Lest We Forget: Canada at Passchendaele

‘There was not a sign of life of any sort. Not a tree, save for a few dead stumps which looked strange in the moonlight. Not a bird, not even a rat or a blade of grass. Nature was as dead as those Canadians whose bodies remained where they had fallen the previous autumn. Death was written large everywhere.’ (Private R.A. Colwell, Passchendaele, January 1918)

This year is a very important year; it marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. Throughout the year, schools, museums, and a variety of other institutions have been hosting lectures and exhibits with the focus of remembering the Great War, those who fought, and the changes which it caused.

Passchendaele was one of the definitive battle of World War I, especially for the Canadian soldiers who had answered both the call to serve their country and to serve the British Empire. Against great adversity, the Canadian troops came to be known as the best shock troops on the Western Front, breaking lines that neither the French nor British troops had been able to. Passchendaele was also one of the bloodiest confrontations; known as the Third Battle of Ypres, the landscape had been torn apart by the artillery shelling from both sides. This, paired with heavy rain, left the battle field a muddy landscape of broken and skeletal trees, and pits filled with water, mud, and blood.

I prepared this research presetation a couple of years ago when taking a graduate level course on Canada’s involvement in World War I, both on the Western Front and on the home front. Find in it an overview of the Canadian role at Passchendaele, the realities of war, first hand accounts of the battlefield, the goals, and the outcomes, links to archival and historical information, and links to further video information.

Clicking on the link below with download a .pdf file of the presentation.

Canada at Passchendaele

As a Canadian, this particular battle strikes a chord of pride and sorrow within my memory; many lives were lost, and yet in the end there was a triumph (of sorts), when the Canadian troops managed to reclaim the town of Passchendale. On this day, which saw the end of the war in 1919 (well, the Armistice, which led to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and the official end of the war), I would like you all to take a moment to either re-learn, or to learn for the first time, about the sacrifices made in World War One. While we choose this day, the 11th of November, to commemorate all soldiers who have made the sacrifice for their country, I would like us to also remember the initial reason for the commemorative ceremonies which take place on this day. For Canada, World War I was a watershed moment, an event which proved that we could stand toe to toe with the world and its problems, and that we could do it in a way which could make our country, our citizens, and our allies proud.

Lest we Forget.

M.

To learn more about Canada and World War I, especially the lives of those who came from my hometown, I would suggest reading For All We Have and Are: Regina and the Experience of the Great War by Dr. James Pitsula. He is a wonderful historian, and a truly wonderful man, and I have had the fortune to have been both his student and his Teaching Assistant.

Leave a comment

Filed under History

The Tragic Tale of Lady Oiwa and Adapting the Onryō for a Contemporary audience

As a student, and as a Japanese historian, I have always been intrigued by the role that folklore and storytelling has played in Japanese culture. This is especially true when it comes to the Japanese traditional ghost story and contemporary Japanese horror; something about them always seems more rich, somehow, than our own North American tradition. Japan has always had a rich literary, theatrical, and cinematic relationship with its ghosts and its tales of horror; from Noh and Kabuki to the popular film and literature traditions of today, many of Japan’s traditional ghosts and spirits have been re-invented within the confines of our contemporary cultural understandings to reflect the shift in cultural and social perceptions of horror, tragedy, and the macabre. Fears of being set back on the karmic cycle have been largely replaced by fears of rampant technological advances (something which I investigated in-depth, and continue to be fascinated with), and key literary figures have been reshaped; where once the kuchi-sake-onna, or slit-mouthed woman, used to hold a fan to her face when meeting strangers, now she is depicted as wearing a medical face mask. However, one figure which remains a cultural constant is that of the onyrō, or vengeful spirit, a woman who was so wronged in life that she returned to torment those who caused her suffering. But how have the rampant and face-paced cultural and social changes reflected on the manifestation of these figures in popular culture? That is what I seek to explore in the follow essay, which focuses on two popular manifestations of the Japanese onyrō.

The Tragic Tale of Lady Oiwa

One of my favourite stories is that of Lady Oiwa; I was introduced a few years ago to this particular folktale/kabuki play by a religious studies professor. Here was a folktale, a creation of history and popular culture so popular that it has inspired multiple recreations. Within it, a figure so tragic and so powerful that any who participate in a staging of her story, and especially those cast as lady Oiwa, would seek the place of her burial (which may or may not actually exist) to ask for her blessing to retell the story, or suffer their own tragedy (there is a series of accounts that tell of the misfortune that befell those who tried to stage the Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan play without first asking her permission and blessing, and were met with a string of ‘Macbeth’ like bad luck). It is a tale of tragedy, betrayal, vengeance, and the problems that dishonourable behaviour can cause.

The ghost of oiwa

For those of you who have never encountered the tragic tale of Lady Oiwa and the Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan, the story goes a little something like this: There was a masterless samurai who had fallen on hard times, forced to make his living as an umbrella maker (historically true during the Edo period, when many samurai lost their livelihood due to the widespread peace created by unifying the country under Tokugawa Ieyasu.)  Oiwa was frail and weak after giving birth to her son, as was unable to help Iemon with the household; nevertheless, she did what any proper wife could do, she looked after their son and made sure that she was beautiful whenever Iemon came home, brushing her long silken black hair and being as dutiful a wife as she could be under the circumstances. However, because of Iemon’s failure, Oiwa’s father approaches him, and suggests that he dissolve the marriage bonds and allow Oiwa to return to her own family. Enraged, Iemon murders Oiwa’s father. There is more to this, a second story, wherein another man, Takuetsu,  accidentally murders his former master (in a tragic case of mistaken identity), and he and Iemon conspire to make it look like the second murdered man was the one who killed Oiwa’s father, and thus Iemon has succeeded in avenging that death and can continue to live as an honourable man, instead of the failure he has become).

Now, Iemon was a handsome fellow, and in his journeys he had caught the eye of a local lady of means, Oume, the grand-daughter of a prominent and successful man. In a scheme to separate Iemon from the more beautiful Oiwa, this woman and her family conspire to destroy Oiwa’s beauty; they do so by sending her poison disguised a facial cream, which immediately scars Oiwa’s beautiful face and causes her beautiful hair to come out in bloddy clumps. As a result Iemon, seeing his wife’s disfigurement, conspires to invalidate the marriage by having  Takuetsu rape Oiwa. In a strange break from his previously dishonourable behaviour, Takuetsu cannot bring himself to commit the act; instead, he forces Oiwa to look at her own reflection. Seeing what she has become, she grabs Iemon’s rusty and disused katana and tries to leave the home in order to avenge the wrong that has been committed against her, only to accidentally slit her own throat in the struggle. As a result, she dies cursing Iemon and those who conspired against her with her last breath. Coming home, Iemon wants to cover the death of his wife and hide the crimes committed against her, tries to hide it. Some versions of the story go on to say that the baby is also killed, and to cover his ‘new wife’, Iemon nails Oiwa and a servant to a door and tosses them in a river, declaiming them for having an affair.

With Oiwa out of the way, Iemon and Oume get hitched and plan to live happily ever after, or as happily as two despicable murdering individuals can plan to live. What all stories agree upon is that, after her death, Oiwa’s ghost returns to haunt Iemon, causing him to have horrible visions and resulting in him murdering Ouma and her grandfather. Did I mention that Iemon’s happy new union did not even manage to survive its first night? No matter how Iemon tries to escape, Oiwa always finds him, emerging from lanterns, long black hair matted, one side of her face horribly disfigured, and carrying their dead child. Eventually Iemon winds up at a monastery in an attempt to escape her vengeance, but even there Oiwa cannot be stopped, and eventually drives Iemon to madness and his death.

Adapting the Onryō:

The Evolution of the Edo Period Tale Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan in Hideo Nakata’s Adaptation of Ringu

When it comes to popular and enduring icons of onryō in Japanese kaidan, there is no idiom more accurate than the popular ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.’ From the early 19th century’s Lady Oiwa from the kabuki play Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan (東海道四谷怪談, 1825)1 to present day Sadako from Ringu (リング, 1998),2 no figure evokes more trepidation, fear, and anxiety than that of the vengeful female ghost, known in Japan as the onryō. However, over time there have been changes made to the nature of the behaviour and depiction of the onryō and the way in which vengeance is administered. At the same time, many aspects remain unchanged, and these are indicative of the deeper cultural concern with the kaidan. These differences and similarities are seen when examining Lady Oiwa, and Sadako Yamamura in Hideo Nakata’s Ringu, a film adapted from the first novel of Koji Suzuki’s Ring Cycle series. Both of these tales gained widespread fame and attention, and thus ignited interest in the Japanese tale of the vengeful ghost across generations.3 These meeting and divergence points make it possible for the onryō to have as much of an impact in contemporary settings and for a contemporary audience as in earlier incarnations.

 

Lady OiwaGregory Barrett notes that in Japanese tales of revenge, the one seeking vengeance is typically a woman who has been wronged in some way.4 Despite the time between the original Kabuki play and Ringu, there is very little alteration in the nature of onryō‘s appearance and gender, save for a shift in age from adult to child. Furthermore, Lady Oiwa and Sadako are similarly dressed in flowing white garments, a colour understood to represent death in many Asian cultures; both women also have long black hair, and possess a physical beauty at odds with their manifestations as onryō. It is interesting that Sadako and Oiwa share in the loss of their hair, and the disfigurement of their faces.5 In most incarnations of Yotsuya Kaidan, the journey to vengeance begins which Lady Oiwa losing her hair; because she has been poisoned, when Oiwa attempts to prepare herself to act dutifully as Iemon’s wife “handfuls of raven black hair fell from her head.”6 Likewise, when Sadako’s body is found in the well beneath the cabin, her hair is still intact after a 40 years. However, as Reiko handles Sadako’s corpse Sadako’s hair peels away from the skull, leaving only putrefied flesh and bone. Yet, when Sadako’s spirit appears to exact her vengeance, her hair is still there, obscuring everything except a single protruding eye. This serves to make Sadako an unsettling figure of the unknown.

The second most notable similarity lays in the form of their betrayal. In both cases, there is a heavy association with water; after Oiwa’s body is found Iemon discards it, in order to escape his guilt. To so this “a wooden door was found and [Iemon] nailed a corpse on either side . . . cold-bloodedly, [Iemon] heaved the wooden door into the river.”7 Like Oiwa, Sadako is committed to a watery grave, trapped there and deprived on spiritual pacification which is due to the dead. Furthermore, both women were betrayed by those who were supposed to support and protect them; Iemon is a neglectful husband to Oiwa. He fails to take his responsibilities as husband seriously, instead choosing wealth and beauty over honour. This is furthered by the fact that Iemon is responsible for the murder of Oiwa’s father, which he committed in order to keep Oiwa as his wife.8

In Ringu, Sadako’s mother, Shizuko, commits suicide after being humiliated by reporters during a public display of her clairvoyant powers, jumping into the crater of Mt. Mihara; it was Shizuko’s ability to accurately predict the eruptions of Mt. Mihara that brought her to the attention of Dr. Ikuma, whose desire to display her psychic powers ultimately led Shizuko to take her own life. This same event also brought out Sadako’s powers, causing her to kill one of the reporters who claimed her mother’s powers to be fraudulent. After this, Dr. Ikuma becomes Sadako’s guardian; due to his fear of her, born from her own destructive supernatural powers, Ikuma throws her into a well, hoping that she will disappear forever, and becomes the catalyst for the creation of Sadako’s onryō.9 The film does not do much to establish Ikuma’s role in Sadako’s life, only that he abandoned his responsibility and was one of the catalysts for Sadako’s change into an onryō after her slow and gruesome death.

There are many differences between the Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan and the adaptation of Ringu, reflecting the changes that have occurred in order to keep tales of vengeance and onryō appealing and unsettling. The most important of these changes occurs in the nature of the targets of the onryō‘s vengeance. While Lady Oiwa is a vengeful spirit who “would only torment the guilty and leave the innocent alone,”10 In contrast, Sadako is indiscriminate and takes after all those who come contact with the site of her betrayal, as she felt she had been betrayed by everyone with whom she had ever had contact with. This is a return to earlier Noh conventions, where ghosts bare vague grudges,11 and take their anger out on any bystander.12 In opposition, Lady Oiwa is focused on bringing pain and death only to those who were involved in her downfall and betrayal. Sadako’s unlimited anger is for the benefit of the audience, allowing them to experience fear and anxiety similar to older kaidan audiences. This also stops the audience from seeing Sadako as an avenging hero, and instead makes her a true threat in the minds of the audience.

Sadako from 1999's manga adaptation. Art by Misao Inagaki

Sadako from 1999’s
manga adaptation. Art by Misao Inagaki

The second difference between Oiwa and Sadako exists in the very nature of their character; while Oiwa has a voice, and is given means to express her feelings, Sadako is a silent haunter, with no voice or opinion. Not once is Sadako’s voice heard, and never is anything more than a ring of light seen from her point-of-view; in essence, she is the unknown. While flashbacks inform the audience of her history, all Sadako is given is a pattern of actions propelled by her unyielding thirst for retribution. This pattern serves to set her further apart from Lady Oiwa; Sadako is guilty of sinful actions, while Oiwa is sinless.13 The movie implies that Sadako is the product of a fantastical birth; there is speculation made throughout the film that Shizuko was lured down to the ocean by some unknown creature and the result of that relationship was Sadako who, as a result of this union, possessed psychic powers beyond that of her mother.14 The only blood on Lady Oiwa’s hands is her own,15 and suicide was glorified as an act of redemption.16 Sadako, on the other hand, has taken life other than her own; during a flashback, it is insinuated that she was responsible for the death of a reporter, and it is from this point that others truly begin to fear her abilities. Once again, this difference instills unease and fear in the audience, on a level reminiscent of the way Lady Oiwa’s onryō would have made the kabuki audience feel.

Sadako is almost a complete unknown in the film adaptation of Ringu, while Lady Oiwa is the polar opposite in almost all incarnations of Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan. The similarities that remain between them are the sake of convention, a reminder that at one time it was believed that such an avenger was given power for the sole sake of exacting vengeance for wrongs committed against them. The differences are created in order to evoke a similar feeling for the audience, one which leaves them uneasy and frightened. With modern society quickly becoming desensitized to violence and horror, the psychological Japanese film must adapt in order to instill the same anxiety as such onryō and kaidan instilled in the past. Ringu must also be evaluated as an adaptation in order to truly understand the evolution of kaidan; the film adaptation of Ringu and its depiction of Sadako is a completely different beast from what Koji Suzuki created in his novel. It is no secret that author Koji Suzuki’s novel is a much more in-depth study of modern adaptation of the Kaidan conventions, the evolution of the onryō as a vengeful spirit, and as a product of widespread cultural change.


 Footnotes:

1 This is the date for the first public performance of Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan; however, the play itself is based on events which occurred in the 17th Century.
2 The original tale, Ring, was a novel written by Koji Suzuki in 1991. Subsequently it was adapted into a television film in 1995 (Ring: Kanzenban), a feature horror film in 1998 (Ringu) directed by Hideo Nakata, and finally into English (The Ring) in 2002. Additionally, it has spawned a series of sequels in the franchise.
3 Ringu‘s success is apparent in the fact that it has been adapted multiple times, in a variety of forms, and over a variety of cultures (American and South Korean). Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan‘s popularity is apparent due to the many adaptations and re-tellings it has been subjected to over the years since its initial debut as a Kabuki play; this includes customary visits to Lady Oiwa’s grave marker prior to any new adaptations being staged, multiple film and anime versions, and her popularity among figures of ghosts and women in ukiyo-e prints.
4 Gregory Barrett, “Vengeful Spirit” in Archetypes in Japanese Film: The Sociopolitical and Religious Significance of the Principal Heroes and Heroines (Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University Press, 1989), 7.
5 In the case of Sadako, one never sees more of her face than a single, bloodshot eye, while Lady Oiwa is characterized by heavy scarring and disfigurement, a result of the poison she unknowingly ingested.
6 Arendie Herwig, “A Ghost at Yotsuya on the Tokaido” in Heroes of the Kabuki Stage: An Introduction to Kabuki with Retellings of Famous Plays Illustrated by Woodblock Prints (Amsterdam: Hotei Publishing, 2004), 298.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid., 297.
9 Here is where the film adaptations really differs from the novel; in the novel Dr. Ikuma becomes quite ill and is committed to a sanatorium, where he convinces a young doctor that his daughter, Sadako, must be killed because of her power. This leads the young doctor to pursue Sadako and, when subjected to her powers, to strangle her and throw her down a near-by well. However, when she was thrown down the well she was still alive, and her death came slowly as she tried to claw her way out. This death is what gave birth to the onryō, who had been wronged or abandoned by every individual with whom she had come in contact.
10 Barrett, 97.
11 Ibid., 99.
12 Ibid., 97.
13 Ibid., 101.
14 Again, this varies greatly from the novel; originally Sadako was the daughter of Shizuko and Dr. Ikuma, conceived during an illicit extra-martial affair.
15 Herwig, 298.
16 Edmond Rochedieu, Le Shintoïsme ( Paris: Cercle du Bibliophile, 1968), 184.

Works Cited

Barrett, Gregory. “Vengeful Spirit.” Archetypes in Japanese Film: The Sociopolitical and Religious Significance of the Principal Heroes and Heroines. Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University Press, 1989. pp. 97–117.

Herwig, Arendie. “A Ghost Story at Yotsuya on the Tōkaidō.” Heroes of the Kabuki Stage: An Introduction to Kabuki with Retellings of Famous Plays Illustrated by Woodblock Prints. Amsterdam: Hotei Publishing, 2004. pp. 297–299

Rochedieu, Edmond. Le Shintoisme. Paris: Cercle du Bibliophile, 1968.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Essay (Academic), Musing/Thoughts

Forming the Formless: A reflection on my difficulties and experiences in writing.

Like the gait of a newborn foal,

my rhymes roll out at an awkward pace.

Trapped somewhere between my mind and my lips,

they are lost in the cracks between spaces.

I lose time thinking about thinking,

Wondering if there is even an inkling of success in my endeavours.

Late nights spent forgetting the words to my own visions,

Tripping over the rhythm of the endless flow of thought,

Ultimately left fighting against the tide of my own doubt,

with words spilling out without form.

One idea becomes the next, becomes the next,

and continues to topple away from the beginning,

Until all that is left is the vexation of wondering where everything will end,

And in ending, if it will make sense or defy the trend of going nowhere.

I have always had a problem with endings; I don’t like them. They are too final, too anti-climatic, and too pessimistic in my view. Nothing is ever really finished, especially when it comes to writing or learning. You may have reached a conclusion in the plot line structure, but it does not mean that what you have is written in stone. Sometimes endings are too difficult to face, especially when you have invested yourself into a project. Yes, endings can be rewarding, but sometimes we just are not quite ready for them, and it leads us to tear everything back down, and to start again, until we become so caught up in the tearing down and the rebuilding that we forget what it was we set out to do in the beginning. Does this piece work here, or should I move it to another section? Is this really what I want to happen in this situation, or do I want to see how it would work out if I changed that part way back in the middle? Do these bits come together properly, or are they just mashed together for the sake of having them be like that? Where is the flow, and how do I keep it from hitting a wall? Does any of this make sense to anyone else? Inevitable, these are ideas and problems that writers, students, and academics face in everything they do. Fiction and non-fiction require the same attention to detail, require the same creative and personal investment of time, effort, and emotion, or they inevitable fail to satisfy.

Writing is something that I have been doing for a very long time, in a variety of ways; when I was 13 and in 8th grade I started writing what I called ‘a novel’. It was a lofty goal, even for a 13-year-old or, within reason, especially for a 13-year-old. The plot was contrived, the characters 2-dimensional, the names of characters and places cringe-worthy and inducing. Nevertheless, I ‘finished’ that great work, and set it aside, where I left it for years, for the most part. The closest that work ever got to ‘public viewing’ was when I shared it with a very close group of friends. Affectionately it came to be known as “Prologue”, and said friends may or may not still have their copies just waiting to be giggled over. From my own ‘novel’, I did what many young girls do and branches off into both poetry and fan-fiction (something that will be mentioned, but left alone; we’ve all dabbled, even if it was only in our heads to pass the time). I stuck with the poetry, and have amassed quite a collection, ranging from the naive and typical first attempts to some much more developed pieces, experimenting with style, scheme, and format. Poetry is still something that I return to when the inspiration strikes me, something that I once thought of pursuing professionally, but instead decided to keep as a hobby.

In High School, I branched out yet again, dabbling in short stories, plays, more poetry, historical fiction, fantasy, noir, horror and a variety of other ideas. Some of these pieces are still quite dear to me, and I return to them with new ideas on how to improve them, how to adapt and update them, and how to keep them alive. However, I have always suffered from the inability to finish; I become so attached to something that I am working on, and so invested in its worth, that I am unable to let it go because I still don’t see it as being complete, even if for all intents and purposes it has come to a conclusion. Every essay I submitted as an undergraduate, every project I worked on and showed, every paper I presented in conference, were all works-in-progress. Even now, having completed my first post-graduate degree, I still look back on essays and find ways to improve them, ways to make them flow more fluidly, to present the points more clearly, to bring out the importance of the evidence more succinctly. Likewise, I have started more stories than I can begin to count; I have notebooks filled with ideas, characters, plots, maps, and research, and often keep a fresh one on hand no matter where it is I find myself, because the most obscure or frivolous thing can set off an idea that has the potential to change everything.

This brings me to the meat of my future plans for this blog, now that I have completed another milestone on my life journey. While I am actively applying for PhD programs, determining what it is I will focus on, where it is I will do my work and continue my studies, and who I will look to in an advisory capacity, I hope to re-ignite my creative writing, while honing my academic skills. What this means for this blog is as follows: in the coming months I hope to revise some of my post short stories and creative pieces, and present them to a wider audience (this is where you come in). At the same time, I am going to put forward articles of a more scholarly nature (non-journal worthy due to the fact that they are short pieces rather than longer completed research), begin a series of exploratory research reflections on topics that interest me outside of my major academic focus (which is a rather narrow focus and relatively new when it comes to Western scholarship focus), and of course reviews whenever I feel that something I have read is either worth the attention of others or worthy of being avoided at all costs. I hope that this plan will help to keep this blog alive, to engage with my skills on a personal and professional footing, and to, hopefully, provide you with something insightful, thought-provoking, amusing, enchanting, or entertaining.

To keep with this, I have started working on a revision of a piece I created over 12 years ago. It will be a week or two before it is through a satisfactory revision, and at that time I will provide both the latest version, and the very first iteration of the piece. It is a bit of an absurdist social/environmental commentary, with what I hope is a darkly humorous twist. So, with that, I ask that you stay tuned for “Fuzzy Pants, Trench Coats, and Other Strange Things” (Title subject to change, though for now I will stick with the original title).

For those of you wondering exactly where I plan to take this all in the near future, here is a list of some ideas that i have been working on, or planning to work on, in the coming months:

  • Scott Pilgrim: A Love Story for our not-so-tragic Canadian Sensibilities.
  • An untitled piece of Silent Hill Revelations
  • A short story from the “Veil of Shadows” world
  • New Television: A reflection on the increasing interest in the macabre as prime-time entertainment instead of niche counter-culture movement.
  • Untitled improv creative writing session set to a random playlist.
  • Locke and Key: Imagination and the Other World of childhood.
  • A short story from the Trish universe, or a chapter from a larger work within that world.
  • Percy Jackson and Xena: re-inventing Greek Myth for new generations.
  • More poetry (both old and new)
  • Some lore pieces behind some of my larger story and world ideas.
  • Untitled piece on Miyazaki’s films (Spirited Away)
  • A short piece on classic Japanese films.
  • Serial Killers and their victims (there are a few that merit a bit more historical attention, without the spin of Hollywood attached), with shows like Criminal minds around we need to remember that these individuals are products of human existence and our ability to commit evil, not just of the society or culture they belong to.
  • Why Cordelia Chase is that mean high school girl we all secretly love.
  • The Undergraduate Essay: Tips and Tricks to avoid the pitfalls of a poor essay.

Leave a comment

Filed under Musing/Thoughts

A Roleplayer’s Guide to Roleplaying, or “What I learnt from being countless other people.”

I have been the mage rolling in dragon’s blood to see if it had magical properties. I have been the druid who was upset that her overly large dire wolf companion was not permitted in the local tavern due to civilian panic. I have been married to a paranoid space archer, hunted across galaxies, and set adrift in time. I have been the villainous duke, sacrificing his people to gain power from the dark gods, and I have been the werewolf so old that he has lost his mind to the animal hunger. I have been the re-awakened vampire priestess, and the valiant heroine trying to protect her city. I have saved cities, dimensions, timelines, and gods. I have killed friends, prophets, and commoners alike. Like readers, role-players and Storytellers/Game Masters/ Dungeon Masters experience hundreds of different lives, while still only living inside their own skin.

So, it’s no secret that I have been involved with roleplaying groups for quite some time, at least 14 years to be exact (Give or take a few days, or hours, I can’t really remember). These experiences have varied; from forum and group posting, nightly chat room meetings (when it was still possible to find a chat room filled with decent people who wanted to actually write), to tabletop gaming and LARPing, I have had my hand in many posts when it comes to playing out characters and writing stories cooperatively. Roleplaying was when I really got my start in creative writing; I started my experience around the same time I tried to write my first ‘novel’ which, looking back on now, was a pretty cringe worthy endeavour for a 13-year-old. I like to think that roleplaying and writing in a co-operative fashion has helped to shape me not only as a creative individual, but as a person who is able to work well with others. I think it compliments my experience as a reader, and helps to broaden my understanding of people and the world.

Over the years I have seen online roleplaying evolve; from chat rooms to forums, from forums to social networking sites, and finally to tumblr and other such creative outlets. Let me be honest here; I don’t really understand how tumblr works on the best of days, but it is still a pretty decent tool for finding skilled writers and people to bounce creative ideas off. These early writing and roleplaying experiences opened the doors for me, and got me interested in games like Dungeons and Dragons and World of Darkness, where co-operative story telling is central to making a great game.

Through all of these experiences, I’ve learned a few lessons and tricks, both as a DM/GM and as a player. What I want to do for you now, is lay out some of those elements. Maybe you have been roleplaying and writing for years, or maybe you are just getting involved, but these lessons and tricks may help you out, or you may just nod along and agree based on your own experience.

-“It’s not a story line, it’s a story maze.”-

As a Dungeon Master or Game Master, it is our duty to set the scene, to hook our players, and to set them on a path to adventure and fun. As a co-operative writer, it is out duty to work out the general direction in which we want to begin writing. Both of these require an infinite amount if creativity, patience, and a willingness to put in long hours of thought. The absolute worse thing that you can do in either situation is to railroad. Yes, having a goal in mind and milestones set up are excellent, but you don’t want to limit the ways in which your co-writers or party can choose to get there. I’ve always been fond of the “story arc” over the “store line”, as it implies that there is a certain build as you progress. I’d like to push this further and say that there is a “story maze”. What I mean by this is that you have a fixed beginning, a fixed middle, and a fixed end point, but the ways in which the party or partner can arrive at these key story points are not reduced to a single line of progression. Have side events ready, little moments that offer some fun and experience, some sort of reward. Don’t try to force your single agenda or story, no matter how amazing it is (or you think it is). Be willing to let the party and your partner find their own way to those moments. Yes, there will be intersections that they cannot avoid, and you can leave them hints and clues that will lead them back if they start to stray too far, but don’t yank on the leash and choke them when they want to explore. Likewise, don’t make the maze insanely devious or daunting, or else they will get completely lost in the foliage and you will all forget the goal. make the maze interesting, and keep the walls just above eye level, so they are still surprised when they do get where you want them to go.

-“If you say no, you’re closing doors. Be fluid, be free, and be ready to fly by the seat of your pants”-

Just like railroading a story, saying no to your party and your partner can lead to some very heated conflicts. Like in improv, saying “no, we aren’t doing that,” is like denying the creative imput. Remember, you are not trying to work against your party or partner, even if you are playing the villain. If your partner or party decide to try some solution to a problem, but it’s not EXACTLY how you would have solved it, don’t discredit their effort. Instead, take a step back and think if that effort would have logically worked, even if it was as insane as charging on to a field of battling ogres covered in dragon’s blood and dancing in order to distract them to buy the civilians time to escape. It may not be YOUR ideal solution, but that does not mean that it can’t work. Who knows, it may become one of the best moments among the party or between you and your partner, and open new doors that you hadn’t even thought of when it comes to how the story can progress.

-“Discussion, both in character and as players, is a key to keeping it fun.”-

This may not apply so much to the DM/GM situation, but it is a valuable tool. While having subtle characters is excellent, having no clue what any of your party members are actually doing can be a major issue. In group forum and one-on-one writing I like to call this the OOC (Out of Character) discussion. While you have an agenda in your writing and for your character, being 100% obscure and non-communicative has one of two outcomes: your character is evil and it comes as no surprise when they betray the rest of the party, or you end up having absolutely no fun because your major concern is keeping everyone else rom knowing anything about what is going on. Take the time with your group or your partner to find out what it is they want to accomplish, what it is they are looking to gain from playing a given character, and incorporate those goals into your own goals. All players should be able to be involved, both in character and out of character, in taking the story in certain directions. This is a bit more level when there are only two people involved in the co-operative writing, but it is useful in the party environment as well. It keeps everyone involved and feeling as though they are really contributing to the eventual outcome of the story. There is nothing worse than having created an amazing character, only to have them turn out to be a faceless pawn, dwarfed by the desires of a single person.

-“No one likes a god-moder!”-

God-moding, meta gaming, Mary Sue-ing. All of these imply the worst case scenario for the creative and dedicated role player. It implies the creation of a character who has, among other things, uncannily powerful abilities (that surpass all others and are even better than what they should normally be. Think of it like an over-powered house rule spell of magic missile . . . where that missile is not only heat seeking, but nuclear powered and able to pass through solid walls until it hits the target.) This applies to players and DM/GM’s alike. No one is untouchable, even if they are “the ultimate good” or the looming “big bad.” You cannot control the actions of your party like you would a puppet, even if you are the master puppeteer. You can only influence. Please, don’t god mode, as it drags everyone down when they don’t get to play their role because someone else is already “on it because I once found a scroll of +10 to any skill I wanted and I’ve saved it for this very moment,” or because it seems like their actions have absolutely no influence on the progression of the story or the outcome of events. In canon written role-play, these are often the “OC/ Original Characters” who suddenly appear on the scene and seem to know exactly what is going on, exactly want needs to be done, and trump the most powerful characters in the given canon universe. I hate to sound like  a broken record, but please, no god-moding. It takes all the fun out of roleplaying for everyone except the god-moder.

-“Be creative, but keep the game mechanics in mind!”-

There is nothing quite like roleplaying and roleplaying games to bring out the most creative crazy ideas in people. All of this, of course, can’t work if you don’t seriously consider game mechanics. They are there for a reason! Your clerics and paladins should be behaving in certain ways, and the threat of the removal of divine (good or evil) powers should not be tossed out the window. It should not be done lightly, but it should always be in the back of these character’s minds. Just like you can’t have a ranger or druid slaughtering innocent forest animals for no reason, you also can’t have alignments and builds that truly violate the carefully established game mechanics. Yes, there is an element of creativity, but there are some of these elements that can severely handicap a GM/DM in their ability to create a story and keep everything functioning. Say you wanted to be a necromancer, but you wanted to be”good” aligned. While and interesting dynamic, it would drastically alter how a GM/DM structures their story, especially if there are divine elements at play in their larger plot. If you want to be a good aligned Necromancer, you have to keep in mind that there are other good and neutral aligned characters, likely in your party, who would be duty bound to kill you for violating the sanctity of life and death, not because they dislike you, but because it is integral to how their character mechanics work.

This mostly has to do with party games, so to relate it to forum posting is a bit more difficult. I would say the equivalent is respecting limits set by characters, and playing canon characters with at least a comparable level of understanding for who they have been written. Hermione Granger should be intelligent and stubborn; Rogue should have major issues with trust and letting people in. Be true to the personality, no matter what story parameters change. This goes double for one on one role-playing. Just because you are writing with a partner, don’t assume that your characters are immediately going to click. Let the connections work themselves out.

-“Be well rounded, like that giant boulder in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark”-

Yes, we all love combat, and yes, we all also love loot. However, doing nothing but killing monsters and tackling long session of combat can get really boring. Just like a “monster of the week” progression, repeated the same thing over and over can get tiring and de-motivational for players. There are more ways to earn experience and to progress as a character than through combat alone. Give your partner or players things to think about, mysterious to work out, riddles to solve, personal troubles to deal with. This is were back story can come in handy. Whether you are the GM/Dm, or the co-writer in a one-on-one session, have your counterpart(s) come up with a back story for their characters. If you are playing canon characters, see if there are things your partner would like to work in, to round out their characters. Once those are established, find ways to work them in to the storytelling experience. Not only will it help keep the roleplay from becoming monotonous, but it will also be a way to make sure that they are invested in the story and in their character. It will also help to keep things rolling and prevent things rom falling flat and coming to a complete halt. I like to use riddles, word puzzles, and guide my players to explore their interests through their characters, or to explore their characters interests through the world. I’ve seen this result in hilarious side adventures and stories that help to make characters more real: ever wanted to be worshipped like  a god by a backwards village? or, maybe you’ve been wanting to join a guild, but just can’t manage to carry that oddly bloody bag of cabbages past the doorman? Puzzles and roleplaying are key to helping the experience become something memorable.

In writing and story driven versus experience gaining stories, this can be related to adding in another genre; sure, you want slice of life, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t weave in elements of intrigue, suspense, mystery, or even horror. This will all depend on the partner/party dynamic, but there are so many choices that they are, quite literally, almost endless options.

-“Being evil is fun.”-

There is nothing quite the same as feeling the power you get to wield as the adversary. Having the chance to pay the “evil” (subjective to campaign, as we all know, so instead of “evil”, lets just call them the antagonist) role is the cherry on top of the perfect sunday. It is not an easy role, but it comes with a lot of really nifty benefits. However, you have to remember that you are not playing AGAINST everyone else; there is nothing in it for you if you destroy your party or your partner every time, and they will become angry and dispassionate about continuing. Instead, you want to offer a challenge to the protagonists; in most cases, you are playing on both sides of the line when you take on the role of the antagonist. This character is a tool through which you can guide and build up for party or partner, it is one of the major simmering points that will help you boil the story up to its penultimate moments. Your antagonist should not be all-powerful (even if they are a god), and they should not be untouchable. Unlike Descent (Fantasy Flight, thank you for this game, but it is frustrating to lose, both as a player and as the overlord), you gain nothing from making your party or partner lose every encounter. At the same time, you don’t want them to just be able to walk over your key antagonistic figures. There is a very fine balance between playing a great antagonist, and either playing an overarching tyrant or an underpowered pushover. This has by far been the hardest part about roleplaying for me, and the writing which I struggled with the most. Ultimately, you have to find a way to feel as if you are succeeding when your players and partners surmount your challenges, rather than looking at it like a lose for yourself. most of all, you have to learn to enjoy the dark side, or it will become tedious to keep coming up with new flavours and encounters to keep both you and your party invested in the experience.

-“Not everything will work for every body. Be open to constructive criticism.”-

It’s not great to hear, but sometimes we are not perfect. Writer, Player, or GM/DM, you have to be open to constructive criticism. It might seem like an attack on your ability, but if you listen, it can help you grow not only as a player, but as a creative talent. There is the saying “give me the grace to accept what I cannot change” . . . or something like that; in roleplaying, you have to opportunity to adjust and change those things that don’t work in your style, in your skill. Take them. This can do hand in hand with the railroading story. Listen to what your players and partners want when things seem to hit a wall and, barring extreme cases, you can most certainly find a way to work things out, no matter what role you are playing. Be willing to adapt and consider change, it is the best way to deal with these kinds of problems. No one gains from talking or playing against a brick wall, so be aware!

On the other side, if you are writing with a partner or for a party, and no matter what you do you just don’t seem to be meshing on any level, you CAN say so. Talk about what issues you are having, where you think improvement could be made, and be willing to be told the same things that you tell others. The best thing you can do is incorporate the changes, and come back. You don’t have to cater to everyone, but you do have to make sure that everyone can get on the same level, even if that means you need to step up your own game!

-“When in doubt, puzzle it out.”-

If you are having difficulties, either with the story or your character, you have the ability to take a step back and re-evaluate your approach. You may not be able to reallocate ability scores or skill points, but you can figure out a way to make those factors work FOR you, instead of against you. It’s like having a social rogue character with really high scores to diplomacy, intimidate, and bluff, but as a person having a hard time making those come across in your in-character roleplaying. You as a person may be absolutely horrid at diplomatic interactions, or crafting a foolproof lie ( My social rogue couldn’t bluff for the life of her, even though she had a score somewhere in the 30s. Notoriously she attempted to pass herself off as ‘Room service; cleaning and incineration’ when attempting to sneak in through the back doors of one of the outer levels of Hell.) It’s all about finding a way to have fun, and to make the skills you want your character to have work for your playing style. If you are not having fun with your skills or your character, you need to openly talk about it with you DM/GM or your partner, and see what kind of agreement you can come to in order to make your experience fun. This type of game and writing it all about figuring out what works and what doesn’t, and how to navigate the churning seas that lie between your imagination and the game itself.

Antoine de St Exupery

Antoine de St Exupery

Roleplay is where we get to explore not only the action and adventure, but the inner thought process of our characters. It’s not about having all the cool powers and gadgets (thought those are always fun), but it’s about making your writing partners see the inner character, the subtle nuance behind the choices and the action. It’s about giving them some emotional connection to you, beyond just the fact that your characters live in the same world and happen to travel in the same circles.

Above all, and I mean this, you need to be having fun! If you are not having fun, as a player, a partner, a Game Master, etc., then you need to address the issue. If you aren’t having fun, the other people you play with are going to notice, and it is going to colour the experience for them as well. Sometimes it means you need to step back and take a break to reevaluate your interest in playing. Sometimes it means you’ve fallen into a rut and you need to break some habits that have become unconscious inclusion. Most of all, it means that something isn’t going to way it is supposed to. Even if your characters are in the most dire situations, if you are not invested, if you are NOT having fun, YOU need to speak up!

1 Comment

Filed under Musing/Thoughts

Broadway Loses another Bright Light

RIP Elaine Stritch, one of the most amazing Broadway stars to have ever graced the New York stage. Her talent was amazing, is still amazing, and will continue to inspire. If you have not heard her speak, listened to her sing, or laughed at her acerbic wit, you have missed out. When I started to get really interested in Musical theatre, a New York voice coach (who happened to come and do a two week course on voice and song at my University) showed us a clip of Elaine Stritch, and in that moment I became determined that, no matter how unlikely it was that I would ever make it on stage, I would at last aim to have half as much poise and commitment as Elaine did in everything I decided to do.

Do yourself a favour an youtube some of her best songs, like Zip from Pal Joey,

or The Ladies who Lunch from Company.

If you can, sit down and watch or listen to her one women autobiographical show “Elaine Stritch Live at Liberty”.

2011 Interview from CUNY Theater Talk

2013 Interview from CUNY Theater Talk

Another star has dimmed, but her light will continue to shine on.

Thank you Elaine, for being you.

1 Comment

Filed under Musing/Thoughts, video

On Inevitable endings and those cautious first steps

These past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity, excitement, and nerves. First and foremost, I received both of my thesis hard copies back from my internal committee, and with minor revisions both say it is a sound piece of work ready to move to defence. So here it is, the one year and nine months of my life I have devoted to studying and writing a single topic and paper are coming to an end. I am both excited and nervous: excited because I did it, as the only remaining MA student in my year, I have managed to make it through to see the light at the end of the tunnel; nervous because it leaves a huge hole in my ‘things to do’ list. I have been job searching relentlessly, writing cover letters and tweaking my resume to fit the needs of each particular job. My goal is to do that for a year while I gear up to challenge my JLPT and while I apply to all the doctoral programs I overlooked in January in favour of UVic and Queen’s. This whole experience is a bit overwhelming really.

Second, I attended my first fan convention (Fan Expo), exactly a week ago. I have, quite literally, never been so happy. You could have told me I was about to die and I would have still been smiling like an idiot. I met some of my role models, or at least those individuals who played my role models, saw and spoke with comic book artists and authors that I have been reading for ages, and generally just had a blast for a full two days. I also had the opportunity to volunteer for one of my favourite author’s, Peter S. Beagle. This whole experience will get its own post in the near future, once I am ready to really put words to the amazing experience.

Finally, I became an “auntie”; none of this formal ‘aunt’ shit, I insist on auntie. So all in all it has been a hectic and exciting few weeks, and it is looking to be more of the same in the coming weeks. I hope to finish up a few side writing projects and get them slapped up here, as well as some sketches, as I have decided that I might as well get into costuming if I plan to attend more conventions, and for the fact that I will need something aside from reading and writing to fill my time once my thesis goes through to defence.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

29 Struggles Only Canadians Will Understand

mllemacabre:

Very true. I can connect with almost every single one of these. Damn you Timmy Ho’s and the fact that I can’t even win a coffee when I try.

Originally posted on Thought Catalog:

1. Finding yourself regularly apologizing to inanimate objects that you bump into.

2. The uphill battle of texting with mittens on.

3. Faithfully buying roll-up-the-rim cups every day for two months, only to find the winner of the grand prize dug the cup out of a trashcan.

4. The tragic day in your life when you realized the house hippo doesn’t actually exist.

5. Having one of your major cities be known internationally as the city governed by the crack-smoking weirdo.

6. Quebec trying to break up with us every five minutes.

7. When traffic is held up by a flock of Canadian geese who are taking their sweet old time crossing the road.

8. Not being able to find a decent poutine or maple syrup when you go abroad.

9. Finding a sweet deal online — and then realizing you’re on the American version of the website.

10. Spellcheck refusing…

View original 357 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Read it; Watch it; Listen to it: Recommendations from the Darkness

So, I’m in the final leg of thesis work on my MA, working on last revisions and all that rigmarole. However, I do have some recommendations for those out there looking for something to watch, read, or listen to that they might had missed the first time around. Nothing ground breaking, but these are some of the series and songs that I have been really taken in by lately. Now, some of these are available on Netflix or iTunes, others require a bit of creativity to get, and yet others you will have to purchase, because that’s what the artistic teams and artists deserve. Check it out, and if there is something that had really caught your attention or imagination in the past while that you think needs more attention, leave a comment.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under List, Uncategorized

Quick Words and Information (be mindful of that fourth step)

Only one week left before my writing prompt experiment closes. Since posting it, I have broken the 50 follower mark, which is pretty exciting for me.

I have not been writing much lately, as I have been working on a final set of thesis revisions I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and we have started talking about which external examiner we should be looking for. So excited! Additionally, I have been getting back to my interest In Japanese culture yet again, and have been watching NHK World in the background of all my work for about 3 days straight, and it has really helped me think out my lecture, scheduled for next Thursday in front of the class, as a presentation of information not unlike one of NHK’s amazing mini-documentary segments. If I can relay the information with even half as much fluidity, I think it will be a great success.

Prepping this lecture has also drawn my attention out of the immediate Post-war years and given me an amazing understanding of the current situation between Japan, South Korea, and China. Anyone else riveted by the trilateral summit  this past weekend? (I never knew the real life could feel so much like a political K/J-drama.) Since putting his foot in his mouth during his first time as prime Minister, he has a lot of ground to regain. He has begun by issuing a statement to the effect that he will neither water-down nor revise the 1993 statement issued by Yohei Kono or in 1995 PM Tomiichi Murayama, but will stick with them (though the re-examination of evidence and testimonies given by Comfort Women is a step backwards, as there is no denying that there was institutionalized sexual slavery in the occupied Asian territories.

BEGIN HARSH REALITY

Hell, following surrender in 1945, there were similar ‘comfort stations’ set up in Japan for the American soldiers, where women became prostitutes, modern-day Okichi’s they were called, and serviced between 15 to 60 G.I.s in a given day. These women and girls are not to be confused with the panpan or street prostitutes; these were set up by the RAA (Recreation and Amusement Association) in Tokyo. For more information, check out Embracing Defeat: Japan in the wake of World War II by John W. Dower (1999), specially Chapter 4 “Cultures of Defeat.”

END HARSH REALITY

Now, if Abe’s wife will accept the invitation to the shelter for Comfort Women when they are in South Korea, I think it will do a fair bit to start easing the path to more normalized relations on subjects other than North Korea.

Best of wishes for the weekend,

M.

P.S. If you love Japanese culture, or puppets/theatre, check out the videos about Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Bunraku adaptations. He is doing some very interesting stuff.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Visit Japan’s ancient past in urban Kyushu | The Japan Times

Being a historian with a major focus on Japanese history, who also happens to love museums, I could not pass up sharing this article. I think it would be a really interesting visit. I’ve seen the homestead, Aboriginal, and voyageur outdoor museums in the prairies, and I think this one would be amazingly interesting.

Visit Japan’s ancient past in urban Kyushu | The Japan Times.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized