On Accident, Or, By Accident
There’s only one person I’ve ever met who has ever understood the importance of self-mythology. I know people who get by on it. I know people who try to maximise on it. I know people who think they do it. There’s only one person I’ve ever met that ever actually understood it, and I suspect this person caught it, like a blood infection, from a great person they had no right to catch it from. This is only part of what I am going to write about today.
In the United Kingdom we happen upon things ‘by’ accident. By way of accident, it might have derived from. In this way the UK regards ‘accident’ to be the active word, the word of power. Accident in the UK is acidic in the mouth. It’s piquant. It has a dismissive resonance. In the United States it is common to say that you have happened upon things ‘on’ accident, as if you were flicked through the universe by the thumb of a deity and actually bodily landed upon something. As if you fell. As if you fell, bumping into branches or stars or repelled off lovers onto a thing. Like you bust your whole weight down onto something arbitrary with the irrepressible power of gravity.
The first time I became aware that this was the way it was said here, you said it, and I listened and I thought about it. I was in that mode, that mode that I have taught myself. The side of myself that I had to teach myself from the age of seventeen: the one who listens and does little else. It was hard to teach myself to be the one who listens, because my natural state is the broadcasting state where I am living now and not later, participating and not digesting. I have taught myself to shut up. This makes me kinder, but it also makes me easier to ignore. It is this thing that I would rebel against finally, in a moment of pain that finally made me want to write for money. It is the listening side of myself that I hate, but the listening side makes me money. This will probably be who I am for the rest of my life.
At that moment both the surf rock of your restaurant was echoing the sun-blanched walls, the frosting fragments lay on the tiles, and you talked with your friends in an easy flow that I can’t have as someone who only passes through. There was never time for me to fit in. There never will be time. But you said that something had happened on accident, and you were delighted about it. I thought about the difference between ‘on’ and ‘by’. I have been thinking about that difference ever since.
When I came home from Japan in 2010 I left Edinburgh Airport with a nihon-to, a practice katana, duck taped to my luggage. It was in a box and was just as it had left Japan apart from one small, significant difference. No one could explain to me, before I left, how to leave Japan with a sword. I’d never expected a long, light, beautiful killing utensil to make it through Heathrow customs, but there it was. The sword, given to me by my Iaido sensei, was made exactly perfectly for my arm to heft it, it had the symbolic unfurled wings of a Kagoshima crane for a tsuba, and it made it through despite the UK’s strict knife laws like some sort of miracle.
I’m not the sort of western douchebag to fetishise a ‘samurai sword’ (which is not what Japanese people would ever call it) (they call it a ‘blade of Japan’) for the sake of it. It’s a tool for the practise of an art that should be dead but for the few Japanese people who understand and love it. Mine isn’t sharpened, and was never meant to be used on people. I once did not respect it as much as I could have. Once the nihon-to was just a means of meditation and fitness until one day my sensei got angry at me. I’d stepped over someone else’s reclining blade on the budoukan floor.
“That is someone’s soul,” he said to me from his effortless seiza, hands neatly above his knees, his terrifying grey eyes stinging my face. “That is the swordmaker’s soul,” he said. “Never step over it. Take care of it.”
When I later unwrapped it in Scotland, the nihon-to would prove to have one small but very noticeable dent in the otherwise perfect and shining lacquer of the saya.
I think I looked away.
I lie awake at night often and wonder where in transit the dent had been made, but I know. The dent was not made by Japan Airlines.
You can come home from living in another country to the most beautiful city in the world, Edinburgh, and feel a solid mass of heartache. It used to be alive for me. It used to be living. It’s got a fucking huge castle built in the heart of it on a hill, a place they still use for a military base, it’s a goliath of history, never been breached by an army, it punches the stormy sky, its buildings like knuckles. The craggy sides of the hill around it are like the barbed wire beard of an old man gnashing his teeth. Edinburgh used to be a promise: every bar offered a good time, the clubs used to play songs just for us, The Crags wasn’t a suicide spot back then, no, it was a 3am drunk trip to cry at the sun coming up. It was sex until 5am. It was young and in love.
But it was. It was a suicide spot back then. I realised when I got back in 2010 and no one in Edinburgh loved me any more. I’d ran away and lost everything. I went to Japan and no one there loved me. I came home and no one at home loved me. The only person that loved me in Edinburgh had moved to Canada and in with another girl. I used to think that sex was my problem. Sex was never my problem. It is everything else.
So I strode into a Gamestation shop homeless and unemployed and feeling the existential dirge in my head. I was wearing a leather jacket I’d bought when I was paid in Yen; back then my designer glasses looked good too, well everything on me looked good, I’d had nothing to do in Japan but work, travel and exercise. I was thin, pretty, unhappy. Every other place in Edinburgh had rejected my applications for work and I was staying in the spare room my married hosts were planning on putting a baby in if I’d only get a fucking job and move out. That Gamestation looked out onto the Castle, I remember. That Gamestation had one of the best views out of it of any building I’ve ever been in. What’s that saying? Is there a saying that you’d rather be in hell looking at heaven, than in heaven looking down into hell? Am I thinking of “Rather reign in hell than serve in heaven”? Well, I have served in hell, but I was looking at the Castle.
I never wanted to see another game again. I wanted a job in a bookshop. I wanted a job in a bookshop or a library badly. I’d spent two years paying extortionate money for English language books from Amazon.co.jp and I was determined to read for the rest of my life and I had an English Literature degree from one of the best universities in the world and goddamn, I thought, I demand to be paid minimum wage to be near great books for the rest of my life, if there’s anything in the world I want to do. I cannot explain to you the feeling of electric I get from walking through bookshops and libraries–perhaps I can try. It is like being psychic. It is like going into a room where thousands of authors have instilled their hot yelping souls in paper and the electricity from it prickles like the feeling you get when you hit your elbow. It’s like feeling calm and ecstatic at the same time and just ink on paper can do that. Just ink on paper. Just whole rows of people extending a warm hand to touch you. I want to die surrounded by my own collection of books that now as I speak are gently decaying in my mother’s attic because I have never been able to afford a place of my own. I want to die there in the mouldering legacy of my own taste in words. Sometimes I think of printing out my favourite internet authors and binding them myself.
Despite having a degree from one of the best universities in the world and being able to speak Japanese and working as an editor and proofreader and for a publisher before I ever left education, no one wanted to give me a job. I’d eventually get a job as a diplomatic assistant and at the BBC and a multitude of other ridiculous things but at this point in my life, everything was hopeless and whitewashed. So I looked at the last medal on my CV and thought I’d polish it. I’d worked for Rockstar Games before I left for Japan. Maybe Gamestation would give me a job just for knowing shit about games.
“You should give me a job,” I think I told Jock. He agreed. I was given part time shifts where I’d stock and restock games for less money than I needed to pay rent. For weeks and weeks I ate one raw carrot and a Cup-A-Soup for lunch because there were no more hours available at a game store where sometimes people would try to exchange their games with their heroin stash still hooked behind the game manual. Everyone who worked there was very young and excited about life and stayed up all night to party in shitty bars; here I was, Miss Leather Jacket, Grumpy Face, mid-twenties, no significant relationship with anyone to speak of, and worried I would never be anything. I wish I could smile at her and tell her: hey, late twenties you isn’t anything either, only this time people know your name, and you are surrounded by people who are more talented than you, and you are even less certain that you will ever have it together, and you wake up on someone else’s couch every morning from nightmares about a dent in a lacquered saya and think you might be dead.
Many good times happened to me working that terrible job. The people were good to me, and I felt affectionate towards them. We had a Blitz mentality. The shop was clearly going to close. The general manager’s visit from GAME, which had acquired us, were treated like visits from a prison guard because although I broke the record for some sort of 3DS preorder system we never made the sales targets he wanted. We no longer sold the cute wearable merchandise I’d loved about Gamestation when I should have known better, and I guess that was the first sign that GAME did not know what they were doing, and yes, they still do not.
The problem I have is that all of this happened on accident. It did not happen by accident. I landed on video games, and I keep landing on video games. I have learned to recline when it happens.
Three hours before the only person who was ever in love with me terminated our relationship, the heart-shaped silver necklace he had given me broke in two. Is that by accident? Or is it on accident?
Every night I wake up from a nightmare in which I know that my soul resembles that saya. The only thing someone wiser than me trusted me with lies with an injury I cannot correct. Is it my soul? Was the saya dented for a reason? Part of me thinks I should never have come home.
I don’t pretend to ever know what is or isn’t an accident. I suspect that my life might not be a collection of coincidences; that I have an ability to direct myself in a way that puts me in the path of interesting people, and the people I feel a connection with are the ones who like to punch through the staleness of life with a metal fist. Sometimes these people punch so hard I love them. Sometimes I feel love course through me like boiled red wine, destroying my insides, a kiss on the lips that burns. Sometimes my soul is dented from transit and I never recover.
Do you know that Americans rarely do anything by accident? Americans do things on accident. As if you were flicked through the universe by the thumb of a deity and actually bodily landed upon something. As if you fell. As if you fell, bumping into branches or stars or repelled off lovers onto a thing. Like you bust your whole weight down onto something arbitrary with the irrepressible power of gravity.
Nothing you do is ever an accident. Nothing.
When you self-mythologise it’s like saying you’re prepared to fuck life and take it with you. You can get cut and you can get miserable and you can feel like you’re driving that long dark road and you can survive on carrots and soup and feel like you’re eating your own soul and you’ll never be happy and you can only sit there with the kaleidoscope looking out on the past as if it’s the only thing you’ll love and feel like you will never love again and know that the city you stalk doesn’t look the same as then and you can feel like you are crushed by your own desire like a hammer smashing through a skull but there’s no time at which you can say to yourself: I won’t be able to make sense of this. The want in you craves the ability to make sense of the road and how you loved and why you loved and who you loved and nothing ever will be the same again but you know: fuck everything and fuck the way stories are written. This is for me and for anyone who ever felt lost in their own myth: we make our own, and it’s enough. It’s enough to make it. We make it. We make our own.
And we can mythologise our way out of it, you know. If we pay enough attention to the present, to where we are right this second, we can write ourselves clean.