Sunday, July 28, 2013

You're Only As Old As Your Age

Which is to say, you're only as old as how many years you've lived. To be clearer, it's like how many years the planet you're standing on (Earth, probably) has been around the Sun with you on it. Like, let's say you've been on the Earth for 31 years (like me), you can quantify how old you really are by figuring out, in that amount of time, how many complete cycles the Earth has made around the Sun (probably 31). What I'm trying to say is, is that if you are 31, or hell, even 21, that's how 21 or 31 feels like. You can say, "I feel like I'm 31" when you are 31 because at that point you, in your body, are 31 and that's how it feels like to be in your body at 31.

Some people say, "40 is the new 30" or, even more absurdly, "30 is the new 20", but that is mathematically impossible. Even if you were to develop, say, a time machine, there would be no way for you to make yourself in your own body any younger - you would be ten years in the past (2003!), warning everyone about the Iraq War, but you would realize, eventually, that you were ten years in the past but you were still aging, and were, in fact, older now (the relative now) then when you went into the past to begin with, because every day and every second you live no matter what time stream you are living in you are getting older.

Unless you're Doctor Who
Travelling at light speed, it is said, slows down aging and time itself (for those within the vessel). But it's still not proven that light speed is possible, dummy. And by the time someone does figure light speed out it's going to be too late for you, you'll be like 41 and too old for the rigors of space travel (guess what, at 41 you'll feel like you're 41).

So, I don't know what your problem is.

I know that if I had a choice I'd be in my 30's forever because my whole life, even when I was a child, I wanted to be in my 30's. I said, "I am ten and I feel like I am ten but I want to be thirty someday and live like I am thirty." And now I'm And it's great. I wish I had more money, but whatever.

But I've been thinking about aging and mortality and how I want to hold onto my thirties as long as I can, and really it's only like nine years longer and there's nothing I can do about that except if we have clones soon then I can kill my clone and insert my brain in there - ah, who am I kidding I couldn't kill anyone with that cute face!

Just don't deny it's going to happen, aging until your death, because it's going to happen because you're getting older and you will die. Maybe not today but (there's a good chance) tomorrow, probably.

Death is an asshole
But why die? That is the question. Or, to paraphrase Shakespeare's Hamlet, "Why would you not want to be?"

The answer! "Death gives meaning to life," say some.

Really? I don't think so. I think life would have just about as much meaning for me without death around, thanks anyway.

"If you lived forever you would not appreciate the beauty of life," says almost everyone. But how do you know that? I'd like to test that theory myself. I think I'd appreciate it just fine. I'd like living above not living, but that's just me maybe. Also, I don't believe you.

So why die?

Because you'll get old and your body will wear down and if you're not killed by one of the seven billion other people on this planet or by some fluke accident or by disease or by animal, if you live through all of that your heart will just get overworked and stop. And if there's any consciousness left in some spiritual plane, you'll say, "I feel like I am dead" and you would be right.

But me, I'm gonna live as long as I can, as long as I'm allowed - and by that I don't mean climbing a mountain or visiting Antarctica or going on a religious pilgrimage, I mean I'm going to breathe as long as I can while standing on this spinning planet, and when Death comes, I don't care if I'm 275 years old, I'll still tell him (or her) that they're a no good bastard; "You fiend," I'll cry, hands flailing adroitly on my deathbed, "I was just starting to figure it all out."

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Asian Artist Profile: Peter Tieryas Liu

You’re able to weave old stories to shed light on many of your own stories. The Wolf’s Choice, for example, mentions a Chinese tale about a wolf that becomes human for a day. Did you learn these stories growing up or did you have to do research?

The other day, I received a message from a Chinese banker in Hong Kong letting me know he had five million dollars he’d kept hidden from the days when HK was part of the UK and that he’d send me half the money if I wired him two grand. In a separate message, two Nigerians promised me diamonds the size of my fist if I sent over a mere five grand. I was tempted, but then I thought of the dream of the earth worm aspiring to be a dragon and finding out earth worms can’t be dragons. One of my aspirations in life is to know, who writes spam mail? Is there someone locked up in some Eastern European corridor, conspiring and thinking up ways to cheat suckers/dreamers out of thousands? Maybe they’re fighting for a piece of bread or they have a demanding girlfriend who wants to drive German cars. Imagine the prevalence of all these spam messages. Now imagine a thousand years from now, as historians filter all the tales and myths of our culture (myth/culture = Facebook and email posts), they find millions of spam messages and think it is an actual part of our history. Who were these Chinese bankers and African miners offering these jewels for paltry sums of money? Or will they laugh at us for our obsession with shiny rocks? Lucian’s satires from two thousand years ago resonate for their insights into the human condition. Will they read our messages as satire?

I did not know many of the Chinese myths until I was actually in China. I was stunned to find out how hilarious and dark many of them were and immediately incorporated them into my stories. Fortunately, many have English translations, though some aren’t translated well, and in many instances, I took creative liberties in incorporating those myths into the stories I wanted to tell. I’m really sorry though, Mr. Kong, from the Hong Kong Bank. I don’t have two grand to wire over to you as much as I’d like the five million dollars. STOP MAKING ME FEEL GUILTY!!!

Who are some of your influences? What’s most important to you in a story?

I once went to a beach in Thailand and there were hundreds of tiny crabs that ran around the ocean. Their footprints looked like fractals in the sand and together, they seemed to form the layout of a language and a universe. Those crabs are my influence. I hope to suck you, the reader, into my universe. But if not, get your feet wet, covered in sand, so that your toes are icky. A part of you is immersed into the water and maybe you’re curious about what crabs say with their claws in the middle of the night when they’re not scouring for food. Maybe you’ll take a dip into the ocean. Just don’t swallow the water as it’s salty and you may end up hating me for the promise of bliss ending only in bitterness.

Watering Heaven is published by Signal 8 Press

Many of your stories have Asian American characters intersecting with both Asia and America. Many times they find themselves as foreigners to their country of origin, which I always find very interesting. With Asia, in particular, China, becoming a more dominant geopolitical power, do you see Asian Americans being perceived differently here in America and abroad? Do you think Asian Americans will perceive themselves differently?

Do you think a house can be painted red and purple and green and not have it clash too much? I hope so as I just spent my life savings painting the tiny studio I rent in a bunch of clashing colors that give my wife a headache. I wouldn’t mind spray painting my house in strawberry green and apple orange. I love when they put slices of apples in water rather than lemons. Asia is such a big place, I wish I knew more about what anyone thinks about being Asian in Asia and Asian in America. I love the Chinese and Korean languages, love their food, love their culture, love their movies, and love the fact that when you go to restaurants, there is no additional tip and tax that adds about 30% average to the meal. Then again, when I go to China or Korea, they view me as a foreigner. But in California, they also mistake me for being a foreigner. A few months ago, I went to the DMV and the lady there said something quickly so I couldn’t understand her, and she asked me in an irritated, but oddly slow, tone, “Do you understand English?” Curiously, she added a fake Asian accent to her question. I responded in like, “I think I undo-stand Engleesh,” but I didn’t sound like someone with an actual Asian accent, but someone trying to recreate an Asian accent while speaking English (look at any American movie in the 80s featuring an Asian to get an idea for what I mean). Do you think if I was older in the 80s, I could have gotten a job as a voice actor pretending to have a bad Asian accent in English?

Besides writing stories, you also work with technical writing on video games and special effects for movies! Do you think working in these other fields has shaped your fiction writing?  

Many writers who have played Nintendo as a kid are trying to recreate the madness and joy of Mario and Link in prose mushrooms and heart containers. But I have a secret fetish for Deadly Towers, deemed the worst Nintendo game of all time. I’m actually hoping to interview one of the creators of the game, profess my love for one of the most difficult games of all time. I have a secret place in my heart for the unwanted. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” I think more of my gaming experiences come out in my two forthcoming novels, Bald New World and The Wingless. Can we do a redux of the question then? Oh, no more interviews with me? Too many non sequiturs? Too many rhetorical questions? My sincerest apologies. Can we instead play Street Fighter II together and I’ll better illustrate my feelings on writing when Vega combats Chun Li while warding off Dhalsim’s elastic arms and Blanca’s munching ways?

Read Rodenticide here.

I’m beginning to see a small wave of Asian and Asian Americans writing stories that bend towards science fiction, fantasy, and the bizarre: Wesley Chu’s “The Lives of Tao”, EJ Koh’s “Red”, just about anything by Berit Ellingsen, and you, to name a few! Are we seeing the beginnings of a new writing movement of Asian writers?

Tim! That’s an amazing wave. Do you mind if I take a surfboard and ride that wave? Oops, I forgot I can’t really surf and the only time I did try, I nearly died in the rip tide until some kid came out and saved my life. True story. Wesley Chu and EJ Koh are awesome. Berit Ellingsen is incredible. I am that annoying surfer out in Malibu who gets in everyone’s way and occasionally stumbles on a decent wave which causes people to say, maybe he has potential, until I stumble and tumble and fall and then everyone laughs and tells me again to get out of the way. But because I keep on stumbling and tumbling, they get amused, watching for comic relief. Hopefully, they’ll even start to miss me when I’m thirty minutes late. Though I did recently hurt my knee playing basketball so I don’t think I should surf anymore. I like seeing more Asian-American surfers. Has anyone ever tried riding a tsunami? What would it be like riding a tsunami wave to shore? Would five minutes of exhilaration be worth an excruciatingly painful death?

Check out Peter's blog or visit his and his wife, Angela Xu's website here

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

An Admittedly Unfair Comparison Between George Michael's "Freedom! '90" and Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines"

George Michael's "Freedom! '90"

Both music videos are, in many ways, completely absurd. George Micheal's "Freedom! '90" has a dilapidated apartment building occupied by some of the most beautiful people in the world. Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" takes place in a pink vacuum, a point in space and time occupied with bouncy naked women, a baby goat, and a giant omnipresent #THICKE. It is not fair for me to compare these two music videos. They are separated by twenty-three years and two distinctively different seasons ("Blurred Lines" is unabashedly a summer song, while "Freedom! '90" was released at the end of October). And, of course, they are very different artists.

But I can only start from where I'm coming from. The first thing I thought about when I saw "Blurred Lines" was: This reminds me of George Michael.

Unable to link unrated version, though you can watch it here. Warning: Not safe for work. Not safe for cafes. Not safe for women (listen to the lyrics). 

Instead of being in the "Freedom! '90" video himself, George Michael, who did not want to be in front of the camera anymore, has ten models. Most people remember the women, but they are men here too, who all lip sing and dance to his song. The poses are provocative, to say the least. Who could forget Cindy Crawford writhing in the bathtub, caressing her face in the sweltering heat?

Or Naomi Campbell dancing against the shadows, her arms hugging her exposed breasts?

This is a sexual video that, at first glance, could be a prime example of the objectifying, superficial culture that MTV had nurtured at the turn of the century. Except it's not that. Not just, at least. If this was just a video that had dancing models, though aesthetically pleasing (and I would argue that this video is beautifully shot by David Fincher) it would ultimately be forgettable. There's more to what we're seeing, something that gives this video an extra dimension. Or maybe a better word would be tension. The tension here lies in the lyrics:

"I just hope you understand/
sometimes the clothes/
don't make the man."

"All we have to see/
is that I don't belong to you/
and you don't belong to me..."

You have to give what you take."

Many people think that this is George Michael's coming out song. All signs point to yes, with the lyrics and ritualistic burning or exploding of his iconic sex symbol iconography (see jacket above). But another interpretation could be that he was exploding the perceived image of himself, wiping it clean off the media map. He is freeing himself from being owned by his image. The fact that this empowerment is being sung by models that live largely off of their image gives this song a tension, a central contradiction, that I believe makes it one of the greatest music videos ever made.

And then there's Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines".

And I know why the video immediately made me think of "Freedom! '90". "Blurred Lines" is what "Freedom! '90" would have been if George Michael made all the wrong decisions.

Think about how different "Freedom! '90" would have been if, instead of having the models slinking alone in their rooms, George Michael had been standing over them, nodding in sublime approval. Because that's what "Blurred Lines" basically is. Well, T.I.'s there. And a baby goat. And then there's this:


In a recent interview, Thicke says that he wanted to "break all the rules" with this video. But that statement is tremendously problematic.

He's not breaking any rules here.

He is not going against our patriarchal society, its hunger for image, for sexualized women, or our inane obsession with "me". He's embracing all of that here. All that he is pushing, maybe crossing lines with, slightly, is the presentation, but the message is very clearly going for the established status quo. Some people think that it's being ironic, but an ironic viewing of the video would be just as vapid and still give us nothing new. Irony can't excuse everything all the time. Even the lyrics support our insidious rape culture:

"I hate these blurred lines/
I know you want it/
I know you want it/
I know you want it..."

And so on, and so on. But I'm not here to blast this song for promoting rape culture (though anyone easily could). The problem I'm addressing is that there is not a drip of actual tension in this video. There is not an ounce of contradiction. It's so terribly literal that a 1st grader could understand it (DON'T LET YOUR 1ST GRADER WATCH THIS VIDEO). This video is seen as breaking rules. But it's not. That's why it's so offensive. Not because it is 'daringly' showing boobs.

My question is this: Why are we so scared of subversion?

When everything is so troubling in our world and so many people know it, why is our media failing us so badly? Why do our "stars" embrace the uncomplicated? And how can they keep pretending, even now, that they are on our side?

That's a lot to put on a silly summer song, I know. But you can give excuses to just about any song, any movie or TV show. Or, hell, even a book.

I guess what I'm wondering is if we will ever get another "Freedom! '90" from our pop culture. Who has the gumption to scream "Freedom"? Or even "Justice"? And actually mean it?

Who among them will actually have something new to say?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Ways to Keep Your Mind off this Sad, Sick, Broken World of Ours

SO, yes, yes, it's been a tough year for America and a pretty bad week all together even and maybe you just wanna curl up and gag in a corner, yes, I know! 

But there are things you can do when the trauma of existence gets you down, friends! 

Ignore it! 

Asiana Flight 214 getting you down? Hey, why wouldn't it? A third crash victim has died, another young girl (all the deaths, so far, have been young girls!)! And more still may die, and we get juvenile pranks such as this: 

A San Francisco affiliate accidentally aired these names after a National Transportation Safety Board summer intern (WHAT?) confirmed them. You can read about the story and subsequent reaction here, but why would you even do that and lose the little faith you have left in people? In fact, if you're going to experience anything remotely Korean, why don't you just watch this video, friends: 

Crayon Pop is fun and fun is fun!! 

Okay, now that we got that terribleness out of our minds, let's talk about Edward Snowden and being spied on by our own government? On second thought, let's not! Why talk about Snowden when you can talk about Snowday, the movie! 

"It's a Snow Day. Anything Can Happen."  

Chevy Chase and Chris Elliott in the same movie? I say: What NSA!? I say: Who doesn't just love a snow day?! 

There's a little town in Quebec called Lac-Megantic that was obliterated by a runaway train - you know what, don't even worry about that, just pretend I didn't even say anything about that and get a soothing bowl of pho

Pho is a Vietnamese noodle dish that has rice noodles, herbs and spices, and, of course, MEAT. Pho is incredible because the meat and vegetables will cook inside the steaming broth. It is also wonderful because if you get it at the right place (I'm looking at YOU, Nhu Lan Bakery!) there is so much of it that you become deliriously full of pho and become tired and you won't even have the energy to think about the terrible scary sad heartbreaking compromised disgusting violent racist misogynistic world! 

George Zimmerman killed a kid! He shot him in the heart! Oh well!

Buy new shoes or whatever! That's what I did! Nice shoes without shoelaces (I freaking hate shoelaces!!!!!!)!

Now my feet are happy, and when my feet are happy I'm happy! I'm so happy that I've written this blog about how to be happy when everything seems wrong! Because everything is wrong! Oh wait, there I go again being all sad and stuff! It just creeps up on you sometimes and grabs at your throat, but you need to be vigilant in these times of ours, banish those thoughts and embrace beautiful vacuity, fill your heart up with that great empty until you have no room for anything else and then dance, it's summer already, so dance!