’t need any diabolical urgings to conceive bad things and put them into practice. He easily became my favorite character because of his attitude. He is often seen as a cool, gadget-loving, sunglasses-toting guy who drives a shiny black Bentley and kills time by doing minor mischief. The poor demon, however, has his bottled up fear and anger towards Hell and he often shows this to his houseplants by talking and imposing to them the fear of God—or more precisely, the fear of Crowley. Hell exercises tyranny over him and he vents his frustration by exercising the same kind of tyranny over his plants. For some reason, his character seems to tug at my heartstrings in an odd sort of way. Behind his grinning façade is a face that suffers—“He’d been an angel once. He hadn’t meant to Fall. He’d just hung around with the wrong people.”

I find a lot of similarities between myself and Aziraphale. I’m overly fussy, I have this parent-like possessiveness of my books, I like classical music (especially Tchaikovsky), and I love sushi restaurants. Perhaps that's why I’m drawn to Crowley so much; it’s as if Aziraphale became my direct conduit in the story, as if I were standing there myself witnessing what Crowley had really gone through, and I knew that somewhere deep inside him there is goodness. Thanks to the bromance-y undercurrent, all of these became all too easy.

The plot charges along at a gallop, and there is no single page that will not make you smile or giggle. Mini-storylines pop out every once in a while, and though they may not show any relevance to the main plot, you’ll discover at the end that everything is linked together. One remarkable thing I noticed about these subplots is the characters. No matter how short their exposure may be, there will always be something that will stick in your mind and heart: a peek at their touching ordinary lives laid in stark contrast with the complicated happenings leading to the Armageddon. Gaiman successfully showcased his morbid humor here.

As an aspiring writer/journalist-in-training, I consider this book as a personal touchstone: a masterpiece that will bring entertainment like no other and at the same time relay thought-provoking messages that the present society needs to understand. It’s been twenty years since its first publication, but its contents show how timeless this story is. There’s a scene in the story where War, Pollution, and Famine vanish into thin air, and when someone asks where they went, Death replies: “Where they belong. Where they have always been. In the minds of man.”

I’m no fortuneteller of any kind, but I think one thing is clear: if the world is really going to end, we humans contributed a lot to it—perhaps we acted as catalysts. Instead of panicking and counting down the days until a certain date comes, why not devote your time doing what you can to make our world (excuse me for the cliché) a better place?

After that, let's wait for the good omens that will manifest to symbolize a long, brighter future for us.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Review: Sabriel

In most dark-themed literature, necromancers—people who bring the dead back to life—are commonplace, and the stereotype interpretation is that they are subordinates of the devil. Garth Nix is perhaps the first one to think outside the box by creating his Old Kingdom trilogy, where the protagonists are necromancers not of the common kind. Whereas black magicians or ordinary necromancers revive dead people, Abhorsens put the risen Dead back to rest in order to protect the living.


The trilogy commences with Sabriel (published in 1995). Several fantasy lit has this clichéd kick-off where the protagonist lives in an ordinary world and then discovers a portal of some sort that leads to another dimension. In Sabriel, these two worlds are ever-present and important; there is no door of any kind, but there’s a Wall separating them. The setting is in two neighboring countries: first is Ancelstierre, where people lived with the aid of simple technology (many sources said it’s similar to early 20th century England) and second is the Old Kingdom, where magic is real and mythical creatures abound. Apparently the Ancelstierran Government denies the existence of anything extraordinary beyond their side of the wall. Only people who know Charter Magic are allowed to cross to other side.

The title character is the daughter of the current Abhorsen and is studying in a school in Ancelstierre. Even if she grows up in an almost non-magical environment, Sabriel knows what lies beyond the Wall. When a harbinger arrives in her dormitory to inform her that the Abhorsen is in trouble, she takes up arms (a bandolier of necromantic bells, a sword, Charter magic) and sets off to rescue her father. Along the way she meets Mogget, a cat-shaped Free Magic creature, and Touchstone, a bastard prince incarcerated as a wooden figurehead of a derelict ship. The two agreed to help Sabriel and in the process they must defeat the Dead Adept called Kerrigor.

Garth Nix is one of the earliest authors that made science fiction and fantasy my cup of tea when it comes to literature (the earliest is, needless to say, Neil Gaiman). He managed to draw me in, not only by the world he has intricately woven but also by the plot-driven storyline that made the book a sure page-turner. He laid out the details with care so as not to confuse the readers with the rather complicated setting. Same with the magical items and creatures that abound—each of the seven bells have their own magical peculiarities that will stick to your mind easily, and the creatures lurking in the depths of Death (which is portrayed as rivers with gates) are defined in an almost chillingly real way.

Starting the story in Ancelstierre is an effective way to bring the readers to the journey comfortably. It’s been always like that: a fantasy book must begin with an element that the readers can identify with to provide a proper leverage before catapulting into the world of the unknown. Nix was able to do that. It actually helps that Sabriel already knows some mysteries of the Old Kingdom, yet needs more information that may help her accomplish her mission. The readers learn with her.

The characters are well-shaped: Sabriel, the pale-skinned raven-haired schoolgirl gradually grows up to a more mature person as she takes the role of an Abhorsen-in-waiting. Touchstone, after being trapped in wooden form for two hundred years and knowing the foolish thing he did before he was cursed, tends to be a little unemotional and a bit servile (by purpose), but he slowly emerges as a very helpful ally as the story progresses. Mogget is Mogget, always sarcastic and blunt—the story wouldn’t be the way it was without him.

All in all, this not only the story of good versus evil—it is as well a bildungsroman of a young girl discovering the responsibilities and opportunities that come with growing up. Most of all it tackles issue about fate: “Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?”

It’s been years since I read this book for the first time and just finished rereading it this morning. It never grows old, in my opinion. Give this book a try.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Drabble: Troubled

Drabble sequel to Wrong.
___

Troubled
by Airiz Casta
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“Angel,” the demon said in recognition.

He was smirking, but it was a brittle expression; utter one word that might be his weakness and the thin mask would break in just a microsecond. She was certain about it—he was hurting. It was like he stepped on something sharp and was pretending not to feel anything because one of his adversaries was watching.

She flicked a lock away from her eye. “You know, sometimes it’s not weakness to show weakness. You may be a supernatural being, but you have to face the fact that you’re also not perfect. We’re not perfect.”
He flinched at her words. She thought she saw a glint of fear in his eyes—fear that she was aware of what he was really feeling right now—but it was gone before she could even squint to confirm it. He chuckled and shakily raked his fingers through his soot-black hair.

He was nervous. She heaved a deep breath. It wasn’t her problem.

“I have missions to accomplish,” she said with a feigned yawn, “and that means you have your missions too, the first one having to do with stopping me from completing mine. Now, back to work?”

“Wait!”

Her feathers ruffled as she pirouetted to face him again.

“I think he’s an angel lot so you might know something about him,” he said. “Cupid, I mean. Are his arrows invisible even to us? And if he targets an entity with no heart of any kind, is he going to aim for the hypothalamus—er, yeah, since that’s the real source of emotions—”

“I think,” she cut icily, “that you should get a day off or something. Endless questions and blabbering… I think human beings are rubbing off on you, which is bad, since it should be the other way around. But just so you know, Cupid is not an angel. About the arrows and that hypo-something, I don’t know, but without a heart—”

Wait.

…wait. Oh dear, how can she be so slow?

“No way, demon. You’re in love?”

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Drabble: Wrong

For the pre-writing stage of the story I'm talking about in my previous post, this is the drabble I made. I'm just brainstorming for ideas at the moment. Good thing the muse's sorta active. :)


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WRONG
by Airiz Casta

He’s supposed to do wrong, to think wrong. But the kind of wrong he’s doing right now is different from the ones he’d done before. He’s not murmuring anything to a human ear now, nor is he sharpening his pitchfork (idiomatically speaking only—they never bring any pitchforks when they’re on Duty, unlike what most humans think). He’s just….staring.

She—or he or whatever, everyone Up there and Down below is sexless—is now standing in front of him, head tilted to one side as if viewing an odd spectacle. Her tresses, he mused, are what sunshine would look like if it can be thawed: flowing and glowing from the inside. The two gossamer structures sprouting from her shoulder blades resembled those of swans, though hers looked a lot more intricate and powerful. Her eyes were electric blue, holding in them the wisdom of someone who’ve seen millennia of human sufferings and the weariness of having to prevent or contradict every step made by…made by someone like him.

It’s not her beauty that he prized the most, though. The warm feeling that she seemed to extract from his chest, from something that he knew wasn’t there…he couldn’t understand it, but he cherished it.

For someone from Down below, this is not right.

“Demon,” said the music that came out her lips, sound bites that he wasn’t allowed to appreciate but appreciated them anyway. He couldn’t help but to smile at that, though deep inside something twisted rather painfully. He’s a demon, yes—and what is she?

“Angel,” he said in response to her call, smirking, and behind that smirk a convoluted face of a pained creature could be seen. Whatever he’s thinking right now…well, Hell would certainly freeze over before that happens.
***

Monday, April 19, 2010

Angels and Devils

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This is the sixth drawing in my new art endeavor: drawing a day. The prompts I use for each drawing should have something to do with the highlight of the day, something that I keep on thinking about, or a recurring theme of the day. This drawing is inspired by a lot of things:

1. This quote: “If an angel and a devil were to fall in love with each other, can their love transcend the laws of heaven and hell? Can the angel set her wings on fire? Can the devil soar at daylight? This is Faith’s decree: love cannot change what is not meant to be.”

2. The short story "Murder Mysteries" by Neil Gaiman, my favorite short fiction. It's about the first murder in Heaven (and in the Universe, so yes, it's before the Abel-and-Cain case), and it's committed by the first angel who learned how to love. This short story made me love angels more--I've been smitten with them as far as I can remember. Made me cry at the murderer's real reason....and most of all, I felt Lucifer:

‘That was not right,’ he said. ‘That was not just.’


He was crying; wet tears ran down his face. Perhaps Saraquel was the first to love, but Lucifer was the first to shed tears. I will never forget that.

I stared at him impassively. ‘It was justice. He killed another. He was killed in his turn. You called me to my function and I performed it.’

‘But…he loved. He should have been forgiven. He should have been helped. He should not have been destroyed like that. That was wrong.’

‘It was His will.’

Lucifer stood.’Then perhaps His will is unjust. Perhaps the voices in the Darkness speak truly, after all. How can this be right?’

‘It is right. It is His will. I merely performed my function.’

He wiped away the tears with the back of his hand. ‘No,’ he said, flatly. He shook his head, slowly, from side to side. Then he said, ‘I must think on this. I will go now.’

He walked to the window, stepped into the sky, and he was gone.

3. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman. The main characters are Aziraphale, the angel who drove Adam and Eve away from the Garden of Eden after the First Disobedience, and Crowley, the serpent/demon who tempted Eve to eat the Forbidden Fruit. Aziraphale, being an angel, is worried that he made a Wrong deed: he gave his flaming sword--the weapon he's supposed to guard the Garden with--to Adam and Eve, being concerned about their situation (Eve is pregnant already and there are wild animals out there). Crowley, being a demon, is worried that he did the Right thing: he let Eve eat the Fruit in order for them to know the difference between Good and Evil, which he thought is something that humans really need to know. For the next six thousand years, Aziraphale and Crowley became the best frienemies, even conspiring to delay the Armageddon. :D


After being exposed to so many biblical fiction this summer alone, I think I'll write some sort of novelette (or short story, depending on the thinking process and muse appearance lol) about an angel and a devil. I need some research first before I write anything, so perhaps I'll grab some more books about them, and my first reference (well aside from the Bible itself) is:

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Of course! Got the two in one volume: Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Read this back in high school and they ignited my love for...well, Miltonian angels and the book Revelation. :) This is an awesome book, go grab and read it.

I'm laying down each bone on the story skeleton already. :) LOL it looks like another endeavor to get rid of ennui, but what the hell. As long as confirmation for our OJT's scheds is not announced yet, I might as well do something productive. :)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Review: Looking for the Girl

PhotobucketLooking for the Girl is the only story in Smoke and Mirrors that Gaiman claimed to sound exactly like himself, not like someone writing for someone else. The story is about a man who got infatuated with a “skin” magazine model and tried to search for her; the years passed with all his efforts going down the drain. He wondered why she never seemed to age through the years, her soft-core porn pictorials indicating she was always nineteen…and she always looked nineteen.


Gaiman indicated in the introduction that the story popped up in his mind after he had a conversation with a real-life model of Penthouse mag about being exploited: “I’m getting well-paid for it, love. And it beats working the nightshift in a Bradfort biscuit factory. But I’ll tell you who’s being exploited. All those blokes who buy it. Wanking over me every month. They’re being exploited.” Another model, who was Gaiman’s friend, dropped out of sight suddenly and was never seen again.

Looking for a Girl is no extraordinary story, but I really liked how Gaiman used his voice here. In writing stories you should always involve the readers, and though Gaiman told the tale in first person point of view, he managed to involve the audience by effectively letting them see and feel what the main character sees or feels. It’s actually like just talking to a friend who’s sharing the story of his bitter life, and the reader would surely want to tap the storyteller’s shoulder and say “it’s okay.” Not that this story is utterly tragic, but the end was quite saddening. You’ll surely empathize despite yourself.

I loved the ending paragraphs very much:

"And Charlotte?
In Greece, the philosophers are debating, Socrates is drinking hemlock, and she's posing for a sculpture of Erato, muse of light poetry and lovers, and she's nineteen.
In Crete she's oiling her breasts, and she's jumping bulls in the ring while King Minos applauds, and someone's painting her likeness on a wine-jar, and she's nineteen.

In 2065 she's stretched out on the revolving floor of a holographic photographer, who records her as an erotic dream in Living Sensolove, imprisons the sight and sound and the very smell of her in a tiny diamond matrix.

She's only nineteen.

And the caveman outlines Charlotte with burnt stick on the wall of the temple of a cave, filling in the shape and texture of her with earths and berry-dyes. Nineteen.

Charlotte is there, in all places, all times, sliding through our fantasies, a girl forever.

I want her so much it makes me hurt sometimes. that's when I take down the photographs of her, and just look at them for a while, wondering why I didn't try to touch her, why I wouldn't really even speak to her when she was there, and never coming up with an answer that I could understand.

That's why I've written this all down, I suppose.

This morning I noticed yet another grey hair at my temple. Charlotte is nineteen. Somewhere."

Plot-wise, this story didn’t quite satisfy me much, but style-wise, I’m giving it a thumb-up. Neil Gaiman was commissioned by the Penthouse to write this story for their twenty-fifth anniversary issue, January 1985.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Braver Five Minutes Earlier

I'm still finishing my travelogues tonight so I won't be able to share any reviews for Smoke and Mirrors. Perhaps I'll post the articles when I finish them, but for the mean time I'll just put up this article I wrote last year. It's supposed to be a contribution to the second issue of Lyceum Independent Sentinel last semester, but the whole paper wasn't published for some reason (hmm?). It's about Ondoy.

***
Braver Five Minutes Earlier
by Amalia Airiz Casta

It was during my high school days when the sound of pounding rain topped my personal list of music-that-isn’t. My view of the best morning then is when I would be yanked out of dreamland by the hammering downpour on our roof instead of the mechanical ringing of my alarm clock. “Yes! It’s raining, it’s raining,” I’d say, repeating it like a mantra as I tumble out of bed and run pell-mell into the living room. I’d huddle against my sister as we gawk at the TV, waiting for that “eargasm” moment, waiting for the news anchor to please, say it now, say it now, and voila— “Classes in all levels are suspended due to the typhoon. Signal number 3 is raised in Metro Manila.”

This immaturity clung to me even when I entered college, though it has drastically ebbed. Rainy days became commonplace, sending some people ranting (ano ba yan, ang lakas-lakas na ng ulan di pa i-kat ang klase!) and sending a few relieved (buti naman umulan…parang malaking oven ang Pinas eh!). Sometimes I complain, sometimes I sigh in relief, but after one particular stormy day, I never celebrated a suspended class again.

His name is “Ondoy”. He barged into the country like a berserk beast, wreaking havoc in some of the major cities in Luzon, including Metro Manila. People are oblivious at first, being used to heavy rainfalls and flash floods. I myself didn’t think so much about the storm; I was too engrossed in relieving my ennui as our whole community was engulfed in blackout. When the rain slashed almost horizontally against the rising waters, when it didn’t cease the whole afternoon, that was when I realized it was getting really serious.

At one point I thought about Revelation. It is one of my favorite books in the Bible, but for some reason, at that very moment, I seemed to forget why I like it. After almost an hour being clobbered by the images of the Four Horsemen racing through the wrathful winds, the power was back, and the first thing I did was turn the TV on.

The TV was suddenly not an appliance anymore; it was a window, and through it I saw how the world outside the comforts of my home changed after six hours of nonstop rain and how an abused and neglected Mother Nature annihilated social strata. I witnessed how people—rich and poor—wept and begged for help as they hunched together on their roofs; how cars were pitchpoled like toys by the monstrous waves; how homes were destroyed effortlessly by powerful winds, as though they were just cardboard pop-ups on a turbulent diorama. In that small square, I was given a bird’s eye view of a tragedy that readily drained my energy.

The death toll and damage cost shot up one notch and another as days passed. Heartbreaking stories rose, ones that could rival the most tragic novels I’ve read. In any stories, though, there should be heroes: men who sacrificed their lives for the sake of others, the donors and volunteer workers.

“Where I came from, everyone is a hero,” so reads a sign someone made on Facebook.

Let me rephrase: “Where I came from, everyone could’ve been a hero.”

Let’s face it, we’re not all heroes—but yes, we could’ve been. I heard somewhere before that a brave man is not much different from an ordinary man, only he is braver five minutes earlier. Wouldn’t we be more entitled to don the tag “hero” if we acted beforehand?

Metaphorically speaking, the child’s idea of rain as God’s tears is true—He wouldn’t be happy to see what violations we did (and is still doing) to nature, a gift He gave us. Isn’t it a clear wake up call (the hundredth one, perhaps)? Political figures offered help and solutions, but do we need to lose hundreds of lives before dredging up a bill for disaster preparedness that has been stuck in Congress for nine years? Do we need to have the waters rise to second floors of subdivision houses before we follow up the request for the right weather equipment?

Where I came from, everyone has a heart of a real hero—they only need to wake it up.

Review: Changes

The premise of the short story Changes is this: In the near future, cancer will be curable by one dose of a wonder tablet. The side effect? The whole system of the patient will be “rebooted”—and his gender will change.
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Rajit, a bashful homosexual, becomes a world-renowned icon after inventing the ‘Reboot’ drug. His personality in real life lies in stark contrast with his biographic motion picture, shown clearly through the sections of the story alternating scenes from Rajit’s reality and from the film. Overtime, when the drug becomes more dangerously popular than the recreational medicines that precede it, Rajit himself is forgotten. People who take Reboot are not just those who have cancer—those who want to “change” their sexes are frequent customers. They can easily achieve what they want that by taking the drug; if they want to go back to their original gender, they can do so by taking another dose. Yes, that easy. Purposes vary, but most of the time it’s for the fulfillment of self interest: “In Thailand and Mongolia it was reported that boys were being forcibly rebooted into girls to increase their worth as prostitutes. In China newborn girls were rebooted into boys: families would save all they had for a single dose.” In his nineties Rajit is dying of prostate cancer but he never took Reboot.

While it has a touch of science fiction in it, the story as well tackles several issues still apparent in our present society, including the culture and the selfishness of people who will stop at nothing just to get what they want. Like the other stories in this collection Changes tugs at the heartstrings in an odd sort of way. The ending, especially. It didn’t move me enough to make me cry, but I’ve been introduced to Rajit’s real lonely life, seen his troubles and fears, and then his death. That’s enough to make me feel a tad sad for him, and to make me brood. Over the years we watch flicks about famous people but do we know how much of the stories we’re told were true? Films won’t sell if they’re just about the redundant life of an ordinary person so several scenes were added and altered. Most of the time the celebrated people in biopics are just ordinary people too, living ordinary lives. They must have done one or a few remarkable things that shone the limelight on their name, but that doesn’t guarantee that their lives would be as interesting as the books we read and praise. Rajit is alone. Who will remember the story of his life?

I didn’t intend this review (or now more appropriately called a “faux review”) to be heavily weighed with my sentimental ramblings, but that’s really what I feel. Neil Gaiman has this way of ending his stories that will surely leave his readers thinking about the message he is trying to convey. I love this story.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Gaimaniac Summer

My “critic spirit” is alive tonight, but my flailing fangirl heart is too hyperactive at the moment to make any logical comment on my previous reads. Perhaps I’ll let this momentary ‘squeeeeing’ phase subside before I review the story “Changes” from Smoke and Mirrors. What’s the reason behind this? Here:

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Yes, another book about the Rock star of the Literary World himself, Neil Gaiman (and yeah you go, what’s new?)!

It is a truth universally acknowledged (lol sorry I’m missing Austen’s classics lately so let me just borrow this line) that when a creature called Airiz finds herself in any establishment that has a bookstore in it, it is expected that she will be magnetized in that very store, then to the very shelves where items from her to-read list are placed, then to the very book she’s targeting on buying. But she deems that serendipity will always be better—she believes that “my books often find me, not the other way around”—and so she stumbled upon this tome, and in an instant her purse’s drained. Again.

Being a Gaimaniac is sometimes very expensive but it’s always worth it. Speaking from experience here.

After getting my grades and enrolling the practicum subject this afternoon, I and mama went straight to SM Manila to grab a snack. Mama wasn’t surprised when I sauntered to National Bookstore after eating. I sought for the SF shelves, found the next book in my list—Fragile Things—and then saw sitting next to it this mighty volume called Prince of Stories: the Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman. It’s the last paperback edition, and the blurb at the back indicates it is some kind of an encyclopedia about Gaiman. No second thoughts: Fragile Things can wait.

I love that my summer vacation’s being Gaiman-ridden. Bookworming and living temporarily in the worlds of this genius is, I think, the most productive thing I can do to kill time. I learn a lot, writing-wise and as an ordinary reader.

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Next books on list are Fragile Things, Anansi Boys, Neverwhere, and Stardust. The Sandman graphic novels are gone from where I think I saw them in the bookstore. :( Coraline's borrowed by a friend.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Review: The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories

PhotobucketNeil Gaiman didn’t have a good relationship with Hollywood the first time he set foot in it for the film adaptation of his and Terry Pratchett’s book, Good Omens. I found this out in The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories, one of the longest and conceivably the best stories in the fic collection Smokes and Mirrors. It is both a quasi-account of personal experience (Gaiman admitted in the introduction that some of the story is true) and a metaphorically caustic commentary on the Hollywood system.

The story is about an English writer who goes to Hollywood to pen the movie treatment of his best-selling book, Sons of Man, which about the infamous serial killer Charles Manson. He encounters lots of contradictions and is forced to accept major changes in his book, while on the sideline he talks with the groundskeeper by the goldfish pool and writes stories about magic. Idioms abound, and there are several frame stories that blatantly mock stereotype movies that are more accepted and the movie industry as a whole:

“So the plot is, there’s this photographer who is persuading women to take their clothes off for him. Then he shtups them. Only no one believes he’s doing it. So the chief of police—played by Ms. Lemme Show the World My Naked Butt—realizes that the only way she can arrest him is if she pretends to be one of the women. So she sleeps with him. Now, there’s a twist…”

“She falls in love with him?”

“Oh. Yeah. And then she realizes that the women will always be imprisoned by male images of women, and to prove her love for him, when the police come to arrest the two of them she sets fire to all the photographs and dies in the fire. Her clothes burn off first. How does that sound to you?”

“Dumb.”
There are other frame narratives, but the most effective symbolism Gaiman used, I think, are the fish in the goldfish pool:

“….they [fish] only got a memory that’s like thirty seconds long. So they swim around the pool, it’s always a surprise to them, going ‘I never been here before.’ They meet another fish they known for a hundred years, they say, ‘Who are you, stranger?’”

I enjoyed reading this one for I related to the message Gaiman was trying to get across to his audience hands down. Even if it’s basically just a scathing remark for Hollywood, Gaiman inadvertently (or maybe purposely—this man’s too awesome a genius) embedded just beneath the thin layer of idioms and symbolisms a general image every kind of reader can identify themselves with: the real world, not just the real Hollywood. I was aware of that picture even before I got a hold of this book, and it was made clearer to me: some people demand what they want from you, use you not because you’re important but because you’re needed, and it’s up to you if you’ll let yourself be a marionette. In the end, if you made the right decision, you will certainly be happy, even if you lose something in the process.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Reciprocal

Your razorblade eyes shredded my skin, strip by strip—
slowly, until nothing was left but a cobweb
of lies, filmy curtains that you can still see through,
feel through.

You sawed my cranium open, too,
and wormed your fingers under the cap
to exploit my weaknesses,
to mock me,
to pour melted rainbows (fresh from my premature dreams),
onto the black and white bowl of my skull.

What’s the use of poetry
when you can still decipher every vague word
I scribbled in a kindergartener’s cacography?
I abhorred your faux empathy when I thawed,
when I eddied into a begging mess at your feet.

Then you showed me the why’s;
undid the secret buttons and let your misleading cloak flutter to the floor,
unzipped the fragile bag of skin, that thin piece of trifling toy.
We were soul-naked.

Only then did I see
the mutual annihilation we shared
for standing where you should be
was a mirror of what you just did to me—
only the characters reversed roles.

I know a losing battle when I see one;
you won ours,
but you should’ve tasted it—
succumbing is just as sweet.


(Note: I wrote this poem originally for The Lyceum Independent Sentinel. It was extracted from an early fanfic of mine but was dedicated to a real person, B.S.)

Review: Chivalry

“Mrs. Whitaker found the Holy Grail; it was under a fur coat.”

PhotobucketWith that so simple a statement, Neil Gaiman’s droll, fantastic short story Chivalry commenced. This is the tale of an ordinary old woman who purchased the legendary Holy Grail (the chalice where Jesus Christ was said to take a drink from in the Last Supper, and the same vessel in the Crucifixion that caught His blood when the centurion’s spear pierced His side) from a local thrift store. Sir Galaad (Galahad) appeared soon after she bought it, claiming that he was in a mission to find the Holy Grail. He bugged the old woman for some time, giving her “gifts” until she gave him what he wants.

The simple sequence of events, the unsurprised expressions of some of the characters upon meeting an extraordinary person, and the humorous style of Gaiman’s prose made this short story a comical literary gem. Astonishingly, there wasn’t any hint of the Gaimanesque darkness and twists that I was acquainted with. This didn’t make the story any less though. I enjoyed it immensely.

Throughout the story I kept on searching for hints about its timeline or the exact setting, but my efforts were in vain. It didn’t matter though because I was so amused by the whole thing. Mrs. Whitaker knew it was the Holy Grail, and the only thing she did with it is display it on a mantelpiece. When Sir Galaad appeared in front of her gate I expected her to at least gasp in surprise. She just asks for some sort of ID, and our mighty Knight shows her a permission signed by King Arthur himself.

The device that Gaiman used for this tale was juxtaposition—of the main characters’ goals and views, that is. Sir Galahad thinks he can finish his quest by offering the old lady extravagant gifts—the magical sword Balmung, a fruit that promises eternal life, the Philosopher’s Stone, and a Phoenix’s Egg—but Mrs. Whitaker prefers him to just help her in the garden and in room clean-up (all right, imagine our dear handsome Knight tipping a bag of slugs over a garden fence and moving dusty boxes around…and take note, he’s wearing his shining silver armor and surcoat. Seriously, the images!). In the end, the old lady gives him the chalice, accepting the Egg and Stone (not to use them by any means you may think, but just to replace the Grail’s position on the mantelpiece after it’s gone).

I don’t consider this a happy-ending-tale, no matter how much I cracked up over it. When you think about it, Mrs.Whitaker is just an ordinary widow who’s just waiting for her time to come. The story’s tone is light, but the undercurrent of sadness is there. She wants nothing more in life than to live normally until the end—what would she do with all those lavish things? Those couldn’t bring back what she’d lost in the past. This is made clear when Sir Galaad offered him the Fruit of eternal life. She chided him a little, saying that he shouldn’t offer old women with things like that. After the Sir Galaad’s gone, she’s back to her old routine and I know that the memory of meeting the Knight is embedded in her heart forever.

Chivalry is included in another short story collection by Gaiman entitled M is for Magic.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Review: The Daughter of Owls and Babycakes

Neil Gaiman penned The Daughter of Owls in style of one of his favorite authors, John Aubrey. I enjoyed it enormously; the prose set the mood of the tale quite right, for it felt as if it was really written a long time ago. The story is about a girl left on the steps of a Church, holding Owl pellets that when crushed would reveal small animal bones. She was isolated but she grew up beautifully, and when some of the men in town heard about her beauty, they went to her to rape her. Owls came to her rescue then; the chilling ending quite tied itself up with the beginning, with the mention of new owl pellets:
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“On the morrow, when the sun was high, the good-wives of the Town went through Dymton a-hunting High and Low for theyr Husbands and theyr Sonnes; wch, coming to the Convent, they fownd, on the Cellar stones, ye pellets of owles: & in the pellets they discovered hair & buckles & coins, & small bones: & also a quantity of straw upon the floor.”

Creepy, indeed. This tale showed how versatile Neil Gaiman is as a writer—no matter what style he uses, as long as he throws something....something Gaimanesque in it, you can be sure that you’re in for a great read. I like twisted fairytales, and The Daughter of Owls sounds like one. While I think short fiction was not Gaiman’s particular forte (try his best-selling novel American Gods and you’ll know what I mean)—you can clearly see the commendable way he develops the plot and characters in his longer works—it is evident that his shorter works can leave their impact as well, just not as great as the impact of his novels. I still think the drabbles and short stories are praiseworthy, especially if you’ll compare them to other SF contemporary works that were longer and more florid but don’t make their points. To reiterate what I said back in my review for The Sweeper of Dreams and Nicholas Was, he can always surprise, shock, or just plainly creep you out in his briefest writings.

Now on to Babycakes. It is fable written for a publication to benefit People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)—which explains the point of the whole story. It’s very daunting in an apocalyptic way. The story goes like this: the animals “went away” one day, and people have no other source of meat and raw materials for their clothes and other stuff. I really think the world’s ending then, the way people thought dementedly: they sought for animal substitute and found babies. Yep, human babies! They used them—

“Some of them we ate. Baby flesh is tender and succulent. We flayed their skin and decorated ourselves in it. Baby leather is soft and comfortable. Some of them we tested. We taped open their eyes, dripped detergents and shampoos in, a drop at a time. We scarred them and scalded them…”

And they did a lot more to the poor infants, too cruel that I felt myself cringing while reading. In the end, the babies were gone, and the remaining humans have to think of substitutes again. Survival of the fittest?

Thumbs up for giving me heebie-jeebies for the night. XD

Anime of the 90's

Most recent serendipity (not of the common kind, since this one got nostalgia kicking me in the gut) in Tumblr : a video of Magic Knight Rayearth’s Tagalog opening song. This brought back a lot of good memories from my wilderness days. Anime shows of the 90’s are better than those of today, methinks (perhaps with the exception of Death Note and a few mind-boggling ones, those that actually have plots and are not just about brawns and décolletages). Anyway, since I’m here reminiscing all those mornings—with the routine formula: dubbed cartoons + half-eaten breakfast + attention-depraved school preparations—I think I’d share some of those shows I’d loved.


Remi, Nobody’s Girl

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The Teatro Vitalis, minus the dogs.

I remember how I and my sister sang Remi’s “My Mother” (Aking Ina) song after watching that show. How we cried when Dolce and Zerbino died on the snow. How we expressed our rage over Mr. Gaspar’s cruelty to the children. How we shipped Remi and Mattia. Oh, those days, really…

Remi: Nobody’s Girl is the story of a 10-year-old girl who was sold by her adoptive father to a performing troupe lead by a man named Vitalis. She travelled with the troupe and searched for her real mother. The story is adapted from the French novel entitled Sans Famille, where Remi is a boy.


Mga Munting Pangarap ni Romeo

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Romeo, Alfred, and Piccollo

The most memorable scene in this show for me is the one where Alfred died. I really cried that time, and before that I remember wagering five bucks that he would survive. My sister won the bet, but she cried as well. We loved the Black Brothers so much we formed our own little organization then. Haha, wilderness indeed! My favorite characters would be Alfred, Nikita, Romeo and Bianca (all right, it’s obvious what pairings I shipped then).

Mga Munting Pangarap ni Romeo revolves around the story of a boy sold to be a chimney sweep. He met the Black Brothers in work, joined them, and had adventures that left remarkable memories in Romeo’s life.


Cinderella

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Leonard/Charles and Cinderella

One childhood fairytale told the unconventional way. In this series, fifteen-year-old Cinderella didn’t fall in love at first sight with the Prince. They met even before the Ball, with Prince Charles (Leonard in the Tagalog dub) going out in disguise and telling Cinderella he was the Prince’s page. They were both a klutz—bumping into each other while in town was the running gag of the show, especially in the first few episodes. Their misadventures are funny, romantic, and magical (usually in the literal sense). This is one of my favorite shows back then. I still know the Tagalog closing credits.

Judy

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Jerusha "Judy" Abott, Sally McBride, Julia Pendelton

I’ve been trying to find the novel it where this show was adapted from (it’s entitled Daddy Long Legs). All my efforts were in vain, yeah. Judy is about the story of a girl brought up in an orphanage. Having the potential to be a great writer, she is granted a scholarship to a women’s college. She writes a monthly letter to the benefactor she never met (she often addresses him as John Smith or Daddy Long Legs).

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And there you have my favorite morning cartoons. My other old loves were Magic Knight Rayearth (HikaruxLantis ftw!), Ghost Fighter (I sorta love the Kurama- Hiei bromance then, LOL, but YusukexKeiko all the way), Flame of Recca (Kaoru Koganei’s my favorite), Card Captor Sakura (SyaoranxSakura and EriolxTomoyo), Sorcerer Hunters (CarrotxTira), Sakura Taisen (SakuraxOgami) and of course, Gundam Wing (HeeroxRelena and the obscure QuatrexDorothy).

Oh, those days. Remembering them makes me feel so old. :/

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Review: The Sweeper of Dreams and Nicholas Was...

The Sweeper of Dreams is a ficlet describing the janitor who takes over the realm of dreams after one wakes up. He sweeps up remnants of dreams and nightmares and then burns them to set the stage clean again for the next night’s dreaming.
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Nobody beats Neil Gaiman’s imagination, in my opinion. The Sweeper of Dreams popped in his mind when he saw a Lisa Snellings statue of a man leaning on a broom. “He was obviously some kind of a janitor,” Gaiman said in the introduction. “I wondered what kind, and that was where the story came from.” Being able to weave a story like this with such a simple image as a foundation earned Gaiman five stars from me. The ability of creating very brief tales with long-term impact on the readers is always good in my book. I believe, as a journalist-in-training and amateur fiction writer (original and fanfic), that practicing brevity is a must, as most readers nowadays tend to have short attention spans. The story’s length must not sacrifice the quality of the story though. Two thumbs up for this one!

Speaking of succinctness, there’s this one hundred-word story included in the collection that I think will linger in the minds of the readers for a long time, especially when the Christmas season approaches. It’s a drabble about Santa Claus. Dark and twisted of course:

Nicholas Was…

older than sin, and his beard could grow no whiter. He wanted to die.
The dwarfish natives of the Arctic caverns did not speak his language, but conversed in their own, twittering tongue, conducted incomprehensible rituals, when they were not actually working in the factories.
Once every year they forced him, sobbing and protesting into Endless Night. During the journey he would stand near every child in the world, leave one of the dwarves’ invisible gifts by its bedside. The children left, frozen into time.
He envied Prometheus and Loki, Sisyphus and Judas. His punishment was harsher.
Ho.
Ho.
Ho.

If that’s not disturbing, I don’t know what is. Gaiman sure does have this flair of revisiting old tales and giving them the right ingredients enough for readers to be creeped out and amazed at the same time.

Nicholas Was... was included in the album Warning: Contains Language in mp3 format (read by Gaiman himself), along with other short fictions and poems in Smoke and Mirrors.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Review: Troll Bridge

Troll Bridge is another fairytale retelling included in the collection Smoke and Mirrors. It’s an adult version of The Three Billy Goats Gruff (and upon realizing that, it really brought me back to my kindergarten—also known as my “wilderness”—days. Didn’t like that fairytale that much back then; I preferred the Three Little Pigs over it, but remembering the story sent me really nostalgic).

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This time, instead of goats, a boy named Jack crosses the Troll’s bridge thrice—in his childhood, adolescence, and adulthood—and decided in the end what he wanted to do with his life by switching places—and bodies—with a Troll.

Darkly twisted like the previous stories, Troll Bridge is as well a virus of sorts like Snow, Glass, and Apples because I’m sure I’ll never read or remember the original story ever again without being reminded of this retold version.

I generally don’t like tales told in the first person point of view but this is an exception. I think the strength of the whole tale lies on the voice of the main character. It’s quite short but through the boy’s words and tone, you’ll really feel that he’s growing. My favorite stage would be when Jack was in his childhood. Gaiman has this knack of writing the children characters in any of his stories spot-on (like Bod Owens in The Graveyard Book and Coraline)—a thing which most writers failed at doing. Most of the children in modern literature (that I’ve encountered that is) sound a tad too precocious.

I suddenly hope this master prestigitator revisited more fairytales and twisted them in a deliciously dark way. I’m loving them very much, and realizing that there are only two retellings in the collection makes me a bit sad. :(

Troll Bridge was nominated for a World Fantasy Award (1994) and is included in the comic book A Distant Soil by Colleen Doran.

How to Install Love :)

I thought I'd share this. I saw this on Tumblr this afternoon and thought it's a very clean, creative way to explain how one should love--the tech-savvy style. :) There are other versions I've encountered across the information superhighway (lol) but they pretty much have the same story.

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HOW TO INSTALL LOVE


Tech Support: Hello … how can I help you?

Customer: Well, after much consideration, I’ve decided to install Love. Can you guide me through the process?

Tech Support: Yes. I can help you. Are you ready to proceed?

Customer: Well, I’m not very technical, but I think I’m ready. What do I do first?

Tech Support: The first step is to open your Heart. Have you located your Heart?

Customer: Yes, but there are several other programs running now. Is it okay to install Love while they are running?

Tech Support: What programs are running ?

Customer: Let’s see, I have Past Hurt, Low Self-Esteem, Grudge and Resentment running right now.

Tech Support: No problem, Love will gradually erase Past Hurt from your current operating system. It may remain in your permanent memory but it will no longer disrupt other programs. Love will eventually override Low Self-Esteem with a module of its own called High Self-Esteem. However, you have to completely turn off Grudge and Resentment. Those programs prevent Love from being properly installed. Can you turn those off ?

Customer: I don’t know how to turn them off. Can you tell me how?

Tech Support: With pleasure. Go to your start menu and invoke Forgiveness. Do this as many times as necessary until Grudge and Resentment have been completely erased.

Customer: Okay, done! Love has started installing itself. Is that normal?

Tech Support: Yes, but remember that you have only the base program. You need to begin connecting to other Hearts in order to get the upgrades.

Customer: Oops! I have an error message already. It says, “Error - Program not run on external components.” What should I do?

Tech Support: Don’t worry. It means that the Love program is set up to run on Internal Hearts, but has not yet been run on your Heart. In non-technical terms, it simply means you have to Love yourself before you can Love others.

Customer: So, what should I do?

Tech Support: Pull down Self-Acceptance; then click on the following files: Forgive-Self; Realize Your Worth; and Acknowledge your Limitations.

Customer: Okay, done.

Tech Support: Now, copy them to the “My Heart” directory. The system will overwrite any conflicting files and begin patching faulty programming. Also, you need to delete Verbose Self Criticism from all directories and empty your Recycle Bin to make sure it is completely gone and never comes back.

Customer: Got it. Hey! My heart is filling up with new files. Smile is playing on my monitor and Peace and Contentment are copying themselves all over My Heart. Is this normal?

Tech Support: Sometimes. For others it takes awhile, but eventually everything gets it at the proper time. So Love is installed and running. One more thing before we hang up. Love is Freeware. Be sure to give it and its various modules to everyone you meet. They will in turn share it with others and return some cool modules back to you.

Customer: I will. Thanks for your help. By the way, what's your name?


Tech. Support : You may call me the Divine Cardiologist, also known as The Great Physician, but most call me God. Many people feel all they need is an annual checkup to stay heart-healthy, but the Manufacturer suggests a schedule of daily maintenance for maximum efficiency. Put another way, keep in touch . . .

-end-

Monday, April 5, 2010

Review: The Price

The Price is a story of a middle aged writer living with a penchant of adopting stray cats. A newcomer to his feline family is this mysterious leonine black cat that shows up every morning with bleeding cuts and wounds. Curious about who or what this cat is fighting every night, the writer decided to spy and discovered that the cat is more than what it seems.
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Neil Gaiman got the idea for this story from his literary agent, Merrilee Heifetz. She suggested that he write a story about “a cat who was an angel or an angel who was a cat”, since during those days every best-seller is all about angels and almost everybody loves books about cats. With the story The Daughter of Owls, this memoir-ish tale was adapted into a graphic novel and was entitled Creatures of the Night.

The Black Cat character quite struck a chord in me, since I’ve read the novella Coraline before I purchased Smoke and Mirrors (I think now that Gaiman took that cat and redesigned him into less of an angel and more of a guide for Coraline. That’s just an assumption though). Something’s lacking in this story, I think. Maybe it ended so abruptly—I really wanted to see more of this story. It was like, I was already drowning in the setting he’d created and then he pulled me back up to reality without any warning. At least that’s what it felt like. I think it was too short.

Also, it reminded me of the bonus story in the introduction of the collection, The Wedding Present. The part where the Black Cat was kept in the basement and all bad luck came rushing in, and how it ended when they set the Cat free again to loiter around their house and yard…it’s reminiscent of how the wedding description “sucked” all the bad luck away. Not in the same style, but the similarity is there.

Lovely description of the cats and the transforming Devil, though. I loved those parts immensely.

Oh, look! An RL update!

Yes, because finally Monday came and the world outside my window called for my attention again. For good, apparently.

I and a classmate went to school for an interview with Mr. Adamos, head of the Human Resource Department of the Lyceum of the Philippines University. We're not actually ready for any sort of interview today; we thought we'll just pass our resumé and that's it. It's for the internship in Manila Bulletin. We're halfhearted about the whole thing because from the start we planned to have OJT in Pulp Magazine (who said they'd call us this week, after I sort of bombarded them with "follow-up" emails before the end of the semester). After what happened today, though, I think I'd enjoy staying here as well.

"Are you ready? You got your resumé with you? Your personality with you?" Prof. Ren quipped as we enter the Human Resource office. "I think I left my personality at home," I joked a tad nervously, because just like what I said I was not quite prepared. In a couple of minutes we found ourselves seated in front of Mr.Adamos himself.

He checked our information, asked my classmate a few questions, joked a lot (and so my jitters were gone). Then he turned to me. He looked at my data and asked, "How old are you?"

"Eighteen," I said curtly. He squinted and said, "Are you sure you're not fifteen?" And after short bursts of laughter, we're totally comfortable with each other. It's no formal interview. He guessed our zodiac signs, even asked if we had boyfriends in the past (which began when he questioned if I've been a scholar ever since. I said I lost it in one term, and he concluded that must be the time I focused my attention to my beau. Oh, really...). There were a few serious questions about our OJT and course, and after that, he began to refer to me as "writer" and to Debbie as...I forgot actually, but he's connecting her to media productions and photography. *shrugs*

I included a poetry writing contest data in my resumé and mayhap because of that he started using poetic words when talking to us. "Well, your smile's egging me to use poetic words," he said in jest. "You look so happy as if you want to pirouette." Uh.....seriously. The office was filled with more quips and chuckles.When we're finished, he told us to drop by sometime.

By three o'clock he sent us to Manila Bulletin. I and Debbie argued a bit with a (gay?) guard on the first floor and it was ended when we saw Miss Bernadette Cunanan herself, talking to some visitors from the Indian Embassy. She told us to wait upstairs at the Editorial waiting area, saying she would tour the visitors first.

We went upstairs. There's a meeting in the waiting room so we were instructed to just wait outside. For almost an hour we just stood there, facing a wall with posters of bougainvilla blossoms. I walked a bit, stared up at paintings scattered across the hallway, went back to my position next to Debbie if I got bored, sat cross-legged like a Turk on the floor, snatched an employee's copy of Manila Bulletin, read and yawn. And I was still bored. Four o'clock, and the meeting was adjourned. We went inside the editorial waiting room where I instantly fell asleep. I was only yanked out of dreamland when Debbie shoved some chocolates to my face (yummy sweets, thank you!). It was almost five when Miss Bernadette showed up.

She apologized about making us wait and lead us to her office. It was nice and cozy there, though a little too cold (but then again I'm always cold). Newspaper clippings, pictures of politicians, celebrities, and loved ones were posted on the walls. There was also a solar system and constellation poster above the hodgepodge of photographs, pasted alongside with Barbie Atienza's campaign poster. I spied a hardbound copy of Beowulf Script by Neil Gaiman on her shelf. I smiled.

So we talked. There was a Beauty Queen aura lingering about her, but then again maybe it was because of the height and the posture. She was the Public Relations Manager of Manila Bulletin. She asked us what we want to learn about the media industry and promised she would walk us through the field and show us what it was like to be a real media practitioner. The next convo was more of a chitchat, actually. She showed us her favorite collection in her office---clippings of errata from their own newspaper. It was really amusing. All of those were pinned up on the wall above her desk, and the errors were lined with green highlight. There was a picture of former President Cory Aquino's funeral, and the caption said it was President Gloria Arroyo's. She said the most ridiculous one was the page where the captions for a foreigner forum speaker and a dinosaur from an amusement park were switched.

She told us some stories of her own about being a journalist, and upon watching my reactions about them, she said I'd enjoy them. I know I would. :)

Soon I told her about our application in Pulp Magazine. She nodded in understanding and handed us business cards, suggesting we wait for Pulp's call first so she could arrange our schedule. It was apparently in favor of us---Summer Slam's approaching, and we feared we would start our MB internship right away. Goody.

We bade farewell happily. Before going home, I passed by the school's SAO for our camera club. The officer in charge of the organizations stuff had already gone and so I would go back to school tomorrow.

And there ends my RL update. There's more to come of course, but for the mean time I'll just go back to Smoke and Mirrors and write another review for it. :P

Midnight Muse (Free Writing)

(Note: So I've decided...if I'm going to free-write more these coming days, I might as well put them to good use. I'm going to start of a collection of my free-writes and call it Derailed Dreams--because, well, they sound like derailed dreams. You know, half-remembered dreams, some parts forgotten, some parts non-sense. While they are stories in themselves, they are just fragments of ideas that I may get for future use. Collection of brainstormed ideas? You bet.)

This one's what I wrote after "searching" for my muse. In vain, apparently. I've got it from the bottom of my dark, dark cranium, never imagined it before. That's the wonder of free-writing I think: you surprise yourself with the end product. Anyway, I'm blathering again. Here it is:

***

You only exist in my midnight. I don’t know what that means—are you just an illusion? A phantom? An effervescent image in my head? A reflection? I don’t know. I don’t want to know. But there you are, you exist. Sitting beside me, that red-lipped smirk gnawing at my very being. What’s so funny?

I clutched the pillow to my heart, but your proximity surpassed it. You slouched next to me, that ever-present smile glowing in the dark, mocking me. I don’t know what’s so funny, and I don’t think you do too. But you kept on smiling like a lunatic. I kept on shivering like a lunatic, too. I coiled up, fetal position, burying my face in the mounds the sheets made. Why are you here?

It’s midnight. You only exist in my midnight. You do remind me of the insomniac nights, yes, when I was typing away, pouring away my soul in poems and sestinas and rondels and fiction—oh, you do know my hunger for them—and what you did is just stand there. Coffee vendo machines? That would be awesome, you agreed. I threw you a bleak smile. I don’t want to stay awake. Just leave me alone, will you? Leave my 12:00AM alone.

“I am you and you are me,” you whispered with a wink. "What the hell," I hissed angrily, and plopped the pillow over my head. I don’t have another me. I’m only one.

Butterflies banging against the walls of my tummy, suddenly they’re there. You giggled at my face, showed me the chrysalises where those little rainbow-colored worms came from. Quite disgusting, with birth juices—term!—oozing between your fingers. They’re once ugly, you mused. They still are, I retorted. They just grew some wings, and whatever they’re doing in my stomach is something I don’t consider beautiful. I don’t like the feeling.

“They’re doing their job well, then,” you said aloud, shrugged. You snuggled close to me so I can smell your hair—scent of fairy floss. Ants will want you for sure. Did you come from a fairytale? You laughed at my thought, brushed your arm against mine—soft like the petals of the blown hibiscus I collected as a child, when I said I will make a bubble potion out of them. Never did I succeed in making that, but I enjoyed it. You have a childhood? You laughed again.

What’s so funny?

You only exist in my midnight. You opened your mouth for an answer, but the clock turned to twelve-oh-one. You vanished, part by part, first that tangled nest of hair, then that nondescript face, your too-slim torso, the legs, feet. Funny how your eyes remained for some seconds. Heterchromic: the color of peace and war. I wonder what they symbolized for me.

I rolled over to the side of the bed where you were sprawled earlier, groaned at the coldness of it, and slept.
Good night—I mean, good morning—sweet muse.

***

(additional notes: I italicized the words I wrote as thoughts. I can't italicize them while the writing process is on-going, but I'm thinking them italicized--if you know what I mean. haha. Good morning! Got to sleep! MB tomorrow!)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Review: The Wedding Present

If you’ve read and enjoyed Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, you’ll probably love this tale with the same theme done the Neil Gaiman style.

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The Wedding Present revolves around a couple who received a description of their wedding day as a gift. They didn’t know who gave it but they kept it anyway. Their marriage went on happily—and so did the description, though every happening in it is the exact opposite of their reality. The wife began to wonder: is everything that happened to them real? Which is the real reality? Is the description magical, just absorbing all the bad luck that’s supposed to be happening to them? When will their good luck end? What will happen if the description is destroyed?

The story was included in The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 10 (1998), edited by Stephen Jones. The story can indeed inspire fear: first, because of the possible magic of the wedding description; second, because even if the couple truly wanted a happily married life, they surely didn’t want it to happen with the aid of a magic, self-writing story. They were, in a way, robbed of their own free will.

Reiterating what I’ve said in my previous reviews, Neil Gaiman is a true horror and sci-fi connoisseur. He easily shot up to the highest notch of my favorite-wordsmiths-of-all-time stepladder the first time I read one of his works—yes, past M.R. James, even Garth Nix (which is now settled on the rung next to Gaiman’s). He can grow seeds of mundane scenes into extraordinary, twisting beanstalks of events that will horrify you and at the same time tug at something at the bottom of your heart. We can sometimes even find ourselves in his characters.

(Excuse me for blathering; I just can’t help but to marvel at the greatness of this man.)

The Wedding Present is a bonus story written as part of the introduction for Smoke and Mirrors. It’s supposed to be a wedding gift for friends, but it didn’t end the way Gaiman intended it to. It’s as well a gift for readers who…well, read introductions (I’m sometimes guilty of skipping intro’s, but this is a Gaiman book so every word is worth reading. Proved me right once again.)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Review: Tastings

“Even in the pettiest, most unpromising things, you can find real treasure.”

It took Neil Gaiman four years to finish this short story, “not because I was honing and polishing every adjective,” he said in the introduction, “but because I’d get embarrassed. I’d write a paragraph and then leave the story alone until the red flush had faded from my cheeks.”

PhotobucketI understand him. Tastings is a pornographic tale—it’s about two people talking while having sex in a hotel suite. A very erotic (though not very explicit) piece with a magnificent twist in the end, this story is not just about the tasting of each other’s flesh to quench their carnal thirst. More importantly it’s the tasting of one’s memories, fears, dreams, frustrations, and ambitions, and how they all seem to be so irrelevant to the human they belong to if viewed from the outside. You have to read the story if you want to know how those are “tasted”.

The opening quote of this review is the conclusion of one of the characters: “even in the pettiest, most unpromising things, you can find real treasure.” That bag of trifling human skin is just a physical container of what we truly are. Our insides—our aspirations and memories, the goals we set—those are the things that matter, the real building blocks of what we’re really made of.

Neil Gaiman is definitely a literary juggler—the anthology Smoke and Mirrors quite proves that. He succeeds in whatever type of lit he writes, though of course at the end it will always have a touch of science fiction/fantasy. He commences the tale with something you’ll thought as shallowly simple and concludes it with something so deep that you’ll be left thinking about it for a while. That’s the main essence of whatever he writes: he always leave something to the audience. Whether it’s a small piece of advice, a paradigm, or an inspiration, it’s a gift we must pick up by ourselves, and let it sink in our minds and hearts.

LRT (freewriting)

The red and yellow strings were loose when I looked down at them, and the soles squeaked noisily against the wax-stained floor, back and forth, back and forth. The roars of jeeps and trucks below transfigured into muffled sighs, traveling up the semi-weathered concrete of the structure, as if it were some kind of pipe, sound bites sliding up its hollow body.

Tick, tock, tick, tock.

The red and yellow—or gold?—strings were undone. When did I first learn to tie my shoes? I stooped, hearing my heart throbbing in my ears, synchronized with the tick-tocking of place’s clock. And it came, rushing like a bullet and slowing into an ugly stop.

I marched in, squeezed myself between the little gaps, those spaces the human caves made. The air conditioner churned every scent imaginable. Sweet sweat, sour perfume, bitter apathy of every breathing flesh. I inhaled, quite disgusted, and inhaled some more. Do you know how pleasant it is to be able to breathe? In, out, in, out. I saw an image of the respirator in my mind, and continued to inhale. A gift it is, to be able to breathe.

The metal box was trembling, the lids sliding open, people rushing out back to their lives again. I leaned against the handrail, read some poetry—Instituto Cervantes, eh?—they put above the seats. I murmured to myself, pronouncing the words, appreciating. I looked down and found the red and yellow strings loose. Again. And then I felt your stare.

And there you are—little doll, perfect for this little container. Color me intrigued. Book in hand, fingers stopping in mid-movement, dark pupils tumbling up, brows rising to your hairline. Still have batteries? Or do I need to twist that steel key behind your back to make you move again? You stared and tilted your head, as if I were an off-kilter painting. Little marionette without strings, why are those eyes so empty?

I kneeled and tied the red and yellow strings, hummed in my mind: happiness is tying your shoe for the very first time. Do you know that song? I raised my head, nodded in your direction, flashed a smile—a supposed smile, which I think turned into a grimace of pain. I saw you squint.

Tick, tock, tick, tock.

You shut the book, slid the magnetic card in the middle, an instant bookmark. You glanced at the poems above my head, then let those eyes travel on me as if I were a continuation of that poem. Am I a poem?

Tick, tock, tick, tock.

“Three years? Four years?”

I shook my head despite myself, your voice an echo from an illusion. “No, an infinity. And guess what—it ended.”

You frowned. I smirked.

The box shook to a halt and I let myself be carried by the flow of people, out—Central Terminal, Central Terminal—and I took the image of you with my mind’s camera. The tousled hair, as if fresh from a dream; skin translucent, as if faded by time. And those eyes, shallow and empty, inhabited by ghosts of our yesteryears. Why be sad?

I watched you through the inch-thick mirror doors, you trifling toy, as your container slugged forward, wheels creaking. You were gone in a flash. Another eternity has passed.

I looked down and saw my shoestrings loose again. Red and yellow—scarlet or gold, whatever. I tied them in a tangle and I glanced up at the clock.

Tick, tock, tick, tock—eleven thirty-five. I was late for class.

***

Note: I know there are a few grammar errors there, but what the hell, this is just free writing. It does help one conquer the writer's block (though this material I've produced is nowhere near usable for what I'm really planning to write: fanfics. *le sigh*). Anyway, at least I've somehow killed time. Story review for Smoke and Mirrors later. :D

(from Wiki) Free writing — also called stream-of-consciousness writing — is a prewriting technique in which a person writes continuously for a set period of time without regard to spelling, grammar, or topic.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Review: Murder Mysteries

“What happened? I left home, and I lost my way, and these days home’s a long way back. Sometimes you do things you regret, but there’s nothing you can do about them. Times change. Doors close behind you. You move on.”

Murder Mysteries is about two interconnected stories, one of a British young man trying (and failing) to reignite an old flame in Los Angeles, the other that of an older man recounting the tale of the first murder in Heaven (which is also the first crime in the Universe).

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The older man is actually Raguel, the Angel of Vengeance. He shares to the younger man the noir-ish account of the death of Carasel, the angel who, ironically, is assigned to research about the concept of Death. At that time angels are still laboring over the Plan, including all the emotions and workings that may go with the Universe once it’s all finished. Other angels involved are Lucifer, the Captain of the Host, the only angel who walks in the Dark fringing the Silver City; Saraquael, Carasel’s partner in everything; Phanuel, one of the two senior angels who is not as great as he seems; and Zephkiel, the real thinker among the two senior angels and is actually more than what he seems. Raguel is mandated by Lucifer to investigate the case of the slain angel, and he must perform his function—to avenge, to give justice.

The story succeeds both as a hardboiled crime fiction and as an account providing the raison d'être that will eventually lead to Lucifer’s fall and his revolution against God (or The Presence, if you’re familiar with The Sandman universe). Too-religious people might find something offensive in it, a few might rethink some of their beliefs, but in the end it will all depend on the person.

At first, the reader might find no connection between Raguel’s story and that of the young Brit, but as the young man himself finds it, the reader will sure get it and even relate with it in some ways. One of the easiest methods to find the connection is to find the clue in the title.

The prose and style is powerful as always, not too florid but you can visualize/feel everything—from the androgynous, winged angels to the beauty of emotions each character projects. That’s exactly what makes Gaiman’s works incomparable: he writes them with intelligence and careful attention that they pop up with four-dimensional weight, even if they fall under the fantasy category. The endings provide food not only for thought but also for the heart. Even though his works are by no means light—except maybe the ones he penned for kids, though Coraline and The Graveyard Book contain disturbing elements as well—there would be always this constituent in his style that will surely tug at the heartstrings. Murder Mysteries is truly poignant, especially at the end, and it is something that I know I will always ponder on if I chance upon topics regarding the Creation.

Thumbs up again, Neil Gaiman!

Review: Snow, Glass, and Apples

(Note: I made up my mind a long time ago to review every story or movie I encounter, mainly to practice my critical thinking and writing. Since Neil Gaiman's Smoke and Mirrors is an anthology, I might as well review every piece in it--yes, all thirty-one of them. That way I can go into every minute detail and spare myself the trouble of a long post when I finish the whole collection. Without further ado, here's my review for Snow, Glass, and Apples).

PhotobucketI agree with Neil Gaiman when he said this story is like a virus: when I finished it, I never read the original fairytale the same way again. Snow, Glass, and Apples is a retelling of the classical bedtime story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs from the point of view of the Queen, Snow White's stepmother.

The same elements from the original tale are present: the seven dwarfs, the Apple, the Prince, the Kiss, the 'happy-ever-after' ending for Snow White--but not in the Disney way we are all familiar with. Twisted and horrifying, it's definitely not the type of tale you'll want to tell your kids. Themes like incest, necrophilia, pedophilia (sexual abnormalities galore, yeah!), and vampirism are present. Not quite graphic, but you can visualize the details.

The Queen recounts the story from the day she met the King for the first time. Unbeknownst to her, what she deemed as a prosperous, regal life is actually one that she would never like to live. The King's only daughter, at first glance, is just an ordinary child--coal-black hair, blood-red lips, snow-white skin--but when she bares those sharp yellow teeth, the word "child" is the last word you'll want to associate with this...creature.

Gaiman managed to divert from the stereotype adaptations and rewrites of the fairytale but stayed faithful to the basic details, even adding more information that will make those retained tidbits more real. The brief glimpse of the Queen's background (the witchcraft thingy, especially) and her observations made it easier. The tale is simply written, but there's a gripping force in every word that will shake you--in a good way. It is a tragic tale (for the Queen; it's a happy ending for Snow White and her necrophiliac Prince) that will linger on your mind for a long time.

Gaiman is not billed "the rock star of literature" for nothing. This is one of my favorite fairytale re-imaginings ever, and it did affect my taste on any type of literature after reading it online ages ago. It drove me to look for other retellings, found Anne Rice's The Sleeping Beauty trilogy and Gregory MaGuire's Confessions of an Ugly Sister (Cinderella) and Wicked (The Wizard of Oz), but regardless of the length, I still prefer this story over the others.

Five stars for this! :)


(additional notes: The picture above was drawn for The Tenth Dimension magazine, The Israeli Society for Science Fiction and Fantasy.)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Staccato

All he has to do is stare
and stare he did.
She became a mermaid of the clouds, swimming between the zodiac motifs,
carefully writhing to avoid the afterglow of his stellar glint.

But stare he did
and she fell to the ground, the tongues of his heat licking at the frost fences
she erected against his attack.
Fleeting smiles, blinking fires—devouring her shell, engulfing rationality.

And stare he did,
for again she was naked, her senses haywire.
Fly. Look down. Fall.
An endless waltz it was, swaying to the do-re-mi of their hearts.

Oh, stare he did,
and she stared back—
self-flagellating souls, she discovered they were,
the only humans in a dance hall of paperboard couples.