Monday, October 6, 2008

The New Yorker Festival with Haruki Murakami

The following was posted on the New Yorker blog about the magazine's annual Festival. You may recognize the question asker from Canada with Japanese wife.

Somebody’s Got to Do It
At the Haruki Murakami interview, there was a faint sense of siege. Tickets had sold out in eleven minutes. Up in the nosebleeds, people were pleading with an usher to let them sit on the stairs. (She was firm: “It’s against the law.”) On stage, the writer belied his rock-star reputation, glancing shyly at his feet. He began by telling the story of a jazzman who, when accused of playing “just like Charlie Parker,” handed his saxophone to his critic and said, “Here—you try playing like Charlie Parker.” He said that we should draw three conclusions from this:

1. Criticizing somebody is fun and easy.
2. Meanwhile, creating something original is very hard.
3. But somebody’s got to do it.
He went on to reveal his writing secrets:

On inspiration: “I became a writer all of a sudden. I don’t know why.”
On the three essentials to literature: “Reason. Harmony. Free improvisation.”
On momentum: “I wanted to turn the pages, but there were no pages—I had to write them. I don’t know what’s going to happen next, so I write it. And then I don’t know what’s going to happen next, so I write it.”
On happiness: “If the protagonist is happy, there’s no story at all.”
On the toughness required to be a writer: “You have to be Rocky.”
On writing in general: “It’s fun.”
An audience member rose. “I came all the way from Canada to hear you,” he said. “My wife is Japanese, and we met through talking about your work. She couldn’t come today, but she wanted to say ‘Konnichiwa.’”

A voice piped up from the other side of the room: “I came from Australia, so I beat you.”

And So he did. But speaking of beating, never in my life has my heart pounded so hard, and I was so nervous to have approached that mic in that theatre, so embarrassed that I'd taken up the time. I returned to my seat and absolutely uncharacteristically of me couldn't look at another person the rest of the event, and even when exiting, scurrying, wheeling my carry-on quickly out the theatre and down to 53rd street to catch a bus to get to Newark in time for my flight home, to see my beautiful wife, I felt pretty small. Small in the best way small, the way Murakami had made shy seem so good. Self-effacing as an ideal.

Still, as I got close to home, to my family, I thought: Have I got a story for you.

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