Hello, it's been a bit! I wrote a little personal essay for myself that I thought I'd share here. I'm taking a class about life planning, and one of the writing exercises got me thinking about this affinity I've always had for No Face since the first time I saw the movie Spirited Away.
I relate to No Face. A lot.
//Big time spoilers// for Spirited Away down below if you haven’t gotten a chance to watch it yet. I also use they/them pronouns for No Face because I personally read them as a nonbinary character.
I feel like in the wrong contexts, I become monster-like. I lose my ability to experience empathy for the people around me; I become greedy; I become petty; I become competitive; I become status-obsessed; I become short-sighted; I am surprised by what comes out of my mouth and the feelings and assumptions motivating the words.
When I was working retail, I felt like I was out of control; I was a compulsively picked scab, bleeding and pussing on anyone and everyone near me daily. The rare stretches of days off or occasional week of predictable scheduling never gave me time to look inward and heal what was going on in my head. I was behaving directly from the animal part of my brain full-time, the way No Face does in the bath house as soon as they go inside.
The type of company I worked for last primarily recruits bright-eyed, idealistic young folks, pays them part-time starvation wages, and pits them all against one another for the chance of getting promoted to the better opportunities in the office, in the back of house, or in the quasi-management positions (I know that’s not a unique set up in our times). Wonderful, fascinating, good people toil away with no return on their investment there, becoming bitter and disillusioned in the process, while the company hires fresh business school grads to fill the well paid, benefit carrying positions. I am consciously, morally opposed to the creation and perpetuation of this type of business model, but I tried to play the game the way they wrote it anyway because I had accepted the script as the only way forward and believed I was going to be one of the lucky ones. This choice brought out the worst in me.
I parrot what I hear people caring about to try to make connections with them initially, like when No Face consumes the workers, adopts their respective personalities and voices, and shoves gold in other workers’ faces. I know it doesn’t work most of the time; it’s one of the only strategies I’ve developed as an autistic person to mimic connection with allistic people in professional settings, though. No Face noticed that people cared about gold, so they made gold out of dirt to give to people. They tried to give this golden dirt to everyone indiscriminately; I tried to have the same conversation with everyone because I didn’t have any other conversational techniques in my tool box.
I am still ashamed of and reeling from the ways I talked to and treated some of my coworkers, and the way I fell into the trap of viewing them as suspect competitors for marginally better positions rather than valued collaborators in a project oriented towards making the space better for everyone. Even if I had pivoted my conception of my coworkers at the time, I think I would have still felt out of place. I feel like I’m on the outside socially in groups no matter what I do.
Everyone in the bath house realized that No Face didn’t belong, but only after they had already started eating people.
I couldn’t participate in the social activities that folks attended after work because they were too loud and stimulating. I didn’t feel like I could explain this to the people who were earnestly trying to include me in their circles at first, before I had wholly transformed into an insufferable workmate. People give up after a point—you’re either “one of the regulars” or you’re not, and “the regulars” usually talk about things they did together off the clock rather than their particular interests or concerns for the day.
I experience this dissonance and confusion with close friends as well. I desperately want to spend quality time with them when I am able to, but the places they want to go to, the things they want to do, the people they want me to meet; it’s often all too much for me to process and generally folks give up after a few too many “no thank’s”s and no-shows from me. Maybe honesty and vulnerability on my part is the best road forward in these cases.
I wonder often if it is all internal, personal issues that cause my feelings of alienation, or being an autistic person in an autism-averse society. Of course, it could be both—they’re not mutually exclusive factors. I think the older I get, the more I recognize that larger community spaces will never feel comfortable or welcoming to me, even if they become more autism-sensitive. This article by Dr. Devon Price helped put this into perspective for me. Person-to-person connections are what I want to seek out in my personal life. As a defensive coping measure going forward, I will pull back and remain more stoic in work settings rather than try to connect. If I connect with someone without trying, I connect with someone; if not, that’s nothing new to me.
Chihiro gave No Face medicine, which caused them to begin purging their body of all the people and food they had consumed in the bath house. In a lot of ways, I feel like honest concern from my partner was the medicine that made me realize that I needed to make a change in my life. I needed to start with leaving that company instead of staying and playing the game while dreaming about leaving, and start working through all of the baggage I accumulated there—along with baggage I accumulated before, and the problematic ways I behaved. My personal form of purging has been journaling about the ways I behaved that I don’t want to repeat and the attitudes I am working on adjusting. I have done a lot of talking with fellow former coworkers about the situation there, and it helps me feel less alone in how I dealt with the pressures of the environment.
No Face was able to express themselves healthily after they were led out of the bath house by Chihiro. I’ve found something similar has happened for me in quarantine. I have become more adept at expressing myself in a conversation, and grown more attune with who I am outside of my retail face. I have accepted that I need a lot of solitude and quiet time in general, but especially for work. I have to be honest with myself about this and find something I can do while maintaining this brain space after this contract is up.
I am similar to No Face in one more way—a positive way(!); when I am not in my personal bath house, I enjoy being creative, working with my hands, and giving thoughtful gifts to people. No Face helped make a beautiful hair tie for Chihiro once they were in the calming, quiet cottage with Granny. In the right contexts I am a kind, giving person, operating from an intentional, mindful, and compassionate place. I am doing my best to squeeze time out of every day lately to do something creative and to find moments of silence to listen to my heart and adjust my mind to behave appropriately in our world.
I love the character of No Face and relate to them more and more as I grow older. I think it is important to find flawed, complex characters that I can relate to. Finding their beauty and worth can help you see yourself, especially if you have alexithymia or some other form of self-awareness or self-evaluation difficulty. I appreciate that No Face is given a redemption arc and has a place to call home with people that care for them at the end of the movie.
I’m trying to give myself grace by seeing myself as a past context-dependent monster. No Face was only a monster in the bath house; I was a monster in a toxic work environment that I refused to leave, which brought out the worst in me. I’d like to think I’m out of the bath house and doing personally restorative work now, and hopefully, I will never have to return.
Thanks for reading! See you again soon, hopefully!