Category Archives: Stories

I Swear I’m Not Rationalizing

I’ve been trying to write more recently.  It hasn’t gone particularly well.  We are always our own worst critics, and this has become more than apparent in my flailing attempts to produce something.  The things is that I’m not actually interested in succeeding.

Let me step back for a moment to explain that Gordian Knot.

Role Playing Games have been a hobby of mine for quite a long time now.  It started when my dad brought home a CRPG classic called Baldur’s Gate 2.  It was quite successful for it’s time and it was well received by audiences and critics.  More importantly however, it became an instant classic and even now fifteen-odd years later, just about any computer gamer who knows his classic CRPGs has played this game and will tell people about it when they list their all time favourites.

This game got me started on tabletop RPG games(Thanks Dad!) before I had even started playing one, an act I didn’t do until my cousin Jonathan came back from university and got us all(mostly me, and others through passive-aggressive bullying) hooked over a Christmas break.  Since then, I’ve been playing for years in various different games with dozens of different characters and like 20 different people across two different continents.

Now let’s step forward.

Playing RPGs, making characters, designing worlds and stories is a lot more enjoyable for me than actually writing a story.  When I write, I know what I want to do and what I want to happen; I can’t separate what the character would want and what I would want.  They are one and the same because, to a certain extent, that character is me.  In a somewhat Jungian sense, I think every character made by anyone is an extension or reflection of themselves regardless of how hard they might try otherwise.

So instead, I prefer to design worlds and people and watch them interact with real people.  It does sound like a bit of a cop out for being a meandering writer, and even looking at it now on my computer screen I feel like I’m copping out.  But that doesn’t make it less true.  I would rather design hundreds of different worlds with thousands of characters and write about their life stories than write a novel about a couple of guys and gals having a whirlwind adventure through an armoire.

Stories for me are a collaborative effort.  Since my early years when my dad read stories to my sister and I, and he would do these different voices and we would jump up and down and get excited and scared, simply reading or writing a story without shared input isn’t interesting for me.  I like seeing how others react to what I’ve made.  I like seeing them jump on it with gleeful abandon and tear it apart as they find each little clue I left or mistake I made.  It teaches me something in a creative chaos that inspires me to do more. I learn what I did wrong and how it can be done better, and in turn my friends get entertained.  It’s a testament to this process that I’ve had my friends in Canada talk about trying to arrange games on Skype or meet during my vacations.

Or maybe this is because of the world I’ve grown up in.  I’m not usually an impatient person, but I’m as guilty as the next person who madly clicks the refresh button for a website or the delivery status update for an Amazon package like a rabbit on meth.  The internet age has grown a generation that are accustomed to fast and frequent input, and I know I’m not an exception to this.  I want to see people enjoying my work or experiencing my work, and waiting until I’ve written a whole book seems incredibly tedious. Especially since I don’t actually see it!

I don’t want social validation for anything I write.  I don’t want accolades or money.  Hell, I don’t care if someone reads it(this blog is kind of proof of that).  It’s a bit like being a teacher: I want to know that someone is happy and learned something.  I can see that effect in my tabletop games, but sitting and writing and hoping to finish a novel isn’t anywhere close to that.  Not by a long shot.

-GJ

This Is How My Brain Works

Today someone posted some hamster supplies on Mie Prefecture Garage, a Facebook group for stuff people want to sell or get rid of before them leave country.  People sell all kinds of things: classic novels, furniture, beds, cooking tools, clothes and slightly used and Sigried-and-Roy-approved animals. This young lady is selling a hamster wheel, ball, cage, pooper scooper, some food, a water bottle, and a few toys.  I had only one insensitive and dark question:

What happened to Pikachu?

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I went to dinner last night with a great friend.  We tried to get in for Japanese hot pot(Shabu Shabu), but the wait verged on the absurd.  The man apologetically told us the wait for three hours at least.  Instead, we went down the street and around the corner for all you can eat and drink sushi*.  It was amazing, but the hostess/waitress was a lady of the older persuasion who had a face, attitude and response to two uppity white folk which gave me a singular and somewhat intoxicated thought:

I bet her own children don’t talk to.

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A few mornings ago I woke up in the morning and took stock of my life.  I thought about where I am, where I’m going and what I’m doing with my life.  I thought about Facebook and how it’s an endless parade of other peoples successes, I considered the Whatsapp chat which one half of my social circle use to see if people have dinner plans, share pictures of tiny humans, talk about watches and money, and generally make me feel like my life is a worthless pile of nothing.  A lesser man might feel down and depressed because of this, but my only response was WWABD:

What Would Anthony Bourdain Do?

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Since coming to Japan I’ve lost at least 25 pounds.  That’s an eighth of my current body weight.  That number worries me, if I lost an eighth of something else of me I would be calling for an ambulance.  People ask how I did it, and it puzzles me.  Is this the normal question?  When someone loses weight are you supposed to ask how they did it?  Cuz I have no idea how I did it.  I don’t track my food intake, I don’t measure the ins and outs of my bodily fluids, I don’t really pay attention to what I eat and drink anymore than the birds that gather outside my window to harass me each morning.  So in my typically snarky attitude, I say:

Drugs.  All the drugs.  Especially cocaine.

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I wash my beard.  I assume that like the hair which covers the rest of me that if I don’t it feels like steel wool.  But then I think “Wait a sec! I don’t wash my hair everyday** and it comes out fine, my normal bodily oils take care of that problem, shouldn’t this work with my beard as well? This hair is on the same body part as the vast majority of the rest of my hair, proximity matters doesn’t it?”  Apparently not.  My friends, take note:

Unwashed beards and mustaches can be about as pleasant as straw underpants.

 

-GJ

 

*I didn’t drink the sushi.

**Anyone who has ever had dry curly hair understands why.

The Tale of Sir-Not-Showering-At-This-Internet-Cafe

The first time I went to an internet cafe in Canada I was 15 or 16.  I went with my cousins and some of their friends to basically play video games with all the computer hooked up onto a LAN network.  It was Counter Strike.  I was better than expected but a lot worse than the best people there.  At the time I felt it was a great experience.  Five bucks an hour got you a computer with unlimited usage.  Sure it would’ve made a made a germaphobe scream, faint and need a hermetically sealed hamster ball just to make it out the front door,  but I was a teenager and I didn’t care about a few extra germs here and there.  The computers were okay and could handle a lot of the popular games people were interested in, but nothing graphic intensive.

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I went to some internet cafes while I was in Europe.  By and large they are much smaller, cleaner, rustic even, and intended just for internet surfing, email and printing documents.  Not 12 hour gaming marathons or mobs of teenagers  looking to murder each other in simulated warfare.  Usually they take up small shops and meet very simple writing, surfing and communication needs.  Gaming was not available and people probably never went to them for that sort of thing.

So fast-forward to now and there I was, stepping forth into a Japanese internet cafe.  This is a completely different beast entirely.  Where the cafes in Canada did have a lot of floor space and choice and the European ones I found were quaint and practical, the Japanese beasts are mythological sirens giving the technological equivalent of “come hither” with their eyes and a waggle of their fingers.

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First of all, the building has two floors.  The top floor is a regular cafe with couches, pool tables, dart boards, and some private rooms(I do not know what goes on here and I am NOT going to find out).  The main floor has private computer alcoves, sleeping alcoves, couches, diner-style booth tables, and a significant library of naughty magazines, fashion magazines, and gaming magazines and all the lastest manga.  And a drink bar.

So it’s a thing in Japan that a lot of restaurants use “drink bars” for regular drinks(pop, juice, coffee, tea, etc) particularly at all you can eat joints where the overworked staff is already fetching food.  They give you a cup and you can go and run off and get drinks for yourselves.  If you want to order alcohol, it’s a different matter and comes individually, but otherwise the “drink bar” is the norm for many places.  At the internet cafe’s it’s the norm.  I had my choice of soda, juice, cold tea or brew my own fresh tea, espresso machine coffee, slushies, and soup.  It’s amazing.  My response was something along the lines of “Unlimited slurpees? Swaggles!”

You can order a variety of Japanese cafe food(simple sammiches, curry and rice, katsu and rice, chicken wings, fried food from the depths of the ocean, different snack foods) and it’s brought directly to your alcove.  For 320 yen I got a plate of fries with chicken nuggets and tacoyaki.  Pretty damn good considering I’m also only playing 380 yen per hour.

And the internet? Glorious.  Just glorious.  Back in Canada it was a great day if the speed went as high as 1.5 mbit/s, and things would finish downloading overnight.  But that little booth topped 12 mbit/s over wifi.  I wasn’t even using a plugged in cable, this was over the bloody wifi.  I must’ve downloaded 100+ gigs of data while I was there.  Fan-freaking-tastic.

But things aren’t all sunshine and waffles in the land of amazing internet cafes.  In the big cities it’s a fairly common occurrence for people to stay overnight at one if they’ve missed the last train.  It has booths for sleeping and showers for the morning and it costs you a fraction of staying at a hotel.  This is kind of odd, but as I’m getting used to Japan this sort of thing is becoming more normal for me.  The weirder part is that some people just straight up live in these places.  They basically rent an alcove every night, go to work during the day, order inexpensive food, and use the internet.  They shower in the morning, use laundromats for their clothes and use luggage to carry their belongings and the lockers at the cafe to store their things.

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Back home this would be a serious and terrible plague upon our youth. It would be pitchforks and torches and pistols at dawn over this unspeakable terror afflicting the best and brightest of this generation.  But here?  People seem to accept it alongside putting two prices for everything at the supermarket(before and after tax).  Is it actually a problem?   Is it weird?  I’ve honestly no bloody idea. I’ve been seriously reevaluating everything I’ve thought was strange since I came here.  Strange took an extended vacation from Japan a couple decades ago and it’s starting to look like it might be permanent.

Asking around has got a definitive: “Eyh?”, which is the Japanese equivalent of someone telling you there’s a guy in a trench coat standing behind the bushes at the bus stop every morning for a few hours: he hasn’t done anything wrong, but there is no way in hell that he’s not doing something wrong under that coat or afterwards with the curtains shut.

A Work in Progress

For a long while I believed that writing, like many many other specialized skills were a bit like magic.  Without effort or any training some people were simply good at it and could produce this skill without real effort like the rest of us.  As a result, I spent a good bit of time wishing and hoping and searching for some kind of miraculous skill that I had because I had school teachers that reinforced this kind of ridiculous belief system.  As should be obvious to anyone who has met me, the only skill I have which required no specialized training is my remarkable ability to breathe and be snarky.  It took a good number of years to stop believing this BS, and it wasn’t until university that I learned this and other truths of the universe(ie. I’m not the centre of it, other people are just people and not gods or demons) that I woke up a bit and realized that very very VERY few people can do something without training.  I also realized that I am not one of them.

One of the things that took a long time for me to become acceptable at is writing.  In high school, I remember one of my teachers undressing one of my essays multiple times in a single term, sometimes more than once a week.  I rewrote that bloody thing a dozen times at least and each time it had new and exciting problems for my teacher to get frustrated with.   I learned to fear the colour red on my papers and dreaded handing anything in for criticism. After her class my writing was still awful, but a little better than before her intervention.

The next big moment I remember was in college.  My teacher, another she, taught me a shocking amount at a time when I was the guy who thought he was the smartest person in the room(those were dark days).  Her favourite thing about my writing weren’t my prose or my structure, it was my titles.  She thought I had those nailed down but my writing itself was only passable.  I got a lot of good learning from her and I still use some of it in my own teaching.

The latest moment probably came when I started playing Dungeons and Dragons and I was writing and creating stories for my friends.  I created worlds and stories and lots of colourful people inhabiting those worlds.  I drew maps, typed up long winded histories and plots. I had an outlet for the ideas I had pop into my head on a daily basis ranging from wild and fantastic to dark and gritty.  Week after week I provided worlds to explore.

And most of them were crap.

But I learned so much from those experiences.  And those experiences in turn led me to start sharing my writing and ideas with my co-conspirators in the vain hope of improving.  To put it simply, nothing makes you better at something than practice.  Below is a snippet of some of my current writing.  Let me know what you think, and be as brutal and unforgiving as I deserve.

 

 

In the city-state of Kimmerikon, murderers are dealt with in an especially creative way.  Strangers to this ancient city often comment on this execution ceremony for its efficient method of deterring crime, and the hordes of viewers who go to the river to watch the weekly executions.  Travellers usually say something like “Gosh, is he supposed to come back up?”, “That river doesn’t look very good for swimming” and “Why are you asking for my betting slip?”

It begins with a murderer, willfully judged by the Chamber of Rats, a body of men whose sole responsibility is to hear cases of crime around the city on a daily basis.  After being found guilty(which happens in the vast majority of cases), the murderer is kept in The Pit, a seemingly endless maze which can only be navigated by a select group of guards, to await execution.  At the end of the week the murderer is walked out of the pit, through the city streets along with the other murderers to the Quay to the Underworld, a jetty used exclusively for executions.  The pun was likely intended, Kimmerians have a very strange sense of humor.

From here, each murderer is presented to the jeering crowd of onlookers who are told his or her name, the crime they’re being punished for, and information about the victim and crime.  In some cases where murderers of multiple people are involved this can often take a very long time and the entire spectacle is an entertaining show for the jeering masses.  While all this takes place the body of the victim is brought to the quay and either tied to the murderer or replaced with weights.  With the weights or body secured to the murderer, he or she must then cross the river.  

Not above the water.  

Under the water.  

If they can reach the other side without drowning, then the gods are supposed to have spoken their judgement and the murderer is turned free.

Kimmerikons  believe that a soul can only journey onto the next life if the bearer died a natural death.  A sudden death, such as murder or death in combat, doesn’t give time for the soul to make its transition.  As such, the murderer is executed with his victim’s soul clinging to him as he makes his journey.  In the case of war, Kimmerikon has been known to go to great lengths to ensure their dead ones are given a proper burial.

But while all this goes on, betting is a normal activity during the execution.  Bets are taken on whether murderers can make it to the other side of the river(picking the lock is considered acceptable if nearly impossible in a fast flowing river).  Some have even been presented second or third times and there are complicated betting sheets for these rare individuals.  The total gold being exchanged is rumored to sometimes exceed the value of a tiny kingdom.  Occasionally some have survived the ordeal as this process doesn’t always work on non-humans. Needless to say, only a handful survive even a single trip across.

This is precisely how Cassandra died.

Today I got Really Freaking Annoyed

I’ve never particularly cared about my hair.  I know that my sister would probably disagree considering the number of questions I’ve asked her about hair care.  Some of my friends might also disagree considering the number of experimentations I’ve done on those cursed curls camped out on the top of head.  But truth be told, I don’t care about them. I care more about my appearance since appearances are disgustingly important in real life.  And since my appearance is important I’ve taken steps from time to time to improve it with the tools I have available.

Sometimes this has been gel, moose, or other ridiculous styling creams.  Other times it’s been a combination of a hair brush and my will versus an uncaring genetic structure.  Today, that process was impeded.

I go up early because I went through the trouble of reading up on and checking at a local barbers for the opening time of hair salons, barbers and hairdressers in Japan.  They open at 8:00 for barbers and 9:00 for the hair salons, supposedly.  Apparently these times are about as useful as an inflatable dart board.  I rode my bike to the barber shop and found it closed.  Undeterred and considering that it might simply be closed on a Tuesday, I   biked over to a salon that should also supposedly be open near my work.  It wasn’t open either despite their sandwich board saying 8:00 am and their window sign also saying the same.

This continued for six other places over the course of two hours and I biked my ass through side streets, small parks, bridges and through crowds of people going to work discovering a distinct inability to find a hairdresser prepared to cut this poor excuse for a mop on my head.  Was I going crazy? Do shearers of mammalian hair take Tuesdays as their day of respite from the tragically painful world of hair styling?  “How could I have missed this?” I thought.  No blog or webpage mentioned anything akin to a coordinated day off for them, so what was I missing?

I messaged a co worker about this conundrum before cycling home.  She wasn’t surprised and told me that they usually close on Mondays.  She embraced my confusion when I reminded her it wasn’t Monday.  My exact words to her went as follows:

“Okay.  Srsly. I’ve been to eight different salons barbers and or hair dressers and ALL of them have been closed.  It’s like a bat signal went out to warn them that my fro is on the prowl for a cleaning, so they all in a coordinated effort closed up shop as I left my apartment.  wtf”

And seriously.  WTF.  I still don’t know why they all closed up today.  I went back to the barber shops two more times hoping to save some money on a hair cut to no avail.  After giving up all hope of getting a hair cut on my DAY OFF(yes, I’m still really bloody annoyed) and to cease impersonating an extra from Con Air that I spied my saviour.  On a road I’ve never taken next to a nondescript building and parking lot was a open hair dresser with one little lady who had zero English capabilities.  After meandering my way through the opening “Konichiwa” and explaining how much hair I wanted cut with a ruler because percentage explanations failed, I got this birds nest cleaned up with a few extra “motto”s and hand gestures.

It cost my 30 bucks and it’s a good cut.  I think I’ll go back in the future.

Terry Pratchett

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I remember the first book of his that I read and how late in my youth it was that I’d begun reading his books.  My dad had found it in a used book shop for me amongst the dozens of other books available, and, to say the least, I was enthralled.  It’s called “The Light Fantastic”, and I giggled to myself all night as I engorged myself on it’s pages for hours. I loved it, and I needed more.  I’d never read a book that entertaining and fun in years.  I’d read books with more technically perfect prose and finer use of the English language, but not a book that had used foot notes as a jokes column and taken to using analogies so perfectly.  I wish I were half the writer and entertainer he was.

The second book I remember so vividly is called “Guards! Guards!”.  It’s a novel that has one of the best dedications I’ve ever read because the pages that followed told an amazing tale of incompetence and hilarity.

“They may be called the Palace Guard, the City Guard, or the Patrol. Whatever the name, their purpose in any work of heroic fantasy is identical: it is, round about Chapter Three (or ten minutes into the film) to rush into the room, attack the hero one at a time, and be slaughtered. No one ever asks them if they want to.
This book is dedicated to those fine men.”

 

Again, a long night of not studying and working ensued, and I couldn’t drop the novel at all.  Wolves, badgers and bears could have broken into my room and threatened to make use of my skin to form a brand new hammock, and I wouldn’t have put it down.  His understanding of the human condition was so absolute that it was all the more tragic when I learned of his own human condition.

“The Ephebians believed that every man should have the vote . Every five years someone was elected to be Tyrant, provided he could prove that he was honest, intelligent, sensible, and trustworthy. Immediately after he was elected, of course, it was obvious to everyone that he was a criminal madman and totally out of touch with the view of ordinary philosopher in the streets looking for a towel. And then five years later they elected another one just like him, and really it was amazing how intelligent people kept on making the same mistakes.”

Provided that he wasn’t poor, foreign, nor disqualified by reason of being mad, frivolous, or a woman

He lived a life that he shared with so many minds young and old, he introduced us to worlds that are more alive than any other I’ve ever encountered.  Thank you for teaching us so much, showing us the hilarious truth, and being honest with us about our own world through the lens of your own.

-GJ

Three Stories

The Bike

So I’ve decided I don’t like walking to work like someone who doesn’t have a bicycle(Okay, I might not be good at analogies).  So the other day I went into the local shopping arcade and got the tires filled up on my sweet new bike:

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This isn’t my actual bike This one is a little newer, cleaner, less broken, and also 100% more a download off Google Image Search.  It’s pretty much my bike honestly, well, I say MY bike.  I got it given to me by a fellow Canadian who happened to have an extra one lying around.  So I guess it is, but I really look at it as a loan.

It makes getting to work a lot easier, my 20 minute walk is now a 5 minute bike ride.  If I could use this bike to get around even more I would, but the gear shift is broken, the seat keeps sinking, and it makes this weird sound in the rain that makes me think I’m being followed by a clown squeezing a horn.  And I honestly wouldn’t go and buy another one even if someone gave me the cash for one.  This thing has so much character I can’t be rid of it, the hipster in me just can’t do it.

 

The Suit

Turns out buying clothes here is already better than China.  There is literally an oversized clothing store in batting distance of my house.  AOKI is a fairly large clothing store in these parts that sells everything from inexpensive casual clothes to decent suits.  I can’t say I got a great suit for a couple reasons, but it does the job.

So it’s a grey pin stripe suit jacket and pants and here’s the short of it(pun very much intended, you’ll see why in a minute). The sizes are awkward.  I’m just a little too tall for the largest size a normal suit shop carries, I’m a little too narrow for the smallest size in the oversized store, and my arms are too long for a suit that’s a great fit in the shoulders and chest.  But I needed a suit that works in the spring and summer and comes with pants as I got my previous suit jackets pantsless(Okay that sounded better in my head.  I have pants, the suits don’t. Yes I wear pants to work. Stop giggling now).

It’s good around the chest and the length is good for my torso.  The downside is the arms for which it’s about an inch or so too short so my shirts stick out enough that it bothers me but probably no one else.  It’s the first complete suit I’ve ever bought and I just hope I don’t get to small for it like I did to my wardrobe in China.

 

The Tablet

When I got my internet plan it came with a free ASUS tablet.  Normally I don’t complain about free stuff, but I’m not a glutton for technology.  I don’t need a tablet, even a free one.  My phone is in the category called phablets: half phone, half tablet, half man killing machine from the future sent to kill John Conner.

*Ahem* ANYWAYS…

my phone is marginally smaller than the tablet and runs the same software anyways, so what the bloody hell am I going to do with a tablet?  Well let me tell you what I did.

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It’s a clock now!  And a weather lady! And a little too bright at night when I’m trying to sleep!  But there we go, it’s now a clock for my clockless apartment which I can’t really get a wall clock for because I’m not aloud to hang stuff from the walls, put anything on the walls, or modify the apartment in anyway because that counts as “damages” for when I move out.  I’m surprised they didn’t give me a list of problems with things like marriage concerns and the dispensation of calico cats for landowners under the age of 37.

 

Seriously, the rules out here make me want to shout and scream sometimes.  Maybe I should sometime.

-GJ