Friday, October 14, 2022

Tiny orange mushrooms

I could only see a small patch of sky, the part that was left open between the treetops of the forest around me. The branches seemed like a network that in some places almost obscured the sky. Once my eyes had adjusted to the faint light, I realized that the undergrowth was alive with all manner of things. Tiny orange mushrooms. Moss. Something that looked like coarse white veins on the underside of a leaf. What must be some kind of fungus. Dead beetles. Various kind of ants. Centipedes. Moths on the backs of leaves.

It seemed strange to be surrounded by so many living things. When I was in Tokyo, I couldn't help but feel like I was always alone, or occasionally in the company of Sensei. It seemed like the only living things in Tokyo were big like us. But of course, if I really paid attention, there were plenty of other living things surrounding me in the city as well. It was never just the two of us, Sensei and me. Even when we were at the bar, I tended to only take notice of Sensei. But Satoru was always there, along with the usual crowd of familiar faces. And I never really acknowledged that any of them were alive in any way. I never gave any thought to the fact that they were leading the same kind of complicated life as I was.

Another version of myself might've been bored by this novel. 

Sitting on the sand of an Ionian island, my friend rolls her eyes at her soap-operatic beach read, all amnesia and extramarital affairs. She's relating it to me in agonizing detail, sparing me the hardship of reading it for myself.

What's your book like?, my friend asks me. It's really nice, I say, nothing happens. 

But oh, the bartender has just invited them to go foraging for mushrooms.

Strange Weather in Tokyo, by Hiromi Kawakami, is a love story. Tsukiko frequents a bar near the train station, as does her old high school Japanese teacher. One evening they sit at the counter together, they have a moment of recognition, and the conversation begins. They share similar taste in food, but also a similar rhythm and temperament. They meet when they happen to meet; their friendship is outside of time.

I, on the other hand, still might not be considered a proper grown-up. I had been very much the adult when I was in elementary school. But as I continued on through junior high and high school, on the contrary, I became less grown-up. And then as the years passed, I turned into quite a childlike person. I suppose I just wasn't able to ally myself with time.

Sensei is some thirty years older than her, and in their interactions always assumes the role of the master. Many months pass before it dawns on Tsukiko that their shared intimacy is something like love, although I believe Sensei knew it all along.

Despite their familiarity, their minds are still not fully knowable to each other. As Tsukiko notes of other relationships, "it was precisely because we were close that we couldn't reach each other."

What I see in the mirror is not my own lithe, naked body, more than necessarily subject to gravity — I'm not speaking to the me who is visible there, but rather to an invisible version of myself that I sense hovering somewhere in the room.

I think of all the versions of myself, the ones I talk to when I'm alone, the ones I dare show other people, the versions that have yet to materialize, the versions that past versions have grown into. They are all alive and present and always with me, not just on this rock swelling out of an azure sea.

I think of the man who might've been my Sensei. This book, and recent mythic landscapes, stir ghosts of him, I see him encountering other versions of myself in places we'd never been.

"It grows because you plant it. That's how love is. If the love is true, then treat it the same way you would a plant — fertilize it, protect it from the elements — you must do absolutely everything you can. But if it isn't true, then it's best to just let it wither on the vine."

(What do you do when you've left it to wither, and despite harsh abandonment, still all the world is green?)