What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Recently, I completed the Gold Coast Half Marathon, slowly and rather painfully. It made me think of one of my favourite writers and his love for long distance running.

Haruki Murakami is a best selling Japanese writer whose works have been translated into 50 languages and sold millions of copies globally. He has completed over 20 marathons since the 1980s and one ultra marathon.

Haruki Murakam

Famous for his fiction works which blend fantasy with realism, it’s his non fiction work “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” [走ることについて語るときに僕の語ること Hashiru Koto ni Tsuite Kataru Toki ni Boku no Kataru Koto] which depicts his love of running so well.

The book’s title was inspired by Raymond Carver’s collection of short stories entitled ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’. Murakami sits within the tradition of post-modern writers such as Carver, Kurt Vonnegut and J. D. Salinger. Frequently featuring western pop culture, music and themes, Murakami’s works are a pastiche of impressions, often surrealistic, melancholic or fatalistic, characterised by post-modernist themes of alienation and loneliness.

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The reason he is one of my favourite writers is because he paints a world of magical realism; a world in which dream and reality intertwine curiously lending an otherwise inexplicable existence, something magical, something mythical, something akin to wonder.

“What I Talk About When I Talk About Running,” recounts Murakami’s foray into long distance running in his early 30s, some five years after becoming a full time writer. 

He equates the process of setting out on a long run with writing, both methodical decisions to complete a journey, often pointless to everyone except the one undertaking it. Used as a metaphor for existence, the race and the novel are both grueling but beautiful endeavours, inexplicable yet sweet, painful yet redemptive, each in their own unique way.

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Through running, as with writing, Murakami has met many people, seen many strange and remote places, thought hours of his own thoughts and suffered great highs and great lows. It is the same methodical discipline that Murakami applies to writing and to life.

As with Carver’s original, what is talked about when talking about running is far more trivial and yet far more profound. By running and by writing about running, Murakami explores the sweetness and mystery of being and becoming. The sweetness and mystery of life.

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Ode to Charlie Kaufmann

Every now and then you read/ watch stories that are just so unique, creative, odd and freakishly brilliant that you sit up straight.

This is the case when you watch a Charlie Kaufman movie.

Screenwriter for Being John Malkovich [1999], Adaptation [2002] Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind [2004], and more, his stories explore the surreal, and often absurd inner worlds of artists and loners.

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Being John Malkovich, his first major success, is perhaps also his most bizarre and most genius work. It  features a down on his luck puppeteer, Craig, who discovers a secret portal into John Malkovich’s mind, on the 7 1/2 floor of his workplace. Chaos ensues when he begins to tell others of the portal and begins to sell access to it. Craig, uses the portal to live vicariously the life of a successful artist; however, the discovery that the portal can be used to prolong one’s life signals the beginning of the end for this over-reaching mortal.

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Adaptation tells of Kaufmann’s own experience attempting to write a screenplay of The Orchid Thief. Originally Kaufmann suffered writer’s block on the project, and instead used the experience to later write Adaptation. In the retelling,  Kaufmann added a fictional twin brother Donald, obsessed with screenwriting a block buster screenplay. Charlie, determined to be true to his art-form suffers terrible writer’s block while Donald succeeds in selling a six or seven figure script for a cliched psychological thriller. The film is full of angst and self-examination about art, success and the self loathing and jealousy involved in creating commercial work.

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The Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind tells the tale of Joel and Clementine, two strangers who meet on a train and are immediately drawn to one another. Through flashbacks, we learn that the pair are ex-lovers who after a break up, underwent a  procedure to erase their memories. We see Joel even while unconscious, battling against the procedure and attempting to hide memories of Clementine in the recesses of his mind. As each memory is subsequently erased, we learn that the technician delivering the procedure, Patrick, is at that time dating Clementine, and illegally viewing Joel’s memories to gain romantic advantage. Another technician, Mary, finds this out and confronts Patrick concerning her own memory erasure after an affair with her married boss. In protest to Patrick’s breach of confidence, she steal all the company records and mails them out to all customers. Joel and Clementine receive their records soon after meeting on the train and despite being strangers to one another, consider rekindling a relationship together.

Kaufmann bears his heart on screen. He explores all his own insecurities, and like other Jewish writers and comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld and Woody Allen, turns it into beautiful art.  Amongst the notes of angst and introspection however,  he adds a magical realism that transports the viewer viscerally through the mind and memory.