Akira and the Evolution of Pain

Hi there my friends! Today I posted a new video to my YouTube channel exploring themes of pain, trauma, and healing in Katsuhiro Otomo’s anime masterpiece Akira. It’s no secret around these parts that my life has been forever changed and improved through the arts, and this is one film that came up for me just when I needed it most. Below is the video, and below that is a transcript of the video for you to read through. I hope you enjoy it!

Part I: Introduction

If you don’t know the story of Akira, let me break it down for you as quickly and succinctly as possible. On July 16 of 1988, Tokyo is destroyed by a superpowered psychic named Akira in a, for lack of a better word, big ass explosion. 31 years later in 2019, the city has been rebuilt into Neo-Tokyo, and it is a society of extremes: poverty, civil unrest, and glamorous, technicolor violence. A place where despite the constant battling they are going to host the 2020 summer Olympic Games. This is where we meet Tetsuo. He’s a member of a motorcycle gang comprised solely of angsty youths led by his best friend Kaneda.

 

Our introduction to the group is on a wild, and probably standard, night. They take off to start a battle with a rival motorcycle gang and get more than they bargained for. And while that is going on, we the viewers witness the city police murder a man as he is attempting to flee with a small child. That child continues to run from the city until he collides with Tetsuo, throwing young man from his motorcycle with psychokinetic power. Tetsuo and the child are apprehended by an appropriately shady government agency and whisked away to a facility to be poked and prodded. That’s where Tetsuo discovers he possesses terrifying powers.

 

Kaneda and the rest of the gang are apprehended when they witness Tetsuo being taken. At the police station Kaneda meets Kei, a young girl who is an activist and member of the resistance of Neo-Tokyo. From there, Kaneda begins to work with Kei to infiltrate the government facility in order to rescue Tetsuo and find out what kind of horrors are being enacted. 

Part II : The World Around Tetsuo and Kaneda

Katsuhiro Otomo,the writer and director of the film as well as the writer and artist of the manga, stated that he wanted to capture the feel and nature of Tokyo in vivid detail on screen in a way he couldn’t on the pages of a manga. He said:

“There were so many interesting people… Student demonstrations, bikers, political movements, gangsters, homeless youth… All part of the Tokyo scene that surrounded me. In Akira, I projected these elements into the future, as science-fiction.”

 

While Otomo expertly captured the grit and wonderment associated with our modern world, he also projected a depiction of pain and trauma that places Akira squarely at the forefront of cinema. Tetsuo and Kaneda exist in a world of contradictions: isolation but expansion, oppression but freedom, knowledge but ignorance. It’s a world on the cusp of two eternal transformations: destruction and rebirth. The film feels so prescient today, because we ourselves are struggling to make sense of very similar parameters. The film was at the forefront of exploring the insidiousness and truthfully vague nature of pain. In following Tetsuo and Kaneda we learn that trauma isn’t always clear-cut. It’s abandonment, cruel living conditions, verbal abuse, profiling, and poverty in addition to sexual and physical violence. Through Tetsuo we discover how the pain we carry in our minds can last long after the external wounds have healed.

 

Part III: The Evolution of Pain

 

When I talk about pain, it encompasses the physical way Tetsuo’s body bends and bloats to transform into a techno-flesh monstrosity, yes. But I also mean pain in the emotional, some would say abstract sense. It’s a feeling that changes with us, adapting, growing, and bursting forth when we least expect it. Pain changes while remaining the same. We humans may create technicolor dreamlands that have the power to descend into darkness, but we are never far removed from the curious apes we once were. Similarly, pain changes while remaining true to its nature. And each character is forced to adapt to the ever-evolving pain in our own way. Where Kaneda turns the pain into apathy – except were Kei and his friends are concerned – Tetsuo is a proxy for the rage associated with trauma and the pain that accompanies survival.

Earlier, I mentioned that Tetsuo was apprehended and imprisoned with a small boy. Well, that small boy is one of three beings with psychic abilities that Tetsuo meets while imprisoned. Known as The Espers, they are actually adults trapped in the bodies of the children they were 31 years ago. They were the contemporaries of Akira and witnessed first-hand what his power could do. And they know the weight of pain better than most.

Kiyoko, number 25 (girl) Takashi, number 26 (boy who was escaping) and Masaru, number 27 (floating wheelchair) represent the adult effects of pain and trauma. Literally stunted in growth as many of us are emotionally, they creak and whisper as though the act of living were a marathon. They are what Tetsuo will become in time if he remains trapped in his cycle of suffering.

But where the Espers were unable to escape the cycle of abuse, Tetsuo adopts a very modern approach: burning shit down. He seeks out Akira for help after being told by Kiyoko that he is still alive and hidden underground. Tetsuo becomes so consumed by the power – his rage – that he is destroyed then remade into the mass I referenced earlier. He is twisted until he crushes and murders those around him. When he finally succumbs to the suffering, Akira appears.

 

The boy Akira (or number 28) represents inherited, generational trauma. He is Tetsuo’s past, as well as his potential future. When we try to contain and bury the trauma, it explodes. In that regard Tetsuo is a natural progression. Tetsuo didn’t find relief from the agony until someone who understood the weight manifested to aid him : Akira himself. And that’s often what it takes to survive the ever-changing nature of pain and trauma – the empathy of others, especially those who have themselves seen it.

Part IV: Closing

Who are we when we find relief? Who can we become? Free. Things go differently in the manga, which I highly recommend, but the film itself ends with Tetsuo’s transcendence. He goes to another plane, another Universe, perhaps another dimension to begin again. Perfect or not, Akira helps him to escape.

 

I’ve stated again and again that pain is an ever-changing force, adapting to us as we attempt to outrun it. It is messy as hell, unfair, and eventually forces us to make an impossible choice. Do we fight back to go forward or do we remain wrapped in that warm embrace of sorrow? Who can we become when we find relief, and at what cost? That, it seems, is up to us.

 

 

Here’s What You Need For Comic Con, You Nerds!

What’s up my friends?! In just one (1 !!) week I will be joining thousands of people from around the world to celebrate nerd culture in all its glory at San Diego Comic Con. There are panels, parties, discussions, and lots and lots of artwork. In honor of that event, I want to share some of my tips for surviving at Comic Con, or any large event where you’re going to be on your feet, running around and living your best life. From water to floss, I’ve got all the tips you might not have thought of – I sure didn’t until I had to go without them – that have saved me over the years. I hope they’re helpful! After the video, there are five MORE tips I think you should know. Enjoy!

 

 

 

Comfy shoes

You might not realize it in the moment, with all of the excitement and whatnot, but you are going to be wreaking HAVOC on your feet. Whether you’re standing in line, running from table to table, or even dancing at a party, the event is a real toe-buster. My first year at Comic Con I tried to wear cute sandals and flats, which was a huge mistake! I had so many blisters it wasn’t even funny. The health of your feet can directly affect the fun you’re having, so be good to them!

Jonas Mosesson loop run gym shoes GIF

 

Business card (why not?)

If you’re an artist, YouTuber, writer, chef, or a even an undergrad with no idea what you want to do once you graduate, but want to get an internship, this is your time to shine! You’ll be meeting people from all around the world. You’ll be talking to creatives and making friends who might take an interest in what you do, so why not have a way to put yourself out there? You don’t always have to do it in a serious business manner; sometimes it’s nice to not have to be on your phone in the moment! I’m looking forward to using this tip myself for the first time at comic con, and I’ll be reporting back on how it goes.

back and forth illustration GIF

 

A hoodie

Yes, it’s summer, BUT you’re going to be inside where that AC is blasting like the arctic. If you run cold like I do, it’s not a bad idea to have a back-up for when the day turns cool and you want to stay comfortable. A plus: when you have to inevitably sit down to wait for a panel you’ve got some cushion to use for your bootie.

jacket goodbye GIF by Caroline Director

Headphones

I warred internally over sharing this tip, because I didn’t want to seem like I was advocating for us to shut out the world. However, sometimes it’s nice to turn your mind off. Being surrounded by strangers in a loud and overwhelming environment can be an anxious person’s nightmare, so I think having a backup plan for when you start to feel the swell is a good thing. Going out into the world like this is a massive step and you deserve to have a break when you need it.

kim ye-rim whatever GIF

 

Pain relief

Remember what I said about your feet? Well, even if you do take my advice and wear comfortable footwear you’re still going to have aches and pains. With great fun comes body aches, so pack accordingly! By the time night time comes around, you’ll be thanking me.

ouch cringe GIF by Madelaine Petsch

 

That’s all for today, my friends! What are your tips for surviving a big event like comic con? I’d love to learn some in the comments.

Self-Care 101: Sleep

There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.

Homer, The Odyssey 

I spend most mornings burrowing under my blankets, desperate for a few more hours of shut eye no matter how much rest I got the previous night. My days aren’t particularly strenuous in a physical sense; in fact, most of my time is spent talking to myself as I play out dialogue and pacing from room to room until I arrive at the “perfect” solution to a narrative issue. Still, I collapse into bed at around 9:00 PM ready to be transported to my own version of slumberland. It usually involves flowers and candy.

Tired GIF
Giphy

Though I’m not spending my days engaged in super intense activities, I’m still exerting a lot of mental effort. It all builds until I’m too tired to stand, let alone make it through an episode of “Killing Eve”. We all have to push ourselves during the day, regardless of the tools of our trade. From writers to welders, we’re all better off after a good night of rest. However, in the United States, we worship at the alter of tired. Sleepless nights are a status symbol, an indicator that we are taking our lives too seriously to ever give into the Sandman. Last week, Steve Harvey went off on a tirade about the superiority of the wealthy, equating it to their not needing to sleep.

Hopefully, this all sounds batshit insane to you.

Drunk GIF
Giphy

We are ticking time bombs without sleep. Studies have shown that going without the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep can result in high blood pressure, weakened immunity, mood changes and increased likelihood of accidents. Throw in mental illnesses like depression or bipolar disorder, and you’re going to have a bad time – to put it mildly. Think of it like this: your body isn’t invincible. Unless you’ve got some super soldier serum laying around, you’re gonna have to sleep like the rest of us normies. I find that I’m not just more creative after sleep, I’m also able to finish tasks faster and with fewer mistakes. Sleep makes the difference between hours of trying to focus on work and a few minutes of targeted focus. Sounds legit, amiright?

So take care of your body, get some rest, drink water, and – for the love of God – moisturize! (More on that to come.)

 

 

Let’s Avoid A Holiday Implosion, Shall We?

It’s that time of year again: Snow! (depending on your location) Time off! (depending on your vocation) Love and Cheer! (depending on… you get the point).

I’ve been singing the praises of this month loud enough for you to get the hint – I really and truly love December. When I was growing up, my parents infused our winter with magic and information. I didn’t just learn the Christian stuff, but also got to hear about the traditions of other religions. Their stories, mixed in with my own imagination, transformed how I see the changing of the season. It became more than a time for presents – which I love – instead morphing into a time when anything at all is possible if your spirit is willing.

On the flip side, this is also a time when joy fails. With the influx of family cards, lovey-dovey Hallmark movies (that always seem to be set in the same advent calendar- type towns) , and people portraying perfect lives, comes the onset of despair. Not to mention, the grey and unforgiving frosting of the Northern hemisphere can nix any hope for the healing quality of daylight.

Seasonal depression, dear reader, is real and alive.

I come from a place of extreme privilege. I was raised by two loving, while admittedly flawed, parents, who worked themselves to the bone for my brother and I. Our home was warm, our bellies were full, and we woke every Christmas to find toys, no matter how bad *I* had been that year. That is incredibly rare. A home life like that would set anyone with more than five brain cells onto a path of success. Even as a survivor of sexual abuse, I knew happier days than a lot of people. To say that is not to negate the gravity of my pain, but an acknowledgement of my reality.

Still, even with all the stuff and things that make childhood a fond memory instead of a nightmare, I have experienced less than stellar holidays. Those unfortunate times took place mainly in adulthood, and I shudder to think of them. But, that’s what fosters growth, right? After looking back on the times when my Yule celebrations were rough, I’ve come up with some tips to help you navigate the stress without a spontaneous combustion.

Let’s hop to it!

saturday night live christmas GIF

Be with those you love, if possible. If impossible, why is being alone so bad?

Most of the points on this list operate under the assumption you will be going home to be with your family, however I want to acknowledge that oftentimes that isn’t a possibility. Whether it be estrangement, death, or how expensive it is to fly or drive, you might not be with your family over the break, and that is ok. I know that isolation is one of the greatest tools of depression, because in the solitude of your room you can weave all kinds of tales of your inadequacies. Yet, I’m starting to wonder whether being alone in itself is the problem. There are lots of things we can do for ourselves in the quiet of an empty home. What if you were to treat yourself to beautiful things like compliments, a good meal, some you time? Besides, how often do we really get to be paid to stay home and take care of ourselves? This might be an opportunity in disguise. If you can, I say run wild with the possibilities.

 

snow drifts and chimbley nymphs GIF by Yule Log 2.015

 

Not every battle is worth fighting.

Yes, I know the drill. We’re supposed to go home for the holidays, set aside our differences, and sing songs at the end of the night with everyone coming to an understanding of the meaning family.  *eye roll*

That’s a movie. In fact, it’s a movie I wrote in one of my journals when I was 13. We’re not all going to get along just because our religious text told us to. Politics (that dirty word) is the fastest, most sure-fire way to watch things go left at Nana’s house. If you want to enjoy your time you are going to have to learn when to fight, and when to bow out. In addition to that, you’re going to have to look out for when your relatives are just looking for a sparring match, rather than an honest and respectful discussion. No, you shouldn’t let your auntie say wild things about the world, or sit idly by when your great-uncle on your father’s side tells a rape joke, but the little digs from people who don’t care about you might not be worth your time every single time. Ya dig?

Speak up when you can, and in the meantime just radicalize your cousins and siblings.

happy living single GIF by Bounce_TV

 

Take care of your body.

This one is simple: eat smart, drink water, don’t blow your stomach to smithereens on pie. You deserve to indulge, but know your limits. As a recovering bulimic, I have to give myself permission not only to eat what I want, but to step away before I spiral. So, mind your body and how it affects your brain chemistry. Take care at the parties, at your family home, or in your own home!

 

hanukkah GIF

 

Remember your successes

When I go to holiday functions, I always start to sweat when I think of the dreaded “So, what do you do?” question. Which is usually followed by the devastating “Is that really a job?” As a writer, I get this ALL. THE. TIME. These questions are accompanied by a smirk, silence, and me slinking away to think of good comebacks in the bathroom.  I’m often reminded of this Tumblr post:

It’s true on a lot of levels, even among family.  Some people don’t know how to respect others based on – oh, I don’t know – being able to happily survive this cruel, heartless wasteland we call Earth . Your mere existence might not be enough for them, but it’s sure as hell good enough for me and the people who aren’t d-bags. Try to remember that while they’re looking down on you, you’re making a life for yourself the way YOU choose to. That’s powerful. Not many people are brave enough to be who they want to be, rather than what will get them shallow accolades. The world needs you just as much as anyone else, regardless of your job. Take stock of your triumphs – whether they be emotional or monetary – and keep it moving.

In closing: BREATHE

Whether it be Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas, Yule, or just another day off, you can survive this. When I’m on the verge of a panic attack (which I’ll be writing about soon) my husband gets me to settle into my breathing and by the end I’m much better. You’d be amazed what our bodies can do when we let it run on autopilot. I’d like to encourage you to give it a test drive this season by just breathing in, then, funnily enough, out again. The rest will flow from there. So, be well this holiday season. Be strong when you can and forgiving when you can’t, and never doubt your right to the warmth of the sun.

the proud family GIF

 

 

 

 

 

The Most Important Lessons I’ve Learned In 32 Years

Care to spare a moment for a lady on her birthday?

its my birthday GIF

When I was a kid – I’m talking Barbie dolls and no crust on sandwiches young – I couldn’t wait to grow up. Despite the ease of youth (something we never appreciate until it’s gone) I thought getting older would afford me the kind of freedom I craved growing up in a small town in Kansas. I could do the things I wanted to do ( stay up late), I could go anywhere I wanted to go (Narnia), and above all else I would be far removed from the trauma of abuse. In my youthful naivete, getting older wouldn’t just be another state of being me, I would be completely and marvelously transformed into a new person. There was nothing I wanted more than to be the distant, powerful me of the future.

Fast-forward to today, and in some ways I’m still chasing that elusive LaKase with all the answers and none of the world’s weight. What’s changed is how I look at the woman I am in the present and the way I appreciate the skin I occupy. There are days that I wish I could be someone – anyone – else. Preferably someone with a little more money and wings. Yet, more often than in the past, I’ve learned to appreciate the fact that there never has been, and never will be, anyone like me on this Earth. Every freckle, every step, every dream, and every trauma I’ve survived is unique to me. There’s nothing anyone can do to rob me of my right to take pride in my journey – and what a journey it has been. I might not literally be a superhero running around slaying dragons, but I’ve come to see myself as someone who is just as formidable as an caped-crusader.

Today, I want to share just a few lessons that have made my journey to 32 more fruitful than that little kid I was could have imagined. I hope each piece of knowledge helps you as go off into the wilds of the world, and steadies your resolve to be who you’re meant to be. Enjoy!

  1. You’re not for everyone. This was a tough lesson for me to learn. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t beloved by those I desperately wanted to impress and often went home dejected. Eventually, I learned to be thankful for the ones who made me feel at home in their presence and in my own skin
  2. It’s never too late to change your life. Change is terrifying , I readily admit it. There are few things in this world more frightening than starting over later in life, especially in a culture that rewards youth at every turn. Throw in the responsibilities of adulthood, and it becomes nigh impossible to hit the reset button.  I’ll be writing about this more, but trust me when I say that you’re never too old, too far behind, or too weak to change the path you’re on. It takes time – and funds – but you deserve it if it’s what you want.
  3. Stop punishing yourself for past mistakes. This point goes hand -in – hand with point 2. For the longest time I believed that all the things I did wrong in the past –  the times I was a bully, the times I lied, the moments I came up short of human decency – meant that I had no right to claim a good future for myself. Now, I think about it like this: I apologize where I can, I look into why I did the things I did and vow to do everything I can to avoid falling into the ugliness of those mistakes again. We’re all people wearing different brands of weighted shoes, trying to figure out how to untie the laces, so go easy on yourself. You don’t have to be who you were if it hurts you or others.
  4. You will encounter people who like to harm and destroy. It’s not your fault if they fix their sights on you. There’s a part of our victim-blaming culture that likes to, obviously, shift blame away from assholes. Rather than looking at a snake for what it is, we often find ways to blame ourselves for being slithered upon. You don’t have to do that. It’s not your fault when cruelty is visited upon you. I’ve finally accepted the reality that sometimes people just like to inflict pain. Now, I no longer feel obligated to make excuses for them and blame myself.
  5. You, my dear, are perfectly made.  Trauma operates insidiously. It creeps into your nooks and crannies, altering the fundamental structures of your psyche. For years, I couldn’t figure out why I hated looking in the mirror, why I felt sick in my skin. After years of work, the answer is quite clear: being abused messed with my ability to see myself beyond the pain. Looking in the mirror was a reminder of the hurt, and of the fact that my body was “damaged”. I’m so thankful to be in a place of relative peace with myself. I was, am, and always will be, just right.

And so are you.