Hauling my sick ass from train to train, pushing my bike out in the dark, freezing cold sleet and wind, hanging on tight, so as not to let my umbrella get snatched up like some giant autumn leaf, I’ve made my way home. Now I breathe kerosene fumes in a closed concrete box and stuff as much of my body as I can under a giant electric fire-hazard. My nose is clogged, my head swollen, my ear full of muck. These days I operate resolutely under the assumption that what wont kill me is steadily making me stronger. I am stronger every day. Today, I could kill ten cougars bare-handed. I imagine the innumerable situations worse than mine. There are many. They are easily counted. I’m keeping my chin pinned firmly UP. My outlook is either toxic or essential to my spiritual survival in these last 30 days, I cannot tell. In fact, I worry that my chin is so far up that there’s a bit of arrogrance and disdain in it, being that with it so far up, I must look down my nose at my life, and the country it’s resolutely, if temporarily, stuck in.
My classes begin to revolve around the idea and concept of heat. The adults’ first comment is always about the weather. It’s cold. We go from there. How do you keep warm? The question fills an hour, with plenty to spare. It would be an absurdity back home. The ridiculous hot patches they plaster all over their bodies, the heat-packets they squeeze and move hand to hand like deformed juggling balls. I think of the old men crawling in and out of their longjohns at the onsen, groaning “よいしょ” with each difficult movement of the legs, the fatigue of the bath. They’re amazed, my students, when I speak of basements, of central heating, and insulation. Their jaws drop when I tell them about warmth in every room, all. day. long. They have no excuses, no vocabulary to comprehend their situation. This is the middle class, home owners, housewives, husbands with steady jobs and a pension, who have all been ritualistically conditioned to live like peasants from a bygone century. Peasants, who shell out paycheck after paycheck for heated toilet-seats, heated carpets, even heated FLOORING, and all other manner of inane pseudo-heat, but just can’t imagine shelling out for a decently insulated home and climate control. And the reasons they come up with… my God. Most of them are roughly equivalent to saying that “rain is a conspiracy invented by umbrella makers.” I look at their faces and see pure dumb longing. Oh the longing. The wanting. Every week, I stare into it like a pit. Every week their eyes say to me, “足りない。足りない。もっとほしい。”
A Partial List of What My Students Want:
They want to magically, suddenly, be able to speak perfect English, without ever speaking a word, without doing any work, without ever taking a risk, without ever making a mistake. They want me to somehow “give” them even a small fraction of my “Wholesome, American Sense of Personal Liberty.(tm)” They’re covetous of my ability to toss social formalities out like so much clutter and rubbish. Most of all I see their jealousy when I tell them I’m going home. They wish “home” was somewhere else, they wish their sense of social obligation wouldn’t strangle them, keep them from going abroad. They want my courage, my wit, my voice, my youth. They would rip the very skin from my bones and eat the organs beneath if it would give them even a fraction of what it is to be a young, jet-setting American on his way about the world. If they had half a sack they would be hyenas, vultures, rabid scavengers of the worst sort. They want me to tell them how to think, how to live, how to feel, how to escape the cavernous, wet, cold grey prison of their lives. Winter in this part of Japan is mostly a dark, concrete box full of dripping drainage water, and colder than a corpse’s ass. The wet cold seeps straight to your bones, joints, sinuses, cracks n crevices. Your life becomes a constant awareness of cold, the stiffness, the brief and inssuficient alleviations of it. I don’t want to rub it in, but in the end, when asked, I can’t help telling them that I prefer American methods of heating to Japanese. They can’t agree or disagree. They have no frame of reference. They just smile at me with that raw envy, and I smile back at my private group of spiritual cripples, nothing to offer but pity, a few bits of basic English grammer for them to promptly and totally forget.
I’m chugging through. I’m the luckiest bastard alive. I’m on my way up and out. Like crawling over a pile of corpses toward the sunlight, I’m solid gold baby! I’m out of here. Disgust is a difficult emotion. It is not one I had wanted to leave Japan with. More and more, however, despite my best efforts, some days, it’s all that remains. I continue to work on this, Miller isn’t helping.
“Somehow the realization that nothing was to be hoped for had a salutary effect upon me. For weeks and months, for years, in fact, all my life I had been looking forward to something happening, some extrinsic event that would alter my life, and now suddenly, inspired by the absolute hopelessness of everything, I felt relieved, falt as though a great burden had been lifted from my shoulders. At dawn…Walking toward Montparnasse I decided to let myself drift with the tide, to make not the least resistance to fate, no matter in what form it presented itself. Nothing that had happened to me thus far had been sufficient to destroy me; nothing had been destroyed escept my illusions. I myself was intact. The world was intact. Tomorrow there might be a revolution, a plague, an earthquake; tomorrow there might not be left a single soul to whom one could turn for sympathy, for aid, for faith. It seemed to me that the great calamity had already manifested itself, that I could be no more truly alone than at this very moment. I made up my mind that I would hold on to nothing, that I would expect nothing, that henceforth I would live as an animal, a beast of prey, a rover, a plunderer. Even if war were declared, and it were my lot to go, I would grab the bayonet and plunge it, plunge it up to the hilt. And if rape were the order of the day then rape I would, and with a vengence. At this very moment, in the quiet dawn of a new day, was not the earth giddy with crime and distress? Had one single element of man’s nature been altered, vitally, fundamentally altered, by the incessant march of history? By what he calls the better part of his nature, man has been betrayed, that is all. At the extreme limits of his spiritual being man finds himself again naked as a savage. When he finds God, as it were, he has been picked clean: he is a skeleton. One must burrow into life again in order to put on flesh. The word must become flesh; the soul thirsts. On whatever crumb my eye fastens, I will pounce and devour. If to live is the paramount thing, then I will live, even if I must become a cannibal. Heretofore I have been trying to save my precious hide, trying to preserve the few pieces of meat that hid my bones. I am done with that.I have reached the limits of endurance. My back is to the wall; I can retreat no further. As far as history goes I am dead. If there is something beyond I shall have to bounce back. I have found God, but he is insufficient. I am only spiritually dead. Physically I am alive. Morally I am free. The world which I have departed is a menagerie. The dawn is breaking on a new world, a jungle world in which the lean spirits roam with sharp claws. If I am a hyena I am a lean and hungry one: I go forth to fatten myself.” -Henry Miller