2020: A Year in Taiwan by Ray Hecht

Gnome Appreciation Society

What Da Cover Says: Ray Hecht recaps how he spent the year 2020 in Taiwan in the form of a short comic following on from his comic biography Always Goodbye.

What I Says: I loved this and I want more, a fantastic way to look back on the past, ya know when they do those specials on TV where they look back on events for a particular year? Well this is like that but with a much better narrator. The illustrations are great, it’s the style I like, pencil drawings and all writing is hand written, being a little rough around the edges gives it a bit of character.

2020 was an epic year (yeah I know 2021 is trying to top it) and Ray shares with us all the big events, some of which I had forgotten (the shock death of the black panther for one) and he…

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On Death

Today is what would have been his birthday. It’s easy to remember, May Day/International Workers Day, and I will never forget it. So, that means I cannot help thinking about death on this day.

I think about it all the time actually, and I don’t want to. I wish these thoughts could be resolved somehow. I know they won’t, but I can’t help it.

I wish I had a definitive answer of why it happened. There are so many theories swimming around in the ether, ideas and conclusions and judgments, wondering why this had to happen and most of all who to blame.

Well, being that I’m unable to think about anything else, please allow me to make a list of these various answers to that underlying question. Thus, therapy…

Suspect 1 – The Ex-girlfriend: This is the most obvious, and she probably does bear the most responsibility. They had a truly toxic relationship, and he seemed to go off the deep end after she threatened him. She’s simply not a good person, and alcoholism makes everything worse. He was constantly talking about her in the end, and shared and reshared their private drama online. He was convinced that she was going to publicly embarrass him and ruin his reputation, and no doubt there were more horrifying psychologically-abusive fights behind the scenes that I can’t even imagine. Breakups can cause deep pain for anybody, and this was the worst I’d ever seen. Damaged beyond repair. It seems she was twisting the knife inside until the very end.

Suspect 2 – Racism: This in fact overlaps with the previous. The previous year of Blacks Lives Matters protest took a heavy toll. It was important to march and take this seriously, worthy of support, but unfortunately focusing on the injustices of the world had an effect on his mental health. I’m afraid that he became too dark, too negative and suspicious of the world, however rational he was to feel that way. I know he experienced things I don’t have to deal with, I just wish he didn’t. This outlook in the world peaked with the fear that his white ex would lash out and punish him—in obvious police brutality ways—I suppose he was just ready to give up at last.

Suspect 3 – The Pandemic: I do consider him a casualty of COVID. Because many of the scars upon society weren’t just measured physical disease, but on the terrible psychic toll as well. It was an awful two years, as the world shut down and he retreated to living with his immediate family. It was real trauma. If only he could have moved and worked abroad, something he talked about often, and also could have gotten away from the depressing spiral of the ex-girlfriend relationship. Where I live mostly shut off from the world, but if I only tried harder to work it out.

Suspect 4 – The Ex-wife: On the subject of family, there was also issues with another ex and his children. Lots of people deal with divorce, lots of men end up having to live far away from their kids and it must be very hard. I know they had some growing legal disputes towards the end, she didn’t want him to be closer, and he didn’t approve of the new guy in the kids’ lives (for reasons I certainly agree with). I’ll never know how much of an aspect this was in his decision, but I do know she didn’t even come to the funeral let alone bring them and I don’t think that is human.

Suspect 5 – Guns: America has an absolutely evil problem with guns. Even though homicides get far more media attention, approximately half of all gun deaths are self-inflicted. This is a much bigger problem than most people acknowledge. In fact, studies have shown that making people wait twenty-four hours to purchase guns significantly lowers these rates. Frankly, it should be harder for people to hurt themselves. I know he was into shooting ranges and this was a destructive hobby, normalizing the use of these deadly machines. It is what it is, a fundamental right in America for some reason, and who knows if he’d have found another way to it anyway or if the dark episode would have passed without this option. I just know I fucking hate guns.  

Suspect 6 – The Military: This may be the true underlying reason for all the mental health issues. It was PTSD. He was going to therapy, and expressed guilt at times about what he did abroad in the armed services. I don’t believe he did anything that much worse than the average grunt, but it did eventually cause a major leftward anti-war turn. The American military is notorious for causing lifelong damage to veterans and never taking responsibility in the long term. They say a vet dies every day hour to this. A truly shameful part of my country, causing so much misery to untold thousands surviving friends and families. The system failed this man completely.

Well, these are some of my thoughts, in trying to understand what happened. It’s likely to be a combination of the above, or other factors I don’t know or won’t talk about. There were hints of other private matters, all kinds of things that made life complicated and tough. The weird old friends re-entering his life, sexuality and other relationship entanglements, and other close family deaths that perhaps brought those thoughts to the surface.

It’s not easy out there for anyone, but something got worse for him and it culminated about one year ago right before his fortieth birthday. I guess he didn’t want to reach that age, there’s something else to consider. What it was most of all, I wish he told me. I wish I knew before, and I wish I tried to know more before while I could have said something. Now it’s too late, there’s only silence, forever.

Free eBooks!

To celebrate my birthday, I am making all eight of my ebooks free to download for the Kindle app!

Please read and enjoy some comic memoirs, science fiction short stories, novels and travelogues on living in China and Taiwan:

Amazon.com/author/rayhecht

My Year in Books

https://www.goodreads.com/user/year_in_books/2021/765636

2021 was pretty good year for me, least in terms of books ~

Read a lot of comics (DC + Marvel) both from the library and re-read digitally. Many audiobooks, the usual science fiction, literary and indie–and started getting into more Russian literature…

Please check me out on Goodreads for the occasional review and for mutual book sharing!

Goodreads.com/rayhecht

Mini-Author Interview: Ray Hecht

Hello everyone, It’s another exciting addition of the “mini-author interview” series. This time, our guest is Ray Hecht, the author of “Always Goodbye” and “2020: A Year in Taiwan”. You can learn more about Ray and his work on his blog: rayhecht.com What does being an indie author mean to you? It means I get […]

Mini-Author Interview: Ray Hecht

2020: A Year in Taiwan – now free on Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B09BDXCRRC

2020: A Year in Taiwan, my autobiographical comic about experiencing the pandemic next door to China, is now free to download for the week!

Please take a look, and let me know what you think. If you even feel so inclined, share and perhaps write a review…

Adrian Cone 1981 – 2021

Adrian Cone has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Soon after I moved to Cincinnati, we met at Princeton Junior High and became best friends immediately. Childhood can be a rough time, especially at middle school, and the joy that came with hanging out at his house playing video games and watching cartoons are among the best memories of my youth.

These memories will exist for as long as long as I still do, and a piece of Adrian’s spirit will live in this way. I will never forget the ups and downs we had, all over the world. It was the friendship of a lifetime. We were teenagers together dodging responsibility and testing the limits of what we could get away with, then we were twenty-somethings trying to figure out who we were. In our thirties, we were finally men.

He spent much of his life in the military, in large part I believe because he wanted to see the world. It worked. He was well-traveled, racking up experiences all over this planet.

Adrian lived all over the United States, from coast to coast. I have the fondest memories of when he visited me in California and of when I visited him in Seattle. He also worked in Bahrain, learning about and appreciating Middle Eastern culture. He traveled to Australia, and visited me in China. I can still recall the joy of discovering the Hong Kong skyline together after we found each other at the airport. The years passed but we easily just picked up where we left off.

He was a passionate man. Whatever he did, he did it with 100% of his spirit. He may have changed his focus from time to time, going from one thing to the next, but what an honor it was while it lasted to be obsessed over by Adrian Cone.

If he got a job, he worked at that job as hard as he could. If he had a cause, he believed in that cause with all his heart. If he loved, he loved with every fiber of his being.

To be honest, I’ve always been envious of this ability. I have never met anyone like Adrian, and I never will again.

Over this past month, so many people have come together to remember our dear friend and family member. He will absolutely live on in all our memories.

He was so many things to so many people. He was a father. He was an artist. He was a brother.

I know he was in a lot of pain recently. But that wasn’t all he was. I hope he is at peace now.

I truly believe his spirit lives on, through the love of his children and through the love of all of us still here.

Let us never ever forget.

Book Review: Love and Other Moods

Love and Other Moods is a novel with a lot to say. The new book by author Crystal Z. Lee takes place in Shanghai, starting with the backdrop of the 2010 Expo and continues on for several years through that decade. This makes for a good introduction to all the various elements that make up Rising China in the 21st century. Ostensibly, the character of Naomi Fita-Fan is the main protagonist. The half-Japanese and half-Taiwanese character, who does feel like a semi-autobiographical placeholder for the author, is a sophisticated businesswoman who comes of age while maneuvering throughout this complex landscape.

However, the city of Shanghai itself is the true star. The book continuously pours over details describing the evolution of the megapolis, full of history and politics and food and culture. The detailed backstory of the human characters generally serves as part of the world-building of this setting. The family backgrounds, the infodumps, even the dating scene these figures find themselves in—it’s all about making Shanghai as real as possible.

Although much of this describes a very upper-class scene, almost a “Sex and the City” in Asia, there is also a dark underside occasionally explored. Mentions of prostitution and drugs appear from time to time, which can be shocking in its contrast. The main hardships that the characters experience range from questions of identity, such as prejudice against Naomi for being Japanese in China and for being Asian in America. There is also tragedy and even violence that permeates through the history of this Communist land, as the main love interest Dante knows well.

Towards the end, the book becomes more of a conventional story. A typical love story in many ways, as the protagonist comes of age and deals with the challenges that arise from growing up. The generational divides that make up family, such how to get along with a family and how to define one’s own, are an endless source of conflict. Through all the heartbreak and even (spoiler alert) children, the relationship between Naomi and her best friend Joss is still just as valued as the romantic side.

Love and Other Moods might be classified as “chick lit,” and female readership does seem to be the intended audience. That said, anyone would enjoy learning so much about modern China by way of this book, and it is a valuable resource in capturing that moment in time…

Crystal Z. Lee takes the reader on a dazzling tour of hyper-cosmopolitan Shanghai. Here, the city is not romanticized in the typical manner, but portrayed the way it really is: exciting, loud, dizzying, sexy, sometimes risqué but always authentic. Love and Other Moods expresses the truthful energy of Rising China over the past decade, which those who’ve been would instantly recognize, and those who haven’t will find fascinating. It’s one of the most international places in the world, where everyone has a story, and some of those stories are told right here in this novel.

Love and Other Moods is published by Balestier Press and is available on Amazon.com.

Burn, baby, burn – Taipei Times

Turtle Burn, Taiwan’s spinoff of the avant-garde art festival Burning Man, will take place over the Tomb Sweeping holiday

https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/feat/archives/2021/03/26/2003754519

In the mountains of Yilan, far from the confines of everyday life, people gather during the holidays to celebrate. Outlandish costumes are the norm. The fashion styles run from Mad Max-inspired outfits, to anime cosplay, along with colorful makeup and dresses for both men and women.

It’s time for the Turtle Burn, the official “regional Burn” of Taiwan. This is a spinoff of Burning Man, the world’s largest art and music festival held annually in Nevada. For one week a year, over 70,000 people camp out in Black Rock Desert to attend this seminal countercultural event. All over the world, there are also smaller regional Burns, and the Turtle Burn will be a more intimate affair, capping at 150 people.

Although the main Burning Man event was canceled last year due to COVID-19, the Turtle Burn did have a successful opening in 2019 and plans to continue annually. The latest will be from April 2 to April 5, over the Tomb-Sweeping Festival holiday weekend, at Shanlinciji campsite.

Wooden turtle sculpture is set aflame on last night of Turtle Burn, 2019.

The site is filled with several “theme camps,” which groups organize in order to spend time with likeminded friends and to pool resources together. One is the Tavern of Truth, headed by Kate Panzica, which holds a free bar to give drinks to everyone who strolls by.

“Educating both foreigners and locals on the Ten Principles is a net positive,” Panzica says. “I think it’s great for folks to explore themselves and what they want to be in the ‘default world’ as well as a Burn.”

The Ten Principles of Burning Man, written by late founder Larry Harvey in 2004, are: Radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy.

Attendees gather around a flaming effigy on the last night of Turtle Burn 2019.

These guidelines help to make the event stay as ethical as possible, and people are encouraged to clean up after themselves and promote sustainable living. Radical self-reliance refers to how attendees must bring their own food, cookware, tents and other camping supplies. People are encouraged to contribute to the culture by building their own artistic creations, whether individually or as part of a group. And after the event is over, they must make sure to leave no trace by cleaning up all “MOOP” — matter out of place.

For four days the Turtle Burn will hold a variety of workshops and activities. The gifting principle doesn’t just refer to handing out free drinks or personalized jewelry, although that is also common. It can also be expressed by giving one’s time by hosting workshops.

In the past, these workshops have included improv comedy sessions, where participants learn to play and practice their comedic skills, yoga classes for keeping fit, lip-singing performances, fashion shows on a makeshift runway and even impromptu puppet shows. Some camps contribute at meal-times, cooking pancakes or grilled cheese sandwiches to share with the entire community. At night, fire-dancers are a particular attraction of any Burn, dancing to the beat of electronic music and entertaining others as they express their craft.

Shanlinciji campsite overlooking the city of Yilan under a full moon.

“I was part of the Queen of Hearts camp,” said Michi Fu, sharing her experiences. “We had a shared costume closet with a full-length mirror to encourage radical self-expression through costuming. I sang with my furry, lavender bunny ears and turquoise silk robe and we all had hand-cranked ice cream.”

On the final night, tradition dictates that a wooden effigy is to burn. This started in 1986 at the very first Burning Man in San Francisco, as a symbol of how to keep the creative “fire” burning on even after the event concludes. At the Turtle Burn, a two-meter wide wooden turtle sculpture is scheduled to be set aflame. Dale Albanese, Taiwan’s official Burning Man contact, said of the installation: “There’s a sense of buildup and tension, and this sudden quietness and a collective shared spirit. You hear the oohs and the aahs at similar times. There’s a kind of shared attention. We’ve all been busy doing our own thing, and then there’s a pause. A reset. It’s also a moment to open up and say it wasn’t just about me.”

As 150 artists and performers gather their community together to continue the Turtle Burn tradition, they are also planning for next year and beyond. Tickets for this year’s event have already sold out but there is a waiting list. For more information, visit: turtleburn.com.

Preparing for Turtle Burn in 2019, attendees construct a communal dome space.

Turtle Burn 2021 Map.

Review: Lolita Podcast by Jamie Loftus

In this day and age, is it worth it to revisit Lolita?

For me, after I got very into audiobooks over the past decade, I recently had to ask myself this question. As I exhausted all my favorite novels and must-read literary canons over the last few years, #MeToo then happened. I found myself wondering: Has this book, as they say, aged badly? Fanciful prose or not, is Nabakov’s famous opus no longer appropriate in the 21st century?

I do remember reading back in my precocious and wannabe-edgy early twenties; why I specifically recall posting quotes on MySpace. There was no question that I was absolutely mesmerized by the language. Was younger-me, however, glamorizing child abuse way back then?

The whole molestation and kidnapping plot struck me as fucked up, surely, but like in a literary way. Honestly, I don’t think I was ever quite the sort to romanticize the disturbing premise as a “love story.” Yet it was quite fascinating.

I did consider it brilliant, and worthy of the reputation. I did watch the two film adaptations as well, which did not hold up. But now, as a more well-read and more knowledgeable man (of Humbert’s age no less!), it does feel kind of wrong to just read this like a normal novel.

I’m not saying old problematic stories must be—as they say so insincerely—“cancelled.” But I am saying that there are some questions that need to be considered. We need to think about these things.

Anyhow, I apologize for this droning disclaimer, but allow us to enter comedian Jamie Loftus’ 10-part Lolita Podcast. I first became familiar with the Robot Chicken writer’s excellent Mensa podcast, which highlighted so many problematic issues with that particular organization. It turned out, her latest was the exact context I so very much needed before revisiting.

A progressive and feminist take on Lolita comes at as a welcoming time as ever. It may be even more relevant to male readers (the demographic who tend to grossly take the notorious unreliable narrator at his word). As Loftus share so expertly, there is an extremely long and detailed history of popular culture not getting the point of this book.

Firstly, let’s make it absolutely clear. There is no question Humbert Humbert is the villain of this story. This really isn’t interpretable, look it up, author Vladimir Nabakov wrote extensively on how opposed he was to glamorizing the abuse of 12-year olds and calling it romantic. Again and again, he fought with the romantic notions that outgrew his novel and into its various adaptations.

Merely a cursory literary analysis gives endless evidence: Pedophile Humbert is introduced as a criminal in the introduction, the unreliability of his narration is laid out instantly! He is profoundly unlikable, and is consciously intended to be that way. He constantly lies to everyone around him. He spends his free time at the pool ogling children. He is contemptuous and hates all around him, insulting every random he meets with the worst kind of snobbery. Seriously, just because he claims he toxically loves one person so much and that is supposed to make him some sort of flawed hero?

He is pettily cruel to his new wife Charlotte Haze, he gaslights her, he fantasizing killing her in excruciating detail, he dismisses the tragic death of her son. (So much death, by the way. A theme that sure comes up a lot with his mother and his exes. But I digress.) Hell, if one really reads between the lines, he may have killed her himself and lied to the reader about the car accident just as he compulsively lies to his victim and every single person they meet. He drugs her with sleeping pills, then he drugs the eponymous character on their first night together so he can take off her clothes and fondle her, all while writing beautiful poetry of the sky-blue color of these rapey creep pills.

Indeed, Nabakov seems to be taking up a personal challenge to create the most creepy and cringing scenarios imaginable, and then dress it up with the most flowery of poetic language like it’s some kind of dare to see if the audience will buy his take. This takes seriously writing skill, no doubt. It can even be funny. But how very unfortunate that so often the public does just and are so easily impressed with this guy.

On the subject of the unreliable narration, the most egregious monstrosity of all must be the first rape after he picks her up from camp. The famous line, “Gentlemen of the jury. I wasn’t even her first.” As if that mattered. But whatever adolescent sexual experimentation his victim may or may not have engaged in, the very next day she specifically states that he “tore something inside me.” He was just plain lying through his teeth.

And then, the heartbreaking quote that really gives away the nature of this relationship. “You see, she had absolutely nowhere else to go.” To further illustrate, how Lo “sobs, every night, every night.”

So romantic, amiright? Furthermore, he threatens that if she turns him in then she’ll be a pitiful ward of the state. He calls her a whore and a slut and unjustly imagines the worst sexcapades. She accuses him of rape multiple times, using up a significant allotment of her rare moments of dialogue with which to express her truthful side of the story.

As a reader, I wholeheartedly thank podcater Jamie Loftus for preparing me to read between the lines with such careful analysis. Thank you.

Well, after that summation, if I may, I’d like to add some conclusions I have come to on my own.  Much has been said in criticisms of the assumption that Delores Haze is a “brat.” There is the issue of the so-called perfect victim, how that shouldn’t matter, but upon my reread that still doesn’t make sense to me. I can’t help thinking she’s only a normal child. Was Charlotte really a terrible parent who hated her daughter, or were they just having the normal bickering that happens in any family? The poor girl was certainly traumatized after the sudden death of the mother. Furthermore, there is the indication that she flirts with Humbert and has a crush on him: Again, he’s a damn unreliable narrator sociopath. Perhaps just let the kid be herself without putting so much on her.

My main maybe-somewhat-original perspective, is that I contend Clare Quilty does not even exist! That is, perhaps he was some celebrity playwright within this world, and perhaps Humbert was jailed for murdering him after inventing a reason. But I do not believe Quilty was following them around their Americana road trip, and I do not believe he was the one who helped Delores escape. There were other ways, and it must have driven Humbert mad to never know. He is a controlling paranoid predator, who admits hallucinations by the way, and the whole gimmick of someone driving behind does not ring true. That she ends up with an even worse abuser after leaving his clutches is just something his mind would project and imagine. The perfect rationalization for it all. I don’t buy it.

So, these are some of my thoughts after re-reading the book. On the subject of the podcast, the literary analysis and interviews with Nabakovian scholars made a supremely positive difference. But Loftus’s contribution doesn’t end there.

In fact, Lolita Podcast is as much about society at large as it is about one book. Popular culture has taken the trope of the sexy underage lover, sadly influenced far more by movie posters and YouTube clips than by actual reading, and the social impact is terrible. There’s the online Tumble “nymphet” fashion scene (ugh) which I previously knew nothing of, and that Lana Del Rey sure hasn’t helped. As a casual movie buff if nothing else, insider information about the 1962 Kubrick film and the horrible world of Hollywood was crucial and interesting. The 1997 film, featuring noted problematic male Jeremy Irons, was even worse. Note both of which aged up a star character who was twelve in the source material. There were also a couple of bizarre aborted stage productions which further reinforces how bad the sexualization of children has been, and how more modern audiences still don’t get it. The interviews and biographies of the main actresses showcases how their voices deserve to be heard. An important and informative work of journalism indeed.

Loftus concludes by asking the question of whether yet another adaptation would still have relevance and make a positive difference. For one thing, it’d be nice to have one helmed by a female creator for the first time ever. While there is the controversy of utilizing teenage actresses, and another question of how simulating ages can be just as bad, Loftus concludes animation may be the most ethical way. I’d argue a graphic novel could work, but in any case point taken. A new take does seem necessary. The themes of abuse and grooming and gaslighting are absolutely as valid as ever. The trope of a “Lolita” (and Loftus compassionately makes sure to always call the character Delores), often taken up by an opportunistic news media sensationalizing real-life tragedies, is still a term in our language today. The public deserves to know better of what this really means.

The novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov is a horror story told from the point of view of the monster. It is, I strongly argue, a masterpiece of horrifying and toxic obsession. The ultimate anti-love story.

In the decades since, this tale has permeated the broader culture at large, drifting far from its literary roots, and the world has quite literally lost the plot. The solution is not to try any ill-fated attempt to send Lolita down the memory hole, but to think harder, and fix this mistake of pop culture by staying true to one brilliant author’s intentions and share the truth. Lolita can be a powerful tool for education on toxicity and abuse, and it is still worth a try.

 

Lolita Podcast is available from iHeartRadio and is available on podcast platforms such as Apple and Google

Taiwan Travel Video: Chiayi to Alishan Mountain

Traveling by motorbike from Chiayi city (嘉義) up to Alishan Mountain (阿里山) and surrounding villages in central Taiwan, during the Lunar New Year holiday