On Tuesday I was awoken at 6:00 am by the sunrise. Apparently my window was facing east. I got up, drew the shades, then went back to bed. I awoke two more times when the phone rang, then forced myself back to sleep. I hadn’t slept in for weeks, and this was my one precious morning to do so. I rolled onto my side and wrapped my arms around the bunched up comforter. I held it like I wanted to be held, and fantasized that a lover was wrapping her arms around me and caressing me in my sleep.
At noon I could no longer force myself to continue sleeping. I dressed and left for Miyakoshiya Café in Odori station. I might have expected something posh, or at least something easy to find. Instead I wondered around the station, alternating my gaze between signage and my cellphone GPS. After asking for directions I followed an exit sign up an obscure staircase, to a mezzanine level between the ground and basement floor, where a café was inauspiciously placed.
I noticed that all the patrons were elderly, which was a sure sign that the coffee would be bitter, and it was. But I was left alone on an brown oak bar counter to type away on the keys of my laptop while jazz music accompanied my writing, so I couldn’t complain.
After lunch I went back to the hotel, where I napped for an hour then wasted time chatting on line for another hour. The conversation I had left me uneasy. I thought about it long after I sent and deleted the messages. I was hoping for closure. Something that I could forget, instead it all felt awkward and unresolved. It continued to plague me even as I tried to forget it while writing at the café. And I wondered to myself, why are there so many methods that teach people how to remember, but not how to forget.
In the evening, I wandered into the Fab Café, another place recommended to me by a friend. There I got to thinking about my identity
I have never found an identity that really does me justice, that really is an expression of the many layers and many forms that is me. I am a different person in every country, in every language. My name changes, my friends changes, my behavior changes. I cannot continue to be one person, the same person, all over the world. The same person to everyone.
I have many selves.
They are not me.
They are all me.
They are separate selves. They don’t know each other. They are incompatible with each other. But they live together inside this one body, and they all fight for time in this one short life.
We are all struggling with our identities at some level. For me, I have never found an alliance with any culture. But for others, as Tchaikovsky said, “I am Russian, Russian, Russian, to the marrow of my bones.” But maybe they are wrestling with other parts of their identity, their sexuality, their relationships “what is my role in my family?”, their places in society. We struggle to grasp these identities, and we often fail to hold on to them because they are always changing. Sexuality is fluid, our roles in our families change with age, and our position in society is relative to the society that we are in, and what we are doing at the temporal moment. Culture changes too, and we change irrespective of our cultures. It is meaningless to try and cling to one identity, to find security in one form. The cloak we wear cannot be worn for long, and soon enough, it will be time to discard them for something that offers a better fit.
And then it occurred to me, how many days had truly passed since I told a Japanese woman who tried to introduce me to her foreign friends one night in 2008, “I didn’t come all the way to Japan to hang out with a bunch of foreigners.”
It was true, at the time. But six years later I am living here and hang out with foreigners. The difference was that after months of living in Japan, I no longer felt the desire to be special. To be the only foreigner in a group of Japanese people. To be the only foreigner who shopped in the grocery store of my obscurely small town, or the only foreign friend that a Japanese person had.
I didn't long to feel special.
I longed to feel understood.