04 December 2018


It's a mild heresy to start advent on the first of December — Advent begins on the first Sunday of December. The children have their advent calendars with chocolates and I considered getting a vegan one for myself, because I am a child too. I thought better of it and instead, followed my wife and daughters to the first carol service at St Peter's, to sit in the dark in my long grey coat that I've had for years now and try to clear my mind. In Japan, Japanese men are expected to avoid sweet things. 

When I was a child, Christmas was a straightforward, Capitalist anticipation for goods — some heap of plastic coming in my name. All I felt for a month was desire for things, big things. This made sense in the American context, but now, I am thirty six and half and have my own children and my Japanese wife and we are living in a country that I never can quite understand. What we should do, what we should keep and discard from our cultural repertoires gets muddied without any momentum. It comes to a head at holidays. I'm not sure what I should be doing, what I should be giving to my children. It leads to a kind of paralysis, a starting and stopping of incomplete traditions. I let things happen to me rather than do anything myself. I sit in the darkness of the church, and wait for the darkness to fill with the sounds of singing voices, for something about the past to help me make sense of the present.

The house of Victoria Road was finished, or mostly finished, this last week, when the plasterers came and made all the holes in the walls disappear. We had had been living with them for what felt like a lifetime, but was really only several months. I did a poor job painting and laid down some laminate flooring and suddenly a corner had been turned and it felt like it had always been this way. You can walk from the front of the house to the back and not be distracted by some ongoing construction, a wall that appears to be falling down. The next step is to get furniture — I threw away a sofa and on Saturday bought a big TV, big beyond reason, after debating back and forth about whether or not I needed it. Was it excusable, an excusable offence, when there is so much suffering and I've done so little. I bought it, finally, gave in and drove home and hung it up in the living room like it was some evidence of something. Look at your father, look at your husband. He can be normal. 

Of course, the pantomime of normalcy doesn't last. Soon, I'm berating my children about some behaviour I irrationally expect from them. I'm complaining in bad Japanese about the UK immigration system. I'm not eating normally. I have a burn on my hand that people are staring at, but I can't decide if I should bring it up or not. I'm meditating but thinking of shelving. Of plastic in the ocean. Of something I said in 2006. Of whatever unknown unknown will come up in my application for indefinite leave to remain in this country. Of my own body which is bloated, or not bloated.

The singing starts and my candle gets lit by Naomi, who sits next to me, who sits with me as the lights come up and we sing 'O come, O come, Emmanuel'. Emmanuel is a placeholder as I sing — O Come, Something, O thing for which I am stretching out in the darkness. My eyes have stopped trying to adjust. I just sit now, and listen. It will come to an end, won't it: Graeme assures us all that we will be judged. The applications will go in to the government, I will pay whatever fees are required. The house on Victoria Road's walls will be scuffed by small hands. The church choir will keep singing and all of us, with faith or no faith, will sit with candles, listening.