Had a conversation this past week with a woman I'd never met before. We were both in our home county at the time--we both knew the landscape, the smallness of the county's central town, the vibe of the community and the general atmosphere of the place: we had both lived in this very conservative, relatively religious corner of the country, Northeast Indiana. She'd been living in Indiana for some fifty years or more, but I'm just twenty-eight, and I've been living on the east coast for the past five years. Indiana and the east coast may as well be two different countries for the contrasts in politics, religious leanings and moral expectations.
I don't mean to make living in Indiana sound like a bad thing (though over the years, I do think that's been a fallback habit of mine). No, I'll finally say now that I am proud to be from where I'm from, to have been blessed with the family I was born into. But as this woman and I discussed, without the prospect of occasionally traveling beyond the bounds of our home county, living here in Northeast Indiana just doesn't sound realistic, at least not for the two of us.
Sometimes, we just want to run. To be free from the boxes by which we feel constrained. We've got to find what works for us to get out. And we've got to understand who we are, and where we want to go. As Haruki Murakami proves in his memoir, being a runner can take you places physically, emotionally, and mentally--places you've never been before.
In What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami speaks to the theme of longevity; he himself doesn't use this term, but I am, right now. Longevity. In goals, in line of work, in life. As a runner for over thirty years, Murakami has a lot to say about endurance running, but he also has a lot to say about growing up to become the person he is today. He's learned who he is by experience and hard work. He's taken risks, taken plunges. And he keeps to his goals. In What I Talk About... he speaks to an audience much larger than just athletes, writers, and artists; he's speaking to everyone, because everyone has endured pain to reach a better place. And that's what running is for him. The longevity, and the quality of his life, is tied into running as much as his mind is tied tight to writing novels. He wants to do everything he can to keep doing both of things--running and writing--as long as he can.
Some readers of What I Talk About might call Murakami's running regimen a little on the obsessive side: "Near my house is a nice series of slopes," he writes (page 70, if you're planning to read the book), and this slope series has "an elevation change equivalent to about a five- or six-story building, and on one run I rounded this loop twenty-one times."
..."This took me an hour and forty-five minutes." (ellipsis added)
Even running forty-five minutes sounds like a feat in itself, to me. But to Murakami, about an hour or an hour and ten minutes is a normal training day.
"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. (17)
He continues, however, saying that, "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." Ah, yes. I know this slippage he speaks of. But perhaps (because I've not trained my body, and therefore my mind, to the level that Murakami has), my slippage is more dramatic. When I sit down to write--whether blog writing, or personal writing for a story or novel, I can't seem to let all the extraneous thoughts cluttering my mind fall away, as if they were shying from that "void." As if the void were too too whole, too real and complete to dare to touch. But Murakami maintains the opposite: "...the kinds of thoughts and ideas that invade my emotions as I run remain subordinate to that void."
Murakami utilizes running to help him focus--one of the key necessities for a writer. This is a skill I am eager to improve. Perhaps I better find my sport. My "thing." It doesn't have to be running. And I imagine that many of you readers don't always enjoy running, either. (I have my good days; some days I do enjoy it).
"...I've never recommended running to others. I've tried my best never to say something like, Running is great. Everybody should try it. If some people have an interest in long-distance running, just leave them be, and they'll start running on their own. If they're not interested in it, no amount of persuasion will make any difference." (44)
So take heart. This is not a book hoping to convince you to run. That's all up to you. I myself, I think, will focus on my free-throw form.
And. To end. I'll take note of this: that this book is my first of the fifty-two I plan to read in 2017. I'm realizing the potential it has for being like, perhaps: my first week on a new job. I've passed the first test? Is that what this is like? I've been preparing my resume lately. I'm feeling some anxiety cross over from one forum to the next: wanting to please, wanting to impress (a little or a lot), wanting to hook your interest. Maybe this website, blog, book journal--whatever you may think to call it--is, in a sense, a "job" for me; but I don't want it to be. I thoroughly enjoyed Murakami's book. And that's just how I hope the other 51 feel, too. And I want, more than anything, to create a place on this internet where people just enjoy finding out about books. Talking about books is fun. It's what I do. It's nice to think I've got someone who's inspired to talk some, too.
In a review I saw on Goodreads, I noted the dislike some readers had for Murakami's subject matter and tone. Perhaps they'd been used to reading his other books--maybe Norwegian Wood, or Dance, Dance, Dance. Is What I Talk About When I Talk About Running a book that can only be read by runners? No. It's a book about routine, and determination, and being who you're meant to be. Classic motivational feel-good stuff. I've got no shame in saying that.
So, I now determine to be as honest as possible with you, readers: I want you to keep reading, but I want you to be happy, too. So do what you will, and enjoy it. And keep reading.
Peace and Good Thoughts to you. See you in a week.