Sunday, February 23, 2003

happiness! connected again!

Yes, after what seemed like a mind-numbing eternity, I have access to the internet at our new home. I cannot tell you how delighted Nikki and I are. It did take the Destiny Cable folk multiple attempts over the course of three days, but the results are worth the wait. I can surf, blog, download and do all the things I used to be able to do where we used to live.

Too be honest, much of my writing steam went away while I was disconnected. If you think about it, nothing should have changed, really. I still had my PC and word processor after all. But it didn't feel the same. I realized that in-between sentences or ideas, I had gotten used to surfing around, looking at things or just letting my mind roam - then I'd go back to writing. Without the internet (which, in a way, has become both tool and crutch), a lot of the writing felt more like chores - even with the inspiration (because you can only go so far with the initial jolt of inspiration, then you sort of putter around or begin pushing your car to get wherever the hell you had to go).

But now all is well in the world. Internet connected, cable TV installed, aircon fixed, comic book TPBs sorted and shelved. The only the sore point is the problem with the sink (which won't drain, and we need to coordinate with the Korean guy below for the administration guys to get at the master plumbing, and if language has ever been a barrier, this is it).

talking about incest: position and metaphors

And not because it is a favorite topic at all.

Last night, after Nikki and I had dinner at Sukhothai (our favorite Thai resto), we met up with the usual suspects and ended up going to the Podium, where we had dessert at Sitio (a new place specializing in Filipino food) and my much-reviled UCC (hideously expensive Japanese coffee place, which I only agree to go to because they have a huge smoking area).

One of the guys told us about his idea for his next book, which had an incestous liaison as its centerpiece.

Naturally, opinionated lot that we are, this immediately provoked discussion.

While I support every writer's right to write about anything he wants to, I asked whether the author was ready to defend his position (or non-position) on the matter when the publication came out. My point is that, with the near-inifinite number of possible things to write about, he chose to write about incest, therefore taking a position (whichever way it is portrayed, positively or otherwise) and implying an agenda.

Personally, it is something I would not write about, because, as a matter of opinion, it's simply too vile to consider. I have nothing against victims of incest, but the story has no true victims, as the protagonists go about it willingly (though through certain apparently mitigating circumstances).

I believe that, as a creator, I have been given three things: an gun which will sometimes shoot, an unknown number of bullets, and an uncertain lifespan. The gun and bullets are both my capacity to create something of merit and the subject matter, and my lifespan is the time in which I can go around shooting things. I do not know how often my gun will fire. I do not know how many bullets I have. I do not know how long I have to keep trying to fire the gun.

In other words, I believe in being selective about what I choose to write. Part of the freedom of being able to choose to write about anything is the fact that you simply do not have the time to write about everything. So I will definitely I need to choose what I will write about. Not out of fear of what my readers or critics will say (with all due respect to my readers, my primary audience is myself - when I write in a non-commercial mode - whatever I create must satisfy me first, then find its audience later).

Must there be a reason to write about something? Yes. There is obviously a vast spectrum of things to write about, and ultimately I will not write about something because "I just want to". For me, there has to be a greater point, a deeper purpose, even if it sounds as shallow as "I want to explore the human psyche" or as suspiciously justifying as "I want to bring attention to X because no one has". There is a degree of responsibility to our craft.

Anyway, I admitted to the author that, friendship aside, I was automatically negatively predisposed to his new opus even without reading it, because of subject matter. I admit to certain judgemental biases - I refuse to watch a film about snuff, for example, no matter how well done, or I would not read Gabriel Garcia Marquez's latest novel if he wrote about pedophilia and excrement, even if he is my favorite author in the world. Just because one is liberal or open-minded does not mean that everything is acceptable. And all my close friends know about my other quirks, like my irrational fear of butch women. Note the irrational part.

However, given that we are all supportive friends and creators, I will have to read it. So I told him first that my opinions are only my opinions and ultimately he should do what he wanted. Second, that if he managed (in terms of setting creative goals and in the manner of his execution) to subvert my hang-up about incest, then I would agree it was a bit of writing with true merit, perhaps ending up liking it despite myself.

The question is how will he do this (not for me, but for similarly-minded readers and critics). This is a different concern from the one voiced by Jason about the societal impact (yes, naturally, we all believe that there will be readers of our works, of course) vis-a-vis how the readers will perceive the author in terms of agenda.

When is incest justified? Does it have to be justified? Are we not just talking about make-believe? Is it important to even consider agenda? Are we taking writing way too seriously? (I felt like I channeled Carrie for a while there - cue: Sex and the City ST).

Through the course of the history of great literature, incest is a big taboo, a tragedy disturbing enough to upset the gods when Oedipus did the bad thing with his mom. Granted, there are cultures where it is sanctioned (what comes easiest to my mind are Egypt, where Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy were sibling lovers and rulers; and the age of kings in Europe, where royal blood simply did not mix with common stock, creating a long line of eccentrics with genetic oddities). But barring concerns of succession and a number of scattered "non-civilized" tribes (note the parenthesis and get off my ass), is there any literature that extols the virtue of a mother and son getting it together? Should there be? Would you read it?

If I flip the question and make it a personal challenge, I'd ask myself how I would write it. These are the givens: a futuristic society (where incest is still taboo - because otherwise you emasculate the shock value), a mother longing to continue her line, and a son who will acquiesce to the act (not out of lust, but out of duty or sympathy).

First, I'd freak out, then I'd get started, beginning with accepting the fact that even in a character-driven story both protagonists HAVE TO get it on (the distance between where the characters choose to go and the necessarily artificial plot point is something that needs to be closed - and I suppose that is where craft comes in). But what is my hook? What is my angle (beyond my agenda)?

I believe that everyone wears a mask at all times. A different mask for different occassions and circumstances, but always masked nonetheless. Thus, there are a certain set of things we will do or not do, depending on the mask we wear. I need to get to the point where my protagonists will do the deed. That will necessitate putting them in a place or circumstance where they are suddenly unmasked (or have no relevant mask). Only by doing so would their "true" selves be revealed, and the lack of a convenient mask (with its set of clearly defined behaviors) would allow them to do something their masked selves would not do.

Those are the times when people we know do extraordinary things.

But even given that, I'm not certain I could do it. Granted, I could rely on tricks of the trade, but an honest-to-goodness story of that nature?

I don't know.

What matters is that I am sufficiently intrigued to see how my author friend's process goes - from idea to script to publication and beyond. I still have a lot learn and the one of the best ways is through what my group does for each other: listen, critique, help, back off, watch, read, support and be truthful.

the line is drawn here

After we went home, Nikki and were still talking about the art of writing, subject matters, preferences, comfort levels and responsibilty.

We drew up a list of the top 3 things we will not write about (unless of course the inner writing whore in us is offered a gazillion). Not suprisingly, they are all sexual in nature (because either of us can offensively write about god and any other taboo thing at the drop of a hat).

Nikki's list

1. incest
2. pedeophilia
3. excrement (scatological tales)

Dean's list

1. incest
2. BDSM (Bondage & Domination, Discipline & Submission, S & M)
3. pedophilia

Which, in the realm of human sexuality, still leaves a distubingly huge universe of other things to write about.

The funny thing is that it seems you'd sooner see the Alfars write a touching bestiality story before you see anything about incest.

Are these hang-ups things I want to get rid of? Would I be a better person if I accepted and extolled these things?

I think not.


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