Through a Glass, Darkly

I. Semantics.

Even amongst people who don’t believe vampires exist outside of entertaining fictions, I’ve sensed some hostility against bizarrely particular representations of vampires. They could be urbanites, melanized, and rough-and-tumble like Blade. Oh, no, they must be aristocratic, out of time, pale, foppish, and dangerously seductive like Dracula. They definitely do not sparkle in the sun like Edward Cullen.

“They definitely” nothing. Vampire is just a word.

What’s in a word? I propose that whoever writes the word “vampire” only needs one other reader to agree to the writer’s meaning. If that includes sparkles, then that too is what the word includes in the moment of that exchange, to the participants of that exchange. That’s how words work. Even if we trace the word history back to some ancient Slavic word meaning “to pierce” we can move forward in time and outwards in some other plane to find representations of vampires who simply enter a room and everybody else in there with them begins to feel exhausted for no reason, or they lose memories, or lose some other sort of personal power.

When it comes to meanings, especially the meaning of “vampire”, I kept my agreements to reality and the agreements to fiction very far from each other.

II. Community.

In reality: I’ll get back to this.

In community: Amateur practitioners in psi phenomena would frequently speak up about vampires. That is, first grant psi as a conserved quantity related to life and/or a feeling of well-being, also grant human people adept at manipulating psi, and finally grant the latter can rob the former from people who don’t do that sort of thing (not even to preserve what psi they have.) Refer to this act as vampirism.

People who identified as vampyres or vampires (I mention “identified as” because that aspect is the focus, not because I would impose an opinion that they are “really” something else) or those who spoke up for them, defined vampirism as a predisposition more than an action. Real vamps couldn’t metabolize the life force and mental nourishment of psi that didn’t come from other people. Other people who gave it, wouldn’t miss it. Most other people didn’t need other people’s psi, and those who took it anyway (those described in the immediate preceding paragraph,) in a way that was too harmful to go unnoticed, were not vampires but leeches.

Note the importance of that distinction. When I ask what’s in a word, I definitely wouldn’t contest the idea that words mean things.

III. Modern Folklore

In fiction: Blade is the best vampire of all time ever, I will fight you on this.

Oh, pardon me. In my fiction: Vampires are an entirely other kind of being, as different from humans as a bat differs from its dream of a mosquito. I created a human character who became influenced and aberrated by such alien monstrosities, but who herself embodied a sort of tragically romantic glamour in pining after the sunlight of her fully human days.

That story went nowhere, thank the stars. It would never be as compellingly twisted as Let the Right One In, and could even have been worse developed than Twilight. Presently, I have a novella in the works that involves a psi vamp-leech, hopefully leaving it ambiguous enough about whether this character truly needs to feed but is also vindictive about it because this particular character has been so deprived, or whether the need is a sympathetic lie hiding nothing but unrelated vindictiveness. Despite having once believed it, even despite my probably believing it again one day, this psi-vampirisim just feels like something I included because I found it somewhere and decided it was cool, and because it fit the story both thematically and logically.

I use fiction to explore the spiritual, but some fiction is just fiction.

IIII. How Do You Roman Count

In reality: You know what? Never mind.

In Faery: Vampires are an entirely other kind of being, as different from humans as a bat differs from its dream of a mosquito. How did this happen?
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All the Ash (A Cinderella Story)

This is the first fairy tale I ever wrote, inspired by the idea of the very European tale of Cinderella having originated in China. As the shoe size was so important, I guessed it had to do with the Song Dynasty practice of foot binding, but there’s a better researched version out there.

This was also conceived as part of this vast high fantasy world that included a retelling of Snow White as a vampire, but Neil Gaiman did that one better too.

I thought it would be a novel, but the simplicity of a fairy tale was at the time the only way I could get this story told at all. The worldbuilding remains a mess, this being a fantasy land that has a fairyland where the fay can still receive portents. The teenager who wrote this was more interested in the idea of economics and bad political decisions leading to civil unrest, and was far more resigned to racism and (hat tip to Elisabeth Fiorenza for this term, although I’m probably using it wrong) heterosexism. The familial abuse and gory dismemberment from some older versions of the fairy tale is preserved.

So please be warned.

ONCE UPON A TIME, there lived a merchant. He may have lived in a kingdom far, far away but because he was a merchant he might have stopped by here long, long ago. Through his trade, he became much respected, very wealthy, and even happy for a time. He lived at one end of the trade route, and married another who lived at the opposite end and had never traveled except to live with him. This bride worked as a midwife, although she could heal anything between almost-birth and almost-death and some needs sidewise of those. Her own lands was civilized enough to let her rest the study of medicinal plants, but her dearest friend was a fairy of the earth named Maya who was an expert. While Maya had a husband of her own in fairyland, he was royal and winged like everybody else in court whereas Maya was not. For this reason, Maya followed the couple to the merchant’s country and became part of the family, godmother to their daughter. They named the child Ciella, which means heaven, and the first nine years of her life she spent in the closest place on earth to it: a home full of love and kind instruction, even with the merchant so often gone; Material wealth that showed in pearl doors (made from leaving regular doors inside giant clams) and gold floor tiles (made by shaping gold into tiles,) and charity, the truest sign of affluence. Ciella even had her feet bound like a noble from her mother’s land, but none of this spoiled her because she was naturally good and unnaturally well-raised.

Ciella’s tenth year of life was no so good: the King knew too late that the kingdom had grown poor. People bought more imports than local products, and did preposterous things such as pearl their doors, and gold their floors, and privately own charities. So, the king declared Ciella’s mother’s land evil and all its people enemies of the kingdom.

In the riots that followed, people were injured, and Ciella’s mother would only think of those in need of medical attention. Her final patients recovered fast enough and well enough to drag her out to a garden pond and drown her. Ciella only survived thanks to Maya’s glamour, which made them both appear not so foreign. Ciella’s mother’s heart, so pure, transformed into a giant carp. Ciella would point it out often, but Maya disbelieved her out of grief and common sense.
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Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

The following post contains race and spoilers for Fullmetal Alchemist.

My introduction to alchemy was through a well-paced and accessible primer on its history, philosophy, metaphysics, and practice. I had some prejudice about alchemy being a lot of superstition, prejudices which did dissolve upon taking the interpretation that all the physical acts were metaphors for a more subtle process. Or, at least, that this is more actionable as a system of beliefs (for example: one thing can transform into another thing given an understanding of the potential, the conditions, and the process to reify that potential) rather than units of beliefs (for example: put a rooster’s egg in a snake’s nest and it will hatch into a dragon, go on, just do it, this is a true fact, and if you have no dragon to show for it then it’s because you did it wrong.)

When it comes to fiction, spectacle is better than out-of-fiction practicality. Any rules or explanations for the backwash of pathetic fallacies, no matter how spectacular or subtle, are more likely for the sake of the story. It’s nothing intended or possible to apply to anything beyond that.

But no storyteller can control every audience member’s perspective, and I’m one of the loopy ones.

From Granny Weatherwax, I’ve learned to transform myself into an animal and bypass the law of conservation of mass (by sacrificing some of my human sanity each time…naturally.) To move heat energy, or to manipulate somebody else’s pain as if it were a real physical force instead of a perception, I won’t bother with. To work responsibly within a community is the most important lesson she had to offer…that I don’t have half as much interest in cultivating as I should.

Serafina Pekkala taught me the fiercely held modesty that allows a person to turn invisible, although I didn’t learn it very well and perhaps shouldn’t have started. She taught me better ways to fly in dreams, which I’m tempted to get Freudian about. Kyuubei taught me the basics of some very dangerous arts, that of the Statement of Intent, and how they always come from one’s True Name. Maybe it really doesn’t work that way, but it’s worked for me well enough so far. Harry Dresden and Souji Seta have both given helpful tips for how to conduct oneself in The Otherworlds.

So, when I wonder how else to branch out in alchemy, I find no reason to exclude a fiction that has Alchemist in the title.

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