I usually associate Murikami with rambling novels of fantastic realism, chocked full of human strife, sexuality, and circular reasoning. This book was pleasantly differemt. He writes about his life and thoughts over the last few decades, using running as a guiding motif. Murakami lives in the moment, letting his mind, written words and running routes flow in whichever direction they choose.
After running a jazz bar in Tokyo for a time, Murakami quit to focus on writing. Living by his own schedule, seeing only the people he enjoyed, sleeping a dark, waking at dawn. There is a beauty in this straightforward way of life. Admirable. I fell in love with this book as he chats about his time running the Charles River while he was teaching a course in Boston.
I think that one more condition for being a gentleman would be keeping quiet about what you do to stay healthy. A gentleman shouldn’t go on and on about what he does to stay fit. At least that’s how I see it.
It’s been ten years since I last lived in Cambridge (which was from 1993 to 1995, back when Bill Clinton was president). When I saw the Charles River again, a desire to run swept over me. Generally, unless some great change takes place, rivers always look about the same, and the Charles River in particular looked totally unchanged. Time had passed, students had come and gone, I’d aged ten years, and there’d literally been a lot of water under the bridge. But the river has remained unaltered. The water still flows swiftly, and silently, toward Boston Harbor. The water soaks the shoreline, making the summer grasses grow thick, which help feed the waterfowl, and it flows languidly, ceaselessly, under the old bridges, reflecting clouds in summer and bobbing with floes in winter—and silently heads toward the ocean.
A lot of runners now use iPods, but I prefer the MD player I’m used to. It’s a little bigger than an iPod and can’t hold nearly as much data, but it works for me. At this point I don’t want to mix music and computers. Just like it’s not good to mix friends and work, and sex.
I just run. I run in a void. Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void. But as you might expect, an occasional thought will slip into this void. People’s minds can’t be a complete blank. Human beings’ emotions are not strong or consistent enough to sustain a vacuum.
I don’t think most people would like my personality. There might be a few—very few, I would imagine—who are impressed by it, but only rarely would anyone like it. Who in the world could possibly have warm feelings, or something like them, for a person who doesn’t compromise, who instead, whenever a problem crops up, locks himself away alone in a closet? But is it ever possible for a professional writer to be liked by people? I have no idea. Maybe somewhere in the world it is.
I never had any ambitions to be a novelist. I just had this strong desire to write a novel. No concrete image of what I wanted to write about, just the conviction that if I wrote it now I could come up with something that I’d find convincing. When I thought about sitting down at my desk at home and setting out to write I realized I didn’t even own a decent fountain pen. So I went to the Kinokuniya store in Shinjuku and bought a sheaf of manuscript paper and a five-dollar Sailor fountain pen. A small capital investment on my part.
Every day for three years I ran my jazz club—keeping accounts, checking inventory, scheduling my staff, standing behind the counter myself mixing up cocktails and cooking, closing up in the wee hours of the morning—and only then writing at home at the kitchen table until I got sleepy. I felt like I was living enough for two people’s lives.
I’m the kind of person who has to totally commit to whatever I do. I just couldn’t do something clever like writing a novel while someone else ran the business. I had to give it everything I had. If I failed, I could accept that. But I knew that if I did things halfheartedly and they didn’t work out, I’d always have regrets.
Running has a lot of advantages. First of all, you don’t need anybody else to do it, and no need for special equipment. You don’t have to go to any special place to do it. As long as you have running shoes and a good road you can run to your heart’s content. Tennis isn’t like that. You have to travel to a tennis court, and you need somebody to play with. Swimming you can do alone, but you still have to go to a pool.
The happiest thing about becoming a professional writer was that I could go to bed early and get up early.
After I closed the bar and began my life as a novelist, the first thing we—and by we I mean my wife and I—did was completely revamp our lifestyle. We decided we’d go to bed soon after it got dark, and wake up with the sun. To our minds this was natural, the kind of life respectable people lived. We’d closed the club, so we also decided that from now on we’d meet with only the people we wanted to see and, as much as possible, get by not seeing those we didn’t. We felt that, for a time at least, we could allow ourselves this modest indulgence.
I’m struck by how, except when you’re young, you really need to prioritize in life, figuring out in what order you should divide up your time and energy. If you don’t get that sort of system set by a certain age, you’ll lack focus and your life will be out of balance.
The most important thing we ever learn at school is the fact that the most important things can’t be learned at school.
There were torrential rains in parts of the country, and a lot of people died. They say it’s all because of global warming. Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. Some experts claim it is, some claim it isn’t. There’s some proof that it is, some that it isn’t. But still people say that most of the problems the earth is facing are, more or less, due to global warming. When sales of apparel go down, when tons of driftwood wash up on the shore, when there are floods and droughts, when consumer prices go up, most of the fault is ascribed to global warming. What the world needs is a set villain that people can point at and say, “It’s all your fault!”
What I mean is, I didn’t start running because somebody asked me to become a runner. Just like I didn’t become a novelist because someone asked me to. One day, out of the blue, I wanted to write a novel. And one day, out of the blue, I started to run—simply because I wanted to. I’ve always done whatever I felt like doing in life. People may try to stop me, and convince me I’m wrong, but I won’t change.
To be able to grasp something of value, sometimes you have to perform seemingly inefficient acts. But even activities that appear fruitless don’t necessarily end up so. That’s the feeling I have, as someone who’s felt this, who’s experienced it.
Header photo © bostonmagazine.com
Body photo © amazon.com