I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately. Part of that has been revisiting my old art, because apparently it’s full of clues. Turns out, going back in time has been INCREDIBLY enlightening. I feel like a detective in my own life, trying to remember who I actually am. It’s exhausting. I’ve been terrified to look at this stuff for over a decade, so that’s saying something. There were a couple times maybe like a year ago when I poked at my old DeviantArt accounts from when I was 14-16, but I never wanted to go deep. Anytime I tried I’d cringe and run away, not wanting to admit that had actually been me. But why? Many reasons that I won’t go into here, but what was really interesting to me was that I found a visual representation of when I closed off my heart to try and “grow up.”
Looking back at my old art, I could actually pinpoint the moment I closed my heart off to myself.
There was a specific character I used to love to draw, who I now see clearly represented a very deep part of my soul. I would even use her name for fake accounts online. “Mimi Hartwyk.” (Ha! Just noticed “Me Me Heart Wick”) I didn’t realize it then, but she was my alter ego in a way. Even now, I’m dying my hair pink like hers, subconsciously living out my dreams of “being Mimi”. Which is why it killed me to see this drawing. This was the last drawing I ever posted on DeviantArt when I was 16, and it wasn’t even in my main gallery, it was only in scraps. After this, I met my high school boyfriend and didn’t really go back to drawing until after college when I was 21. But by then I was already disconnected from the true meaning of art and my heart had already been locked away.
I wanted something “more mature.” At school in art class, my teacher would always talk about how I needed to draw more than just anime. So did my mom. And overall, it was the message I got if I wanted to do anything creative professionally — that I had to ditch anime. And funnily enough, it was a similar message when I started working in animation. This underlying “disdain,” with simultaneous appreciation was so confusing to me. This is something I never really understood until recently, when a friend pointed out that it’s a very Western thing to instinctively put down something they don’t really understand. How the core is more about “othering” than I allowed myself to admit, in favor of trying to “fit in” with some invisible, faceless crowd. And for me, being half Asian, this contradiction ran super hard in my blood. I really had no idea how to handle it back then. I hadn’t realized that being multiracial would be such a confusing thing for me to deal with as an adult looking back at my life, something I’ve really been unpacking this past year.
I now see that the rejection of anime is so tied to self-racism and the rejection of an actual part of mySELF that I was trying so hard to suppress. I was so jealous of those artists who stayed true to themselves — who continued to draw with anime influence and went on to become really good at it. Now that I can finally appreciate them and be inspired by their work (rather than projecting and hating myself instead), I know I’m finally starting to heal. And clearly, because everything is anime influenced now… it’s here to stay. Thank goodness because Eastern Philosophy is where it’s at and we REALLY need to do some serious work for a more collective balance right now. Really glad to see how much the younger generations love anime. Gives me hope for the future 🙂
I’ll never forget, when I turned in an anime influenced design on one of my first jobs, my supervisor said “Ummmm we’re making WESTERN cartoons here…We want this to look like a Western cartoon.” Even though the lead character designer of the show was obviously influenced by anime, it’s almost like my boss didn’t want to admit it. Such hypocrisy.
As weird as it was, I got the message. Loud and clear. 😐
I didn’t see it then, or how much it affected me, but apparently I was so susceptible to being influenced by others I actually destroyed a part of myself. This is what they call susto in South America, where part of your soul splits from your body and a shaman has to help you get it back. That’s totally what happened to me when I did Ayahuasca in Peru, but even still, it’s taken a while for my soul to feel at home in my body. With all the work I’ve been doing, I see now that it might even take a lifetime, and that’s ok. It’s about the process.
This is a very common thing that can happen when you devalue yourself, especially as a woman. I thought pleasing other people had become the meaning of my entire existence. However, although I was a great people pleaser on the outside, on the inside I became more and more bitter until I wanted to kill myself everyday. I no longer knew who I was. Being so “happy” and bubbly on the outside while the darkness on the inside kept bubbling up until it started to overflow and affect others negatively. I felt so much like a monster I couldn’t even be around most people anymore. It all happens so gradually.
It’s nice to finally find another puzzle piece to my avoidant tendencies.
Thankfully, I’ve been watching nothing but anime lately, and it has been so nourishing to my soul. It started with Demon Slayer, which will forever live in my heart as reigniting my will to live after having actually tried to kill myself earlier this year. The movie, Mugen Train, especially made me realize that prior to watching it, a large part of me actually really despised humanity, agreeing with Agent Smith.
Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment; but you humans do not. Instead you multiply, and multiply, until every resource is consumed. … There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern… a virus.– Agent Smith, The Matrix
Looking at our selfishness, greed, violence and cowardice, it’s easy to hate our species. And because we’re all mirrors of each other, that hatred can just as easily be turned inward when we feel the inability to control any of it. This results in fear, anger, despair, futility…which leads to us lashing out and hurting each other. But Rengoku showed me the true power of humanity in the face of these demons that WE have created. And it really is all about coming back to the heart…and finding that fire within yourself to keep going. This is the power of art.
I am so grateful to be alive during this time of easy to watch, life changing anime, because back in the day it was a pain to find. Now you can just stream anime everywhere! Insane! As an adult, I see how its almost like an intro or primer to psychedelics. If you’re open to it, anime can really expand your mind. I’m SO glad that this is what I grew up on. And now, it feels really good to go back to something that feels so familiar, but new at the same time. I see now that it’s time to stop being so ashamed, and embrace my love for anime instead. It’s so dumb how this became a legitimate trauma for me that has actually led to straight up art paralysis for years and years. But that’s how these things work I guess. As Steve Jobs said, you can only connect the dots looking back.
Anyway. This is what Mimi looked like when I first posted a drawing of her a year before, when I was 15.
And it’s a little eerie to also see this one from 2004 saying “Goodbye,” almost like she’s disappearing from my grasp.
What a tough age. I would’ve never realized this either if I weren’t mentoring 15 and 16 year old girls. There’s something that shifts around that age. I can already see it happening to them and I am determined to help them through it. Maybe this really is my purpose.
It’s funny because all of this was so subconscious, and it took me a while to be able to see and analyze art in this way. Especially MY art. Because I had refused to accept it. All I could see was shame and ugliness, which was actually just me having a nonexistent sense of self worth. But treating it as therapy…art is nothing but beautiful. It’s literally a window to our souls. Our true selves and our unique perspective on the world. It’s also a way to see how cultural programming really does a number on us. And because we’re all mirrors of each other, I see how viewing MY art this way made me unable to see the beauty of art across the board. That was such a dark, lonely world. I fell into the pessimism of constantly comparing myself to every single artist around me instead, bitter from losing my own magic. Like Kiki losing her ability to fly in Kiki’s Delivery Service.
That drawing of Mimi in the new style was the last time I ever drew her… and also when I told myself I had to stop drawing anime. I had to stop being the “anim3qw33n” lol my dumb AIM screen name from back in the day. Everything I had hinged my identity on to cope with what was going on at home, I felt I had to flush down the drain in order to become a “new person” in my next phase of life. However, I never paused to allow myself to adequately grieve or honor that innocent child self. Instead, she became my shadow. This development of the shadow happens to all of us, in our own unique ways according to how we were raised and our own life circumstances. I’m still recovering.
It’s strange to look back like this, because I know I really loved these characters. I spent a lot of time with them in order to create a comic. And I suppose in a way… I had to kill them off without any real closure. Because I had to go to college and face the “real world.” It actually reminds me of imaginary friends… the voices you have in your head that manifest in ways to help you cope with what’s going on around you. I remember when my first real close imaginary friends left too — Sasha and Abby. They moved to Texas. But at least they moved. These characters from my comic… it’s like they’ve been in purgatory for over 15 years. As though I forced them into coffins when they were still alive and they’ve been screaming and pounding to get out all this time…
Now I see that they’re not imaginary. I was led to believe they were. I closed myself off to them because I was in a lot of pain and confusion and unknowingly fell into the victim mentality. Pretty sad, but I can finally feel some real healing happening in this area of my life. Like Clarissa Pinkola Estes says, what you imagine is real, it’s other people who tell you that it’s not. What you imagine comes from your own psyche, and is meant for you to experience. You can’t deny it, only others can. It’s your choice whether or not to believe it.
Here’s a quick redraw of Mimi as I was looking back at my posts.
Definitely want to do something more, but trying not to pressure myself right now. Still feeling pretty tender, especially with all that’s going on in the world and women’s rights being threatened and all. Talk about societal programming. Choice is everything, and here we are having to fight for basic rights, simply for being the other half of humanity. You’d think, being the half that actually BIRTHS men, that men would be more respectful. But that’s what fear does to you. Hope my girls Sasha and Abby aren’t in Texas anymore. Can’t believe out of all places THAT’S where my imaginary friends moved. What a weird connection to make!
Now I’m wondering what other people see when looking at their old art. It’s such a time capsule, and only the artist can be transported back in such a way. What do our creative impulses as a child tell us about what our soul actually desires, and how does that change as we age? What does that say about how and when we start being influenced by the world around us? Trippy how much we cling to certain things like shame and guilt over our response to things that were out of our control. Sometimes that clinging even lasts a lifetime. I’ve been working my ass off the past couple years to get out of my own way, and I’m really glad I’ve finally come this far.
Super grateful I posted these when I did… It’s as though my past self is giving my present self permission to open up to that hurt, confused, angsty teenager. The themes are all becoming so clear. Maybe I’m even starting to understand what “letting go” and “self love” actually means. Maybe the seeds are starting to sprout.
About fucking time.