I've always loved Haruki Murakami. I share his tastes in music — Miles Davis, the Rolling Stones — and I'm easily taken in by his smoky bars, rainy nights, noir pacing, puzzling plot twists, and spare, reserved prose. His books are filled with cool, crisply imagined situations that are eerily layered with shadows and mystery, and that shift subtly between reality and surreality, between the natural and the supernatural. Recently, it was revealed that he is a runner, like me, when he released a book of ruminations on running and its effects on his life and writing. It's called What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, and it is easily in my personal tops of the pops for 2008.There was something about his writing that struck a deep chord with me, but the nature of it was not revealed until he described a specific moment of "passing through" during an ultra-marathon. People talk about "hitting the wall," but, in my experience, running is about hitting many walls, and somehow emerging on the other side.
… Around the 47th mile I felt like I'd passed through something. That's what it felt like. Passed through is the only way I can express it. Like my body has passed clean through a stone wall. At what exact point I felt like I'd made it through, I can't recall, but suddenly I noticed I was on the other side. I don't know about the logic or the process or the method involved — I was simply convinced of the reality that I'd passed through.
Once I read that, I started to remember other moments in Murakami books, moments that all of a sudden seemed to spring from his running experience. For instance, there's a scene in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle when Boku descends into a well to try to pass through its stone wall to find his missing wife, Kumiko, in a room on the other side of the wall:
I try to separate from myself … I try to get out of the clumsy flesh of mine, which is crouching here in the dark. Now I am nothing but a vacant house, an abandoned well. I try to go outside, to change vehicles, to leap from one reality to another that moves at a different speed. Now a single wall is the only thing separating me from the strange room. I ought to be able to pass through that wall. I should be able to do that with my own strength and with the power of deep darkness in here.
Later, he breaks through.
All of a sudden, I was asleep, as if I had been walking down a corridor with nothing particular on my mind when, without warning, I was dragged into an unknown room. How long this thick, mudlike stupor enveloped me I had no idea. It couldn't have been very long. It might have been just a moment. But when some kind of presence brought me back to consciousness, I knew I was in another darkness.
That sense of being changed "without warning" is so recognizable; I feel like I've been on long runs in which I'm transported suddenly, through time, and dropped somewhere else. And the part about "another darkness" reminded me of After Dark, when Eri Asai has somehow passed from an actual bed to a bed on a TV screen that faces the actual bed, a similar situation in which the rules were somehow totally different:
In the bed in that other world, Eri continues sleeping soundly, as she did when she was in this room — just as beautifully, just as deeply. She is not aware that some hand has carried her (or perhaps we should say her body) into the TV screen. The blinding glare of the ceiling's fluorescent lamps does not penetrate to the bottom of the sea trench in which she sleeps.
All of these make more sense now. It's all about breaking through, about transcending something that is both physical and mental, even spiritual. I also loved Murakami's running mantra: "I'm not a human. I'm a piece of machinery. I don't need to feel a thing. Just forge on ahead." It reminded me of my own mantra, which is the final verse of Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues:
Well, if they freed me from this prison,If that railroad train was mine,I bet I'd move it on a little,Farther down the line,Far from Folsom Prison,That's where I want to stay,And I'd let that lonesome whistle,Blow my Blues away.
Running: It's all about pain, machines, escape, and breaking through walls.