[from A Certain Distance, 8]
We speak of time . . . but what is that? I cannot touch it, but it touches me. I grow old and time escapes me. And all I can do to mend the rift in my existence is to tell the story – to talk, to write, to bring together if only for a moment the broken fragments of a life, of lived time.
It came as no surprise to me when the postcard arrived in the mail announcing that I had failed the entrance exam of the Imperial University in Tokyo. Besides, I had lost all interest in pursuing medical studies long ago. I had my sights on Waseda University whose Literature Department had become legendary because of the great writers who had taught there in the past. So I remained in Tokyo to study for the test, boarding in a rooming house for prospective students like myself. My father was disappointed by my failure, but he was still insistent that I get a college education, even if it had to be at a private university, so I had no problem convincing him to pay for my room and board. The only problem was that the more determined I became to write the less time I spent with my studies. And then there was the city itself which offered so much. I seemed to spend more and more time in the cafés talking with other students, and of course wherever students gathered there was a hotbed of radical thought.
I managed to pass the test by the skin of my teeth and moved into the student dorms, but it was impossible to concentrate. There were always people around talking and smoking, shouting in the halls, debating various subjects, especially politics. The only time there was peace and quiet was in the middle of the night, and even then you were lucky if it quieted down. Waseda was a major focus of leftist activity. There had been student riots a few years before I started, and now it was a stronghold of the Communist Party. There was also a group of rightist students and then anarchists who tended to be less interested in organization. But I just wanted to write. I was interested in all the ideas and in observing what was going on, but it seemed like joining one of the political groups was much like being in a religious cult. As soon as a person joined, you could see how their thinking would become narrow and dogmatic.
But there was another reason I needed the quiet and privacy. I had started to get writing jobs. No big deal. Just hack writing. An article here and there. It all started with something I wrote for one of the new women’s magazines. It was a travel article about Paris. I hadn’t even been to Paris and here I was writing about it as if I were an expert. I just threw together a few observations from the letters of my friend who was studying in Paris along with my own wild imagination, a bit of fake French and voilà! The editors loved it, and I guess news got around, because now suddenly I was in demand. There were lots of new women’s magazines those days catering to the interests of The New Woman, or sometimes it was for the sophisticated married ladies of the new middle class. It was either fashion, food, sex or travel. Take your pick. Obviously I wasn’t going to write about fashion.
For the time being my father was willing to raise my monthly allowance so that I could rent a small room not far from the university. This was of course done on the assumption that I needed the quiet in order to study. Little did he know I was actually spending more time at the literary hangouts in the bars and cafés. And when I wasn’t doing that I was hammering out another titillating piece about the private life of Tokyo’s New Woman – all of it completely fiction of course.