Whispers of the Heart

Even among your closest friends, you never know who will last once distance and life-responsibilities set in. On New Year’s Eve, two years ago (this would be December 31st, 2012), I was home from college and everyone else who was back home were at some party that I was (oh gosh this sounds so high school already) not invited to.

But yada yada, that’s not what this is about.

Point is, I asked a friend whom I had never really hung out with in high school out to a late dinner and chat (he was going to said party later that night). It was nice. I met him at Starbucks around late evening. There was no one around except a happy young high-school couple I saw walking around the area.

Not that I’m being spiteful, but I’ll probably remember that amble around our little suburbia more than I would have remembered that party. I cracked jokes, as I always did, we talked about TV – Breaking Bad, and Movies – Zero Dark Thirty, Sunshine, Brick, and others.

Again, he had to leave for the party, so we eventually departed.

When I got home, I was feeling pretty alone. My family was watching some TV show I didn’t really want to watch. So I turned to movies, the best form of escapism.

I had rented Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. I got a beer and went upstairs to my room to watch it. The DVD skipped and stuttered throughout the movie, but otherwise I really enjoyed the anime. I mean it really improved my night for some reason.

A year passes.

I decide to make this a tradition: Watch one Miyazaki film, alone, every New Year’s Eve. I didn’t have anything planned this New Year’s Eve either. No one texted me; I expected no texts. I was so sure that I was out of the consciousness of anyone back home besides my family that I started downloading another Miyazaki film earlier that day.

We’re nearing my main point, but I hope that was an interesting story, in a weird sort of way.

The Miyazaki film that I downloaded and watched that New Year’s Eve was Whisper of the Heart.

You know that feeling after watching a movie where you just can’t stop thinking about the movie? You’re not even analyzing it, you’re just replaying the events of the movie, over and over in your head, trying to process what happened because you’re wondering why the movie made you feel this way and why your emotions are so heightened.

I can’t say why Whisper of the Heart impacted me so much, but that’s the feeling I got from it. I still don’t really know why. A lot of movies have had this effect on me, and those movies would hardly be on anyone’s Top Whatever list. It might have been the environment: my emotions at the time in conjunction with all the emotions of the movie; it might have been the absolute silence and solitude with which I watched the movie. There are also plenty of objective things about the movie that could have made me feel what I felt: folksy music, childhood nostalgia, innocence, pursuing your passions, love of reading, etc…But other movies that I’ve watched have had those qualities as well. What was the difference?

Well, I don’t know, and this isn’t about that either.

This is about the pursuance of your passions (I promise this time).

In Whisper of the Heart, Shizuku loves to read books. She’s fourteen years old, and that’s really the main passion we see from her: books.

I guess you could sort of say that reading is her passion, but what does she know? She’s fourteen. When I was fourteen I wanted to go to medical school. I did really well in some science competition and so I thought memorizing basic anatomy and physiology would qualify me and be of enough interest for me to be a doctor one day. I’m sure I had an actual interest in the cardiovascular and nervous system too, and it wasn’t all the Science Olympiad bling I would be getting by studying those bodily systems (Read: I’m being facetious).

What does Shizuku know? All she wants is adventure anyway; she follows a cat around the city because she probably has nothing else better to do, and she probably reads because her life is just boring without books. And what about schoolwork and those oh-so-looming entrance exams for high school? Not to come off as accusatory, but when I have exams, projects, or an interview coming up, I binge on watching movies and fantasizing about filmmaking or screenwriting or indie game development, and living “la vie bohème”.

I am legitimizing one lifestyle for another simply because my current lifestyle involves staying up until 3 or 4 coding or reviewing lecture slides or reviewing algorithms or reading about the Lost Art of C Structure Packing or blah.

But “Oh, it’s a lot of work but it’s the good type of hard work, the work that I enjoy, you know? Like when you’re climbing the Great Wall it’s really tiring but it’s worth it because you’ve accomplished something”.

So to bring us back on track, it seems like Shizuku really likes to read. Well, while reading might be a passion, I personally don’t see it as a real passion. And before you get all passion-police [sic] on me, let me elaborate: Reading is a lot of fun; kids and students and adults can get really engrossed in a book and it can expose them to a lot of things, but unfortunately it’s largely passive. What sort of ideas do people take away from novels besides the general plotline, the emotions, some life lessons that they’ll probably forget because Real Life has hit them, or some basic ideas straight from Phil 101?

Reading is passive. So is watching films, watching sports, or playing video games. Sure people can make it active by thinking more about what they’re reading, but Shizuku is reading fairy tales. And she’s going through books with such speed! When I was in elementary school I’d literally bring home a grocery bag of books some weeks from the library (50 – 70 books) and think I was king of the reading world because I could leaf through some substanceless, sub-100 pages, pre-teen chapter book in less than an hour.

So unless you’re reading (and actually trying to understand) Ulysses, reading is passive.

But hey, Shizuku is a writer! She writes. Albeit for Seiji Amasawa. That’s right, FOR him. Not to place a Feminist lens on anything, but Seiji Amasawa is pretty much Shizuku’s reason for trying to write a story. Of course, his passion inspires her, you could say. Maybe she’s not actually writing it for him, she’s just inspired by his passion. But anyway, I’m not trying to say anything about gender equality/roles/etc.

But writing is passive too. At least initially. We have this great idea for a novel, a film, a game, a startup, and we start brainstorming and prototyping and then a bug pops up or something’s wrong with the structure of your story, and you want to crawl back into bed and stay on your phone for a couple of hours. And by that time you’ve lost interest because, well, you already had the idea.

And I’m so sorry, Shizuku, to call you out as a crybaby, but you are a crybaby. You wrote the first draft of your story and gave it to Grandpappy to read and started crying for some reason. Do you think most novels are written and polished in a few months? Novels take time and commitment to write, they take hard work and trudging-throughness just like any other thing. Are you even gonna finish your novel, or just give up?

I guess we don’t know. That’s left unanswered because the brilliant Seiji Amasawa comes back.

Maybe we don’t pursue our passions because we don’t have any; maybe we just have ideas that we pursue until we’re bored.

And this is nearing my main point. My point is, and this really is my main point, and I’m sorry that it took so long. My point is, is that is that Whisper in her heart, that one that told her to write, that Whisper, can she follow that Whisper for certain?

My point is, how does anyone know which Whisper to follow?

Seiji Amasawa is just about the same age as Shizuku and he wants to go around making violins for a living. His parents tell him to be more sensible and finish high school first, and if I recall, he doesn’t end up staying in Italy for the rest of his life.

But how does Seiji know? The only reason he had a passion for this sort of stuff was because his Grandfather brought him up on it. Pretend for a moment that he was away from all this violin-making business for a while and imagine he found another passion.

Yes, because if people aren’t making violins, they obviously have to do something with their time that doesn’t involve sitting and reading the Internet/your Phone/a book or shopping all day. Or maybe it’s not that. Maybe he has some big violin-making test coming up and he really doesn’t want to take it so he finds a distraction that becomes a hobby that becomes something more serious than a hobby. Maybe he’s tired of getting splinters and he’s thinking “how does making violins help anyone anymore besides fourth graders who will probably drop the instrument for something cooler like the guitar in a few years anyway?”

So how does Seiji know? He’s only fourteen. Anything could happen.
How does Shizuku know? She’s only fourteen. Anything could happen.

Everything is an illusion. Everything is disillusionment.

I suppose this is all relevant to us in some way, as most written things tend to be. How do we know what we want to do? I was a big reader, I write occasionally, I code, I do (did) math. I played the piano, I want to make movies, I wanted to make an Iron Man suit.

I was also frustrated with trying to do all of these things (especially the Iron Man suit). And they tell you to explore interests, that you’ll fail and learn and fail and learn and on repeat.

I suppose there’s a romantic analogy to all of this: What you find yourself doing for the rest of your life is similar to who you’ll be with for the rest of your life. It’s based on the right timing, on who you know, it takes work to succeed, and you’ll be happy at the beginning, and unhappy when the going gets tough.

And maybe you break up.

Or maybe you slog through it, and make it work, and at the end you’ve got something beautiful.

But most likely, you compromise, as most people tend to do with their “passions”.

I don’t know. I don’t have an answer. Was it your true passion if you had to compromise? Did you really love someone if you’ve already moved onto someone else that you love, and what does that say about the one you currently love?

So I don’t know. I don’t think any of us know. A friend asked me what I would do if not computer science, and I immediately thought of everyone who is “passionate” about programming and what-o-what-if they were born 50 years ago?

So none of us know. So most of us probably settle, and that’s okay. But commitment is key. Whatever you choose to do, commit to it, and don’t look back and don’t go astray until you’re really sure you’re able to bequeath your commitment to something more important.

Because we don’t have passion and we don’t have love, because all we can do is do, and we can only commit if we keep on doing.

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