Empty Ron, Full Harry


Literally: empty – logic – empty – discourse

Alternately: A theory with little relation to reality and thus of no use. Flights of fancy far from facts.


I have no idea why this “Happy New Year!” card was the top search result. Google, why do you hurt me like this?

Posted in Japanese, Yojijukugo | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment


(Shortly after leaving college, I think, I had an idea for a cyberpunk retelling of the Lord of the Rings, crossed with a hefty dose of Lovecraftian Dreamlands mythos and a bit of The Matrix. This fragment is all that ever got written of it, but reading it through again now, I still mostly like the voice and implied setting. Sharing now for posterity, and possible future inspiration. Incidentally, the two spelling errors are intentional and should be read as written.)


“The human mind is never more than seventy-two hours from madness,” RC says pedantically. “That is the entire basis of DreamNet.”

Kram shifts in his seat. RC sips from a cup of lukewarm English Breakfast tea, one sugar no cream, and idly watches the wall.

“Explain the hell the relevance of that,” Kram finally asks.

Here are facts: Kram is dressed in baggy red mock-camouflage sweats, sitting as if relaxed at one end of the booth’s couch. He is wearing prescription shades but they have slipped down his nose. His hands are nervous in his pockets. His jack is covered by a stylish chunk of hand-carved wood fitted with plastic. His real name is Jeremy Lee but only government employees call him that. He wishes he could change his nickname. RC claims that his real name is Carter but that his buddies call him Cola and most folks use his initials. He is wearing a suit and tie with a strong thematic tendency toward black. His jack is small, discreet, and metallic. He is looking at the wall because they are in a booth at the theater and the wall is where Raymond versus The World, which he has downloaded, is playing.

Kram’s parents are upset because he has not yet ended his schooling to pursue a career, and both men present know this.

“Modern psychology holds that dreams are what we experience when our brains shuffle data taken in during the day. Without this sorting process, we would lose our grip on reality. A human who remains awake for seventy-two hours, by which I mean three days straight, is tungsten-certifiable insane. But that’s not all. If a human is dream-deprived—by which I mean allowed to sleep but woken each time REM begins—then the same insanity will develop. It begins with irritability, confusion, disorientatatation. Later, paranoia. A range of schizoid tendencies. Eventually, death. This is you. Me.”

Kram pops a kink in his spine but does not speak.

“They knew this in the good old days. They had the interfacing tech and NeuralNet. Now, most folk logged on awake, right? Not Kenji, programmer savant. He trained himself to log in while asleep, and bypassed the automatic logouts by spicing his jack with code he wrote himself. He figured, why just sort through data you already have? Why not give the brain controlled amounts of new data and let it sort that too? He studied number theory and French, the major works of Voltaire, in his sleep before going patent.

“So ‘what happens next?’ you don’t ask.”

It is true that Kram does not ask this. He orders a mocha, which is vaguely like asking, almost. RC interprets it as such.

“It took off, right? You study all hands-on daytimes; you study all dreaming at night for up to three REM sessions; you take a test next week. College wasn’t always only twenty months. And everything’s safe as long as you load clean data from your home set instead of going on the Net. But there are always viruses, right? And shoddy programming. And advertisements. Nearly seven hundred people died in three years and tens of thousands needed psychiatric care.

“Of course it’s the Israeli military that comes up with the solution, right? People could control their dreams in the good old days too, just not all the time. Kenji could, but he only used it to flip the on switch. Other people could, but they were told that it just got in the way of the data flow so they suppressed it.

“But if you want to control the flow, you control the dream first. This one guy had a free-time dream where he was sitting on a rock hitting goats with a stick as they went by.  Pow, inspiration. Next thing, they had people all training themselves to control their dreams. Eighteen months; three hundred more people die and firewalls just aren’t stopping the bleed. The Israelis decided the experiment was a success after one guy actually manipulated a data chunk, rewrote it on a hard drive, in his sleep. He created a dream-room that he could revisit the next night and that other people could visit as well. Revolutionary. Literally, new worlds. These folk could sit and be hit by full-on subliminals all night and not even wake up hungry, much less wanting a new car. So a generation later, kids by the age of sixteen are trained to be active instead of passive dreamers, and at eighteen they’re allowed out of the YouthNet into full-on public dreaming. The age limit’s been creeping down ever since as kids learn all younger how to do it.”

Kram speaks up. “And that first room became the all fabled White Box at the core of the dNet, yeah.” His mocha has arrived, and he is patting his hair, with the spoon as a mirror.

“Except not. That room is the entranceway of the old NightNet, which some servers still carry. I’ve been there some. It’s mostly just entity-interface.” He leans forward. “The DreamNet most folk know isn’t everything, Jay Lee. You know that.”

Kram is eager to be incredulous. “You trying to sell me porn?”

“God no. I’m talking about the World. I’m talking about the part that can never be cleaned from the servers because it’s in our heads. This isn’t rooms, Jay. I’m talking about the space chiseled straight out of the collective unconscious. Jung would crash if he were alive to see it.”

The sound of money pings somewhere in Kram’s mind. He sips and nods for RC to go on.

“Now, the World has its own rules a little, but anybody used to traveling in dreams can scan it with great rapididity. Now I’m asking you if you’d like to write. Look around all first, of course; this is interactive like a room isn’t, except more so. But I’ve seen some of the rooms you designed, and we like to have people like you on board.”

Here is a fact: Kram makes a masterful attempt at sounding like a bored man with room to haggle. It is also true that he fails.

“So this is all for real instead of for class credit?”

“Of course.” RC takes out an actual print copy of a contract and waits. Then he hands over a pen and waits. Then he takes back the contract. “Keep the pen. I’ll sign my line after you get to my home in the World. Call it a test. If you don’t catch me, leave a message in the stacks right by the entrance.”

Here is a fact: RC leaves after closing his balance but Kram, who has nothing better to do, stays and watches as Raymond chooses the green pill and all of a sudden things are becoming stranger faster than usual, which is not a new storyline but makes for a good kick-back-relax movie.

Posted in Setting, Short Fiction | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Still buff from all that weeping

The Romantic ideal?

(Naku ko wa sodatsu; “The child who cries, grows”)


A baby that cries loud and often is a healthy one that will grow well. A strong cry is evidence of good health. Presumably this is a favored saying for new grandparents to quote to new parents.


We begin with the verb 泣く (naku), “to cry,” in prenominal form. This allows it to precede and modify the noun 子 (ko), “child,” in this case representing a baby. The particle は (wa) marks the crying baby as the topic of discussion, and the comment on this topic takes the form of the verb 育つ (sodatsu), “to be reared,” “to grow up,” in sentence-final form.


The theory goes that a baby who’s growing steadily will require a lot of food, and often. Add to this the fact that volume is an indicator of lung capacity and diaphragm power, or even itself a form of exercise, and it’s easy to see the folksy wisdom in this phrase.

…That said, if somebody blithely disregards your frustrations over a noisy baby by quoting this saying at you, feel free to respond with another one that goes 寝る子は育つ – replacing 泣く with neru, “to sleep.”

Example sentence:


(Naku ko wa sodatsu, tte? Dattara ore no ko wa kyojin ni naru darou.”)

[“‘Babies who cry grow well,’ eh? In that case my kid’ll be a giant!”]

Posted in Japanese, Kotowaza | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

We’re gonna have to go right to…

Ludicrous speed!


Literally: fast – fast – fruit – sever / decide

Alternately: Quick and decisive action. Bold moves made without hesitation.

Notes: For synonymous phrases the order of the elements may be reversed as 果断迅速, or 断 may be replaced with 敢 (kan, “daring”).


The joke is that this little nameko mushroom [source] enacts a 迅速果断 to put up an anti-rain charm instead of just bringing the laundry inside.

Posted in Japanese, Yojijukugo | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Not the same chamberpot, though

(Onaji kama no meshi wo kuu; “To eat rice from the same pot”)


Leading the same lifestyle together and working together; going through good times and bad together; being extremely close friends. An intimate, familial sense of closeness that comes from shared experiences and activities.


We begin with adjective 同じ (onaji), “the same,” attached to and modifying 釜 (kama), a traditional cast-iron cook-pot. This is followed by the noun 飯 (meshi), “boiled rice,” or by extension “meal,” which is connected to the pot by the associative particle の (no). The rice/meal is marked by the particle を (wo) as the object of the verb 食う (kuu), “to eat,” which appears in sentence-final form.


同じ may be replaced, more or less synonymously, with 一つ (hitotsu), “a single.” However, replacing the particle の with で (de), “at,” is considered an error.

Example sentence:


(Onaji kama no meshi wo kutta osananajimi ni uragirareta to omou dake de, kuyashisa no kiwami da.)

[To even think that you might have been betrayed by one of your oldest, closest friends is the most painful thing in the world.]

Posted in Japanese, Kotowaza | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

All sincerity

(No tricks)


Literally: intention – operate / fidelity – solid – harden

Alternately: Strict adherence to one’s principles and beliefs, or even to one’s chosen style in an art. Unwavering, uncompromising loyalty to an ideal.

Notes: Even though the meaning is similar, replacing 志操 with homophone 思想, “thought,” is considered an error. So is pronouncing 堅固 as kenko.

There are several other compounds that end in 堅固, all of roughly the same tenor as this, as well as a variety of synonyms using different terms.


It bothers me that this is an attack-type unit instead of a defense-type. Source: a little dungeon-crawler game called トリックスター:召喚士になりたい.

Posted in Japanese, Yojijukugo | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Flash of Feathers

(This bit of “flash fiction” was inspired by a writing prompt found on Reddit. It seemed to be fishing for a story about “How I got wings.” And I, apparently a bit of a contrarian at heart, decided to make it not a story about getting wings. In any case, it was a fun little exercise.)
[Warning: today’s post is rated PG-13 for strong language]

I almost didn’t remember the feathery stubs on my back any more, in my day-to-day life.

My early childhood had apparently been a nightmare for my parents: doctor’s visit after doctor’s visit; careful inspection followed by exploratory inspection followed by borderline-malpractice inspection; experimental treatments; diet changes; the works. The minor surgeries they attempted were startlingly easy – we still have a photo of six-month old me smiling next to a whole row of bloody, bony, draggle-feathered nubs in a soiled steel tray – but ineffective, because they always grew back. (In fact, the rate they grew back at seemed to speed up as I got older.) My mother’s job actually fired her under pressure from their insurance provider (not that she could prove it, of course), and my parents flirted briefly with the idea of going public and monetizing my condition, but decided that that wasn’t a choice they had the right to make for me. Instead, they stopped trying to find a medical solution and focused on adaptation.

Which… thank goodness. I’ve only shown them to a handful of my closest friends, and that was stressful enough. I nearly lost Amanda entirely, she was so squicked out, and that was after I’d gone out of my way to show her on my birthday as a special confidence. Being a celebrity-slash-freak would have been infinitely worse.

After that, life was mostly normal, with just an added mix of planning and mild inconvenience. A doctor’s note so that I could spend gym class stretching and doing solo exercises instead of anything that would risk exposure. Fluffy sweaters in the winter and flouncy blouses in the summer. Posture training at home so I didn’t ever lean back in a seat long enough for them to hurt, or lean forward so much that the shape would show. I even discovered that with some concentration, they could be retracted a bit, pulled tight against my skin.

Did I mention that there are dozens of them? Did I mention that the color of the feathers, always a jumble, varies a little depending on the air temperature and on what I eat? My younger brothers and I experimented for a while when we were all in elementary school together, but when I got into middle school I had to actually get serious about homework, and anyway it didn’t seem so important any more that eating bag after bag of baby carrots turned the feathers just slightly more orange. I had other stuff going on in my life. I almost forgot about them.

And then.


I stopped forgetting.

This morning, on just my ninth day of high school, in the middle of algebra, I stopped forgetting the stubs. I think it was because that asshole Devin threw a wad of paper at his crush when Ms. Su’s back was turned, and hit me instead.

It’s not like it hurt or anything. Just a little bop against my ear, a reflexive rush of laughter across the room, a moment of surprise, a flush of embarrassment, a flash of annoyance.

And a sort of slipping, popping feeling from my back, under my flouncy blouse. And then – motion, a scrabbling, something scratching my back, and then everybody around me was freaking out and I was freaking out and that only made it worse because the more I freaked out, the more quickly the slipping, popping feelings came, and more scrabbling, and by this point bad things were happening to my blouse all up and down my back, I could feel it, and then the WHOLE FUCKING FLOCK managed to burst out – a couple of the smaller birds even escaped through my sleeves – and I just ran. I guess there were cardinals and wrens and jays and finches and at least one crow and I think a hawk that flew straight into Devin’s face, both of them screaming. I didn’t hang around long enough to really take a good look or watch the show.

So here I am in the bathroom stall in the dingy little one-seater in the hall behind the theater room. The stall door is locked, and the bathroom door has a chair wedged up against the knob, and the light is off, and I just realized that of course my phone is in its little pouch in my bag back in the room and I’m not sure I can ever go back to that room because… just… ugh.

When we were little kids, my brothers and I played super-heroes. Doesn’t everybody? They changed who they wanted to be with the fads: one day they were fighting over who got to be Mantis Man, the next time it’d be Vortex or Dextro. I always ended up as Angel, and in our fantasies my feathers had matured into wings of purest white, or scarlet, or gold, and I gained all the powers we could imagine for a watered-down seraph. There wasn’t a lot of variety, but it could have been worse.

Wait, it is worse. I spent my childhood imagining myself as some kind of undercover angel… but now, judging from the rate this bathroom is filling up, my only real power is to produce an indefinitely large number of birds. I’m Harvey fucking Birdman.


Posted in Short Fiction | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment