Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Courtesy of former student Gautam, a copy of novelist Haruki Murakami's forthcoming memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running has come my way, and it is utterly delightful! The last two chapters are on triathlon, which Murakami has taken up recently also...

Here are some paragraphs that Triaspirational readers are likely to appreciate (I was very much reminded of a recent post by Spokane Al as well):
As I said, if I don’t do anything I tend to put on the pounds. My wife’s the opposite, since she can eat as much as she likes (she doesn’t eat a lot of them, but can never turn down anything sweet), never exercise, and still not put on any weight. She has no extra fat at all. Life just isn’t fair, is how it used to strike me. Some people can work their butts off and never get what they’re aiming for, while others can get it without any effort at all.

But when I think about it, having the kind of body that easily puts on weight was perhaps a blessing in disguise. In other words, if I don’t want to gain weight I have to work out hard every day, watch what I eat, and cut down on indulgences. Life can be tough, but as long as you don’t stint on the effort, your metabolism will greatly improve with these habits, and you’ll end up much healthier, not to mention stronger. To a certain extent, you can even slow down the effects of aging. But people who naturally keep the weight off no matter what don’t need to exercise or watch their diet in order to stay trim. There can’t be many of them who would go out of their way to take these troublesome measures when they don’t need to. Which is why, in many cases, their physical strength deteriorates as they age. If you don’t exercise, your muscles will naturally weaken, as will your bones. Some of my readers may be the kind of people who easily gain weight, but the only way to understand what’s really fair is to take a long-range view of things. For the reasons I give above, I think this physical nuisance should be viewed in a positive way, as a blessing. We should consider ourselves lucky that the red light is so clearly visible.

I think this viewpoint applies as well to the job of the novelist. Writers who are blessed with inborn talent can freely write novels no matter what they do – or don’t do. Like water from a natural spring, the sentences just well up, and with little or not effort these writers can complete a work. Occasionally you’ll find someone like that, but, unfortunately, that category wouldn’t include me. I haven’t spotted any springs nearby. I have to pound the rock with a chisel and dig out a deep hole before I can locate the source of creativity. To write a novel I have to drive myself hard physically and use a lot of time and effort. Every time I begin a new novel, I have to dredge out another new, deep hole. But as I’ve sustained this kind of life over many years, I’ve become quite efficient, both technically and physically, at opening a hole in the hard rock and locating a new water vein. So as soon as I notice one water source drying up, I can move on right away to another. If people who rely on a natural spring of talent suddenly find they’ve exhausted their only source, they’re in trouble.
There’s a good description of running an ultramarathon at Hokkaido--very metaphysical--and I must say that at times I really felt as though I was (were!) reading a book written by my alternate-universe future self, quite amazing:
Running and swimming I like to do anyway, even if I’m not training for a race. They’re a natural part of my daily routine, but bicycling isn’t. One reason I’m reluctant when it comes to bicycling is that a bike’s a kind of tool. You need a helmet, bike shoes, and all sorts of other accoutrements, and you have to maintain all the parts and equipment. I’m just not very good at taking care of tools. Plus, you have to find a safe course where you can pedal as fast as you want. It always seems like too much of a hassle.

The other factor is fear. To get to a decent bike path I have to ride through town, and the fear I feel when I weave in and out of traffic on my sports bike with its skinny tires and my bike shoes strapped tight in the straps is something you can’t understand unless you’ve gone through it. As I’ve gotten more experienced I’ve gotten used to it, or at least learned how to survive, but there have been many moments startling enough to put me in a cold sweat.
Strongly recommended!


Leah said...

Sounds great! Will definitely check it out.

Spokane Al said...

Yup - those of us who must constantly watch our weight are truly the lucky ones.

Of course living next to a fine, usually empty road to bike and run on is very nice as well.