Wednesday, May 09, 2012


The department I last worked at gave me Haruki Murakami's Wind-up Bird Chronicle as a going away present when I left. I read it over the Easter break and enjoyed it so much that I've moved straight on to his memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which I've been meaning to read for a while. After all, it's a got a chapter called "Most of What I Know About Writing Fiction I Learned by Running Every Day", and I've long been arguing that becoming a better writer is like becoming a better runner. More specifically, most of what I know about blogging I learned by jogging every other day.

Murakami has an uncanny ability to write about familiar things in ways that make you see them again for the first time. It may not work out of context, but I was struck by this passage in particular:

When I first started running I couldn't run long distances. I could only run for about twenty minutes, or thirty. That much left me panting, my heart pounding, my legs shaky. It was to be expected, though, since I hadn't really exercised for a long time. At first, I was also a little embarrassed to have people in the neighborhood see me running—the same feeling I had upon first seeing the title novelist put in parentheses after my name. But as I continued to run, my body started to accept the fact that it was running, and I could gradually increase the distance. I was starting to acquire a runner's form, my breathing became more regular, and my pulse settled down. The main thing was not the speed or distance so much as running every day. (39)

Replace "novelist" with "scholar" and readers of this blog should be on the same page. It is interesting how "embarrassing" it can in a "neighborhood" of busy academics to begin to insist that you really are a scholar and that your writing actually gets done by sitting down and working at it every day. Especially if, at the beginning, the work leaves you panting and shaky.

But if you stick with it, working, say, thirty minutes a day in the beginning until you get into shape, you'll find that your discipline is quite normal. There are many other people in the neighborhood who write on a daily basis too, and nobody really noticed those early attempts—certainly, no one remembers it now that you're in shape. Murakami notes how dramatically his body has changed since he ran his first marathon.

When you compare me in these photos to the way I am now, they make me look like a completely different person. After years of running, my musculature has changed completely. But even then I could feel physical changes happening every day, which made me really happy. I felt like even though I was past thirty, there were still more possibilities left for me and my body. The more I ran, the more my physical potential was revealed. (41)

I noticed a similar effect especially during the period when I was swimming every day: "...physical changes happening every day, which made me really happy." Like I say, the same goes for someone who is writing prose every day. Here you can just replace "running" with "writing", "body" with "mind", and "physical" with "mental".

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