I had a spare few hours around noon, and didn’t feel like writing, so I went to the gym instead. If I have time to exercise, I usually go out running – I like the fresh air, but it was raining, and I wanted to do some weight training, so I went to the gym. It is run by the city, so there is no need to join and pay membership fees. You just pay 300 yen each time. I hadn’t been for over a year. I think it was closed for most of 2020. I expected a few changes due to COVID, so I wasn’t surprised at what is the new normal.
First, the number of people allowed in at any one time is ten. The training room is not so big, so it’s pretty crowded if there are more than ten anyway. Before you enter, you have to fill out a form with the date, your name, phone number, and gender, and hand it in to the staff. They then take your temperature, and unless you have a fever, they allow you to use the facilities. Oh, and you have to wear a mask when you are not exercising. When you have finished using a machine, you have to disinfect it.
Speaking of facilities, the rowing machine and the sit-up bench have been removed to ensure there is enough distance between machines. The stretch mats have been reduced from three to two. A few exercise bikes were missing.
I can understand why they have made these changes, but I didn’t really feel like I had exercised after I left. I missed the rowing machine and the sit-up bench! I want to go twice a week, so I guess I’ll have to make more use of the machines that are available. I shouldn’t complain. At least the gyms are open here. In many countries, they aren’t.
Today my soul is sad unto my body. All of me hurts: memory, eyes and arms. It’s like a rheumatism in all that I am. My being isn’t touched by the day’s limpid brightness, by the sheer blue sky, by this unabating high tide of diffuse light. I’m not soothed by the soft cool breeze – autumnal but reminiscent of summer – which gives the air of personality. Nothing touches me. I’m sad, but not with a definite sadness, nor even with an indefinite sadness I’m sad down there, on the street littered with packing crates.
From The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa (Translated by Richard Zenith)
The coastal area of the city where I live is dotted with fishing villages. Many of the villages have coves and beaches. Sometimes, I drive out there and run along the shore of one particular village. I never see anyone else. No one else is out enjoying the beach, so I have it all to myself.
Actually, I never see anyone in the village. In the daytime and early evening, the village is empty and eerily quiet. All I can hear is the gentle ebb and flow of the sea. Wandering through the village, you get the feeling that time has stood still for the past 30 or 40 years. It certainly has for the past 20, which is how long I’ve been going there. In those 20 years, I have seen no one, and seen nothing change. The wooden houses which line the narrow streets are the same, the one shop in the village, which is just a dark room of a house with a few bits and pieces, and no one around to serve customers, is the same. The shore front is the same. It’s as if this little corner of Japan is in its own bubble. When I go to the village, it’s so easy to forget that there is a world out there, beyond the sea. A world with countries, cities, people, businesses….life….
When I run along the shore, it’s just me and the sea, and my thoughts. I can forget about everything else going on in my life and just be at peace. I like to go in the late afternoon when the sun is slowly sinking. The shadows, like those of time, are long, and the birds overhead squawk to each other – the only sign of communication I’ve ever seen there.
After a run, and a walk by the water to cool down, it’s time to get back in my car and return to the real world. But for an hour or so while I’m at the village, the world ceases to exist. And in a way, that’s a good feeling.
“Time! The past! Something – a voice, a song, a chance fragrance – lifts the curtain on my soul’s memories… That which I was and will never again be! That which I had and will never again have! The dead! The dead who loved me in my childhood. Whenever I remember them, my whole soul shivers and I feel exiled from all hearts, alone in the night of myself, weeping like a beggar before the closed silence of all doors.”
From The Book of Disquiet – Fernando Pessoa (translated by Richard Zenith)
I finished planning my second novel today. Now all there is left to do is open a Word document and start. But that’s the hard part. I’m in the moment between picking up a pen and putting it to paper. Placing my hands over the computer keyboard and starting to type. I always find this moment uncomfortable. So why do I prolong it? What am I scared of?
I’m concerned that I might not have planned enough. That I might not be ready. That a lot of translation work will come in and I’ll lose momentum (something I need when writing a book). That the words won’t flow, and I’ll waste time staring at a blank screen. That I’ll get stuck halfway and give up (again).
Once I start writing, these worries melt away. I guess I just have to get on with it. I’ve done it before, I can do it again. Still, it’s a bit scary.
I spent the morning planning my new novel. The planning process raised a number of questions, to which I had no answer. Rather than sitting at my desk, staring out at the beautiful early spring sun, I decided to go for a run. The answers to questions often present themselves when I’m running. I did a 10K along the lake in the centre of the city. The sky and lake were a deep blue, the breeze was chilly, but not overly so, and the answers, well, they came.
Sometimes, when I’m running along the lake at sunset, I long for the town in which I live. I view it through the eyes of someone who has left, and will never return, and feel a deep yearning. This tells me that, despite the challenges that living in rural Japan can bring, I am in the right place. I also see it through the eyes of the past. I’ve been here for 21 years. Most of them have been good years. But I’ve seen friends come and go, and now, there is only me left. Perhaps I’m also yearning for those carefree times with good friends, drinking, singing karaoke, staying out till sunrise… Even when I’m here, I long to be here. Of course, sometimes I think seriously of leaving, but when I’m running, and the sun is setting in the deep red sky, that thought is unbearable. I long to be here. And here I stay.