JulNoWriMo reflections

Screenshot Sims 3

Helge-Dag Ljoset, the Sims 3 character I am currently playing, and the spiritual leader and would-be savior in my JulNoWriMo story. Green light of nature and harmony!

The month draws to a close, and as expected I have not written 50 000 words of novel. Actually it is more like 17 000. “A lot of things happened” as the Japanese use to say when they can’t explain something without creating even more misunderstandings. Or perhaps they only say that in anime.

Speaking of anime, excessively faithful readers may remember that I have made several attempts to write novels inspired by the animated movie “Rebirth of Buddha”, based on a book by Ryuho Okawa, founder of the unusually cheerful new religion “Happy Science”, who also produced the movie. The movie takes place in an alternate universe where the Buddha reborn is not Ryuho Okawa but Sorano Tayou – a name that just happens to be pronounced exactly like the Japanese phrase for “the sun in the sky”. His family name, Sorano, would translate as “of the sky”. It is used throughout the movie without the slightest hint of irony. Makes you wonder what Okawa Ryuho means. But as a master punsman, I am pleased to see this particular feature.

Anyway. While my first writings inspired by this movie were pretty close to fanfic, I have gradually moved further away from the Rebirth of Buddha universe; this year, the story has the working title Green Light. As the name implies, in this alternate world it is not Buddha who incarnates to save the world in its hour of need: Buddha’s light is golden, after all, not green. Instead of Buddha, the reborn savior is our old friend Lao-Tzu, author of Tao Te Ching and all round cool dude from the Axial Age in China. He is wielding the Green Light of Nature and Harmony.

In Happy Science, the organization that exists in our world, there is a substantial focus on Master’s earlier incarnation as the Greek god Hermes. He also lists a couple other, less famous or totally unknown, incarnations before Hermes and Buddha. I don’t remember any mention of this in the fictional universe of the movie, but I have a parallel in my story. The would-be savior of the world reveals himself as a reincarnation of the Norse god Freyr, the god of prosperity and pleasure. (And fertility in its most physical aspects, but I’m keeping this family-friendly.)

Unsurprisingly then, the Master of the Green Light has chosen to reincarnate in Norway, rather than another northern temperate country consisting mostly of islands and coastline. When he consecrates his life to saving the world, he changes his name to Helge Dag Ljoset, a perfectly normal-looking Norwegian name unless you are fluent in New Norwegian. Helge and Dag are common Norwegian male names, and surnames ending in -set are quite common (it may be related to the English word to settle, and is a common name for farms from a certain period in Norwegian history). But when read as words rather than names, “helge” means sanctify, “dag” means day, and “Ljoset” means the Light. So basically his name means sanctify the day to the Light, or the Light that sanctifies the day. I am pretty happy with this one. ^_^

Due to the different colors of the lights, the fourfold path of Love, Wisdom, Self-reflection and Progress has become Love, Wisdom, Objectivity and Harmony. The goal of the HLI – the Heavenly Light Institute – is to extend love and harmony to the whole world through the teachings from Heaven, ending all war and strife on a global scale and inaugurating an era of worldwide peace, harmony and sustainable living.

To this purpose, Master Ljoset has written exactly 1000 books, heavy tomes all, filled with luminous prose. The first is the Book of Truth, a comprehensive overview of the teachings he came to this Earth to spread. It gives a perspective as if from a very high point of view, starting before the creation of the universe and giving an overview of time, space and a bunch of other dimensions, then focusing on Earth and its history and the people and spirits that fill it, then detailing the various areas of knowledge that are useful to mankind. The following 999 books expand on these things, the first still on a very high level, then gradually more detailed and practical. The structure of the Books of the Truth is like a tree, starting with the trunk and spreading outward, some boughs and branches larger than others. In the Book of Truth it is explicitly said that the Truth is like a cosmic tree, its roots in Heaven and its branches on Earth. A reference to the World Tree Yggdrasil is briefly mentioned.

As you can see by now, this is not a simple fanfic. The people and teachings have taken on their own unique flavor. One example is the Freyday.

The members of the HLI pronounce Friday as “Freyday” in memory of Freyr and indirectly of his more recent incarnation as the founder of their organization. But unlike the Sabbath and the Christian Sunday, Freyday is not a day of rest! Rather, the believers get up early, gather in front of the altar and consecrate the day to their god, before eating the Freyday breakfast and going to work or school. The idea is that on Freyday, they will do everything at their workplace or school as if it was done for God or Heaven or the Light. They are encouraged to imagine Freyr or one of his subordinate spirits watching them as they do their job this day, and do everything in the spirit of love, wisdom, objectivity and harmony, not out of greed or glory or habit.

The second aspect of the Freyday consecration is that the income from Freyday’s work – in practice 1/7 of any wages or salaries – is also considered holy and set aside as a Freyday fund. Those who are particularly well off may donate this to the Institute, but common people are encouraged to use the Freyday Fund to purchase the Books of the Truth, as well as auxiliary materials such as comics, tapes/CDs, videos, and to finance going to meetings, conferences and retreats.

That’s pretty original, isn’t it? At least I haven’t heard of it before.

The story is told entirely from the point of view of a guy who becomes a member of the Heavenly Light Institute at the age of 15, when his cousin rescues him from a dreadful life living with his spiteful and hypocritical grandmother after his parents have died tragically. His cousin is a HLI member, as is her family, and he goes to live with them in Norway during his high school years. We get to see the Institute (and Norway as well) through the fresh eyes of an outsider. The downside is batches of unprovoked explanations and proselytizing interspersed in the narrative. He also uses foreshadowing fairly liberally.

I want to portray a living religion, but not exactly my own. People these days often wonder if there can be any reason for being religious except for stupidity and inertia. I try to portray people for whom their religion is something fascinating, like being alive in world filled with wonder and magic, as if a role playing game larger than life was superimposed on the mundane world, adding glow and excitement to even ordinary things. There is also the part where the Institute is a close-knit society, mostly in the positive sense. It is a place where people belong, where they have their family and friends, where they share the same values and ideals without dissolving entirely into stereotypes. Rather than bricks in the wall, they make up a colorful mosaic.

This part of course is based on my own experience, but I have gone to great lengths to make sure all characters are fictional. So if I ever decide to publish this in any way – and that is a big if – it won’t be anything like my life story or that of any of my friends.

There for you? Who?

Screenshot music video for Bryan Rice's

You’ll find the truth in the mirror, waiting for you… In Japan, it has long been said that gods (kami) are found within mirrors (kagami). The mirror is the symbol of self-reflection, literally so.

I was playing The Sims 3, with a household consisting solely of one of the most important characters in my JulNoWriMo novel (which is certain to not be completed in July, for various reasons, but I think it still was worth it). I heard a song on the Sim Radio that I particularly liked, and hunted it down. Like many of them, it was a Simlish translation of a popular song in our world, but which I had never heard: There for you by Bryan Rice.

Listening to the English translation (I believe it is originally in Danish, but it could be the other way around) I was once again struck by how alike … no, how equal love songs can be to religion. My theory is that with the decline of religion, people have projected the divine onto mortals. This is not really new, it has probably happened for millennia, but I would not be surprised if there is a lot more of it now. You never see arranged marriages in the secular parts of the world, for instance. Everyone is supposed to be madly in love (although some really just shack up, and some lucky souls marry their best friend.)

Huston Smith mentions a parable in which the sun shines on some broken glass on the ground, and we see the reflection as if the glass itself is shining with the light of the sun. This is when we adore or desire anything on Earth: We do so because it is a reflection of God, the source of all beauty and the giver and upholder of life. What we truly adore or desire is always God, but because we have our eyes on the ground, we see the reflections and mistake them for the real thing. Well, mistake … some things surely are more reflective than others. Not all things, and not all people, equally convey they beauty and the necessity of Heaven. But to some degree it also depends on being in the right place, at the right time, seeing things from a particular angle.

Now seems a good time to actually listen to the song, if you’re not at work. It’s pretty. Here on Spotify.  Or, if that fails, on YouTube, although I dislike the ending of the promotion video. It is OK up to the point of my screenshot, though.

With no one to hold on to, you hit the ground
Searching for some place to run to.
You fell out of existence, you got lost in the crowd;
Always your back against the wall.

I’ll turn your life around into something good.

Don’t face this world alone!
Cause I’m there for you my love.
You’ll find me in the mirror, waiting for you…
Oh baby, hold on, we’ll make it!

You’ll find me in the mirror. That’s where the shell of the human love song breaks down and reveals the true identity of the speaker as a Heavenly spirit, such as her guardian angel speaking on behalf of God, Heaven, the Light or whatever approximation you can grasp of the Infinite. The video, for its flaws, actually executes this part flawlessly in one of the later repeats of the choir: The woman has seen the singer in the mirror repeatedly, but at the decisive moment there is a flash of light passing across the picture, and the mirror shows herself in her present environment, not a man in a different place. That’s the moment of realization: The Kingdom of Heaven is within. What we have looked for in other people were always with us, waiting to help us. Always there for us.

You cover the bruises the best way you can,
Hiding your flaws in the dark.
Desperately seeking to understand
Why everything’s falling apart.

But don’t you worry now,
I’ll do anything to pull you out;
I’ll turn your life around into something good.

It is sad to watch when people cover their bruises and hide their flaws in the dark. In such a situation, even a good human — good either by a benign temperament or life experience, or being authorized to do good — is a great help. Hiding in the dark all one’s life is a terrible fate, and I am not even entirely sure that it will even end when life does, if this is one’s habit. So in that respect, a fellow human can be of great help.

Whether you are in Heaven or Hell (figuratively speaking, or rather, speaking about your mind rather than your body), conversations with those on Earth can bring you closer to Earth. Obviously this makes the option far more attractive for those in Hell, but their problem is the bruises and flaws that they are afraid to reveal. For those in Heaven, they have no wish to take anything from those on Earth, only to give. Their greatest joy is to meet someone who accepts gifts without suspicion. Unfortunately those who hide in the dark are the last to do that, so a direct contact is hard to achieve.

This is why, as in the music video, you may have to climb a little before you see the mirror for what it is. Before you realize that the light you saw in that man was the light of Heaven reflected in him. And even when he is gone, the eternal Sun still shines, and everything you seem to have lost is still there waiting for you. In fact, it is always with you. “In the mirror, waiting for you.”

Don’t face this world alone!
Cause I’m there for you my love.
You’ll find me in the mirror, waiting for you…
Oh baby, hold on, we’ll make it!

Well, this song is pretty much something the Voice in my heart could have said to me, and it seems reasonably for me to share it. Even I shall not be forever in this world, though I sure hope it will still be a while. But whether I disappear in one way or another from your circles…

You’ll find me in the mirror. You’ll recognize the gentle voice that whispers to you, as it whispered to me. Hold on, we’ll make it!

Ingress journal

Since this game is kind of special – it is the first RPG that blends the physical and virtual world – I have started writing about it in my more personal journal. It is less personal than the health whines and exercise posts there, although Ingress is a form of exercise, at least here in Europe. I understand that in the US, people try to use their car whenever possible.

Anyway, you can find it at my Slice of Life journal as a separate category: Ingress journal.

Ingress (the Niantic Project)

Screenshot Ingress.com/intel

While the game is played on an Android phone or tablet, the PC can be used for planning. Here is a map of the southern tip of Norway, which I mostly have to myself.

Ingress is a game which blends with real life. You use your Android phone (although there is an unofficial version for Apple, the game developers are actually working for Google). While the Ingress app is running, your phone is called a “scanner” and displays a map of the terrain around you, but without text. It mostly displays the roads … and Portals and XM.

XM is “exotic matter”, a kind of fog or energy that enters our world from Elsewhere, mostly through portals but also where people spend a lot of time. Portals are places where XM leaks into our world, and are typically sculptures, unusual architecture, or other outdoors permanent art. You can submit pictures of such things with your scanner to get them evaluated as possible portals. After a while you may see XM start accumulating rapidly around them, or perhaps not. Read the guidelines carefully.

The scanner absorbs XM until it runs full. The capacity increases as you level up. The highest level is 8, which also happens to be the number of “resonators” you can have on one portal. Resonators are virtual gadgets placed around the portal, claiming it for your faction. They must be recharged, as they lose 15% of their maximum power each day. Like you, the resonators have levels, and you cannot place resonators higher than your level.

At higher levels, you can no longer place many resonators at your maximum level. For this reason, you will need allies if you want to make high-level portals. The range of a portal increases exponentially with level, so you need this high-level portal to make long-range links. If your faction’s links make geometric patterns (usually triangles, but it is also possible to make more complex patterns of straight lines) the area enclosed will take the color of your faction, blue for the Resistance and green for the Enlightenment. Roughly speaking, the Enlightenment welcomes the ingression of XM into our reality, believing it will spur human creativity (since it associates with creative structures). The Resistance prefer to keep unknown extradimensional entities outside, thank you very much.

The range at which you can access a portal is just under 40 meters / yards. It is possible to access some of them from a car if the traffic allows, but they have to be in pedestrian-friendly locations, so the game encourages people to get out and about on their feet. Bikes are also common.

The way to level up is to use XM to perform certain actions, which give you action points (AP), serving the same function as experience points (XP) in other roleplaying games. These actions can be claiming neutral portals by placing resonators – you get points for each resonator and a bonus for the final one – and for creating links and fields. Or you can get AP by destroying resonators, links and fields on portals claimed by the opposite faction. There is also a small amount of AP to gain from recharging resonators, either when they lose their daily 15% or when they are attacked by the other faction. If you own a portal, you will be alerted if it is attacked. You need a portal key to defend it from a distance, though, and even then you suffer a penalty depending on the distance.

You hack portals to get keys, resonators, xmp (bursters used for attack) and some other virtual gadgets. You generally get more stuff from portals belonging to your faction, but you get AP for hacking opponent portals. These also tend to drain much more of your XM when you hack them. Unlike recharging, hacking can only be done locally. By default you can hack four times every four hours, but there is a cooldown of 5 minutes as well so you can’t just chain hack a portal and then move on to the next. You have to either wait or wander back and forth between portals.

In other roleplaying games, you sit in a chair while your avatar moves around doing stuff, leveling up and getting stronger. In Ingress, you are the avatar. You are the one moving around on the map, leveling up, getting stronger, meeting people and either befriending them or competing with them. (Relationship between factions can be tense in some places, but generally it is understood that having opponents is good for your progress, since there is no AP from hacking your own portals and only a tiny drip from recharging them.)

Level 1: You watch the first video and is amused by them saying “this is not a game”, because it is totally a game. But the backstory is halfway cool, and it is a new and different type of game so you want to try it. You are led through a series of easy sample missions. If there is no nearby portal, a temporary portal appears so you can learn to use your scanner. You feel incredibly self-conscious walking around staring at your scanner.

Level 2: You notice that there always seem to be people staring at their cell phones, could they possibly be agents of the opposition? Your scanner can hold a bit more XM now. You wander around your town, noticing sculptures or buildings that did not interest you before. Perhaps you drive to a neighboring town or city and check out these as well. If the weather is too bad, you stay indoors though.

Level 3: You have submitted your own portals and probably had some of them accepted. You know where all the portals in your town is, and probably in the city where you work as well. You no longer need to have your nose in your scanner when navigating around the town, you have been to each spot often enough to know the way.

Level 4: You are thinking differently. Is it the XM? Probably not, but you find yourself getting up earlier in the morning so you can hack those portals before work. You stay in town for a while after you clock out so you can hack them again. You have bought new jogging shoes, or fixed up your old bike. Oh, and you ordered an extra battery pack for your phone.

Level 5: You have met and befriended other agents from your faction, and know the names on your scanner’s Comm channel so well that you can spot a newcomer or visitor. You have joined the Google+ communities, first the open and then the secret ones. You marvel at the high-level players and their intricate plans.

Level 6: You bought a portable battery charger or a second mobile phone or tablet because the battery lasts longer that way and you don’t want to risk having to change batteries in the middle of a heated battle over an important portal. You are biking everywhere, or if walking, you are walking fast. You regularly visit nearby towns to get portal keys, either by hacking or exchanging keys with local agents there.

Level 7: There is no mistaking it: The XM has changed you. Your stamina is greatly increased. You can cover long distances in a loping gait, and you find your way even in the night. Weather no longer affects you. You have at least one portal near your home or near your workplace, quite possibly both. You recognize all members of both factions in your area on sight. Newbies are in awe of you, as you travel from city to city taking down opponent portals so they can claim them for your faction. Then you upgrade their portal so it becomes harder to take down, but you let them gain the action points of linking the portals together locally. Your mind is working on a larger scale now.

Level 8: You are One of Those. You are trusted in the most secret of the secret communities on Google+, on a state level or perhaps, one day, even higher. You take part in daring plans to link together cities across the entire continent, swiftly and precisely. Travel for work or vacation means gathering keys, and your family knows better than to try to dissuade you. You recruit new members and teach them the ropes, but you don’t just recruit any warm body. You know what kind of agent to look for. The goal now is nothing less than world domination. Your doctor is amazed by your physical perfection, but you don’t tell him that it is caused by a mysterious energy from a parallel dimension. The humans will soon enough come to know…

JulNoWriMo 2013

Screenshot anime Dog & Scissors

“The more you know, the more interesting will be the books you write.” In light of this, it may be not be a great loss if you can’t read mine yet.

I am trying my hand at novel writing again, this time in July (usually it is November). I was thinking of publishing each chapter here as it was finished, both as a motivation for myself and because some reader may be curious about my writing, or writing in general, and how a first draft looks while it is being written.

In the end, however, I decided not to post my fiction here. It is confusing enough here as is, I suspect. And there is the whole “Anonymous” debate going on. I don’t want to risk it looking like my fiction writing is in answer to that. Now that would be really confusing, because the story is itself largely about religion, spirit, psychology and the supernatural. While not particularly autobiographical (there may appear flavor elements from my own life or things I have seen personally, but not much) it has my distinct “voice”, I think, so it could cause unnecessary confusion.