The Small Things You, Yourself Have

“What’s really important here,” I whispered loudly to myself,”is not the big things other people have thought up, but the small things you, yourself have”
Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart

Mural, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

 

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 20 – Samsa in Love by Haruki Murakami

Untitled (Sprawling Octopus Man), by Thomas Houseago
Nasher Sculpture Center
Dallas, Texas

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 20 – Samsa in Love by Haruki Murakami

Read it online here:
Samsa in Love by Haruki Murakami

In any case, he had to learn how to move his body. He couldn’t lie there staring up at the ceiling forever. The posture left him much too vulnerable. He had no chance of surviving an attack—by predatory birds, for example. As a first step, he tried to move his fingers. There were ten of them, long things affixed to his two hands. Each was equipped with a number of joints, which made synchronizing their movements very complicated. To make matters worse, his body felt numb, as though it were immersed in a sticky, heavy liquid, so that it was difficult to send strength to his extremities.

Nevertheless, after repeated attempts and failures, by closing his eyes and focusing his mind he was able to bring his fingers more under control. Little by little, he was learning how to make them work together. As his fingers became operational, the numbness that had enveloped his body withdrew. In its place—like a dark and sinister reef revealed by a retreating tide—came an excruciating pain.

It took Samsa some time to realize that the pain was hunger. This ravenous desire for food was new to him, or at least he had no memory of experiencing anything like it. It was as if he had not had a bite to eat for a week. As if the center of his body were now a cavernous void. His bones creaked; his muscles clenched; his organs twitched.

—-Haruki Murakami, Samsa in Love

I always think about believability in fiction. You don’t have to worry about this in non-fiction… it’s by definition true and believable, even when it is wildly unlikely. But fiction has to be believable.

One important idea is “making a deal with the reader.” This has to be done right away, preferably in the very first sentence. You have to alert the reader, make a deal with the reader, and then keep up your end of the bargain.

The best example is Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. Turning into a giant cockroach in the middle of the night for no apparent reason isn’t believable, is it?

But Kafka writes his genius opening line:

When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.

You see, Kafka has made a deal with the reader. If you continue with the story, you have agreed that people can be changed into a giant cockroach (vermin) for no reason. He offers the deal, you accept it, and he keeps it.

Today, I planned on stopping for lunch, by myself. I looked forward to the quiet and the break. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to carry my Kindle or even a book. No problem, the library was right next door and, looking in at the New Fiction display, I saw a copy of Men Without Women, Stories by Haruki Murakami. Bingo.

While I ate, I looked through the table of contents for a brief selection, something I could read during the short sliver of time I was allotted. I found Samsa in Love, and was able to finish before I had to head back to work.

Samsa in Love is Metamorphosis in reverse. It starts out with Gregor Samsa waking up in his bare room, now transformed back into a human. He remembers little of being Gregor Samsa, but even less of the time he spent as a cockroach (except for a strong fear of birds). The story tells of his first few steps in becoming human again, including falling fast in love with a hunchbacked locksmith sporting an ill-fitting brassiere.

The story makes a deal, and sticks with it.

Interview with Haruki Murakami:

Is each book you write fully formed in your mind before you start to write or is it a journey for you as the writer as it is for us as readers?

I don’t have any idea at all, when I start writing, of what is to come. For instance, for The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, the first thing I had was the call of the bird, because I heard a bird in my back yard (it was the first time I heard that kind of sound and I never have since then. I felt like it was predicting something. So I wanted to write about it). The next thing was cooking spaghetti – these are things that happen to me! I was cooking spaghetti, and somebody call. So I had just these two things at the start. Two years I kept on writing. It’s fun! I don’t know what’s going to happen next, every day. I get up, go to the desk, switch on the computer, etc. and say to myself: “so what’s going to happen today?” It’s fun!

—-from The Guardian

(click to enlarge)
Adam, by Emile-Antoine Bourdelle, plus admirer
Cullen Sculpture Garden
Houston, Texas

A Month of Short Stories 2015, Day Twelve – Town of Cats

The last two years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month… you can see the list for 2014 and 2015 in the comments for this page. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day twelve – Town of Cats, by Haruki Murakami

Read it online here:

Town of Cats

As I go through the stories this year I notice that almost all of them are by some of my favorite writers – people that I have read before. Today is no exception – I’ve been a fan of Haruki Murakami for years. Well, I guess there’s nothing wrong with revisiting what I know is genius – and I have a few more – but I need to work harder to find some new stuff.

Murakami is known for his surreal style and very odd plots. This story is an exception – it’s a prosaic tale of a son visiting his elderly father in a care home. The surreal aspect is supplied by a story within a story – about a mysterious city occupied only by nocturnal cats.

This tale is interwoven into the story of the man and his son. Their relationship has been strained… well, forever. The son is on a quest to find a solution to the mystery of his past, what has happened to him, and where he is really from.

He finds less than he expected and more than he hoped.

Tengo folded his hands in his lap and looked straight into his father’s face. This man is no empty shell, he thought. He is a flesh-and-blood human being with a narrow, stubborn soul, surviving in fits and starts on this patch of land by the sea. He has no choice but to coexist with the vacuum that is slowly spreading inside him. Eventually, that vacuum will swallow up whatever memories are left. It is only a matter of time.

A Rose Embedded in Ice

“No mistake about it. Ice is cold; roses are red; I’m in love. And this love is about to carry me off somewhere. The current’s too overpowering; I don’t have any choice. It may very well be a special place, some place I’ve never seen before. Danger may be lurking there, something that may end up wounding me deeply, fatally. I might end up losing everything. But there’s no turning back. I can only go with the flow. Even if it means I’ll be burned up, gone forever.”
― Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

My old chainsaw quit working a year ago, so we had to go down to the hardware store and buy a new one. I was afraid they would be out of stock – a lot of people around here must be buying them right now – but they had two left. We bought the smallest, least expensive, least powerful, corded electric one. It’s only for trimming and, like now, clearing fallen limbs – not a lumberyard – plus, the smaller the saw… the safer the saw (in my opinion).

It was cold work, but quick work, to cut up the limbs of the red oak in the front yard and move them to the curb. It took a little more time to chop up the thicker pieces into chiminea sized chunks of firewood, but waste not want not.

chimmy

Actually, our old chiminea has bit the dust too, so we need to get down to Amigos Pottery and buy a new one. This is the season of renewal – new chainsaw, new chiminea to burn the old limbs while we wait for the new ones to grow back. It is a shock to see how much wood the weight of the ice tore off the tree – there are still some detached limbs suspended high up, waiting for a thaw and a good breeze to fall – but there are a lot left and the old tree keeps growing.

Short Story day 9 – A 32-Year Old Day Tripper

9. – “A 32-Year Old Day Tripper
Haruki Murakami
http://wednesdayafternoonpicnic.blogspot.com/2010/05/32-year-old-day-tripper_01.html

This is day nine of my Month of Short Stories – a story a day for June.

A very short piece – modern, non-plotted. If you want to get a feel for how important translation is, here’s an alternate translation and here’s another.

I have read quite a bit of Haruki Murakami – I think my favorite so far is his somewhat underappreciated Sputnik Sweetheart. His fiction is odd and slippery, sometimes sweet, sometimes horrific – always unpredictable.

If you are interested in his writing, don’t overlook his non-ficiton. I was impressed with Underground, a collection of interviews in the aftermath of the Aum Shinrikyo gas attack.

Today’s work by Murakami is a set of musings by a 32 year old man that has an eighteen year old semi-girlfriend (they meet one Sunday a month). Murakami began writing at age 29 – about the age of the narrator. Maybe the girl could be looked upon as representing his art – or maybe not.

His story of when he decided to write his first novel is amazing… From SPEIGELIn April 1978, I was watching a baseball game in the Jingu Stadium in Tokyo, the sun was shining, I was drinking a beer. And when Dave Hilton of the Yakult Swallows made a perfect hit, at that instant I knew I was going to write a novel. It was a warm sensation. I can still feel it in my heart. Now I am compensating for the old, open life through my new, closed life. I have never appeared on television, I have never been heard on the radio, I hardly ever give readings, I am extremely reluctant to have my photograph taken, I rarely give interviews. I’m a loner.

There is almost always a connection to music in his work – opera or western popular music. He owned a jazz club during the time he began writing. Like a lot of us (like me) he probably marks time with the music that he was listening to then – and certain songs bring back strong memories.

For example, a certain song and (especially) its video had been rattling around in my head from the 80’s. I remembered bits of it, and couldn’t shake it, but until I stumbled across the band mentioned in a Facebook group on an infamous old Dallas Nightclub (the Starck Club) I couldn’t remember what it was.

Here is the video:

Why has that stuck in my head for all these years?

Anyway… back to today’s story – I think it’s best not to try and overthink fiction like this. It’s best to let it sink in, read it a few times (on this one, read the other translations) and view it as a mood, or a crystal bit of emotion, or a wavy window into a specific time.

It’s actually the boringness of the girls that attracts them. They’re just playing a complicated game, a game they honestly enjoy. A game where they wash their faces with buckets full of the young girls’ boredom water, while they don’t let their lady friends have a single drop.
—-from “A 32-Year Old Day Tripper” by Haruki Murakami

Egg

 
Near the Lover’s Lane DART station, Dallas, TX
 

egg

“If there is a hard, high wall and an egg that breaks against it, no matter how right the wall or how wrong the egg, I will stand on the side of the egg. Why? Because each of us is an egg, a unique soul enclosed in a fragile egg. Each of us is confronting a high wall. The high wall is the system which forces us to do the things we would not ordinarily see fit to do as individuals . . . We are all human beings, individuals, fragile eggs. We have no hope against the wall: it’s too high, too dark, too cold. To fight the wall, we must join our souls together for warmth, strength. We must not let the system control us — create who we are. It is we who created the system. (Jerusalem Prize acceptance speech, JERUSALEM POST, Feb. 15, 2009)”
― Haruki Murakami

egg1