The Perfectionist Trap of Nostalgia ~ Pricked by a Shining Needle

The Perfectionist Trap of Nostalgia ~ Pricked by a Shining Needle

As a writer, I once felt a desire to replicate my best performances.  I suffered a year long writer’s block because I wrote something so gorgeous, that I expected to write equally high prose in everything, but there are inherent flaws to replication.

  • Creative skills are diverse, multi-faceted, and often intangible to the schema and science of high art.  That one high point was something of a convergence between desire, inspiration, and a situational fit of writing skill to the story at hand.
  • What passes as excellent within one court of imagination does not excel so nicely in others.  A magically styled prose won’t fit nicely to a dark and gritty science fiction novella.
  • Skill does not progress linearly, nor does future skill copy its historical highlight reel.
  • The moment you replicate and cease experimentation with new ideas, you die as a creative.

I think all creative types could agree on these things, but it’s a different issue altogether when you’re talking about a fan following a series of creative products: be it a book series, album series, video game series…  The moment the internal critic shifts from cracking down on the self to analyzing the products of others, it’s ALL about the high point.  Putting down your best step first might forever forge the reputation, “It’s just not as good as that first thing he/she did!”


To say that Touhou had a successful first few games is an understatement.  When ZUN made Embodiment of the Scarlet Devil as a marketable for-sale product, followed by Perfect Cherry Blossom and Imperishable Night, I don’t think he anticipated that Touhou would become sensationalized across the Internet, that his music would spawn tens if not hundreds of thousands of arranges and remixes, and that his request to involve the fan community into the story would be met with so much zeal that many Japanese anime/manga convention goers complain about the over saturation of Touhou at these events.

Here in America, Touhou remains nice and niche, and easy to enjoy (I’d probably like Touhou a whole lot less if I lived in Japan), and the Internet makes it easy to forage for stuff like music; because Touhou is about music before anything else:

Silent Ensemble by TAMUSIC, original composition: Phantom Ensemble by ZUN

If you didn’t click that video: click it now.

Phantom Ensemble hails from Touhou 7: Perfect Cherry Blossom, which may as well be perfect.  Aside from an underwhelming stage 1 boss/boss theme, pretty much everything about it indulges the senses with mesmerizing musical composition and a good sense of visual artistry that makes up for the lack of graphical technology.  I appreciate math and programming both as true creative fields, and so it’s fun to see mathematical formulas and programming logic wielded to create art.

Yuyuko is my favorite fight in all Touhou, and sometimes I just do a practice run of Stage 6 just for the fun of it:

PCB Stage 6: Lunatic Difficulty, played by SadisticPenguinOfAND

You don’t really have to watch that one.

I play Touhou as my designated break-from-writing-game.  It’s concentration intensive, and so cleans my mind of sticky thoughts; but at the same time Touhou’s musical and visual arts stimulate a creative mood that I can carry back into writing.  Also, it runs on my crabby laptop.

Beyond playing Touhous 6, 7, and 8, re-arranges and remixes of everything from EoSD to Subterranean Animism permeate my playlists, my CDs, and much of my mind.  ZUN has a unique style as evocative as film score music, but deep and lasting like professional compositions; while simultaneously fulfilling the function as a video game soundtrack.  ZUN produces the most emotionally relevant music I have ever heard.  I have not discovered music quite like his, nor music that possesses the endless satisfaction of listening to more and new arranges created by fans.

His work stands alone; and somewhat separate from his latest games.


Fans can withdraw from their interest at any time, pick their loves apart and take only what they favor.  I played FF6, FF10, and Chrono Trigger, but not the rest.  I listen to football podcasts, read Cat Scratch Reader, and watch games but I’ll cut the TV when I’m watching Manning or Brady lead another rout.  I enjoyed Dead Space and Mass Effect, but I never felt compelled to play their sequels through.

From Outlaw Album and Burning Bright, I read the short stories that catch me.  I wouldn’t ask you to read my short stories here on this blog unless you wanted to; because love and interest builds upon desire, not obligation; and I would not feel offended if you said “I’m just here the poems/music/whatever, sorry”.

However, I listened to pretty much everything from Touhou 6 through 11.  ZUN tapped genius for several years and I grew accustomed to that prowess, to that musical design that allows infinite arranges and remixes.

Like that melody?  Find other renditions arranged by that circle of musicians.

Like that style?  Find other Touhou melodies performed by different musicians.

With such a stupidly vast array of selections, you can afford to be very picky when it comes to Touhou arranges.  My favorite circle is TAMUSIC, and I tend to hold them to the standard of their best:

Capital City of Flowers in the Sky as performed by TAMUSIC, original by ZUN

If I sift through their violin volumes 1 through 9, I’m going to come away with the best 80 minutes on a mixed CD; because even if the rest is still “good”, I’m going to listen to whatever stands level to the peak performance, which brings me back to my main point:

ZUN went on a streak over a hundred compositions long; bar one, maybe two duds per game, and there was usually nothing wrong with said duds, they just weren’t Septette for the Dead Princess.  It’s something I’m thankful for, because such a high quality streak is a rare thing in any field.  Throw on the sheer number of musicians that dedicated their time to taking these compositions and transcending them further, and it sets an unrealistic standard going forward when a new Touhou game comes out and it doesn’t kick you out of your chair with just its OST; when there are only early arranges that experiment with mixed results.

It wasn’t perfect, so I left Unidentified Fantastic Object (12), Ten Desires (13), and Double Dealing Character (14) to my apathy.  Heian Alien was the only melody I actively pursued.

Heian Alien in dramatic orchestra as performed by Tutti Sound, original by ZUN

Much like my writing block; an unrealistic standard obfuscated the mind into picking out problems when I could still enjoy something new, something good.


Nostalgia is a dangerous thing.  As a flavor, it’s wonderful, but as a desire it corrupts the mind to refuge itself within an endless cycle of the familiar.  Nostalgia obsession can develop into the very real, very serious psychological condition of Neophobia: the fear of new things.

I developed Neophobia about two years ago and it’s a truly awful way to survive while feeling dead.  I didn’t arrive to such a fragile state of mind through Nostalgia, but I came to savor Nostalgia as a result of Neophobia; and let me tell ya, that gum gets old fast!  I’m better, or getting better at least, but that’s a topic for another day, another post.

Nostalgia and a love for the proven commodity permeates every facet of our society and especially creative fields; from books to cinema to music; it takes a damned good review to pull the softcore moviegoer out of the comfort of his/her chair for something new, something original, but when yet another comic book movie hits the big screen, when another reboot of Godzilla or Disney hits the big screen we’re there for it; blessed or damned; whether we know anything about its source material or not.

All I knew about Godzilla was all this such and stuff and such I overheard…  I remember an awful Jurassic Park rip-off in 1998…  And um…  I think he shoots laser beams?

Why did I go out and see it?

Because I recognized the name, the brand, and everything I would be walking into just from watching the trailer.

Familiarity imprints a subconscious comfort onto our sense of association.  That comfort roots and stems Neophobia.  Companies pay millions to annoy you online, on TV, in the theater, so that when you see their product standing beside an unknown, their product can stand on the leverage of that subtle, almost intangible comfort.

If you’ve ever asked yourself, “What happened to originality in <Creative Field>?” well, comfort sells.

Experimentation can lead to something new, something eclectic and dangerous and wonderful; or bad.  You never know till you try, both as a creator of materials and as an absorber of materials.


Based on the latest Reiteisei, the largest convention for Touhou in Japan, musicians seem favorable to the Good Old Touhou.  My favorite circles in particular: TAMUSIC pulls from 6 through 11 mostly, and Xion releases another PCB album.

Of course, when you’re awesome like Xion or TAMUSIC, you can do whatever you want and people back flip for you:

Lotus Forest by Xion, originals Dollmaker of Bucuresti and Doll Judgment by ZUN

My favorite pianists in Assault Door have three performances from Touhou 14: Double Dealing Character; which I look forward to listening to once they hit YouTube, and while I’ve never been fond of SOUND HOLIC, I applaud them for rolling out an entire album based on DDC.  They’re among the few.

ZUN’s been experimenting with some new styles and instrumentations.  At first preview with the OST for Double Dealing Character, he has taken to utilizing some of the more synthetic sounds available to modern composers; and while I’m a sucker for my favorite trinity: violin + piano + guitar,  I have come to appreciate the Dramatic Trumpet that proliferates and leads almost every one of ZUN’s pieces.

Prior to Touhou I was an enemy of horns.  It took an open mind and fascination for new musical style to adapt my tastes to a larger variety.

I didn’t realize I had clammed up again, until a perusal through youtube led me to watch the final stage for Touhou 14: Double Dealing Character, and oh, Sukuna is such a silly character!  She wears a ramen bowl on her head.  Also, she wields wields a giant needle and a cutesy mallet.  She’s like a ball of yayness wrapped in a kimono.  ZUN creates a lot of quirky and ridiculous characters, but I think Sukuna leads the list of irrationally awesome appearances.

Also:

Shining Needle ~ Little Princess by ZUN

Reimu (Cropped)

It’s actually 3:40 long, this video just loops it 4 times.

Shining Needle ~ Little Princess is the kind of awesomeness I’ve come to expect from ZUN.  It’s a bit simple in design for ZUN, but the background piano really props this track up.  It also opens more like a stage theme than a boss theme, but hey, no need to copy Border of Life, Necrofantasia, Nuclear Fusion, Venerable Ancient Battlefield, etc etc etc+100.

The melody that kicks in at 1:27 is arguably the strongest and weakest part of this theme.  It provides such a good emotional impact that perfectly fits into a fight meant to be final, but the repetitive quality lends it to depend heavily on the background piano; and many an arranger/remixer makes the mistake of dropping that piano, without introducing a new supporting melody, which can render that part of the music rather shallow.

I love it, and after growing enamored to Shining Needle ~ Little Princess, it makes me wonder what I’m missing out on, because the signs were there all along.

Desire Drive as performed by TAMUSIC, original by ZUN

I can credit my best work of writing, Waltz on Water, entirely to this piece.  Literally nothing else: just a bunch of energy charged into me after listening to Randal Keenan and Daniel Woodrow speak at the WCU Literary Festival, and then I just played this on loop while letting my imagination give physical character and imagery to to the sounds.

More importantly, it came out of Ten Desires: the game I ignored the most.

I did so; first out of intention; to play it from a standpoint of ignorance, but that idea eventually became a chore I kept pushing off till I wanted nothing to do with Ten Desires.  I haven’t even listened to the original Desire Drive yet!


Based on comments I read around Youtube, I sense that some Tou-fans like myself did not play the recent games.   I know I’m not the only one who settled into the comfort of Touhou 6 through 11 plus maybe Cosmic Mind ~ Emotional Skyscraper and Heian Alien from UFO.  It was such a cozy, spacious bed that I could sleep in it forever, kick my legs around and roll round and round without fear of falling off the edge.

*Prick*

Nothing lasts forever. Self-publication is not self-sustaining by default. Indie game/book/movie/music authors don’t succeed with crazy ideas unless you give their experiments a try, and yeah, the brand spanking new is usually a flawed piece of work. If you don’t like it, that’s fine to say so.  Feedback helps.

Touhou in particular feels like “The Indestructible Indie” because of its absolutely absurd fan-contributions and fan-involvement. Touhou is still the only franchise I know of that was founded with a built-in desire for and dependency upon fan fiction, fan art, fan music, and fan everything; where the constant changing perceptions of the fan base quite literally determines canonical results; and where it’s totally okay to completely differ on interpretations, and share completely opposite forms of subjectivity. Canon is a very loose, very flexible and friendly thing in Touhou; and that preference for opinion and subjectivity makes Touhou special, though not immune to apathy.

If I don’t play the games, or at least invest myself to giving the new musics a chance; and others do the same; ZUN will eventually stop Touhou.

It’s really easy to just poke through a brand new OST and say “Whelp, that’s not Perfect Cherry Blossom”.  Shining Needle ~ Little Princess is not the most elegant piece ZUN has made, but there are so many other characteristics to enjoy about it.

When critique relies upon comparison instead of definition; when judgment can deface and ignore based solely on difference from the standard; then the mind has shrunk, closed on itself, and decided to hide within a memory.

Perfectionism is a trap, a fallacy: something we strive for, but we can only achieve perfection by altering the criteria for success, by eliminating categories harboring error, by setting a specific, concrete example as a standard to copy instead of concepts to interpret through our subjectivity, our individuality.

It’s just too easy to kill something by comparison.

Shining Needle ~ Little Princess is not like Capital City of Flowers in the Sky (ZUN), Scherzo Diabolico (Alkan), Crystallize (Sterling) or something else high up my favorites, but I still love, love, love it:

Shining Needle ~ Little Princess piano arrange by 37467524

It’s something new to me, something unique to me, something its own: which is best kind of music.


So, how about you?  Ever been tied down by something magnificent in your past?  Or found your present interests difficult to enjoy because of a memory?  Is Nostalgia your enemy or your friend?

Words Versus Pictures

After reading the article: Words Are Human, which relays pretty much everything I feel about the inundated notion “A picture is worth a thousand words”, I felt affirmed in my writers’ bias for words over motion pictures, but then I mulled over the idea for a few days.

My usual case-in-point argument for the sheer, irreplaceable power of words begins and ends with Martin Luther King Jr, but then I thought…

Not about whether words were truly so powerful, but that perhaps a picture could rival prose.


I once saw a picture of an angel getting her wings torn off; and a thousand words could not accurately describe the scene, because one thousand counts of abstracted physicality does not add up to the perfect physical definition of a picture.

One thousand pictures streamed at sixty per second though could not accurately describe in 16.666~ seconds my distraught reactions, because one thousand pictures of abstracted feeling does not add up to the perfect emotional definition of a prose, nor explain my revulsion.

A single picture possessed enough symbolisms to rile my ire in a way that words would not; invoking a web work of emotions that could only materialize words not suitable for any kind of substitution: pictorial, animated, or otherwise.  That one picture (that I don’t care to dig up) required an entire short story to reconcile, but the resulting short story would fail upon 60 frames per second…  I’ve always wanted to accompany Stitched Angel with some pictures, but only to assist those words making a physical account.


So right now, my working theory is that:

Words possess accuracy and truth over the immaterial, but through immaterial symbolism, words embody a great many pictures.

Pictures possess accuracy and truth over the material, but through material symbolism, pictures embody a great many words.

So which is better?

Words!  Duh!

How else would I transmit this idea to you?  :)

Agree, disagree? Mine is but an opinion, and yours are welcome here too, so post away!

Friendly Poison

Friendly poison kills me,
Cut into me through tiny wounds,
Again and again,
Filling the weakness I abandoned,
Burgeoning too large to ignore now.

I smile; I want to cry.
I smile; I want to rage.
I smile; I want to run away.
I stay strong, smiling for weaker souls,
Coddling their malcontent while hiding mine.

This poison composes simple requests,
An endless train of need,
Again and again,
Bribing me with my own conscience,
To serve the friends who cut me.

I stress in bed; I want to sleep.
I stress in bed; I want to rest.
I stress in bed; I want to be alone.
Nowhere can I hide,
When my mind fears phones and friends.

Deathly solution can cure this poison,
And I think of this,
Again and again,
But not them, never them;
Not friends who see the tool I am.

My strength, my kindness,
This charity I run,
Donating my life to fix friends,
So long as I give it away,
This poison will never end.

I’m ready to die; I want to live.
I’m ready to die; I just want to live.
I’m ready to die; I just want to live for myself
Without these “friends” pulling at me,
Poisoning me.
 
 
 
I want my tombstone to say, “Death by Altruism”.

Maybe, someone will get the joke, and feel a little less alone when she has to go back to her thieving friends who constantly steal her time and morality to solve their problems.

At some point, you just feel that… they should be able to take care of themselves…

You taught them to fish…
They know how to fish now…
Why are you still fishing for them?

*Sigh*

I promise to post something happier soon :)

Fame Free Angel

I liked this week’s DPChallenge, so I decided to participate.  It’s a fun little exercise: writing a story in fifty words exactly, though I wonder if I’m meant to avoid writing a story-poem?

Eh, who cares? :)

Fame Free Angel

The curtains spread; the light waned,
Except where her glory stood:
Abandoned on stage,
Left to fuel ten thousand whispers,
And a fire for one ego’s rage.
She walks down the street,
Fluttering her wings,
Keeping hers feathers, her smile,
Reserving her name and self,
For those she’ll call friend.

Under the Cherry Blossoms

I wrote a little over 3000 words (about a 5-minute read) for this short story, in roughly three, two-hour sessions with a lot of very useless and wasted sessions in between. Hopefully, I figure out one day what makes me tick, because I’ve seen some very productive hours… just… rarely…

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the story!

Oh, and in case you don’t know what a cherry blossom looks like, I pulled this picture from BoomsBeat.com:

Cherry Blossoms.  The most beautiful trees in the world.

Cherry Blossoms. The most beautiful trees in the world.


 
 
 

Under the Cherry Blossoms

 

            Taiga hated cherry blossoms. They surrounded her family’s shrine, filled out the courtyard and stood sentry over every stoned and tiled path. The Ice Dragon’s blessing granted each tree the strength to bloom in winter, and flowers that shed their petals and themselves daily. She brushed floral bits from her hair, her shoulder, picked off the remnants resting on her katana’s guard and emptied her sash. Taiga could not even see ground, and she learnt her footing by sinking her step into the soft earth and stumbling back onto the stones. Pink prevailed this setting and conquered every visitor’s time, often losing their purpose and their tithes amidst this trance.

            Taiga grew tired of this aesthetic years ago; resisted the temptation to lie and let the flowers bury her. She loved pink, her pink memories of her pink childhood, but she reviled the pain of walking into the patio view, and seeing a toddler girl hanging her legs over the lisp. That girl always waited there, that girl with the same ink black hair as her, the same skin that envied human bloods and those red irises already affiliated with pain; and already willing to surrender to cherry blossoms.

            Taiga looked left, the girl looked down. She walked forward, terrified, and nearly unscathed until she passed the mite at her leg, and that mite called out:

            “M-mama” and Taiga took off running down halls overrun by dust.

            The family residence nested itself deep into the shrine where it backed into the foot of a sudden peak. Taiga ran where she could, weaving inefficient paths till her honed lungs finally experienced a little tire, and she settled for the comfort of her bedroom.

            Taiga slid open the door and noticed a second futon laid out beside hers, with a stack of folded blankets sized right for a tiny girl, and she took off running again till she nearly toppled her sister.

            “Kanako! Is this your doing!?” Taiga demanded, and of what else.

            “Yes”, she said, speaking calmly and more strongly than this ronin could. They shared sisterly halves by their appearances, but Taiga had the vampire heritage, the hot head and a love for physical excruciation. Kanako stayed with her humanity, her calm, her books and spiritual strength. Taiga hated to admit it, but her sister chose the better path, and she regularly took refuge in Kanako to debunk the world’s puzzling moralities. Though, now, Kanako had placed her into a terrible place.

            “I can’t stay in the same room as Terra.”

            “Try”, and before Taiga could protest, Kanako directed her to the supply room, “Get a bucket of water and a rag. It’s been some time since the floors have reflected the sun. So much dust…”

            Taiga obeyed, and when she had in hand a day’s work, Kanako dictated her schedule in full.

            “I’ll take Terra to town… cheer her up. You won’t run into her while you clean, so you can meditate in peace. When I return we can take a bath together, and talk.”

            “But how do I meditate while-“

            “Just think. About anything, really… It’s good for your mind and your emotions.”

            Kanako started off and then turned again, “Think!”

            And with a sigh, Taiga pushed her rag into her bucket of water, rung it damp and then thought.

            Dust, dust, so much monotonous dust… Taiga ran down the hall pushing her cloth, and in just one sprint she found her device speckled by gray matter. She finished her course, running back down the hall on a parallel path, back and forth till she could see the dim sun on these floorboards.

            One hall down, some dozens more to go, and she had to change cloths and even sometimes the water.

            Dust, dust, how could there be so much bloody dust? It grew out of floor and walls. It just had to. It was a problem inherent to high quality polished wood, shrines, and shrines made with high quality polished wood.

            Supposedly, dust contributed to her father’s end. He did not fair strongly like most vampires, and he resided within kindness, within pacifism. Taiga never knew him, but mother always recalled him to remind about the dangers of dust. The subtle wheezing that seemed troubling, yet innocuous, and then suddenly bloody coughs and bloody hell took a life.

            He smiled, when he died. Vampires had such poor fortunes when it came to children. A frisky couple between a vampire and another could yield no children, even after ten or twenty years. To simply have her, leave her to continue the dwindling lineages and hopes of his people had been enough to die smiling.

            Taiga had sex just once, her first, her last, and out came little Terra.

            Anger seized her, and she sloppily rushed just so she could move her legs and exert her angst, but guilt sent her back over those floorboards. Father would probably be so happy to have grandchildren already.

            If he were here, if he or mother were here, Taiga would have left Terra to become her parents’ child. And then Terra would be doomed to have no parents of her own.

            Terra was probably doomed to have no mother anyway.

            That thought stayed with her till every last floorboard saw the sun off to its distant recluse on the other side of the world. The sky lights themselves cluttered with cherry blossoms, but she’d brush them away some other time, when Kanako was busy.

            Her sister returned, managed somehow to hide Terra from Taiga and the two sisters met in the hall. “Oh, um…” Taiga mumbled, remembering her family contribution, and she handed a pouch of coins to her sister. Her escort job placed her close to a criminal with a nice bounty on his head, and so she brought back more money than usual.

            “Who did you capture?”

            “Killed, actually… That mage that assassinated one of Aelendria’s Royalty.”

            “And you received mere silvers? No gold coins?”

            “Apparently, freezing him, shattering him, and leaving no identifiable traces can affect bounty rewards. Who knew?”

            Kanako shook her head and handed the money back to her sister. “My silk sells well. Purchase what luxuries you like. Buy Terra a gift, perhaps.”

            “And how would I give it to her?”

            “…by hand…”

            Kanako sighed, put her bangs and her cheek bone into her palm. Taiga put her money away as per instruction and met her sister in the changing room to the bath.

            The Sonada family built their shrine beside Fusada Peak for its natural spring. Water flowed under the mountain and found its way through the ground till a pressure of water rose upon itself and spilled over rocks. The pools filled and fell into the next: four in all, with the high two reserved for rinsing and the lower two intended for all the dirt and maligned feelings Sonada accumulated over the day.

            Taiga invoked a spell, warming the fount, and then she occupied a bathing pool across from her sister. They could share a space, but Kanako made her pool unbearably hot. “Isn’t that bad for your skin?” but the spirit required indulgence and nourishment as much as the flesh; or so Kanako said. Priestesses could excuse any practice by saying spirituality this or spirituality that. She imported expensive soaps claiming to invoke some glorious favor upon the skin, but it just looked like colored, scented soap.

            Taiga washed herself, simply, effectively, quickly. When she set down her bar of soap, she noticed petals stuck to its surface, and then in her palm. Cherry blossoms fluttered over the stakes on the wind, flapping about surface to surface and then tumbling into her bath waters, peppering the night blue surface with that pink that shined despite an aging, waning moon.

            Maybe it was just the contrast, but Taiga saw the petals separately from the environment, as though they burned onto her image quite after her vision made sight. They glowed, every one of them, perhaps with the Ice Dragon’s inner light, his wisdom, or more likely his magic. Taiga would more readily believe the scientific answer, but faith took over her eyes again and again, cruelly returning every blossom to the shrine’s courtyard, guiding her down the aisle so she could see Terra waiting for her, and each time she hid within her own suffered mentality.

            “Let me run away”, she said again and again to herself, trying to afford a victim’s reprieve, but she had shoved her problems onto Kanako for three years plus nine months now. Taiga wanted to combat this challenge when it still cried for her breast, when Kanako had to shush and rock that baby of hers and Kanako had to try and play mother to a niece. When her resolve found enough threads to patch a bandage, Terra would change. Terra crawled after her, and then walked after her, and now the little girl waited for her. In a year’s time, Terra would have the legs to run, and then she’d see that her mother didn’t just avoid her; she ran from her; and Kanako would have to pick up all the tears and limbs lying under the flowers.

            Taiga had been a victim. Now she murdered her sister and daughter a little each day; with a poison much like mercury. She hated it. She didn’t know how to distinguish her passions from Terra, but Taiga loved her sister. Even if Taiga exiled herself, gave up Terra, Kanako would have to compete with her ghost and her memory.

            “Taiga… Taiga”, and on the third call Kanako shook her trance. “I’m heading up”, she said, referencing the rinsing pools. Taiga followed and assumed a pool for herself; desiring to linger, but Kanako hurled a bucket of rinse water onto her head.

            “That’s too hot, you witch!”

            “You seemed lost.”

            “I was thinking!” and while Kanako verbally lauded the miracle, she crushed any ideas for healing slowly.

            “And will your thoughts materialize action? Or will they become your next reason to wait another year?”

            Taiga sunk into her waters, hoping to hide. Kanako sunk into her waters, probably hoping to drown.

            “Taiga… I’m tired of babysitting your feelings. I can forgive some months, maybe a year remaining distant, but three years now. I don’t care if you’re still hurting. Move on.”

            Taiga couldn’t answer. She felt like a wolf, trapped in a corner by a bear too big and too advantaged to possibly retaliate against. She snarled, wanted to snarl, if only to feel like her fate remained in her own control, but she had burned away her days, and now her final minutes whittled down to the moment she had avoided since birthing Terra.

            “Kanako… How do I move on? Every time I search myself, I find my wounds bleeding still. It’s so hard to separate Terra from him.” Kanako paused, and if she required more than an instant to resolve mental matters, then Taiga had proposed a difficult circumstance indeed; not difficult in solution, but difficult because her little sister was such a terrible, limiting instrument. “What would you do?” Taiga asked, wondering, what Kanako could do if she could just rely on herself.

            “I would raise Terra; love her, even if it means breaking and committing suicide some time after Terra takes over the shrine.”

            “…Is… that even possible?”

            “Choice; execution. Nothing more; nothing less. Though I can’t imagine myself suffering in such a parenthood. Even if he was the father of my daughter, she would have to commit her own offenses against me to consider abandoning her. I’d kill him on the spot if I ever saw him; but I won’t neglect her, not for what he did.

            If you have to: lie. Claim no relation between your daughter and him. It could work, but your unwillingness to cope, your desire to evade pain bound you to this predicament.”

            Taiga just had to run through a sword. A simple task, if the sword were real and not metaphorical.

            “Will you help me?”

            “I’ve been helping all day. I’m going to give Terra a bath, and send her to your room. Wait for her, don’t send her away, and don’t run away. You don’t have to love her. Just let her close.”

            Taiga conceded and left the bath, dressed into a robe, then returned to her room. She half expected to find Terra waiting for Kanako, but her sister had the foresight to make Terra play elsewhere.

            Taiga lit a lamp, dressed into tomorrow’s kimono and waited till she heard her sister’s words ushering these little footsteps down the hall. When the door opened, Taiga allowed herself a glance at the little girl staring back at her anxiously, but only a glance.

            If she stared into those eyes, and saw him, she might tear down the walls and a dozen cherry blossoms too.

            Through her peripherals, her ears, she tracked Terra to the other futon; heard her daughter sit down. Taiga gave her sister that look asking what to do. Should she give greeting? Welcome? She had only instincts, and they told her to bristle. Covering herself in quills kept sane human interactions away; filtered those conversations not palpable to her sword. Kanako oft made fun of her for barbing her personality: “Hedgehog Ronin”, that sister liked to call her, when speaking to others. Taiga only knew how to break things, how to solve those problems she could punch in the face.

            Much like a hedgehog, Taiga had a soft underbelly, and she hated to expose it.

            “Anyway, I’ll leave you two alone”, and Taiga shot that look to Kanako again. “You don’t have to do anything. Doing nothing might be best, knowing you”, and she excused herself.

            Taiga took the advice to heart and tried going to straight to sleep with her back turned. She raised her quills, readied her combative demeanors, and suddenly deflated as eight hours dusting caught up to her.

            She was tired, she was hungry, and probably, all according to plan.

            “Clever bitch”, she thought, and a few more curses for her sister until she heard munching.

            Taiga sat up and looked to her daughter, who wrestled with the tough, dried sinew of a cow between her hands and her teeth. “Beef jerky?” she asked, and Terra nodded. “Can I have some?” and Terra nodded, though she was too preoccupied to offer one by hand. Taiga reached out like she grabbing a stick out of a fire; and jumped back once she secured some food for herself.

            She sheered her jerky with a single pull of her jaw, mangled and devoured it, and then popped the remaining piece into her mouth. Terra seemed quite awed by this feat, and tried to mimic, but she couldn’t tear the meat even using both hands and all her teeth.

            “Um… here”, and Taiga reached into the bowl, a little less cautious than before, and tore a few strips into thirds. This just let Terra pop the whole thing into her mouth, and she popped her jaw open and closed like a dog, chewing and chewing and wondering why this delicious meat wouldn’t dissolve.

            Taiga kept grabbing pieces, until she was sitting in arms reach and just munching away like the miniature in front of her. They made eye contact; her daughter just staring and chewing and looking up to her. Taiga chewed, stared down and wondered where all that rage she feared had gone. She saw only herself; that small stupid self that liked to sit in mother’s lap while eating and listening to adult conversations flying over her head.

            Maybe she could carry on as normal and let Terra close; just as her sister had said. Complications would arise, but this wasn’t the guillotine she feared.

            Taiga felt the heat of the spring as her body’s metabolism caught up with her food. She used her room’s hook to open the sky light; to just let in a little of that cool tundra air; and a plume of blossom petals spilled over her.

            She grimaced, annoyed. Terra smiled, elated.

            “Do you like flowers?” Taiga asked, and Terra nodded.

            “I hate them. I used to love them, even after I learned magic and realized each blossom budded, bloomed, and shed itself according to a timer. I invited someone to share that love with me, and he took a lot of precious things from me, and our family. I hate him. I think of him when I see cherry blossoms, and so I hate the flowers.”

            Probably, she spoke too frankly for her daughter to understand, but all her subtext, her emotional connotations, her feelings had been soaked up, and Terra looked at her with eyes filled with pity, sorrow, and desire. “Hey, maybe with your help, I can love flowers again too”, and Terra brimmed from lip corner to lip corner.

            Taiga closed the sky light and complained that it was too cold now. “I’m going to sleep, eat what you like”, and Terra kept nom nom nomming while she lay down to sleep. She watched her daughter master the dog’s method of eating, she watched her daughter struggle with the folded blankets, she watched her daughter give up and crawl over to her.

            Taiga wanted to protest as Terra crawled into her futon and snuggled into her bosom, but her lips had no airs on which to speak. She kept mouthing things, trying to ward off all the silly pink blushes and exasperations on her face, but in the end, Taiga surrendered to cherry blossoms, snuffed out the lamp, and pulled her blankets over them both.

            It was an awkward night. Taiga received a sneeze right into her clothes. She learned to put her arm around her daughter’s back, and when to take it away so Terra could crawl over to the bowl and return with jerky in her mouth. She remembered how hungry she used to be as a kid; how vampires couldn’t keep their appetites away from meat; how she so loved to gnaw and chew and satisfy predation.

            Taiga remembered how one day, she told a man how happily she looked forward to a life spent with him, and with their children. She genuinely wanted Terra that day, and she would learn to see Terra, without seeing him.

            The hungry mite eventually, finally settled down enough to start snoring, and Taiga closed her eyes for the last time.

            Cherry Blossoms fell across the blackness, returning her faith to the aisle of trees. She saw a day when she returned home; refreshed to be home. There, on the patio, waited a girl of her likeness, who smiled, who jumped up and ran into her with a hug.

            And Taiga would grin, all bright and cocky and happy; under the cherry blossoms she loved once again.

 
 
 

End

 
Critique of any kind of is welcome. Like something? Dislike something? Say so! Just be nice :).

Edit: Simplified the Title. If I expanded Taiga’s character into a novel, I would probably title it after one of her nicknames like Hedgehog Ronin or Tsundere Ronin or some like. “Under the Cherry Blossoms” I feel simply, and succinctly represents this short story.

Edit (4/10/2014): Did a revision. Nothing major. Cut a few words, rephrased like two sentences. Should read a little smoother at some parts.

It’s Valentine’s Day!

It’s Valentine’s day!

For the many entwined souls feuding over foreign chocolates, today provides endless happiness and opportunities for culturally approved exploitation!

Reimu Hakurei 12

Hearts will frenzy,

Beat without refuse,

Borrow from future gold,

To give for love thereafter.

Veins will flourish,

Bloom bloody red roses,

Melt the snow,

And stain February,

In life’s favored color.

Reimu Hakurei 13

 Then the Wine flows.

That handmade scarf,

Purchased from other hands.

Those Belgian chocolates,

Ordered for home, from home.

Dishonest mistakes,

Shroud confused hearts

burgeoned with true feelings

and a fear for insufficiency.

So keep it in you to love and forgive :).

Unless, of course, you’re not counted amongst the coupled.

In which case you can join me and commiserate the end of oranges, football, and love’s calendar year!

The Specter of Love looms late in life,

Reserving its haunts for regretful pains,

Adding itself to the memories,

That could have been.

-

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Love and Coffee

            Alicia loved to come into work early, before the light and the bright lights turned on, before the first customers congregated before the door and waited for her to flip the sign to “Welcome!” and greet them with grace.  She made herself a coffee from one the of shop’s full bodied blends: a dark roast, a deep bitter so thorough and so dominant behind a little half and half.  Alicia took this drink to the window wall and sat where the kitchen did not share its brilliant glow.  Palms and fingers cherished the warm touch, cheeks received a thousand warm wet wispy kisses, and her presence melded into the dying silhouette.

            One by one her co-workers came, letting one another in while Alicia absented herself from interaction.  She did not greet, did not turn to face or accept good morning bids except with a faint smile and a reply too feeble to dialogue.  If asked, she would justify her seclusion as meditation, but really she just shied from the world and its people.  Her shell of cool and calm protected her; won her peace by assuring no rivals, or allies for that matter.

            A new worker showed his new face at the door and unknowingly beckoned to her with his eyes and his knocks.  Alicia would have ignored him, let the café’s all-star go and greet him with all her endless blonde hair, but this boyish excuse of a man stirred her to blush and dream.

            She’d get up, greet him; smile and establish her charm.  When he saw her sitting so isolated he’d ask about her and feel drawn to the questions swirling around her enigmatic presence.  Wonder would infatuate him with tantalizing curiosity as his brewing fantasies realized each and every morning just how near and possible their love could be.  And when he finally approached her she’d string him along to an eventual confession and they’d get married the day before yesterday.

            Saylene opened the door for him, and she snared another lover to be denied and shelved with the other wannabe boyfriends.  They went to work, and Alicia hid in the refuge of her coffee, but the heat had faded to warmth and no longer clouded her chilly soul with that wonderful fog.

            Outside, the regulars mingled by the front door lights.  Among them, was there a dreamer infatuated with her consistent welcome?  A dreamer for this dreaming girl to wish about love and hope for luck to pre-determine and destine some chance encounter; to date according to fate and not her own courage.

            Alicia grimaced till frustration boiled over and she got up to let the customers in.

            The next morning, Alicia made her coffee and sat in her usual spot.  On her table, she set up a sign that read:

Hey new guy!

Wanna get love and coffee?

 
 
I’ve been dancing back and forth between “make love and coffee” versus “get love and coffee” for the last line. “Make love” comes off stronger, but I’m worried it’ll be misinterpreted as “let’s have sex and coffee”. Let me know if you have an opinion on this!