“Fair girl, why do you send your thoughts to the sky? The wind carries them aloft to mingle with the crows. Trimmed with blue, your flags fly again today.”
When I was in seventh grade, those opening words seemed to create an alternate dimensions, a portal to a pastel world. Curled up on the couch in the dim of dusk, Studio Ghibli’s lesser-known film From Up on Poppy Hill captivated my attention as I lost myself in a world of watercolor and happy endings. I followed both storylines of the film, the fact that the main character, Umi, was trying to save the school clubhouse from being torn down while reconciling her feelings for a friend that might have been an orphaned sibling (it’s a long story). I still remember tears pricking my eyes with the way that everything worked out in the end, and how Umi’s eyes pricked with tears as well with pride and relief as well. I still remember the way the closing song, “Summer of Farewells”, played over paintings of boats and ocean in scarlets, saffrons, and sea greens as it followed me up the stairs with its lilting melody. It’s still a tune that I hum to myself whenever I’m feeling nostalgic and feel like reminiscing — and there’s a lot to reminisce about at this day in age. Simpler times, personal and political, that are brought back to memory every time the excitement of spring comes around after the shadow of winter fades into flowering trees.
Spring is always the promise of something new, and brings with it a revival of old hopes. As we draw closer to warmer months, optimism rises. The Pyeongchang Winter Olympics ended on February 25th with the entire world reveling in the unity that it people are capable of, in the face of solidarity and sportsmanship. Just a few weeks before that, as soon as the sun started to peek out and winter seemed distant with the first gust of new air, millions of people took to the streets for the second major Women’s March, exactly one year after Trump’s inauguration, as a protest of his administration.
There’s a lot of hope riding on the rails of change. It’s enough to keep people going. To see so many people fired up with the determination to advocate for change. But talk without action is not enough.
One of the overarching themes threaded throughout From Up on Poppy Hill is reflected in the following quote from the film: “there’s no future for people who worship the future and forget the past.” It has stuck with me for the longest of times, more than the lyrics I had memorized to the High School Musical 2 soundtrack and the Robert Frost poems I had to memorize in ninth grade. In times of uncertainty, I remember how, in the crowded gymnasium of the school where the film’s main characters argued about the school’s verdict to demolish their beloved clubhouse, one voice rose above the rest and reminded them to look to the past and consider all of the good and all of the memories that they would be preserving. The lesson that I took away in seventh grade and continue to learn still is that to create a future worth preserving, one must honor the past that is worth keeping. It’s no use romanticizing history as a whole—to evaluate it and learn from our past, we have to acknowledge the good and the bad, in order to learn from history’s mistakes and instigate change in our lives today.
Painting the past in honey and rose-gold won’t cover up its flaws. Pretending that politics and their agendas aren’t overhanging over the Olympics is a false notion. Pink pussyhats can’t make up for the erasure of trans women in your Women’s March. Lauding the #TimesUp movement while defending a friend who has been accused of sexual assault is not effective for the cause. Saying that you are a feminist while systematically excluding women of color, LGBT+ women, and disabled women doesn’t make you a feminist. Solidarity for show without action isn’t enough, not in these times.
If there’s anything I learned from watching Studio Ghibli, it’s that art isn’t without a purpose. As an agent of change, it serves to jog the mind through the subconscious or the conscious, it serves to remind you to take action against injustice. Danez Smith, writer and performer, was recently featured in The Guardian and said that “Every poem is political”. He followed up on a Twitter post saying that “In poems not obviously political, [poems sometimes move away from obvious meaning and by that, the writer might not be blatantly political, but every poem and gesture, to me, to many, is a political choice.”
I too believe that poetry, art, and all other expressions of creativity are political choices that are used to stand up against injustice. However, we must always trace our history and the faults of injustice to its roots; after all, to pull up a weed you must uproot it completely. Now’s a good
as time as any to take action by realizing that every act of allyship can become more inclusive, and can be more tangible by taking direct action. Like spring, we must embrace rebirth and revival, the coming of new beginnings and hope. Hopefully we learn how to do so as times progress.
Stephanie Tom is a high school student who lives in New York. She's an editor for her school newspaper, and an assistant editor for her school literary magazine. She has previously won a Gold Key from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards for her poetry, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Dear Damsels, Hypertrophic Literary and elsewhere