The Moment I Closed My Heart – Embracing The Power of Anime

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.

Confessions From Quarantine 07

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We as humans are naturally self serving, and for real change to happen, both in ourselves and the world, we have to look at history. Patterns. A good place to start is looking at your OWN story, because the truth is… we’ve all been programmed with a ton of lies and too many of us are still unconscious and asleep. Once you start unraveling those lies… change is inevitable.

Joseph Campbell says “When looking back at your life, you will see that the moments which seemed to be great failures followed by wreckage were the incidents that shaped the life you have now. You’ll see that this is really true. Nothing can happen to you that is not positive. Even though it looks and feels at the moment like a negative crisis, it is not. The crisis throws you back, and when you are required to exhibit strength, it comes.” Now more than ever this is important to be aware of, with so much negativity in the world. But in order to be able to bounce back into the positive… we have to do our part.

To gather my thoughts about what I wanted to talk about in this project, I chronologically wrote out the events that stood out to me in the last 10 years of my life. The black bubbles were “irreversible moments” for me, and when I told that to a friend she called them “plot points of my hero’s journey” which I really loved. So many emotions came up while doing this, the biggest being GRATITUDE — gratitude for how far I’ve come, the great connections I’ve made along the way, gratitude for this path I’m walking and insight on where I’m headed in the future.

There’s a lot going on in our country right now, and if you don’t know what to do, remember that change starts within. I’d highly recommend doing this exercise (ideally with your entire life) if your past feels like a tangled mess and you’re unsure of what your values are. REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE. It’s a good start.

Confessions From Quarantine 04

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We all put up a facade to the external world to hide the parts of us we don’t want anyone to see. If someone asks us how we’re doing, even if we’re having the shittiest day we’re not expected to actually talk about it. For people who feel so intensely and deeply like myself, it’s tough to show up for work everyday and even in a great environment, still be so affected by those around me. Having to work from home for an extended period of time has taught me just how much energy I naturally expend around other people to project this “bubbly” persona. Some days yes it would be genuine if I was feeling it, but most days I’d be depressed and anxious, worrying what other people will think of me if I CAN’T be in a good mood. And this feeling would take over my entire day, making work absolutely MISERABLE. Those FEELINGS were all I could focus on. For me, there’s a certain shame in not being “on” for people, even though my logical mind tells me that it really doesn’t matter, no one cares, and everyone has their own shit to deal with. It’s a huge part of why I quit social media. It’s unhealthy to feel like you need to “portray yourself” a certain way to the world. I knew that pattern I had developed needed to be changed, to be healed, but there was never any time to really do it.

Having to stay at home has finally made me sink into who I really am, accepting that there are different sides of me that need to be honored and expressed. It’s taken a lot out of me to hide these parts of myself for so many years, expecting that someday I WOULD just be able to just be happy and bubbly for people ALL THE TIME and come back into the world. Absolutely ridiculous. It just got worse! Having the opportunity to slow down has allowed me to shift that perception of feeling that I need to “be something” for other people. After living so much of my life moving WAY TOO FAST to really take in and enjoy ANYTHING, I see now that slowing down IS actually an option, and it’s so necessary for someone like me. In order for me to stop feeling so much shame, I’ve decided I HAVE to talk about who I really am in order to move past this wall that’s gotten so high over the years. Hiding our true selves takes a HUGE toll on us that just piles up over time until we’re crushed under the pressure. It’s so important to just…learn how to be you.

Phew! Been meaning to say this for quite some time! It’s funny how liberating even drawing that image of me was….

I set out to do this comic for “art therapy” reasons, but I guess I really didn’t expect to feel what I’m feeling working on it. For me this whole thing is a legit life reflection session…it’s like sifting through broken glass to find pieces of gold.

When I did this page I was the vibrating, pulsing kind of manic and I feel like as much as I tried to control it, to me it shows through even in how I wrote it. I love that I’m learning how to channel my emotions into this… it’ll be so valuable to look back on when I’m in those dark times 🙂

And such a great release to finally let go of all this!!!

Day 10: The Past is Always Bittersweet

“Life is like arriving late for a movie, having to figure out what was going on without bothering everybody with a lot of questions, and then being unexpectedly called away before you find out how it ends.” -Joseph Campbell

It’s been pretty good lately! Also busy. I feel like I’m always in some sort of transition period but… when I think about it, aren’t we all? Like, ALL the TIME? It’s pretty easy to get our ass handed to us by life, and I guess it’s not typical to just be super content and satisfied. As far as I can tell, everyone always is dealing with some kinda shit. I really do feel though that transitioning HAS been my main focus lately. Maybe it always was?

Anywho. Yesterday Eddy started work so we have to SERIOUSLY learn to stagger our schedules so that Han isn’t alone for too long. That means that if I have anything planned after work, I have to leave super early to get there on time. It’s amazing how little time there is after work, especially if you’re someone who gets up really early, like I’m trying to be. Sorry it’s just NOT THAT EASY TO GET TO BED BY 9PM.

Yesterday I saw my psychiatrist who I ended up lying to that I’m still on meds 😐 At least I have a new prescription in case something WERE to happen and I really needed them. I explained to her that I hated being on the meds because I never felt the same joy like I used to, and needed to constantly be high in order to feel anything really. I didn’t like that she told me to stop smoking weed, but when you think about it, psychiatrist and doctors, anyone who prescribes pharmaceutical meds really, of COURSE wouldn’t like weed cuz it’d be taking away their business! But in any case, as long as I’m not on my meds I feel fine and don’t need to be high all the time to get through my day.

Something she DID say though that was useful, is that rather than use weed to make me feel joy, I should try to do things that are fun and not “SECRET CHORES.” No one has ever told me that before… SECRET CHORES. I told her “oh yeah I’m getting back into meditation and yoga and that’s been fun” and she’s like “well those are still self care things to do… find something that’s not a secret chore.”

Dude she is SO RIGHT! Gonna make more time to have actual fun in the near future. It kinda sucks because I’m trying to do so much now… Oh gosh should I try to list what I’m attempting right now?  Maybe that would be healthy, who knows.

  1. Transitioning off my meds and learning to control the depression and mania on my own.
  2. Transitioning into dealing with my bipolar diagnosis in general.
  3. Waking up at 5am to walk Han, leave for work by 7, and leave work to come back home by 4pm.
  4. Eating a healthier mostly plant based diet.
  5. Getting in a consistent workout schedule, running MWF, weight training TTH, yoga daily.
  6. Working with April to create wooden signs for my wedding.
  7. Centerpiece art for wedding, trying to get them printed in time so I can ask for help to get them painted around Friday. Need to test how different paints will work on the transparencies before then.
  8. Video for the wedding
  9. Attempting to do personal doodles to at least work out these thoughts I’ve been having lately
  10. Trying to find someone for Han to stay when we get married, which involves multiple meet and greets
  11. Communicating with a hula instructor
  12. Trying to get to sleep by 9pm

It’s actually not as bad as I thought, because in my head I recognized that there are actually more things to DO, but I didn’t list them because they’re not my current priority and I need to finish these things before I even START thinking about those things. That’s progress, right?

Today I was talking to Bre about art… and art has been a sore subject for me for a while. I’ve been depressed about it for probably like 10 years now, but I finally feel like I’m making some mental progress in the art field. Today though talking to Bre a little bit of the bad feelings slipped through again and I think I need to talk about it.

Almost 3 years ago I made the conscious decision to fully disappear from all Social Media. I had tried multiple times before but kept going back, but it was my dad’s death that made me stay off facebook because man… I had a lot to work on. Looking back, the person I was before my dad’s death seems sorta… unrecognizable to me. In a good way though. I’m learning to look back and not hate the me I used to be, but rather try and focus on the progress I’ve made along the way. And also be really happy that I’m not like that anymore.

Bre’s been sending me those talks between Dave Rapoza and Dan Warren, which are FANTASTIC. It’s really nice that they talk about real shit on there… it’s super relatable and man… totally sounds like what I’ve been going through for years. Bre told me that she wants to start trying to incorporate story into her art, and how she really wants to learn to gain more happiness from her art and share it with more people. She’s already such a fantastic artist, and I guess I couldn’t help but feel a pang of jealousy when she said that. Then I was like… wtf why do I feel JEALOUS. i should be happy for Bre because she’s really starting to come into her own and get into a rhythm blahdeeblahblah. And I AM happy for her, because I know she struggles with a lot of the same shit that I do… and maybe for that reason I can’t help but feel a bit bitter.

Months ago these feelings would have been WAY WORSE mind you. Something I just realized. What I just felt while writing the word “bitter” is only a sliver of how upset and jealous I used to get… which is a really good thing. I’m so happy to have recognized that progress 😀 And I think the reason why is because I know that EVENTUALLY I’ll get to that point where I can vomit out art and actually express how I feel, but for some reason something is still holding me back. And THAT’S where the bitterness comes from. I know that Bre spends a lot of time painting, and I think the jealousy also comes from knowing that she has time to do it. I mean… no one’s really got time, you have to make time, but I can’t help feeling a little bit stuck because of the wedding (again, ANOTHER feeling that ruled my life a couple months ago).

I’m feeling really RESTLESS, and I’m trying to tell myself “just a little more just a little more you’re almost done with the wedding” but at the same time I’m like “pssshhh whatever you can MAKE time even WITH the wedding” and then ALSO at the same time “BUT IF YOU DO THAT YOU’RE GONNA BE OVERLOADING YOURSELF AND SPIRAL INTO DARKNESS AGAIN NO DON’T DO IT”

Today I was telling Bre that I used to get on my ass so much about having wasted time, or regretting my past. But now I can tell I’m in a better place because I can see that as much as I feel that way, what I did in the past shaped who I am now. Listening to Dave talk about his past is also validation in a way. Today he was talking about working professionally and how over time you get used to it, care less and get more comfortable, which is totally the stage I’m in now. They were talking about how of course it would be impossible to balance your time when you’re still in that stage of getting used to working in the industry, and people should know to be a little easy on themselves during their early 20s/while they’re in that phase, because it’s almost EXPECTED of you to be shitty then. Because I’m now starting to feel that separation between personal/work life (partially due to the forceful influence of the wedding but also because I’m getting used to being at WB) I can relate to what he’s saying, but I’m still not at the point where I can feel ok about my art.

These conversations between Dave and Dan are great, but I can’t help thinking like… they’re already great artists though. They’re just looking back on their journey but… they’ve been able to achieve way more than I have artwise, and developed skills that I can’t really hope to develop now especially because I want kids. Yeah I related to what they were saying, but I guess maybe I’m not ready to listen to artists yet. To venture into that art world just yet. That part of me still exists where I can’t help but compare myself to their achievements, and although I told Bre that I can look back and not feel like I wasted time… I still feel BAD about it. Looking back, my early 20s seems like some VOID OF TIME that I can’t even REMEMBER. Like WTF WAS I DOING THAT WHOLE TIME!? I guess it was a whole lot of partying, going to gallery shows, meeting people, drinking, taking classes, and going to the Magic Castle. But I really hate that… I dunno I guess I can’t even remember gleaning much wisdom or knowledge from that time. When i get home from work, Han is spastic… just rushing at me with all this energy. Looking back I feel like I was more like that… just kinda LIVING and not really… soaking anything important in. :\ I am so glad I met Eddy and started on this path because… as jealous as I am of dogs just living, I see now (that I just wrote this) that eventually that type of “only living in the moment” lifestyle can only lead to depression. Come to think of it, I think I was probably manic for most of that… how else would I be able to do so much, drive from orange county to LA all the time, and still work, do homework and hang out with my bf? Ugh geez… no wonder I crashed into such a hard and long depression. Seriously until I started taking the Latuda and stopped feeling the symptoms of depression, I don’t think I even understood how BAD the depression was. I had already accepted it as a state of living, and couldn’t remember functioning any other way. Probably lasted around 7-8 years of being full on in it.

I’m so grateful for where I’m at right now.

That being said, back to art. Especially after realizing that about depression… I guess I should be easy on myself (like Dave said) because I had this mental illness the whole time that I didn’t realize that I had, and RECOGNIZE that I couldn’t have possibly achieved balance with art because I was unconsciously dealing with that. I’m still jealous though that some people are able to work THROUGH their depression and create something great. I never learned how to express myself through art, because I was so focused on getting a job in animation that I just tried (and failed) to make things pretty or fit in to the animation standard. I guess it worked ok since I’m now actually working at a union studio thank god, but I really do feel like most people I know have drawn so much more than I ever have in my entire life. I was just so goddamn distracted all the time, first by people, then by my depression, that I wasn’t ever really able to attain a strong skillset like basically EVERYONE I know. And now that I’m already at this stage in life where I’m getting married and planning to have kids, it makes me sad knowing that I (see I wanna use the word WASTED here) use up all my best years of exploration and experimentation on shallow pursuits that ultimately mean NOTHING now.

But UGH ELORA. REMEMBER THAT ALL OF THAT WAS LEADING YOU HERE. I guess that’s not so bad. Through that butterly effect/6 degrees of separation thing I suppose everyone in my life now who I love is a result of all that past I’ve lived, and I need to just learn to own it and get over it.

UGH WITH ART THOUGH!!! I can’t GET OVER that I wasn’t able to express going through my darkest times with ART. I LOVE how you can see artists progress over time, change styles, deal with various issues… like someone’s story is shown THROUGH THEIR ART. There’s such a huge chunk of STORY in my life that I WISH i could show through art… but backtracking now just wouldn’t be the same. I feel like this will always be one of my regrets… but I need to learn to get over it someday. I don’t WANT it to be a regret.

Maybe I need to stop wanting to ARCHIVE EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME while I’m at not making that a regret. I fucking HATE that human need to archive everything because we’re fucking MORTALS. I take a gazillionbillion photos and never even DO ANYTHING WITH THEM and all it does is create some dumb pressure that I need to do something with them eventually but it all just ends up piling up and up and up and…. that’s what I’m doing with my art too. I keep writing down little notes everywhere, on post its, etc… but gosh when I look back on them to finally do something with it, I feel like that moment has passed and the magic is gone.

Just like this page of shit I wrote when I was driving super high to Karen’s house and attempting to scribble down my thoughts… I remember feeling SOOOO great like “I JUST WANNA DRAW RIGHT NOW I WISH I WASN’T DRIVING. AWWWW IT’S OK ILL JUST DO IT LATER” but then I NEVER FUCKING DID IT and now… geez just LOOK at this page. SO UNINTELLIGIBLE I CAN BARELY EVEN MAKE OUT WHAT I WROTE! Such a bummer man.

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HOW DOES ANYONE DEAL WITH ALL THESE THOUGHTS?!?!! Mortality is so goddamn fleeting I wish we were just given a fucking manual sometimes and been told what to look out for and when so we don’t feel like such failures or always wanna kill ourselves >:0

It’s ok. I’m learning how to be positive. I swear. 😐