We love our fandoms. For those on the outside looking in, it may be their impulse to discount our devotion as superficial or childish. That’s because they don’t understand or see how nerdom has effected us. At BNP, we know that comics and movies and anime and cosplay does so much more than entertain us, it shapes us; we learn what kind of people we want to be—and who exactly we are fighting against becoming. We sent out that bat signal, we sent out notice for an open call for submissions on what nerd lessons you learned and y’all answered the call.
The Author of This Piece and Teacher for This Nerd Lesson : Ava Jarvis, @AvaJarvisArt
I didn’t grow up Christian, and that’s a terrible thing in the Midwest, especially if you happen to be non-white living in a majority white town. Not being Christian is yet another reason for white people to other you, a problem when you’re of “East Asian” descent and already treated as a constant foreigner on your own birthland.
The thing is, I’m not much for authority. I’ve an ornery streak in me 300 li wide, despite looking like a “nice Asian girl” because I don’t have a colored streak in my hair.
Most of my life, I considered myself an atheist, but I never fit in that mold. I don’t believe in whatever God that Christianity believes in, yet I also believe that there really are supernatural forces in our world, due to weird childhood experiences.
But I didn’t think there were any other options with regards to belief systems.
Then I watched, many years after it had gone off the air, Sailor Moon—not Crystal, but the original anime, and also not the original English translations with meatball hair and donuts that aren’t donuts.
Experiencing another culture was eye-opening.
There was something else, too. For the first time I saw a character who wasn’t an atheist, and wasn’t a Christian—she grew up with her grandfather in a Shinto shrine. And nobody on the team treated her as deviant for this!
Surely she should have been persecuted, whether by Christians or atheists. But she wasn’t! This was treated as—as normal! “Hi, welcome to Hikawa Shrine, let’s have tea” wasn’t alien to the Senshi—or indeed, to Japanese society.
It’s not like I became a Shintoist right there and then. After all, this was still during my “maybe I’m an agnostic???” phase.
But as I watched more and more anime and was exposed to a non-European view of the world, I started to veer off the beaten white path.
It wasn’t until Mushi-shi that I realized where my thoughts of the supernatural world truly wandered. Mushi-shi is not Shinto in any sense, but the ideas of a world permeated by spiritual beings was very close to what I thought, and Ginko’s pragmatism in the face of all manner of weird shit reflected my own attitudes towards the supernatural.
Maybe, I thought, there’s something here.
I didn’t explore this idea at the time. I just enjoyed the heck out of anime in general.
Then my long-term psychological issues took me into a career dive. My attempts at software development blew up in my face due to intense paranoia, depression, and complex PTSD’s never-ending flashbacks. My mental defenses had worn down to nothing.
At my lowest point one late fall evening, when I was sobbing because I couldn’t block out my symptoms by coding all night, I decided to google for Shinto. I’m not one to do *nothing* when I’m falling into the abyss. And I had heard that religion was a sort of salve in psychologically trying situations, even if it never cures you.
To my surprise, Shinto—well, any Shinto that’s not State Shinto anyways, which is so conservative that its believers ought to find a lot of common ground with America’s Bible Belt—was so open. It’s one of the few religions that acknowledges that other religions existing is fine, natural, and not the work of the deluded in any way. The head of the local shrine was also so, so kind to me. And I decided to go all in.
My life took a turn for the positive. It was as if, up until that point, I’d wandered lost through dense forests. And now I finally discovered the stream that would lead me home.
These days I think about the kami—which does not actually translate to English very well as “gods,” and translates only slightly better as “the Divine”—and their existence explains just about everything in my childhood.
I make my spiritual connections when I can, sometimes via my kamidana, which currently only houses the ofuda of Amaterasu-ōmikami, who could be called the head deity of the Japanese pantheon, if you could even call it a pantheon, or if you could even generally consider such a thing having a head deity. Man, I’m so not into authority.
She is kind to me, too. It’s still very hard to get into the habit of trusting in a greater power, of even asking that power for help after so many years of being told that I couldn’t or shouldn’t ask for nor expect any kind of assistance, much less from God or the Universe.
These days I walk in grace. There are the kami, and there is me, and there is a world greater than me.
And somehow, for the first time in forever, that’s enough.