487. That Time I Saw a President Kicked Out of Office

Tomorrow is Election Day for the United States of America. The American people will gather to choose their next president. Some of us will worry for The Future of Our Nation. At least one of us will wish Batman were running for president instead of Trump or Clinton.

The presidential election takes me back to Ecuador, a nation of notorious political instability, and That Time I Saw a President Kicked Out of Office.

Lucio Gutiérrez was Ecuador’s president for only a couple of years, but long enough for his name to become a punchline in my family. Gutiérrez put up a lot of billboards during his presidency that read “Lucio Construye,” meaning “Lucio Builds.”

These signs, which often stood near roads under construction, were intended, I presume, to promote some initiative to improve Ecuador’s public infrastructure. What they really signified was unfinished roads and bumpy driving conditions. When my family and I were out driving, a “Lucio Construye” billboard warned us to brace ourselves for jolts. We reached a point at which any bumpy roads provoked me and my brothers to shout “Lucio construye!” from the back seat.

I don’t know who spray painted that question mark, but was a valid question: Lucio construye? Lucio builds? I guess Lucio did build the sign.

Following some political unrest, the Congress of Ecuador voted on April 20, 2005 to remove Gutiérrez from power, and the military publicly withdrew their support for him. Gutiérrez was overthrown by his own government. He fled the Presidential Palace in a helicopter, escaping mobs of protesters.

I heard his helicopter fly overhead. At the time, I was sitting quietly in my World History classroom at school, listening to updates on the political situation. My teacher had abandoned the day’s history lesson—after all, history was being made that day. As Gutiérrez fled, we heard the drone of a helicopter far overhead. “That’s his helicopter!” someone exclaimed, and it may have been. Alternatively, it may well have been a news or military helicopter, but I like to think it was the ex-president on the run.

Some of the protests were pretty rowdy. At one point, I got a face full of tear gas while walking to school. The wind blew the gas from a nearby protest to my school campus. It hit me like a bucket of vinegar, and stung quite a bit. On a scale of one to ten, one being a mild insult and ten being a jellyfish sting, the tear gas was maybe a three.

Since I didn’t actually see Lucio Gutiérrez removed from power, I suppose the title of this post is a bit inaccurate. It should be “That Time I Heard a President Kicked Out of Office” since I heard the helicopter, or even “That Time I Smelled a President Kicked Out of Office” because of the tear gas, but those titles just are just weird.

Alas, poor Lucio, who pretended to build things. We miss you. (We don’t really.)

In the end, the vice president, Alfredo Palacio, assumed the presidency, later to be succeeded by Ecuador’s current prez, Rafael Correa. The political unrest surrounding Gutiérrez subsided, only to be replaced by conflicts surrounding Correa. In fact, when I double-checked my facts for this post, I learned that Correa blamed Gutiérrez for allegedly provoking unrest in an attempt to instigate a coup. Another president, another crisis. “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

I love Ecuador, my homeland, mi patria, but its politics aren’t the greatest.

Tomorrow is Election Day for the United States of America. I know a lot of people are worried, but hey—nobody is attempting to overthrow our president at the moment, and there probably won’t be tear gas. It could be worse. The road ahead may be rough, with plenty of bumps and jolts, but we can always shout “Lucio construye!” and keep moving forward.

486. Adam’s Story: The Themes

For anyone new to Adam’s story, here’s an introduction.

Every story means something. Patterns of meaning are called themes, and give stories greater depth and significance. The meaning of a story can be obvious, ambiguous, or deviously difficult to pin down. Heck, some people devote their entire lives to figuring out what stories mean; their profession is known as literary criticism, and it’s often a strange one.

Themes have a way of creeping into stories, insidious and ninja-like, sometimes without the author noticing. As I worked on previous versions of the Lance Eliot saga, I began to see motifs and patterns that I hadn’t planned. I was able to develop only a couple of them. It was too late to explore the rest.

I’m planning to rewrite the Lance Eliot saga from the beginning, which will allow me to explore its ideas more deliberately.

Here are four themes I plan to develop as I rewrite The Trials of Lance Eliot, the first part of my story.

Purpose

Lance Eliot’s journey to the fantastical kingdom of Guardia is apparently a pointless mix-up. He was summoned instead of Lancelot, the legendary knight of Camelot, due to a careless mistake. Now he’s stranded in Guardia, torn between amazement and annoyance, and convinced his journey is meaningless.

Is it?

I preceded an earlier version of the Lance Eliot story with these words from Geoffrey Chaucer: “Alas, why is it common to complain of God or Fortune, who so often deign, hiding their foresight under many a guise, to give us better than we could devise?”

Is there a greater purpose behind Lance’s adventure, or is he struggling against the aimless workings of a blind universe?

Anything out there?

I believe every story means something, but Lance isn’t so sure.

Before his journey to Guardia, Lance studies literary criticism for one of his college courses. He doesn’t take it seriously. Literary criticism appears to invent meaning where there is none. Like the dishonest tailors in “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” it points out things that aren’t really there.

Is anything there? Is there any meaning or purpose in the universe? Lance doesn’t know, and his unexpected adventure sure isn’t helping.

Overcoming self-destructive tendencies

At first, Lance Eliot is not brave, selfless, or virtuous. As a matter of fact, he is cowardly, selfish, and pessimistic. He also has a drinking problem. Lance is a far cry from Lancelot, the pure-hearted hero.

Lance Eliot, our… hero?

Tsurugi is broken. Once a legendary soldier, he is now a war criminal, working for a rogue general as an alternative to execution. Tsurugi seems to have given up on everything: his nation, his future, and his soul.

Paz gave up a quiet life to wander the kingdom as a professional gambler. Her miraculous luck has brought her a lot of money, but luxuries as friends and family are more than she can afford. Paz travels alone, homeless, always on the defensive… and her luck is bound to run out someday.

In their own ways, these unlikely traveling companions have given up on their lives, and given in to self-destructive tendencies. Guardia faces annihilation. If our heroes want to prevent the kingdom’s destruction, they’ll have to start by preventing their own.

Peace

Guardia is a kingdom of glass. It exists in a delicate balance, suspended between two warlike empires, keeping a fragile peace. Its strong navy and military, along with its defensible borders, are all that prevent Guardia from becoming a battleground for its powerful neighbors: a kingdom reduced to blood and ashes.

Paz was named for this peace. She has spent years traveling across Guardia, and doesn’t want to see it trampled by armies. Peace can’t last forever. What will happen when it fails?

Yeah, probably.

Three of the story’s main characters, mentioned above, are searching for a different kind of peace. Lance wants to find meaning or purpose in life. Tsurugi lives in a haze of grief. Paz is restless and unfulfilled. Other characters, whom I won’t mention yet, look for peace in darker places.

If I finish the Lance Eliot saga, perhaps I’ll find a little peace of my own. Here’s hoping.

The Divine Comedy

Around the time I began working on the Lance Eliot saga in earnest, I read Dante’s Divine Comedy for the first time. I couldn’t help but notice some similarities, and decided to make them deliberate.

The first part of my story, The Trials of Lance Eliot, shall roughly parallel Inferno, which chronicles Dante’s journey through hell.

Y’know, Dante doesn’t look very heroic, either.

I hope to hit a lot of the same beats: the dark wood, Beatrice’s early influence, Virgil’s guidance, the final encounter with the Devil, and the escape to safety beneath starry skies. As its title suggests, The Trials of Lance Eliot will put its hapless protagonist through hell.

National Novel Writing Month just started, and while I’m not participating this year, it reminds me of a painful truth: The Lance Eliot saga is going to take a lot of work. Lance won’t be the only one struggling! As long as I’m on the subjects of hell and writing, I’ll conclude with a quote I’ve seen floating around the Internet:

writing-is-like-riding-a-bike

Pretty much.

The Batman of Shanghai

We live in a time of conflict and turmoil. In this age of uncertainty, the video above dares to ask the one question that really matters: What if the Batman stories were set in 1930s Shanghai?

The Bat Man of Shanghai is a four-minute animated miniseries; each of its three episodes is about a minute and twenty seconds long. The animation is gorgeous. Its style seems to take its cues from such diverse inspirations as ink wash painting, Japanese anime, Hong Kong action movies, and Western comics.

If you have any interest in martial arts, superheroes, animation, or stuff that’s cool, I highly recommend The Bat Man of Shanghai. The entire miniseries is only four minutes long. I wish it were much, much longer.

Here’s the second part:

And here’s the third part:

Is it too late to nominate Batman for President of the United States? Imagine it: The United States of America, one Nation under Batman. We could put his scowling face on US currency. (The Founding Fathers were great men, but none of them were Batman.) Heck, with the Dark Knight in charge, the US wouldn’t even need nukes. Who needs nuclear deterrence when you have the Caped Crusader?

Batman for President 2016.

485. Out of Steam

I had planned to write a Serious Post for today, but instead spent my weekend hanging out with my family. I regret nothing.

My older brother and his family will return to the Dominican Republic in just a couple of days, and my parents will move to Spain a couple of days after that, so I’m glad I spent time with them.

It’s late, however, and I’m totally out of steam. Never fear! THE BLOG SHALL GO ON. It will take more than a busy weekend to slow TMTF’s ponderous march toward its imminent end. I’ll work on it this week.

For now, please accept my apologies, along with this picture of my cat.

Pearl-cat

484. I ♥ Majora’s Mask: A Halloween Special, Part 2

This post concludes a two-part Halloween special. You can read Part 1 here!

Let’s pick up with the characters.

The characters

As I mentioned in Part 1, the characters in Majora’s Mask are incredibly well-developed, thanks largely to the game’s three-day cycle. Many characters have their own stories that play out over the game’s span. As the player repeats the cycle, she can get to know these characters, and can even help them.

Over the game’s three-day span, the innkeeper waits faithfully for her lost love to return. Her lover hides in shame, unable to break a curse on his body. The circus troupe leader finds out that their event is canceled; unable to face his troupe, he tries to drink away his sorrows. An orphaned rancher loses her younger sister to creatures from the sky. The postman delivers letters to the very end, shaking in terror, unable to break his dedication to deliver the mail come rain or shine—or fiery death.

I could go on, and on, and on. The characters in Majora’s Mask are staggeringly well-developed. Heck, I haven’t even mentioned the mask salesman: the only character who seems to know exactly what’s happening.

mask-salesman

Yeah, he’s creepy. If the player watches the moon crash into the earth, the screen fades to black, only for the salesman to chuckle and ask, “You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?”

The time travel

Besides the falling moon, the land is afflicted by terrible woes, all caused by an imp wearing a mysterious mask: Majora’s Mask. The swamp reeks of poison. The mountain is caught in a deadly cold snap. Murky water fills the ocean, driving away the fish. An ancient curse fills the valley. Everywhere the player goes, things have gone wrong.

Fear not! This is a Legend of Zelda game! The player can save the day! In addition to resolving the major crises mentioned above, the player can help people on a smaller scale. Remember the characters I mentioned a few paragraphs back? The player can reunite the lovers, comfort the circus troupe leader, protect the rancher’s sister, rescue the postman, and help many more.

Here’s where things get nihilistic.

I’ve discussed the game’s three-day cycle. At some point, the player must rewind time to the dawn of the first day. Guess what happens to the people the player helped? Yep—they are back where they started. Everything resets. Whatever good the player did is undone. The only person to benefit is the player himself, who keeps whatever reward he received for helping others. Those he helped? Nah, they’re screwed.

This Sisyphean cycle reinforces a sense of helplessness. Nothing the player does really matters. Everyone is doomed anyway. Besides, the player can’t help everyone in a single three-day cycle. While she helps certain characters, the others continue to suffer. She can’t help them all.

This hopelessness makes Majora’s Mask a surprisingly dark game, especially for the Legend of Zelda series. It also makes the game’s eventual happy ending all the more cathartic and satisfying.

The unsettling moments

On top of its nihilistic tone, Majora’s Mask offers plenty of creepy moments, and even a few scares. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil them all. I’ll spoil just one.

The cursed valley of Ikana is populated by corpse-like monsters and vengeful spirits… and one little girl. Meet Pamela.

pamela

Adorable, right? Pamela is a sweet girl. She lives with her father, a paranormal researcher, in a cute little house shaped like a music box. It even plays a cheery carnival tune to drive away those pesky undead monsters. How nice!

Then, one day, something goes wrong. Something goes very wrong.

Pamela’s father gets a little too, um, wrapped up in his research. His daughter shuts him in a wardrobe in the basement. Right around this time, Pamela’s music box house stops playing its music. Monsters begin circling her home with slow, lurching steps. She locks the front door. There are monsters outside, and a monster in the basement.

Fortunately for Pamela, this is right when the player arrives to save the day… assuming the player isn’t busy saving the day somewhere else on this particular three-day cycle. (If that’s the case… rest in peace, Pamela.) The player reactivates the music box, drives away the ghouls, and sneaks into the house when Pamela isn’t looking—only to find a monstrous mad scientist in the basement.

The scene itself is pretty scary. When the player looks at it from Pamela’s point of view, it’s much scarier. It’s scariest to realize that she (presumably) dies a horrible death every single time the player spends the three-day cycle helping other characters.

This is the kind of thing that scares me about Majora’s Mask. I don’t find more traditional horror games all that scary. Jump scares? Zombies? Whatever. Majora’s Mask takes a more insidious, Lovecraftian approach, and it scares me more than practically any other game I’ve played.

The humor

Majora’s Mask balances its bleak tone and occasional scares with surprising amounts of heart and humor.

The innkeeper’s grandmother is perfectly sane, but feigns senility in order to avoid eating her granddaughter’s lousy cooking. A cutthroat thief prances daintily instead of walking, even when fleeing the scene of a crime. The local mapmaker, Tingle, is convinced he’s a forest fairy… despite being merely a thirty-five-year-old man wearing red briefs.

tingle

Majora’s Mask is frequently surreal, but not always in spooky ways. Its weird touches are sometimes endearing, even heartwarming, providing comic relief in a story that might otherwise be too dark.

Everything else

There’s so much I haven’t mentioned. This is a game with pirates, spirit foxes, Yorkshire Terriers, aliens, bobblehead cows, and a monstrous mechanical goat. Majora’s Mask is the very best kind of bonkers. It’s also designed with the same brilliance and loving care as the other greatest Legend of Zelda games, despite taking only one year to make.

This follow-up to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time had to do the impossible: live up to expectations set by a game considered by many, even to this day, the best ever made. Majora’s Mask did the impossible. It’s better than its legendary predecessor.

I consider Ocarina of Time the greater game of the two. It broke new ground. It was amazing first. However, Majora’s Mask is the better game of the two. It’s superior in practically every way.

It’s also pretty freaking scary. Happy Halloween, everybody.

Pipe Organs Are Creepy

Are you too happy? Is your life just too uplifting? Well, I can think of a song to fix that.

With Halloween just around the corner, and this blog discussing The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask this week, today seems like a good day for ominous music. “Oath to Order,” one of the songs from the game, really lends itself to the hollow tones of a pipe organ.

I would wish you a happy Halloween, but such a wish defeats the point of this gloomy holiday, so I’ll wish you a safe, satisfying, and appropriately sinister Halloween instead!

483. I ♥ Majora’s Mask: A Halloween Special, Part 1

Halloween is nearly here. All across the United States of America, pumpkins are carved to look like severed heads. (Halloween is a weird holiday, man.) Horror movies flood theaters and fill bargain bins. ‘Tis the season for scares. Even the US government is participating—this year’s presidential election is positively frightening.

What better time could there be to discuss the scariest game I’ve ever played?

majoras-mask

I’ve wanted to write about this game for a long time—more than a year, in fact—but never found the right opportunity. With this blog ending in a couple of months and Halloween just around the corner, this seemed like the right time. I began writing. When I realized my ramblings were too long for one blog post, I decided to split it in two parts and call it a Halloween special. Every blog needs a holiday special at some point, right?

On the surface, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask doesn’t look like a scary game. Its visual are bright and colorful. Its world seems like a generic fantasy setting populated by generic video game characters. Heck, the game received the most child-friendly rating from the ESRBEVERYONE. (To be fair, the recent 3DS remake got a slightly higher EVERYONE 10+ rating, which is still pretty mild.) Don’t be fooled. This game is creepy as all heck.

Majora’s Mask is a game in the Legend of Zelda series, which consists mostly of lighthearted, well-crafted adventures. Zelda games are known not only for their legendary (no pun intended, I swear) quality, but also for their humor, charm, and kid-friendly action. Majora’s Mask is different. It has all the charm and humor of other Zelda games, but without their positive tone. Its tone is one of bleak, gnawing nihilism.

Believe it or not, I love this game. I ♥ Majora’s Mask. Can we put that phrase on a bumper sticker? Let’s put it on a bumper sticker.

i-love-majoras-mask

Why do I love this game? Oh, let me count the ways.

The moon

Most Legend of Zelda games follow a predictable formula: an evil sorcerer endangers a damsel, and the hero Link must save the day—generally by going on a quest to obtain the Master Sword, a holy weapon. Various Zelda games play with this formula, but seldom stray from it.

Majora’s Mask completely abandons the formula. It doesn’t task the player with rescuing a princess. Nope. The player must prevent a freakin’ moon from crashing into the land and annihilating literally everything. For reasons never explained, the moon has a face, which is frozen in an expression of rage. It’s a surreal touch, and kinda creepy.

hello-moon

As days pass in the game, the moon draws nearer and nearer the earth. Every time the player looks upward, there it is, a looming reminder that the end is near. Characters in the game react to their inexorable doom with a convincing range of emotional responses: apprehension, denial, panic, grief, resignation, defiance, and getting drunk on milk.

The player has only three days to stop the moon. Fortunately, the player is given the power to rewind time… only to watch the moon fall again, and again, and again. Characters repeat their cycles of grief and panic. And if the player doesn’t travel back in time before the moon hits the earth, well, it ends badly.

game-over-man

I hope you don’t mind watching a celestial body annihilate an entire land and everyone in it. Game over, man.

The masks

As its title suggests, Majora’s Mask makes masks an integral game mechanic. By wearing different masks, the player assumes different forms, each with its own set of powers.

mask-transformations

The plant-like Deku form lets the player glide through the air. The rotund Goron form gives the power to roll around like a runaway tire, and the sleek Zora form zips through water with graceful ease. These mask transformations would be cool as mere game mechanics, but each one also represents a story.

Each mask transforms the player into the likeness of a character who died with regrets. The Deku child became separated from his father and died alone. The Goron died in an unsuccessful attempt to save his people, and the Zora perished trying to save his true love’s unborn children. The player earns each mask by healing its owner’s soul and easing his regret; when the spirit rests in peace, the mask is left behind.

It’s a beautifully macabre twist on a game mechanic that’s already pretty sweet.

Come back on Friday for Part 2 of this Halloween special!

482. What Should I Name My Hypothetical Newsletter?

This blog shall end in just a couple of months. I’ll move on to another personal project, and send my typewriter monkeys packing. (Hurrah!) For the first time in more than five years, I’ll be blog-less. It will be the end of an epoch.

A few people seem mildly interested in the life and times of Adam Stück, so I’m thinking of starting a personal newsletter after TMTF bites the dust. It wouldn’t follow any kind of schedule. After years of writing scheduled blog posts, I want a nice, long break from deadlines! I would write a newsletter whenever I felt like it, which probably wouldn’t be too often.

I’ve thought of a couple of titles for my hypothetical newsletter: The Brewsletter and Up and Adam. The first celebrates my love of coffee; the second, my fondness for bad puns.

‘Tis the season for voting. Cast a vote in the poll below and let me know which title you prefer for my hypothetical newsletter! And if you have your own title to suggest, let us know in the comments!

The Story of Japan (in Nine Minutes)

The video above tells the story of Japan in nine minutes, and it is glorious.

The video is glorious, I mean, though Japan’s history is also impressive. (That said, sensitive readers should be advised that the video has a few swearwords.) This nine-minute history of Japan combines tongue-in-cheek narration and humorous oversimplifications with manic, colorful editing. The end result is not only hilarious, but quite informative. Huh. Maybe this, not the history of Nintendo, is history’s greatest history lesson.

I have a strong interest in Japan, which is rivaled only by my lifelong interest in Great Britain. These island nations have a lot in common. Each was once the seat of an empire, and both have made incredible contributions to the arts.

Many of my favorite storytellers and creative people are Japanese: Hayao Miyazaki, the legendary filmmaker; Shigeru Miyamoto, who worked on many of the greatest video games ever made; Shūsaku Endō, the writer of such heartbreaking novels as Silence and The Samurai; and many more. For such a small country, Japan has made a vast cultural impact, giving us everything from anime to beckoning cat figurines.

Oh Japan, where would we be without you?

I would love to visit Japan someday. I would also love to see Great Britain. Of course, I want to return to Ecuador for a visit, and to visit Canada, and to take an epic road trip around the United States of America.

Man, I wish I were free to travel more. At least I have books and the Internet!

481. Clutter

I spent hours yesterday sifting through clutter in my apartment: books, blowgun darts, office supplies, ocelot pelts, papers, outdated foreign currency, clothes, and centuries-old trinkets of carved stone and bone.

It occurs to me that my life is kind of strange.

My parents, who are missionaries, have used my apartment as their home base during their slow transition from working in Uruguay to working in Spain. Since they plan to depart for Galicia in a few weeks, we began sorting through their stuff yesterday in preparation for packing. It was an… interesting process.

My dad grew up in the jungles of Ecuador, and my mum loves antiques. Between the two of them, my family has accumulated a ton of awesome junk, much of it very old. I found a toucan beak, a stone axe head of incalculable age, an armadillo shell, and an ancient Incan figurine, among other things. I felt like I was reorganizing the office of Indiana Jones; I could almost hear him say, “This belongs in a museum!” (In case you were wondering, my parents are nothing like Indiana Jones; sorry to disappoint.)

My parents have spent time in the state of Indiana. Does that count?

Of course, these exciting souvenirs were merely sprinkled over heaps of modern, ordinary items such as clothes, books, and kitchenware. My apartment currently contains my stuff, my younger brother’s stuff, my parents’ stuff, and even a little bit of my older brother’s stuff.

My apartment is, um, a tiny bit cluttered at the moment.

Gathering my parents’ possessions uprooted some of my own, like unto the parable of the wheat and the weeds. This is actually a good thing. In a month, when my parents are bound safely for the rainy shores of Spain, I intend to take inventory of my worldly goods, and then to get rid of some.

Since my parents are missionaries, we moved around a lot. We never got a chance to accumulate much clutter. Every move to a new place stripped away all the stuff we couldn’t take with us. I learned to live light.

At any rate, that’s what I thought.

O’Hare International Airport proved me wrong. When I traveled from Ecuador to the US for college, I carried all of my worldly goods with me in a backpack, a carry-on, a computer bag, and two duffel bags the approximate size of adult male hippos.

Artist interpretation of Adam’s duffel bags.

On that day the air traffic controllers of O’Hare decided, in their infinite wisdom, to make my plane unload its luggage at one end of the airport, and its passengers on the other. This required me to walk approximately two hundred sixty extra miles along dingy airport hallways, and I had a bus to catch. Of course I did.

So I ran—well, I shuffled—dragging my carry-on, with my pack and computer bag slung across my back, and a duffel bag dangling from each shoulder. As I stepped, my duffel bags swung with the ponderous force of battering rams. Straps cut into my back and shoulders. I kept stepping—well, shuffling—wishing for a luggage cart, or a team of porters, or the sweet release of death.

That experience shaped my guiding philosophy for owning stuff: If it isn’t worth moving, it isn’t worth having. I want to live without clutter or extra weight. When I move somewhere new, which I’m sure I will sooner or later, I want moving to be as easy as possible. If I wouldn’t move something to a new home, I probably don’t need it right now, and should probably get rid of it.

For the most part, my clutter-free philosophy has worked well. (At any rate, it has left enough empty space in my apartment for my parents’ worldly goods.) A minimalist approach makes it easier for me to keep things organized, and helps me to appreciate my individual possessions. I feel lighter, freer, and calmer without so much stuff.

My friend JK wrote a blog post about tidy living. Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Simplify, simplify.” Even Jesus Christ said, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

It will be cathartic to take inventory of my possessions later this year, and to give away the stuff I don’t really want. I hope the nearest donation center doesn’t mind books.