(from A Forest Ten Feet Wide, Tokyo 2013)
As my husband and I walked together, in Tokyo, through a forest ten feet wide, we passed Midorigaoka station. A young man with a prominent mole on his chin was giving a speech on the dangers of nuclear power. Not one of the commuters hurrying in and out of the station even glanced at him. Two fellow organizers struggled to hand out leaflets. I took one. I read: The Communist Party of Japan.
I admit that I had no idea it still existed. I asked my husband, “In this day and age, how does a young person end up running for office in the Communist Party?”
My husband explained, “His grandfather was very important in the party. His father was important, too. Now it is his turn.”
If the world we live in was decided by a vote, like a presidential candidate or celebrity contestant, the ordinary visible world would not even be one of the main contenders. The ordinary visible world would be, at best, a dark horse candidate. Only a few radicals would be in favor of it. They would all be looked down upon and called reactionaries.
The main candidates might be perhaps the phone world and the shopping world, with strong showings by meat world, sex world and pharma-world.
But of course the worlds would not actually be called that – it would all be brand names and genius marketing. Voters would check the box beside Monsanto Pleasure Pavilion and iPhone Paradise Access. Further down the ballot would be the Good Times with Coors party and the XTube Triple-X Personal Freedom party. Just imagine the delights and the gadgets, the distractions and gimmicks. You need not imagine very hard. How easily you might forget that there was any world but theirs. . .
Meanwhile the party of the ordinary visible world would just stand around pointing at things. No PowerPoint, no laser pointers, just pointing with their actual fingers. And pointing at what? Not much that’s appealing. It’s not like we live in a garden, here in Tokyo. Asphalt and electric wires, convenience stores, pachinko – and you’re likely to get your toes run over if you stand around staring too long. The ordinary visible world does not need to be lovely in Tokyo. I mean, seriously -- who looks at it?
Who are those unpleasant and awkward people, the members of the party of the ordinary visible world? Musty old hippies by the look of them, old apple pickers who can’t even get up their ladders anymore, unseemly outdated liberal academics who joined after the Actual Book party’s unseemly collapse. The party of the visible world, or “reality fundamentalists”, as they would swiftly be dubbed, extremists in favor of experiencing the world without multiple apps, magic glasses and pharmaceutical enhancements.
The party of the ordinary visible world would be held in complete disdain. The other parties would be united against it. Almost everyone would agree: those people are nothing but partisans of an unimproved world, Luddite extremists in favor of a world we’ve left far behind, despite the fact we happen to go on standing in it, in our ishoes.
The party of the ordinary visible world would be as unpopular as anything else that makes people uncomfortable. Indeed, that is the essential promise of all the other parties: we will make you comfortable. And what kind of masochistic freak doesn’t want to be comfortable? The Communist Party would be popular, in comparison to the party of the ordinary visible world. Hell, climate change would be popular in comparison. . .
“It’s just another kind of prejudice,” people will say. Racism, sexism, realism. Eventually it will be a highly offensive term. “How dare you accuse me of being a realist!”
This run-down scuffed and sullied world. Concrete, wires, and smog. The lines are long. The weather is inconvenient. No birds but crows. Who wants this world?
Excuse me. I am only playing make-believe. None of this is the case. The world is not decided by a vote. Not by my vote and not by yours. Not even by a trillion votes of inattention, of turning away.
Even without care, the ordinary world languishes but does not disappear. Even as it goes on losing, the ordinary visible world cannot lose. It is the only contender.
No matter how long you stare into your phone, you remain standing here, in the ordinary visible world, as a storm nears, as the first drops land on the back of your bent neck, and still you do not look up.