A typhoon approaches. Its outer rain bands encircle western Japan, bathing the city of Tokyo for 72 hours in constant, irrepressible rain. At three in the morning, I am awoken by the sound of water gurgling loudly in the drain outside.
Sun for two straight weeks. Working from home in a groundfloor apartment shrouded by trees, I don’t see the light at all until I step outside to run errands. Then, it’s a pure revelation of breezy, gold fantasy: the sunshine pouring out and drenching my senses in warm, hearty waves.
I dream of forests, which I so rarely encounter in my life in a city of tar, concrete, and muddy cement. I go up forty floors in a tower in Ebisu to see the city draped over the land. A labyrinthe of silky-smooth billboards, skinny alleys, and oyster gray high-rises, gleaming like seashells in the sun. The trains snaking through the zippered tracks. The horizon, a magnet for the eye. The mountains, under a crowd of clouds, standing watch.
My attention slips off focus like rain off a flat surface. I work hard to do only the “good” things: I stay off social media, I read more books, I eliminate fructose from my diet, I try to force my mind into healthy patterns. Still, everything about me resists. Desire fractures my willpower, and the ensuing shame splits my motivation down the middle, like a kitchen knife through a perfectly round orange. The fibrous, fleshy veins part and juice beads onto my fingers. Nihilism, gestated not by real philosophical exploration but from maladjusted personal pain, takes control, and I tell myself that it doesn’t matter what I do. The cosmic deck is stacked against me, the stars have fallen out of alignment and into disarray, and other such self-serving rationalizing pretenses. But ever a devil’s advocate, I cannot tell myself anything without immediately flipping to the counterargument. The problem sits in the palm of my hands like a multi-colored puzzle cube, and I analyze every side despondently. What’s so wrong, I think, with spending an afternoon on a website, or wiling away the hours by exploring the richly rendered heaven of a videogame? What’s so wrong with pushing away my responsibilities for thirty minutes, with occasionally ignoring my Pomodoro timer? What’s so wrong with polishing off a box of cognac filled bonbons, and staring at the stripped garden past my window, cradled by the soapy, oil-slick light coming through the dirty panes and slipping onto the grimy sofa, lost in my own cloudy, spiralling mood?
But then again: how transgressive can it be to just have my own way? I think, for the millionth time, about Le Guin’s Omelas, and I sink, for the millionth time, into the horror of knowing I live at Omelas’ sweet center, where I can indulge my arrogance by obsessing idly over my flaws, where I can enjoy luxury, and the cloying desire for more luxury, frivolously, foolishly. Meanwhile, sustaining my life continues to cripple the world entire. My existence makes me complicit in an ample, blue-maroon ocean of horrors, in which each pearl-shaped drop of water captures an instant of grotesque, baffling, extraordinary suffering. Suddenly, the needs of the one are subsumed by reality as a hyper-beastial Omelas is revealed, and I want to rip into my own self-importance, my own voluminous ego, with an animal’s teeth.
It’s painful to know that I am important to my family, my friends, my partner, because these relationships, and the small amounts of good I try to do within them, allow me, perversely, to justify the harms my life–its incidentals, its petalling aftereffects, slung thousands of miles away by an innocent Zephyr–inflicts on others faraway.
Inevitably, I become despondent at the thought of causing pain, and so, in some cynical attempt to resolve the unresolvable, I hurt myself (not physically, unless the mind is a physical thing, which–maybe). I do the things I said I wouldn’t. I relapse into self-loathing and I lounge in it, as though neck-high in filthy bathwater. What good does it do? Nothing. What wound does it heal? None. Do I forgive myself for this? Never. But when I snap out of it, the pieces of my mind fold back into one another, hiding a new scar in their paper-thin creases, and I get back up, because I have to keep moving through the day. The rain and the sun, I know, are interlocked, cyclical, pair-bonded. Both will come again and again. The forest opens. We go there, my mind and I, together.
I often think about such things – the harm my life inflicts – in the context of the environment. It is a mixture of trying to reduce and trying to justify, I suppose – if I’m honest with myself (as I must be right now!).
Em edit: “If I’m honest with myself, as I must be right now.” If my 2020 had a motto, it would be that exactly!