31 May 2009

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

I have a friend who blogs about her practice of living inspired. I admire her constant search for inspiration and how she continues to find inspiration in unexpected places, filling her life with wonder and new possibilities.

Last week, an email exchange with her reminded me of her valued search for inspiration and I began to think about what inspires me. If you're not used to thinking in those terms, it's a little hard to get there. It takes some warming up and I drew a blank.

Spivak inspired me last week although it's still a swirling mass of challenging and intriguing ideas around my head. Did baking an amazing zucchini orange marmalade bread from the Tartine cookbook count as inspiration? Maybe.

But today, I finally finished What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (Vintage International) by Haruki Murakami and when I had read the last page and closed the book with satisfaction, I said emphatically, "Aha! This book inspires me!"

It's interesting, you know. From reading the book, I didn't feel like I should pick up running or even write a book. Murakami wrote this book as a memoir of sorts, a quest to find out for himself what his personal standard has been as a runner and writer. He chronicles how he first started writing, first started running, and how those two shaped each other and his life's perspective.

Towards the end of the book, Murakami writes about becoming a better swimmer for triathlon competitions. He finds a coach who strips his form down and teaches him one thing at a time. At first, it is "awful and awkward" and he can't understand how learning to swim (for ex.) flat as a board without rotation is going to help him. Next, his coach introduces rotating his left shoulder only and makes him swim up and down the pool doing only that. And so on ad tedium until one day, everything clicks. Every part of his body is moving as it should. His old habits have been broken, his old form is no more, a new form has emerged, a synchronization of all the new parts. Revelation!

Murakami's experience reminded me of learning to play the piano. I started piano lessons when I was four years old and ended in college. For a time in my youth, my parents were convinced that I was going to become a concert pianist and I would practice for 2-3 hours and could only leave the bench to go to the bathroom. Since then, my fingers have become stiff and I am nowhere near the kind of fluid alacrity I had on the keys. But I remember the drills and the experience of revelation. I remember the scales, the arpeggios, my worn out Czerny book. I remember how good it felt when I conquered a scale and my fingers flew over something that had troubled me a few weeks before. I remember how my teacher and I would break down a piece and how I would practice each trill, each measure over and over again until it was flawless and everything came together. I had no false illusions about becoming a world class pianist overnight. I knew it would take hours of practice, dedication, and years of devotion.

Similarly, I feel the same way about printing and book arts. I have no illusions of becoming a letterpress printer over night. Slowly but surely through my classes, I have gained a vocabulary and dexterity with my movements that have helped me become more and more proficient at designing, setting type, and printing correctly.

Why is it then that I never applied this to the art of writing? Maybe it's because it's so foreign (unprofitable, impractical?) and language around it so pretentious and lofty. How many times have I read or heard, "writing cannot be taught"? The idea is that talent for writing is innate and either you have it or you don't. Everyday, I sit in front of my laptop or notebook (or worse, think about sitting in front of my laptop or notebook) and wonder about how to do what I want so much to do i.e. write the damn novel. The writer's life feels shrouded in mystery and fantasy, an inacessible dream. Or in other word(s), bullshit.

Murakami's memoir shows me that writing, like any other craft and skill, is about the process of doing things over and over again, mastering each small thing, taking each step towards the finish line, getting a coach, doing whatever it is to keep on the journey of living the way your heart takes you and learning to do it with the pain of Reality. And when you finish something, you get up and do it again or find something new to challenge yourself, to keep learning about yourself, to keep being healthy. The learning and growing never ends.

After reading the book, I didn't feel like I should pick up running or even write a book. I felt and thought these things:
1. I need to do writing drills like I used to do piano drills.
2. I need training: a good coach, exercises, a space and structure for practice.
3. When I sit down to write, I cannot sit down to write a book. I sit down to write a word, a sentence, and to grow and learn.


Thanks mom and dad for all those years of piano lessons. And thanks Liz for the inspiration to live inspired.

27 May 2009

Spivak, the Subaltern, feminism

One of the perks of having no job to report to each day is that I get to attend seminars on UCI's campus. UCI gets an impressive array of world class scholars to visit, especially when it comes to deconstruction and critical theory (like Derrida).

J. invited me to attend a two day seminar by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, a scholar whom I had never heard of (which only speaks of my ignorance in such things). I declined the first day's lectures. J. came back raving, muttering for hours about feminism and Hannah Arendt and reproductive heteronormativity and the notion of honorary male in post-menopausal women. I was intrigued enough to attend the second day.

To be honest, for the first half of the 3 hour session, I had no idea what her work was supposed to be doing. It was obvious that she was a powerhouse of a scholar. She was cross-referencing philosophy, literature, and anthropology and translating from original texts in multiple languages (french, bengali, german) while she taught about her feminist theories. It was so esoteric with only slight glimmers of understanding and practical application that I began to realize there were people such as her who lived on a completely higher level of thinking and the only way the masses got it was to have it trickled down bit by bit by people who kept breaking it down into dumber more understandable morsels.

By the 2nd half however, things started coming together. It's much too convoluted in my head to even try to explain "what" it was that was coming together for me but I left inspired and challenged by her passion for feminism, her intellectual rigor, her discipline and activist energy. I realized that what she was trying to do with all of her work, her deconstructive readings of literature and philosophy, her reflections on contemporary society, was to show how there was no legitimate understanding or place for the role of "woman" and the closest thing we had to a place and/or recognition was the status of honorary male given to post-menopausal, aging women who were post-reproductive (thus unable to be identified as woman by the ability to reproduce) and intelligent enough to command respect in the sphere of men. Or something like that.

Afterwards, we shook hands. J. and her had a little tete-a-tete over tea sandwiches. After all that, it was nice to see her as a normal human being who talked about her past lover and needed to run off to the gym because she hadn't worked out in 10 days.

A stimulating afternoon even if I only understood like 2% of what I heard. A couple things became clearer. Whatever my life work is, it will have to do with women. And it is becoming clearer that I must continue to be in places that nurture ideas and consider them a necessary part of being.

26 May 2009

Doing it for your soul

J. and I had a weekend guest. His best friend D. from college was in town shooting weddings (he's a professional photographer) and stayed with us. Thus the popcorn popping, the Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demon watching, their late night bike riding shenanigans.

D. said two things I really liked.

He said, "I haven't ridden a bike since middle school. Riding a bike last night was like being born again. Seriously!"

The second thing he said had to do with his fiance, S., a filmmaker. I asked him if one day, S. wanted to be a big time director like Ron Howard or do indie flicks. D. shrugged and said, "Neither actually. I don't think she cares where she ends up. She just know she has to keep making films for her soul. She needs to tell the stories in her own voice. She's doing it for her soul."

Doing it for your soul. What do you do for your soul? What do I do for my soul? What a good question to ask and live by.

A month ago, I heard a lovely old Holocaust survivor talk about her thoughts on life and dying on NPR. As a widowed pyschotherapist in her 80s, she continues to date and is unafraid of anything life has to bring her, including being widowed again.

She told the interviewer, "Relationships with others are important but the most important relationship is with your self. That is the longest relationship you will ever have and will continue regardless of whether others live or die."

She honored her relationship with her self and was able to be unafraid to truly live or die.

I'm going to ask myself what I need to do for my soul today and then do it.


24 May 2009


I popped corn for the first time in a pot on the stove. I never thought about how people popped their corn before microwaves! Strange and disturbing how you can be ignorant of a simple manual procedure because of the commercially manufactured product.

I used this recipe by Rachel Ray for delicious kettle corn. We ate a whole bucket of this stuff while watching The Da Vinci Code last night. And then we ate some for breakfast and a late afternoon snack. Addicting.

21 May 2009

The Grant Study on Living Well


“What we do,” Vaillant concluded, “affects how we feel just as much as how we feel affects what we do.”

Domestic Urges

banana bread

bake more cookies
with butter

thighs in red wine
buy sweet onions
in bulk

eat the neighbor's currant scones
drink iced black mint tea
and watch the hubby get bigger

06 May 2009

My new favorite sentence(s)

From this article on Paris in the April 2009 Conde Nast Traveler:

"The firmament looked good enough to eat. I wished for a knife and fork to plunge into the cool candy planets, the vast blueberry orbs."

dance dance dance

I watch this in the morning for a pick me up.

04 May 2009

Music, a poem my friend B. sent me


by Anne Porter

When I was a child
I once sat sobbing on the floor
Beside my mother's piano
As she played and sang
For there was in her singing
A shy yet solemn glory
My smallness could not hold

And when I was asked
Why I was crying
I had no words for it
I only shook my head
And went on crying

Why is it that music
At its most beautiful
Opens a wound in us
An ache a desolation
Deep as a homesickness
For some far-off
And half-forgotten country

I've never understood
Why this is so

Bur there's an ancient legend
From the other side of the world
That gives away the secret
Of this mysterious sorrow

For centuries on centuries
We have been wandering
But we were made for Paradise
As deer for the forest

And when music comes to us
With its heavenly beauty
It brings us desolation
For when we hear it
We half remember
That lost native country

We dimly remember the fields
Their fragrant windswept clover
The birdsongs in the orchards
The wild white violets in the moss
By the transparent streams

And shining at the heart of it
Is the longed-for beauty
Of the One who waits for us
Who will always wait for us
In those radiant meadows

Yet also came to live with us
And wanders where we wander.

Wedding Song

I'm singing this song on the beach in Hawaii for my friend's wedding in June.
(This was the only decent recording I could find on the internet that was up for embedding. The unofficial video is eh.)