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?

Red and White

Almost all fan-made Touhou story material revolves around comedy and interprets the entire world through silly putty, Jello, and googly eyes. This includes subject themes that would not provoke humorous responses if taken in realistic context, such as Reimu’s poverty.

Despite what her profile says on the Touhou Wikia, Reimu is rarely portrayed as easygoing, curious, dutiful, and optimistic. Based on Reimu’s dialogue from Embodiment of Scarlet Devil and Perfect Cherry Blossom, I’d hardly call her an openly kind person. She’s a good person for sure, but she doesn’t make it particularly obvious. Fan interpretations usually portray Reimu as grouchy, temperamental, and snarky.

In addition, Reimu’s often portrayed as obsessing over money, food, and her shrine’s donation box, though from a comical perspective of course.
yesterdays_rival_todays_star_41
From Millet Soup

 

I have no problem with this, because Touhou in its entirety is based upon subjective interpretation. Touhou can be comedy, action, drama, art, music, or whatever you want it to be: that’s the point!

For my take on Touhou, I like to bridge magical fantasy with realism. For my writing, I like to put a literary spin on things. I love literary fantasy despite how peripheral the genre is compared to real-world literary fiction, and the Touhou universe offers far too many good introspections to ignore and defer to simple comedy.

For this short story, I visit Reimu’s life and how I think she feels about her less-than-desirable financial situation.

 

 

 

Red and White

 

            Reimu checked her donation box every day she could, twice or a dozen times when too much idling left her mind to hope and wander.  She kept the box, kept the entire patio sparkling clean so to not deter prayers and their tithes, sweeping and wiping and polishing because she and her shrine lived off the generosity of others, and oh, generosity was a fickle thing; ever so ready to change its mind at the first sign of dirt or rags or poverty.  Lately Reimu had taken to kicking the box.  Just kick it, listen to the brief thud as her sandal heel stomped the backside and hear no rustles of pouches or the jingle of loose coins.  Just kick it and savor a little spite for the sorry state of her palette.

            Beans, leeks, and foraged vegetables boiled in water.  That was yesterday’s meal, the prior day’s meal, and every day’s meal for the last two weeks.  Reimu loved her vegetables, but it was hard not to envy the wealthier citizens of Gensokyo enjoying their cakes and meats.  Even the villagers supposedly poorer than herself managed to eat meat every few days; managed a cup of milk too.  Reimu just ate her vegetable soup, though ‘soup’ might be too lavish a compliment for her cooking.

            Even the soup couldn’t last forever, and when winter made good morning’s bid Reimu knew nothing wild and edible would survive the season’s first snow.  She dressed to freezing airs and checked her donation box as the world collapsed white and bleak around her.  A swift kick, an empty resonance, and she went back inside and curled up on her futon.  Best not to move too much, not to spend too much energy or she’d feel her stomach sooner than she’d like.

            The day she passed sleeping and waking and sleeping again, catching up from days spent listless and active without so much as a wink to rest her eyes.  Gensokyo was a weird little place, with no shortage of demons and fairies and overpowered humans to stir trouble and lure her interest.  Reimu loved it; loved getting into duels with deathly entities that should command fear from a seventeen year old girl.  She had made many a friend from her defeated foes, but when no friend paid a visit, when her shrine chilled to the elements and her stomach began to quake, Reimu couldn’t help but wonder if she had chosen a poor life.

            She hoisted herself from her blankets and went to the back of her shrine.  This was her “kitchen”, her storeroom for water and food with a makeshift stove in the middle of the floor.  Reimu had taken a wide iron plate with stilts or legs or some like, surrounded and buffered it with rocks to keep heat off the wooden floor and then erected two adjacent posts with a strong cable between them.  That empty donation box had a way of encouraging creativity.  A rich donation box would encourage more fun kinds of creativity, but Reimu patted herself on the back when possible.

            She hung an iron pot over her stove and stuffed kindle and charcoal underneath and set the whole thing aflame with a match.  These matches were nifty things, a convenient product that filtered into Gensokyo from the outside world.  Take a stick out of the box, strike it on the box and then a flame she beheld.  And there so many!  So small!  So effective!  According to her best friend, Marisa, everything in the outside world ran on some amazing invention and that the plights of disease, famine, and war had all but been eliminated, but Reimu had to wonder and question.  All they knew about the outside originated from the strange dialects in newspapers and magazines that fell into Gensokyo; nothing more than tiny fragments, a few views from a few angles quite probably biased.

            If Reimu’s shrine existed in the outside world, would she live with an empty donation box and naught more than vegetables and water for sustenance during the winters?

            “A few more springs each year would be nice”, she thought as she poured water from a jug into the pot and then added beans and leeks and a few remnants of onion leftover from her previous soup.  She had a few mushrooms, plucked by Marisa and given to her.  “I guarantee their edibility!” she had said.  Marisa was a magician who styled herself a witch, so surely she knew mushrooms, but then why did she give them to Reimu?  Reimu cut them up and threw them in, figuring at worst the mushrooms would be poisonous and spare her another rationed winter.

            A knock beckoned to Reimu from the front door and she shot up.  She rushed to the door, smiling giddy and silly, happy to finally accommodate a visitor to her shrine, but instead of Marisa trolling her door she found a bat flapping its wings against the wall.  It crawled inside where the airs pretended to feel warmer, and Reimu shut the door and picked the poor thing up.

            A message was tied to its leg, a rolled up slip of paper bound by fine thread.

            Tea party at my mansion at sundown

            -Remilia

            P.S.

            Since you hate the vampire bats so much, I sent you a brown bat.

            Reimu stored the paper and thread to re-use or sell and then coaxed the bat to thaw by the fire.  Remilia had thoughtlessly dispatched one of her courier bats in this weather, though such selfishness suited her.  That pampered, selfish vampire couldn’t see beyond her own whimsy and the sycophantic adulation of her mansion staff.  Oh she was kinder and far more perceptive than she let on, but if a hot bath or a warm fire could absolve a painful errand then she’d doubtlessly send a minion on that errand, if only to garner and maintain a tyrannical image.

            She put a hand cloth over the bat as it crawled close to Reimu’s small cooking fire.  It had a smooth skin of matted fur, quite short but indisputably a kind of fur.  Vampire bats had these black hairs so sleek and seamless they just melded together to look ghoulish and naked.  Black, naked, blind, red-eyed, fanged: five good reasons to squeamishly avoid those ugly things.  Reimu usually smacked Remilia’s vampire bats when they got close to her, adding a touch of her spirit power to drive the point home, but this fuzzy little guy only got a finger as she poked and rubbed the top of its head.

            “You’re cute.”

           The bat squeaked, and so Reimu kept playing with it until her pot boiled.

           Marisa had given Reimu some dried up, ground up black pepper and Remilia had gifted her some paprika, so she threw a pinch of each spice into the broth.  When the soup looked done and the vegetables soft, Reimu ladled some into a bowl and tasted her vegetables through the heat on her tongue, but her mind savored only the delicious broths served at Remilia’s mansion: hearty waters that had basked a juicy carcass, that had cooked rice and spice and a dozen different flavors found in Remilia’s estate gardens.

           The bat squeaked at her, and so Reimu filled another bowl with just some broth and set it onto the floor.  It plunged its head below the waterline and drank it down.  “Hungry, aren’t you?” and Reimu gave it another ladle with a few vegetables this time.  Watching it rapidly gnaw and chew away on a soggy piece of leek brought a smile to her face and forgot her the waning ration she could ill-afford to spend on some pet of Remilia’s, but that was Reimu.  Plight or smile changed her mind so long as she could see suffering or happiness, and she’d give her whole pot away if it’d cure the despair nearest to her.  Poorness left her woefully shortsighted and temporally present.  If she had a mind for the future, she’d see her eventual death by altruism and hoard her food, her time, and herself.  She’d cease her reckless forays into each and every incident that bewildered Gensokyo and find herself a steady job at the village.  She’d sit on a dusty porch, counting coins and always looking toward a tomorrow that was supposed to better, brighter… and all the while, Remilia and Marisa traded bizarre stories over some night tea, without her.

           Reimu could change her lifestyle to know plenty, but she’d savor plenty alone.

           The front door had grown dim; the gray skies finally settled without the sun lashing their backs.  Reimu snuffed the remnants of her cooking fire and scooped up the bat.  She took it with her to her futon and tucked it under her blanket.  She’d keep it overnight and send it home come morning.  Hopefully then, things would be warmer.

           Another knock roused Reimu to the front door.  Something black flew close to her neck and she instinctively smacked a naked black bat and sent it spiraling and dizzy to the ground.  Another rolled up letter was tied to its back.

           Get over here already!  We have hamburgers!

            -Marisa

           P.S.

           Remilia says to bring her bats back.

            Only her ridiculous friends could serve hamburgers at a tea party.  Reimu put the letter away where she could find it later and then scooped up the bats.  She wrapped them in some old cloth and then took off from her front porch.  Flying through the snowing skies would freeze her to the bone by the time she reached Remilia’s mansion, but she could only feel the warmth of hot tea, a sizzling grill and the fun conversation shared between friends.

            And really, what was her life without friends?

            Reimu couldn’t help but smile as she looked forward to another winter spent poor, but happy.

 

End

 

In some ways I feel like I brought to light those traits I rebuffed, such as optimism and generosity. I also think of Reimu as temperamental and easy to provoke, though like any real person I take these aspects as a few amongst infinite facets.

 

Reimu has quite a few pieces of music tied to her name, but my favorite is Spring Lane ~ Colorful Path from Phantasmagoria of Flower View.

Here is the original theme in all it’s video-gamey sounds:

A laid back song with just enough upbeat tempo to really feel like a walk on a spring-laden road.

 

Here’s a piano rendition by Kituneyuu:

I find this one a little boring because the background sounds have been cut, but I doubt the pianist really had a choice given that it’s a solo recording.

 

And then this awesome song by Jillian Aversa: Never Ending Night