Kishotenketsu, Story Structure, and the Nonviolent Imagination 

What is Kishotenketsu? It’s a four-act story structure characterized by a twist in the middle. 

As you can guess by the name, it’s Asian, originating in Chinese poetry and developing in many forms of Japanese poetry and storytelling.  It’s the story structure Studio Ghibli often uses in its films. 

But why should we care? Because unlike western story structures, Kishotenketsu is not rooted in conflict, and doesn’t rely on conflict to maintain interest. 

That isn’t to say that it excludes conflict, but that it doesn’t require it like the typical western storytelling. 

I’m not alone in my belief that we in the western world are primed (through a “mean world” viewpoint) to support war and nationalism by the stories we hear  from early childhood on. 

Western storytelling’s three-act structure is pure conflict: 1) introduce conflict 2) escalate conflict, 3) resolve conflict. And when conflict is resolved, at least somebody is going to lose, to suffer some kind of harm, be it physical or emotional or social.

Traditional three-act storytelling comes down to winners and losers, and I think we can do better. 

Kishotenketsu is a tool to help me do better, as a writer, yes, but also as a person in general. My nonviolent imagination needs nourishing,  just like everyone else’s. 

Kishotenketsu helps me imagine story structures that aren’t just boring navel gazing,  stories where things happen, even action things, but where the very heart of the story isn’t a struggle or conflict.

It’s also helps me imagine win-win situations, situations where conflict can be averted by reconciliation of opposites.

And it’s helped me learn to write short stories, which is something that completely escaped my understanding before 2017.

I think that’s enough for now: I’ll be revisiting this topic soon.

Why Are Post-Apocalyptic Settings So Compelling? 

The Walking Dead, Mad Max, The Road, Fallout, The Book of Eli, ___ of the Dead, Gamma World: why are post-apocalyptic settings so popular and so compelling?

I think it’s because they give us a simple and focused problem to hold on to. There are two types of fear of death, the neurotic and the basic. For most of us who have the time to watch tv or play games in an apocalyptic settings our lives are swaddled in complexities

– regulations, economics – that largely insulate us from the basic fear of death, that fear of literally  dying that is endemic to every wild animal and every person who lives in the wilderness or Journeys too far from civilization, and that we all face at the end of our lives.

Most of the time we deal with a neurotic fear of death the fear of not mattering, the fear of not leaving a legacy of not being important, of not being loved, of not being good enough. You could argue that this is actually a fairly biologically driven fear as well, since a big part of survival is passing on your genes, at least at the most animal level. And only the “superior specimens” have the best chances of passing on their genes the most times in the animal kingdom.

To quote the Bloodhound Gang, “you and me baby ain’t nothin but mammals.”

We’re all swaddled up in this relatively safe bubble filled with self-doubt and bitching and just a general feeling that we’re wading through shallow water or mud or molasses. We just don’t have that freedom that people used to have.

In the apocalyptic genre, it’s basically you can do whatever you can get away with. There’s no police, no law, no civilization: you just have to survive.

You can get away with whatever you can physically get away with.

It’s good to root for people who try to maintain some sort of goodness in the sight of this lawlessness.

This is why people loved the Western genre for so long before it fell out of favor, because you had the strong individual standing up for something good in the lawless land.

I will leave the obvious low-hanging fruit of westerns’ horrible representation of Native Americans and other social issues for later because I have no desire to shoot fish in a barrel.

The post-apocalyptic setting usually gives us a chance to inhabit a character who’s trying to be a good guy or reluctantly becoming a good guy in the face of lawlessness, while also experiencing that basic fear of death vicariously.

And the best part about it is we don’t have to experience the deprivation and hard work that come along with it. We don’t even have to watch our favorite heroes experience that. 

I mean sure The Walking Dead‘s characters scavenge for food, but Abraham would not really be able to keep that glorious ginger high top fade of his during an actual struggle to survive.

But we can watch, enjoy, be shocked and scared and catharsis-ed  six ways from Sunday (at 9 pm, 8 central), without having to ensure trench foot or sepsis,  and without smelling as bad as the zombies. 

And, just because I can, and must:

Meat Free Monday: I Want to be this Man … in 58 Years

In terms of health.  In terms of attitude, I want to be more like him now. Too often,  I substitute worry and feeling for real best effort, and that causes me to be both stressed and much less effective.

I had my daughter pretty late in life (age 38), so I’m  really trying to do all I can to stay alive and healthy for as long as I can. 

Let’s just say I can identify with a certain replicant.

Please Support Trans Lifeline

The video is a couple of years old, and they’ve expanded since then, but the point is the same: trans people, especially trans youth, are more at risk for suicide than almost anyone else. 

And no matter how well- intentioned, a cisgender person can’t help them as well as another trans person. 

We’ve donated in the past,  and we will do so again. I hope you will consider something as well. 

This is literally a matter of life and death. 

Meat Free Monday: Emilie Eats’ Vegan Cajun Red Beans and Rice

So I finally took the time to make this recipe.

I won’t reprint the recipe (just follow the link above), but I will give my impressions:

First,  this took a lot more time and attention than I’m used to putting into my cooking. 

It had a lot of ingredients, several steps, and took a long time to cook. This is no problem for a true foodie, but I mostly cook so I’ll have something to eat.

The result was pretty good, but all I can really taste is the hot sauce, the bay leaves, and the dried beans, which I can never seem to get just right. 

So my verdict is: this is not a quick, easy, or lazy recipe. It requires more skilled hands than mine to really shine. Foodies only: for someone like me, it isn’t worth the effort as written.

I may try it again with canned beans. That will cut the cook time way down and remove my main source of error. 

I’ll also use less Tobasco, so it doesn’t overwhelm the other seasonings.

I really think this is a good recipe, but I’ll need to cut it down to my skill level for it to work for me. 

Moana and the Temptation of Good Advice 

One of my favorite things about that song (and about Moana in general) is that the temptation she has to overcome to save her people and fulfill her destiny is good advice.

I mean,  what advice could be better than “you can find happiness right whet you are?” 

Don’t most of us get into trouble when we forget that? Isn’t that a great corrective to our consumerism, our fear of missing out, our endless anxious status- seeking? 

And it was good advice for everyone on the island except Moana. She had a vocation,  a literal divine calling,  and to fulfill out,  she had to walk away.

Sometimes we have to do that, to turn away from good advice in order to do what’s most important. 

But most of the time I should be listening to the good advice around me. 

Meat Free Monday: Spinach Sandwich!

Growing up in the South, I’ve eaten a lot of yummy tomato sandwiches, just sliced tomatoes, salt, pepper, and mayo on soft white bread (or toast).

But just last week I discovered you could do the same thing with spinach.

I’ve been devouring them like the end of the world is coming ever since. 

You should give it a try. You can also combine them into a spinach and tomato sandwich, if you think you can handle it 🙂