Why Don’t I Ever Finish A Story?

In most of my blog entries, I’ve tended to answer the questions that I posed, but for this one, I’m going to say upfront that I have no idea whatsoever. And this is a concern for me, for a number of reasons.

First, I like the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that comes with ending a story. The idea that you’ve set right what went wrong in the conflict (though most times I couldn’t even reach the conflict). It’s like watching a TV show or reading a book to its end; it’s strange to stop halfway without a resolution. All I feel when I stop writing halfway is a feeling of disappointment that I didn’t let my characters develop in the way I wanted them to.

Second, I want to show off what I’ve written to the public, and it’s difficult to present something that isn’t complete. And you can’t get feedback and perform a second round of edits, all those things that professional authors do. Most importantly, you can’t submit your work for competitions. You wouldn’t call yourself an author without a portfolio to prove it.

Third, it’s really annoying to start a new story whenever you feel like writing. Most of the time in my planning stage, I pretty much establish all my character features and mark out the beginning, ending and such. This process can take days, and all comes to naught when I don’t write it out. And the next time I must spend days puzzling out a new story again.

Some of you may wonder by now why I can’t just compel myself to keep writing, rather than flail helplessly when work after work vanishes into dust. I wonder that too, honestly, but there’re times when I’m so busy or stressed that I can’t write anything good, and then it takes me months before my writing mojo comes back, in which time I end up wondering how I ever thought that tale was workable.

Well, follow the advice of some authors then, you may say. Just keep writing even if you don’t feel like it. I have also tried that, but it ended up piling so much stress on me and taking so much time that I really felt much more relaxed after stopping. Perhaps I’m not a persistent or perseverant person. In that case, this is indeed a flaw I must work on. If I can finish assignments and tasks, stories should not get me down!

If anyone has ways to help me get my stories completed, or if you share the same experience and I am not alone, tell me! I would love to be able to write on top of my busy schedule.

For some reason I think the reason I stop writing is because writing exhausts me. I guess that in psychological terms, writing is not my flow. I don’t feel deeply energised or engrossed when writing. However, this makes it harder but not impossible! Someday I aim to balance both writing quantity and quality, that is, I can deliver long stories that are also good. Currently it looks like a time investment, and a commitment to focus on only that 1 story at a time. Would that be the solution? How do I prevent from falling out of love with my own stories?

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Mindfulness

Raptitude recently had a 2-part series on mindfulness, because it seems 1 entry simply is not enough to stress its importance. And yet mindfulness is really a very simple concept. I can summarise it into 1 sentence, in fact, and that is “don’t keep thinking about the past or the future”. Yeah, that’s pretty much it.

For example, if you’re eating, don’t keep thinking about that exam tomorrow. Just focus on the eating. Focus on the food, and how they taste, rather than spearing each chunk of meat into your mouth, your fork already hovering over the next chunk, one foot preparing to step out to run back to your books. Not only does that obviously lead to indigestion, it’s bad for your psychological well-being too.

After reading the above 2 paragraphs, 2 thoughts may be going through your mind now.

1. That sounds ridiculously obvious. We all know that we shouldn’t think about other things while we’re doing one thing. I certainly don’t do that.

2. How can that possibly benefit us in any way? It sounds just like not thinking. I can’t help it if my over-active mind ponders events to rid me of the boredom of eating.

Allow me to address both points.

For the first point, it’s not as obvious as you’d think. In fact, right just now I faced a mindfulness crisis. I was reading my readings, and nothing was going through because my mind was concentrating on the mountain of other readings waiting for me. It sounds brainless to teach people to think about what they’re doing, but when was the last time you seriously relaxed and felt the sensation of bath water on your skin? When was the last time you walked down your usual road and took in your surroundings properly? Most of the time, our minds are caught up with what happened before, or what will happen later, and shockingly little time is spent on what is happening now. When you’re standing on a podium, preparing to make a speech, you’re not fearful of what is happening at the present moment. You’re thinking of possible future scenarios, like being laughed at by the audience, or stumbling. You can’t be afraid of the present, when you’re doing everything perfectly well.

As for the second point, mindfulness brings a whole host of unbelievable benefits. Allow me to offer some insight. For instance, think back of the last time you bathed. Is the memory fuzzy? You probably didn’t notice the smell of the shampoo you used. I might go a bit philosophical and ask you, how can you be sure you even bathed? Think back of what happened an hour ago. If you didn’t notice what you were doing then, it would probably turn up as a blank to you. What happened to all that time? If you hadn’t been living in that moment, it’s essentially wasted time, because it left no significant trace on your memory.

Now think about what happens if you’ve been living like this your whole life, fearing for the future and regretting the past. As you grow older, would you think that your entire life had been a lie? You can remember nothing from it except things that didn’t happen. Can you confidently say you know every tree outside your house, for one? If you can’t, then what was the point of living in that house?

There are also more pragmatic benefits for it. For example, if you’re facing a daunting task, one that is tedious or challenging, don’t think so far ahead. Focus on doing whatever you’re doing now well, and leave future tasks aside. Tasks seem a lot more manageable that way.

A third benefit is that mindfulness helps you keep things in perspective. Research has shown that continued thinking about a bad situation only exacerbates your emotions. This means that talking about sad things or venting your anger doesn’t actually help you; they only serve to keep reminding you of it and worsen your emotions. Aggression has been said to promote more aggression — when a person yells at someone else, for instance, they actually feel more inclined to continue yelling. People have been known to get carried away with the abuse, and this is when mindfulness comes to play. If you’re concentrating on the present and not the past, you may realise that what you’re doing now is really disproportional to the context.

Of course, mindfulness is easier said than done (then again, doesn’t the concept itself sound very obvious?). It requires constant conscious effort to shift one’s thoughts towards the present, but it can really help to make big things seem insignificant, and the small things in life suddenly develop more meaning.

2048

I recently (and by that I mean yesterday) chanced upon a simple but surprisingly addictive game named 2048. It is apparently a spin-off of Threes!, which I haven’t heard of. This game can be played on the computer and on the phone, and one can easily spend minutes or hours figuring out the solution to this game.

The game is in the form of a 4×4 grid, and I consider it akin to the idea of pinball. It starts off with 2 random grids taken up by the number “2”. By pressing the left, right, up and down keys, you get to move the numbers (sorta like blocks) to move them around. If 1 number hits an identical number, they fuse to form the sum of the 2 numbers. So if 2 “2” blocks are side by side and you press the left or right key, they’ll form a single block, “4”, on either the space taken by the left or right number, depending. And you will try to hit this “4” with another “4” to form “8”. Of course, as with pinball, note that moving 1 pair of numbers ends up moving all other numbers as well, so a lot of foresight is required.

With every move, a new random number will pop up on one of the blank spaces. Most of the time it is a “2”, but I have seen “4” pop up before as well. The objective of this game is to have a 2048 block appear on the screen. This means hitting all the 2’s, 4’s, 8’s etcetera accordingly till you get 2048. Needless to say, this is a challenge!

This game is one of the milestones of good game design. It’s simple, but challenges a lot of skills, such as spatial ability, and each number has a colour which makes it easy to differentiate. There is a scoreboard at the top and my highest score is “6948”, though this is really only my second game. I’m not really sure how the score was derived, but I believe it has something to do with how high the numbers are?

In any case, this game is a good mix of skill and randomness, and I’m sure a lot of gamers will revel in discovering the “correct” way to play to get to the result. I must say that having played things like Magic and Hearthstone, I’ve figured out how to calculate moves 1 or 2 steps ahead, but I probably must think even further than that to achieve the elusive objective! It’s like a Rubik’s cube, which I’m even worse at for the simple reason that I don’t have enough strength to turn the things.

Would you play such a game for a long time? How does this compare to other number-related games like Sudoku? I probably wouldn’t really get addicted to this game, because I’ll likely be stuck at the same level for a long time, not knowing the formula to victory. It’s still a good way to pass the time, though. Try it and tell me what you think!

http://gabrielecirulli.github.io/2048/

Greenland and Eric the Red

I love travelling. Or rather, I love the notion of it. The idea of casting aside your daily life, casting aside the things you see day in and day out, and entering an entirely different world, with different people, exploring everything new. I love new stuff, so it makes sense that I would love a new environment too.

However, when people think of their ideal place for travel, they always imagine exotic places. Places with breath-taking scenery, the kind depicted on postcards. Somewhere with nature, and smiling people (for God knows city-dwellers don’t smile anymore). Travel photographs are some of the most enrapturing type, and I chanced on a series just now from Fotopedia.com that exemplified just the kind I was talking about.

This photo series was about Qassiarsuk, which is in the south of Greenland. Greenland’s probably one of those countries faraway from everywhere, and eternally cold. I don’t think I can stand such countries, but cold weather seems to bring with it its fair share of beautiful landscapes. They have solitary houses by the sea, for one, which is an uncommon sight in land-cramped Singapore. I don’t think I can even imagine staying in a small 3-storey house, and walking out to metres and metres of pasture, with a lake behind me and a snow-capped mountain in the distance. It’s like a scene from Heidi!

I would run amidst the bed of flowers, barefoot, and touch the statue of Leif Ericsson (not likely related to the company Ericsson). And then I would meet the Captain of Qassiarsuk, who’s a guy who smokes a pipe.

And there’ll be sheep! Apparently sheep abound in Greenland (though I wonder if Australia still has more of them). I believe I’ve touched sheep before, maybe in Japan or somewhere, but feeding them and waking up to them everyday makes a big difference. Oh, and I also see a rock of runes over there. Just some rock jutting out of the grass, with runes inscribed on it. It’s all so adventurous and fantastic!

There are so many other awesome places and people depicted in this excellent photo series. I notice the photographer likes close-up shots a lot, especially of people, which makes them look a little too close. I wonder if the people are really like that, overly warm and imposing on you. Well, I’m sure it won’t be long to get used to that!

I don’t usually consider a travel photographer a photojournalist. They strictly belong in the leisure bent. That said, there’s no better place than abroad to test out your new professional camera, or your latent talents.

Travelling all over the world has been my dream since I was little, ignoring the fact that I mayn’t enjoy the weather or the rural conditions. But travel always has a dream-like quality, as if you’re living out an entirely new life, trying out what would have happened to you had you been born in a different place. And after seeing this photo gallery, travelling to Qassiarsuk is definitely going on my bucket list!

And for all those curious to see it for yourself, here’s the link.

http://www.fotopedia.com/reporter/stories/LrtSzShqfWX/view

EXILE

Not sure if you’ve heard of them, but EXILE is the new cool group I recently discovered.

It all started with Great Teacher Onizuka (the 2013 remake). My mother was quite fascinated by it, so when I saw that GTO Season 2 (2014) is coming out soon, I told her immediately. She was also quite fascinated by the actor of the male lead, who turned out to be Akira from EXILE (in the remake, that is; the original GTO had a totally different actor). Now I’ve heard of EXILE — seen them on Oricon charts and winning awards and such, but I never bothered to find out what they were. I mean, it sounds like the name of some cheesy boy band, maybe visual kei, doesn’t it? But since my mother swore the actor of Onizuka was pretty good, so I must see his singing prowess as well. So I checked out some videos of EXILE.

Akira doesn’t sing.

Oh well, he must be a bassist then, right? Onizuka was such a rugged character, and rugged people tend to be the bassists.

Well no, he doesn’t play an instrument either.

So what does he do in this frigging band? Well, I never said EXILE was a band.

EXILE is a dance group. I believe some of you may have heard of Flower, the many-women girl group who sang Forget-Me-Not ~Wasurenagusa~, the ending song of Gundam Age. If you haven’t heard of them, please go check them out because that song is great. More importantly, these women dance in the video. Now many women dancing would probably remind you of K-pop, and I wouldn’t blame you for that. EXILE is literally the male version of Flower (though EXILE came first, so it’s the other way around), but you would be really wrong to think they even remotely resemble male K-pop groups in any way.

First of all, EXILE is made up of 14 members. 2 of them sing exclusively, and the other 12 dance exclusively. So it’s not the case of K-pop where somehow the people can sing and dance at the same time (or should we say the autotuned recording is the one doing the singing? Heh). And the people in there are not artificially-beautified pretty boys, making gestures resembling some kind of exercise workout either. These guys in EXILE are pros. It’s like watching Step Up, without all the cheesy adolescence. You know these guys dance for a living.

That, and the men are relievingly not-pretty. They don’t look alike, for one. In fact, all of them look possibly middle-aged, so you would be inclined to call them “men” rather than “boys”. There’re the slightly thinner, younger ones, and the older, gruffer-looking ones. The leader of the group is quite evident — he takes centre stage during the dancing, and thankfully is pretty recognisable, looking rather like a silent gangster who stands up for the weak, that kind of image.

Aside from the mind-blowing dancing, the singing’s pretty good. I have a soft spot for 1 of the singers, who looks kinda young-ish (but not Mao kind of young, still) and has dimples. Awww. And the other guy follows Kohshi’s style (Kohshi from Flow, meaning sunglasses). Not only is the singing good, but EXILE’s videos have big budgets. They have wonderfully impressive backdrops to dance in, and their costumes are tastefully designed. Basically EXILE videos are a visual spectacle.

EXILE is not the kind of group whose songs you would put in your MP3, unless you want to dance to them. You would always want video accompaniment. Also, probably due to the dancing, their songs tend to be on the long side (5-6 minutes). But yes, I’m happy for them that they’ve shown that not being pretty boys doesn’t mean they can’t become famous, through hard work and talent.

Curious now as to what they’re like? I’ve thoughtfully provided a list of videos you should catch!

1. http://www.jpopasia.com/group/exile/videos/exile-pride-konna-sekai-wo-aisurutame::33056.html

This is my favourite video of the lot. It has everything I described above, and very well done.

2. http://www.jpopasia.com/group/exile/videos/no-limit::37472.html

This is a more generic video, but still has great effects.

3. http://www.jpopasia.com/group/exile/videos/flower-song::34914.html

Not much dancing at all. This song emphasises the singing, and lots of Manly Looks to be had.

4. http://www.jpopasia.com/group/exile/videos/performers-pride::38440.html

On the contrary, this video is all dancing. No singing at all, but this is American street dancing at its finest.

Enjoy!

Kyoukai no Kanata — Episode 0

Kyoukai no Kanata, the KyoAni anime we all love to hate, is releasing the seventh volume of its Blu-Ray DVD soon. While this isn’t precisely news to us, fans (if there’re still any) will be pleased to know that this DVD edition comes with an Episode 0, which is a special episode that is like a prequel to the story. This Episode 0, entitled Shinnome (or Daybreak) will take place 2 years before the events of the anime and is basically about how Hiroumi and Mitsuki meet Akihito for the first time. Sounds very cool, considering that when we met these people in the anime, they were already good friends. So how would a family of Exorcists (as I like to call them) get to know and even befriend a half-demon? Hopefully this episode will clear up some loose ends.

What is also included in this seventh volume are 2 new shorts of the Beyond the Boundary Idol Trial! For lucky people who haven’t caught the first 3 shorts posted online, these are terrible. Imagine all the girls in the show in chibi form, presiding some trashy excuse for a courtroom, with Ai — the useless little fox demon who is there for “moe” effect — being an extremely ditzy judge, and a jury of all other girls such as Mirai, Mitsuki and Sakura. And they “judge” silly court cases like Akihito’s glasses fetish and Hiroumi flaunting his naked body. And then the girls descend into some weird terribly-animated chibi dance performance. Basically each short is a pain to watch. I mean, yeah, they’re cute, but then this bimbotic cuteness can only go so far.

Since we’re on the subject of Kyoukai no Kanata, perhaps I shall chime in to talk about how under-developed the plot is. Most people have 2 complaints and 1 compliment. The first complaint relates to 1 episode in the middle of the series, which is basically a filler episode showing them as some kind of singing group. The compliment comes somewhat at the climax, where it is revealed that Mirai’s behaviour throughout the show can be explained that she already knew Akihito’s true form from the beginning, and that she had been tasked to kill him all along, and only feigned ignorance. It’s pretty awesome, cuz you start thinking of all the foreshadowing you had missed, except in my opinion it wasn’t a very good explanation at all. Frankly Mirai hadn’t stricken me as a person that capable of deception.

And finally, the biggest complaint, the ending. It can be summarised as “Mirai being alive is a delusion — she’s actually dead in reality”, followed by “it turns out Mirai isn’t actually dead”, followed by “oh oops she’s really dead now” followed by “well guess what, she’s alive after all”. Most people would rather she died along with the show’s producers.

As for me, another criticism I have towards the show is that it leaves many questions unanswered, namely “what became of Hiroumi and his family in the end?” It looks like Hiroumi found out the deep dark secret of his elder sister (by the way, what was the big deal again? I forgot), and then next we see him becoming leader of the clan in her place. What happened between those 2 scenes? We never know. That is I think the most perplexing part of the last episode, which really ought to have been addressed.

Alright, enough ranting, the show’s over long ago. In any case it’s not all bad. The show has some surprisingly good seiyuu (notably Taneda Risa, who was part of the reason Mirai’s so jaw-droppingly cute; and KENN was also pretty good) and some decent, catchy music. The art is of course the magic of KyoAni. So basically everything was good, if only they’d brushed up on the plot by a lot. So it’s not entirely a no-go, but just try not to watch it with too high expectations.

And I certainly look forward to that Episode 0, even if my darling Mirai probably won’t be showing up.

Prisoners Will Not Be Able To Read?

The Ministry of Justice of the United Kingdom has recently banned prisoners from receiving small items from their families, including books. Authors have raised criticism of this, calling it “barbaric”, “nasty”, “bizarre”, among other names, and have created a petition to allow prisoners access to books from outside.

I must agree that I can’t think of the reason the government wouldn’t let prisoners receive small items and books from their families. Are they afraid their families will hand them disguised bombs, or poison? I suppose if one thinks about the legend of the mooncake, soldiers and civilians exchanged secret messages by hiding them inside mooncakes, and it’s not unthinkable that many tiny items have been the source of secret messages over the years, perhaps allowing the prisoners to make planned getaways. And yet nobody is going to be satisfied with such a hypothetical contingency. Has there been an escape attempt in the UK or anywhere else lately spurring such an action? If not, what is the rationale of this act?

The article mentioned that prisoners are kept in their cells for hours, and their cells don’t afford much space to do much. Reading may be the best, most interesting thing prisoners can do. And who knows, if they’re that engrossed with a book, they may be distracted from thoughts of escaping. After all, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, right?

I’m imagining a romantic scenario here where a prisoner is so eager to read some lengthy book series (like the Babysitters Club, which goes on for I believe 135 books or some such) that he is reluctant to break out of jail, for fear that he won’t be able to catch up with reading while on the run.

Jokes aside, there have been many books (hurr) and movies emphasising the importance of reading freedom. The Cultural Revolution in China has shown that banning books is not going to help society in the long run. Sure, there mayn’t be any foreseeable severe drawbacks to forbidding prisoners from reading, but there aren’t any benefits either. And in the case of no win or loss on your side, I find it decent to then consider the viewpoint of the prisoner. I know just how destructive prolonged boredom can be to a person’s psyche.

It’s not as if letting them read would entice more people to commit crimes, so that they can be clapped in jail and have more time to read or something.

Though I really do need more time myself; I haven’t been catching up on my reading list very well…

Alternatively, maybe the idea is that removing every single benefit of prison would make it even less attractive to potential criminals. I don’t think that is the true intent, though, because jail itself should already be a deterrent, and yet most criminals continue to commit crime because they think they wouldn’t be caught, not because prison is a cosy place for a year-long vacation.

What is your stand on prisoners being permitted to receive books? Read the full article below.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/mar/24/mark-haddon-online-petition-prison-ban-books