‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running': A Review & Update On the Dog Butt Grooming Market

Dear Person who can read and wants to read what I write,

Regarding my writing lately, or the lack thereof as the case may be: I'm still writing as much as I ever have. I'm just doing it in invisible computer ink.  Also, the frequency of my posts may have been altered slightly because I've been burying my nose deep into master novelist Haruki Murakami's book, 'What I Talk About When I Talk About Running'.

Yeah, this book has been in the discount bin since 2010 but I couldn't pass it up when I saw it at the everything-costs-a-dollar store.  And even then, I felt guilty about buying it since it wasn't on final close out. But that's just cheap ol' me talking, the same ol' chick that buys bread for PB&J's at a discount, day old bread store that other folks think is nothing more than a place you buy snacks to feed homeless ducks. 

However, there's so much to learn in this novel that I do believe it's worth full price for the advice.  I say this with other creative runner types in mind because, according to Murakami, every insight he ever had about his art of writing wasn’t discovered in a stuffy office inbox under the subject line: 'Increase your pleasure by getting a bigger joy stick'.  Instead, it was on pavement or dirt roads — tiny beads of sweat forming on his upper lip and his toes kicking up dirt toward the sun, flinging worms around like he was a running Gardner-Zilla and they were merely tiny, screaming, Japanese worms.

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Try as he might, he knew the short lived excitement his day job promised could never hold a candle to the bliss of worm flinging with his Mizunos.  To Murakami, the art of endurance running is a profound parallel to the meaning of life.  He discovered his total existence had been right on his feet all these years cleverly disguised as a dingy mesh toe box with a waving logo on the side.

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What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Japanese cover via haruki-murakami.com

“Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life – and for me, writing as well,” he writes.

And man, do I love his writing as much as I love writing. Personally I don't understand why everyone doesn't write. It's truly the best therapy on the planet and the cheapest, too. If I couldn't write, I don't know what I'd do. Probably become a serial Hoka toe box cutter or a dog butt shaver. I'm really not qualified for anything else.

Now that I think about it, I'm not qualified to write either. And I've heard the dog butt shaving market is a tough nut to crack.

I was trying to calm myself through this realization that a job grooming dog butts is not feasible by deep breathing and slamming shots of Tailwind. Truly I was. But for an obsessive-compulsive female prone to having epic tizzies over minor issues, like whether or not I really did wipe my legs clean with a baby wipe after receiving a splash of pee behind the tree, the fact that I have a 12 hour trail race looming on the horizon makes calm a place I will likely not see any time soon.  So that's why reading Murakami's novel is fitting for the occasion and most soothing for my episodic bouts of OCD-ness.

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I find “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” to be a calming collection of short autobiographical essays intertwined to focus on Murakami's identity as an endurance runner. The book covers Murakami’s views on most everything including great literature, the aging process, nature and the meaning of life. 

So many times while reading this book I've wanted to skip ahead to the ending to read what he concludes as the ultimate meaning of life.

Would he say it's love?

Would he says it's following your bliss, no matter how uncomfortable that might make the world around you?

Would he tell me the meaning of life can only be found in being true to yourself even when it's utterly and profoundly painful and frightening?

I didn't know, but frankly it wouldn't have surprised me if he said the meaning of life is a good stiff drink and a smoke after a roll in the hay with someone who still has all their teeth.  'Cause those would be wise words to live by.

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And while I didn't skip ahead to spoil a good storyline, I did note Murakami's personality quirks, personal philosophy and outlook on life that launched his fame as a renowned novelist and accomplished endurance runner.

As an OCD ultra runner who streaks out 10-15 miles on average every day, I identify with Murakami's work ethic and tenacity permeating throughout the entire book. Color me jealous but I'd also love to have adoring fans and be described by those that know me as accomplished. Is that too much to ask? I'm thinking I should make some changes that will hopefully bring out the more professional writer that I am hoping lives somewhere inside me. (That would explain the extra couple pounds.) That or it's just taper week and the extra PB&J on thrift store white bread is catching up with me.

If I want to become as talented a writer as Murakami, I think first of all, I will need to go buy one of those chains that holds my glasses around my neck. That's reeks of professional writer-ism. I'm sure that once I have that dandy little item, the beautiful words and dazzling analogies will flow from my brain like Capri Sun through my son's nose when our chocolate lab farts. (Ok. That was really bad. You can see my need for the chain.)

Not only is Murakami a writer unmatched in the witty category, he is also smart funny and that's the best kind. He uses words that cause me to tilt my head sideways like our dog does when I make a fake doggie crying sounds.  He also finds the hilarity in things that I had no clue were even supposed to be funny. Although Murakami isn't as vain as I am and prefers not to plaster his picture all over his literary websites, I'm certain he must be gorgeous and rich and often described by other adoring fans as witty and clever.

In essence, he makes me want to be a better writer. Failing that, he also makes me want to eat my weight in sushi rice and California rolls while washing them down with unladylike portions of Sake.

But of course, Murakami wasn't always such a literary genius and famous endurance runner.  In his humble beginnings way before his rise to literary stardom, Murakami says he led a not so glamorous life as a manager of a hole-in-the-wall jazz bar, which he established after earning a college degree despite the warnings of financial disaster from his family and friends.

For a little over ten years, Murakami worked morning 'til night, barely keeping the bar in business until the fateful and momentous event “around one thirty in the afternoon of April 1, 1978.”  He was merely basking in the sunlight while watching a baseball game and then a sudden comical thought bolted out of his brain that changed the course of his life events forever: “You know what? I could try writing a novel.”

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So when he arrived home he planted his behind on his desk chair and jotted a working novel onto scratch paper in a painstaking process involving approximately 300 cigarettes and just as many sleepless nights. Good thing is the novel secured popular reviews from readers, and soon enough, allowed him to leave the bar life behind to become a full-time literary genius and novelist who happens to enjoy endurance running like, every day.

Sure, some people think running every single day is a sign of crazy and maybe that is the case since I do it too and really am certifiable. Completely batty. At least that's what it says on my permanent record.  Personally, I don't normally have a problem with my own nuttiness and so long as others around me don't mind my madness, I figure I'm in a pretty sweet position. It's not everyday someone can deal with their mental illness in such a mentally healthy way.

Way to go, me.

So inspired Murakami-style this morning, I did a stupid, stupid thing. I sat down at my computer at 5:00 a.m. with a cup of coffee and my Coke bottle glasses and started to read his book again on the iPad.  I guess for some odd reason, I felt I needed a boost to my perpetually deflated ego and was somehow sure that by reading Murakami's work, I would somehow feel better about my own ability to write.

That so did not happen.

I soon was reminded that the literary market is positively overflowing with talented, hysterically funny writers. I also discovered that it's hard to get coffee out of an iPad.

And for an OCD mother runner like me, there are no accidents and no crayon color in 'pissed' that depicts my facial tone after knocking over a giant coffee cup on an expensive electronic that isn't symbolic of something deep and meaningful that the universe is trying to tell me.

The universe and I are tight, so it’s always trying to tell me something.

So after spending no less than 51 minutes cleaning up coffee all the while telling myself what's wrong with me, I finished reading about how Murakami sold his jazz bar and pursued his new career, which led him to becoming a renowned best seller with numerous literary prizes under his belt.  Despite Murakami's whirlwind stardom I realize that taking a similar leap of faith for anyone else (like me) doesn't always lead to success.  And I cannot figure out where exactly Murakami's motivation to move blindly into a strange new career and plunge into unexplored territory as a professional endurance runner came from.  And how did he not succumb to doubt and fear and fulfill his family and friends’ worst expectations?  I'm sure he lost friends over his crazy decision.

I love Murakami's courage in accepting his deletion from certain friends’ lists, but I don't see how he didn't feel the need to have a bunch of people around him who love him or at least fake love him when he needed them to.  I need that all the time 'cause I'm needy like that. I like to laugh, to chit chat and to eat food in restaurants with as many people as possible as often as is possible.

The truth is my family needs me to have friends because I am a handful. There is way too much of my crazy for just one or two persons. My family just needs the assistance.

But in Murakami's case, this is where the quiet motivation and focus of endurance running comes in.

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Murakami explains later in the book:

“Writing novels and running full marathons are very much alike. Basically a writer has a quiet, inner motivation, and doesn’t seek validation in the outwardly visible.”

“What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” shows Murakami was never concerned with his competitors or judging his life by the standards of other folks.  “For some reason I never cared all that much whether I beat others or lost to them,” he reflects.

Murakami never missed his former friends that never once asked him if he'd like to go in halfsies on a Powerball ticket. Evidently they all wanted to be stupid rich and then have parties where they showed slides of him eating out of a trash can.

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So just like the 'crazy' endurance runner he is, Murakami set standards for himself by himself and didn't bother wasting energy on impressing old friends and critics. And just like the seasoned endurance runner he is, he focuses only on the next few feet stretched out in front of him, conserving energy and moving forward one mile or one step at a time.

From beginning to end, the book follows the process of changing oneself from docile door mat to butt-kicking superhero.  I love a good underdog transformation to butt-kicking superhero story as I'm hoping to morph into a superhero myself. 

Think about it. No one laughs at a superhero. No way. When's the last time you heard anyone poke fun at the Green Lantern or The Incredible Hulk? It simply does not happen. On the contrary, it's their very greenness and their notable incredibleness that makes you respect them.

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And after reading Murakami's semi-autobiographical memoir I figure it can't be that hard to make yourself a superhero.  All you need is some sort of personality disorder to start with and then you simply fall into a puddle of nuclear waste, thereby making said personality disorder the very basis for your super powers.

Or maybe the super powers are intrinsic and only evident when the superhero does some serious goal setting?

“Most ordinary runners are motivated by an individual goal, more than anything: namely, a time they want to beat. Even if he doesn’t break the time he’d hoped for, as long as he has the sense of satisfaction at having done his very best — and possibly, having made some significant discovery about himself in the process — then that in itself is an accomplishment, a positive feeling he can carry over to the next race,” Murakami writes.

With every idea he plants in my mind, I feel myself growing tougher and tougher. By the time I put on my Hoka moon boots with the crazy high platform and Orange Mud hydration vest with stun gun pocket holder and Mountain Dew can breast plates, I will be approaching ten feet tall and bullet proof.

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I've had this superhero getup for some time before reading this book.  However, I never knew what the main component was one could use to quickly pump oneself up to be a big, bad superhero.  If I had to guess before I'd have said it likely involved some Tito's Handmade Vodka and something to do with testosterone.

But I now know from Murakami that it is simply the man's perspective that can launch his career forward. Again, this is where the metaphor between running and writing comes to fruition: He writes for himself and not for others. As long as he can surpass his own standards and raise the bar for himself on his own terms, Murakami will continue to run farther and write deeper.

I dig this philosophy.  I feel like everyone should have a philosophy. I also think it's important to throw your philosophy around whenever the opportunity presents itself and it's always a good thing to use the word philosophy at parties. It makes you sound intelligent.

So to sum up the message here, “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” reminds us to stop looking around during the race to see where everyone else is and instead focus on the task at hand so we can be content in achieving our own goals.

After reading his book, I've almost decided that to be content in accomplishing my goals, I will simply set the bar so incredibly low for myself that even a brain-dead gerbil could manage them.

So go read the book for yourself and take the advice of the humble, unassuming Haruki Murakami. Strive within your individual limits, surpass your own standards and cultivate your quiet inner motivations to help you slowly but surely plod toward your own finish line.

I believe in those words so much that I'm thinking of cross stitching them in some sort of sampler thing to hang above my sofa. Just as soon as I learn to cross stitch.

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Or maybe I should really try to step it up a little and use some of those big, published author words in my blog writing. I bet that would make me seem more like a Murakami-type professional writer.

Hey, that's a stupendous idea!

Check in next time when you'll read words like, "borborygmus", "sussurus" and "hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia" expertly woven throughout my reviews. Surely that will inspire someone to tell me how clever and witty I am.

(And by the way, I know you're rushing to look up those words at this very moment.)

 

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