Friday, June 24, 2011

Who is going to say a good word for you if you don't?

I was talking yesterday with a fried of mine who has recently hooked up with an agent who will book him for speaking engagements. And we were talking about work and publishing and he was saying, basically, that in general, and with the agent in particular, if someone sees you out promoting yourself, that makes you more attractive to them because they know that you will help them with their work. This was, of course, in the context of publishing books and my promoting my own business.

The way he framed it was very good for me, because I am not enthusiastic about self-promotion. I want my merits to be recognized by for themselves. This is, I know, naive--there is plenty of merit out there, and the question of whose attention you catch is important.

Writers who lose confidence in their own merits often can become blocked--especially when asked to promote themselves or their own ideas.

Believe in your writing!
(And if you're having trouble believing in your writing, you should contact me because I'm excellent at helping people with that problem! <- that's self-promotion right there.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What I think about What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (Partial)

I just finished reading through Murakami's book this morning, and I think what might have struck me the most was just how different our experience or running is.

Murakami closes the book with following:
I dedicate this book to all the runners I've encountered on the road--Those I've passed, and those who've passed me. Without all of you, I never would have kept running.

And towards the end he says:
For a runner like me, what's really important is reaching the goal I set myself, under my own power. I give it everything I have, endure what needs enduring, and am able, in my own way, to be satisfied.

These are, to me, alien ways of thinking about running. In my title to this post, I made a point of saying that these are only partial thoughts--I dare say Murakami may have only presented some of his ideas; some ideas, probably, were edited out as not helpful to the book as a whole. I make this point partially to acknowledge that Murakami might have other motivations than those he states here. But these two motivations have nothing to do with why I run. Really, really nothing.

Murakami, of course, runs races every year; he runs marathons every year. He runs every day. I've run in three (of about 7, 8 and 10 miles), and won't run in another race until the friend who got me to go to those, tries to get me to go to another--but my friend is doing ultramarathoning now, and I'm not interested in 50k races. My friend ran in a 100-mile race--a trail run, no less--last year (he made it something like 70 or 80 miles before he injured himself and had to quit). A 10-mile trail run sounds nice, but I'll pass on the century. And all things being equal, I'd rather run alone than in a crowd, so who needs a race?

I run for the joy of it. I run because--though there are some difficulties to enjoy--the center of the activity is the pure physical pleasure of the body working right. And the meditative nature. And--when I get off the city streets and into the the parks in the Berkeley hills--I'm out of the city, running on trails bordered by scrub (a lot of invasive broom, also native sages, poppies, grasses), or sheltered by the redwood-bay-oak woods in the canyons here.

To the extent that Murakami's book is partially a reflection on writing (as he himself suggests), I wonder what this says about the practical implications of our two approaches. Murakami, of course, publishes lots of stuff; he's famous. I don't publish lots of stuff; I'm not famous. One can easily see how Murakami's goal-driven approach would mean more in terms of practical success.

I'm a romantic, I suppose, in hoping that a process-oriented approach can also be successful. I suppose what is ideally called for is both the love of the process and the goal going hand in hand.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What I think about when I'm not running (sort of)

Saturday I fell down a flight of stairs. And landed, mostly safely, on my ass. Well, I suppose on my coccyx, really. Boom. And, well, running isn't so easy right now. Walking isn't either.

The question is, though, how do you deal with this kind of thing? It's been rough for me, since I do a lot of thought clearing when I'm running. In many ways running is meditation for me--ideas pass through my head, usually without judgment, just as ideas. By the time I'm done running, I've usually gotten through some of the things that were clogging up my thoughts. And this is good, because it lets me get on to things that are more interesting and more useful and more enjoyable.

When that forced meditation is taken away, I have a lot more time to worry about things. The key to responding to this is to try to fill that time usefully otherwise. The difficulty lies in the loss of energy due to the healing process.

Writing, I find, is a useful way of dealing with similar thought clearing processes. It's not meditative in the sense that there is a strong analytical/judgmental aspect to the process of putting my ideas on paper, but in ideal circumstances, I am able to keep the judgmental aspects on the page and am free from judging the writing itself, and in this sense it allows the ideas to express themselves without judgment.

Thinking about Murakami's book, I don't recall that he really talks about injury and being unable to exercise. He talks about some injuries, but it doesn't seem in the sense that any of them really stopped him from running. He talks about worrying that an injury might keep him from running a race, but not about just the gap in a regular schedule when a common practice is dropped out. I wish I could keep up running when injured, but some injuries are not well served by use. I wonder how differently he feels when laid up.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What I think about when I think about running

Still reading/responding to Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

Right now I'm doing two things: I'm procrastinating writing and I'm procrastinating running.
I usually run three days a week, and Wednesday is one of my days. Routine definitely helps. But I don't quite want to run now--10:00am--I usually run a bit later--noon--except that this afternoon I have plans so I need to finish my run earlier.

I usually write seven days a week (well, obviously I average something less because some days are lost, but close enough). I didn't write yesterday, however, so I feel a greater burden to do some writing now.

My current procrastination (I don't really count the blog as writing) is largely because of similar dynamics. I start seeing problems: running, I'm tired and I want to be fresh this afternoon. Writing: just problems in seeing how the rest of the project is supposed to go.

Murakami talks about how important it is to run every day (or almost every day); Implicit is what I've read so far is that writing everyday is also crucial.

But the everyday practice is not, in itself, enough. There's something more.

As I read Murakami, I think "I could write this well." I grant that What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is not supposed to be his best writing (or at least so I am informed by my friend who gave it to me). But still...And I don't think this is necessarily over-inflated self-assessment. It's that there is something more necessary--not just regular work, not just talent.

But I'm not quite sure how to explain the something more. I think it's something like a vision of something that you want to realize.
I guess for me, at least with running, the vision is just one of health, and this is a pretty clear vision, and not surprisingly I struggle with running less than with writing.

When Murakami talks about writing, it is clear that he writes with a specific agenda--he's going to write a novel, or he's going to write an article that has been commissioned.
For me, writing is more an exploration--I write to follow the ideas around, but then I have no vision of it being something--neither something complete, nor really something to bother sharing with anyone else (at least in part because of the incompleteness of the exercise).

The lesson I want to work on is the one of finishing a work, not just exploring it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

What I think about when I'm running

I recently started reading Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which is, to some extent, a book about writing.

This post is not so much about writing--though I know that the central focus of the blog is writing. A point on writing though: some limitations make writing harder--especially limitations of focus. If I want to write about X, and I have a set task to write about Y (or, for that matter, a set context in which I write about Y), then it's harder to write at all.

Anyway, today I went running and I was thinking about Murakami. One of the things that has struck me most so far is that Murakami says that when he runs he is in a void and doesn't think at all. This seems to me amazing--perhaps a sign of his mental discipline?--for me, running is filled with thoughts. There are the mantras that I repeat when I'm tired or the running seems hard. There's the constant evaluation and re-evaluation of just how much energy I have and how much farther I want to go (I have general routes, but no fixed plan--today I wanted to run farther than usual and on different paths than usual and there was a little randomness in where I ended up). And then there's plenty of thinking about different problems and issues--usually I come up with several answers to problems in the beginning of my run, and by the time I'm home, I've forgotten almost all of them. And by the time I'm done showering and eating and rehydrating, I'm pretty much a blank slate again. Oh well. I know I had more to say about Murakami than this, but...

This blog has sat mostly idle for a few years for several reasons, but one is that I don't always want to write about academic writing--as the blog intended. I may start writing about other things as well--to help me clear my thoughts, even if I don't clear anyone else's thoughts.

There's lots more that I think about when running, but maybe I'll save that for a later post.