[Ugh, sour self-indulgence… proof-reading this makes me nauseous. As a disclaimer, some of the links here duplicate because I’ve taken this as a conversation with myself through my older writings]
So a couple days ago, WordPress told me that I had earned an “achievement”: “Happy Anniversary with WordPress.com! You registered on WordPress.com one year ago. Thanks for flying with us. Keep up the good blogging.”
I always laugh when WordPress gives me an achievement. Why gamify blogging, an activity which already offers so many extrinsic motivators like views, likes, and follows to push users to remain engaged, viewing ads and producing free content and — oh, that’s why. I guess I just never thought about blogging that way until I started using WordPress.com[mercial], though I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I do sometimes feel that pull for validation to produce a “successful” post, whatever penny-trifle that might mean for my impersonal patron’s ad revenue. The gamification works… even if I hate to admit it.
But, as much as I can, I try to suppress that game-induced anxiety. The achievement only reminds me that I really should get around to moving to a self-hosted site via the open-source WordPress.org software to free myself from a commercial system that can sometimes feel a little manipulative with its tiered service plans hawked on never-ending “flash sales.” However, whenever I look at hosting options, I overwhelm myself with that “paradox of choice” (how can they all have a special offer? Oxymorons.) and begin to feel lethargic and lazy and think eh, ‘might as well settle for the .com for another week. After all, I only started this site so that I could tell my friends to “just check my blog” instead of fiddling through the sharing settings on Google Docs every time we hit some conversational tangent about anime or literature. I don’t need anything fancy.
Thinking about the achievement again though, “anniversary” isn’t quite right… a couple weeks before I made this current site, I made a “testing 1 2 3”-type throw-away account that I deleted a few days later. And months before even that, I had already written several private “posts” (a few republished here) circulated around with just my friends. Then in the other direction, I didn’t use this site for several more days until I uploaded my first post on Friday, June 15 — for some inexcusable reason at 3:29pm (work hours!). Though I often write during downtime between class, I never manage the site from the office (because my computer has no internet access… Japan, techno-wonderland!). Did I use compensated leave that day or, god-forbid, upload from my phone? I can’t remember. Time cares for nothing regarding human periodization, so I suppose I’ll compromise and call it one year, plus or minus a fat, flexible <?>.
Anyway, I’m not a big fan of periodization either (without clocks and calendars, would we worry so much about time?), but I thought I could turn that silly “achievement” into a fun opportunity to reflect on what I’ve done here for the past year.
Aaannnddd… meh? Nothing much, really?
Like I laid out in my pretendly mission statement, I have no real goals here. I write when I am bored, which happens at two critical intervals: 1) when I cannot sleep at night, writhing with shameful insomnia because I spend too much time under my computer screen’s blue light and 2) when I cannot sleep during desk-warming time at work, suffering through shameful drowsiness because I didn’t sleep well the night before.
But if the blog does not have serious goals, it does have useful side effects. I experience modest social anxiety which, once upon a time, expressed itself as selective mutism — in my case, meaning near-total silence outside the home. Though I can speak now, I remain unusually, unnervingly reticent. My self-imposed weekly deadlines for each post thus work as a sort of exposure therapy: even if I worry that I don’t have an interesting or meaningful topic in a given week, I should at least say something… just to practice saying anything. The deadlines also double as a counter to one of my other persistent problems: a gross perfectionism which has, at different points in life, driven a cycle of overwork into burnout into sheer laziness as doubts about producing something “good-enough” prevented me from producing anything at all. Like with speech then, the blog encourages me to try something each week — even if it feels incomplete or insignificant — because otherwise, I would do nothing at all.
And… -nghhh, maybe it’s worked? On the positive end, this blog-motivator has helped me break my shut-in routines and travel alone, with the maybe implicit goal to write about my experiences. And even on the negative end, I think I’ve reacted to failure well: for example, so far a commenter has noticed one severe error in a post. Ohhh god, that mistake haunts me. At the time, I almost deleted my entire blog as my mind jumped to insane fears about an imminent lawsuit for libel from a retributive corporation rightfully intolerant of my artless rumor-mongering. Nothing so bad happened and I did my duty to correct the errant text, though even now I twist with worry that someone will discover another unintended falsehood. But then I managed to hit publish the next week, and the next week, and the next…
I won’t claim any genuine pride in my production; whenever I reread a post, I can feel them strain under the deadline, where sentences don’t line up well or where I lack clear transitions or digress too far into an aside. Though I try to write as I would speak (returning to my former mutism, speaking on the page), I think my writing style relies too much on long lists, stupid punctuation, and sharp dialectical contradictions — my “buts” and “howevers” and “thoughs,” “despites” and “even ifs.” Some friends have called my writing difficult (my heart broke), but then others have praised it for its casual style, so I don’t know who to believe (and for the few weeks I tried Grammerly …before I kicked that stupid robot to the trash… it kept telling me that “ughhh” was not a word, even though it’s probably one of the most important in the English language!). With those concerns in mind, I have become a neurotic, serial revisor — the most for one post, 19 times — but I might indulge in the smallest smudge of pride for my persistence. I can’t believe I’ve kept this up for so long.
…Hughhh, bleh, nauseous self-indulgence, that’s enough of that, enough about my petty concerns. Pride is a sin, you know. What do more cheerful bloggers do for their anniversary posts? Oh, how about…
My Favorite Anime of the Year?
Without competition, RErideD: Derrida Who Leaps Through Time. The nonsensical title alone should give away its comical incoherence. A time travel story about inexplicably capitalized letters with a reference to a ~”postmodern”~ (~spoooky~ “scare-quotes”) French philosopher? Yes please! It’s a disaster of an anime but, while watching the trainwreck unwind, one of the funniest I have seen.
For a more serious answer too, I suppose I should mention Angels of Death. I won’t call it anything better than “good” as a comprehensive production, but it has some great thematic value regarding existentialist philosophy expressed under a Theater of the Absurd -esque narrative disguised by a silly, edge-appeal romance between two insane serial killers. And, for a softer answer, I also adored As Miss Beelzebub Likes as an unremarkable but otherwise perfect, delicate little slice-of-life non-adventure.
My Least Favorite Anime of the Year?
I am tempted to say Montaigne’s Essays given that they have revolutionized the way I think about philosophy, from the cold empiricism of my political science and economics education — “shut up and chug the data” — to something more skeptical and humanistic, with an emphasis on compassionate acceptance to both the self and others. In Montaigne’s French, “essai” means “try,” a much softer literary form than modern English’s rigorous and argumentative “essay.” And so, in imitating him, maybe I’ve permitted myself the freedom to make mistakes and exercise my own judgement.
But that’s not my real answer. Though I haven’t written about it here, I think I’ve most enjoyed Peter Pan (only tangentially mentioned in this post about Gakkou Gurashi). It’s too much to discuss here, but the novelization of the original stage play is one of the greatest tragedies I have read, pitting the natural, time-bound process of growing up against a timeless Neverland and concluding that no, childhood is not a special idyll. Wendy is sad for aging towards the responsibilities of adulthood but childish Peter might be worse for the savagery of his cruel games, murdering pirates, awfully stereotyped Indians, and even is own Lost Boy companions* but then not even remembering it — more like a mindless bloodsport than a fanciful adventure! I think it was the right book at the right time; in my job working with students from 4 to 15, it has given me much greater sympathy for the challenges children face “growing up,” as their boundless imaginations and changing bodies form around rigid physical and social realities… sometimes with great discomfort. It makes me intensely sad, which I can only take as a good thing.
* (“when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out”)
Least Favorite Book?
Ha. Ha. Ha. Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. I ranted about it then, but I treat it as a joke now. Hm’ladies, would you like a tour of my VR masturbation machine? No thanks, but I can’t believe anyone thought to put that in a book. And it wasn’t even satire.
My Favorite Post?
My Least Favorite Post?
Hmmm… most of my posts embarrass me, but I can barely reread this without gagging.
More broadly though, I distrust anything I have written that anyone could construe as political, like my posts about sexual assault in Goblin Slayer, slavery in How Not to Summon a Demon Lord, fascism in Hyakuren no Haou to Seiyaku no Valkyria, or racism and homophobia in Tokyo Ghoul (though in that last case, I am careful to not make any accusations). I think they all hold up well enough and they are among my most “successful” by views (as much as I am loath to admit that I care about that…).
But then, maybe my rare convictions colored my writing too much. For example, rereading the post on fascism, I worry that I have too much of the indignant, lecturing tone that the far-right likes to ascribe to its uncharitable caricatures of out-of-touch intellectuals. I don’t dislike the post because I did a bad job — I spent far more time researching and writing it than any other on this site — but rather because I don’t want to project “bad optics.” I wasted my breath on a trifle, an obscure, awful anime that near-no-one watched, making me worry that people will view it as just more academic nitpicking of nonsense that doesn’t matter, thus confirming their suspicions about a censorious, boogieman left and driving them towards a resurgent global populism (despite my explicit references to the classical liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill, one of the most powerful proponents for free speech in the English political tradition). I don’t want to look like a zealot because in my lethargy I don’t feel zealous. But then plenty of people have accused me of that sin anyway (hello, brother), so who knows. I retreat into one of my mantras: “You can’t convince someone of something they don’t already believe*” And so, wrapped in such an oddly comforting futility, I move on.
* (A punchy, overconfident version of the less decisive statement: “You can’t convince someone of something they aren’t already inclined to believe.” To illustrate with a hypothetical, an atheist will never convince my Evangelical family that no god exists. They need to develop a bead of doubt on their own terms before they will even deign to give skeptical arguments a fair hearing. By analogy, people obsessed with “social justice warriors” or whatever other nonsense will never give my “political” posts a charitable reading even though I feel I made modest, measured claims)
More of the same, I suppose, even if I don’t know what that means. I’ve slowed down the anime posts recently but only because I can’t find a series I enjoy (except ironically) and I’m still recovering from forcing myself through that awful isekai binge last fall. I’ve sprinkled in more literature posts in recent months, though I would still call this a de-facto anime blog: I’ve written a solid three-quarters of my posts about anime and most of the rest about Japan.
But still, I don’t want to define a fixed topic despite it encouraging traffic and consistency. Though I’ve mentioned — what? three times now? — that I have a suppressed craving for external validation like most everyone else, I don’t need views to carry on, only the threat that I might receive any at all. To return to the exposure therapy model, publication forces me to face my abject terror of criticism and, even if that criticism never comes, knowing that it might keeps me on edge enough already. Ohhh…. I suppose that’s progress for now. We’ll see where (if?) I end up next year…
In the short-term, I’d like to engage more with the anime blogging community but then — should I say this? — I think most anime blogs are kinda bad (…no offense…). As an English teacher working abroad, I understand and even enjoy the immaturity expressed by highschool-or-younger writers and the broken prose of not-yet-fluent English learners doing the admirable work of practicing a foreign language. However, more frustrating issues often grate me, like the unexamined, sometimes patronizing orientalism demonstrated by writers that otherwise display strong social consciousness, the needless exoticization and startling ignorance of Japan hawked by weeaboos that can hardly do a Google search about the country of their devotion (to rival Ernest Cline in Ready Player One), and worst of all, the absurd commitments to strict relativism by left-ish commentators trying to prove their superior tolerance that, in the greatest irony of our short century, the far-right has co-opted to produce indefensible takes on politics, ethics, or cultural criticism. For now, I hold my tongue or… text… but ughhh, it demotivates me.
Mostly though, I just find so much of it boring: episode impressions too narrow in scope to say anything interesting, evidenceless recommendations (and even analyses!) so afraid of spoilers that they scarcely even discuss the series under examination, clinical reviews holding to impossible standards of objectivity that only sterilize the authors’ writerly voice, and, in reverse, timid arguments preaching such a complete subjectivity that they decline to make any judgements for themselves. I often read posts, put on a Samuel Johnson face, and sneer… did we even watch the same show?
Then I wonder if I even belong. I won’t call the blogging habits I have outlined in the previous paragraph “objectively” bad since others seem to enjoy those styles, but it’s just not for me. I worry that my intense skepticism will come across as hostility in comments while the intentional positivity biases cultured on so many blogs clash with my more or less explicit pessimism. For example, I’ve considered trying one of the OWLS or “tag” posts that pop up in my WordPress Reader every month, but never understand how to approach them without acidic cynicism: “Thankful” — for nothing. “Miracles” — don’t exist. “Vulnerable” — as opposed to ..? “Happiness” — ahha!
I’ve found only a handful of anime blogs that I think produce good, consistent content. However, most of them post so infrequently and cover such diverse, niche topics that it’s difficult to enter a conversation with the writers (plus, I refuse to use Twitter). And then even with the best ones, I run into that objectivity-subjectivity issue again: on one extreme, some take such an austere, academic tone that they sail beyond my feeble comprehension. Then on the other, some are so personal that they become almost poetic; I feel like an intruder rather than a potential interlocutor.
For my own part, this blog started with defenses of mediocrity that have degenerated into outright celebrations of failure, perhaps stemming from attempts to resolve my perfectionism by building a false preference for all things suboptimal. And well… um… who wants to talk with me about peak-unremarkable nonsense like Shichisei no Subaru, a series that only four people on this planet even seem to have watched to the end?
Finally, too, I don’t want to pretend that I do any better. I’m only 24 — an immature dum-dum by my own right — and I’m sure in 6 years I’ll want to erase all evidence that this blog even existed in the same way I cringe remembering that I once wrote libertarian-ish essays for my freshman political theory course. My mind jumps to the futile safety of Montaigne’s famous phrase “What do I know?” but I only chastise myself for the pretension inherit in imitating such a great writer. And then my perfectionism takes over again: shouldn’t I know, by now?
I don’t know… so… eh, might as well keep going.