This is a Tomorrowlands universe story; they are listed at http://www.tomorrowlands.org/story/stories.html.
© 2002, Kaijima A. Frostfang
Death by Zen
A Tomorrowlands Writer's Guide
by Kaijima A. Frostfang
version 1.0, September 16th, 2002
In the Tomorrowlands universe, being a therianthrope is grounded in belief.
Every individual theri has their own personal explanation for themselves. A person may feel they were a jaguar in a previous life. Or that they have a parallel existence of some sort with another creature in another reality, and that their ability to adopt the form of that creature is an expression of that connection. Still others may see physically manifested therianthropy as a literalistic expression of totemic animal beliefs.
However, the key concept is that these are all beliefs. Belief is what allows a theri to harness the potential present in the reality of Tomorrowlands and change their physical expression into a form that matches the mental expression of their identity. Even if a person does have some objective connection relating to their non-human nature, such as an actual past life, belief is the key that unlocks that connection in the present.
Death by Zen, or DBZ (anime associations unintended), is the term for what happens when the ability of belief to unlock therianthrope potential breaks down. Please note that Death by Zen is a writer's term. People in TTU have not begun to study the phenomenon as a phenomenon, and so no official terminology exists. But the effects of DBZ are entirely real, and very powerful -- and more TTU residents are affected by it than it may appear at a glance.
1. The Power of Context
Death by Zen is at the most fundamental level, a person deconstructing their existence as a therianthrope either consciously or unconsciously. It refers to the idea of "zenning out" about one's nature as a theri: rationalizing that it isn't really something that matters to real, practical or realistic life and is incompatible with their identity.
It's all about context. Many people simply will not have a world view in which being, for example, an anthromorphic bengal tiger, is a practical or beneficial thing. They may not even have enough of a world view which deals much with tigers at all -- or anything outside of their immediate life. Of course, the immediate question that springs to mind is "how could somebody in this state of mind transform into 'x' theri form to begin with?" Don't the four principles of therianthropy, outlined in "How to Become a Therianthrope in Four Easy Steps", require in sum total that a person not be averted to their theri nature in order to be able to manifest it?
The answer is that DBZ is something that stops many theris before they even leave the gate. There are people who will go their entire lives and never make the all-important "first change"; for them, there are simply too many factors working against them. However, for other people, who are not entirely DBZed before their first opportunity to change, there is a grey area.
While these people may have no context in which to relate to being a theri, their may quite readily be a slip. A moment of fancy, a daydream, or a powerful night time dream that allows the subconscious to emerge and assert their nature... or it may happen during a moment of desiring an escape from their daily lives. If it seems like these things would not form a solid foundation for one's therianthrope sense of self... they don't. And in fact, they all have something actively working against the potential DBZ victim: they place transforming into another creature in the context of escapism.
While no one within the Tomorrowlands universe has put together demographics on DBZ victims, they do exist. The next section deals with them.
2. First Wave Therianthropes
The night following the First Sighting was a significant one. Many people who already had some idea about themselves or reality being different than what was typically perceived went to bed that night with the thought (even if it was subconscious), "there are dragons in the world now. The rules have changed." And the next morning, they woke up as something different. Or perhaps they went out by themselves late that night... and something happened. Or over the course of the next few days or the next week they experienced the right combination of circumstances to cause their first change.
These folk are First Wave theris. Their change was triggered directly by the First Sighting; even if it didn't happen the very first night, the event changed the way they perceived the world. But the important thing to consider here is that these people all had some pre-existing feeling or belief or vague suspicion that the world was more than it appeared. When they changed, they possessed some degree of context in which to come to grips with their new form - their new life. Be it the full expectation of turning into an elven magician and going out to do great deeds in the world, or the simple and basic appreciation of the concept that the world might be a better and more magical place with real dragons in the sky. First Wave theris all had something in which to fully desire their change, even if they didn't entirely realize it beforehand.
Is it possible for a First Wave theri to fall to Death by Zen? Yes, it is. It's just incredibly hard for most. The best analogy is perhaps clinical depression. Someone who has otherwise been happy and well-adjusted with their life, if struck by severe depression, may systematically begin to disintegrate: take themselves apart piece by piece until both their life and sense of self is shattered. For a First Wave theri, DBZ might come as the result of having the ideals or worldview in which they originally placed the significance of themselves betrayed or broken -- even if only in their own minds. It is arguable that the more "spectacular" a creature a theri is, the more they don't fit in with the world as it was before the Changes, the more susceptible they are to their identity being chipped away by the world at large and their own doubt.
It's entirely possible for a theri to "unmake" themselves: Bow their head, transform "back" into human form, and give up their dreams and new life in favor of the old one. And if they should ever try to transform again, find they can't -- reinforcing the perception that it was a fantasy not meant to be. And so the Death by Zen would be complete.
Is it possible for someone fully gripped by DBZ to fight it off? In theory, it is, much like anything is possible in theory. But it would be extremely difficult; it would require a life-changing experience. A literal awakening to a new view of personal reality and possibly the meaning of life for the individual -- things that don't come cheap.
3. Second Wave Therianthropes
After the first group of therianthropes burst suddenly into view, the idea of therianthropy itself was spread into the general population. It became a fact, however unexplainable, that some people possessed a spark within themselves that resulted in physical manifestation of a trans-species identity. Thanks to this, potential theris discover themselves all the time -- just not in the mass numbers following the First Sighting.
Someday in the Tomorrowlands universe, the world will have the idea of biological dragons, elves, and sapient creatures of all sorts, anthromorphic or not cemented firmly in place. Once a generation grows up unable to think of the world without these things in it, the problem of having a context to live one's live as such will largely vanish -- especially with a generation being born as something other than human, the offspring of the first generation of therianthropes.
When that day comes, such people will be Third Wave theris. Until then, however, in the zone between the very first therianthropes and the generation to come, falls the Second Wave population.
The Second Wave theris are people who have the spark, but didn't have right ingredients and/or circumstances to change as a direct result of the First Sighting. The right mix could come along for them months, years, or a decade afterward. Sometimes, a Second Wave person may have a contextual foundation for themselves -- a common phrase among more romantic theris when referring to people just discovering their nature in the new reality is to say they "have caught the dream". And for many this can be literally true. For some people, being exposed to theris in the world has a great positive influence. It opens them up to entirely new possibilities for reality ... and how they could live in it.
Not everyone is so lucky, however. Often a Second Wave theri will have little foundation for living a life as what they have become. Sometimes, psychological factors may keep them from unmaking themselves in the fashion of DBZ -- but more commonly, these are the people who may quickly retreat from the first change. It may happen before they even know it -- a person may change in bed, asleep, dreaming ... and then revert back when they wake, never to change again. Some more haunted souls may chronically transform as they sleep, unable to cope consciously with their therianthropic identity. (In the case of the latter, it's possible they could be "convinced" of the reality if someone should, for example, happen to witness the process and obtain evidence such as a photograph. But more likely denial will still set in.)
Second Wave theris who have DBZed will typically tend to view therianthropy as escapism. Because they were unable to contend with it for their own lives, and were unable to see or really believe a way in which it could be integrated with "real" life, they will often assume that even if this amazing "miracle" is now possible in the world, it is at best a cruel joke of the gods. What place does the "real" world, with its expected and traditional human social, cultural, and even economic requirements, have for someone to flap around as a giant dragon or run through the streets as a timber wolf?
It is rare that a Second Wave DBZed theri may actually become a theri hater -- the most plausible stretch is that someone who unconsciously has DBZed themselves, without ever having knowingly experienced changing, may resent those who are "free" from their self doubt and have been able to embrace their new bodies. It is just possible that the rare bigot may in fact be a theri suffering massive transference of disgust at themselves onto others -- but probably isn't something that should be portrayed as a trend or even frequent enough for the scenario to be an accepted possibility.
4. DBZ examples
It's a good thing to keep in mind that Death by Zen is not about the negation of one specific belief. The reason why DBZ has not be recognized as an entity for study in the TTU story context is because a wide array of people with many variations of the symptoms fall under the umbrella of DBZ.
A person may...
5. Closing Thoughts
It should be made very clear that Death by Zen is not something another person can inflict on a therianthrope. While DBZ is in part a negation of belief, and many feel that prior to the Changes the expressions of physical theris and magic were held in check by the disbelief of the world's consensus reality, in TTU reality a person is the ultimate arbiter of their own existence.
While another person can add doubt to a theri struggling with their identity by arguing against it (just as an intolerant person in the real world cannot make a homosexual person hetero, but can certainly slam them with doubt or guilt over their nature), they cannot unmake a theri just by disbelieving in them. A magician who tries to prevent a theri in human form from changing also is not inflicting DBZ on them -- instead it's merely a battle of wills in the same sense of any magical conflict.
While there is a large amount of doubt and prejudice leveled against theris on TTU Earth, it still is up to the theri him- or herself to define their own destiny. DBZ is not an epidemic, or something a theri who has just had a bad day and is feeling down on themselves has to fear going to sleep over, thinking they may wake up in a human body and never be able to change again. The basic fact that a person changed, for many theris, is enough to permanently etch into their psyche that "I can change" -- and that's that. There are a lot of people for whom DBZ will never be a factor, even if they suffer from clinical depression themselves.
Still, Death by Zen is a demon for some people, and the reason a great many more have never changed at all and perhaps never will. In the context of writing fiction, DBZ is a facet to weave in with subtlety. While on the surface it might not seem to lend itself to writing pleasant stories, there nevertheless can be many scenarios which focus on a person fighting in a positive light with their inner doubt, and even stories about that rare but wonderful life-changing event that frees a DBZed theri from the shackles that exist only in their mind.
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