Oct 2, 2015

Traditional Forms of Japanese Storytelling (Timeline)

I believe that History + Storytelling = Culture. Having an interest in pretty much every component in this formula, I couldn't help but make this post on Japanese storytelling. Particularly because I discovered a side to this topic that I doubt many know about. A side that many should.

Now I'm a geek. Or a nerd. Maybe even both. But I also am an anime fan. And it struck me how little I knew about anime's history. What started as a simple question--a nanosecond pondering in the time it takes to move on from one episode to the next--became a hefty self-assigned research endeavour. And here, fellow reader, are my findings in timeline (estimated dates) format:




1000s-1300s: NOGAKU-
    • Nogaku derives from the theatre art form Sarugaku, literally translating into “monkey fun,” and originates from what is “reminiscent of the modern-day circus.” [8] Around the the 1300s, “theatrical traditions,”[9] including Sarugaku, toured and held performances in temples, shrines, and festivals. Sarugaku then developed into Nogaku—a combination of Noh (drama) and Kyogen (comedy) theatre, which is listed by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. [9] Traditionally, the performance would consist of five Noh plays and 3-4 to Kyogen ones. [9]
    • The name “Noh” theatre comes from “nō” meaning talent because unlike typical actors, Noh performers use their looks and behavior to represent the nature of the story-- and not just to act their part. [10] A Noh play uses its dialogue as a “frame for the movement and music” that already contains symbols and allusions to Japanese history and culture, and is “less that of a present action than of a simile or metaphor made visual.” [10] Noh incorporates music and dancing into “plots (that) are usually drawn from legend, history, literature, and contemporary events. Themes often relate to dreams, supernatural worlds, ghosts and spirits.” [11
    • Types of Noh Plays [10]: 
      1. Kami Play (“God play”)- about a Shintō shrine
      2. Shura Mono (“Fighting play”)- about warriors
      3. Katsura Mono (“Wig play”)- about a female protagonist
      4. Gendai/ Kyojo Mono (“Present-day play”/ “Madwoman play”)- realistic/ contemporary genre, or about a protagonist who goes crazy from loss of a beloved one
      5. Kiri /Kichiku Play (“Final/ “Demon play”)- supernatural genre
    Noh masks used in theatre. Photo credit by: Ichidoru (Flickr)
    • The stage of a Noh theatre is typically squared with pillars in every corner that support the roof. The background of one side is painted on as to provide a background for the play. [11] The Noh style uses “boldy patterned extravagant costumes,” and masks that can be assigned to many characters (human and supernatural). By only playing with shadows, the characters’ masks can express happiness or sadness. [9] To expand this range, characters are also given props, like a folding fan that can either represent “an object, such as a dagger or ladle, or an action, such as beckoning or moon-viewing.” [9]
    Kyogen theatre. Photo Credit by: Leander Kirstein-Heine (Flickr)
    • Kyogen is a theatre meant to elicit laughter through satirical humor and witty dialogue. It uses “medieval life and folktales as its main themes … and developed as a dialogue-drama.” This emphasis on words dubbed Kyogen as the “art of words.” [12] It is typically “independent comic plays that are performed between two noh plays.”[9] During the performance, a Kyogen player would speak informally to the audience, giving them the necessary context to understand the story as well as giving the main actor in the Noh play time to change costumes. Kyogen plays use masks to represent mythical and non-human beings, and other characters rely on “exuberant facial expressions for comic effect.” [9] A Kyogen play would be performed by 2 to 3 actors, and take around 15 to 20 minutes to end. [11]
    • Fun Fact: Noh theatre gets its inspiration from historical dramas and traditional literature. It’s a “dance-based performance,” while its counterpart—the Kyogen—is a “spoken comedy” that draws from medieval daily life (particularly the “shortcomings of common people.”) [13] Masks play a huge role in Noh theatre as actors use shadows to represent emotions on typically expressionless surfaces. But in Kyogen theatre, masks are specifically used to express shock and amusement. This contrast between the two different styles creates a “combination of both symbolism and realism (that) embodies the essence of human nature.” [13]

1100s: KAMISHIBAI-
    Kamishibai storyteller's travelling set. Photo credit by: José Luna (Flickr)
    • Kamishibai literally means “paper plays,” and were basically images drawn as “picture scrolls” to teach illiterate people about moral values [4]. The storytellers who used these paper plays usually travelled from one village to another on a bicycle with a miniature stage attached. The storytellers would bring wooden clappers and use them to notify the people of their presence.  They’d make money by selling candy to kids, and whichever kids get the most end up with front row seats. When a crowd gathered, the storytellers would transition between each image to tell a story accompanied by their own narration. Each visit by the same storyteller usually meant a new development in the story, kind of like a new episode or chapter update [4].
    • Their stories were heavily reliant on visuals (between 12-20 images), and so they used the images as a way to control the pace of the story. Slow transitions = dragging the story out and having a slow pace. Fast transitions = quick story action/ conflict  [5]. This art of storytelling can be viewed as the origin of manga and anime. They both have a similar “wide-eyed” character look [4], and have similar methodology basics. Even popular Kamishibai characters grew to become “Japanese heroes” that preceded the debut of American heroes Superman and Batman [4]. 
    • Fun Fact: It hit a resurgence in popularity during World War II when Japanese citizens had to stay in bomb-shelters. Kamishibai became a popular form of entertainment that was easily transported from one bomb-shelter to another, making it integral to society. So much so that when the TV first came out, it was referred to as an “electric kamishibai” [6].  

1500s: BUNRAKU-
    Bunraku puppet controlled by puppeteer's helpers, who remain covered. Photo credit by: Autan (Flickr)
    • Bunraku, originally called Ningyo Joruri (“puppet narrative drama”), is a form of puppetry that combines music and storytelling [1]. Unlike in typical puppet theatres, the puppeteers are visible to the audience, manipulating the puppets in full transparency. [1] They stand behind a partition with railings that make it seem like the puppets are walking on ground as the puppeteers themselves move around [2]. That, along with how Bunraku stories take about a day long (literally) make this art style one of "the most highly developed puppet theatre art in the world." [1]
    • Bunraku heavily relies on sound and music, since it mainly consists of two elements: joruri (storytelling) and joruri gidayu-bushi (“narrative singing”) [3]. During the performance, the shamisen (three-stringed lute) musicians and the chanters (the ones singing the story) sit on a revolving platform for their part, switching out in time for the next performers. To the audience’s right side, there’s also another group of shamisen players and chanters. For even more sound variety, there’s an orchestra to the left of the audience who’re in charge of creating atmospheric sound like the weather with their instruments [2]  
    • For fun viewing and more info, check out this short documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=44dH7j-rITw 

1600s-1800s: KABUKI-
    Kabuki actor in warrior makeup and costume. Photo credit by: lensonjapan (Flickr)
    • Kabuki first began in the spring of 1603 by a shrine maiden who performed “exotic dances and risqué skits” on a dry riverbed in Kyoto. Her strange and quirky performances became a huge hit, and inspired groups of women and cross-dressing men to do the same. Unlike some other theatre arts, Kabuki originally included both male and female actors—who were often working as prostitutes [14]. Eventually, male Kabuki performers became the only ones acting the roles of thieves, warriors, and ladies. These actors have developed a huge fan base to the point where clubs were established to recognise them, and supporters would even buy wooden block prints (the photos of the old days) in their honor [14].  
    • Kabuki plays are “melodramatic” but also historical, and have been previously compared to Shakespearean plays. Both Shakespeare’s stories and Kabuki plays are written in an older form of a language, but while Shakespeare remains popular with younger audiences, Kabuki doesn’t—despite the efforts it makes [15]. Kabuki stories are usually well-known that audiences don’t go to  see the story, but to see how the story is performed. In fact, there are movie adaptations based on Kabuki plays, and Kabuki actors can make tabloid news and even appear on TV commercials [15].
    • In Japanese theatre, the actor has the highest level of authority (not the director as in Western theatre). This is partly because actors are a big deal in this field. Stage names are passed down from generations, from father to son, creating famous kabuki lineages [16]. And in Kabuki, there are three main styles of acting. 
      1. Aragoto: Heroes are “physically strong, impulsive, fierce and martial.” So to represent this, actors are more dramatic. Their makeup, costumes, and poses become more exaggerated. This style is also linked with “the samurai-dominated city of Edo (modern Tokyo)” [14].
      2. Wagoto: The story is more realistic, and the tone more soft and comical. Heroes are young playboys caught in a lovers’ quarrel. This style is linked with “the mercantile city of Osaka” [14].
      3. Onnagata: Male actors who played female roles, like “the high-ranking samurai lady, the young maiden or the wicked woman” [15].
    • Kabuki makeup depends on the character’s personality. For example, the Aragoto style involves dramatic makeup to help the audience identify dramatic emotions or values. Bold lines of colours represent good (red) or evil (blue), and also emphasize  anger (to represent bulging veins) [17]. Actors would apply their own makeup, and use white powder on their skin so their faces show in the dimness of the theatre [16]. Actors are also required to wear wigs, as they distinguish a character’s personality, age, status, and even emotions—like when a female character lets down her hair to express jealousy or rage [17].
    • Kabuki is performed on a large and revolving stage rigged with trapdoors and backdrops [15]. Everything is controlled by stage handlers, and the backdrop is painted in a way to emphasise beauty than realism, so that when gazed at by the audience, the play would feel like an animated old-styled painted scroll. The plays takes place during the day, and the illusion of time passing is controlled by the window shutters of the set [16].
    • Fun Fact: Actors play stock characters, and strike meaningful poses during climactic moments of the play. They would set their feet apart, gaze at the audience, swivel their head, and then make striking eye movement. They would freeze after each added movement to draw attention to a specific body part—the way closeups do in films [16].

1600s-1900s: RAKUGO-
    Rakugo storyteller performing. Photo credit by: Tulane Publications (Flickr)
    • In Rakugo storytelling, the performer sits on a cushion and tells his story facing the audience with only his fan and a towel as props. He would move his head one side to the other, change his pitch, posture, and tone to distinguish between different characters. The stories would be 10 to 40 minutes long and would include a comical monologue, like modern day stand-up, and a traditional tale based on “stock characters” of Edo-Period Japan. The comical monologue would help the storyteller decide what kind of tale would suit the audience as it would be used as a way to sense the atmosphere in the crowd [7].
    • Aspiring Rakugo storytellers would have to be apprenticed to a Rakugo master for 3 to 4 years if they want to become professionals in this field. This apprenticeship period can be strict since apprentices may not be allowed to smoke, drink, or date. They might also have to follow a curfew, as well as clean their master’s house, fold their master’s kimonos, and do their cooking. Rakugo apprentices would observe their master during their performances and not be allowed to perform themselves unless given the approval by their masters [7].



For more details on any of the above styles, I highly suggest checking the sources mentioned and the ones used below:

RESOURCES:
Source 1: http://www2.ntj.jac.go.jp/unesco/bunraku/en/contents/whats/
Source 2: http://www2.ntj.jac.go.jp/unesco/bunraku/en/contents/whats/stage.html
Source 3: http://www2.ntj.jac.go.jp/unesco/bunraku/en/contents/whats/history01.html
Source 4: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamishibai
Source 5: http://www.presentationzen.com/presentationzen/2011/10/kamishibai-is-a-form-of-visual-and-participatory-storytelling-that-combines-the-use-of-hand-drawn-visuals-with-the-engaging-n.html
Source 6: http://www.kamishibai.com/history.html
Source 7: http://katsurasunshine.com/what-is-rakugo/
Source 8: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarugaku
Source 9: http://web-japan.org/factsheet/en/pdf/33Noh_Kyogen.pdf

Jul 7, 2015

My Name is Khan- Review

My Name is Khan is a movie that reminded me what movies should be about: not just entertainment, not just art--but messages. And boy, did this movie deliver them.

If--when watching this--you don't shed a tear, or if you don't at least feel the back of your throat closing up with the promise of oncoming tears ... well.


PREMISE:
Rizwan Khan is an autistic (Asperger's Syndrome) muslim living in India. When his mother--the only one who loves him for who he is without any reservation--dies, he goes to America to live with his brother. There, he meets and falls in love with single-mom Mandira, and makes a new friend out of her son, Sam. Then 9/11 happens. And then a consequential incident of discrimination follows that leaves Mandira distraught enough to set Khan on a wild-goose chase. She tells Khan that if he ever wants to come back to her side, he would have to find the President of the United States and tell him personally that he is not a threat to the country. And because Khan takes things literally, he actually does. The movie is basically his journey to accomplish this mission... an odyssey, if you will. Though obviously one with less nymphs and sirens.


WHO HE IS:
As Khan himself says in the movie...
[His] name is Khan (from the epiglottis). And [he] is not a terrorist. 
Khan is an awkward character to watch, but he's also endearing. He takes things literally, and he doesn't give up. He has Asperger's, so he's also special. He grew up with very few people understanding him, and accepting him, especially with the religious conflicts in his region. He hates the color yellow. He's not big on hugs. He is also a horrible salesman. But above all, he is a good man. And I started cheering for him the minute I realised that. The minute his mother, Razia, told him:
There are only two kinds of people in this world. Good people who do good deeds. And bad people who do bad. That's the only difference in human beings. There's no other difference. 
And he "understood."


HOW HE CHANGES THINGS:

  • Love vs. Hate: Because of who he is, Khan does something that a normal person wouldn't. A normal person would give up long before he even started. His tenacity is admirable ... but it's also important to understand that his tenacity is spurred from love (for Mandira). He was raised to judge people based on their actions, and not let anything else cloud his judgement. And despite him being the minority in almost every way, Khan is proactive. He is an example of what is currently happening and what could be. He becomes the small percentage that causes the biggest change. He becomes someone who speaks up for countless others (without even knowing it). And he does all of this because he loves instead of hate. As cliche as this phrase is, it holds some merit: love conquers all. 
  • Discrimination vs. Tolerance: There are lots of religious conflicts here, which means things can get messy. But the movie handles it so skilfully that they are able to show an important truth. People can live together even if they are very different--so long as there's tolerance, if nothing more. The movie showcases Islam in a positive way that is very rarely done in films. What makes it so special is that there is true acceptance and love from two different sides. Khan, a muslim, loves and accepts Mandira, a Hindu. And she, vice versa. Because of their simple tolerance and understanding of one another's religious beliefs, there is real peace. Tangible and achievable peace. Peace that the movie tries so hard to prove is possible. And it really is. 
  • Autism on the Big Screen: Unfortunately, not a lot of people know about Autism. Or that it can be different in many ways. Khan is autistic. More specifically, Khan has Asperger's Syndrome. His actions in the movie properly align with actions real autistic kids display. This movie is a huge step in promoting international awareness. But more importantly, it's a good way to witness the hardships and mistreatments that autistic and special needs kids would typically go through. Khan is very different from those around him. Some people can't handle that. They don't know how to treat him, or how to love him. Others make fun of him and scold him. But there are few who take him in as he is, nurturing his growth. Khan's mother, Razia, is a great example of this. An example that should be mimicked and applied in real life.


GOOD VS. BAD:
The characters are solid, as is the plot. Though the film isn't chronologically structured, it is easy to follow. The narration, given by the main character from the future point, helps frame the setting instead of getting in the way of the action. It was easy to lose myself in the storyline, and it was particularly so because the actors' performances were that good. The director, Karan Johar, did an equally impressive job with showcasing his own vision of the story. You can feel everyone's efforts holding the movie together, but with all this effort ... comes time. And a lot of it. Like all other Indian movies, My Name is Khan is long. There is no exception here, since it's almost three hours long... which is the average length of an Indian movie. Keep that in mind when watching the film. It may seem like the story pace is slow--and at times it is--but it's still worth watching all the way through. The only issue that confused me was minor enough to be ignored, but still disorienting. In the beginning, the President appeared to be someone like George W. Bush. Then, later in the film, they portrayed someone who appeared more like Obama. It's a small goof, but it was enough to make me feel a jump in time. Especially since that is a big role in the story.


OVERALL:
I'm still new to Bollywood, and I haven't watched many Indian movies. But I've seen enough to know that this one is unlike its predecessors. This movie isn't big on dancing and singing. That would ruin the serious atmosphere. This movie isn't really there to entertain you for three hours of your life. No, this movie is using those three hours to convey a message with a stronger impression than you would expect. Some things you just have to see for yourself. For someone who isn't really accustomed to watching Indian movies, this is a good transition and is simple to digest. After watching, I realised--and in the context of the movie's own quote--that:

"There are two kinds of [films] in this world. Good [films that promote] good deeds. And bad [films that] do bad. That's the only difference in films."

And this one is definitely a good film.

Besides, Shah Rukh Khan (Bollywood's top actor) is in this. It's practically impossible to hate anything he stars in. Call me biased, or ... simply impressed.

Jul 2, 2015

The Death Sworn Duology by Leah Cypess


The first word that came to mind after reading Death Sworn was:

More.

The heroine, Ileni, is a sorceress who was sent willingly to tutor assassins in the art of magic. When her powers faded away, the Elders gave her an impossible mission: find out why the previous tutors they have sent died. Now teaching in the Assassins' Caves, Ileni develops a new love, meets Sorin (the star assassin), and discovers a plan that involves her changing the future of the world they all live in.

The premise promises everything I love in a story: dynamic relationships, mystery, some romance, intrigue, risks, and most importantly, character development. And looking back, I feel kind of stupid for putting it off so long in fear of it ... well ... sucking.

Because it didn't.

I'll admit, the first few paragraphs were a bit too heavy for me to get into, and it took me a while to get used to the style. But once I did, everything just worked out smoothly. The dialogue, the description, the world building... it all just clicked together perfectly. And more than anything else, I felt like I was there, hiding in the dark caverns watching an unlikely romance unfold among characters who are--thankfully--too smart to be ruled solely by their feelings.

The story was light on romance despite the main character being the only female in the Assassins' Caves, and had the perfect amount of it (even in the sequel) without being overwhelming or off-putting. Characters truly acted like they were supposed to, making them rational and realistic. They were well-developed and unique--each character had a different personality that made it clear they weren't copy-paste clones of one another with different names. This made the dialogue flow really well. I even caught myself chuckling at some jabs and leaning into the pages, anticipating the characters' reactions. The writing was that good. It kept me entertained, and above all, it was witty without trying too hard to be.

WHAT IT DELIVERED:

  • A Strong Heroine: Ileni is someone who had so much power and promise as a child, but grew up only to become a disappointment to her people. She grew up believing she was special, but she isn't anymore. And when the story starts, she had already given up. She is bitter. And she is realistic. She does something with herself. Ileni survives among assassins despite the odds. She tries to find the answers to the mystery she was sent to solve despite her hopelessness. She does things that go against her feelings, even putting it plainly by saying, she isn't "stupid." And she really isn't. She makes mistakes, but she accomplishes her tasks despite her lack of power. If only there were more YA heroines like her.
"The cacophony of clinks and thuds and grunts from the main training area had gone silent. A cluster of assassins stood in the arched cavern entrance, staring, the pretense of disinterest wiped off their faces. Her role as their tutor, apparently, was off to a great start."  
    • Natural Repartee & Relationships: No Insta-Love! No out-of-the-blue feelings! No one is "too-stupid-to-live" in the story! Everything happens slowly but surely--it's refreshing. I especially enjoyed watching the atmosphere change between Ileni and Sorin. It's like there's always a challenge between the two. 
    "How to throw assassins off balance: cry in front of them. She would have to find a way to pass that along to the next tutor."   
    • Magic and Death: This goes without saying, but I was satisfied with how well the two elements worked together. Ileni is a sorceress. Sorin is an assassin. Each come from very different backgrounds, each have learned very different skills, but both aim to accomplish a mutual goal. Despite having that in common, there are many things that get in the way. Like killing. Like power. And these themes are incorporated into the story in ways that provoke contemplation. Just as they should. 
    • A Put-Together Plot: The plot was simple and cohesive. Everything fit together and nothing really jumped out as being sorely incongruous. I never got frustrated by the pace or by the characters' stupidity ... I loved going through the action with them. And I did not anticipate that ending until it was already happening.
    WHAT IT DIDN'T DELIVER:
    Now I liked the book, but there were still parts I believe could be improved. I wanted to know more about the characters' backgrounds. I appreciated how we got a small window into their past, but I felt like the world they lived in before wasn't as expanded as it should've been. That's partly something I hoped would be shown in the sequel. I wanted to see more of the world outside of the dark gloomy caves. I knew a big world was out there, but I only saw a small part of it. I can't help but feel like it's a missing piece of the world-building puzzle.

    WHAT TO EXPECT (BOOK TWO):
    The first book is wholly focused on the assassins' side as the story's set in their Caves. The second deals more with magic since it takes place in the Empire. Because of that, the two sides are evenly represented, making the duology a good choice. BUT:

    It's not enough.

    I quite liked the first book, and had high expectations for the second. I couldn't wait to see how the events would unfold ... but it feels like I still didn't get to find out. The book read more like a continuation to me than a conclusion. I felt like it was a tease, like the plot couldn't possibly end there.

    Then I remembered that Ileni is the main character. That the story is Ileni's story ... and it kind of made sense why it ended where it did. The whole point was to watch her develop as a character--and in this sequel, she does. She tackles some pretty hefty moral dilemmas and uncovers a lot of corruption. She finally picks a side. She finally makes a choice... I just feel bad we don't get to witness the aftereffects.

    Although there's all of that to consider, you still get a whole new cast of characters that are just as unique and entertaining as the first. You get more plot developments, more conflict, and more travelling around. It makes up for what I didn't get in the first book. I can see why the sequel upsets everyone. But at the same time, I find it a suitable ending. Not a perfect one, but good enough that I feel no need to kick up a fuss. Besides, we get to read some scenes from Sorin's point of view. Who could possibly complain about that?

    OVERALL: 4/5

    Read it. And if you like the first book, give the second a chance. They're both good for different reasons, and it's worthwhile meeting new characters and uncovering the world building. I was immediately hooked reading it (as you can tell), and I truly believe it's an underrated YA story.

    Jun 28, 2015

    The Runaway Syndrome

    Apparently, it's a real thing. Running away has always been a weird fascination of mine and I never quite understood why until just recently--when I ran away myself.

    Figuratively speaking.

    Running away is a serious issue; it's difficult and stressful for more than one party involved. When I think about runaways, I think about children. There are countless of stories about child runaways, and when I heard them while growing up... I romanticised it. Running away somehow became running for. I saw it as people taking fate into their own hands, people being adventurous and seeking independence. I saw runaways as main characters of their own stories, fighting through their own struggles and conflicts. And as a writer, I was inherently drawn to this concept. But as I mentioned before, running away is a serious issue.
    "Going away by train" by Kristina Alexanderson 

    I got so caught up with these thoughts that I forgot: at the end of the day, it is still called running away. And running away is the exact opposite of facing something, of standing up to something. It's the opposite of courage and tolerance. Running away literally means leaving--leaving problems and issues behind for others to deal with. Running away is being insecure and selfish.

    As Dr. Krishna Prasad Sreedhar (Former Professor and Head of the Dept. of Psychology, University of Kerala) puts it in his article, children run away because they are "insecure, as they are emotionally immature." They run away as an impulse reaction. They run away as a form of "escapism."

    And as a figurative runaway, I'm sorry.

    I ran away from all my obligations and assignments. I ran away because all the work I had piled up simply caved in inside my mind. And instead of digging myself out of the rubble, I just sat there and did everything that sounded interesting. Everything that sounded easy and simple. Basically, everything that required as little work as possible.

    And that was selfish of me.

    Even though I've never ran away physically (partly due to being a horrible runner), I countlessly ran away from problems when confronted by them. It was just the easier choice--made even easier by my excuses. I spoiled myself, thinking that it's "okay," and I was just being "human." Which is true, I guess... but at some point, it shouldn't be "okay," it should be "time." At some point, being "human" shouldn't be continually making mistakes, but growing into yourself and becoming a better version. Which is why, after a few months of running away, I'm posting this and kick-starting my productivity.

    I may not be "emotionally mature" yet, but I am now running towards that goal instead of away from it. And that, at least, is something.

    Jan 26, 2015

    Rise of the Faceless and Famous

    Many of us have heard her voice. Many of us have listened to her songs. But not many of us have seen her because she is faceless. And in my opinion: fearless.

    Cover page of Billboard Back Issue Volume 125, Issue 42
    Sia Furler is a singer songwriter, who wrote with and for Beyonce ("Pretty Hurts"), Ne-Yo ("Let Me Love You"), Rihanna ("Diamonds"), Katy Parry ("Double Rainbow"), David Guetta ("Titanium"), Britney Spears ("Perfume"), Christina Aguilera ("You Lost Me"), Jesse J ("Breathe"), Celine Dion ("Loved Me Back to Life"), and many others. You may not like her songs, but you can't deny there's talent in them. Not just anyone can write hit records in less than an hour (literally)... but Sia certainly can.

    I never really expected to be blown away by her songs, and I wasn't--at first. Then, the more I listened, the more connected I felt to the music. There was something sad about her tone, something real, that I couldn't quite shake. So I looked into more of her work and discovered a well of underrated talent. And inspiration.

    With the release of her newest album, 1000 Forms of Fear, Sia decided to present herself as faceless to the media. She didn't want to show her face because she didn't want to be judged (like she had been before). She doesn't want to be famous, and her decision over her appearance (or lack thereof) is a way to control the situation--a decision I view as difficult and gutsy.

    Fearless, even.

    In her Anti-Fame Manifesto, she writes, "Imagine the stereotypical highly opinionated, completely uninformed mother-in-law character and apply it to every teenager with a computer in the entire world. Then add in all bored people, as well as people whose job it is to report on celebrities. Then, picture that creature, that force, criticising you for an hour straight once a day, every day, day after day... So me and fame will never be married."

    People focused more on what she looked like than how she sounded--which is pretty sad because a face doesn't sing. A person does. And I often feel that famous figures are considered different from the rest of society. But they're not. They're people (just like anyone else) with feelings, pasts, and futures. And when these famous figures happen to be singers, their music should matter more than their appearance. So Sia can present herself in whichever way she likes (or not at all) because it's the music that counts. It's why we're listening in the first place--the rest is just noise.

    Although she's somewhat mysterious, Sia opened up about her past with drugs and depression. Things were rough, and the fact that she spiralled down and bounced back up again is inspiring. The fact that she gave what she loves and what she's good at another chance despite everything is inspiring. The fact that she had the strength to admit it is inspiring fearless. To me, 1000 Forms of Fear is a testament to her determination and courage. Her story made me feel a kind of stirring that, though hard to describe, is what all content creators should seek to generate. And she did it just by being herself.

    That and, really, her songs speak volumes.

    Jan 5, 2015

    Writing Law: Negative Space is Positive Space


    Starting things has never been my strong suit. If I'm being honest, starting things is scary because there's so much pressure--unspoken words, curious readers, anticipated feedback--that it becomes overwhelming. And because of that, I am a constant victim of Writer's Block.


    Whenever I ask about writer's block and how to cure it, I always get the same answer: "just keep writing." It's easier said than done, and honestly, incredibly unhelpful. The whole point of writer's block is that you're unable to write anything; ergo, it's an invalid answer. So I thought about it and decided to make my own cure.

    1. Be your character (aka become an actor) 
        -What's your reaction?
        -Do characters develop?
        -Are characters stand-alone/ self-actualized?

    2. Be your reader (aka become a bystander) 
        -Is this realistic?
        -Is this exaggerated?
        -Can the readers relate?

    3. Be the creator (aka become a thief) 
        -Get inspiration from your surroundings
        -Create the world, action, and characters
        -Create, create, create

    Blank pages are threatening. They're every artist's worst nightmare. But recently, after speaking with a fellow painter about art and its creation, I realised not all blank pages are bad. Blank pages, or what she refers to as "negative space," is actually liberating.

    "I like to imagine it being light or something visceral," she said. And really, that's what art is all about--seeing something that isn't really there. Instead of seeing the blank canvas or page, imagine the story you want to write or draw, and then simply "trace" it. Because really, the negative space you're staring at is teeming with your imagination--you just can't see it yet.