03 July 2013

Six months and 31 years

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From the second year of university through to January of the next year, Tsukuru Tazaki lived, thinking only of dying.
This is the first line of Haruki Murakami's new novel, leading into the sort of navel-gazing introspection about death that I love. Murakami does it in such a stark, minimalistic way. Murkami doesn't say, 'Tazaki was miserable'. He says, 'Tazaki woke everyday, sat on the bench waiting for the train, went to school. When he was hungry, he ate noodles in the school cafeteria. After his classes finished, he went home, sat on the floor and thought about dying. This continued for quite some time.' Murakami shows us the life a miserable person and we don't need him to tell us, 'He is miserable.' The truth is obvious in the actions: faith without works is dead.

I love this about Murakami, but I love it even more about Japan, Japanese culture, Japanese people. Love hangs in the air; it is the air. How had I forgotten that in the last two months. Murakami explains my life to me again. The action of love is the evidence of love. My wife stepping out into the smoky air to say, 'I love you' in English is a grace to me, a fat white man, who needs to hear it, to be reminded of it. Murakami shows me that the things that are the realest are the things that go unsaid, that don't need to be said: a whole race and culture of silence that I desperately miss. Looking at a map of Tokyo, trying to remember where Waseda is, all the streets are vividly alive in my memory. How many times had I walked through Shinjuku station to meet someone I loved.

This silence isn't, of course, wholly Japanese: Hopper makes this same point in his paintings of people tensly sitting together. My new Twitter  friend/Hopper scholar says, '#EdwardHopper's genius is that he depicted deadly silence, so thick you could cut it with a knife.' Yes, of course: how had I missed this. What is true in art is true in life. It has to be.

Two anniversaries ticked past in the silence of last week: I turned 31 on the 27th and the 29th marked six months in Malaysia. Birthdays, as I get older, feel more like impositions on others, particularly my wife, adding unnecessary tasks and expectations. It was nice though: my sister-in-law and my niece and nephew were here, and we had pizza and I got a little drunk after the kids went to bed. I took the next day off to pick up my brother from the airport.

Six months of life in Malaysia was supposed to bring with it some stability, but we are still on the margin. It's easy to sacrifice — or rather, to ask others to sacrifice — when there aren't better options in front of you, or it is clear what the future holds. The same old story. I feel like I've bought a stock that plummeted immediately, and I wonder whether I should cut my losses. And then, when I am just ready to sell, ready to give in, the stock ticks up a point and another point, and I think, well maybe I should hold onto it another month.

Bad metaphors, yes; opaque, yes. There is no worse feeling than being duped, or rather thinking you've been duped. Long narratives must either be happy narratives or hard narratives with happy endings. If you can't see one or the other, you always feel the need to flip the story, wondering what, if anything, should be changed. Because if anything is true about storytelling it's this: if you look carefully enough at a scene, you can create a narrative around it, bending the truth.
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