Jan. 12, 2010

Being in Love

by Chungmi Kim

Awakened from a dream, I curl up
and turn. The roses on the dresser
smile and your words bloom.
The red roses for Valentine's Day.

Like in a film
thoughts of you unfold
moment by moment.

I vaguely hear
the sound of your spoon scooping cereal
the water stream in the shower
the buzzing noise of your electric razor
like a singing of cicada.

Your footsteps in and out of the bedroom.
Your lips touching my cheek lightly.
And the sound of the door shutting.

In your light
I fall asleep again under the warm quilt
happily like a child.

Upon waking
on the kitchen counter I find a half
grapefruit carefully cut and sectioned.
Such a loving touch is a milestone
For my newly found happiness.

"Being in Love" by Chungmi Kim, from Glacier Lily. © Red Hen Press, 2004. (buy now)

It's the birthday of a writer that The Guardian calls one of the "world's greatest living novelists," Haruki Murakami, (books by this author) born in Ashiya City, Japan (1949). His parents both taught Japanese literature, and they talked about it so much that he came to resent it, and he took to reading foreign literature instead. His favorites were 19th-century European works — stuff by Flaubert, Dickens, Chekhov, Dostoevsky. And then, he started reading American detective stories, science fiction, and later, Richard Brautigan and Kurt Vonnegut — all of which had been translated into Japanese. He was so fascinated with them that he learned English well enough to read American literature in the original. He said, "It was like a door opening to another world." He later said that "Raymond Carver was without question the most valuable teacher I have ever had, and also the greatest literary comrade."

He studied drama in college, but didn't care too much for schoolwork and mostly passed his time in a campus museum reading archived movie screenplays. He met his wife, worked in a record store, and before graduating he and his wife — each age 22 — had started a bar in a basement at the edge of Tokyo. They called it "Peter Cat." It served coffee during the day, and at night it transformed into a jazz club.

He was 29 and sitting in the bleachers watching a game between two Japanese baseball teams, the Hiroshima Carp and the Yakult Swallows, when an American came to bat. He hit a double, and for some reason that was an epiphany for Murakami. He said he doesn't know why, he just knew at that moment that he could write a novel. On his way home from the stadium, he stopped and bought new pens and paper, and that very night he began to write. He worked on it nightly for four months, one hour each night, after he'd finished closing the jazz bar. Hear the Bird Sing won top prize in a story contest and was first published in a prestigious Japanese literary magazine in 1979. The entire action of the novel takes place in August 1970 and is the first book in a series called "The Trilogy of the Rat."

He decided to become a full-time writer. He began going to bed early and getting up early, eating homegrown vegetables, and doing serious distance running. He's run several marathons in under three and a half hours.

His 1987 book, Norwegian Wood, sold millions of copies in Japan and made Murakami a literary sensation. To escape the fame, he and his wife lived abroad for several years, in Europe and in the United States, where Murakami taught at Princeton University. They returned to Japan in 1995. In 2002, he published Kafka on the Shore, a novel John Updike called "a real page-turner, as well as an insistently metaphysical mind-bender." It's about a teenager named Kafka Tamura, a "cool, tall, fifteen-year-old boy lugging a backpack and a bunch of obsessions."

Haruki Murakami followed a strict regime while working on the book, which involves a sort of recasting of the myth of Oedipus. Every day for 180 days, he woke up at 4 a.m. and began working on the novel. After five hours of writing, he went for a run. Then he would go to music stores and look for old jazz records, then go for a swim and play squash, then work on the book some more while sipping a Siberian Express, a drink comprised of Smirnoff Vodka, Perrier, and lemon. And then he went to bed at 9 p.m. He finished the first draft, took a one-month break, and rewrote for another two months. Then he took another break from the book, and rewrote again.

He said that when he writes, "it's kind of a free improvisation. I never plan. I never know what the next page is going to be. Many people don't believe me. But that's the fun of writing a novel or a story, because I don't know what's going to happen next. I'm searching for melody after melody. Sometimes once I start, I can't stop. It's just like spring water. It comes out so naturally, so easily."

Haruki Murakami said, "I write weird stories. Myself, I'm a very realistic person ... I wake up at six in the morning and go to bed at 10, jogging every day and swimming, eating healthy food. ... But when I write, I write weird."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
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