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September 23, 2013

The 400th Post: And So it Begins...

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Children are interesting.

I’ve got a buddy who often used to (and occasionally still does) give me trouble for my stories.  He’s under the impression that theonly thing I care about or want to write is the proverbial “seven kids coming together to fight a greater evil.”  Bonus points were added if he tossed in the phrase “with RPG-style turn-based combat.” 

I don’t think I need to bother trying to explain that that’s not the case.  On the other hand -- and this is something that took me years to even consider -- would writing a story about seven kids fighting a greater evil automatically make it terrible?  Fictional precedents suggest that as long as the story is well-executed, then it shouldn’t matter if the story is about/stars children or adults.  Besides, stories are all about exploring possibilities.  Characters are vehicles to explore possibilities.  So why not explore possibilities via children?  It’s easy to dismiss them, sure, but their perspective and potential shouldn’t be ignored so readily.  I’ve seen the alternative too many times, and it ain’t pretty.


But setting aside story potential, I have to ask something.  Who has more raw imaginative power than a child?  That’s the one thing they -- or we, or you, depending on your level of judgment/self-esteem -- can be counted on for having.  The power to create new games, new scenarios, new characters, and of course new worlds is something that anybody should appreciate, ESPECIALLY those that love fiction (which is everyone, probably).  And just think about it -- it seems like they don’t even need to consciously try to come up with the things they do.  It just sort of happens with the slightest provocation.

Unfortunately, that’s not always a good thing.  Children may be more likely to see the world in new, different, and even exciting ways, but they’re just as likely to see a scarier place as someone older.  To them, monsters under the bed or hiding in the closet or lurking in the shadows aren’t just a possibility; they’re practically a fact of life.  It certainly doesn’t help that on any given night, any number of imagined creatures can stalk them in their dreams.  Or to put it directly, nightmares.


Let’s be real here.  I doubt there’s ever been a person, regardless of age, that’s gone through their entire life without having one nightmare.  I don’t know what it is about dreams that makes everyone -- myself included -- have the one where they’re not wearing pants, or have to take a test they didn’t study for, but I guess those are just the consequences of being human.  Same goes for dreaming up monsters, or monsters, or just bugs crawling all over you.  There’s no telling what’ll attack you in your nightmares, but at least we can all take solace in knowing that it’ll be over as soon as we wake up in the morning.

Right?

I guess that’s irrationality for you.  There’s a line between the real and unreal, but no matter how old you are the line tends to get blurred -- if not crossed -- on a regular basis.  Superstition.  “Random” chance.  The idea that a god is either out to get you, or answering your prayers on an hourly basis.  And of course, fear.  Sometimes we can’t help but let our minds imagine possibilities, and put us in an imagined sense of danger.  And there’s no bigger proving ground, no world more eager to put you at risk, than the dream world.  It’s almost hilarious how the same state that makes pure randomness come together in a barely-logical string of events can allow for things like a “recurring nightmare”.

Want to know what mine is?  “Bana”.


I don’t know exactly what age I was when I started dreaming about Bana -- probably around the same time when I realized shoes could be worn without Velcro.  And even if I don’t think about that thing on a regular bases (which I don’t, for obvious reasons), it’s actually not too hard for me to remember that first dream.  I’m in the kitchen of my grandma’s house, and it’s late at night.  Most of the house is dark, except for one light over by the window.  My brother’s in the room too -- and for some reason, he’s uncharacteristically afraid.  It doesn’t take long for me to figure out why; Bana is on its way.

And it’s there before I can even think of running.  It’s hard to forget that form.  Completely black -- not black-skinned, but shrouded in some kind of writhing black veil, almost like flames.  A wider base for its lower half, and showing off knife-nailed forearms as thick as I am.  Long, sprawling horns -- not designed to gore you in the slightest, but just looking at them is enough to stop hearts.  And those red ring eyes, glowing bright as they lock on their prey…unsettling stuff, without a doubt.

But it’s not Bana’s looks that scared me back then, or make me nervous now.  It’s the sound. 


There is no way for me to accurately describe the sound that Bana makes.  None.  The closest I can give is an approximation, and even then it’s not even close.  But I’ll give it a shot, if only for the sake of this entry.  The best I can offer is imagining a mix of a broken vacuum cleaner, a jet engine at full blast, and a bleating goat all mixed into one continuous, maximum-volume noise.  Yes, noise -- maybe if the tremolo of its sound got slowed to a crawl, it’d sound something like speech, or even music.  But as-is, it’s this rapid string of ear-shredding notes.  And it only gets louder as it gets closer.

As far as I can tell, that’s Bana’s sole strategy: paralyze you with its sound, and make its way toward you with claws at the ready.  What happens after that?  No clue.  Once it gets you -- or should I say me -- everything goes black.  Presumably, it kills me.  Devours me.  Tears me to shreds.  Or in the worst-case scenario, it makes me a part of itself.  I don’t know; after the blackout -- the failure state -- I wake up.  And it almost always ends in a failure state; to date, I only managed to survive once thanks to a last-ditch-effort punch…and even then, the most I did was make it appear right behind me instead of go for a head-on charge.


Where did that thing come from?  Was it really something I created -- me, the so-called Eternal Optimist, and a firm believer in human spirit and potential?  Why would I -- especially the little kid version of me -- ever give birth to an invincible predator?  I’d prefer to believe that someone else made it and shoved it into my head, or perhaps I’m just imagining a creature that already exists.  But neither option sounds any better.

I guess Bana -- and the nightmares therein -- are just something I’m going to have to deal with.  I’m thankful that I haven’t had a dream about it in years (by which I mean roughly two or three), but the potential is always there, just as it always has.  On any given night, I could be drifting off to sleep, only to find myself swarmed by a red glow and a horrific scream.  And then, death. 

As if I didn’t die enough in my dreams.

You know, I fancy myself a writer.  I’d like to think that one day I’ll be called upon regularly to give amazing stories, worlds, characters, and scenarios to the people.  That’s one dream I don’t mind having.  But sometimes, every once in a while, I can’t help but wonder if I have what it takes.  Not necessarily in terms of talent or effort (though those are real concerns, obviously); no, it’s because I find myself wondering if I’ve peaked.  Could it be that I peaked before I’d even started kindergarten?  Could it be that the greatest creation I’ll ever have is one that I made by accident?  And if that’s the case, then do I dare to consciously imagine the creature that’s been haunting the corners of my mind for years?

Could it be that in order to become a writing hero, I have to harness the dark power of the greatest villain I’ve ever known?


It seems like a big gamble.  This is a creature that’s left me unsettled, and at times even worried about what’s hiding in the dark, for ages now.  Is it really okay for me to confront my fear?  No, it goes a lot further than that; the fact that I’m writing this entry means that I’ve long since started taking steps against it.  The issue here is whether or not it’s okay to explore that power.  I should be comfortable writing heroes and villains, but I can’t shake the feeling that certain topics -- certain creatures -- are best left unexplored.  If I ended up taking the plunge into the black end of the pool, would I really be able to walk away unscathed?  Would I end up engaging with this creature in ways I never would have thought possible?  Would superstition, chance, divinity, and fear come together to create the worst possible scenario -- to cross the boundary between reality and fantasy, and make my greatest predator real?

I want to say, “Of course it’s impossible.  Stop being silly.”  And in a lot of ways, it is.  But the concept -- the potential, the what-if factor that defies law and order -- is something that genuinely makes my stomach quiver.  There are a lot of things a writer should do, and shouldn’t do…and I get the feeling that I’ve found my own personal forbidden fruit.


I’m not so high-minded to think that what I create -- or will create -- will have a genuine impact on others without fail.  But…truth be told, I feel like I understand the concept fairly well.  A good story makes people want to believe that it’s real, and in one way or another do their best to make it real.  Maybe they’ll do it in an active sense, like role-playing or offering up their own scenarios.  Or maybe they’ll do it in a figurative sense, like building fandoms, pondering about the canon, or engaging with the story in ways the creator may never have intended.  But whatever the case, they have the power to make the unreal real.  Belief and devotion -- the power of human thought -- can go a long way.  It’s changed the world before, albeit in a logical, mundane sense.

But what if it goes farther than that?  What if human minds can affect the world in a way that goes beyond the mundane?  What if -- with enough gathered and focused thought -- the rules of what we know and expect can be bent?

It sounds far-fetched, I know, but I have seen theories about stuff like that before.  There have been arguments that people have the power to alter probability and outcomes just by focusing hard enough…and pseudoscience or not, psychic powers have been in consideration for decades.  Nothing has been conclusively proven, of course, but…maybe the possibility has always been there.

And maybe the one thing that’s necessary for that rule-changing -- the catalyst for thought focused beyond normal bounds -- is a story. 


I’ve always believed that fiction changes us.  It helps define us, how we perceive the world, and how we conduct ourselves -- however subtly that may be.  And there have been real-world examples with real-world stories that have shown just what happens when a work becomes intellectually and culturally ingrained in a populace.  It changes people, the way people think, the things they expect, and -- through some serious trickle-down application -- the world itself starts to change.  The creative sphere changes to suit the trends.  Me-too creators try their hand (and fail), or perhaps respect is paid to the original story, proliferating certain ideas.  And those ideas end up spreading, becoming part of the public and personal consciousness, and in turn change the people -- the world itself -- even further.  Strong ideas beget strong reactions, which beget strong ideas, which beget strong reactions.  And what better source of a strong idea is there than a good story?  Something willingly picked up and digested by a curious audience?

I can’t imagine what kind of harm could be done if a strong idea -- an image, a belief, whatever -- ended up getting spread.  And while I have a lot of faith in humanity, I don’t think I can willingly unleash something like Bana upon them.  Not extensively, of course.  Maybe a creature I can mention in passing in a conversation, or at the most just a jumping-off point for a knockoff character.  But the real deal?  I can’t do it.  Not now, at least.


I would call it a mix of white-knighting and selfishness.  On one hand, I feel like I have to protect people from something I created, out of some misguided sense of duty (proof that I’m probably not the nice guy some people think I am).  On the other hand, I’m probably just holding it back to protect myself.  I’m afraid of what would happen if people did their best to make Bana real.  I’ve had enough trouble dealing with it in my dreams; seeing things like the internet or TV go all in trying to reproduce it won’t help me sleep any easier.  (So again, there’s proof I’m not the nicest guy around.)

So in the end, I guess that’s all I can do: be honest with myself, and know my limits.  There’s a lot that I’ll do and a lot I’ll explore in my little quest, but there are just some lines I can’t cross.  And this, more than any other, is the big one. 

  
My nightmares are my own.  And I want to keep it that way.

Well, that’s the end of that.  Guess I’ll call it a night…though I feel kind of bad about only making this thing only twenty-three hundred words.  Oh well.  It was a nice little exercise -- and it’s not like this file’s going anywhere.


It’s probably a good thing no one’s going to see this journal entry exercise.  This thing’s nothing but a bunch of rambling -- and who wants to see that?

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8 comments:

  1. Grats on your 400th post. That's a lot of word crafting, especially considering your posts run as long as my short stories. I hit my 2nd year at Memories of a Dimanagul a few days ago and it makes me realize we came up around the same time (at least I think so).



    MoD and Cross-up are practially bros. *fist-bump*

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  2. Funny how your 400th post pops up not long after the 200th of mine. ...Granted you update FAR more often... oh well... anyway, congrats! :D

    Bana's kinda cool. Wait, scratch that. The fact that it's a nightmare you've had since you were a kid isn't the "cool" part (that'd be mean). It's the feel, design, and concept of it that's interesting. Rather than green aliens with black eyes or a rotting corpse or a clown, Bana - at least the silhouette you have here - looks like a cute fiery Pokemon with red-ring death lasers for eyes. It's a creative boogyman that's not often played with in *some* horror fiction. Maybe the fact its still in darkness that increases the mystery. Or maybe it's cool since my reoccurring nightmares involved doors that would narrow so much that it wouldn't meet with the wall and shut at all. And the dinosaur, scary man, random monster would always get me as the door would swing in and out.


    Doors aren't scary. Red-eyed Pokemon with ME3 Banshee screams mixed with chainsaws are.



    *shrugs*


    Congrats again on your 400th post. Keep writing. Even if you don't settle new, dark, dangerous territory, just keep writing well. Keep practicing. Keep having ideas. And most of all, don't exhaust your ideas. Moderation.

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  3. *returns fist bump with great gusto*


    Yeah, I guess we did go up at around the same time, didn't we? Well, you're a few months ahead of me, I admit -- I'll hit the 2-year mark sometime in January -- but that's close enough. Though to be fair, my posts probably run so long because I have the typing equivalent of diarrhea. Or...maybe it's my brain that's the problem. Either way, I think I need to invest in robot hands.


    Because robot hands.

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  4. True, true, moderation is important...but then again, I've got enough ideas to draw from that in some cases, it may SEEM like I'm always in overdrive. Not the case, arguably...although I could probably use a point of comparison. Then again, that might just leave me super self-conscious, so...faux-overdrive it is.


    In any case, I had to take a couple of creative liberties translating Bana's design to a picture. The horns (such as they are) stick straight out, almost making it look like Garland from Final Fantasy...but I felt that'd make it look a little silly, and I wanted to do a profile shot to make sure the menace was at least vaguely captured. Likewise, the eyes are just one continuous loop -- like a donut -- instead of a bunch of rings. It just looked cooler to me when I added more rings.


    Huh. Drawing Bana might have stripped it of some of the mystery. I guess I'll find out once I go to sleep tonight...or at any point in the rest of my life.


    That aside, it's always interesting to hear about the recurring nightmares of people. I've always thought that there were certain traits that said a lot about people (I have a hunch about birthmarks, for one), and there's no better tell than a good nightmare. Then again, that only begs the question of what would cause a person's mind to create certain horrific circumstances, and that MIGHT be a line I don't want to cross. On the other hand, what would a writer be without a will to cross over lines?


    Well, whatever. Thanks for dropping by as often as you do; always a delight to see a comment here on Cross-Up.


    By the by: look forward to a post on Devil Survivor 2: The Animation in the next week or so. There are...things...worth discussing.

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  5. Hmm... maybe. But you didn't write a detailed 10-paged essay on its features, its motives, its backstory, its favorite TV show, and its appearance. It's only a brief description with many things still not fully realized (such as how you struggled to describe how it sounds). Bana is not a CGI Thing chasing the protagonist in a cheesy, overdone fashion like in the 2011 'Thing' "prequel", is what I'm getting at.


    I think he'll still be with you for a long time. The stupidly shrinking doors still scare me after two decades of dreaming. Not comforting, perhaps... depending on how you see the glass of water.


    As for Devil Survivor 2, bring it on. I might repost my response to your points on my blog, but depending on what else you find, I may end up sending you a 20-page essay. Even as a lover of fiction and one who has not played the games (but understands the SMT franchise decently), that show... that show, man. So much wrong. It made me question how much I can enjoy anime... Then a combo of DS2TA and three other similar nice-looking shows with boring/awful plot made me drop the medium again in with the rage that could crush the galaxy in the palm of my hand. Depressing...

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  6. Congratulations on the 400th post Volt! I must say that your choice of topic for this occasion was quite unique. It's a perspective that people don't want to talk about very often, not that it's hard to understand why.

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  7. True enough. Bringing one's fears out into the open has got to be the biggest example of "tempting fate" there is. Lie, just talking about a nightmare might suddenly make it materialize right behind you...or if not that, then just ensure that it'll be the first thing you think about when you go to sleep.


    ...Then again, I can think of any number of things that have scared me in the past, several of which I'm not very proud of. But that's a topic for another day.


    Whatever the case, thanks for the congrats. I've got some nice stuff planned, so I'm hoping you'll keep checking back every now and then for more. And I'm hoping what I've got planned doesn't blow up in my face. Because that would be more than a little unpleasant, I think.

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  8. OH GOD YOU JUST REMINDED ME OF THE THING (2011)! ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRokay, I'm over it. I just had to slam my head into something a few times.


    That aside, I don't expect for you to have to do too much in the way of responding. I agree with a lot of the points you made in your post, but as someone who's played the game several times -- and probably will again -- there are just things The Animation does that I can't let slide and have to explain in detail. Generally speaking though, even if you haven't played the games, you had some pretty strong instincts about what went wrong and what could have been better...so in a way, I'm the one responding to you.


    Only with more words. And more pictures of DmC's Donte. (I am getting a crapton of mileage out of that trollface of his...for all the wrong reasons.)

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