Archive for May, 2012

The Slumber

Flash fiction is the way of the future, it’s true. Flash fiction is defined by its length, usually from 500 to 1000 words, and in today’s world it makes for a great snack-sized, immediate payoff, slice of entertainment. It’s refreshing to see writing find a way to compete in a world with YouTube. When that means you’re only a minute away from farting pandas, honey badgers, and Viking Metal who wants to struggle through words like this Latin nonsense

Anyway, I like to dabble time and again, so I’ll be posting flash fiction right up here to this blog.


The Slumber

I awake from my slumber surrounded by the tendrils of black barren trees reaching for the starless night sky.  I must have slept for some time as I do not recognize this part of the woods, thick with frost covered moss.   As I tilt my head up I find myself laying at the feet of a stony angel.  Her arms outstretched a sign of welcome, belittle her woeful frown I expect marble tears to roll off her cheeks and onto my face. I know this angel, she guards the family plot at St. Benedict’s Cemetery

            She welcomes the dead, for my resting place is no forest but a burial ground.  The grounds are lit by a ring of melting candles flickering in a crisp gale which guttered out the weakest of flames.  A man in heavy robes watches with deranged eyes from beyond the ring.  He holds his arms across his chest pulling his robes tight to shut out the cold.

I know not where the thought came from but I am so sure of my conviction on the matter, this man must have woken me I call out to him to ask what he wanted from me but no sound came from my lips, not even my breath shows on the cold night air.  All that I can muster is the sickening crackle of a jaw not used to speak for too long.

“Arise and arm yourself!” The wizard’s words pierce my very soul and before I can think, I was gaining my footing and slowly plodding towards what he is now pointing at outside the ring of candles.  When I reach the spot I find myself staring at a pile of dimly lit and very crudely made swords, jagged and cracked from years of neglect.  I crave a sword, I need the steel. I reach for a blade, any will do but what is this?

As I reach for a sword, horror and despair crowd my command for control of my actions. My hand comes to view from the darkness but all the flesh has fallen from it.  Long I must have been asleep, a slumber I never should have woken from for all that is left of me is alabaster bones that tatters and rags hang from .  Still, I carry my sword with grim obligation for his command has silenced any thought of objection in my mind.  My soul is his to command by some dark pact; I will serve him today and the rest until the day I am nothing more than dust.

There is a place people go…

There is a place people go, a place to escape the daily grind for a while,  a place people express themselves and don’t give a damn what others think,  a place where people go to just let go like a pop singer on a coke binge.  Okay so maybe I took the analogy a little too far, but you get the point.

For some people this place is Burning Man, for others they go to Cochella.   For me, at this point and time, it is Starfest.  Starfest falls into the category of a convention, cleverly shorted to “cons” by its participants.  There seems to be a growing popularity of cons ever since the media industry tagged onto San Deigo’s famous Comic Con to lobby next years movies, games and TV shows.  Or maybe it is just because people have so much more to nerd out about as we approach the singularity through hyper media consumption.  And yes, I like to think I know a thing or two about media consumption, or my college degree might be for naught.

Basically your standard convention goes like this: Check into hotel. Put on costume of your favorite show/comic/game/etc. Leave room and check out the other sweet costumes, because we are all friends here.  Pose for admirers of your own costume and feel important for just a moment.  Then go to a few panels, or see what silly trinkets your new friends are selling.

This person happened to be selling the penguin incarnations of my friends and me. I’m the dumbest looking one…no the other one.

Finish the night in a hotel room party and feel young again by repeatedly pissing off hotel security with noise complaints.  Repeat steps as desired while sprinkling in a few conversations you are not likely to forget.

Boxy Brown kept calling me a cracker.

If you really want to feel like a star you can dedicate some effort into making your costume good enough to compete in the contest or fully immerse yourself in your character.  See exhibit “Batman”.

Also this guy.

I guess if that is too much for you you could always just hang out with one of the celebrities at your con.

This is Jewel Staite. No, the one on the left is Lily. I think it’s intentional.

Full disclosure, some conventions are nerdy. And I’ll tell you right now that some of your conversations will be incredibly awkward.  Like when I tried to help an extremely intoxicated Cpt. Kirk find his friends, or when when I tried to ask a furry if it was hot under his fur suit and he mistook my question for an proposition.

Still, on a deeper level, starfest is a place where everyone will stop for a chat.  Where your interests are more important than your name.  Where all your responsibilities and worries give way to planning a fun time for a day, planning that often fails to leave time to eat or sleep.

Johnny Bravo dance off is more important.  Thanks to Snow for this one.

After this last Starfest (it will have been my 3rd a rookie by most standards) I realized that I found a place I belong.  But alas, Starfest is only once a year, and even if I traveled the country going from con to con the only income would be selling dumb looking penguins.  So my con remains what it is meant to be, an escape, while my search for my place continues.

Underneath it All

What does Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and Game of Thrones all have in common?  Well, aside from each being a fantastic amalgamation of fiction they all have the same  roots.  Check it out.

Any fan of Tolkien knows that Middle Earth was in part inspired by Germanic  mythology, more specifically sagas.  Yes kids it’s the word of the day, say it with me now, saga!  Tolkien and Wagner both have adapted Volsunga Saga and rightly so because it rightly displays why Odin would beat Zeus’s adulterous ass with one eye…well…gone.

Close enough.

Sagas are stories about ancient Scandinavian history, they are chock-full of viking voyages, viking battles, family feuds between vikings. It like taking reality TV show where all the contestants are given axes and told to survive a winter in Iceland.  The result is a medieval warrior society surprisingly more humane than The Hunger Games.  At least in 10th century Iceland the penalty for killing someone was to either offer compensation to the family of the victim, or to be put in “time out” for a few years where they could still raid all the Europeans they wanted but if they were found in Iceland they were fair game for bands of homeland militias who made it their business to kill you.

Sagas are defined as non-realistic epic work of fiction, yet, these tales were passed down by story tellers who used the stories to make their history lessons more enjoyable.  King Harald of Norway is a consistent character in most sagas and even most battles and word events like the conversion to Christianity are reflected in the sagas making them a useful tool to historians.  This blend of fact and fiction makes for truly bad ass protagonists wielding magic who were tied to real and everyday problems.

Your average sage might read a little like this:

Thord was an unmatched fighter and had two brothers Brynjolf and Thorkel. They were drinking one winter day and soon became outrageously drunk. Unable to think clearly they decided on a game called “hit the horse rider on the head”. The game was fairly simple, involving the use of large objects to cause injury and dislodge riders on the local road. It started out with small branches and rocks but quickly graduated to objects only liftable by men of their time. Brynjolf, to prove his position as the strongest of the brothers decided to use a horse from a neighboring farm, for his next and last turn in the game. At that exact, ill fated  moment, another neighboring farm’s son who no one liked due to his crazy insistence that there was more to life than money, killing and honor, happened to be passing by the spot where the brothers were playing their game. Brynjolf threw the horse as hard as he could at the passing rider and hit Hamund in the side of the head as he rode by, killing him at once. Brynjolf named witnesses to the killing and sent a messenger to Grim Bardsson, the rider’s father in Mork to tell of the accident and offer compensation, giving Grim self-judgment. Then he buried the boy.

Take Egil Skalgrimmson for example, as one of the first immigrants to Iceland after a blood fued with the king of Norway, was like the George Washington of Iceland.  He is described in his exploits as being very hard to wound and he was thought to have magical powers because of this.  When his grave was excavated he was found to have Paget’s Disease, where the skeleton of the person inflicted grows indefinitely.  That’s right, Egil was the viking version of the super villain who finally delivers the killing blow to Superman.

Egil also enjoys long walks on the beach.

I’m sorry, I’m getting side tracked, I got your hopes up about relate able pop culture, thinking that you would find the first sentence fun and instead used the opportunity to plug away on a history lesson.  What is truly unique to sagas isn’t the dark pagan mysticism, the unique culture, or the lure of ancient society but the great span of time they cover.  Sagas often tell a story that spans across three generations or more, lineage gets developed and characters come and go.  Scandinavian story tellers used these tales to explain anything from landmarks to alliances to the rules of the land.   immortalizing Egil Skalgrimmson in his Saga makes sure that all Icelanders will remember their heritage and some lucky few will be able to identify  a relative by his appearance in the tale.  And in the end a dwarf just isn’t a dwarf without his family name, his time honored crest or his reputation for being able to drink more ale than anyone you know.

Specialization is for Insects

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

-Robert A. Heinlein

I though about making a big to-do about this post, but the more I wrote the more I took away from the point.  It’s easy to forget the meaning of life when society demands so much of us, and so much importance is placed on ones profession, there are times when you just have to say fuck it.

“Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.”

-John Lennon

I’m gonna level with you guys, I struggle to enjoy the moment, always have.  So lets make an agreement to be well rounded and open to new things and ideas and this will not be another lame quote post.  You can go back and say, I remember that one post Mark did about being awesome, then I was and now I am.

Deal? Great!

Fame and Tranquility Can Never Be Bedfellows

As I meticulously comb through Christmas presents I tend to sort them into logical piles, such is my nature to bring order to chaos.  The piles range in neatness with the necessities like socks carefully packed away to the returns shamelessly stuffed in an old grocery bag.  But there is always the presents that don’t fit either.  You know the ones, thoughtful gifts if a little off base, or maybe just plain weird presents that are too unique to part with.  This is the fashion in which I received The Philosophy Book; it is best described as timeline of the study.  On of my favorite quotes I have read yet is “Fame and tranquility can never be bedfellows.”

Pictured here: Brittney Spears.

You see, man has been pondered thoughts about socialization since 4th century BC when Aristotle hastily claimed that a person must be social before any other philosophers could weigh in.  He said that only the godly and the beastly flourish alone.  So  introvert readers, which one are you?
Hundreds of years later a French philosopher by the name of Michel De Montaigne came along during the French Wars of Religion 1562–98 during which the Catholics and Protestants were at it yet again.

You see Michel was reflecting on his country’s harsh behavior,  he got to observe a great deal of political unrest in his time and followers of religions who were adopting a ‘mob mentality’ in his opinion. Notice that the result wasn’t just one war but a whole generation of sporadic outbursts that even had the power to draw England and Spain into the fight.  So Michel thought that tranquility depends upon the detachment from others opinions and seeking fame is gaining glory in the eyes of others, thereby seeking their opinions.  This theory would mean that if we seek fame we cannot reach detachment/tranquility, so fame and tranquility can never be bedfellows (such a fun word and never the place to use it).  This type of logical thinking is great to keep us on our minds sharp as brain-diamonds. Something like this will stick with me all day, and I find myself thinking about it waiting for the bus,  cooking dinner, at the gym etc.  Things like: “I agree monsieur, but surely that isn’t all it takes to be tranquil” or  “Do you  mean to apply this as a lifestyle, or simply mapping out social interactions on a whole?” and  “If we replace ‘fame’ for ‘anger’ and flip the sentence structure it sounds like something Yoda would say.”


Turns out Michel isn’t the only one to think about this  either.  Nietzsche has touched the topic and Richard Cecil says “Solitude shows us what we should be; society shows up what we are”
Cecil does seem to have a point, every time I go to Walmart I’m reminded how creepy, gross, and unhealthy we really are and there aren’t too many eligible bedfellows at Walmart either.  Don’t get mad I’m just telling it like I see it. I hope It’s not too soon in this blog’s life to tell jokes at others expenses. OH, you know what? I’m actually not
going to care what others think and just relax. Yep, it’s my blog and I kinda like doing things the way I’m doing them.

I like to eat dessert before dinner.

I like  anything Jim Henson.

and sometimes I like to find new and exciting ways to attach bread to cats.

If only I can haz such a mathematical cat

But I digress…

Philosophy is the love of wisdom, and studying it really does make us wiser, or more logical at the least.  So if you find yourself really liking logical thinking then consider doing something involving math, like computer science, because that is logical as Spock. If that’s not your thing maybe you can learn a language, also a logic task. So it would seem this entry is a bit of a tease. If you saw the title and thought I might unlock the ethics of fame and tranquility like dear Monsieur Michel De Montaigne, I’m afraid I will never be able explain the reasoning as well as he did. But you’re in luck, his work is carefully preserved forever on pen and paper and you can look up his essay “On Solitude”. Or if you want to troll me in a philosophical argument stick around, I will be writing a whole lot more of these under the “Musings” category and maybe “Observations” too, but definitely not the “Fiction” one. That category is reserved  for philosophical debates about Star Wars…

Continuing Education

Ever come across something so totally inspiring you lose your frame of reference?  Say for example this one time I found myself in a cave of wonders and was so impressed with the riches inside that I nearly forgot to touch them would mean certain death…or was that Aladdin?

Okay so another time I came across this student reel for 3D animation and I had one of those moments.  I forgot what time it was, forgot about my phone for a an hour or so, even forgot about the water I had boiling for dinner and by the time I came back to the kitchen it had nearly boiled off and I gave up on dinner to research this new interest of mine.

The video itself was fun sure but what captured me was the credits.  Seeing how all that work was constructed and then seeing that a group of students did that in a year I was very impressed.  Now lets get something straight, I just paid handsomely to finish a 4 year degree and It’s not like I’m looking for some new school offer my money to.   In fact, anyone who knows me will tell you that I’ve never even thought about going back to school after getting my degree, but now I’m curious.  One thing led to another and I found myself on the 3D animation degree application page at at this so called Design Media School of New Zealand.

The requirements are as follows: a mere $30,000 for tuition, a flight to New Zealand,  and a portfolio and I’m on my way. Yadda yadda yadda, trivial costs…oh damn…I need to be able to draw.  This is when my frame of reference came back with one of those ugly sticks to beat some sense into me about the head and neck area.  It was at that point that I limped away from the computer and tried again to make some dinner but to little success.

The next day I found myself researching other schools, buying a sketch pad and looking up drawing tips on sites like this one

Turns out, even if you don’t go to the other side of the globe these graphic arts schools are big money, and the short programs assume you have had previous experience.  So after thinking things through I find that I am no more ready for art school than America is for four dollar gas prices.

You will notice that no where in my train of thought did I mention the possibility of getting a job with this education.  As a matter of fact, I for one do not think that should be among the first thing to be considered, rather one should do what makes the most happiness.

Yet,  I still learned something valuable in this ordeal.  I learned that I’m not ready to stop learning.  College isn’t for most folks, we have the whole rest of our lives left and the only garentee is that we will forget more of the things we already know.

So begins my journey. Art school may not be for me, but somewhere there is a place for me and I am determined to find it. So with that I dedicate this blog to finding the job, education, or whatever it is that makes me stronger, in hopes that what I find is also useful to you, the reader.

-Mark Ehler