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I am a Bicolano by birth and choice. By any standards, I am a slow runner but I like it that way. I look at running as a healthy and exciting way to make a difference. Together with my fellow runners from our family, school, office and the community, we use running to give back..

January 9, 2013

MURAKAMI’S “WHAT I TALK ABOUT WHEN I TALK ABOUT RUNNING”





"Each of us possesses a tangible living soul. The system has no such thing. We must not allow the system to exploit us."

These are words spoken by Haruki Murakami when he received the Jerusalem Prize,  a biennial literary award given to writers whose work deals with themes of human freedom, society, politics, and government last January 2009. There were protests in Japan and elsewhere against his attending the February award ceremony in Israel, including threats to boycott his work. However, Murakami bravely chose to attend the ceremony, but gave a speech to the gathered Israeli dignitaries harshly criticizing Israeli policies.

  
Such is the exemplar strength of character of this award-winning Japanese writer. I first became aware of his name when Jonel Mendoza of frontRUNNER magazine included Murakami’s book "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running" among his top favorite running books (http://www.bicolanopenguin.blogspot.com/2012/10/frontrunner-magazine-vol-3-issue-4-2012.html#more).  This got me curious and was soon googling about Murakami, self-proclaimed "cultural ambassador" of Japan.

The entry in Wikipedia about him read as follows:   

Murakami was born in Japan during the post–World War II baby boom. Although born in Kyoto, he spent his youth in Shukugawa (Nishinomiya), Ashiya and Kobe. His father was the son of a Buddhist priest, and his mother the daughter of an Osaka merchant. Both taught Japanese literature.



Many of his novels have themes and titles that invoke classical music.

Murakami is a marathon runner and triathlete enthusiast, though he did not start running until he was 33 years old. On June 23, 1996, he completed his first ultramarathon, a 100-kilometer race around Lake Saroma in Hokkaido, Japan. He discusses his relationship with running in his 2008 memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.


Recognition

1982 Noma Literary Prize for A Wild Sheep Chase.

1985 Tanizaki Prize for Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

1995 Yomiuri Prize for The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

2006 World Fantasy Award for Kafka on the Shore.

In 2006, Murakami became the sixth recipient of the Franz Kafka Prize.

In September 2007, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Liège, well as one from Princeton University in June 2008.

In recent years, Haruki Murakami has often been mentioned as a possible recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Nonetheless, all nomination records for a prize are sealed for 50 years from the awarding of the prize so it is pure speculation. When asked about the possibility of being awarded the Nobel Prize, Murakami responded with a laugh saying "No, I don't want prizes. That means you're finished." 

Truly an impressive novelist and an  accomplished marathoner  Murakami is, having finished 27 marathons already.  An inspiring person. That is why when Bitoy emailed me in early December what pasalubong I would like, I requested him to buy me the book "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running."

Bitoy bought one from Kinokuniya Book Store in Singapore and come Christmas Day in Camp Aguinaldo, he handed me the book, his Christmas present. Maraming maraming salamat Bitoy.

I have been reading this Murakami memoir and I have been consuming this slowly, just like how a red wine is to be savored.  As I write this blog entry, I am just in Chapter 4 (out of 9 chapters).  It has been a constant source of running nourishment for me the last days of 2012 and the first days of 2013.
Here are a couple from the 4 chapters:

The first one is on training and can be found in pages 71-72.

The total amount of running I’m doing might be going down, but at least I’m following one of my basic rules for training. I never take two days off in a row.  Muscles are like work animals that are quick on the uptake.  If you carefully increase the load, step by step, they learn to take it...It doesn’t happen overnight, of course. But as long as you take your time and do it in stages, they won’t complain and they’ll very patiently and obediently grow stronger.  Through repetition you input into your muscle the message that this how much work they have to perform.

If, however, the load halts for a few days, the muscles automatically assume they don’t have to work hard anymore, and they lower their limits.  Muscles really are like animals, and they want to take it easy as possible; if pressure   isn’t applied to them , they relax and cancel out the memory of all that work. Input this cancelled memory once again, and you have to repeat the whole journey from the very beginning.  Naturally it’s important to take a break sometimes, but in a critical time like this, when I’m training for a race, I  have to show my muscles who’s boss.  I  have to make it clear to them what’s expected.  I  have to maintain a certain tension by being unsparing, but not to the point where I burn out.  These are tactics that all experienced runners learn over time.

The next is on talent, focus and endurance on pages 76-82.  

In every interview I'm asked what's the most important quality a novelist has to have. It’s pretty obvious: talent. Now matter how much enthusiasm and effort you put into writing, if you totally lack literary talent you can forget about being a novelist. This is more of a prerequisite than a necessary quality. If you don’t have any fuel, even the best car won’t run.

The problem with talent, though, is that in most cases the person involved can’t control its amount or quality. You might find the amount isn’t enough and you want to increase it, or you might try to be frugal and make it last longer, but in neither case do things work out that easily. Talent has a mind of its own and wells up when it wants to, and once it dries up, that’s it. Of course, certain poets and rock singers whose genius went out in a blaze of glory—people like Schubert and Mozart, whose dramatic early deaths turned them into legends—have a certain appeal, but for the vast majority of us this isn’t the model we follow.


If I’m asked what the next most important quality is for a novelist, that’s easy too: focus—the ability to concentrate all your limited talents on whatever’s critical at the moment. Without that you can’t accomplish anything of value, while, if you can focus effectively, you’ll be able to compensate for an erratic talent or even a shortage of it. I generally concentrate on work for three or four hours every morning. I sit at my desk and focus totally on what I’m writing. I don’t see anything else, I don’t think about anything else...


After focus, the next most important thing for a novelist is, hands down, endurance. If you concentrate on writing three or four hours a day and feel tired after a week of this, you’re not going to be able to write a long work. What’s needed of the writer of fiction—at least one who hopes to write a novel—is the energy to focus every day for half a year, or a year, or two years...
 

Fortunately, these two disciplines—focus and endurance—are different from talent, since they can be acquired and sharpened through training. You’ll naturally learn both concentration and endurance when you sit down every day at your desk and train yourself to focus on one point. This is a lot like the training of muscles I wrote of a moment ago. You have to continually transmit the object of your focus to your entire body, and make sure it thoroughly assimilates the information necessary for you to write every single day and concentrate on the work at hand. And gradually you’ll expand the limits of what you’re able to do. Almost imperceptibly you’ll make the bar rise. This involves the same process as jogging every day to strengthen your muscles and develop a runner’s physique. Add a stimulus and keep it up. And repeat. Patience is a must in this process, but I guarantee results will come...

Most of what I know about writing I’ve learned through running every day. These are practical, physical lessons. How much can I push myself? How much rest is appropriate—and how much is too much? How far can I take something and still keep it decent and consistent? When does it become narrow-minded and inflexible? How much should I be aware of the world outside, and how much should I focus on my inner world? To what extent should I be confident in my abilities, and when should I start doubting myself? I know that if I hadn’t become a long-distance runner when I became a novelist, my work would have been vastly different. How different? Hard to say. But something would definitely have been different...

People sometimes would sneer at those who run every day, claiming they’ll go to any length to live longer.  But I don’t think that’s the reason most people run. Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that.  Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running , and a metaphor for life – and for me, for writing as well. I believe many runners would agree.”  
My growing book collection on running
Certainly I, the Bicolano Penguin, and many more  would very much agree.  It is pretty obvious I am inspired, mesmerized even,  by the power of his written words as I have quoted and included a lot in this blog entry.


Murakami’s is truly a pen mightier than the samurai.      

3 comments:

  1. There is a remarkable resemblance between Macky and Murakami.

    They are both marathon (and ultra marathon)runners and great writers.

    The only difference is that Macky is my friend and Murakami is not.... hahahahaha..

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  2. Hi Bitoy. Thank you very much for this Murakami book. Reading it is food for my soul and my soles. Again, you are most generous with your words. Yup, we are both marathoners but his time (sub 4) is way better than my sub 6. On writing, there is no comparison whatsover. hahahaha. He has written many books and gotten many awards. Me, I have not even written a single book. hehehehe....Perhaps one similarity is that both of us (including others 83neans like you) took up running not in our youth but in latter ages, like when we hit 30s or 40s. This has made us more appreciate the gift that is running. I would love though to get his autograph.

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  3. took up running much, much later. have neither been reading books lately. oh my, have to catch up on so many things. thanks sir for sending me the link to this. gotta shake things up a bit. cheers and thanks!

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