It goes without saying that this has been a horrible year for many of us. To grasp at upside straws seems like a desperate effort to delude oneself, the kind involving brittle cheeriness and a good dose of annoying nonchalance. It’s the end of the calendar year but looking back with nostalgia is all but impossible. The only way to keep one’s sanity, it seems to me, is to acknowledge how horrific things were while working to achieve acceptance and unsentimental gratitude.
There was a time when I complained a lot about my office job, but now I’ve come to the realisation I’m one of the very lucky ones because I still have a job. I personally know people who’ve lost theirs because of the pandemic, so any sort of whinging from me sounds self-indulgent. I’ve decided to make this first article of 2021 be about the good stuff.
Before I start with my thank you list, did you see the intro to the Marleyan warriors in the anime Season 4 Episode 3? The letters, the design and spec sheets that look like architectural blueprints, the mug shots, the shifters in action…MAPPA outdid themselves and I totally loved it, so much so I made the graphics below. They’re quite unrelated to what I’ll be writing about, but I’m grateful for the super cool warriors and AoT in general, so maybe they’re not really out of place. Hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I had fun putting them together!
It Takes One Person
I started this blog on March 1, 2020 (later on adding other backdated articles from stuff I’ve written for myself and kept in Google Docs). My company began a work-from-home program at the height of the pandemic in Tokyo, and this freed up my commute time since I no longer had to travel by train to get to the office everyday. Rather ironic how it took a pandemic to finally get me to put up this blog. So in my case, there was a silver lining to this unexpected turn of events.
It was actually a girl on Instagram who inspired me to start publishing my writings: her username was @kirslut and I simply loved the manic way she adored Jean Kirschtein’s character. The first fanfic I ever published, Chocoerejan, was inspired by her love for him. She read it and liked it and told me I should write more. Unfortunately, her account no longer exists and it seems she’s left the fandom, but I’m still incredibly grateful to her for encouraging me to publish stuff I’ve been writing for my eyes only.
Archive of Our Own
This is where I cut my teeth with a wider audience, and it was thanks to the surprisingly warm reception A Decade in the Making received on the site that I began War and Reminisces: The Jean Kirschtein Chronicles.
I’m incredibly thankful to those who’ve commented on my stories there. You guys have no idea how much your kind words meant to me. I used to write plenty back when I was in school, but after joining the rat race I lost all motivation to make up stories and characters. The encouragement I received at AO3 was what enabled me to take up writing once more; hopefully it’ll be for keeps this time around.
Nowadays I only post introductions and links on AO3, but the magical site continues to send readers to this blog. The decision to no longer publish full texts on AO3 has nothing to do with any kind of dissatisfaction with the website, but simply because I’m unable to manage two sites at the same time. My own blog lets me publish anything I want, including non-fiction, while AO3 is for fanfiction, so I decided to put all the content on this blog for the sake of efficient, centralised management. But I remain especially grateful to the wonderful folk at Archive of Our Own for letting me link to this blog and keep a part of my content there.
Commenters Make the World Go Round
Time and again I make a huge fuss about comments (or the lack thereof). It’s difficult for me to explain how much comments mean everything to a fanfic writer. Granted, there are some writers who neither want, need nor reply to reader comments, but I’m at the exact opposite end of the spectrum. Comments are my lifeblood, and while words fail me in trying to express their supreme importance, another writer, u/thisismyficaccount, has lucidly and eloquently described the disappointment a fanfic writer feels when no one comments on a piece of writing they poured their heart on.
So here is a list of my brilliant readers who gave me life with their comments (in alphabetical order):
- Bob aka Kiarana
- Cookie’s Monster
- Sara Granja
- Valentina Almario
THANK YOU ALL! You have no idea how much your words mean to me. If you’d like me to link to your website or social media page please let me know💖
As a hobby/fanfic writer I know my writing can only be sustainable if I write for myself without the need to seek external validation, the desperate need for such being emotionally damaging in the long run. But I’m only human, and it’s terribly lonely screaming into the void. I cannot express enough just how much these wonderful readers who have taken the time and effort to comment have been my lifeforce and the main reason I’ve kept up this blog.
To comment is to share a piece of yourself, your heart, your strength, and your mind in order to fuel the creative energies of an internet writer. For an unknown fanfic scribbler such as myself, there is no greater gift. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
Angels on Earth
Have you ever met an angel? My life has been blessed by people both online and offline whom I consider to be angels in human form.
After the positive reception that my first fanfic A Decade in the Making made at AO3, I took a gamble and published the second part, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, a tedious military and political spiel centered on Jean with only bits of jeankasa. As expected, it had near-zero page views and received no comments whatsoever. Although I was expecting it to have a much colder reception that ADITM, the total lack of readers was so discouraging I felt like giving up completely. But an angel from the Northern hemisphere came in the form of Bob, who read every word and wrote humour-filled, astute, thoughtful comments on the story, including entertaining, private fanfics of her own using my original character. Her kindness and enthusiasm was such that I felt renewed and energised, ready to write a new section in my jeankasa saga.
I will be forever grateful to Bob for picking me up when I was down at that early stage of writing. It’s so easy to give up when you find that the topics and themes you want to write about have no audience whatsoever. If I can’t make a serious fanfic about a beloved character appear interesting and readable, what hope did I have of making my own original characters worthy of being read? It was devastating to say the least. But Bob didn’t give up on me. Words cannot express how grateful I am.
Every person on this planet has a story to tell, and we all have novels inside our heads just waiting to be written. Sometimes I fantasise about winning the lottery, quitting my office job and becoming a historical
romance erotica writer. I love smut, especially the bodice-ripping, a hundred years ++ ago kind of setting. But there are times when I feel the need to write a nonsexual, contemporary tale. When Hange Zoe died in canon, it wasn’t a levihan fanfic I wanted to write but one that celebrated Hange as a character touching the lives of everyday modern people. Thus my fiction tribute to the brilliant scientist and itinerant commander: Goodbye, Hange Zoe.
Zero page views, zero comments, meaning there were no readers at all. This is it, I thought. I’m a terrible writer, why do I even bother? I give up. But then just as I was about to throw in the towel, an angel came, this time from the Southern hemisphere, by the name of Myri. She read my silly little story about two young women in Tokyo, and commented thoughtfully, cheering me on. It was because of her that I was able to finish publishing the whole thing. I was in such a bad place in my life then that I was going to delete the blog in its entirety, without even bothering to put up the last two chapters. No one’s reading, why should anyone care? But Myri begged to differ. It was her refusal to give up on me, her hope that I’d continue the Jean Chronicles and eventually finish what I’ve started, that gave me the strength to keep writing.
Even now, even when my writing is at its worst, Myri always makes it a point to say something kind and positive. Have you ever met an angel? I have.
Speaking of angels, here’s a shout out to two old friends of mine, people who’ve known me long before I started this blog.
Amongst my readers I don’t really count Krissy, despite the fact she comments on everything I write, because she’s not a reader per se. She’s an old friend of mine from high school. Both of us are mongrels, one of those people who are neither fully Japanese nor white, but somewhere in between. Sharing this haafu heritage thing made us friends from the very beginning, and while I came to Japan for university and she remained where her white half of the family lived, we’ve never lost touch. Krissy still keeps up with her Japanese side via manga and anime, the love of which is another thing we share in common. After I built my blog I told her that if she was truly my friend, she’ll read everything and comment on everything, otherwise she’ll risk losing my friendship. So really, Krissy is commenting under duress. That’s why I don’t count her as a reader; nothing about her participation is voluntary xD Thanks for putting up with my shit, 古き良き友よ！Alter ego, semper fidelis.
Last but definitely not the least, a big, warm thank you to Claire, a 大先輩 dai-senpai whom I’ve known since my college days. She gave me the space for this blog and pretty much full control of the domain and free use of all the space available in its hosting plan. Claire doesn’t read manga or watch anime, and says she can’t keep up with millennial culture, but she doesn’t mind my fanfics. I can’t think of anyone more generous and understanding.
My final day at work for this year was on the 25th, and that night Claire treated me to dinner to celebrate my blog’s first year. It was at a restaurant called Hokkaido, which specialiases in fish dishes from its namesake prefecture.
Great place, delicious food, the best company, and I didn’t pay a single yen. I asked her why she puts up with me when I’m a good-for-nothing-nobody. She said everyone is someone to somebody, and I’m the little sister she’d always wanted. Could I cry any harder? Thank you, Claire-senpai, for believing there is good in me, that there is hope in me, even during those rotten times when I no longer believed I had anything left to live for.
The 2020 Top Three
No end-of-year wrap-up type of article is complete without a Best list. So here are your favourite stories, ranked by the number of readers who’ve left comments, both here and on AO3:
I didn’t consider page views as a variable for ranking because it’s entirely possible for a visitor to look at a page for two seconds and then leave, or open a page for five minutes but not read a single world. Both of these count as page views. Page views don’t mean a thing. Comments are everything.
Thank you once again to everyone who commented on and shared the contents of this blog. You guys are the absolute best!
My poor readers who’ve been following the War and Reminisces: The Jean Kirschtein Chronicles were in for a lot of disappointment as I never managed to write the next part of the novela, titled The Protegee. I’ve written about five chapters of the twenty-chapter story, but due to lack of canon inspiration and general motivation on my part, the writing has been languishing in oblivion for months.
So I only have one goal for this year, and that’s to publish those five chapters. They’re about Jean and Mikasa’s biological child, which I hope to publish in time with the anime’s coverage of Chapter 127, when Jean fantasised about having a family with Mikasa.
I’m truly sorry for the lack of updates on the Chronicles, which is what led readers to me in the first place. I’ve broken promises last year and this year might not be any different, but I’m going to try.
Hopes for 2021
The other day a reader had DM’d me on Instagram asking if I still plan to continue the Chronicles. I said I wanted to but am struggling. Let me come clean.
My biggest enemy is lack of motivation, a general malaise, and I think it comes from an existential dread I’ve had for many years but unfortunately never seemed to outgrow even after I graduated from college. I’m one of those deeply sad people who are incapable of finding joy in life or pleasure in their own abilities, one of those pathetic individuals who overthink everything and find fault with everyone, especially their own selves and society as a whole. It’s energy-sapping and emotionally draining.
Every single day I need to fight off dissatisfaction with society as a whole, and my feelings can be summed up by this quote from a favourite TV series, Mr. Robot. Elliot, the protagonist, thinks the world is one big vat of shit, and all we do is fool ourselves in order to cope:
“Spamming each other with our running commentary of bullshit, masquerading as insight, our social media faking as intimacy. Or is it that we voted for this? Not with our rigged elections, but with our things, our property, our money. I’m not saying anything new. We all know why we do this, not because Hunger Games books make us happy, but because we wanna be sedated. Because it’s painful not to pretend, because we’re cowards. Fuck society.”Elliot Alderson in the TV series “Mr. Robot”
You can see why I love Kenny Ackermann’s dying words about people needing to be addicted to something just to carry on, which runs along a similar vein to Elliot’s summation.
Every minute I’m at the keyboard writing a story there’s an out-of-body me gazing at my hunched shoulders and tapping fingers, mocking me about my little hobby. That part of me is asking why I waste my time writing shitty fanfic. I know the answer. It’s all about feeling a sense of control. I have zero control over the tragic canon story, and seeing our beloved characters suffer makes me feel awful and small and powerless and useless. Thus I write fanfic to make myself feel a little better, thanks to the ability to control an alternative universe.
With the stroke of a keyboard I can give these fictional characters the good life: find a true and everlasting love, have lots of mind-blowing orgasms, eat plenty of delicious food, create a warm and caring family, have a highly successful and satisfying career, live in a lovely apartment in the most upscale part of the capital, anything at all. You want it? You got it. I’m giving you everything I’m incapable of giving myself.
Needless to say, I’m fully aware of the futility of it all. Again to quote Mr. Robot:
“Control can sometimes be an illusion. But sometimes you need illusions to gain control. Fantasy is an easy way to give meaning to the world. To cloak our harsh reality with escapist comfort. ”Elliot Alderson in the TV series “Mr. Robot”
Escapist is what I am, turning to alcohol and manga and anime and fanfic writing—and I choose these as my means of escape, not because I think they work best but simply because they’re the ones I can afford—to keep myself entertained while I grapple with existential angst, finding ways to distract myself from the horrors of existence, from the inevitable death and decay that befalls all living organisms. Since we are all marching to the grave, why not enjoy life’s simple pleasures while we can? It’s all so artificial, mindless, self-centered and shallow, but given my low threshold of pain I cannot stomach the alternative. Human beings need external stimuli in order to escape the realities of their own mortality, and I’m no exception. My external stimuli is Attack on Titan, what’s yours?
All of the above (that is, the existentialist idea of creating your own purpose and meaning in life) is well and good, but it requires one to keep believing Sisyphus happy. That’s the hard part. Sisyphus keeps on rolling that boulder up the hill only to watch it roll back down, and he has to do it ad infinitum. That’s what this blasted life feels like most of the time. To imagine Sisyphus happy requires a massive dose of self-delusion on my part, but what else is left to do? Sometimes I manage to fool myself into believing that he is and thus, I am, too, and during these times I am able to find inspiration and write. But shit hits the fan when I fall into the abyss of hopelessness, the feeling that nothing matters and everything is inherently meaningless and life is totally ridiculous.
Some of us human beings are incapable of living in the present moment, thus we invent hope and cling to it. It is when that hope—which is supposed to make the human condition tolerable—is gone that the inspiration disappears and the writing stops. It’s when the consciousness sees only pointless, bleak, endless nothingness but doesn’t have what it takes to make sense of it, to accept and embrace it. It’s when unfettered hopelessness triumphs over intelligent existentialism and nihilism and absurdism and cynicism and stoicism and post-structuralism and historical materialism and postmodernism and [insert your preferred philosophy or religion or ideology or some other here] etcetera etcetera, all of which offer a degree of comfort and hope, that things get ugly and the writing stops.
So my battle for 2021 is no longer with the bottle, but to keep on writing even when all hope is gone. It’s a never-ending battle, just like Sisyphus rolling that boulder up the hill. Is he happy? Depends on your dosage of delusion. Am I happy? Only when I’m able to write despite knowing the whole act is completely insignificant and doesn’t mean anything in the big scheme of things and nothing about it matters in the long run. I am in a darkened room and need a light source in order to write, but it’s hard to find one because I reflexively, self-destructively snuff out all internal and external sources of light the moment I spot them.
“Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”excerpt from “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” poem by Dylan Thomas
That’s what I’ll try to do this new year: to battle with and rage against the self-sabotaging part of myself that insists on snuffing out the light, the part of me that seeks annihilation. Here’s to hope!
Lots of love from me to you, and only the very best wishes for 2021!
Thank you so much for reading! What are your New Year resolutions? Please take a moment to share a thought or two in the comment section below. Your comments give me life and are a real source of encouragement. xoxo, hana