Kafka Quotes

He might have always been a little more nihilistic than I prefer, but in honor of his birthday this month, here are a handful of my favorite quotes by Franz Kafka.

“A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.”

“I am a cage, in search of a bird.”

“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.” (Longer version of the first quote.)

“I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.”

“A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.”

“Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself.”

“I am in chains. Don’t touch my chains.”

“I usually solve problems by letting them devour me.”

 

So yeah, the guy could be a bit of a downer, but he’s my kind of downer. Introspective, honest, and perhaps just a little bit moody.

Something Sad, Like Usual – An Original Poem

Half my heart, the dark red part
Took my words when he depart
Senseless creature that I am

I tried to hate him from the start

Our child dear, I lived in fear
Might never know a father here
Yet I reared him all alone

In his face, you’d soon appear

A true man truly, all my life
My husband truly loved his wife
Boy, I know he’d love you, too

Had Death’s clock skipped him August ninth

His love was endless, his strength was not
He sadly left us here to rot
And though it might not be by choice

Every night he’s my final thought

Not yet old, no longer young
Still the words no longer come
My soul now longs for one thing only

The day we pass and you meet our son.

The Puppet Masters (#7 Dedicating a Book to its Character)

So, this is the he flyleaf of the most recent book I’m about to read:
 
“To John. Sorry for putting you through all of this. You did great.”
 
For context, John is the protagonist of a dark thriller franchise known, appropriately, as the John Cleaver series, authored by Dan Wells. John endures some mind-bending emotional turmoil over the course of the series, and this is the final installment.
 
As a writer, this hit hard. Not only does it act as an ominous foreshadowing for the pages to come, but the epistolary approach of the dialogue suggests an intimate and emotional familiarity with the character, referring to him as though he were real. Because in a sense he is, and this nuanced, apologetic way of approaching him shows the fondness and genuine pain the author feels not only about the history of the character, but his ultimate fate. For the author, John has evolved to the point that even as a character of fiction, he is worthy such respect and acknowledgement as is usually reserved for real people.
 
This is how you dedicate a book.

The Puppet Masters (#2 – Judgment)

letter_in_the_snow_by_loundraw-d8gvv6z“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” — Neil Gaiman

Well, I think we can end the piece there.  It came from Neil Gaiman.  That’s about all you need.

They cover this at length on the Writing Excuses podcast, this concept King Gaiman is talking about.  It’s mostly a philosophy on approaching peer feedback, especially in writing groups.  You know, those turbulent things.  If you share a draft/manuscript with your peers, make sure to pay close attention to how they feel about certain scenes, characters, or developments.  They are emulating your audience, after all, so their opinions are important if you wish to cultivate a wholesome and successful story.  When they tell you something is wrong, they are speaking from the gut, and the gut is hardly ever incorrect in these situations.  But they are not the author, they are not you and thus do not best understand the story as a whole.  Once they begin to provide specific advice, tread with caution.  If it is from one who is far more travelled in the craft than yourself, then it might be worth your attention, but do not let every passing comment or opinion mold your story.  People will want different things from what they consume, do not form your story to fit the exact requirements of their subjective taste.

It’s your story.  Love it and nourish it, so others may love it, too.  Just don’t let them steer you around, because they probably don’t know better than you about your universe and characters.  In turn, don’t reverse the role as that would only perpetuate the problem.

Again, I must reiterate.  This is Neil Gaiman.  The man knows what he’s talking about.

 

(Photo credit to Loundraw from Deviantart.)

“Hymni’s Broken Gift” – An Exercise in Myth-Crafting

Not in the beginning, but very soon after, when the gods set to discover their place in our scheme of lights, one was burdened with shouldering the color black.  Hymni would have settled for nearly any color.  He would not have complained about blue, which Usiris had requested in a hurry.  Green was not his favorite, but he would have taken it if Qitom had not already.  Perhaps red was a little rough, but it was passionate.  He would have liked red.

But more than any of these, Hymni had hoped to be the god of white.  Instead, that privilege went to the gentle-hearted Ririka.  Hymni did not hate Ririka, but he hated that she was gifted white, and he was not.

Yet, the Greatest of Them saw fit for Hymni to be the herald of black.  What might he do with such a bitter color, he thought?  In time, he figured he could find his way around the dilemma.

Because of Hymni, we now have a color for infection.  We have something strong and evident for scripting.  We have any of several hard minerals, stones, and metals with which to build our societies.  Desperately, Hymni found more ways to use his color for beauty.  The core of our eyes, the endless adventures of the wandering night sky.  He tried, but did not meet satisfaction.

White shine filled the eyes of men, glowing with love and admiration. White stars burned through his blanket of night.  Ririka meant nothing cruel of it, she just knew the best ways to find beauty in her color.  Hymni’s black helped accentuate her wonders.

That was all well and good, but Hymni wanted more.

So for decades, we had the weeping ash fall of Hymni’s tears.  The whole world gone black in the depths of Hymni’s jealousy and sorrow.  Of course, we know that black can be just as beautiful as any other color, but Hymni did not think as such.  To him, it was a color for evil, a color meant to be overcome by its vibrant kindred of red, gold, blue, silver, white.  But if mankind had not detested the color before, it had begun to now.  Black killed our plants, coated the land in waves and mounts so thick we could hardly travel from one place to another.  It blotted out the sun, it drove away the light.  It made us hate Hymni, and so reflected the way he’d come to see himself.

Hymni had never felt a craving for violence before, but there it was, piece by piece, swelling inside of his heart.  A strange tumbling captured his gut, curled his fingers, clenched his chest.  He did not long to live the rest of his immortality as the dreadful spring from which all blackness sprang.  He did not wish to live in sorrow, a subject to the hatred of others.

Gods, it seemed, were not immune to the treacherous whims of anger.  In his hour of wrath, Hymni sought out Ririka and struck her down, thinking somehow he might be able steal her white.  Perhaps then he would be loved like Ririka was loved.  She was fragile and broke easily.  He learned there was red inside of her, which he found odd.  Was there red inside of him, too?

But Ririka, she died slowly.  What’s more, and Hymni found this hauntingly curious, she wore the greatest of tender smiles on her lips, even as red pooled at her side where he rent her open.

“I’m sorry,” she rasped.  “I am sorry, Hymni.”

Words scattered from Hymni’s tongue, leaving him dry and abandoned.  He watched the girl, observed her slipping away.

“I’m sorry you have not felt loved for so long.”  She coughed, and the red came out from there, too.

“I,” Hymni said, “I only wanted your color.  It’s beautiful.  It’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

Her nod was a whisper of the body, hardly existing, hardly perceived.  “You may have my color, Hymni.  I hope you find happiness with it.”

At this, the darling goddess passed into a realm unknown and uncertain even to their kind.  Only now, with the trace remaining light banished from her body, did Hymni realize what he had done, and with the understanding came a new sort of sorrow.

As he’d wished, the color we call white fell into his hands.  But somehow, it did not make him feel any more loved.  The joy he’d anticipated, the sense of peace, they did not come.  No, in their stead, he was met only with grief.  He had brought about the end of one of his own, and she had gone so far as to apologize for his actions?

Hymni could not hold himself upright.  He came crashing to his knees before Ririka’s soul-empty shape, smile still against her cheeks.  Taking her body into his arms, Hymni wailed every misery old and young.  He did not care for the red stains against his body.  He did not care for black, nor white, both now under his dominion.  He cared only for the girl, taken unjustly.  Taken by his selfishness.

Angry in a new way, Hymni expelled the undying ash-storms from the sky.  He pushed the ash into corners and pockets of the world where it belonged, places where fire churned in the air.  Then, the world began to fill with tears of white.  Hymni’s despair took on such great lengths that it superseded his world and made its way into our own.  First it started slowly, then it began to build.  One flake became two, which with time became thousands, and then millions and billions.

Infinite white came down all across the world, some sort of request of forgiveness or atonement to a girl who was no longer there.  Where black ash had brought difficulty and strife to men, this new ash, something we’d later come to understand was not ash at all, had brought comfort and beauty.  In time, we’d call it snow, and it would identify entire seasons of our world.

Now, it stands as the penance of a lonely god who continues to grieve for the foolishness of one mistake.  It is a promise, I think, that Hymni would try his best to care for us in Ririka’s place.  It is a statement of hope, that we all have an opportunity to forgive ourselves.

I do hope Hymni begins to love himself the way we love him for giving us this snow, this most perfect of gifts.  For it is the opinion of no man, that one who can create something so beautiful, could possess a heart worth hating.

I do hope Hymni finds the peace he so longed to find, as all of us do.

“Anarchy” Chapter 1 – Where We Spend Our Nights

Turns out, I was considered a boring person by the general populace. I took offense to this, because other endearments ascribed to me are ‘nerd’, ‘geek’, ‘gamer’, and ‘that one kid who watched Ripley’s Believe It or Not and tried to eat a lightbulb, landing him in the hospital for a couple of days’. While I’ve since failed to learn how to digest glass, or obtain anything related to an electricity-based superpower, I did not much care for the opinion that because I played a lot of video games, I was a boring person. Those things are not, and should not be considered connected. I mean, I didn’t call the jocks boring people because they play a lot of sports. No, you’re considered boring if you do those things poorly and thus have nothing fun to say about them. You can play sports and be boring. You can play video games and be boring. I tried not to be one of those.

“Twice,” Perry grinned, maneuvering his thumbs around the analogue stick and mashing buttons in an asymmetrical frenzy, “Twice I’ve managed to pull off my counter against your–”

I interrupted him by throwing his character off the ledge, my synapses afire as I swallowed the glow of the television, watching the shift of every pixel, reading the glorious frames running at sixty-per-second.

Perry went quiet as I applied pressure, ushering my character off the ledge in pursuit of his own. He tried to disrupt my flow with what we Anarchy players (or, anarchists) call a ‘back-air’, a simple command input meant to have his character attack backwards while floating in the air. I dodged the attack and returned fire, shooting his character off the screen where he exploded into a miasma of smoke and cartoon color.

A steady, indignant stream of irritation whistled between his teeth, “Good stock, Joel.”

“Thank you,” I said.

So we played video games. We played a lot of video games. Rayman, Sonic the Hedgehog, Final Fantasy, Dig Dug, Mass Effect. Perry was particular to your first-person shooters, stuff in the vein of Halo and Call of Duty, while I was a little more of a platforming enthusiast. What can I say? Portal is a killer franchise and I always return to Crash Bandicoot like a whipped dog to its master. But there is one game, different from all of these, which arrested our attention more than the others. So the heavens should declare it the focus of our story.

Just realized I’m telling you a story. That’s kind of cool. Just call me ‘Joel the Travelling Bard’. Man, I could have so much fun with this if I screwed around. I could say ‘Hitler died in the end’ and you wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. Don’t worry, I won’t do that. Even if I’m really, really tempted.

Anyways.

The game I’m talking about is Anarchy, which is –wait, let me just grab the game case and read the exact description off the back. Okay, here we go. Imagine I cleared my throat or something. Also, pretend for the moment my voice is as rich and grandfatherly as Morgan Freeman, because that would be awesome.

‘Anarchy gathers all of your favorite RequiaTek characters and pits them against one another in a battle royale! Three decades of characters can now face off to see who is truly the ultimate warrior! Now with online multiplayer! ESRB Rating: E 10+ for Cartoon Violence, Comic Mischief, Mild Suggestive Themes’ and some stuff in Spanish that I’m assuming is exactly what I just told you, but with a touch of rice and tacos in it.

Wow, that was incredibly racist and stereotypical. I promise not to make it a habit.

You should know, I have a history of being a compulsive liar. Just something I should add for full-disclosure.

So Anarchy was a big deal. There was a competitive scene where big-name players gathered to duke it out for large monetary prizes and to bask in the affection of a glowing crowd. While I was good, I was not good enough to stand among those titans. They were Anarchy gods.

Sm0ke. Styx. Phaaroh. Double J. Spade. boss. Lollipop. Master Thief. Oh Yugi. Hanshotfirst. I Am. Captain Derp. xprophetx. Yuki Yuki. Ninja lady (who was totally a dude). <3Villains. The Shire. Billyboy. Sunday Funny. trueNOVA. The Clansman. Fractal.

Freaking Fractal. I’ll get to that one later.

These were a lot of Anarchists who poured their hearts, souls, and hours into mastering the art of the game. They’d mastered the percentages of Damage Debt, the idiosyncrasies of the physics engine, the hit-boxes of each character, and familiarized themselves with combo schemes as well as technique priority. If this is white noise to you, fret not, it will become known. Just understand that it wasn’t simple. Anarchy is a family friendly experience, because it’s easy to learn and fun for most audiences. But at high-level gameplay, it’s profoundly difficult to master.

“Let’s go,” Perry said as he navigated back through the character selection screen, making no changes, and moved into another arena for us to battle.

My mind settled into the familiar groove as our match started. We played with tournament rules, even if we never went to any tournaments. No items, and only select stages where obstacles did not cause a disturbance. Tournaments cared about skill. If a lucky stage prop killed you, it sort of defeated the purpose.

Perry was good. His Anarchy tag was ‘Od!n’, which I found frustrating because I thought the exclamatory mark was completely unnecessary in most names. I bided my patience when crafting a tag until I eventually came up with something I could wear with pride. A tag which synergized just the right quantity of epicness and humility that I didn’t come off as a completely overzealous jerkwad. I wanted a name that sounded cool both when whispered, and spoken loudly to a stadium. For flavor, I also needed it to sound mysterious. For reasons.

And so it was, in accordance with the prophecy and all cosmic harmonies, my gamer tag was ‘Myth’.

C’mon does that not sound like the greatest thing since capital punishment or what? Myth and Od!n, locked in combat through the ages, challenging all who would oppose them. Mind you, those are not the characters we played as, they were simply the way we preferred to be addressed as part of the Anarchy crowd. They were our second identities, our Batman cowls.

Perry side-stepped on one of the stage’s upper platforms, avoiding my bladed strike. I read his next move incorrectly and prepared to counter. Nothing happened, and I countered again, waiting for the moment his character would hit mine and I’d retaliate by redirecting the damage back at him. Again, nothing. Perry stalled until the last possible frame, and his character unceremoniously punished my defensive position, sweeping me into a combo that ended with me ultimately losing one of my three stocks. I winced.

“I was getting counter-happy,” I said, a little salty.

“You were.”

We kept playing. We played until we ran out of strength to keep our eyes open any longer. That’s where we spent our nights, our eyes glued to the flickering screen, tossing soda cans into a graveyard in the corner of my basement where aluminum goes to die, our butts idly becoming one with the sofa cushions. Life was admittedly a bit stagnant sometimes, but it was good.

Still, I feel you don’t fully understand what this tale is all about. It’s not about Anarchy, or my love of all things nerdy. Those are just aesthetics. This is a comedy, a tragedy, and, believe it or not, a romance. It’s also the harrowing tale of how I avenge my fallen brothers by running a lightsaber through Gengis Khan’s chest, bringing peace to a troubled dynasty. About how my glorious deeds were sung by all minstrels throughout the land, and I found the princess who was in another castle.

Okay, maybe I’m jesting a little bit. But seriously, Hitler does die in the end.

That One Time I Was Interviewed

Hello all of you beautiful souls,

I’m not going to talk for long, because I do enough of that in the upcoming article I’m going to share.  This link will take you to the interview I had with Christian geek website geeksundergrace.com, of which I am both employed and a fan.  Therein, I discuss my many loves of geek culture, what I think makes a “Christian” story, and what the developers of the Final Fantasy VII reboot must do so that it doesn’t suck.  Hats off to Silas Green who conducted the interview.  You are an awesome possum.

http://www.geeksundergrace.com/books/writer-spotlight-cooper-d-barham/