As the subtitle implies, my corner is a mess this week. So I’m dividing it into two parts—my mess and Nanbaka‘s relevant mess—and hoping it somehow edifies someone besides me.
I have a pretty casual approach to this column. That’s partly because when I first came on board, I was told I could write the same things here that I wrote on my old blog. And I was really casual there. Still, I strove—rather successfully—to write at a higher quality more consistently. Some posts have been better than others. Then weeks like this one come around, when my focus is even more off-kilter than during other weeks.
The other element of my casual approach? I don’t want to pretend to be something I’m not. I won’t pretend to be all put together. I won’t pretend to be all spiritual and faithful when I haven’t been. I won’t pretend to be one of the most dedicated, geekiest otaku around. This doesn’t mean I should go too easy on myself and write poor-quality posts. It doesn’t even mean I have to let you guys know every time I’m struggling. But when my blogging style is generally personal, there comes a point when I can’t not share that I’m struggling.
So a confession: I haven’t been watching anime regularly. I haven’t been reading my Bible regularly, either. Or journaling. That combination means that I have very little inspiration. I can’t write a personal post about a relationship with a God I’ve been conveniently forgetting about most of the time. (That’s one reason I wrote about Shinto and folklore last time.)
I asked God on Sunday to help me to do better with journaling this week. His first answer, apparently, was this blog post: a reminder of how little I have to give when I haven’t been purposefully receiving from him. Thus, I stopped this post mid-draft and went off to get my journal and Bible. It was a start.
Before I move onto the anime portion of this blog post, I’d like to explain a bit more of my situation. I promise, it’ll be relevant to later portions of the post: As someone with AD(H)D, it’s nearly impossible to tell how much of my devotional-scheduling problems stem from ADD and how much stems from not valuing God enough. I’ve given up trying to figure out the exact combination. My brain wanders. If I’ve broken from a routine and haven’t successfully begun a new one, I find it difficult to balance and accomplish goals—including Bible time, anime-viewing, blogging, and fiction-writing. This is especially true when there are no externally imposed deadlines.
None of this is an excuse. But it’s an explanation. Suffice to say, I’m a sinner who happens to have an abnormal brain. It’s comforting to know I also struggle to keep up with anime, writing, and reading—so I guess logic indicates that I don’t value those things more than God.
God is gracious, but he rarely removes natural consequences of my wandering. Those consequences include a lack of purpose in how I see and use my time. Oh, sure, he can use even my dawdling for his purposes if he wishes, but it’s not nearly as fulfilling as when I choose to actively participate with God in his purposes.
Hey, this actually leads into discussion of the only anime I’ve watched in the last couple days: Nanbaka. So let’s switch to that.
Sparkles and Purpose
Nanbaka is a sparkly anime about the inmates and guards at Nanba, a high-security prison where there are virtually no consequences for trying to escape. If you don’t have a high ability to suspend disbelief, you will spend 80% of each episode mocking the show. (During the other 20%, it’s the OP, ED, or time to catch your breath.) Between shenanigans, there’s actually an interesting plot. It just gets difficult to follow, because they’ll split important scenes into two episodes—and have a third, nearly unrelated, episode between those two episodes.
Nanbaka is a mess.
I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to take even the most serious of conversations seriously, because there are still sparkles. But I took notes during episode 9 anyway. Partly because in this episode, the sparkles and colors actually have purpose!
[Spoilers ahead for ep 9, if you care]
Jyugo is the only interesting character in this show. I thought it was because he had a more significant purpose than the others—after all, he’s searching for the man who put unremovable shackles on his neck, wrists, and ankles. And these shackles, as we now know, are responsible for his ability to transform his limbs into essentially swords. He’s been turned into a monster, he thinks, and he wants to find the man responsible.
Basically, he has the more depth than 95% of the wacky characters in this show.
Or at least, that’s what I thought. Hajime, the guard in charge of Jyugo’s cellblock, disagrees. He says Jyugo is empty. Why? He lacks greed. He’s never wanted anything before.
What follows this is an apparently serious discussion in which Hajime indicates greed is an essential human function, but pursuing self-satisfaction in a single-minded yet half-hearted manner is distasteful.
Basically, Jyugo wants to find the man who put the shackles on him not because he wants the shackles off, but merely because he finally has an objective, a purpose. So when that goal meets a significant obstacle, he has no real motivation to continue forward.
Hajime pushes Jyugo to figure out what he wants—and wanting a desire or purpose doesn’t count as an actual desire or purpose.
By the end of the conversation, Jyugo finally knows what he wants: a chance …to figure out what he wants. He breaks his chains and becomes colorful again as he seizes this chance.
Moral of the story: purpose (greed?) brings color and sparkles into your life. Without a greed-motivated objective, life is colorless and depressing.
I don’t completely disagree. I do, however, disagree with the implication that desire must be colorfully present in order to live with purpose.
The word “greed” doesn’t seem quite right, either. It brings to mind unscrupulous, selfish actions. I’d argue, instead, for desire and related purpose. The idea is that true desire motivates people to push through the hard times in pursuit of a goal. It gives purpose to a person’s life, whether that purpose involves pursuing meet-and-greets with seiyuu (like for Nico, Jyugo’s cellmate) or revenge (like for Musashi, Jyugo’s acquaintance/rival/opponent dude).
A common Christian version might be this: a desire to know and bring glory to God gives us a sense of purpose, leading us to pursue a relationship with him and act in a way that honors him. If your desire is strong enough, this will happen on a fairly daily basis, though of course pure habit and duty will have to get you through the days when passion’s not enough.
But now I’m talking about something I don’t completely understand, because I have a documented problem with motivation. Namely, my desires aren’t often strong enough to motivate me. In my case, it’s not so much a depression thing as an abnormal brain thing. Desire doesn’t bring color to my life (and greed definitely doesn’t). It doesn’t sustain me, because my focus is driven less by desire and more by brain tricks (that is, either tricks I play on my brain or tricks my brain plays on me).
Here’s my version, on a good day: I notice not only a desire, but a deep need to know and glorify God. I remember that this is my purpose in life, and that pursuing this purpose is even more important than food and sleep. Moved by a combination of responsibility, vestiges of habit, and a sense of obligation (not only to God, but to my spiritual and mental wellbeing), I get out my journal and Bible. Ten to fifteen minutes into my journalling time, I am finally fairly focused on the process, thanking God for dragging me back and meeting my deep need for fellowship with him.
On a particularly good day, I journal, pray, and study my Bible for several hours, not because I’m on a spiritual high, but because I’ve unlocked the same kind of hyperfocus that motivates anime marathons. (Thank you, Lord, for putting strange brain functions to good use.)
On good days, application (aka honoring God in actions and words) flows from both habit and desire to serve God wisely and joyfully.
On good days.
It doesn’t sound so colorful and sparkly, but I assure you that this quiet desire and action is still fulfilling.
But like Jyugo, I sometimes feed off of the obsessive desires of others. Or I affect excitement and motivation I don’t actually feel. I want to be a part of that colorful, desire-oriented world. I want that kind of tangible purpose.
Also like Jyugo, I feel more human, more alive, when I feel a strong sense of desire and purpose.
But usually, desire—even desire so lofty as to know God—doesn’t have a bright, sparkly influence on my life. My desires and purpose in relationship to God definitely make my life fuller. Every day—even during the less colorful or efficient days—I am grounded and reassured by this. But this often isn’t so much a grand motivation as a quiet, pulsing, even nagging feeling.
Basically: life and brains are both messy sometimes. Sometimes, finding motivation isn’t as simple as feuling desire. Yes, desire brings color and purpose to your life. But that color and purpose has to be fueled by something more sustaining if you want to accomplish anything. I’ve found, for me, that means a deep belief in God and his purpose for me, a belief he sustains in me and that I cling to even during my many wanderings—during both colorless and distractingly colorful times.
Also, Nanbaka is still a mess and I promise never to try to take it seriously again.
Side note: If you’re going to give me advice because of the first part of this post, please leave the word “just” out of it. I’ll try to be humble enough to accept advice from you, but if you attach the word “just” to anything like “make a schedule” or “get up early” or “try harder,” I will be tempted to glare disrespectfully at your comment and refer you to my Tumblr post on the matter. Seriously, I doubt you’ll come up with any suggestions I haven’t already tried to incorporate into my life. I’ve been struggling with this for a very long time.