Monthly Archives: October 2008

new yorrrk and other things

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I would like to visit two places in the new few months under the auspices of doing research for my novel: New York and Korea. Of course, they also call to me on an emotional level; I can never go too long without having seen either my hometown and my mother country.

I often wonder whether all my travel (thus far: to places NOT New York or Korea) is preventing my own travels to what Murakami calls “the underground” or “the dark place.” Or if I ought to choose destinations more relevant to my work. Or whether they will all help me travel to that place of truth. Or whether it doesn’t matter one bit.

I was up in Tahoe again–making time to visit Mono Lake, a beautiful lake stemming from prehistoric times, then abused and shrunken, revealing the remarkable tufas in the high desert air, looming out of the shallow salty aklaline waters. It is like seeing the skeleton of a lake, now being rehabilitated.

I want to, in my writing, expose myself down to those bones. I am reading some of my short stories and I do wonder if I am courageous enough–and I am apt to think that no, I am not. I am guarding some part of myself as I write. I read the work that’s been published and I now realize that the courage was there in those pieces. The published pieces are the ones that frightened me once written, as if seeing some part of me stripped bare.

These days, I’m thinking about Murakami’s comment about his writing process: about going to the underground and observing what he sees, writing it down. And then shutting the door and going back to the daylight. He also said he was not able to write in his early twenties because he had not had much hardship in his life–but that he began to write later because he had finally experienced hardship (he did not specify what that hardship might have been).

He spoke of the underground as “a dangerous place.”

I am wondering about the components to such travel. I’ve been discussing with a friend via email, who asks me the same–what do you think Murakami means by “the dark place?” Having the experience/content, and having what I see as “stillness” are requirements to making that journey

The dark place/underground/subconscious for me, contains all the things I sock away during my daily life. It is that closet of neglected and shameful and fearful feelings that I shed and hide. I was also raised to not acknowledge fear or sadness, and so this compartment has been artfully decorated and arranged…and terrifying to enter. And so going to the dark place is a scary experience, because I have to confront and process these feelings, find the stories associated with all the things that my conscious has rejected. It is time consuming and exhausting, but thoroughly rewarding. And sometimes I find some brilliant matches.

Of course this journey need not be so fearful or dangerous. It is, I realize, a very different place and process for many writers. Which leads me to some curiosity about what the “dark place” or “underground” looks like to you.

How about you? What do you think Murakami means by “the dark place?”

p.s. in other news, I learned today that you do NOT put metal forks in toasters, even if you plan on being VERY careful in fishing out the pita bread. Nope. Because you’ll get electrocuted.

And I also learned today what it actually FEELS like to get shocked like that, and how weird and sickening the feeling is, and how you are UNABLE to SCREAM while getting shocked (did you know this? Now you do).

And finally, I learned that should you get that sickening feeling of electricity running through your hands and up your arms…LET GO OF THE FORK QUICKLY. Because I did not let go quickly, as I thoroughly ruminated, “What’s going on? What is this weird and sickening feeling? Hrmmm. This feels really odd and very wrong. Why is this happening? Hrm. Am I? Oh wait. I think I’m getting–omg, ELECTRIC SHOCK!” (It takes a good 10 seconds to say all that to yourself).  And then and only then, did I drop the fork. As a result, I spent the rest of the day with tingling hands and arms, spaced out, nauseous, and very very very tired.

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color quiz

Hrm. I always thought I was a darker blue…

you are deepskyblue
#00BFFF

Your dominant hues are cyan and blue. You like people and enjoy making friends. You’re conservative and like to make sure things make sense before you step into them, especially in relationships. You are curious but respected for your opinions by people who you sometimes wouldn’t even suspect.

Your saturation level is very high – you are all about getting things done. The world may think you work too hard but you have a lot to show for it, and it keeps you going. You shouldn’t be afraid to lead people, because if you’re doing it, it’ll be done right.

Your outlook on life is very bright. You are sunny and optimistic about life and others find it very encouraging, but remember to tone it down if you sense irritation.

the spacefem.com html color quiz

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Murakami at Zellerbach: summary

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As you know, I saw and met Haruki Murakami “in real life” this past weekend, at both his Cal Performances Zellerbach talk Saturday and his book signing Sunday.  I thought it would never happen–he rarely comes out to the West Coast, and I never seemed to find out about his east coast appearances until too late.  (Next stop: Jeffrey Eugenides!)

During his talk, I scribbled and scribbled.  I have a general obsession with recording things for posterity (hence this blog), further exacerbated by the fact that since my stroke, I haven’t had much confidence in my short term memory (even though it’s pretty much all okay now). And because of that and because any Murakami fan knows that he hates photographs and videography–I scribbled and scribbled, not wanting to forget a single world. (In an interesting way, he forced me to use words as a medium to remember him–what a writer!)

Above is a picture of the empty seats, before Murakami came up on stage (yes!  I had 6th row seats!). He sat on the left, his interviewer Roland Kelts on the right.

I ended up with a pretty good transcription, about 95% accurate.

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The auditorium of 800+ people hushed during the conversation between Haruki Murakami and Roland Kelts–it felt special, even though at times I felt the questions were more awestruck than intelligent, more awestruck than probing.  His answers often stayed on the well trodden path, but his humor and charm still very much pervaded the dialogue.

Murakami began the evening by reading his story, “Rise and Fall of the Sharpie Cakes,” an analogy for his relationship with literary critics. He read the story in Japanese (“Maybe some of you won’t understand Japanese. But that is quite unfortunate—but not my fault! (laughter from audience) So make yourself comfortable and enjoy the sound!”) The topics of discussion ranged from his obsessions (“Elephant, wells, refrigerators, cats, ears, sofa, couch”), to his musical tastes (classical, jazz, the Beach Boys), to his writing process and to his writing as it pertains to Japanese society. Quite a range.

(And for the record–Murakami was dressed in mustard-colored sneakers (they looked like chucks), chino pants, a light colored tshirt, with a dark grey cotton blazer jacket.  His voice was baritone but slightly sleepy sounding, as if he’d had a good nap before the performance).

Though I transcribed the conversation in its entirety, I will not be posting it in public. But here are a few excerpts…

On correspondence with readers:
Roland Kelts: You respond by email to your readers.

Haruki Murakami: It’s fun! The other day I got a question from one of my readers, he asked me a stupid question. I like stupid questions. He asked me squid has ten tentacles and he wanted to know if those tentacles are feet or hands. [laughter from audience] So I answered, put out ten socks and ten gloves, and let him choose!

On his writing process and going into the “underground”:
RK: You have said that a writer has to go to a dark place, the underground. In “Talk About Running,” you use the term, “toxic humanity.” You say a writer’s job is a dirty job and you have to confront the underground. Can you talk about what you experience doing that?

HM: I get up early in the morning, four or five, and I go to bed at 9pm—in fact it’s time to go! [at this point, it was 9:05pm]. And then I work three to four hours in the quiet and dark by myself. I concentrate on my work. Why I work in the early morning is I think I’m going down to the underground, there is a dark room and a secret door and I see something there I am not sure but I see those things I observe and remember, I come back to the ground, I write it, and shut the door. It’s dark work, a dark procedure.

Then I walk around, jogging, in the sun. Balance work in the darkness and sun. I run everyday, even here in Berkeley. I have to be tough to go to the dark place. If I am not tough, I will be defeated. You have to come back! Otherwise you will be lost. I have to be tough and have confidence, stay strong.

So what I’m doing is just observing things, not making up.

On Dreaming:
RK: This question is from Annie Kim. Do you dream vividly? If so, how often do dreams influence your characters?

HM: It’s simple: I don’t dream. It’s true, I’m not joking. You know I go to bed from nine to four. When I get up, I’m empty. I don’t remember. Maybe I do but I’m empty when I get up. Mr. Kawai said as a writer it’s normal. But as a writer I use it. I think I can dream while I am awake. Novelists dream when they are awake. You can dream intentionally. It’s fun, really fun.

On his next book!!!
RK: No name on this question. Mr. Murakami are you going to write a long novel again?

HM: I finished my new novel last week [loud applause]. It’s going to be a heavy book. I hope you are not commuting [referring to an earlier question about the length of his books and how his readers hate how heavy and burdensome they are to read while commuting to work on a train]. The book is out next year in Japan, and then this country after another year. I’m very happy and relaxed now, as you can see.

I walk around the city of Tokyo and somebody comes up to me and says I like your new book very much and I say thank you, please buy my next book.

Others say they hate it. And so I tell them I’m very sorry, but please buy my next book.

A delightful exchange about his favorite music:
RK: What’s your favorite band?

HM: Classical music in the morning, jazz after sunset. Daytime: rock music. I like Radiohead [cheers from audience]. Tom York likes my book. He is in Tokyo now and I am here in Berkeley. I am missing baseball game and Tom York.

I like REM, Beck, Red Hot Chili Peppers. Sometimes I sing while swimming.

RK: How do you sing while swimming?

HM: It’s boring in the pool. So I sing.

RK: How? When your head comes up?

HM: I’m bubbling.

RK: In the water?

HM: You should try!

RK: There’ll now be drowning cases.

HM: I like The Beach Boys. So beautiful, surfing in the 60s. I met Mr. Wilson when he came to Tokyo. He’s strange. But he’s a genius.

I like Jim Morrison.

But you know, musicians I like, they are kind of drug addicts. And the writers I like, alcoholic. Carver, Chandler, Fitzgerald…

RK: But you’re so healthy.

HM: Oh I’m fine! I’m a junkie for vinyl. But healthy!

On collecting vinyls and Berkeley:
RK: Did you find a record or two, special find in Berkeley?

HM: I was here sixteen years ago when there were lots of stores. But not anymore—just Rasputin’s and Amoeba—both of them strange names, weird names! Something is wrong with this town!

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I met Murakami irl!

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Boo yah kashah! I waited in line to meet Haruki Murakami today, and to get my books signed (they originally said we could get the new “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” book + 3 other books signed, but alas, they limited the number further. I’d wanted to get another book signed for a friend as a surprise, but alas that was not to be). The BART train was delayed, but I finally got there, about an hour pre-signing.

The line went up Van Ness Avenue and then wrapped around onto Turk…where I got in line. I befriended (or rather, was befriended by) other Murakami fans adjacent to me in line. I brought my laptop (in case I wanted to write), my journal, an issue of New York Magazine, an iPod, and my crackberry…but none of it was really necessary (or effective). The people around me were so excited, the chatter was endless. At one point, I put my headphones on and turned on my iPod, but to no avail. I was still hit up for chatter. I had my headphones on, with my iPod on, and I texted on my blackberry…to no avail. I was still hit up for chatter. I was feeling introverted, but I guess I had to come out of my shell.

The small talk gods were demanding, and so I gave up all my accessories and gave in to the will of the crowds around me, gave in to the social nature of people standing in line for one common goal, with one common interest.

I just wished the people around me–I just wished I could get something out of the chatter. It felt very meaningless, this surface talk.

I stepped out of line briefly to check out the line–wow! Thirty minutes before the reading, the line now snaked all the way back to Franklin. 300+ people in line to see Murakami.

The small talk gods, however, had something in store for me, and rewarded me for my patience and participation. The woman in front of me started talking about little Korean and Japanese dolls, these ball-jointed dolls, and BING! I was intrigued! Her passion was intoxicating! Her male companion (he was so funny–he didn’t get a book to have signed until I noted that he could sell it off on eBay for profit–zing! he was off to get a copy) finally came alive and looked up from his book! They became totally engaging, interesting people!

The dolls resonated with me because it resonated with the novel I’m writing. I have been struggling with one facet of the storyline–looking for some Korean historical connection/link to my protagonist’s dilemma (sorry for being cryptic, but I don’t like to talk about my novel’s details). OMG. What a gift! In a line for Murakami! In the most unlikeliest of settings, really, from the most unlikeliest of people, total strangers.

They shared information about the dolls, about the culture of the dolls. They were sharing the information with me because they love this particular doll culture. I was listening because I felt it was a huge gift, an answer to my novel’s dilemma. I thanked them for gifting me with something of great value.

The line began to move as we discussed these dolls. And before long, i was in front of Murakami (with very little fanfare–except for the fact that one person in line ahead of us tried to take a picture and he was almost body tackled by several other fans! Murakami is notoriously camera shy and has been known to call of his book signings when someone takes out a camera).

As usual, I get tongue tied around Famous People I Admire. I mumbled “Thank you for coming here,” and he quickly scribbled his autograph and my name on my books. I stood, 2.5 feet away from Haruki Murakami, as he sat and signed books with admirable cheerfulness. I’m sure all he saw of me was my red tshirt covering my potbelly and muffin top.

And then, in less than a minute, the moment was over. He said Thank You and I said Thank You and then I was exiting. The line usher smiled at me and I waved, and then I was blinking in the sunshine, the Blue Angels screaming overhead, the cars rushing forth.

I.met.Haruki.Murakami. My favorite writer.

p.s. I also did hear him speak last night at Zellerbach–and scribbled a 99% accurate transcription of his reading/conversation. Thrrrrilling! I’ll have to post some highlights of that talk up soon.

p.p.s. I am not sure if it’s the advent of Autumn (my favorite time of year), my friend’s visit last month, my recent vacation or what…but my head is filled with a kazillion ideas! I almost can’t believe I have to go to work this week, I feel so primed to sit and write all week.

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first snow

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Heard the weather forecast! Snow up at Tahoe! So, even though we’re still jetlagged, we scurried up to the mountains to turn off our sprinklers, to avoid the disaster of frozen pipes.

We arrived, nighttime temps in the twenties. When we awoke: a light dusting of snow covered the ground and rooftops. Light powdered sugar. Mrm. Powdered sugar. And so off we went for breakfast at Heidi’s, home of delicious breakfast food (chicken fried steak for him, french toast sandwich for me). Where we gorged, as usual. And emerged smelling like diner grease and smoke.

Our clothes are in the washing machine now.

And we’re asking ourselves, “Now WHY is it that we don’t come up here more often?” I feel like I can write here, that my head is clear. On vacation, I came up with a couple story ideas, more thoughts on an essay, more inspiration for my novel. We’ve resolved to come up here more often. Maybe even for Christmas and New Year’s–even though that idea produces a nervous flutter in my belly; I had my stroke up in Tahoe exactly then, on New Year’s Eve. It’s hard to revisit memories and their concrete ties. To this day, I can’t help but glance with awful feeling at the spot where I sat down during the stroke, right outside the hardware store up here, next to the red snow blowers out for sale.

This weekend is Murakami weekend–I’m off to see and hear Murakami in Berkeley this evening, then more Murakami activities tomorrow.

The snow is on the ground, and the aspens haven’t even yet turned yellow–crazy beautiful world!

p.s. It just started snowing again! It’s snowing, it’s snowing, it’s snowing!!!!!!!!

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a filling of a soul

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I’m back home–we made it back home in time for Yom Kippur (and of course the Murakami reading this weekend). Rarely do I feel reluctant to return home from a trip or vacation, but this time, with all the dreary world economy news…I met the end of my vacation with a bit of a sigh.

We saw our beloved London…and made a quick jaunt over to Paris and back (L’as du Falafel and Pierre Herme macaron!)…then back to London (the Mark Rothko show at the Tate Modern! Borough Market! I met fishlamp irl at our favorite London martini place)…then off to Edinburgh for the day on Sunday (beautiful Princes Street Garden! Edinburgh Castle! Gorgeous weather! We spent a good hour sitting on a park bench and daydreaming! Then, food poisoning from which I have yet to fully recover)…and back to London, where I spent a couple of lackadaisical afternoons on an old college friend’s couch with a cup of tea in Balham).

I didn’t write. My schedule was too irregular to allow any sort of discipline to seep through. Some days I gorged and had three solid meals…other days, I found I’d had only a slice of bread and a bit of cheese to see me through. Some days we woke up before dawn to make a flight or catch a train, other days I slept until noon. And there were a couple days I napped, waking in darkness, feeling a confused and deep loneliness, as one can only feel when waking up in a dark and unfamiliar room. Most days, I had the day all to myself (when my husband had work obligations), and on the weekend, we strolled around in a new city, hand in hand.

Some days I had appointments to keep, like the Rothko show at the Tate Modern (1pm on Saturday)–other days, I woke up to a blank slate of a day. The Rothko show was moving–his Seagram murals filled me with a great terror and great sadness paired with deep beauty. They looked like wrist slash marks (my husband said they resembled safety razors) and I pondered my own struggle with depression in younger days, contemplated the scars on my wrists, remembered the agony. I identify strongly with Rothko’s work, even while they make me feel like I’m sinking. And then I walked quickly through the exhibit–I couldn’t bear to gaze at his work any longer.

I let it all sink in.

Who was it? A famous artist said that in order to produce art, one had to be full of himself. And so I let myself be filled.

And then today, I fasted, pondering the year in retrospect (warning to self: it is particularly grueling to fast the day after a long plane flight and after food poisoning). It was a great holiday, a filling and then a cleansing.

And now a year begins.

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i can’t help myself

I’ve already horrified Parisian ladies-who-lunch today (there was one woman in a houndstooth who kept staring at me with a blank facial expression–American and Korean (the infamous scowl!) facial expressions are so much more obvious, did she find me cute? Or did she totally think I was a weird hobo girl?).

The climax of Parisian ladies-who-lunch horror was when I did a loopy jetlagged induced imitation of a “mad cow” over really mediocre pasta (why was the place so packed when the food was so awful?). He had a steak–I wondered aloud if it was British cow. First, an ANGRY cow mooing. (Hands on hips! Furrowed brow! Moo!) Then, a CRAZY cow, mooing. (Eyes crossed! Goofy look! Wave my hands! Moo!) Get it? My husband’s understated and amused reaction was the comment, “Yes, wow.”

Loopy! After lunch, I had a Pierre Herme macaron and I got an endorphin rush, it was SO.GOOD. I will NEVER forget that little rose ispahan macaron. EVER.

But now I must do it. I must say, “I see London, I see France…”

Because I have. Arrived in London on the 1st, and I’m now in Paris on the 2nd. I HAVE seen London and now I see France.

London:

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France:

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Now I have to find some underpants.

Update: A prettier picture of London…

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