Melancholic Moments with Murakami

22 May

bridge for murakmai article

by Rhea H. Boyden

In his memoir on running and writing ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’ Haruki Murakami writes the following in the first chapter: ‘Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.’ This is a mantra he uses to make the marathons he runs more tolerable, and indeed, enjoyable events.

I read his memoir about a year ago and about two weeks ago, looking for consolation and inspiration, I pulled it off my bookshelf and read it again. That one sentence lifted my spirits immensely: ‘Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.’ This thought has helped me rally my dejected spirits the past few weeks. I have also been rereading Murakami’s novels ‘Kafka on the Shore’ and ‘Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki.’

running

So why are my spirits low? Well, about a month ago, I was rejected by a man I was seeing who I liked a lot. His rejection of me makes no sense because although I hadn’t known him long, I had truly believed that what we were establishing was very good and that the feelings were mutual. I am hurt, but I am slowly accepting that I have no choice but to let him go. My chosen method for dealing with it and processing it all in order to move forward is to go on a Murakami reading binge and to run, swim and bike as often as possible in between. I have also been writing a lot. I feel too at the moment that I am being forced to bide my time and wait in several other areas of my life. I am waiting for others to make decisions about longer term projects, waiting for certain things to become clear. I am not the most patient person in the world, but right now I have no choice but to let things unfold at the pace life intends for them. I am not in a position to influence how smoothly certain things go at the moment. I can live in a fantasy world about how a love interest or a project that is dear to me may evolve and work out, but my ideal of how these things will work rarely aligns with reality. This is a simple fact of life, one that I sometimes have a hard time accepting. In his memoir Murakami writes the following  to which I very much relate:

‘But in real life things don’t go smoothly. At certain points in our lives, when we really need a clear-cut solution, the person who knocks at our door is, more likely than not, a messenger bearing bad news. It isn’t always the case, but from my experience I’d say the gloomy reports far outnumber the others. The messenger touches his hand to his cap and looks apologetic, but that does nothing to improve the content of the message. It isn’t the messenger’s fault. No good to blame him, no good to grab him by the collar and shake him. The messenger is just conscientiously doing the job his boss assigned him. And this boss? That would be none other than our old friend Reality.’

Clematis

So yes, I have been rudely forced to accept Reality in the past few weeks and spend time waiting in a Reality I am not entirely pleased with at the moment. I have never been a gardener by nature, but last week after eating a delicious ripe avocado, I went out into my beautiful garden in Dublin and dug a hole. With my bare hands I dug a deep hole in the ground next to the garden wall, under the blooming white and pink clematis. Into the hole I placed the avocado pit and I covered it up again. I will now have to wait patiently and see if it grows. I think of the avocado pit as a literal seed of hope that I can wait for amidst the other aspects of my life that are currently unclear. While I wait, I read. I am reading ‘Kafka on the Shore’ again. Is this the best choice of book when I am feeling rejected, lonely and like my life is in limbo? Probably not. It is full of melancholic and sad descriptions and it would probably cheer me up more to read something light-hearted and comical, but then I would nearly rather feel the emotions more deeply; rather acknowledge them and really make them my own. In this way, perhaps, answers will come to me faster and more will be revealed and resolved. I read sentences such as this aloud to myself from ‘Kafka on the Shore’: ‘That blank silent interval leaves you sad, so terribly sad, like fog from the sea, that blankness wends its way into your heart and remains there a long, long time. Finally it’s a part of you.’ Tears of frustration and loneliness roll down my face and I put the book down and walk over to the window and gaze out at the garden. ‘Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional,’ I say aloud to myself. I then lace up my running shoes and head out for a run.

kafka

Murakami writes lengthy novels and runs marathons and triathlons. I only bike, run and swim short distances and write essays and articles but still I relate to many aspects of his lifestyle. He says in his memoir that when he is upset by something he runs a little further than he normally would. He says: ‘By running longer it’s like I can physically exhaust that portion of my discontent.’ I have been doing the same these past weeks: running and swimming further than I normally would in order to channel my confusion, exhaust my malaise and find clarity. When I am running, a lot becomes clear to me. Ideas I have been chasing in a maze finally find the exit as I run along the beautiful river, past weeping willows, copper birch trees and sycamores. I spot the Grey Heron in the river as I run and a smile breaks across my face. I am very lucky to have this lovely river walk on my doorstep in Dublin.

Weeping willow - milltown

After my run, I head back to my books. I have filled these books with fluorescent page markers. I hold the page markers in my hand like a security blanket. There is something very comforting about being able to fill books with colourful page markers. It has become such a habit now that I simply can’t read a book without having them close by. I am sure the pages I mark will be relevant at some point in some review. It brings order and harmony to my world. I am a fluorescent page marker addict.

I pick up Murakami’s ‘Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki’ which I read last summer and return to the pages I have marked. I am reminded of the main theme of this story and I realise how me being sad over being rejected by a man I was seeing for a few weeks is nothing compared to the pain of rejection the main character goes through in this story. He was one of a group of five best friends (who he had known for years) and they one day, out of the blue, tell him they want nothing more to do with him and give him zero explanation for this. The opening sentence of the novel is: ‘From July of his sophomore year in college until the following January, all Tsukuru Tazaki could think about was dying.’ I compare my own feelings to his. I may be a little sad and confused and am being forced to wait for answers but I certainly don’t feel like dying. I love my life and depression is not even the word I would use to describe my current state, but rather a feeling of wistful and melancholic regret that I am sure I will move beyond fairly soon.

tsukuru

When I am feeling a little blue I write. By writing I make sense of the world again. I also read a lot. I get lost in rereading ‘Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki’ and I flick open a page where I not only have a pink page marker, I have also underlined the following sentence: ‘Unspoken feelings were as heavy and lonely as the ancient glacier that had carved out the deep lake.’ I don’t remember why I underlined that sentence because I generally avoid writing in books, but I know that I do not, as a rule, leave my feelings unspoken. I have to express how I feel in order to create order in my emotional life. I may not always get the timely response I would like and the response I do get more often than not ends the Fantasy I had harboured and lands me back in a sometimes unforgiving Reality, but then what other choice do I have? This is who I am and this is my current Reality whether I like it or not. I am looking forward to what the next few months will reveal in my life and I am hopeful for new and exciting revelations. I am also keeping an eye on the corner of the garden to see if the avocado I planted sprouts. If it does, (and I am no gardener) I will take it as a positive omen going forward.

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