I don’t recall where I heard about Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I was either researching running or researching the role of habit in decision making. I know had just finished Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, but he doesn’t mention Murakami’s book about the running habit. Perhaps it was just time to meet Haruki Murakami through his essay and fiction.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running consists of diary like description of how Murakami lives, particularly his relationship to running and to writing. His reflections on how to live the creative life provide a view into the process of building the habit of art in an examined life. If running is what you do or if art is what you do, then there’s no need to approach making art or running. Lace up your shoes, grab your camera, or start typing. What you produce is just the result of living, not a product.
It makes sense that making a habit of art would both be freeing and an aid to stress-free work. We now know the brain relies on predetermined sequences of behavior to free up resources for activies that really require executive supervision. There’s no need to think about most of what we do. Coming from different directions, both Duhigg and Murakami make the point that the living the examined life must include the tracking and adjustment of habit. The feedback provided by uncovering our rituals allows those rituals to be adjusted in ways that move us toward our chosen goals. Being present may be recording what we eat in a food diary to be aware of caloric intake and nutrution or or it may be the creation of the time, space and environment to create.
Having spent some pleasant time learning from Murakami how improve my creative output, I felt I owed him a read of one of his books in return. I remembered hearing about his novel 1Q84 so I took advantage of our public library’s ever improving ebook system to read it on my Kindle. Wanting more, I read his latest: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.
Murakami’s novels are often described as dreamlike as they freely mix reality with fantastic elements. I don’t think the comparison to dreams is quite right, since dreams are generally without logic, reflecting internal states not bound by the structure of experience. What Murakami does is blur the boundry between the world “out there” and the feelings and fantasy we have “in here”, hypothetical states percieved in the mind only. In both books, Murakami plays with the uncertainty we have regarding the feelings and perceptions of others, an uncertainty that multiplies the possibilities of what may be true. These other people “out there” each have their own world of perception inside their heads. Those worlds are all “in there”, inaccessible to any one else unless they provide clues through action or words.
Fiction of this quality provides a guided experience into other ways to see, trading our thoughts for those of the author, presented in the guise of story and fictional character. Our own lives are necessarily limited in the world as it is “out there”, limiting the experience to shape how we see “in here”. Murakami allows us to journey to worlds that might be. Upon my return from these worlds, I’m open to a broader range of possibility, allowing more meaning in my own perception of the world.