Coming of age

Spoiler alert: an accidental book review of Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

During my trip to Tokyo, I met fellow sad girl, Kiana by chance. Being second degree friends, we shared a pretty peculiar start to our friendship. Our mutual friend, Hiten, had connected us through Instagram. When Kiana came to visit Bali in early 2019, we arranged to meet.

A little note on adult friendships: I am grateful for people like Hiten who vouch for the people around him, because it is his introduction that allowed two girls who had nothing in common to cross paths, drink coffee, and befriend.

Kiana and I are both ethnically Chinese, but cultural and geographical divides have raised two very different women. If it wasn’t for the good word of our mutual friend, it’s not likely we would have crossed paths at all.

So we meet again at Tokyo, her temporary home away from home in the States. When I think about the handful of times I’ve been able to physically meet Internet friends, I imagine tiny, glowing dots on the globe broadcasting themselves, all yearning for a connection with the next dot.

This time I see glowing dots scattered far and wide across the globe: Boston, Tokyo, Bali. This odd triangle on the globe celebrates a compilation of adventures from three sad kids. It is an anecdote of how three people’s common dreams — save the world, connect with each other deeply, and to see more of this universe. All of this interwoven by the ephemeral strings of Tinder & Instagram.

A day before Kiana and I met, I had just finished reading Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami.

(It’s really tacky, but it was never my intention to read Murakami while I traveled to Japan. Norwegian Wood just happened to be the only paperback I had at the time.)

Tackiness aside, I think Norwegian Wood sufficiently set the mood & atmosphere of how I came to meet Kiana again, and it’s offered me a lot of food for thought in terms of our coming of age.

In Norwegian Wood, protagonist Toru had mentioned on a number of occasions how his dead best friend, Kizuki, remained 17 years old forever, while he had to go on to become 18, 19, 20 years old….Kizuki’s girlfriend, Toru’s (now) love interest also shared the same unrest about ‘growing up’ in their own volatile universe.

…"The pain of growing up. We didn't pay when we should have, so now the bills are due. Which is why Kizuki did what he did, and why I'm here. We were like kids who grew up naked on a desert island. If we got hungry, we'd just pick a banana; if we got lonely, we'd go to sleep in each other's arms. But that kind of thing doesn't last forever…”

Naoko described her youth with Kizuki: Two innocent children indulging themselves in a life only meant for the two of them — a sanitary, private bubble. To Naoko and Kizuki, everything else other than themselves were the outside world, and that included their mutual best friend, Toru.

To me, our childhood is synonymous with the meadow that Toru described early in the book. As children, we played and shared our innocence in this vast, plain meadow. Like Naoko and Kizuki, we ate bananas and slept in each other’s arms. Uncharted, it is safe and devoid of the outside world.

However, a dark opening in the earth lays at the edge of our meadow, and nobody knows where it is. It has a frightening depth and nothing marked its perimeters. This is the field well described by Naoko in the book.

It was deep beyond measuring, and crammed full of darkness, as if the world’s darkness had been boiled down to their ultimate density.

To me, this field well, hovering between the edge of the meadow and the woods, marks our coming of age. To cross over from childhood to adulthood, we must go into the woods courageously, and we must avoid slipping into the deep and dark unknown.

If we fall, we fall into all of the world’s darkness, boiled down to its ultimate density. And who knew how long the fall would be, considering it’s frightening depth?

This brings me to present day, where Kiana tells me about her hopes & dreams to graduate from school, create an impactful career and escape from the perils of a 9-5 job. Her yearning to create impact and save the world mirrored my thoughts and ambitions from exactly two years ago — back when I was also studying abroad, wide-eyed and hopeful for all the opportunities that could arise. It was a blank slate most people romanticised about.

I considered this tiny space in between her life and mine right now — she was about to graduate and I had graduated/entered the workforce a year ago. We were a start apart from each other at the edge of the meadow and the woods. She tip toed around the edges, admired the lushness of the woods, but neither of us knew what was in store for her. Heck, I’ve been in the woods for a minute and I don’t know myself.

I thought back on my meadow days, how I had deliberately lived my life in an extremely slow pace — morning walks to get coffee, applying for jobs and doing my coding homework in the afternoons. And then, grocery runs in the evening and learning to make a humble meal for myself.

I soaked in that nostalgia and thought, how unrealistic of me to narrate my life like that. How ironic it was that I couldn’t make a living while living a life like that. I often think about this mythical meadow-woods border, and I get a sticky tingly feeling in the pit of my stomach. This border is a place as much as it is a space in time, forever sealed away from my current reality.

Between coffee and walking the streets of Tokyo, so much time was spent talking about this ephemeral space, this bold and heroic leap in the woods. Kiana and I shared our fear about not being able to find that deep and dark well — this thing that is neither here nor there that kept us awake at night, and fearful by day.

But beyond that, I am reminded of the kindness and gentleness of everyone around us that’s traversing the same path, making the same transition from childhood into adulthood. Kiana talks to me about he importance of friendships, how she is lucky to have the people she needs in her close vicinity now. I am warmed by the thought of having who we need surround us as we wave each other off into the woods.

I might be in the woods now, but I certainly still live in the memory of my meadow some times. At the end of our meeting, Kiana sends me a text on Instagram:

Glad we got the chance to see each other

Everything will work out and be okay.

And so it’s my turn now to pass this message along to you, reader 😌