A Drifting Life

A few days ago I finished A Drifting Life, Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s fictionalized autobiography about growing up in postwar Japan drawing manga. It’s a great book – its depictions of every day life for Hiroshi Katsumi, the book’s protaganist, and his friends, family, and rivals rang true to me, and the way the creative process is rendered made me remember why I got into writing in the first place.

Hiroshi has no small share of problems throughout the book. He fights with his brother, who has a lung disease for the first chapters until imported drugs cure him; he fails his university entrance exam by not showing up due to an existential crisis; he is taken advantage of by publishers; he struggles with finding his true manga, gekiga, and figuring out how to present it. However, Hiroshi never has trouble actually drawing, at least for any amount of time: when he has trouble with a longer-format story (which is what he really wants to do), he draws four-panel manga instead, or when his publishers don’t want him publishing with other houses, he uses a pseudonym. He is constantly creating throughout the entirety of the novel, with an ease that surprised and inspired me. He never assumes anything other than that he is a manga artist, even when he’s hit a dry spell or isn’t feeling up to task.

Now I’m writing this out, I realize that much of that feeling that I so envy is due to the narrative device of the novel being about manga. I’m sure Yoshihiro Tatsumi had stretches of his life where he didn’t create much of anything, or felt doubt in his drawing or writing abilities, or in some other way wasn’t able to hack it. But the book stands on its own, and Hiroshi’s ease of being an artist is still something I want to strive for.

Maybe I’m writing this now instead of a couple of days ago because I’m currently reading a book where the artist is similar. David Bourne of Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden is similarly sure of himself as a writer, in fact it may be the only thing he is sure of himself. He uses his writing as a refuge from the conflicts of his marriage and transforming wife, and is proud of himself as he finishes a story. One scene that struck me is how he reads over the part of the story he’s already written, correcting as he goes, and not judging himself or wondering how he’s going to fix it, like I do. At least I have that in common with Hiroshi – he doesn’t read his manuscripts over after he finishes either.

Neither of these characters, as far as I can tell, have any problem (of their own) sending out work to be read and published either – something I struggle greatly with (and the reason I started LOOSE POOPS, or tried to, and in part why I began this blog) and that gives me a lot of anxiety. I think these books are signs for me at this point in my life. I think they’re telling me: “Just do things – just write, and the rest will follow.” I’m trying to do that. I’m trying.