Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for October, 2016

Long weekend links: Social media creates angry partisans, how to tell if you’re a jerk, and what earwax is for

October 30, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Health, Language, Psychology, Technology No Comments →

Are You A Jerk? (with attempts at definitions of jerk and asshole)

Illustration from Nautilus by Jackie Ferrentino

The scientifically recognized personality categories closest to “jerk” are the “dark triad” of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathic personality. Narcissists regard themselves as more important than the people around them, which jerks also implicitly or explicitly do. And yet narcissism is not quite jerkitude, since it also involves a desire to be the center of attention, a desire that jerks don’t always have. Machiavellian personalities tend to treat people as tools they can exploit for their own ends, which jerks also do. And yet this too is not quite jerkitude, since Machivellianism involves self-conscious cynicism, while jerks can often be ignorant of their self-serving tendencies. People with psychopathic personalities are selfish and callous, as is the jerk, but they also incline toward impulsive risk-taking, while jerks can be calculating and risk-averse.

Another related concept is the concept of the asshole, as explored recently by the philosopher Aaron James of the University of California, Irvine. On James’s theory, assholes are people who allow themselves to enjoy special advantages over others out of an entrenched sense of entitlement. Although this is closely related to jerkitude, again it’s not quite the same thing. One can be a jerk through arrogant and insulting behavior even if one helps oneself to no special advantages.


Doctor Strange: Psychedelic Marvel

October 26, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies 2 Comments →


Doctor Strange opened in local theatres today, more than a week ahead of its US debut. The latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, and Tilda Swinton, who can play any role she wants as far as we’re concerned.

Saffy’s Wow face

You will enjoy Doctor Strange if

– You’re into eastern mysticism, magical arts, astral projections and that mind-bending stuff that was big in the Sixties when the comic book first came out.
– You like seeing Benedict Cumberbatch playing another arrogant genius (See Sherlock, See the Star Trek Khan redo, See The Imitation Game, See The Fifth Estate). Typecasting!
– You like seeing Benedict Cumberbatch as an arrogant genius who has a life-threatening experience and learns to see past his enormous ego to serve the greater good (See Iron Man, which launched the Marvel movie universe).
– Tilda Swinton is your life guru.
– The concept of alternate universes and time loops appeals to you.
– You’re a completist and you have to see where one of the Infinity Stones comes from (That is not a spoiler).
– Years of watching two Marvel superhero movies every year have trained you to sit through the end credits for a surprise guest appearance. (There are two closing credit sequences.)
– You get a kick out of random pop references in your superhero flicks.
– You prefer your superhero flicks to be fun, because life is grim enough.
– You approve of the Petyr Baelish/Littlefinger look that Stephen Strange ends up with.
– You’re thrilled by reality-bending, folding, splintering effects, like Inception without the “Look, this is the greatest thing ever!”
– Seeing Stan Lee reading The Doors of Perception makes you happy.
– You are not yet exhausted by the endless parade of superhero movies.
(You live for superhero movies/You do not live for superhero movies.)

10 writers, 10 stories in our just-concluded Writing Boot Camp

October 23, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Projects 4 Comments →


The objective of Writing Boot Camp was to produce a story in the time between our two Saturday sessions. Last Saturday, the participants stood before the class one by one to read their first drafts. We got an intriguing range of stories, from fantasy epics to alternate histories, from the beginning of romance to the end of friendship, from the shenanigans of confidence tricksters to the inner worlds of small children. Good work, everyone!

Watch out for the Writing Boot Camp anthology featuring the complete and final versions of these stories.

Angel With A Stoma by Ramy Roxas. A surgeon finds his logical assumptions about life, sex and death challenged by a seriously ill patient.

The Confident Man by Kyo Mendoza. Hard work is all very well, but if you want your rewards quickly—like, right now—what you need is confidence.

Men, Not Boys by Jeffrey Resurreccion. In a violent, hedonistic society, a boy with a mission hopes to be chosen for a strongman’s harem.

Vivid Vengeance by Michael Bartolo. A secret agent wakes up from a coma in an alternate 1980s in which the Philippines is a socialist country.

Commuter by Rizza Estoconing. A call centre agent longs to escape her daily commute and live in the city. Is it worth it?

Anatomy of a Break-Up by Barny Rivera. One minute you’re giddy with happiness, the next minute you feel like a bag of trash hurled into an active volcano.

Boy by Philler Uy. We always assume that kids are making up things, but what if they’re not?

Harsh Tag by Rizalee Ibarra. When Zen logs onto Facebook she turns into Zena the Warrior Princess, obliterating dissenters with the strength of her political convictions. Then her online and real lives collide.

The Wrong of Being Right by Zack Lim. A teacher realizes that he could’ve changed the course of history, but is the past really past?

Ghost by Alexis Roxas. Is the blond boy sitting by himself in the woods a ghost, a figment of her imagination, or a time anomaly?

The next Writing Boot Camp will be held in February, 2017. For inquiries, or to commission a Writing Workshop for your group or office, email

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Thanks to WSI Corporate Center for our excellent venue and facilities. WSI Corporate Centre has spaces for seminars, parties, wedding receptions, family reunions, clandestine superhero conventions and so on. For rental inquiries, call (02)8585405.

A classical musician has recorded an album to soothe cats and Saffy likes it.

October 23, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Cats, Music No Comments →

“Delightful! I recommend this album to cats everywhere.” – Saffy (Whenever she hears this music she runs to the speakers and listens intently.)

David Teie of the National Symphony Orchestra has made a study of sounds that cats like, and composed music for our feline overlords. He is now working on an album of music for dogs.

“I told Saffy I prefer the Star Wars score by John Williams and she smacked me. She’s a nasty girl.” – Drogon

Can you remember the first lines of your favorite books? Take this quiz. (Updated with answers)

October 20, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books 5 Comments →

The first session of our Writing Boot Camp was held last Saturday at WSI Corporate Center in Makati. We discussed the basics of writing a short story and how to develop a story beginning with the protagonist. At the second session on Saturday, the participants will read their first drafts (and if not, engage in a therapeutic session on what is stopping them from writing).

I’m a great believer in the Killer First Sentence. Ideally the first sentence sets the tone for the whole piece, or establishes the character, or encapsulates the setting, or makes an observation about human nature that will be borne out in the story that follows, or all of the above. Find your opening sentence and you’ve found your voice.

While we’re sitting out the storm—I hope you are safe and dry—take this First Lines from Famous Books Quiz.

First, look into Drogon’s eyes and swear that you will not look up the answers on Google.

Drogon took his own picture (note mirror image, the funny ear should be on the right) under Ricky’s direction.

Now identify the novel or short story which begins with these words.

1. Let’s start with a giveaway so you can proceed with confidence.

You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler.

2. This one captures how we sometimes feel.

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.

3. I learned to write by imitating this.

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

4. Someday I’m going to finish reading this doorstop.

A screaming comes across the sky.

5. There’s an ongoing argument on the best way to put this translated line.

Mother died today.

6. And another very short opening for a very long, phantasmagorical work.

Call me Ishmael.

7. Clue: It’s so strong, it even opens the movie adaptation with Julie Christie.

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

8. This book was very popular in its day. I discovered it on NYRB Classics.

“Take my camel, dear,” said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.

9. You know this one.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

10. We should reread this, it’s our present.

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

11. This is how NOT to write a first sentence. On the other hand it’s gone down in history, so it is, in a way, successful.

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

12. SF classic.

It was a pleasure to burn.

13. The beginning of a perfect short novel.

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

14. This novel has some very long sentences.

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

15. He begins the novel by talking about the writing of the novel.

A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.

The answers tomorrow.

* * * * *

The Answers

1. If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino. The whole book reads like that first sentence: so clever, sometimes you feel like hitting Calvino over the head with his book. However, if you read it all the way to the end, you will feel very…clever.

2. Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. There’s a podcast in which it is read by Benedict Cumberbatch—listen to it while you are stuck in traffic.

3. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. The recent “unmasking” of Elena Ferrante which, despite the journalist’s claim that it was by public demand, no one was asking for, calls to mind Salinger’s insistence on being left alone. The Thomas Pynchon model for reclusiveness is the best method: hiding in plain sight, since no one knows what you look like anyway.

4. Speaking of Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow.

5. Aujourd’hui, maman est morte. In basic French: Today, mother has died. The beginning of The Stranger by Albert Camus. Check out our group translation of The Stranger.

6. Moby Dick by Herman Melville, which had defeated my attempts to read it, so I listened to the audiobook/podcast by Tilda Swinton et al.

7. The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley. I recommend it highly. The narrator, now an old man, looks back on an idyllic summer he spent in the country with a wealthy family, and the part he unknowingly played in their unhappiness. One of the models for Atonement by Ian McEwan.

8. The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay. Trebizond was a kingdom in what is now known as Turkey, where we’re going back in December for a shoot, yay!

9. Pride and Prejudice by everybody’s tita, Jane Austen.

10. 1984 by George Orwell. “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” Oy.

11. The first sentence of Paul Clifford by Edward Bulwer-Lytton is so cliche that an annual bad writing award has been named after Bulwer-Lytton.

12. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. One of the writers who sent us to space. When Mars is colonized there has to be a city named Bradbury.

13. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

14. 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. There’s a Netflix series waiting to happen.

15. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene.


Good effort, geeksturr and juleste! We dub you the Honestly Well-Read Readers of the Week.

What we owe Sesame Street

October 17, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Television 10 Comments →

Whenever there is a lull in dinnertime conversation, we fill it with memories of Sesame Street. Sesame Street was one of our biggest formative influences, shaping our sense of humor, use of the English language, and musical tastes. It wasn’t just a TV show we watched twice a day; we lived there. If we were the Nobel Prize committee, we would give the Nobel Prize to the Children’s Television Workshop and Jim Henson.

These are the Sesame Street sketches that my friends and I refer to most often.

1. The Orange That Sang the Habanera from Carmen

This was one of the first times I heard opera. I suspect that this scene from Magnolia was written by a Sesame Street viewer.

I feel like most of the characters from Magnolia, but especially the quiz kids, young and old.

2. The Alligator King

3. The Golden An

“…put it in the tan truck. Take it to Dan, who’ll take it to Horace.”

4. A Loaf of Bread, A Container of Milk, and A Stick of Butter

We also remember “What would happen if I stuck this balloon with this pin and it popped and it scared my sister…” but cannot find the exact video online (A different one turns up).

5. Wanda the Witch

“And blee-ew it away forevah!”

6. Goodbye, Mr. Hooper.

Sesame Street did not shrink from the subject of death. The adults didn’t try to give Big Bird a load of sentimental crap, they addressed the topic head-on and said it was tough but that’s how life is. Pass me that box of tissues.

7. It’s the plumber. I’ve come to fix the sink.

We always thought this was from Sesame Street and stand corrected. It appeared in The Electric Company, which was for the older viewers of Sesame Street.

8. The Princess and the Mattress

9. It’s a lovely eleven morning.

10. Your pick.