03 May, 2009

About Stephen King

May 3rd 2009

One of the most famous living writers, possibly the one who sold the most books too, Stephen King is this chapter’s topic. But before I go any further into the matter, you have to know I haven’t read a lot of King’s writings, although the portion I read of his works far exceeds what I read of H.P. Lovecraft, and I read every single story the latter ever wrote.

My very first experience of Stephen King’s writings was a French translation of Firestarter, and it took me about 10 pages before I dropped the book. I thought it was awful. I remember feeling like it read really badly, and that’s probably due to the translation, although the plot wasn’t too interesting to me either (for the little of it I had discovered of it). For many years, this was all I knew personally of King’s writings, and judging by the movies based on his books, and what everyone seemed to say about them, I felt the underlying scorn was justified.

How wrong I was.

One day not too long ago I decided to give this author a more serious try. I picked up a copy of Different Seasons – made of four novellas – and started reading “Apt Pupil”, mostly because it had to do with Nazism, and because I had vaguely seen the movies years before, and it didn’t seem like a bad story.

I got hooked pretty quickly and read the whole thing in a few sessions. I wasn’t sure it was mind-blowingly awesome, but I damn sure knew I wanted to finish it, and that, in my humble opinion, means the story is good at least on some levels. That was my real serious first experience of King in the original text, and I had enjoyed it.

So then I thought I’d read the other novellas in that book. Having seen the Shawshank Redemption movie already, I skipped it (I would read it later) and began “The Body”. This one too has been turned into a movie – in the 80’s – but I had strictly no idea that it had at the time I read it. “The Body” is the story that made me think King was in truth a great author. There is nothing supernatural in it, but I wouldn’t say there is no horror, as a cold hard look at life can be the most horrific vision, and thus realism can be horror too. The story is about a group of friends going on an expedition to see a corpse that hasn’t yet been discovered by the authorities. The whole narrative is told by one of these kids, who since then has become a successful and famous writer. To this day, it is my favourite King’s longer piece (though I haven’t read even a quarter of his work). It’s well-written, it’s immersing, the characters have... character, without becoming stock, the narrative moves back and forth between a long since dead past (childhood) and a nostalgic present, etc. I have nothing but good things to say about this particular story. It deals with life, death, childhood, the past, writing as a job, friendship, and other important themes. It’s a very impressive story, and I can only recommend it.

After this, I read the rest of the novellas in that thick book. Good stuff too.

Then I decided to actually buy a book myself. Since I’m a huge fan of short stories (Poe, Lovecraft, Hemingway, Hawthorne, Buzzati, to name a few) and since King is something like the literary son of Lovecraft and grandson of Poe (although varying in style, they occupy a similar spot in literature, or something), I thought I’d get a book of short stories by King. That’s how I got to Night Shift. The first collection of stories by King, to my knowledge; it contains some really good ones, and some not so good ones. If you’re familiar with H.P. Lovecraft’s work, you’ll recognise the influence here and there, in some stories. That is not a bad thing at all, except when it feels like bad fanfiction, which I thought it did in “Jerusalem’s Lot”, not to be mistaken with the novel of almost the same name. I wrote an amazon review about this book, so I won’t rewrite it here, but I can’t not show you that King quote to be found in the foreword by the author:

"All my life as a writer I have been committed to the idea that in fiction the story value holds dominance over every other facet of the writer's craft; characterization, theme, mood, none of those things is anything if the story is dull. And if the story does hold you, all else can be forgiven."

My favourite story in this volume is without a doubt “The Last Rung on the Ladder”. I’d compare it to “The Body” in terms of goodness. That one, too, has no supernatural or strictly horror elements, but by God it’s a great story. To my knowledge, neither Stephen King nor J.D. Salinger appear in the Norton Anthology of American Literature, not even with a short story, and it’s a damned shame. King deserves to have at least a short in there, and I think “The Last Rung on the Ladder” is a likely candidate. I could write a whole chapter about the Norton Anthology and the general scholarly scorn of certain popular authors. I agree with King on the idea that skilled writing is nothing if the story is a bore. And now is the time when you decide whether I am a mere ignorant or an opinionated person with, perhaps, good taste. I enjoy King’s stories more than I enjoy Joyce’s. I read Dubliners, and I had to force myself to read for most of the book. I did like some of them, or parts of some of them, but on the whole, it’s not the sort of thing I’d want everyone in the world to read. It’s the sort of book that makes kids hate literature when they have to endure it as mandatory reading material for school. But enough on that issue.

After this volume, I saw that King had another collection of short stories, Skeleton Crew, and so I purchased that. At almost 800 pages, it’s one fat paperback. As of this writing, I read 440 pages. It contains “The Mist”, which has recently been turned into a movie (with a vastly different ending, from what I was told), and many others. My favourite so far is “The Jaunt”, one of the rare sci-fi stories written by King (I can only think of two, and that’s just me, I don’t know his entire body of works), and it reads like a Twilight Zone episode, which is probably no coincidence since, after inspection, that story was published in the Twilight Zone magazine. It basically deals with teleportation, and it will remind you of Portal, the Valve game that everyone thinks so much of (with reason, for all I know).

And that’s about it for my reading of King’s writings. As mentioned before, I haven’t read a whole lot, though it exceeds 1000 pages.

With this modest chapter, I wanted to say that one should not believe the general scorn towards King, because he is a good writer! Fair enough, I hear some books are really bad, and judging from the movies (which you shouldn’t do) it’s hard to be attracted to the books they’re based on (unless it’s the Shawshank Redemption). But yeah, King is worth at the very least a try. I have never read any of his novels so far, but you should try some of the short stories I recommended here; mostly “The Last Rung on the Ladder”, “The Jaunt”, and for a more classic King kind of story, “The Children of the Corn”, and for a longer piece, “The Body”, which is a classic to me now.

26 April, 2009

The Hollow Earth

26th April 2009

The previous chapter dealt with earth as being possibly flat, this one will deal with its possible hollowness, and the theories around it. In fact, it will be more about the theories around it than its potential hollowness because I’m no geologist and don’t really have any arguments either way.

Be ready for some serious unprofessionalism as I will do everything by memory here, and it will be very general, abstract, all over the place, and it won’t even cite its sources. If you need a good reason for that unprofessionalism, feel free to imagine that I’m writing this chapter on a desert island, where dinosaurs start chasing me if I dare look up Wikipedia or other links on Google. And if I plunge my nose into a book, an evil deity of said desert island steals me a limb. Otherwise you can just assume that I feel lazy about this chapter.

So where to begin? That’s indeed a problem because I could start this from any end. Let’s begin with Hitler and the Nazis, as this is always interesting. At some point, these gentlemen thought that the earth might be hollow, but not the way we think of it. Imagine an infinity of earth – the matter – and in this earth, imagine a spherical hollow. Now, Nazis thought maybe that’s what the earth is like, and we’re living on the inner sides of this hollow bubble in the earth. With this in mind, they thought that if you aimed telescopes into the sky, you could perhaps spy on Great Britain. If this sounds obscure, just draw a circle, then draw a stickman inside it, with his feet on the edge, and then another stickman 90° to the left or right, and that should illustrate my point. Yes, I’m too unprofessional to actually draw it myself. And I wouldn’t want to deprive you from some stickman fun. Nah, I’m just unprofessional.

The usual model, though, is that the earth is as we imagine it, but hollow inside. Pleonasm? Likely. Problem? No. You can’t be hollow outside exactly, or everything is already, and this is more thought than I bargained for. So back on tracks. The thing is that we really don’t know a lot about what lies beneath our feet. We know more about deep space than we do about our inner earth. What do we actually know of that? According to science, our earth is divided into 4 zones: the crust, the mantle, the outer core, and the inner core. How did they find out about that? They didn’t go there. If I remember correctly, they sent sounds and analysed how these sounds came through at the other end and deduced what the stuff of the earth was like (in this sentence, I use a different meaning of “stuff” that you might be accustomed to, meaning material, what something is made of, etc.). And that’s how they came up with this idea of the earth’s innards.

I don’t think we actually went through the crust. As said before, we explored space far more than we did the underground. This becomes really fascinating when you start thinking about the gargantuan proportions of the inside of our planet. If that place was hollow, and/or inhabited, think of the space! Entire civilisations could live in there. We only live on a surface.

And now let’s plunge into the fancy theories people have about the hollow earth. These are the good, crunchy bits. There’s this fantastic theory that the Nazis somehow escaped to Antarctica and possibly found an entrance to the inner earth. Flying saucers and aliens are often involved in these, but it would take its own chapter to go into details about that one.

Edgar Allan (not Allen) Poe wrote a story called “MS. Found in a Bottle” (and for general information, you put short stories or poems or anything that’s only part of a bigger piece between quotation marks and any stand-alone volume in italics; for instance, a song from an album would be between quotation marks, while the album would be italicised; “Smells Like Teen Spirit” from Nevermind) Poe’s narrator ends up falling into some black hole of doom. Poe was inspired by old maps of the world which showed two giant black holes in lieu of the poles. In fact, I think Poe adds a note to this story, in which, perhaps, he says he didn’t know about that fact before he wrote the story and only found this out afterwards, which is interesting. And yes, I can’t go check my Poe book. Remember, the evil deity who’d steal my limbs. I like my limbs.

This idea remains in some people’s theories. Why didn’t anybody suddenly fall into one of these pole holes? Simple. The curvature of that hole would be so slight and over such a long distance that if you walked towards the hole, you’d never actually notice that you’re walking into a giant hole. The idea here is that the center of gravity of the earth does not reside in its exact core, but rather inside the earth layers, if I may call them that way. And I’ll correct myself right now, that’s not the actual center of gravity, that’d be just what pulls you “down”. We understand each other. Well, mostly you me. So you’d walk off this side of the earth and into the hollow, and you’d not even notice it because, apparently, the sky is blue there too. And they even have an inner sun. Or so say some theories.

Other theories suggest that there are giant cities underground, but that there is no giant hollow in our earth, just that it’s inhabited, massively. Who lives there? Why, aliens of course. Or “ancient astronauts”, or Reptilians. Or Nazis! Who the duck knows, I did my research on the Internet. Let’s go wild. “Ancient astronauts” is a term that originates with the phrase “the ancient astronauts theory” which is a theory that suggests humanity has been visited by superior species in the past. This was one of my first serious interests in life, when I was a kid. (And before I go on, let me emphasise that I do know that this is a digression that has little to do with the subject (NICOLAS, PLEONASM AGAIN!) – I am fully aware of that, but I, like Holden Caulfield, enjoy digressions, and so I indulge in them.) So, when I was a kid, I one day found a couple of paperbacks in the basement. One of them was entitled La Théorie des Anciens Astronautes, in French, please, because when I was a kiddo, that’s all I could speak or read. I don’t think you need a translation, thanks to the French invading England some centuries ago and injecting so much of their language into yours. Don’t feel violated, it’s all right. So, as a kid, I thought this was going to be a book about spacemen and all that cool stuff. I thought they were “ancient” in the sense that maybe they were just old spacemen. Boy, was I wrong. A whole new perspective on the world was exposed to me and I shat bricks of excitement at the idea that maybe there was such an enormous truth out there, waiting for us to discover it. I don’t remember what age I was, somewhere between 7 and 10. My interest in this never entirely faded, and it culminated when I was about 15 and gave an impressive presentation on that very topic to a mesmerised class of 8th graders. (And I’m never sure about that American way of counting the school years, maybe I erred with this, so just think of the year when most kids are 14 or 15. That’s the year I mean.)

I read lots of Erich von Daniken – which I probably misspell, but remember the dinosaurs who’d start chasing me if I dare check it on Google – and later on found out that this author wasn’t very professional. Like me. And, like me, he’s Swiss. Hey, maybe he was writing from a desert island filled with anti-intellectual dinosaurs too. You never know. Switzerland might be quite different from what you thought it was.

Now I totally lost track of what I was saying. Ok, ancient aliens visiting us from outer space, or inner space, as some suggest. Some of you might know about Reptilians already. According to some interesting folks I heard on the radio (Art Bell’s radio show, yes), there are megapolis(es?) underground inhabited by Reptilians. If you never heard of that term – Reptilian – they’re thought to be humanoids of daunting proportions compared to us, very strong, scaly all over, and none too hot. Theorists typically link every serpent image in ancient history to that species, whether it’s the serpent of Adam and Eve, or traditional representations of dragons, demons, etc.

I stop here to say that I’m not discussing the veracity of these claims. That’s another topic entirely. I’m just disclosing this stuff to you, because stuff like that thrills me, whether it’s completely retarded, has some truth to it, or is factual. It makes the mind exercise in terms of world perception, and that’s what I’m into with this chapter and the previous chapter, about the Flat Earth Society people.

I recommend googling the “Dulce base”, provided there are no dinosaurs around you. You’d find more about Reptilians and conspiracies with this one. I don’t know if there is any truth to all this, but it sure makes for a good read.

Some people claim that we humans already have a massive network underground, made of tunnels and high tech metros and what not. In fact, and this is indeed fact, the USA have a very vast series of giant underground bases. Those bases were mostly built during the Cold War, to face the advent of a nuclear catastrophe. That’s where people would have saved their asses in case of a conflict. Supposedly, every state has at least one such underground base. Stories of people exploring underground structures and meeting weird stuff abound. But then again, what to make of them is anyone’s best wild guess. That huge underground network would be used by “those” too, meaning the aliens/Reptilians/whatever they are in any given theory.

On a more factual basis, we do know that pockets of worlds do exist inside our earth, as in Jules Vernes’s novel Voyage au Centre de la Terre, pardon my French. We didn’t find dinosaurs – dinosaurs! – exactly, but we found life that evolved on its little own for quite some time. Who knows how many such pockets exist? I heard rumors, or news, of some underground lake below the ice of Antarctica, in which there might be life, and which didn’t have any contact of any sort with anything outside its reaches for millennia, or more. Fascinating.

And I think that’s it for this unprofessional chapter about the hollow earth theory. I hope it served as a nice introduction, if anything. There are tons of information on the subject out there, including very serious books about the actual possibility of a hollow earth written by geologists (which don’t actually suggest our earth is hollow, just how a planet could be hollow).

19 March, 2009

The Flat Earth Society

20th March 2009

If you thought everyone knew that the world was a sphere, you were wrong, or rather, not everyone is convinced. The Flat Earth Society is a group of people who believe the earth to be flat – quite a self-explanatory name, I know, but as some of you may not believe it, I insist. It’s an absolutely serious organisation, and in my experience of them, a group of absolutely serious people.

I will not go into whether they are right or wrong, though feel free to do that yourself, just into what they actually think and how they make sense of such a world, which is what truly interested me in the beginning, and still does now. Many questions arise when you start thinking about our earth as a flat one, and I don’t even know where to start with those.

What of space photos? Flat earthers, as they are known, think that Nasa is simply lying to us. If you have inquired about Nasa a little or poked around the supposedly moon landing hoax and the likes, you might very easily believe that Nasa is indeed filled with liars – but that’s an entirely different subject. Flat earthers do not accept space photographs as valid evidence of the earth being a sphere because any photograph from space was taken under their control, and nobody can go to space and take pictures on their own.

Another thing you will love to know is that flat earthers don’t believe in gravity. Although, some do, but all agree that the earth itself doesn’t cause gravity, while other celestial bodies do. The argument is that other planets are round, as we can see from down here, but our own mother earth isn’t, and doesn’t have to be. This wouldn’t be the first singularity of our home planet: the tectonic plates are another one that isn’t shared by most planets, if I’m not mistaken.

So if there is no gravity, how do we stick to the ground? Simple. The earth is moving upwards. Not only is it moving, it’s also accelerating exponentially. If it was merely moving upwards, we’d be flying at the slightest jump. What makes the flat earth accelerates upwards like this? They don’t know. I think they call it “dark energy”. To be fair, and for all I know, even today we can’t quite explain how gravity actually functions.

I questioned them on many problems I had with their model. For instance, if the earth is continually accelerating upwards, wouldn’t that mean that eventually we would be moving at the speed of light? No, I was told. Answers differed from a flat earther to another. Some said the earth would eventually slow down, which, I guess, means we will one day just fly away and get lost into space, or something. What I love about all this is how it makes your mind work out on figuring stuff out with new parameters. For instance, moving at the speed of light, you would be unable to see anything directly below 90°, because the light rays wouldn’t be able to catch up with you! [Upon further reflection, I think you would see absolutely nothing unless you were looking upwards, since even light coming from the side would not have time to reach your eyes, or maybe you'd see things in front of you that in reality are much higher in space; the light from them, going horizontally would hit you in the eye as you move up. This is hard to explain, I hope you can figure it out.] In theory, nothing can top the speed of light, so I assume we would float away at this point.

So what does the earth look like for a flat earther? And how do they explain circumnavigation (sailing around the world)? I want you to visualise the UN’s flag now. That’s how they see the earth. Here’s an image so you get a better idea.

The North Pole is at the center of our world, and the South Pole does not exist as a pole. Indeed, Antarctica is not a continent, but a gigantic wall of ice surrounding our world. This explains why sailors felt like they were going around the world, and whenever they went South, they reached “Antarctica”, or that giant Ice Wall, for the magnetic poles still exist.

Giant Ice Wall you say? Yes. Flat earthers differ on this. Some say what we think of as Antarctica is the Ice Wall, while others say it just lays before it, but isn’t said Ice Wall. What happens at the end of the earth? Here again, flat earthers differ, and mostly don’t know. But they have some interesting examples of what could be.

Some think that beyond the Ice Wall is nothing but barren wastelands that expand on forever. Others think the world just drops off, and others still think there might be other worlds like ours, like so many fried eggs in an eternal frying pan, separated by vast deserts of wind-beaten icy snow.

The Ice Wall itself is in fact a chain of mountains covered with snow and ice. How deep is it? Deep enough to keep the oceans in. Flat earthers tend to believe that there is a conspiracy meant to keep us from exploring Antarctica for ourselves, and that anyone who goes there is somehow lured and never really sees things for what they are.

As to the origins of such a flat earth, I asked, expecting some kind of astronomical explanation. The only person who took the time to give me an answer simply gave me a link to an online version of the Book of Genesis. I hadn’t thought of that one. Many, though not all, flat earthers are religious people, or so I am led to believe, but don’t be fooled, if you go in there and discuss, you might find yourself unprepared to argue physics with some of them, as I did. I did not know that “c” represented light, or the speed of light, or whatever, and apparently that made me sound like a retard. Sorry, I’m no physicist.

What of the sun and moon? Easy: they just hover over our flat earth in circles. Said circles vary, and this causes seasons and the moon cycle. The sun never sets, it just goes far away and creates the illusion that it goes below the horizon, when in fact, it’s just beyond.

What of the earth’s curvature? You know, as when you see a ship in the distance somehow sinking into the horizon, and not just getting smaller. I asked about this, and was told that we need special telescopes to see truly. I did not manage to know what there was to correct, just that someone whose name I do not dare deface here invented special telescopes that restored true vision. Why such a distortion happens, I have no idea. Why we haven’t been able to build another one of these correcting devices, I have no idea either.

What of satellites? Flat earthers don’t believe in them. Instead, they think that on the edges of the world are poles or some such things that emit signals simulating satellites, or something like that. I don’t guarantee exactitude on this one. Why would Nasa and/or others fool us on this? They admit they don’t know, but suspect that a financial gain is the most likely reason. How do you make money from that? I’m not sure, but what I do know, however, is that the exploration of space is not at all where it could be. Given the obscene amounts of money they make by launching billionaires into space, they have no interest in developing technologies that would make the travel cheap and affordable to everyone. This is how greed hinders us severely. The rationale behind convincing the whole world that said world is flat is nothing too clear to me, be it for money, power, or some almighty alien warlord we know nothing of.

There are many more questions to be asked about this, and I assuredly forgot a few that I wanted to deal with here. Flat earthers themselves don’t claim to have all the answers. Feel free to question them directly on their own forum, but be warned, most people are very impolite towards them and abusive, and as a result, many flat earthers have the reflex of being harsh, giving very short answers without explanation, or downright insulting you. This doesn’t happen much if you are yourself polite and respectful, but expect animosity. That was my disappointment with the forum. I didn’t go there for a fight, and if you are a flat earther, I wouldn’t see the point in posting in a forum solely for fights. Why waste one’s time? That goes for every side of the issue.

But don’t get discouraged, there are a lot of people there who have things to say and reasons to give, and if only for those, it is worth being courteous. Often, you will ask things like “Then will the earth reach the speed of light?” and your only answer will be “No.” and I just hate that kind of answer. It’s as if they got tired of explaining stuff over and over, and just decided to give us the truth in miniature format. Feel free to insist on an explanation! Someone will always try to explain FE models to you if you are genuinely interested in an answer.

Conclusion? I was decidedly happy to find that there are people who really believe the earth is flat. Imagining my world in a new perspective was great fun, still is, and the kind of hostility these heretics of science have to face reminds you how intolerant people can be and how little credit they give anyone who doesn’t immediately accept the official paradigm without questions. I doubt most round eathers have studied the question before accepting that the earth was a sphere. You may accuse the flat earthers of being this and that, but one thing you can’t accuse them of is to not have done any research. They have a whole bunch of references ready for your eyes if you feel so inclined.

The following chapter will be about the Hollow Earth, stay tuned!

The Flat Eart Society forum.

22 January, 2009

Easy Cheese

22nd January 2009

I went to America in 1999, and one fateful evening I went to a grocery store with some friends, and that’s when we found it. “It” was a can of spray cheese.

Disbelieving my eyes, I looked closer, and closer, and closer. Once my nose was upon the dire artefact, I had nothing left to do but utterly change my vision of reality: I had found Easy Cheese.

The thing suggested it was essentially cheese in a spray can. Being European, that was a wholly new concept to me, and I couldn’t grasp it. How do you put cheese, a generally solid matter, into a can, from which you could spray the stuff? I pondered long and hard, and came to the conclusion that my friends and I had just found nothing less than the very end of civilisation.

Cheese, in Europe, is some age old tradition that moustached men in their 50’s create in rustic little wooden and stone houses up some mountain or something. That’s cheese. You can buy it at your grocery store, it comes wrapped in plastic, but it’s solid. For at least 6 or 7 years, the mystery remained. Until one day...

One day, then, a friend of mine from St. Louis, Missouri, decided to send me some fudge, which I had never tasted, and since I had mentioned time and again my encounter with the end of civilisation, she thought she’d put a can of Easy Cheese in her package, along with some crackers, which I had never eaten before either.

I tried the fudge first. Just looking at that can of spray cheese made me nauseous. I generally dislike anything in a can, really, all the more so when the stuff inside isn’t even supposed to be there in the first place. Fudge is delicious. For those of you who don’t know it, it’s chocolate something, extremely dense. You eat a handful of it and you’re stuffed for the day. I forget exactly how it tastes or feels inside one’s mouth, though. Maybe it was slightly melting on your tongue; at any rate, it was good stuff. It was fudging good.

My Missourian friend also sent a jar of peanut butter, which is available in my country, but I had never really had much of it. I had some hate/love relation to peanut butter at first, some taste you don’t really like, but you want more anyway, like a sore tooth you need to pull at. I eventually really liked the stuff, but that’s another topic entirely.

I handled the can of spray cheese as though it was some alien unhallowed item of horrendous blasphemy. I questioned the motives of the person who invented this, the person who one day thought, “Gee, cheese is good, but couldn’t we possibly put it in a can and spray it?” Why would anyone even conceive of such an evil plan? My uneducated guess is that I don’t have a clue, except that I suppose the idea wouldn’t have emerged in the brain of a European, because that’s not how we think of cheese at all. Again, for us, cheese is made by middle-aged men with moustaches that are extra long who wear white aprons and are a little bit overweight. They stir some giant pot of molten cheese – milk, in fact – and then they store big round chunks of cheese in dark caves, beside thousands of other identical big round chunks of cheese. That’s cheese in the European mind.

So there was this can, and allegedly, there was cheese in it, and according to the legend, I could spray cheese out of it. Paraphrasing Mitch Hedberg, who said it better than I ever could, crackers is a product that has, on its very wrapping, suggestions as to what you could put on them; in other words, other products; and thus, crackers are a product that has no faith in itself. Liking just crackers is probably cheap as dirt. I mention crackers because that’s what spray cheese is usually sprayed onto. That’s why my friend from St. Louis sent some along.

It took me around 20 minutes to actually mouth some of that cheese. Seriously. First I analysed the appearance of the can, its opening, etc. I thought I was going to witness a miracle if I pressed on that thing like you do a whipped cream can. I took a cracker out, and prepared myself for the impossible.

I pressed, and sure enough, there was cheese on my cracker. Some yellow cheese at that. The yellowest cheese. I’d never seen cheese this yellow outside of cartoons. This neon-colour-like substance was much less solid than cheese habitually is, which was to be expected, seeing as it can be sprayed out of a can, for God’s sake.

Apprehension was all the rage as I beheld this exotic amuse-gueule. I thought I might vomit. This wasn’t cheese, this was an extra long line of snot at best. But I had gone this far, I had to continue, like a brave European crossing the culture boundaries of his native nation. You can’t get Easy Cheese here unless you smuggle it in, an offence which is likely entirely legal.

Then, finally, I tasted the stuff. I was so repulsed by the appearance of this thing, from the can to the substance itself, that at first, I couldn’t even think it might taste anything but synthetic chemical crap, so when I actually had it in my mouth, my brain couldn’t neutrally analyse Easy Cheese’s cheese. It took several mouthings to get past the biases of my European brain. But eventually I managed to realise it actually tasted good. It tasted just like the cheese you find in McDonald’s cheeseburgers, which I worship.

The repugnant thing turned out to taste good. I had to deal with conflicting signals in my head about this. It took many a sprayed cracker. But then I really enjoyed it. In a couple of days I was coming to the end of the can.

The end of the can is actually quite some fun. Since it’s pressured air that propulses the yellow ooze, when the stuff runs out, it sputters out too. Concretely, this means that you’re pressing the can, and nothing comes out for a split second, and then, oh oh, miniature chunks of ooze come out at high speed, like a shrapnel explosion. Sounds fun, but by God is it messy. It also makes a little explosive sound. The image this gave me was that of a diminutive dwarf trying to shit through a painful constipation, his yellow turd breaking off into explosive segments of constelised microscopic bits of cheese. (“Constelised” doesn’t exist, but I invent it right here, so it does now, feel free to use it and spread it, one day it’ll be in the dictionary with this chapter as reference for origins, believe it!)

So there I was, eating the golden excrements of an imaginary dwarf whose sphincter was possessed with the nastiest constipation ever. And the sputtering out does sound like mini farts. This was just what you needed uh. Not only does it sound monstrous as a concept, Easy Cheese, but then it also makes fart sounds. Thing is, this did not deter me from eating more. This is revealing. It means I’m definitely crossing cultures there, I eat food that sounds like farts. And I like it! God have mercy...

Is there a moral to this story? Maybe you could say that like so many other American things, they look like ass on the outside, but if you care to try it, and I mean really try, you might find those things are good. Sure it looks like shit, sometimes, and sometimes it even farts, but at the core of what matters, it is good stuff! And don’t ask me about how healthy Easy Cheese is, I suspect it may not be the American equivalent of a salad. But hey, health matters only to a point, everybody dies eventually, and nobody needs to be a healthy corpse in the end.

01 January, 2009

Interview with Christian Oliver Cruz

1) At what age did you start drawing? What drove you to it?

I really couldn’t remember at what age I started drawing, but my first memories actually involved drawings. I remember myself (I was around 4, I think) fumbling through the drawers of the office desk of my parents, looking for paper I could draw on. And I would usually end up getting the expensive linen papers that I knew my parents were reserving for important business letters. I really loved the smell and texture of those linen papers, and the effect it made on my doodles. Soon, my parents would find out I was looting the paper and would be fuming mad, and would try to hide it in other places. But I would always eventually find it. I remembered being always hungry for paper, and when there was no paper in the house anymore (or I just couldn’t find them anymore), I ended up drawing on the walls, floor and ceiling of our home. And I did cover every inch of the second story of our house with doodles… Airplanes, stars, planets on the ceiling, animals, towering trees and buildings on the walls and rivers and fishes on the floor. And they’re not just simple drawings. I knew I was creating this virtual environment that I with my brothers could play in. I was a silent kid (in fact, my mom suspected I was autistic) and really couldn’t express my thoughts and feelings straightforwardly all the time, so I guess I was trying to express myself though drawing. And the lack of paper didn’t stop me from doing so.

2) How come you work in Moleskines? And how did you find out about those things?

Well, I don’t just work in Moleskines, but it just so happens that my recent journal drawings have found their way in this nifty notebook. The first time I heard about Moleskines was when I was browsing the internet looking for sketchbooks and notebooks. And I happened upon this forum describing Moleskines as the “legendary notebook used by European artists and thinkers for the past two centuries.” That intrigued me a lot, and though it was expensive, I knew I just had to experience it to believe it. So I bought one, and the art that you’re seeing now, is actually on my first Moleskine. I already have another one waiting after I fill up the first one, another for my clinical notes. I know a lot of people complain that these notebooks are very expensive. But I guess it’s that knowledge that when I’m writing or drawing on something of great value that prompts me to make every entry worthwhile. I have a lot of sketchbooks but I reserve my special drawings in this notebook.

3) Your art is rather deep and very thoughtful, do you read a lot?

Thanks! I do read a lot. I love books. I actually grew up around books (as you can see in one my journal entries) of all sorts: encyclopedia, story books, textbooks… and I devoured every page of these books. I remember lingering over interesting photographs and drawings in those Time Life books. I enjoy staying in school libraries and book shops… I have a wide taste in books so I really can’t say which genre of books I enjoy reading. But among the authors I’ve read, I tend to really enjoy C.S. Lewis especially his theological treatises, and most other Christian writers (Scott Hahn, Laurie Beth Jones, etc.) I read a lot of self-help inspirational books, fantasy and even children’s books (Children’s books are the way to go when you’re stressed!). These days, I find myself reading a lot of graphic novels by independent artists.

4) Are you really a doctor?

I’m not a doctor. But I actually work as a clinical director of Quality Life Discoveries (http://www.qualitylifediscoveries.com/), an integrative rehabilitation center. By profession, I’m a physical therapist specializing in ergonomics (I have a masters degree in Ergonomics) and aquatherapeutic interventions. I wouldn’t be surprised you would ask me that, because a lot of my clients also mistake me for a doctor.

5) Tell us about your relationship with God, as I understand you are Christian, Christian.

Although most of my friends call me REV, my real nickname at home is IAN from Christian. I remember this bit of teaching one of my high school professors taught me… “What happens when you remove CHRIST from CHRISTIAN? Well IAN is left… which means I AM NOTHING” I’m a Roman Catholic and I was raised as one and studied in a Catholic school. There was a time in my life when I actually contemplated becoming a priest, actually applying to seminaries, but I guess I really wasn’t called to be really one. I have a very personal relationship with God, and just like any relationship, there are numerous times when I have turned my back on Him, lost my trust in Him and even doubted his existence. But almost every time this would happen, I would always find myself yearning for Him. In very brief terms, I can really say that without God’s presence in my life, I really would be nothing. Hehe, I really don’t want to sound so preachy here, but that is exactly how I feel.

6) Do you have artistic influences? What people inspired you to draw among visual artists and authors, and others?

I have lots of artistic influences. When I was a kid, I looked upon the drawings of the great masters (like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, etc…) and made my versions of their works. I also grew up inspired by the works of Filipino local artists (Amorsolo, Botong Francisco, Blanco, etc.) My art is quite diverse in styles, as I adjust my style depending on what I think is best for a particular project. I think it helps to be in constant awe of the skills of many artists, trying to emulate them, and finding your own “voice” through these styles.

7) Have you published any of your work so far? Do you have projects?

I haven’t published any of my work yet, but hopefully by February, the children’s book entitled “Spinning” will be published by Anvil Publishing Inc. I illustrated this wonderful story by Irene Sarmiento about a boy with autism and his family. I’m pretty excited about this because I myself through my professional work as a physical therapist am quite involved in improving the quality of life of kids with autism and helping their families cope with this. So through this book, I hope to help kids and their parents.

I have several projects ongoing. I have a bunch of ambigram and logo design commissions I have yet to finish, and other book illustrations (wink wink) and personal paintings I have yet to complete. I have many T-shirt designs in my mind that is just waiting to materialize – and I have yet to print one of my T-shirt designs. I have a project in mind which involves sculptures, but I already have the conceptual sketches ready. I have comics and a graphic novel brewing with some writers. I guess, the main issue here is TIME, TIME, TIME. Haha.

8) What materials do you use?

For my moleskine art, I use a variety of materials. I start with ordinary pencils for the sketches. Then I ink them using ordinary tech pens. I usually use from 0.2 to 0.5 for the graphics, and 0.1 to 0.2 for the texts. After inking it, I use watercolor pencils for the color.

I basically use whatever materials I could get my hands into for my other projects. I do watercolors, oil and digital stuff, so I really have to use a variety of materials for it.

9) How important is the written word in your Moleskine drawings?

You will notice that there are some entries that are stand alone illustrations without any text on it. But there are some that are heavy on the text component. I guess, it depends on the context of the particular entry. If I feel that the illustration is enough, and would want the viewer to be inspired with their own interpretation of it, I minimize the use of text. You will see this in most conceptual pages. But in some pages where I draw inspiration from a particular material (for instance books, or historical facts, or specific personal experiences), I feel the need to write. It is very important for me in these cases that the text flow from the pictures or at times the pictures flow from the text seamlessly. I hope I was able to achieve that.

10) Do you listen to music when you draw?

Now that I think about it, I am not really particular whether I listen to music or not when I draw. I don’t set up my environment in such a way that I choose what music I would have to listen to in order for me to draw. Oftentimes, I prefer to work in a silent environment as I find certain music to be distracting. But when I work on my moleskine, I tend to be in different venues (oftentimes, passing time in café shops, in my office, in the commute), so I really can’t control the auditory ambience, but if there would be music, I tend to be more “productive” in soft mood music.

11) Tell us about your country, the Philippines. How is life there? And how did living there influence your work and life?

The Philippines is a very lovely country, with a colorful history and cultural heritage. We have several natural wonders that I think people around the world should visit, see and experience. Life here is just like life in other countries - there are some things you can brag about, and there are some that you feel ashamed of talking about. The Filipinos are a very talented people and we tend to excel in any endeavor we put our hearts into. But sometimes I wonder when our country as a whole will be able to stand on its own feet again, be able to solve its problems ranging from poverty to poor governance and corruption. It’s this interplay of positive and negative emotions you feel about your country which tends to inspire you to strive for the better. And I see this in my work and life. Most of my friends have gone abroad to seek “greener pastures” and more adventures, but some of us have stayed, though not as rewarding financially, but rewarding nevertheless. I admire people who stay here to do charity and service work when you know that they could earn a lot more if they do otherwise. But you can’t otherwise judge those who have left, because they have their families in mind to support. That’s also one thing I admire… Filipinos have a deep sense of FAMILY and TOGETHERNESS… and you could feel it in our works.

12) What are your dreams?

Dreams? My mission in life is to “inspire faith, learning and creativity in others” and I hope I am able to accomplish that throughout my life through whatever means and context. Of course, I can’t help but wish that I find success in everything I do… become a published artist, a respectable physiotherapist and specialist in my own field and a successful entrepreneur in the near future. But most importantly, to be able to find peace with myself…

13) Do most people in the Philippines speak English as well as you do?

You may say that English is the 2nd language of the Philippines. It is the main language used in our government and educational system. And with the proliferation of American films and shows in our media, you wouldn’t be surprised why most Filipinos can speak English very fluently.

See more art by Christian Oliver Cruz here.