Haruki Murakami’s fine little memoir is based around the theme of running. It is a great book for amateur, crappy runners like me. In the course of telling us about marathons in Athens and New York and Boston he stops to write about his craft and his life. Running casts great light on this.
With regards the creativity at the heart of the writing task, he writes that it involves tapping into a darker part of his psyche. I thought this was very interesting. One of the great novelists of our day debunking the idea that creativity is some kind of freeing, liberating act that comes naturally, as against a dangerously internal slog!
Basically I agree with the view that writing novels is an unhealthy type of work. When we set off to write a novel, when we use writing to create a story, like it or not a kind of toxin that lies deep down in humanity rises to the surface. All writers have to come face-to-face with this toxin and, aware of the danger involved, discover a way to deal with it, because otherwise no creative activity in the the real sense can take place.
One of the most important aspects of character for writing he considers most important is endurance. Once again, a lot like running, writing seriously lacks the glamour of the popular imagination:
… 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 for a 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, two years. You can compare it to breathing. If concentration is the process of just holding your breath, endurance is the art of slowly, quietly breathing at the same time you’re storing air in your lungs. Unless you can find a balance between both, it’ll be difficult to write novels professionally over a long time. Continuing to breathe while you hold your breath.
I am not a serious runner (or writer) although I love to do both. I remember my friend Nelly once bemoaning the stupidity of running. At the time I had no answer for him to explain my compulsive desire to run places I have already been for no good reason. Now, thanks to Murakami, I do.
Whether it’s good for anything or not, cool or totally uncool, in the final analysis what’s most important is what you can’t see but can feel in your heart. 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.
Which means running is a lot like life. And although Murakami is no Christian, he ends the book on a note that harmonises well with St. Paul’s constant assertion that faith is a race to be run. He writes of his desire to run but it is almost (not quite) a description of discipleship:
My time, the rank I attain, my outward appearance – all of these are secondary. For a runner like me, what’s really important is reaching the goal I set myself, under my own power. I give it everything I have, endure what needs enduring, and am able, in my own way, to be satisfied. From out of the failures and joys I always try to come away having grasped a concrete lesson… And I hope that, over time, as one race follows another, in the end I’ll reach a place I’m content with. Or maybe just catch a glimpse of it. (Yes, that’s a more appropriate way of putting it.)
Your Correspondent, Never plays entirely fair.