The Stop After the Next

ping pong the animation, smile, peco, masaaki yuasa,

Every time I write a post I wonder, “Is this good enough?”

In high school, I had two close friends: Erica and Tory. Erica was a friend I had made in junior high school. She was manipulative, funny, and charismatic. Frequently, she drew caricatures of various people in our classes, and teachers, making fun of them for various physical traits or perpetuating rumors about them. Erica was fun to be around in a mean way, where being close to her meant that you too had to be mean. It also meant that you could not best her in anything, lest she become jealous, placing you immediately on her blacklist. Tory was the exact opposite. She was loud and warm – sometimes to the point of awkwardness – as her actions were always genuine. This made her a prime target for Erica, especially as she was far more naturally talented in the arts than Erica was.

If I had to honestly rank the three of us in terms of natural talent or skill at drawing and painting, I would list Erica, myself, and then Tory, from worst to best. Compared to the two of us, Tory was simply on another level. To this day, I know of few people as naturally gifted. Erica and Tory both heavily-influenced my own art while I was in high school, along with a heaping cup of my own insecurities. Around Erica, I had to sandbag it, and compliment her constantly. I hardly wanted to provoke her wrath, so I laid low. When she said that I won a prestigious award because of favoritism, I shrugged it off and agreed with her, in spite of knowing that it wasn’t true. Worse, when it came time to vote for yearbook superlatives, I voted for Erica when I should have voted for Tory.

When I painted with Tory, just the two of us, it was wonderful. We were relaxed and comfortable. We made some hilarious art together, especially when we both hit our Sailor Moon phase in high school. However, when I went home and was inevitably alone with my thoughts, I couldn’t help but feel threatened by her talent. Around Erica, I stopped trying because I didn’t want to be considered as better than she was. Around Tory, I stopped trying because I knew I would never be as good as she was.

peco is defeated, peco, smile holds peco, ping pong the animation, ping pong, peco defeated by kong wenge

“No man so good, but another may be good as he.”

-Club Advisor Mr. Koizumi, Ping Pong: The Animation, episode 1

Makoto “Smile” Tsukimoto purposefully plays down his ping pong skills for the sake of his childhood friend, Yutaka “Peco” Hoshino. The premiere of Ping Pong: The Animation takes careful steps to introduce Smile as one who is below Peco in talent, specifically in the eyes of their teammates. Peco is the first-year star of their ping pong club, with Smile just behind him. As the world of Ping Pong: The Animation expands outside of their practice gymnasium, it becomes apparent that Smile is holding back.

At first, one could deduce that Smile restrains himself because he knows that he’ll never be as good as Peco, regardless of the near-equal amount of talent he possesses himself. The fact that you will never be the best at something is an insurmountable emotional obstacle for some. That the person to best you is someone close to you can be a far more difficult pill to swallow. Smile’s purposeful hiding of his own skill is something that is not only detrimental to himself, but Peco as well.

When Peco is defeated by Kong “China” Wenge, he rolls on the floor, crying in defeat. It is a brutal and vicious loss, but a loss that allows Smile to pick his prodigious friend up off of the floor and comfort him. Peco is a bit dependent on Smile, asking him to reiterate simple things like where their train stop is, or waiting for Smile specifically to tell him to come to club practice, even when the orders actually come from their advisor and other club members.

Additionally, Peco depends on Smile for personal validation of his ping pong skill. This is the shakiest and most dangerous piece of their friendship. Peco will not get an accurate representation of his personal skill while Smile is pretending to be worse than he is. More poignant is the momentarily somber demeanor that Peco adopts when speaking of Smile’s attitude. Peco admits that he likes the quiet side of Smile, but “even he” does not want to see Smile stay that way forever. There’s a hint that Peco is already aware of what Smile is doing – always holding back – but is unable to address or deal with it.

It’s difficult to tell whether Smile’s lack of motivation is a direct result of his relationship with Peco, or a broader feeling that there will always be someone out there to best him. Ping Pong: The Animation seems to be hinting at both, with Wenge’s words that Smile naturally lacks a competitive nature combined with the lack of truth in Smile and Peco’s friendship. Wenge is right in taking Smile to task for disrespecting his opponent. Most importantly, it is disrespectful to Smile himself. I stopped drawing and painting for a while, because I did not want to be competitive, and knew that I wouldn’t be as good as another friend of mine. Even now, with my writing, it’s often difficult to post something. I wonder if it’s good enough to be read. If it’s as good as what I know others to be capable of. If it’s “the best.”

The answer is simple. Of course it’s not “the best.” However, that shouldn’t stop me from writing or painting, and it certainly shouldn’t stop Smile from trying to improve his ping pong play.

 

21 comments

  1. I too struggle with blog posts. I have no idea what to blog about, I don’t know how to put “me” into blog posts, and I end up deleting my blog posts because they feel like a lie.

    …But I can post stories/poems just fine?

    Our society pushes competition in everything in a very subtle, very cruel manner. It’s not a matter of holding competitions, so much as the prevailing perception that it’s not good enough to simply possess admirable skill. That skill must surpass somebody else.

    When skill in a craft receives measurement, we naturally look to our rank relative to others, instead of at what talents we have in ourselves.

    “Go for greatness.”

    But, that’s a fallacy. Greatness has nothing to do with skill: it’s reputation, it’s fame, it’s *relative* skill. Nobody gets to determine that for themselves: peers judge greatness, not the self.

    I can post stories/poems because I stopped aiming for greatness, and started working toward mastery instead. I’m not there yet obviously, but I’m comfortable now interacting with others about my creative writing because my goal changed from “get better than him/her” to “get better.”

    This blog post made me realize I should treat blog writing in the same manner. Oh painful introspective >_>.

    So, thanks for writing this! You’ve helped one person, at the very least ^_^.

    1. I confess, this was a bit of an anniversary post, as I’ve now been blogging on my own for a full year. It’s exactly as you say, where I had to set aside the idea of being “the best” and go for mastery. I’m still nowhere near to being a good writer, but I love looking back on the posts I’ve written here to watch the evolution of my writing. Like visual arts, it’s a bit astounding when I compare something I wrote a year ago, to my past two or three posts, and I’m happy with the improvement I’ve made.

      I wish you all the best in blogging. Thank you for such a kind comment. ^ ^

  2. The best relationships are the ones where, regardless of greatness, one’s own efforts is enough to push another to put in an equivalent effort. Whether it’s in Ping Pong, writing, art, one’s own career, simply having the drive to continue trying is the catalyst that leads to success. “Pound the rock,” or so they say.

    You’ve pounded the blogging rock for quite a while, but on Atelier Emily, you’ve done so for a year. You may feel like you’ve made some modest progress in “getting better,” and I alone can’t validate that for you; however, I can say that your writing has pushed me to “get better” myself. As long as you’re trying, I shall do the same, and I’m sure other writers who follow your blog have followed likewise.

    Congratulations. All the best to you. Here’s to another year of trying hard and getting better!

  3. I once asked a similar question like yours to a relative, and she said, ‘You make new stops for yourself. You always have to find new ways to evolve and improve yourself so you never stagnate’. Of course, she’s also very sharp, ambitious and business-like, so I’m not sure if such advice applies to artistic people like yourself.

    Which anime opening songs are your favourite for this season? I’m leaning heavily towards Mahouka’s Rising Hope, and Akuma no Riddle’s Wounded(Soushou) Innocence.(both are fast rock-pop, which I enjoy immensely.)
    Wounded Innocence:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6pcvoRh3LI

    Also, if you like scifi, try check out Knights of Sidonia (by dystopian-themed manga creator Tsutomu Nihei). All character models are in 3D, although backgrounds are 2D. Expect to see massive dystopian urban sprawls, a signature trademark in all his series.

    1. Oh, it certainly applies to artists as well. Setting constant personal goals is a great factor in motivating one’s self to continue improving. When I was stuck on being “the best,” I hardly wrote at all. ^ ^

      I’ll wait to answer the OP question until I see all of them. As far as soundtracks go, I’m loving the background music in both Mahouka and Mekaku City Actors.

      I will be checking out Knights of Sidonia (probably today). A dear friend of mine recommended it to me already, and I know he has about three or four posts brewing in his head about the first episode alone. Looks like promising stuff! ^ ^

  4. this is such an honest and truthful post! This is just the kind of thing I love to read. IT’s hard to get followers who aren’t just following you so you return the favor. Hang in there you aren’t a bad writer and everyone has their own point of view. if you bring passion it doesn’t have to be the best. To this day very few readers read my blog. Even people I follow and comment on all the time don’t bother. That can’t affect the fact I write for that’s what I am a writer. Haha too honest. Cheers.

    1. Thank you! One of the things that I was the most afraid of going into this blog was opening up personally. Hopefully I’ve been fairly successful in that endeavor. ^ ^

      Best of luck to you in your writing. The best way to improve in anything is to do it a lot.

    1. Erica and I had a weird falling out. I hope she’s doing well though. The last I heard of her, she had moved to Florida to be with her mom. Tory actually makes a living as an artist in the Boston area. ^ ^

  5. That wall of self-doubt is really something – there are so many great writers out there, and sometimes I even feel pressured to try and match up to my /own/ old work, as if I’ve already said all the interesting things I’m going to say. All you can do is make the best piece you can now and hope it at least helps make the next ones a little better.

    For what it’s worth, I greatly enjoy your writing and think your style has actually influenced my own over the past year. Good luck fighting the doubt demon!

    1. I try to use my own work as a benchmark. Like a portfolio compilation of my progress in visual arts, I love comparing things I wrote years ago to current posts in order to track any improvements I may have made.

      For me personally, getting past the fact that I wasn’t going to be “the best” was a direct factor in increasing my productivity (which in turn, actually has improved my writing through repetition). As you said, make it the best you can now and hope it makes future posts better.

      I enjoy your writing as well. It’s flattering to think that I may have influenced it in some way (hopefully a good one ^ ^;) Best of luck to you!

      (I’m still looking forward to that Mahouka post, by the way.)

    1. Oh wow, thank you! There are a lot of writers out there that I enjoy reading, so that’s quite the compliment to me.

      I’ve tried to stop comparing myself to others, as difficult as that may be at times, and focus on improving my own craft. Thanks for the compliment though! ^ ^

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