Doors

I recently mentioned to an American acquaintance the fact that Gabriela Mistral’s “Puertas” (Doors) is my favorite poem. “Puertas” is a poem that gives me more existential support than Catholicism ever did during the decades when I was into it. Simple as that. We often conceive walls negatively, suggesting that doors might redeem the vices of a wall. Mistral’s poem decries precisely that: the separation, blocking, isolation is a product of doors, not walls, as the latter are just blunt passivity, while the former convey intent.

5000 Chilean Pesos banknote Gabriela Mistral - Exchange yours for cash
Gabriela Mistral featured on the Chilean currency

Back to topic: I also mentioned to that acquaintance that I wished I was able to translate Puertas it to English, alas I wouldn’t make it justice as I’m neither a poet nor a translator, much less a poetry translator. That’s when he shared with me an excerpt of the poem he found online, translated by Ursula K. Le Guin no less. However such excerpt lacked the last two stanzas.


I decided to buy the book that contained the poem: a bilingual anthology translated by Le Guin. Obviously the book a a whole is of great interest for me, but I was particularly curious about how Le Guin had translated the last 2 stanzas of Puertas. The task seemed impossible to me. For example: Mistral evokes the following imagery: “el cardumen vivo de mis muertos que me llevan”, which is breathtakingly beautiful in Spanish, but would be literally translated as “the living school* of my dead persons that take me”. (*school here as in a school of fishes). Le Guin translated this bit as “the lively wake of my dead, who take me with them”, which is powerful, close enough to the original meaning Mistral conveyed, and understandable in English. Le Guin also took the liberty to, rightfully, bring certain updates in language that Mistral would have certainly approved if she had lived enough to see how society evolved in gender issues by, for example, replacing the word “hombres” (men) with “people”.

Ursula K. Le Guin - Wikipedia
Ursula K. Le Guin

Since it’s my favorite poem and the full version is not available anywhere online, I first considered just typing Le Guin’s translation here. But then, there’s the thing: there are things in Le Guin’s translation that bothered me. Most stanzas were brilliantly translated, others just so-so and the third stanza is really bad. She also oversimplified many verses and even changing the number of verses in each stanza, preferring clarity over lyricism. Mistral’s original poem starts like a whisper and ends like yelling. It feels like a song, but I don’t get that vibe from Le Guin. So, I decided to do something that may be dishonest, but why not, this is the poem that saved my life more than once, so I feel weirdly close, hence entitled, to it: since Le Guin did the heavy lifting that I wouldn’t be able to do, I will just go through her version and make the changes I see fit. Some might think I just butchered the poem/translation and they are probably right. I’m not a poet, and neither the original Spanish nor the translated English are my native language. Anyway, there’s the product of my experiment:

Doors
Poem by Gabriela Mistral, Translated by Ursula Le Guin, butchered by Illimani Ferreira

Among the gestures of the world
I’ve noticed those of doors
I’ve seen them in broad daylight
closed or half-open,
shrugging with their backs
the same color of vixens.
Why did we make them
to make us their prisoners?

They are the mean rind
of the great house-fruit.
They won’t let the street share
the kind fire that warms them.
Their wood deadens
the songs we sing inside.
They don’t offer their plenty
like the open pomegranate:
dust speaking sybils,
never young, born old!

They are like hollow seashells,
without tides, without sand.
They look like storm clouds
drifting over a frowning face.
Their similarity oozes down
Death’s long, rolling toga.
When I open and go through them.
I shiver like a reed.

No! they say to the morning
tenderly bathing them.
And No! to the sea wind
stroking their foreheads
and the fresh pine fragrance
blowing from the mountains.
Like Cassandra they know what’s coming
yet don’t prevent it.
for my hard fate, too,
came in by my door.

To knock on a door disturbs me
every time I do it.
The dry threshold glitters
like a bared sword,
the panels quicken
into fleeing antelope.
I come in as if I were lifting
the cloth from a covered face,
now knowing what narrow kernel
my house holds for me,
wondering if what awaits me
is my salvation or my ruin.

I want to go away, to leave
this dull ground on Earth,
this horizon like a stag
dragged down by sadness,
and the doors of mankind
sealed up like reservoirs.
I want never to hold again
their keys, dead-cold as eels,
never to hear their rattle
stalking me every way I go.

I shall pass through them
for the last time, silently.
I’m going to get away,
rejoicing like a slave set free,
following the lively wake
of my dead, who take me with them.
There they won’t be denied
into blocks and blocks of doors,
there walls won’t shame them
like bandages on wounded men.

They’ll come to me, unhidden,
gilded in eternal light.
We’ll sing in our station
between earth and heaven.
The passion of our song
will break down the doors,
and people will come out of them
rubbing their eyes like children,
as they hear the doors crumbling,
falling down and dead.

2 months after release

Today is the 2 months aniversary of the release of Terminal 3 and… it feels like I have both of my arms tied to my back and my feet buried in cement shoes while I’m sinking in a tank full of sharks. The sharks are the nay-sayers out there, but I won’t spend time talking about them.

Let’s start with the cement shoes instead. The cement shoes are COVID 19. And… that’s it. You got it, right? No need to draw a picture on that matter.

MAFIA METHODS AND CEMENT SHOES | venitism
Fun fact: cement shoes were a popular execution way amid the mafia ranks during the first half of the 20th century

Now… for the arms. The rope tying my right arm is Amazon. You see the beautiful cover up there? That’s not what Amazon has. My publisher lost the cover just when he was assembling the mobi version and rushed to rebuild it. That resulted in typos in that blurb in the cover, what is effectively driving away potential readers (why bother to spend so much money in a book that can’t spell Pratchett and Iain M. Banks properly on the freaking cover?). And it’s pretty much impossible to make Amazon update the metadata from Ingram in order to correct that issue. Publisher can’t do anything. I tried to use my membership at the SFWA to activate the association’s Amazon liaison, what was per se a quite difficult process since the guy is busy and the whole process he asks Amazon to do something is rather secretive… and irresponsive on Amazon’s side, since nothing is happening. Amazon makes it impossible to request directly if you submitted your book through Ingram (they will keep pushing you around different departments instead of pushing the button that would solve the issue).

Now, the rope tying my left arm is my publisher. After 2 months I haven’t received my author copies yet and there is at least one person who pre-ordered the book on the website (Jason Sanford, of Genre Grapewine fame) who never got the copy he BOUGHT. It seems that things are normalizing, I talked to another person who bought through the website and got their copy and my publisher ensured me that copies are going out (and the issue with Jason was that the copy was returned by his workplace), but I would still encourage people to buy on… Amazon. Yes, the same Amazon that is not updating the cover. Leviathan at least will deliver his book for sure and in time. Just don’t judge a book by the cover, I guess?

I really believe in this book and in its capacity to give solace to readers through cathartic humor. But with so many hindrances trying to promote it is both impossible and unwise. I was invited to a podcast to talk about Terminal 3 and decided to cancel until I can be sure why the publisher keeps saying that he’s sending me the author copies, but never actually performing the act of sending it. It could be that he is using pony express to send it, or it might be that he’s waiting to get copies without the typos on the cover (if that’s the case he could just say it to me as we are both adults), or he might be just gaslighting me about that, for whatever reason. The guy went through hell this year, and I hate to complain, but it’s my book. I offered him to revert the contract and in exchange he wouldn’t need to pay the second half of the advancement. Minutes after that he paid what was left of the advancement. So yes, it might not be gaslighting but it sure feels like it and I’m not gonna suck it up anymore.

So yes, buy the book on Amazon. You’ll like it. Just skip the cover. Also, if you read it please gimme me 5 stars and a review on Goodreads? I was told it helps.

Moving On

Best Surya Bonaly GIFs | Gfycat
Surya Bonaly and her signature move that the bureaucrats that ran the Figure Skating world refused to recognize

In the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, the top 2 contenders for the Ladies’ Singles Category were Evgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova. Both had the same coach, as they were part of the Russian delegation. The coach discovered that the stupid routine checklist that the athletes had to go through and exists to punish creative individuals that tried to push for new moves like Surya Bonaly, could potentially be rigged to reward more mediocre athletes. Medvedeva was the best, Zagitova was the second best among others. The coach decided to train Zagitova to perform all the checklist movements in a big explosion, as it turns out that performing the in such way is easier. The athlete just needs to robotically train for those few seconds of complex movements, and the rest of the routine can be just soft skating. Medvedeva went for the traditional, harder, actually beautiful routine. She got a loser’s silver. Zagitova got the winner’s gold.

Miss Mysterious | Figure skating, Ice skating, Alina zagitova
Zagitova’s robotic clownery
Alina Zagitova GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY
Medvedeva after giving her best, and her best not being enough despite her best being the actual best

Traditional publishing used to reward Medvedevas and punish Bonalys. Now they reward Zagitovas and punish Medvedevas. The Indy lane was always the refuge for the Bonalys, and it’s becoming the place-to-go for the Medvedevas. Except that the rink is made of fire and your skates are filled with nails and your coach is Jeff Gilloly.

Fail Ice Skating GIF by America's Funniest Home Videos - Find & Share on  GIPHY

I’m quite bummed by the whole ordeal that Terminal 3 has been so far. From people who pre-ordered the book only getting their copies now to very embarrassing typos in the blurb featured on cover (which I didn’t notice until later since the first version of the cover didn’t have these typos, and since then the blurb became a visual element for me), to a Kafkian process to get the SFWA to use their channel with Amazon to update the cover on their website so the typos won’t shoo away prospective buyers (it will be too late if anything happens anyway, not sure if my novel could bounce back).

Ice Skater Falls Through The Ice GIF | Gfycat

So I’m giving up on prose writing for the time being and will be only working on screenplays. I may go back to prose. Dunno. What I like about writing screenplays is that at the end I have this awesome blueprint to move forward with a work of prose (Terminal 3 was originally a teleplay).

Melting Ice Flower GIF - MeltingIce Flower Melting - Discover & Share GIFs

Dear Chinese reader

Dear Chinese Reader,

I am aware of your existence. From time to time you just show up in this blog that nobody reads, always through a Baidu search. You don’t linger long or click on anything. You are probably a bot cruising through the magical world of Western Internet to assess the availability of the domain. But still, I decided to think you are human. You are the Chinese person who is interested in what I have to say. That’s it, there’s nothing you can say to change that. Not that you are going to say anything. You are probably just a bot.

I wish you could say something in the comment session. I wish we could talk. I adore the culture of your country. I want to learn Mandarin someday (started taking classes a while ago but had to quit due to clash with my work schedule). I lived in Vancouver for a while, a city with a huge, thriving Chinese population. I used to eat at a small eatery of homemade Chinese food near the train station. I would eat there every time I was in the area because it was so damn good and cheap. My eyes would water when the food was too spicy – I’m a wimp when it’s up to spicy food -, but I would just chug down some water and get going, because the cuisine of your country (in this case, in the regional Cantonese homemade tradition) is so damn good. I wonder what you would think of Brazilian cuisine, especially from Central Brazil (where I’m from). You’d probably find it bland. That’s fine. It is kind of bland and you need to grow up eating it to appreciate how the rice-and-beans repetitive combo in all its glorious monotony.

I finished yesterday the vomit draft of a short story inspired by your country. Not the beautiful things, I’m afraid. It was inspired by the current situation faced by the Uighurs in the area your government calls Xinjian. But also the one endured by other Latin-Americans like me in the country where I live right now (the US), where the government recently forced sterilization procedures on women locked in a concentration camp near the city of Atlanta. A little like your government is doing with Uighurs.

I wonder if the mention to these ongoing acts of genocide will make my blog blacklisted by the Great Firewall, what may prevent you from coming over from time to time. I’m a Science-Fiction writer and China is becoming a huge market for literature, movies and TV shows in this genre, although you guys have great homemade fare and don’t need Western content. Some would consider the mere mention to Xinjiang unwise. Apparently if one mentions Tibet they can get in a lot of trouble as well. But see, I’m not known for my wisdom, that’s the first thing you’d learn if we ever met.

I wish we could meet someday. I wish we could be friends. But you are probably just a bot, and I happen to be a human prone to reckless behavior.

再见,

I.F.

A couple of updates

There was a little delay in terms of the availability of my debut novel Terminal 3’s print version, but that’s over. Feel free to order it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

The other update is that I will be a panelist during the very first Fiyahcon, a convention celebrating BIPOC+ persons in speculative fiction. My panel is called “Yes, representation is actually fun” and it will happen on October 18 at 6pm.

Terminal 3 is out, or why do you need some Catharsis in your life right now

Image

That’s right, the ebook version is out. The print version is slightly delayed due to issues to Ingram Spark that may or may not be related to the pos-Covid printing market issues (short version: big printing facilities closed doors and Ingram started getting huge assignments they were not designed for, what means delays for Indy published novels like mine).

The main point of this post, however, is not to talk about the book per se. You can read a summary on the Amazon link above (or here, if you don’t want to go back). You can see this review published on Tor.com a few weeks ago. You can see the reasons how and why I wrote this novel on Latinx Heritage Month Book Fest Instagram. What you are not going to find anywhere is why should you bother to read a dark satire when we are going through a historic moment that feels like a dark satire. Wouldn’t that be a downer and exhaust you emotionally when you already have so little emotional energy to spare? A little like being asked to play with a toy garbage truck when you are currently trapped in the crammed container of an actual garbage truck, as you try to stay afloat amid all the filth while, at the same time, you are giving your best to not allow the trash compactor within the container to turn you into mush.

Well, there is the thing: reading satire when the world is burning isn’t redundant. Think about how successful Jordan Peele’s Get Out was just after the Orange Fuckturd got elected, or, if you are old enough, the success of 9 to 5 back in the1980s, just before the Reagan administration started, or, if you are really, really old like Charlize Theron in The Old Guard, Aristophanes’ Lysistrata during the pinnacle of the Peloponnesian war. What these two films and one play have in common? They provide the viewer with a sense of catharsis, as you can release, through the investments in the narrative, your restrained emotions and let them burn and explode. Because shielding your mental health against a morally warped power structure in place that is deliberately trying to corrode your mind through social gaslighting can only get you so far. You need a release: satire, which is not a Carnival mirror labyrinth reflection of a social problems. Satire is the antidote. It conveys truths, perspectives and angles that you probably didn’t consider before as satire – or at least a good satire -, is counter-intuitive.

Note on Comedy #3

Narrow ravine: Big Loop Trail, Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona

This is an old insight of mine, from the years I wasted writing screenplays. As it is the case now with prose, some of my screenplays were comedies, some not. As I received rejection after rejection, I noticed a certain pattern: some of the rejections recurrently suggested that the readers found the screenplay too raucous and pedestrian for their expectations, while a second group of rejections suggested that the readers found the screenplay too sophisticated, hence not marketable enough for the masses.

I realized with that the world of comedy, at least as we know it today, is composed by two boulders separated by a rift. Let’s call one of the boulders the Snob Rock. That’s where highbrow comedy and the likes of Wes Anderson dwell and thrive. The other boulder is called Slob Rock. That’s the den governed by lowbrow comedy and every film Adam Sandler made after 50 First Dates and before his Netflix deal. Snobs hate Slobs. Slobs hate Snobs. There is only one thing they hate more than each other: anything that is in the rift in between them. There used to be a bridge connecting the two rocks. They burned it. It’s a shame, because at some point there wasn’t a bridge for the simple reason it was not necessary. There was no rift. Comedy works with a harmonic combination of low brow and highbrow comedy were the norm.

One day the boulders will crumble and the pebbles will cascade toward the rift, filling it. On that day I, a dweller of the depths of this rift, will ascend. I just need some matchsticks. It’s dark in here, but I’m pretty sure I found some TNT in this hole.

Note on Comedy #2

Off the Shelf Inspiration: Science Fiction Paperbacks | Horror book covers,  Fantasy book covers, Science fiction
How many Ayn Rand fans bought this book based solely on the cover?

I’m writing a story that involves a space elevator and a fart. The title: The Fizzles of Paradise. My spouse hated the concept so much that he said he wouldn’t even take a look at it nor do the initial proofreading that has been an essential part of my writing being viable in the anglophone market. I had to get some confidence fuel from my online buddy Jordan Chase-Young to continue writing it.

I’m almost done with the vomit draft of this story. Like the Arthut C. Clarke novel that I reference in the title, it has three POVs and maybe that’s where the similarities end. The story was very contaminated by issues going on in my life (I quit my day job this week after I realized that my supervisor was asking me to put myself in more situations of potential exposure to COVID 19 than my non-Latino colleagues, but that’s not what I want to talk about here).

I don’t remember if it was Alex Shvartsman or Ira Nayman, during an online panel on comedy and SFF earlier this year during Amazing Con, who said that if you write comedy, you don’t get respect, but you get love. That reminded me of movie I watched during a film festival in Mexico. It was called La Delgada Linea Amarilla (The Thin Yellow Line) and it was a beautiful, even solemn tale of a man with a crew hired to paint in a very rustic way the yellow line in the center of a new road. The movie was not a comedy, but it had one minor character that was a comedy relief – a very mild one. For some reason every time he would show up in the screen the audience would laugh their asses off, even when the scene had nothing funny. Someone explained to me that the actor was one of the greatest comedians in Mexico. The mere sight of him summoned all the skits he performed.

The Fizzles of Paradise is a comedy with a social commentary. It was deeply influenced by the professional struggles I went through this week. Anybody who reads my stuff knows that gallows humor is my lane. Can one love someone who writes gallows humor, though? Will I ever get the love that the chubby Mexican actor – or Pratchett -, used to get from people who appreciated their humor?

Do I want to be loved?

*fizzle*

I would still have a job if I were respected.

I kinda of needed that job.

COVID 19 wasn’t an acceptable trade off for employment.

Nor was the double-standard or the condescension.

Did I want that job?

*fizzle*

I wish I could make a living out of writing.

No, not that type of writing.

Nor that.

Fuck you too.

*fizzle*

Can satire, especially a dark, unforgiving one, change the world, by ridiculing power structures and vicious social dynamics?

If yes , that’s a quite respectable thing to do.

*fizzle*

I mean, it sounds respectable.

*fizzle*

I mean, it’s worth trying.

Note on Comedy #1

I never liked the dogma that comedy is subjective. Yes, there are things that make me laugh and wouldn’t make a child or an elderly person amused. Comedy does rely on having access to a framework of knowledge and experiences (or lack of those, what explains why slapstick works so well with children). It IS subjective at its rudimentary core. But as we move away from such core, towards grounds where, ideally, the intellectual field is leveled and anyone could, in principle, get a joke, what would the make a set up, the subsequent punchline and the narrow interstice between them appealing to all or at least most? What would give it (a relative) universality?

The interstice between a set up and a punchline, assuming that Adam and/or God have ticklish fingers.

There is no reasonable answer to that question, which is usually phrased as “Is this funny?”, tout court. As creators of humor it is only natural that we seek what’s funny, it’s a tautology to state that. Yet, it’s a necessary tautology as I assume that it is the wrong approach. Yes, we summon humor and put it on paper. That’s the work of creating comedy. But when it’s up to labeling it as good or bad or not-comedy-you-are-not funny-never-write-again-kill-yourself-your-hack, then the the approach should be, in my opinion, the opposite. We should ask not what makes us laugh, chuckle, etcetera, but what doesn’t.

I suggest a very simple exercise: think about a piece of comedy you read or watched that not only failed at amuse you in any way, but made you either sad or angry. It doesn’t matter the source of that emotion, it could be that the comedy piece made you triggered due to personal experiences (e.g.: a cancer joke after you lost a loved on to cancer), to social affinities (a racist joke when you happen to not be a racist scumbag), a joke that was just plain weak, cliche, that made you frustrated with the fact that someone got paid big money to create it while you are having instant noodles for dinner.

In my case I could give examples from pretty much any Wes Anderson movie I forced myself to watch, or from a Adam Sandler movie produced in the period after he gave up and just used the loyalty of his fanbase to shoot weak ass movies to make cash and before he got that juicy netflix deal and started giving a fuck again. I will keep it simple, though. There is an animated TV show called Brickleberry about park rangers. I watched 2 episodes of that show before giving up because it was just plain bad. But there is a joke that was particularly bad and I will never forget. A character needed an organ transplant and the doctor told him “Mr. Whatever, we have a liver available right now, but we can’t give it to you because it is reserved for an illegal immigrant”.

The thing that frustrated me the most about the joke I mentioned wasn’t the cheap shot at immigrants, but the fact that it was not even remotely based on a fact. Immigrants are not a hindrance to the health system and they certainly don’t have privileged access to organs. That’s when I realized: comedy needs to be based on truth. You can distort it to make the caricature work, but it still needs to be a product of tangible experiences accessible or at least conceivable by us in a reality that has rules and social dynamics. That’s the first step to make a joke funny, one that most comedy writers don’t consciously take. Sometimes they land in comedy gold without being aware of that, but that’s still a step they took. And their next joke can incur in a misstep.

Nutella is truth, although I would totally have filled that jar with another brown colored substance if I were God.