Monday, December 19, 2011

Ode to Howl's Moving Castle

19 December 2011

Seriously, the last two weeks have been hella stressful. Every semester I tell myself that I’ll be better about my grading, but I totally failed at that this semester. As a result, I haven’t done much the last week but sleep, eat, and grade. Thankfully, now all of my grading is done and my grades are posted. Now comes my yearly pre-Christmas frantic cleaning and errand running. Fun! (not really)

But all of that is for tomorrow. Right now I’m watching my go-to relaxation movie, Howl’s Moving Castle. I bought a copy of this ages ago solely because I’m huge Studio Ghibli fan (and apparently I paid a whopping $24.95 for it). I watched it, and enjoyed it, but it wasn’t until I spent a semester in England that I really became attached to it.

Without a doubt, that semester in England was one of the most stressful periods of my life, and I did not handle it well at all. I realize now that I was going through a pretty serious bout of depression (which began before I even left for England), but hindsight is 20/20. I spent four months cold, broke, sick, lonely, and hungry. I was there January through May of 2007.  English winters were a shock to me. Now, I’ve lived in the South for my entire life, ya’ll. I was not used to months of cold, rainy, cloudy days. I did not have suitable attire for English winters, so I was cold pretty much all the time. My stomach was constantly hurting from the stress of the work load. And every two weeks, like clockwork, I got sick.  

For some reason, the only thing that would give me any modicum of relief was watching Howl’s Moving Castle. I’m not sure why. I would watch it over and over again in one sitting. That movie was my escape, my comfort.  It still is. Even now, I rarely travel without it. Even though Diana Wynne Jones was English and movie is Japanese, something about it felt like home. In watching it, I was able to get lost in the narrative. It enabled me to forget about looming paper deadlines (there was this paper about Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women that was particularly torturous) and the need to put together a dissertation committee from overseas. When watching Howl’s Moving Castle, all of that disappeared for a bit.

There’s something captivating about the story. I love everything about it, the narrative, Sophie, Miyazaki’s signature animation style, his use of color and imager, I even love the English dub. And I have this movie to thank for introducing me to one of my all-time favorite authors, Diana Wynne Jones. (fyi: Howl’s Moving Castle is a delightful book, quite a bit different than the film, but fantastic all the same) Watching it today reminds me of that time in my life. I don’t regret going to England. I met some interesting people (oddly enough, they were mostly Americans). I got the chance to live with an English family for five weeks. I was able to go to London multiple times. I got the chance to see Patrick Stewart perform in two different Shakespeare plays (Yes, I was in the same room as Captain Picard!!!) I read some absolutely fantastic Victorian literature, and I loved, loved, loved talking about that literature in my classes.

But underneath it all, was that insidious depression (mental illness is a bitch like that). I wish that back then I had been brave enough to get help. What I didn’t realize at the time was that no amount of interesting and cool stuff and fun people could make that go away. I really felt like a freak because I couldn’t have fun like the others. But for a couple of hours at least, Howl’s Moving Castle, helped me not think about it all. And for that, I’m still profoundly grateful.