Haruki Murakami

It Takes Time to Get Boiled

Excerpts from "The Fierce Imagination of Haruki Murakami," by Sam Anderson, The New York Times Magazine, October 23, 2011:

Murakami sold his jazz club in order to devote himself, full time, to writing.

Murakami at the finish of the New York Marathon in 1991. Photo by Atsushi Kondo“Full time,” for Murakami, means something different from what it does for most people. For 30 years now, he has lived a monkishly regimented life, each facet of which has been precisely engineered to help him produce his work. He runs or swims long distances almost every day, eats a healthful diet, goes to bed around 9 p.m. and wakes up, without an alarm, around 4 a.m. — at which point he goes straight to his desk for five to six hours of concentrated writing. (Sometimes he wakes up as early as 2.) He thinks of his office, he told me, as a place of confinement — “but voluntary confinement, happy confinement.”

“Concentration is one of the happiest things in my life,” he said. “If you cannot concentrate, you are not so happy. I’m not a fast thinker, but once I am interested in something, I am doing it for many years. I don’t get bored. I’m kind of a big kettle. It takes time to get boiled, but then I’m always hot.”

Concocting Fictions with Seriousness

Excerpt from "The Novelist in Wartime," by Haruki Murakami, Salon.com, Feb. 20, 2009:

Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg.

Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg. Someone else will have to decide what is right and what is wrong; perhaps time or history will decide. If there were a novelist who, for whatever reason, wrote works standing with the wall, of what value would such works be?

What is the meaning of this metaphor? In some cases, it is all too simple and clear. Bombers and tanks and rockets and white phosphorus shells are that high, solid wall. The eggs are the unarmed civilians who are crushed and burned and shot by them.

This is not all, though. It carries a deeper meaning. Think of it this way. Each of us is, more or less, an egg. Each of us is a unique, irreplaceable soul enclosed in a fragile shell. This is true of me, and it is true of each of you. And each of us, to a greater or lesser degree, is confronting a high, solid wall. The wall has a name: it is "the System." The System is supposed to protect us, but sometimes it takes on a life of its own, and then it begins to kill us and cause us to kill others -- coldly, efficiently, systematically.

I have only one reason to write novels, and that is to bring the dignity of the individual soul to the surface and shine a light upon it. The purpose of a story is to sound an alarm, to keep a light trained on the System in order to prevent it from tangling our souls in its web and demeaning them. I fully believe it is the novelist's job to keep trying to clarify the uniqueness of each individual soul by writing stories -- stories of life and death, stories of love, stories that make people cry and quake with fear and shake with laughter. This is why we go on, day after day, concocting fictions with utter seriousness.

Read the rest of the essay here...

Unkowns

"I sometimes think that people's hearts are like deep wells. Nobody knows what's at the bottom. All you can do is guess from what comes floating to the surface every once in a while."

-- Haruki Murakami

"What we have not had to decipher, to elucidate by our own efforts, what was clear before we looked at it, is not ours. From ourselves comes only that which we drag forth from the obscurity which lies within us, that which to others is unkown."

-- Marcel Proust

Fiction and Synchronicity

I went to hear Tony Vigorito read tonight. I hadn’t heard of him before seeing the advertisement for the reading. I was charmed by the Dostoevsky quote used as the epigraph from his first novel, Just a Couple of Days [Life is paradise, and we are all in paradise, but we refuse to see it. If we would, we should have heaven on earth the very next day. ] and by his relaxed approach to the reading. He recounted a surreal experience which occurred over the weekend involving a dubious stranger disemboweling a deer which his vegetarian girlfriend had accidently struck and killed with her car.

He talked about his first novel being about language and his recently completed novel, Nine Kinds of Naked, being about synchronicity. He read from the manuscript of this newer work which will be published next spring. He told us about strange coincidences related to it the work and his approach to it. (This reminded me of a Jeffrey Eugenides essay about writing Middlesex.) He asked us if we wanted to share any synchronicities from our personal experience. I nervously tried to recount a story about a fortune cookie.

When I got home, I went in search of my journal from that time to compare my memory with the facts.

January 2004

Lunch at Asia Wok with Connie. My fortune cookie said, “The only way to catch a tiger cub is to go into the tiger’s den.” Hers was something about if metal is ground down repeatedly it becomes a fine point. I didn’t know what my message meant and was convinced our wires had been crossed since I’d just returned from a meditation retreat. Connie takes these things seriously and refused my offer to help sort out fate by trading.

Before going to bed, I read through my email. An email from Writer’s Almanac from the day before mentioned Haruki Murakami (born 1/12/49), saying, Widely considered one of Japan's most important 20th-century writers, he is heavily influenced by American culture, and has been criticized by some Japanese for being too westernized. He said in an interview, "I write weird stories. Myself, I'm a very realistic person. ... I wake up at 6:00 in the morning and go to bed at 10:00, jogging every day and swimming, eating healthy food. ... But when I write, I write weird."

Clicking on the link embedded in his name, I was taken to a Salon.com interview which said that his writing was considered confusing, which connected back to developing skill at reacting to confusion with equanimity which had been a significant topic during the retreat. I popped open a browser to reserve The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle from the library. The interview was three pages long and I kept reading it in spite of being sleepy. The interview concluded with:

Q. It sounds like when you feel scared about writing something, you decide to pursue it.
A. You can't escape from that. There is a saying in Japan: "When you want a tiger's cub, you have to enter the tiger's den."

I ran downstairs to look in the trash for my fortune. I couldn’t find it, but felt relieved Connie could vouch for me.

The next day, squirrels got into our trash and scattered what failed to interest them around the backyard. Among the litter I discovered my fortune, folded in half and lying on the frozen, snow-covered grass. [I taped it into my journal.]