23 September 2019

Where the world starts


Shinjuku goes in all directions. Every building seems to rise both up and deep into the ground; Google maps sometimes asks you what of eight levels are you on, what space do you inhabit. When I was younger without a phone, all of this was a vibrating mess of energy and possibility. I went first when I was twenty two, exactly fifteen years ago wasn't it now, when my mission as a missionary had failed and I was taking a job I didn't know anything about and heading north to Niigata later in the week. I was still an American and I wanted to buy Dr Pepper from the vending machines — they hadn't had it in Fukuoka. I was homesick, but it was becoming clear that I couldn't go back and the future would be nothing like the past.

I'm not twenty two anymore and the future seems less uncertain, a slow decline I can see down rather than a cliff. One starts to have the false sense there's little surprise left at this point in life, that you can see how this story ends. This is the insufferable thought of your late thirties: the only person who believes you are old is you. I nodded off on the train and woke up suddenly at Ogikubo, the foreign announcement stressing the wrong syllable to make it sound strange in Japanese. Now, hotels are booked for me: I say that I want some place with a breakfast and hope that I'll find something I can eat among the eggs and bacons and fish and milk powder bread. I pull on a linen sport jacket and take the train around and meet people who they say appreciate what I have to say to them or to their classes, but I'm sceptical about it, not whether I've said anything useful, but whether there is anything useful to say at all.

Time goes in three dimensions too. I look up as I wait to cross the road and there is Keio Plaza, the luxury hotel my dad had booked when my family came before the wedding, when they had money and the world wasn't starting to burn. I wasn't concerned that week they came, three or four days before the wedding, but it makes no sense — I was getting married, wasn't I, to someone I barely knew, in a country I barely knew, in a language I barely knew. A year later, I would have a one month old baby and we would be back in Tokyo for something else, I forget what now, but there are pictures to prove it. And then two years later — eleven years ago to the day wasn't it — we were going to the UK. Was I paying attention at all. I must have been, I think, I have to give myself some credit. I must have packed it somewhere, must have had some faith, like following a portage path you trust leads to some other, some bigger body of water, even if you can't be sure.

They say that the climate crisis will get worse now, that there are feedback loops that will make bad things compound and the knock-on effects mean the second half our millennial lives will get progressively worse, that our children will suffer. We deserve it, I think, as I take my vegan meal and beer on a transcontinental flight with hundreds of other people. What am I doing, what are any of us doing, playing in-flight Tetris and annoyed that there are still seven hours left and the person in front of me has reclined their seat. Are they using a straw too, dear god, there is nothing stopping us now, is there. We do the same things, but those same things compound and what we could have absorbed before, we can't now. An angry look as young lovers meant nothing, it dissolved like salt in water. Now we've become insolvent, unable to dissolve the same thing, now the sediment settles at the bottom, you can see it grow until the water is gone entirely and it is only sediment. Who is the last one off this rocketship.

And then of course, everything is still normal despite it being a bit hot. You pay your mortgage and take a shower. Like that. You go to work and teach classes. You weigh yourself. You pull on your trainers when your Garmin Vivosmart Plus buzzes you awake at five in the morning on the other side of the world and you go in search of some straight road to run. When I was younger, I never stayed in hotels. I remember this as I make the turn and run another seven hundred meters, what does it matter. When I was younger I took the bus overnight and the whispered voice of the bus driver in white gloves would wake me in Ikebukuro. The sun would be coming up, yes, I can remember it all, and I would sit in the cafe or McDonalds and eat meat without thinking about it and wonder about the future. Now, I am older but not yet old. I sit on the curb, in front of the hotel, staring at my phone, sweat puddling on the asphalt, waiting before it's time to go back inside. 
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