26 February 2013

ID project, round 3: Tangles

Charles is another one of the many people I've met online. And much like Crimm, I'm not exactly sure how. I remember giving him an interview a few years ago, followed shortly by a testimonial, but for the most part, he is another one of the many folks I have simply "known forever." As the editor and moderator behind Beneath the Tangles, Charles provides an outlet for the analysis of anime through a Christian perspective, something that some might find odd or "impossible." But each day, week and year, he presents thoughtful content written plainly, for all who seek deeper knowledge to discover and appreciate.
Here, he reflects on how his faith and his fandom led to his membership in the blogging community, and what that means to him.

Psst…I’ll let you in on a little secret.  Even as I wrote more posts than ever this year at Beneath the Tangles, I frequently considered making my exit from the blog.  I spent a lot of time thinking about quitting.  If I did, when would it occur?  In what form?  Would the blog continue to live on without me?  If so, who would then run it?
I enjoy blogging and I love the community at Beneath the Tangles, but life was busy.  Parenting takes much more time than most realize, and between that, two jobs, church activities, and several other obligations, I was pretty much at my limit.  I thought I might have to let my hobby go.
Hobby.   Yes, aniblogging is my hobby.  But for me, it’s more than just that.  It’s a ministry.  It’s a way I serve.  And in that light, I realized that at this point of my life, it’s an indispensable part of who I am and what I do – not simply a hobby I could so easily let go.
Of course, anime didn’t start out as ministry for me.  Apart from Speed Racer and Voltron in my youth and Digimon in my adolescence, I hardly watched the medium growing up.  Once I started college though, Studio Ghibli, Toonami, and Rei Ayanami hooked me.  And I think like so many other anime fans, I became absorbed – buying and watching the product while participating in online forums where actions like roleplaying and criticizing cartoons was an absolutely normal thing.
Still, anime was just entertainment to me throughout most of my twenties.  It was something I could leave for months at a time and a medium I was sure I would outgrow entirely one day.  Little did I know that I was about to fall into anime so much more deeply than I ever had before.
I’m not sure where my idea to blog came from.  I never read aniblogs regularly until after I decided to start a blog.  But I do remember wondering, “Why hasn’t anyone started a blog analyzing anime through a Christian lens?”  That thought seemed so regular to me, while the reaction by others to my blog has been quite the opposite.
My purpose in blogging then and now has been the same.  It’s not to just write down my thoughts.  It’s not to pump out numbers to puff myself up (though I am number obsessive).  It’s not to have an outlet to express my creativity.  It’s to build community and create a place where we can chat about anime and feel open enough to discuss religion.
Now, two and half years since it began, I refer to Beneath the Tangles as a small community as much as a blog.  And I love it.  It’s a unique place, where a comment is as likely to be about a church father as it is to be about a kawaii character and where an atheist feels as open to chime in about not believing in a god as a believer is to express her faith in Jesus.
Unexpectedly, this anime fandom has taken up a huge portion of my life.  I watch, think, and breathe anime.  I spend my evenings viewing it and late nights writing about it, spurning sleep as I keep on chugging along.   I’ve let it help mold who I am, while I’ve also used it in molding an online identity.
As administrator of Beneath the Tangles, I’ve become associated almost entirely with it in the fan community (of that small amount that knows me).  I’m the “Christian anime guy.”  I find it a little strange, since I think my real voice rarely comes through in my posts, and since my everyday life is so often full of failures in my faith rather than triumphs.  But I’ve come to embrace this identity.  I think it piques people’s interest, and if readers are interested enough to come visit the blog, that’s a portion of the ministry accomplished.
But within the aniblogging community, I don’t feel this same sort of weird status.  I’m not an outsider.  I’m more of myself.  And it’s a bit of a different identity from the larger one within fandom – among anibloggers, I’m just one of the crowd (though I hope I stand out by what I sometimes don’t say or do).  And I treasure this part of my otaku identity.
In real life, I’m slowly revealing my otakuness to my church family, years and years after I became addicted to the medium.  But primarily, my fandom identity remains digital.  I rarely go to conventions and I have no close friends who watch anime consistently anymore.  But as an individual who has always felt more comfortable expressing himself through writing rather than speaking, I’m more than okay shuttling my fandom to being something exclusively online, matching a digital ministry.
And it all comes back to that – my personal fandom is nothing without combining it with my faith.  Lauren Orsini champions Steven Savage, who encourages the idea of turning one’s fandom into one’s profession.  For me, my job and my hobby will likely always be distinct, but my ministry and my hobby – and by extension some of the most intimate and significant parts of who I am – have become one in the same.

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