2020 Writing Log, Part Eighteen

– I edited my chapter outline for Malice to streamline the story, and I cut three of my planned chapters. Each of the remaining story arcs will now have six chapters. I think I might take a long hiatus from posting the story after the fourth arc. I want to wait until we have more information about the Breath of the Wild sequel, and I think it might be worthwhile to wait until another trailer comes out so that I can benefit from renewed attention in the Zelda franchise. I’ll see how I feel when the times comes, I guess.

– I went ahead and posted Chapter 36 of Malice. This is a short chapter that serves as more of a transition than anything else, but I enjoyed myself. I’m super grateful to the marvelous and talented TheRVStar for providing an illustration!

– I also wrote super rough drafts of Chapter 37 and Chapter 38, and I wrote a bit of Chapter 39 and Chapter 40. I also commissioned an illustration for Chapter 41 that I’m pretty sure is going to be amazing.

– I edited Chapter 35 and posted it on FFN.

– I left reviews on a handful of zines on Etsy. I’ve been trying to figure out what I like about zines, and I think it probably has something to do with the pleasure of reading things printed on physical paper. In any case, Sarah Mirk’s anthology Year of Zines was a wonderful discovery that I made this week.

– I got some stickers back in stock on my own Etsy store, and I mailed out a lot of orders this week. I went ahead and raised the prices of my zines by a small amount. I’m still not making money, but I think it might be better in the long run to match my prices with those of other sellers so that I can at least break even.

– Speaking of zines, I finished the super rough drafts of all the stories for my Haunted Houses horror-themed flash fiction zine. During the coming week I’ll put together a PDF document to send to the artist I’d like to create the cover illustration.

Onwards and upwards, friends. Stay safe, and stay sane.

What Happened

During the past week I updated my CV, my website, and all of my online profiles to reflect the fact that I’m moving to a new job. I’ve been holding off on doing anything with Facebook because I know it’s going to result in people asking me what happened, so I should probably figure out what to say. Okay, here goes:

What happened is that I was offered a part-time position with full benefits, an amazing salary, and a lot of research perks at an Ivy League school, and I accepted. This is partially because I’d like to buy a townhouse in Philadelphia, but it’s mainly because I want to be able to devote more time to writing without having to worry about participating in university administration as tenured faculty.

That’s not the question people will be asking, however.

What happened at the university I’m leaving is that it’s a large regional public school that doesn’t provide even basic resources for research or teaching (I had to make my own photocopies off campus, for instance). I put up with this because I liked my colleagues and students; but, in my second year, a seventy-year-old man became department chair at the same time a seventy-year-old man became president. Both of these men are aggressively awful, and the stress caused me to develop an anxiety disorder. This specifically affected my interactions with my department chair, who openly harassed me in front of my colleagues and in front of university administration, none of whom did anything to stop him. When I finally went to the Title IX Office to request a formal intervention, the university did a complete 180 from granting me substantial yearly raises in order to retain me to unequivocally denying my tenure case.

Essentially, I was denied tenure on the basis of a disability that was exacerbated by workplace harassment, so I walked away and accepted a better position elsewhere.

The situation is obviously more complicated than that, but this is the gist of it. In any case, I’m tired of talking about this, and I’m looking forward to putting all of this unpleasantness behind me and moving on with my life.

Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King

Blossom Tales is a Zelda clone modeled on A Link to the Past with graphics that feel like a cross between Final Fantasy IV and Secret of Mana.

It’s a cute game that takes about six or seven hours to complete, and it is delightful.

The world design is intelligent, the writing is clever, and it’s a lot of fun to walk around and mow grass while collecting various items and discovering secrets. The dungeons are a bit tedious, but the level of challenge is relatively balanced, with no inexplicable puzzles or sudden jumps in difficulty.

It probably won’t surprise anyone that I play a lot of Zelda clones, but I never make it past the first hour of most of them. Blossom Tales is good, though. It’s fun to play, and the Princess Bride style frame story of an older man telling his grandchildren a story that is clearly not *cough* Legend of Zelda works well as a lighthearted metacommentary and a source of jokes and silly puns.

I know it’s not that easy, but now I kind of want to make a Zelda clone too.

“Sorry about your ass.”

A lot of the dialog in the Final Fantasy VII remake is not well written. It’s like someone turned the original game into a weird cringe comedy, and the game itself is the cringe.

A good example of this is the character Wedge, who is fat. We know he’s fat because that’s (almost) his entire character. Just in case we forget, there’s at least one fat joke every time he’s onscreen.

During the game’s second trip above the plate, Jessie takes Cloud, Biggs, and Wedge to her house in Sector 7 so that Cloud can appropriate her father’s Shinra employee badge while Jessie, Biggs, and Wedge distract her mother. The “nice” suburbs of Sector 7 are soulless and awful, and it turns out that Jessie’s father is in a coma after coming down with mako poisoning. The fact that this easily preventable accident was caused by corporate greed and mismanagement convinced Jessie to give up her dream to become an actress and join Avalanche, but the situation with her father is so dire that she’s been lying to her mother to keep her from worrying.

This should be a powerful and sobering moment in the game, but the atmosphere is broken by jokes about how Wedge wants more pizza and hasn’t had enough chips. Because, you know, he’s fat. Aren’t fat people hilarious? It’s too bad Jessie’s father is in a coma, but at least he’s not fat! Ha ha ha!!

I put the game down every time there’s a line that physically hurts me, so I haven’t been making much progress.

2020 Writing Log, Part Seventeen

– I finished grading, and I submitted the final grades for the semester. After reading through everyone’s work, assigning precise point values, and making exact calculations, I decided to give everyone some version of an “A.” What do I care? No one will challenge me, and I want the students to be happy and successful.

– I replied to all of the comments I received on AO3. This was a lot of fun, but it took all of the time I would normally have devoted to writing Malice. That’s cool, because I needed a break.

– I sat down and made a bunch of edits to my story descriptions and tags on AO3. I tried to strike a good balance between “informative and descriptive” and “overwhelming.” I’ve also been trying to negotiate the tricky space between “what’s unique to my stories” and “what’s popular on the site.”

– I finally posted my review of Chris Kohler’s book on Final Fantasy V. It’s a short review, but it’s also a short book. I wish I could have done a more thorough job, but I needed to get this out there so I can move on.

– I finished a rough draft of “Don’t Eat the Fish,” which ended up being about 2,000 words. It could have been longer, but I think this is a good length for an anthology submission from an unknown writer. I’m going to let it sit for a month and return to it during the first week of June.

– I wrote the first five stories for Haunted Houses. I also got in touch with the artist I’d like to create the cover, who seems to be onboard and enthusiastic about the project.

– I sent out a lot of Etsy orders this week. I’m happy my zines are doing well, but I’m considering raising the price of each zine from $3 to $4 to help cover the cost of shipping, seller fees, taxes, and manufacturing. At first I told myself that putting my work on Etsy was just for fun, but I’m starting to realize that I’m literally running a business.

– I’m totally sold out of stickers, and the manufacturer I usually use, Sticker Mule, seems to have been bought out and furloughed by Amazon. I therefore ordered several new sets of designs through StickerApp. The site is somewhat difficult to use, but I think (I hope?) I figured it out.

– I finished a Moleskine sketchbook I’ve had since last November. This is probably the last one of these I’ll buy, as the paper is thick but doesn’t handle Copic markers well. In addition, I think I’d like to start doing all of my serious sketching digitally from now on. If I want to start drawing comics for The Demon King, I’m going to have to get better at drawing with a stylus.

– I finished my third Fabriano sketchbook in three months. I’ve been doing a lot of anatomy studies lately, and I swear I’m actually getting worse. I wish I could take an actual art class that isn’t online or some sort of anodyne amateur-hour bullshit for “adult learners.”

– I put together a few more pages of a Legend of Zelda fan art zine, which I think I’m going to call “The Legend of Cutie Pies.” Finishing this zine is going to be the end of drawing Zelda fan art for me, at least for a while.

– With that in mind, I’ve been wrapping up all of my Zelda fan art projects. During the past week I posted three pieces: a Breath of the Wild 2 gift comic for a friend, a Wind Waker digital art card for a friend, and a Zelda/Ganondorf drawing that I did for no one but my own ridiculous self. I’ve got two more unfinished Zelda-themed illustrations on deck, and I’d like to go ahead and finish them up so that I can post them during the coming week.

All of this might seem like a lot, but it’s not much more than me gradually picking away at small projects.

I think it’s probably okay to admit that I’ve been severely depressed for more than a month now. I worked really hard on a book that just came out, but the timing of the release couldn’t be worse. All of my talks and panels have been cancelled. I had a handful of articles and reviews returned to me with the explanation that the journals are “on indefinite hiatus.” The semester is over, but I can’t celebrate with my students. The university that recently fired me on the basis of disability keeps spamming me with “self-care” emails. My mother is in an ICU hospital ward, and there’s still no way for me to contact her. Meanwhile, multiple crazy assholes with guns are shooting black men in broad daylight. Oh yes, and tens of thousands of people are dying in a pandemic that could have been prevented, or at least better contained.

It’s hard to get things done when I can’t concentrate on anything for more than fifteen minutes at a time, but I’m doing my best. Good luck to all of us, I guess.

Disrupting the Heroic Narrative

I spend a lot of time talking about the character Ganondorf in the Legend of Zelda games as a symbol for the disruption of monarchies, with “monarchies” serving as a cipher for “entrenched power structures based on arbitrary hierarchies of privilege.”

A response I occasionally get, especially on Tumblr, is the assertion that the people who worked on the Zelda series couldn’t possibly have put this much thought into suggesting that Ganondorf is a figure of resistance because they’re Japanese. According to this line of reasoning, Japanese developers wouldn’t hint at the necessity of challenging authority because Japan is a constitutional monarchy.

Japan is indeed a constitutional monarchy, but Japan is also a modern postindustrial society with a highly sophisticated media culture and an enormous population of roughly 126.4 million people. As with anywhere else in the world, it’s impossible for a generalization about the political views of a population of that size to be accurate.

In addition, many progressive thinkers in Japan have been highly critical of Japan’s imperial household and its symbolic role in enabling some of the darker chapters in Japan’s history.

To give an example, Junichiro Tanizaki, often celebrated as one of Japan’s greatest twentieth-century writers, translated The Tale of Genji into modern Japanese during the Pacific War as a form of protest, as the eleventh-century court romance suggests that the imperial line is very much “broken,” as well as undeniably human.

More recently, Kenzaburo Oe, who received the 1994 Nobel Prize in Literature, has been a vocal critic of the emperor system and the role of the United States in maintaining it. Haruki Murakami, who is often dismissed because of the popularity of his novels despite being an extremely political writer, has published an extensive body of work challenging Japan’s imperial legacy and advocating resistance against the shadowy forces that allow its ideology to persist into the present.

What I’m trying to say is that stories about toppling monarchies aren’t rare in Japan.

Although Nintendo has frequently been used by Japanese officials as an instrument of international soft power – Shinzo Abe wearing a Mario hat to announce that Japan would host the 2020 2021 Summer Olympics, for example – Nintendo is an international corporation and no more an arm of a national government than the Disney Corporation is a mouthpiece of the American state. Moreover, like Disney, there are hundreds of artists and writers working at Nintendo, and the views of the individuals creating the media licensed by the company may not align with the company’s brand image. In the case of Nintendo in particular, a lot of the key players in Shigeru Miyamoto’s generation don’t make any secret of the fact that they belonged to various counterculture movements when they were younger.

What creators working for these giant publishers do is what artists have always done – they tell stories that will appeal to a broad audience on top of stories that are much more serious and subversive. For example, Lilo & Stitch is about “ohana means family,” sure, but it also sets up a real conversation about the various “aliens” who have come to the Hawai’ian islands and how these flows of people and culture have affected the native population. In the same way, the Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon games are about stopping bad people from hurting animals, but they’re also about how economic development impairs local communities in Hawai’i, not to mention how many of the research foundations that come to the islands to “protect nature” are just as bad as the corporations. These secondary stories aren’t hidden or otherwise kept from the audience, they’re just more apparent in the details of the story and setting than in the main narrative.

So, while the Legend of Zelda games feature a mix of Arthurian legend and Tolkienian fantasy that informs their easily digestible stories about “brave heroes saving our sacred land from evil forces,” they’re made by intelligent adults who are entirely capable of using themes relating to “empire” and “divinity” and “heroism” to offer critiques regarding what this sort of mentality actually does to individual people and entire nations. Even if these games aren’t directly addressing Japan’s imperial legacy – and there’s no reason for them to do so, because not everything coming out of Japan needs to be about the Pacific War – adding this sort of political and emotional complexity to the story is just good art.

I’m not denying that there are clear undercurrents of nationalism in the Legend of Zelda games – and sometimes, as in the case of Skyward Sword, giant waves of nationalism – but I think this is endemic to the heroic narrative that structures the gameplay of the series. The archetype of “the brave hero who fights to defend their homeland against malevolent outside forces” goes back to the earliest recorded human stories, of course, but I think the nationalistic elements of this narrative have been emphasized by the cultural context that shaped the heroic fantasy that directly inspired the Zelda games.

Specifically, the Zelda series gets a lot of its DNA from popular Japanese fantasy epics of the 1980s, including Guin Saga and Record of Lodoss War, which were inspired by Robert E. Howard and Dungeons & Dragons, respectively. There’s no small amount of Lord of the Rings in the mix as well. Nationalistic ideologies from WWII and the Cold War are therefore built into not just the dominant tropes but also the fundamental structure of contemporary heroic fantasy, including many video games.

I think it’s fair to argue that the Zelda series has challenged this narrative, however. For example:

– The hero is deeply traumatized by what he was forced to do (Majora’s Mask)
– We should look at this from the perspective of the bad guy (The Wind Waker)
– It’s possible that our homeland is just as evil as our enemies (Twilight Princess)
– The bad guys are just like us and deserve sympathy (A Link Between Worlds)

I loved Breath of the Wild but was disappointed by its story, which felt incomplete to me. For example, why would the Hyrulean royal family ban technology? What inspired so many people to defect from the Sheikah and establish the Yiga Clan? If Ganon was once a person, how furious and tormented by pain would he have to be for the Calamity to take the specific form it did? Where are the old temple “dungeons” that are present in the other games? Why is the player never allowed to go underground?

The way the game brushed off these types of questions did indeed feel like an excuse to suggest something along the lines of “Hyrule never did anything wrong and is an innocent victim of malicious foreign powers,” a narrative that has disturbing echoes in real-world political ideologies.

Removing (most of) the shadows cast by the heroic narrative made Breath of the Wild’s story seem curiously flat, especially given the relative depth of previous games in the Zelda series. That’s why, when I first saw the trailer for the sequel, my immediate thought was, “Good, so we’re finally going to get the rest of this story,” which has a great deal of unexplored potential.

In any case, the games in the Legend of Zelda series are interesting and complicated, and I think it’s a shame not to give the creators who make them credit for the full range of storytelling they’ve put into their work.

If nothing else, I think it’s always worth challening the assumption that any given person or group of people has no choice but to think or behave in a certain way because of their race or nationality. After all, if someone named “Hayao Miyazaki” can make bold statements about the evils of authoritarian regimes, who’s to say that someone named “Hidemaro Fujibayashi” can’t also tell nuanced stories about the human cost of the narratives used (and misused) for the purpose of maintaining political stability?

Karen Would Like Your Attention Please

How ‘Karen’ Became a Coronavirus Villain

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, “Karen” has been adopted as a shorthand to call out a vocal minority of middle-aged white women who are opposed to social distancing, out of either ignorance or ruthless self-interest. It’s the latest evolution of a long-standing meme. In The New York Times last year, the writer Sarah Miller described Karens as “the policewomen of all human behavior,” using the example of a suburban white woman who calls the cops on kids’ pool parties. Karens have been mocked for being anti-vaccine and pro–”Can I speak to your manager?” They’re obsessed with banal consumer trends and their personal appearance, and typically criminally misguided, usually loudly and with extreme confidence.

Their defining essence is “entitlement, selfishness, a desire to complain,” according to Heather Suzanne Woods, a meme researcher and professor at Kansas State University. A Karen “demands the world exist according to her standards with little regard for others, and she is willing to risk or demean others to achieve her ends.”

This is a relatively short article, and it’s worth reading to the end. I would say that it goes to a surprising place, but at this point I’m not actually all that surprised to learn that some of the more high-profile Karens on Twitter were manufactured by right-wing content farms.