I hope you'll forgive me if I find it difficult to talk about anime this week. Given the most divisive and potentially calamitous election in recent U.S. history, it's no wonder my eyeteeth are out of joint. Right now, thoughts of Ergo Proxy or the new Lone Wolf and Cub set seems very far away indeed. Far enough that I contemplated winding down this blog and directing my creative efforts entirely towards my own original work, rather than analyzing and commenting on that of others.
I changed my mind. Here's why.
There was, at the heart of all this, one major reason. Life is short, and my spare time has become all the more pinched as of late due to things that have nothing to do with the election, although the jolt that provided certainly didn't help any. There are plenty of people out there who can write good, substantive analyses of anime; in fact, many of those folks were models for my work when I started doing this in the first place.
The novels I'm planning to write can only be written by one person, myself. I can't afford to shirk that responsibility anymore. Earlier this year, someone I know casually from online who had bought my book Flight of the Vajra mentioned that it was one of the few things that had helped her keep it together during a time of ghastly upheaval in her life. Those words lodged in me, and as the rest of the year went by, I realized they were the kinds of things I needed to encourage in the world. Not just "Hey, I read your book, it was fun," but "Your book helped me keep it together; thank you."
Sometimes critical writing does this sort of thing for some people. I know at least one person was moved by my discussion of the manga adaptation of No Longer Human, and I appreciated that. But those kinds of discussions are rare, for the same reason the works that spark those kinds of discussions are rare.
I enjoy what I do here, and it makes for productive discussions with people. It was always surprising how much there was to be teased out of any one title, even something that didn't look like a candidate for such analysis. And the titles that I knew I had something to say about became like boxes with false bottoms, yielding up one surprise after another. It was fun work, but I couldn't ignore how there were only 24 hours in a day and only one of me, and that every day I wasn't working on something that was entirely my own was a day I would never be able to get back. Maybe it was time to refocus. Maybe it was time to fold the tent.
But now, I've come to realize two things.
First, the work I've done on both sides of the fence — the criticism and the creative work — are more important to each other than it seemed. Analyzing other peoples' work helps me better understand the choices I make in my own creative work, and vice versa. If I stopped being as rigorous in my critiquing, I'm realizing I might have trouble honing the discipline and the insight I need to write good fiction. And if I give up on writing fiction, you might as well ask me to stop breathing — and then I wouldn't have an arena in which to test first-hand more directly many of my insights as to how creative work comes together.
Second is that there is no reason for me to stop doing this entirely. There are such things as less intense schedules for this work. I've typically tried to maintain a pace of one long-form post a week, and even that may be difficult to sustain — not because of the writing per se, but the viewing time involved, the drafting, all the rest of it. Plus, the number of things I want most to talk about are not big, popular things — they're maverick projects, off-beat items, things I always felt needed the exposure. It's time I doubled down on those, and made a concerted effort to forget about more mainstream work unless I'm specifically interested in it.
I may not post as regularly as I'd like, or I may work on shorter, more easily produced projects just to keep the wheel turning. The once-a-week news wraps may serve as a way to package shorter-form discussions of things that used to be longer-form, but sustaining even the news posts has proven stressful.
Third, I can't pretend I don't enjoy this. I hate putting away entirely something that gives me joy. Even if I can't afford very much research material for the site, I can find ways to work around that: come up with more inventive Patreon incentives, for instance (something I've never been good at; suggestions welcome), or concentrate more on projects that don't require me to spend tons of money in the first place.
The insight remains. I have something here. It's not meant to be a high-volume project and it never was. I started it because I wanted to, and now I'm realizing it has more to give back to me than I thought. Whatever obligations I have to it are mine alone, and I suspect anyone along for the ride knows that by now. It's high time I reaffirmed that to both myself and everyone else.
Fourth, and maybe most importantly, bad times demand good things. I'm not doing this because I'm trying to pretend nothing has gone wrong in our world, but that valuable work needs to be done in bad times as well as good. I should not wait for things to be rosy to be inspired.
I needed all this more than I realized. Maybe someone else does, too. In these times, it seems all the more important now to give freely of the best of one's self.