Sunday, May 09, 2010

What JM Talks About When She Talks About Running

I finally finished reading Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I've been meaning to write about what I thought about the book, along with other thoughts on running/writing and a confluence of events, including some really good weeks at work.

The book is classified as a memoir, but it is equal parts training log, travelogue and writers' manual. Or could be classified under the broad category of Books I Read At Exactly The Right Time. I picked this up a few years back at City Lights in San Francisco, when I first picked up running. I really don't know what my impetus was to start running at that particular time. It seems like a fairly dumb sport to pick up in your 30s when you're overweight and not particularly fast. But for as long as I could remember, I had "run a marathon" on my list of New Year's Resolutions, even though I never actually, you know, RAN. Pipe dreams. I had tried biking because YG was into it, but I'm too competitive and it bothered me to know that I would never be as good at biking as he was/is. I guess I needed something for myself, and I had a few friends that had success with Couch to 5K, so there you go. As with most things in my life, I kind of fell into it.

And now a few years later, I feel pretty confident about my half marathon training and eventual marathon dreams. So off the bookshelf, Murakami's book came. I had no idea he ran the same routes I do. Right out of the gate, I was hooked:

"It doesn't matter what field you're talking about -- beating somebody else just doesn't do it for me. I'm much more interested in whether I reach the goals that I set for myself, so in this sense long-distance running is the perfect fit for a mindset like mine. ...In long-distance running the only opponenet you have to beat is yourself, the way you used to be."

As I've mentioned before, I'm slow. Really slow. On a good day, I can run between a 10:30 and 11 minute mile. On a regular day, that's more like 11:30/12 minutes. I'm not going to win any races, and most of the time, I'm near the back of the pack. I've had to deal with snide remarks by "real" runners who think that us slowpokes should stay out of the way, but it doesn't matter. I have my own goals, and most of the time, I am able to meet them. I follow my training plans and I feel good. I KNOW that I will finish this half marathon, and I know that I will run a marathon someday.

I was out running on Friday and I wiped out good. I felt my sneaker hit the lip of the sidewalk, and I knew I was going to tumble. In slow motion, I saw this sweaty Gatorade bottle I was holding go hurtling in the air, and I heard myself yell before I hit the ground. My initial reaction was fear that I had broken something, only fueled by a bunch of people who got out of their cars and came over to make sure that I was okay. I rolled over and checked my knees and palms (both bleeding) and let out this stream of "motherfuckerjesusgoddamitshitfucker." Next reaction was pure RAGE. Falling was NOT in my plan, and I knew it was going to screw with my time. I killed the last mile, but was still irritated. And three days later, am still sore AND irritated.

Murakami relates this to writing this way:

"In the novelist's profession, as far as I'm concerned, there's no such thing as winning or losing. . . . What's crucial is whether your writing attains the standards you've set for yourself. Failure to reach that bar is not something you can easily explain away. When it comes to other people, you can always come up with a reasonable explanation, but you can't fool yourself."

Ouch. So here's where it gets difficult. I'm not sure I've set any standards for myself. I said that I was going to be a writer when I was 10, and that's the only thing I really ever wanted/want to be. But I'm not even sure what that means anymore. Because that was my only goal, I never really developed any other career plans and just fell into what I'm doing. It's okay, but I always feel like I am displaced and the only reason I do well is because I'm competitive, not because I really want to excel.

I have to figure out what success writing is going to mean for me. I don't think I'm going to be "discovered." 1. Because that rarely happens. And 2. Because one would need to be writing fairly regularly or writing SOMETHING for that something to be discovered. When I'm not taking classes, my writing is very disjointed and without purpose. I would present this entry as Exhibit A. I have the time to write now on Fridays and just like I came up with a training plan for the half and future marathons, there needs to be some sort of defined goal for me to work toward. My writing teachers have all said I should pursue this, and even the random creativity workshop that I took at work ended with an awkward heart-to-heart with the hippie teachers who also noted that I "have something and should pursue it." Not about you, about me, blah blah blah.

"If you're going to while away the years, it's far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that's the essence of running, and a metaphor for life -- and for me, for writing as well."

Amen? Let's see where I can take this.

I like running because all I need to do is concentrate on running. Nothing else. One foot in front of the other. I had described that feeling to a friend from church and described myself as being in love with the blankness of my mind while running. I thought I had come up with a particularly brilliant observation, a way to get away from my near-constant inner monlogue, but Murakami uses the adjective "blank" throughout his book. I guess everyone feels this way. I listen to music most of the time, but I don't really hear it. I just concentrate on moving, and (most of the time), not falling.

"Maybe it's some pointless act...but at least the effort you put into it remains. 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, something you have to perform seemingly ineffecient acts. But activities that appear fruitless don't necessarily end up so."

I guess we'll see.

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