I had the joy of meeting Iori Kusano by being on a podcast (about Shin Kamen Rider) with them. I found them interesting, exciting, and worth listening to. Then I found out they wrote Hybrid Heart, a novella about a pop idol pursuing fame while trying to keep the heart of who she is as a person. What Iori has to say about quitting is profound. I’ve always said it: you are allowed to stop.
I am a quitter. Jobs, romances, grad school, hobbies, gym memberships: I’ll walk out on anything. If it sucks, hit da bricks, as the skeleton says.
(photo credit: dasharezone)
This is not a trait that the rest of the world generally considers a virtue.
In both real life and fiction, our heroes are usually the ones who don’t give up—people who press forward no matter what obstacles or opponents stand in their way, those whose determination outweighs their sense of self-preservation. A good person sticks to their chosen path, keeps chasing their dreams, follows through on their commitments.
The final structure and plot of Hybrid Heart changed considerably from my first half-draft, but I knew from the first scene that it was going to be a story about the life-changing magic of just goddamn quitting.
The Japanese entertainment industry is almost universally brutal, but pop idols have it worst: the longest hours, the strictest and most unrealistic beauty standards, the sub-minimum wages. Whether it’s legal to ban idols from dating as a condition of employment is debatable (more judges rule in favor of the idols these days), but regardless of whether it’s written down, it’s commonly understood that to be caught in a romantic relationship is a career killer.
My protagonist, Rei, has to learn how to quit because her commitment to her career is actively hurting her. When we meet her, she’s so close to breakthrough success that she can taste it. All she needs is another couple of hits to cement her place in the public’s heart. In the meantime, she has no friends, she’s dieted herself halfway to death, and she lives in a smarthome panopticon that tells her boss how many minutes she spends in the shower and how hot the water is.
I think most of us wind up in a situation like that at some point in our lives—those moments when you’ve sunk-cost-fallacied yourself so far down some road that you don’t know how you’ll ever find an offramp again. We may not have brain implants reporting our social media browsing history straight to our manager yet, but everyone eventually becomes familiar with the sweaty-palmed fear of having to admit that you made the wrong choice.
And once you’ve admitted it, how do you go about fixing it?
I wrote Hybrid Heart while I was still feeling my way through the emotional fallout of quitting grad school. I’d struggled to make that decision because it felt like I was throwing away not only my own hard work, but the effort of everyone who had invested their time and knowledge in mentoring me. I couldn’t talk myself out of believing that I was letting other people down, so I had to learn how to make peace with having done so. (Fun fact: I am still too scared to talk to my former professors!)
What I wanted to communicate with Rei’s character arc was the terrifying, empowering feeling of learning how to quit. It’s heart-level stakes, but in the moment it feels apocalyptic. How do you decide to prioritize yourself when you’re sure that doing so will overturn your entire life? I don’t think there’s a definitive answer, but with Rei I put forward my answer: flipping the proverbial table and then accepting the consequences. Like my protagonist, I had to teach myself to move forward in an irrevocably changed world with compassion for myself.
Iori Kusano is a queer Asian American writer and Extremely Ordinary Office Gremlin living in Tokyo. They are a graduate of Clarion West 2017. Their novella Hybrid Heart is available from Neon Hemlock Press, and their short fiction appears in various magazines. Find them on Twitter @IoriKusano and Instagram as iori_stagram, or at kusanoiori.com.