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It may have been the twelfth or fifteenth time I slipped that tape in the VHS player; I wasn’t keeping track. The lid closed on the grey box with a click, and the gears inside began to groan and whir. The large TV, covered in a thin layer of dust and a train of greeting cards from my Memere’s collection balanced on the top, flashed blue and crackled into life. My stomach twirled with excitement. Sparks of anticipation flew down my legs, tickling my muscles and bones. I danced a little to squash the itching sparks. I dove onto the navy couch – it smelled like warmth and vacuumed carpet. My eyes were latched onto the screen. Advertisements began with the iconic blue Disney screen. My excitement mounted. And, finally, the blue screen I had been waiting for: Studio Ghibli. The film was starting.

            Kiki’s Delivery Service is, to this day, one of my all-time favorite films. Since I was young, curled up on the beaten navy couch in my Memere’s stuffy-hot house, I have watched that film upwards of thirty times. Each time, I pick up on another detail, another nuance. Screenshot from Kiki's Delivery ServiceAs I small child, I wanted nothing more than to emulate the protagonist, Kiki, and soar up into the sky on a broomstick to find myself. I didn’t see the gorgeous artwork of the seascape (with frothy whites for the seafoam painted meticulously) or notice the complex narrative that unraveled a young woman’s coming-of-age story. Now I watch the movie and see these things, which do not subtract, but add, to the experience. The music transcends my physical self, plunging me into the past when my stomach flipped as though I, too, was a high-flying witch-in-training.

            Different now, too, is how I end the movie. I was sad, bitter even, when I was seven and saw the credits begin to roll. I speedily trotted to the VHS player to stop and rewind it. Now, I look at the credits and appreciate them. These are the people who brought me this joy – no, this external piece of me. After the cast list rolls, in order of appearance, I begin to notice one man’s name recurring: Hayao Miyazaki, the writer, director, and animator. What kind of God-like man could almost single-handedly envision and execute an animated film? It seemed preposterous, really.

I discovered, some way or another along my life in the Information Age, that this mysterious Hayao Miyazaki had many other films he had directed, and/or written, and/or animated, and/or produced. It was not until 2002 that I would watch another one of his films, marking a severe obsession with his work.

Princess Mononoke Spirit           Hayao Miyazaki has been in the international film spotlight since around 1997 with the release of his film Princess Mononoke. The film follows a Prince on his journey to try to lift a curse put on him by a demon he killed trying to protect his village, and in traveling discovers a forest inhabited by ancient Gods that are warring with the encroaching industrial civilization of humans. The story is visceral, violent, and yet beautiful while commenting on the deforestation and war between industry and nature. Miyazaki has said, “I often think about the relationship between nature and me, a human. I exist within nature, but also there’s nature in me…that is somehow connected with Mother Nature. We neglect the fact that we are products of nature.”

The movie reached critical acclaim and spread across the globe, quickly stamping a record in Japan’s box office as the highest-grossing domestic film of its time[1]. This man-beast of an animator — no, storyteller – blossomed from a small animator in Tokyo to a world-worshipped artist and cinematic narrator. I am still curious, to this day, whether this man possesses super-powers.

His birth, however, is quite normal. Born to an aeronautics engineer on January 5th, 1941, Miyazaki was quickly infatuated with lighter-than-air-travel and flight in general. His artwork early on in childhood and school focused on planes and other imaginative aircraft. His love was consistently spurred on by his father’s business, Miyazaki Airplanes, which produced fighter planes for the war. Inevitably, World War II left a hefty effect on young Miyazaki which has carried through his adulthood.

Hayao Miyazaki and His Creations

From 1944 to 1947, his family had to leave Japan. Upon their return, his mother contracted spinal tuberculosis, leaving her bedridden for eight years. She had a profound effect on him (as can be evidenced by My Neighbor Totoro, where the two young leads move to the country to be closer to their hospitalized mother). In high school, he showed great promise in art and had already fallen in love with the manga (comic) art style of Japan that was popular at the time. So what does he do? He goes to Gakushuin University to study political science and economics.Miyazaki, the artist, the storyteller, is in fact carrying around a degree in political science and economics.

Luckily for the world, instead of using that degree, he may use it as a paperweight for his desk or a bookend to hold up his Academy Award and Berlin Film Festival Award (and countless other baubles and statues attesting to his phenomenal art and skill). Ever the practical man, though, he had studied in those fields with the intention of helping Japan’s economy back on its feet after been ravaged after the war. Respect is due for the practical thinker, especially when I decide to major in writing and minor in religious studies. He went for the realistic, while I go for the idealistic. Different paths to different individuals, I suppose.


[1] . This record would only be broken by Hayao Miyazaki himself in 2001 with the release of Spirited Away.

Grim Reaper Comes for DeadlinesI have a hard time reinforcing deadlines for myself, but when given them externally, I have great success.

It’s the difference between trying to gather the courage to hang yourself versus being put into a guillotine. The latter obviously has more immediate and drastic implications.

Of course, some people are very strong willed and self-disciplined. Self-proclaimed deadlines can mean just as much as a deadline given to oneself by work or class.

Yet, many others (myself included) have a hard time pulling in the reins on ourselves. I can be easily distracted or simply lethargic at times without a deadline. And so while I hate them, I also see them as great (and freaking scary) tools.

I am most productive, at least quantity wise, in a class setting primarily because of the deadlines imposed on the students. Having concrete consequences whips my ass into shape. The one downfall, of course, is the lack of time allotted to the pieces.

Many drafts are generated during the semester, but most (if not all) rarely get proper polish. Even now as I’m rushing to finish a final essay and put together two polished portfolios, I know the work is primarily in-progress and not reaching its potential.

What to do, then, if external deadlines are the ones that work the best and most frequently?

Make them. Tell friends, tell family, obnoxiously troll facebook pages, type in deadlines on a cell phone, lock technology away, and MAKE A DEADLINE. This is typically the method I use for NaNoWriMo. Sure, I have only really finished once, but I would get no where had I not created a deadline with real emotional and social consequences. With cyberspace, you can instantaneously receive support from others. Sometimes even negative reinforcement for when procrastination is at its worse.

Deadlines are, after all, a negative-positive thing. It can limit, but so too can it make many things possible. It may have the word ‘dead’ in it, but there isn’t anything to mourn over.

Writing major? Who does that?

Me.

Where the heck does one find such a major?

In a few nestled places — almost always, if not exclusively, liberal minded colleges. I for one am in Ithaca College, center of the wannabe hippie world.

Do you need this major to be a writer?

Well, no…

Is it going to help you get published?

…not necessarily.

Why do it?

…to pull thousands of dollars out of my butt in preparation of living in a box and forever fighting for publication. It’s slightly masochistic, really… (In all seriousness, it does give a great amount of practice, experience, and networking opportunities.)

What does a writing major DO?

Write. Most of the time. All of the time? A lot of writing, let’s leave it at that.

Can you have a life?

Oh, yes. It’s probably one of the few times a writer can feel less like a hermit and more a part of a substantial, flesh-and-blood community. Unlike those poor, poor music majors who are locked away practicing for their recital, we writing majors can actually get together to write or revise or, most of the time, procrastinate! I personally try to take advantage of social interactions knowing I will likely become a solitary and grumpy author with cold hands and a colder heart.

So, finals are coming up. What do they look like?

Portfolios. After working on many different pieces throughout the year, it’s time for editing, revision, and polishing to pass in to the professor. It’s nerve-wracking but also blissfully calming to know that all my work will finally be finished, tucked away in a pretty little folder.

Can you get laid easily?

No. No more than saying “Hey, I’m a philosophy major” can get you laid. Please re-think your major choice if you want to seduce people. Try Directing for instance…or psychology if manipulation is the route you’re going for.

I don’t understand…why choose to be a writing major when all this money is needed, and there isn’t even a guarantee of having a better career than a non-college-degree writer, or even getting laid?

I don’t get it either.

Practicing my Kraft

In Pre-Dawn Revelations, I contemplated my own practices when I get into the groove of writing and tried to make it more general. Primarily I played with form, blurring the line between poetry and prose. Unfortunately, due to my limitations the form-play did not translate well. I think as a stand alone piece, though, it is still amusing.

Genre Poll

EDIT 4/26: There have now been a few instances of readers having difficulty with the poll. I’m going to attempt to resolve the problem, but if it persists, just mention how you feel in the comments as some other kind readers have done! Thanks!

Good grammar must come before stylish syntax. One cannot create snazzy-dazzling words without first having the skeleton, muscles, and nervous system of the written language structured. After all, an architect doesn’t start with the crown molding before putting up the walls.

In today’s spell-checker loving society, I feel proofreading and self-editing is taken for granted. Many of us, too lazy or too faithful in technology, finish a draft and feel that if there are no squiggly lines uglifying our paper, it is good to go.

Wrong.

And I will have Taylor Mali tell you why in a most entertaining and creative way. (Be warned, there are adult themes. Which make his performance that much funnier, but use your discretion.)

Indeed, the red pen is our friend. Or just simple re-reading and editing within a word processing program.

Personally, I like editing on a physical paper. It is typically easier for me to see my mistakes, whether it be grammar, structure, or style. I can add scenes physically and see the layout of a story or essay. Others, I know, prefer to do the entire writing, proofreading, editing, and revising on a word document. I myself have done it, but there is something about the physical paper that makes editing easier and more enjoyable for me.

Owls Are Our Cousins

Some people are morning people. (I think they must be masochists.) Others are night owls. It seems to me that a grand majority of writers are night owls. Three Owls

Why, I can’t be sure. Is there something about the mystery and enigmatic beauty of the night that arouses our muse? Is our coffee and tea or other caffeinated substance activating a hidden segment of the brain at such godforsaken hours? Or are writers just bred procrastinators who wait until the last minute?

I’m sure there are combinations of these. I personally want a researcher to study the brain of a writer when he or she often gets ‘struck’ by inspiration. I’m sure some magic of biology is going on there.

For me, my muse typically visits me between 10pm and 3am. Occassionally a random idea will tap me on the shoulder while the sun is still up, but this is a rare development.

The night has always kept secrets and mysteries. Maybe there is a connection between its literary and spiritual connotations and the typical undulation of ideas within the writer or artist’s brain.

Or maybe writers just don’t like sleep.