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  • ren

fate and free will


In high school, my parents bought an internet router each for me and my younger brother, and would turn off the internet after we told them we finished our homework. They attempted to keep control of our academic lives through frequent monitoring, and I wasn’t socially ostracized but didn’t have friends, so I felt very isolated. I would just use media to escape reality — webcomics, books, or music in class, while I was doing homework...just any time I wasn’t swimming or sleeping or engaged in class. It got to a point where I would obsessively daydream that I wanted to exist in these stories instead. It was only in college that I was able to learn it was safe to express my own emotions and explore who I was and wanted to be, surrounded by supportive friends. To this day, my parents still track me and my brother’s locations. Although I understand they were well-intentioned — it is admittedly difficult for immigrant parents to predict what their children will learn in this brave new world — their control caused me to feel powerless and prevented me from finding my own way.


Now that I’ve moved back home after college, it gets complicated sometimes for me to navigate the world that my parents have constructed for themselves, one outside American culture, and queer culture. Changing my communication style and using different languages in so many different circumstances. I speak Mandarin with my parents and English everywhere else. This code-switching isn’t limited to using different languages, however: I have to change my communication style to fit the cultural expectations associated with that language. Although I feel like I’m just “being myself,” my parents tell me I’m acting too straightforward sometimes, or I should reword a comment I made in a more gentle way. It feels like I'm world-hopping and playing games in different worlds, where the rules and expectations make sense in one world but not another. For example, I might want to be "myself." LGBTQ+ culture might encourage me to celebrate me for who I am, but my parents deter me from being more open about who I am to them and others, because they worry about my safety. The debate continues today.


* コード・スイッチング = 2種以上の言語体系ないし言語変種(方言など)の切り替えが行われること

Being controlled by my emotions, having my academic life being controlled by my parents, and a very isolated personal life -- I think I never learned to feel safe. I just got more and more upset as I realized more things about my own self and the world around me. Moving back made me realize that people don’t change unless they really want to, and they don’t change unless they find that the way they live life doesn’t work; my parents haven’t seen that need, and have stayed largely the same. We fight considerably less now after I’ve learned to be more careful around them by changing the way I interact with my parents. I’ve started finding it necessary to grow past the powerless mindset I had for most of my life, and evaluate my life more objectively for what it is.


I’ve started dipping my toes back into consuming media in moderation; I don’t use it as a crutch for escaping reality anymore. I think watching movies, reading books, and listening to certain types of music helps us consciously dream about who we could be, or what worlds we want to be in. We learn to cherish these things for helping us find our own path in life.


In this way, I’ve found Diana Wynne Jones’s books particularly inspiring. Her books feel like playing a game of chess — the ending never looks like the beginning. The main characters usually start in a state of powerlessness, and as the story progresses, everything the character — and the reader too — believes turns out to be false. The layout of the chessboard moves incredibly unexpectedly and creatively. Stories normally start with a simple exposition that rises in action until a certain expected event happens to the protagonist, and the story calmly wraps up with a nice resolution. However, in her stories, sometimes things just keep getting worse, and then better slightly, and then worse until the very end. It’s funny because the protagonist never ends up knowing how they’re going to save the day, where they’ll end up, or how they’ll change. I personally feel that her stories provide a more faithful rendering of life — it’s got ups and downs and it’s never just about a simple journey with a single goal.


Another thing I like that Jones does is she balances out the horror with tons of laughter. In situations where the character is suffering a loss or experiencing awful luck, she uses sarcasm, wit, or cartoonish descriptions of the situation to make the narrative feel less tragic, and a little more absurd. In these absurd situations, the characters don't know what to believe anymore. This resonates with me a lot, as I am inspired by how they manage to shift their mindset to adapt. At certain points in their lives, the characters start understanding that their misconceptions got them into certain situations. Although they may feel disillusioned, they understand that they have to believe in themselves and their powers and to understand the true characters of those around them, in order to save their lives and their world. This thus completes the transformation from powerless to powerful. I would recommend The Lives of Christopher Chant (which J. K. Rowling took ample inspiration from) as well as Cart and Cwidder.

恐怖とユーモアのバランスが取られていることも、私がジョーンズの作品を好きな理由の一つ。登場人物が喪失や死、不運に直面した時には、皮肉や賢さに富んだ、漫画のような表現で、悲壮感を軽くして笑いをとる。こんな状況下においては、登場人物たちはもはや何を信じればよいのか分からなくなる。これは私が共感する部分でもあって、登場人物たちが状況に対応するために考えを変えていく姿にインスパイアされる。お話の中で登場人物たちは、自分たちが犯した間違いに気づく。彼らは幻滅することもあるが、自分たちの命と世界を救うためには、自分と自分の力を信じ、周囲の人間の本当の特性を理解しなければならないことをわかっている。このようにして、無力から強力なものへの変換を完了する。 私は、J.K.ローリングが大きく影響を受けた『大魔法使いクレストマンシー クリストファーの魔法の旅』と『詩人たちの旅 デイルマーク王国史』をお勧めします。

It’s hard to believe in a reality that doesn’t exist at the moment — being able to transition socially and physically one day and live my truth… It seems so far. Maybe that’s why I was drawn to Jones’s world: I had to make sense of situations that felt kind of improbable but still shoot for the moon, so to speak. I’ve learned to accept that the way my parents raised me influenced me in the way I understood myself, and there was a lot they and I didn’t understand about myself.


Her stories have helped me realize that a lot of beliefs and assumptions I had were not true, and that I only clung onto them for security instead of taking matters into my own hands because they were all I had ever known. I thought I would fulfill my parent’s expectations for me through great academic achievement (I didn’t. I did okay though). I thought I felt uncomfortable with my body when I was younger because I was just an awkward growing teenager, but I realized it was gender dysphoria in college. During freshman year, I was terrified of setting foot off campus because I thought my parents would track me down and get mad at me for not studying. Lots of these expectations and perceptions of life I had are funny in hindsight now. I couldn’t choose my parents, and I couldn’t choose who I was born to be, but I can choose who I can become. I see how certain things in my past were decided for me, similar to the way a writer can write a main character a certain way. Like Diana Wynne Jones’s characters, I can accept where I’ve been and let go of the past. All I can do is trust myself, understand who I am — a person, with certain identities and surprises I learned to take on later in life — take my free will in stride, and optimistically keep going.


* 性別違和症候群 = 性同一性と出生時に割り当てられた性別との不一致のために人が感じる苦痛

It might feel more convenient to fulfill someone else's vision of who we are, but ultimately, I've realized I won't ever find fulfillment in myself that way; I'll just be chasing someone else's dream. It's braver to stay true to myself and accept that reality might not be what we expect or want it to be. In Diana Wynne Jones’s books, the characters learn to deal with situations that catch them off-guard by confronting the differences between their reality and their own expectations. I think I’m going to try to apply that sort of philosophy to my own life, because I’ve found this to be the most effective but most painful path to take at times. In these past few months, it might seem like I’ve only changed a little from the outside, but inwardly, I feel like my change in perspective has made me feel considerably more confident in my ability to take on the future. Diana Wynne Jones’s books really helped me accept that life can be dark: it is natural to feel powerless sometimes; but it can also be light. Her rampant humor helped me understand how focusing on the bright side of things can empower people to use their free will. I think it would be nice to stay in control of my own self like this, and to keep on growing.


Images by Ren

Japanese Translated by Mia and Hikari

Edited by Kiara and Hikari

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