note: this post was originally published on Through A Glass, but has been reposted here for consistency
Given the opportunity is there anyone who wouldn’t want to reshape their life? To be able to go back in time and correct your mistakes of youth, smooth out your imperfections, live without regrets – it’s an ability to be envied. While such a godlike power obviously doesn’t exist in reality, taking control of your life is indeed possible. My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, Wandering Son, and Night in the Woods all feature protagonists with lives in need of reshaping. They are often clumsy and find communication difficult. They stumble, make mistakes, and are easily misunderstood. Yet all of them can find control in their lives through writing. A process both creative and documentary, writing can allow new perspectives on your experiences. It gives context and clarity. It allows the author to analyze and learn from themselves, and in this, grow. Though the past is set in stone and put down in words, the very process of doing so can be the first step in writing your future.
For Nagata Kabi, her true self is not one to be shared with the world. Stealthily indulging her eating disorders during breaks at work, hiding mental breakdowns from her parents, and always striving to live up to their expectations, Nagata’s life is one of being constantly conscious of how others view herself. This anxiety dominates her life so thoroughly, she is hardly given any time to consider herself as an individual with unique wants and dreams that exist independent of others. The constant activity may have given her some sense of belonging but it was devoid of any joy, any of the “sweet nectar” that the rest of society seemed to enjoy. In order to attain her dreamed of ‘real adulthood’, Nagata concludes that she must break free of the need to appease her parents, to live for herself, and to experience comfort and affection as an adult. And while constantly providing meta-commentary about how warped and backward her thinking was, she elects to hire a professional escort. Attributing to her not understanding human communications the experience is a spectacular failure, in both being pleasurable and curing her loss of self.
Yet Nagata takes an odd turn here and decides to document her experiences in manga form, putting a magnifying glass up to every one of her imperfections and anxieties. It seems an unlikely decision for someone so admittedly lacking in communication skills, but for Nagata it is about understanding and control. In My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, Nagata attempts an objective and honest look at her own life, and is allowed insight that she did not have at the time. Her state of mind can be analyzed, her failures recognized, and her past set in stone before memories fade into idealized fragments. Her past becomes a project she can observe from above, an experiment she can tinker with and attempt to make a better future. And through sharing this straightforward and blemished story to the world she comes to another realization – truly connecting with others requires honesty. Attempting to present an ideal version of herself to the world resulted in a rift of communication and misunderstanding, but by putting every scar on display she is able to understand and connect with others in an intimate way.
It is significant that she finds this intimacy not in hiring an escort, but in writing about the experience. While the experience for her was miserable, rather than dwelling on that and reveling in the failure she was able to write and create the human bonds she so longed for. Any form of writing is naturally somewhat of a personal endeavor, with autobiography being the most private of genres. Nagata not only writes an autobiography, but one that is meant to be shared. No mere journal, her work was created with the intent to be shown to the world. This act of sharing is most critical to regaining control of her life. Nagata comments that she finds fiction embarrassing and difficult to write, but the worst experiences of her life are a simple matter. By abandoning all pretense and exposing herself to the world it is as though she is shouting “Look at me, here I am! Accept me or not!”. Such a window into her life, stripped of all the conventions of regular conversation, is something that can only be achieved through writing. Nagata may have been unable to find the personal connections she so desired face to face, but her writing created bonds all over the world.
In Nitori Shuichi’s life the lines are often blurred – fiction and reality, external and internal, male and female. As a transgender woman, she is quite literally crossing boundaries, and this duality is exhausting. Juggling separate identities between school, family, and friends (those who know and those who don’t) leads to a crisis of self. Just who is she? A common experience among transgender people is the problem of speaking of their pasts, the most obvious issue being that of pronouns. Do I speak of myself as the gender everyone knew me or as my own identity? For a group so often leading double lives it can be difficult to reconcile who you are with how to tell your own story. In Wandering Son, writing plays a crucial role in exploring and managing these identities. Gender-bending stage plays are a reoccurring motif through the story, and serve as a safe space for Nitori to experiment. Often serving as both writer and actor, she is for a short time able to allow her true identity to emerge. For the rest of the cast these plays are pure fiction, but for Nitori they are truth, an indulgent bit of authorial self-insert. Apart from stage plays, journals and exchange diaries are often used as a place for self-expression. Through these writings, Nitori is able to present her authentic self and connect with others who understand her position.
Perhaps most significant of all is the autobiography Nitori writes. ‘I am a Girl’ by Nitori Shuichi – its title page alone presenting the juxtaposition of a male name and a female identity. While Nitori calls the story a fiction, it can be thought of as more of a synthesis of her identities. Writing it gives Nitori a opportunity to explain herself to the world, a chance to create an ‘outside’ that matched her ‘inside’. By writing her story, Nitori is able to take control of and reshape her past.
While family and friends may think they know her, they are lacking the much needed context that would deepen their understanding. Throughout the series, Nitori’s self-expression is continually stifled. Her family, the school administration, and eventually her own body betraying her through puberty – there is a constant gulf of understanding between the internal and external. Lacking adequate support, or even language, writing is not only the best way for Nitori to express herself, it is the only way.
After a failed two-year stint in university, Mae Borowski has returned home to the town of Possum Springs that she has always known. Yet while some things have remained the same, her home is not the one she remembers leaving. Businesses have come and gone, old relationships have crumbled, and Mae is left adrift in her life with nothing solid to latch onto. Small town atmosphere is an essential component in Night in the Woods, with all of its quirks and idiosyncrasies. The decline and loss of purpose Possum Springs faces is mirrored in Mae’s own life.
We learn that she is keeping a journal on the orders of her doctor (it is suggested that Mae suffers from any number of mental health issues), and it is through this that we are given the biggest insight into her thoughts. Despite Mae describing her doctor as a quack journal keeping is a common practice for improving mental health and she dutifully follows orders. The smallest experiences of daily life are recorded side by side with fantastic daydreams or mysterious happenings around town. The act of recording her life is a way for Mae to ground herself and find stability. As a player, you’re encouraged to search around town and talk to its residents on a daily basis in hopes of getting an amusing new journal entry. Yet for Mae, this sense of routine is an important part of combating depression. By reforging her relationships she can reconnect and find her place in the world. By documenting she attempts to recognize the real and the fantastic, and avoids slipping into a disassociative state. In keeping a journal of her life, Mae reminds herself that she exists, and has significance. Mundane events such as band practice or eating pizza are just as worthy of a journal entry as finding a mysterious severed arm, they both serve as physical proof of her own life.
When attempting to communicate in daily life, Mae has a habit of going overboard and saying something she ought not to have. The player is often left cringing at their dialog options and wishing they could go back in time several steps and prevent Mae from ever having spoke. Mae’s personal communication skills are clumsy at best, but her journal provides a safe space to reflect on her life. For Mae, journal keeping servers as a practice realm for real life – a place where she can be in complete control, a counterpoint to the larger world that is so often out of her grasp.