I know I said this was gonna be about books, but we're going to discuss a movie this time: Whisper of the Heart. It's a good movie for lots of reasons. The gorgeous animation, obviously. Snickering at 1995's cutting edge technology, like huge laptops and actual physical library cards. Wonderful music (as long as you have a tolerance for "Country Roads" by John Denver). And the conflict is entirely person versus self, so there's no sad parts. It's just honest joy the whole way through.
But the reason I want to talk about it is because this movie is the only I've ever seen that captures what it feels like to be a young creative.
Let me back up a little bit. The main character is a middle schooler named Shizuku. She's well liked by her friends and family, but she also feels listless and unsure of herself. Her only interest is rewriting the lyrics to "Country Roads" to fit her middle school graduation ceremony, as well as checking out every fairy tale book ever written from her local library. Otherwise, she has no idea what she wants to do with her life, and so she compares herself unfavorably to people she considers more driven and talented, like her mother, who's putting herself through college while working a full time job.
This all changes when she meets her love interest, Seiji. At first they don't get along, but as she gets to know him, Shizuku realizes Seiji is another driven and talented person. In his case, he wants to make violins and go to Italy to study under a master for a few months. As Shizuku falls for him, she decides she needs to improve herself, so that they can both inspire each other.
So Shizuku starts writing. Again, this is 1995, so she writes everything down longhand in a series of blue composition notebooks, and when she needs to research, she has to go to the library and look things up in actual books. (I mean, Google is the best thing that ever happened to writers, but longhand research is still pretty amazing.) A good chunk of the third act of the movie—when other films might be featuring epic battles or romance—is just Shizuku sitting in her room, writing. We get little flashes of Shizuku’s novel, but for the most part, it's just the actual work of creation. Shizuku loses sleep and skips meals to finish her story before Seiji returns. She gets cramps in her hands. It’s amazing.
And for the first time in her life, Shizuku feels alive. The words on the page are more real to her than her family or friends, and she can't wait to share it with other people, even if she's nervous about how they'll receive it. She no longer worries about her place in the world or compares herself to others because she's found her purpose.
I cried when I watched this movie, because Shizuku was me at that age. I noodled around with a lot of things creatively in middle school, but my best friend at the time was a naturally talented artist, so I never felt like I measured up. I didn't have anything driving me. Everybody kept telling me I had a bright future ahead, but I couldn't figure out what I wanted that future to look like. So mostly I just read books.
Then I started writing stories. I'm not sure when this happened, although it's probably around the time I discovered fan fiction. (For context, this was around 2001, so we're talking dial up, forums, and Fanfiction.net.) And it was like my whole life changed. I finally knew what I was supposed to be doing. Stories poured out of me like water—I never went anywhere without a notebook, and most of my free time was spent online, reading other people's works and getting comments on my own. (Again, this was old internet, so people were nice. I know, hard to believe.) Throughout high school and at the beginning of college, I had nothing to do but write since I didn’t have a life, so I produced a lot.
A lot's changed since then. Real life, I guess. Writing isn't as easy anymore. Part of it is time—in school, I never had to pay much attention in lectures, so I spent that time writing instead. Part of it is just that my view of the world is more complex, so my stories have gotten more complex to reflect that. And part of it is now it's not just a passion project, something to squeeze in around my job and school; it is my job, so I have to figure out what I'm writing and how I'll make money with it. On one level I'm glad this has happened. My writing's improved, for one thing, and I finish projects more quickly. On another, I mourn the freedom I felt, like everything was just waiting for me to discover it.
That's why watching this film was such a joy for me. As I watched Shizuku, I remembered that initial rush, when the only thing that mattered was getting things out of my head and onto the page. When I spent almost all my free time writing or sharing my work with others. I wouldn't go back. But I don't want to forget it either.