It was the morning after receiving final grades for all my courses in May that I decided to scour the bookshelves of the local Indigo in search of a miraculous guide that would teach me how to become the student every admissions officer and parent dreams of. Instead, as is to be expected of someone with a short attention span, I became sidetracked thumbing through novels, falling in love with the cover of a short little book by Haruki Murakami.
Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a deeply introspective memoir juxtaposing the acts of writing and long distance running. Each hobby not only nurtures and sustains the other, but also teaches Murakami lessons about himself as he logs his journey towards racing the New York City marathon.
Murakami is a prolific Japanese author whose work is ethereal and dreamlike in nature, incomparably defying all rules of space and time, as he takes his readers on journeys only the most imaginative of minds can comprehend. Through all that, it’s easy to assume that Murakami must have been writing since his first utterances, because most successful people have to be engaged in the sleepless and effortful pursuit towards their dream their whole life…right?
Murakami was not always a writer. In fact, in this memoir, he recounts a time in his early twenties when he simply ran a jazz club after college — a coffee shop by day and a bar by night. The club saw decent success at the cost of working from dawn to dusk most days of the week, causing Murakami what he describes as “a great exhaustion.” Then, after several years of running the club, Murakami decided on a whim that he would write a novel. Just like that.
The issue with college is it perpetuates the belief that we shouldn’t change our minds and if we do, we must be inevitably lost and indecisive. If you entered into university with intentions of being an engineer, then find a couple years later that your sole heart’s desire is to run head first into global issues and become a journalist, you have undoubtedly wasted every second of every hour leading up to that moment.
When thinking about all of the books that advised me to focus on one goal and never deviate from it while building 10-year plans — because I can obviously see that far ahead — I realized that none of them were able to teach me the lesson that it’s okay to change your mind and that such change might be inevitable.
This unsuspecting memoir did.
Murakami recognized within himself that prior to this ‘eureka!’ moment, he never intended to be a novelist, but had always wanted to write a book. In response, he simply could have convinced himself that he couldn’t do it and accepted the words of his unbelievers. Instead, in the spring of 1978, he bought a fountain pen and a pack of loose-leaf from a convenience store and wrote a two-hundred-page novel.
As most experience growing up, I went through constant changes about where and who I wanted to be 5, 10, and even 20 years down the road. At nine, I wanted to be a veterinarian; at 13, I was convinced I would be the world’s next superstar plastic surgeon; and by 16, I had set my mind and efforts on law. At 18, I unpacked my bags and tacked my class schedule right next to a sheet detailing every single Canadian law school’s admission standards on the cork-board in my room at Dene House in Totem Park.
All through first year, I would take the long route to and from class to go by Allard Hall, but in the meantime, while I procrastinated on my assignments, I daydreamed story ideas, wrote feverishly and buried my head in books not found in any syllabus I was assigned. Yet still, I alienated myself from the pressing desire I had to write and woke up everyday for my 8 a.m. class on the notion that I was going to become a lawyer.
Murakami knew that he couldn’t run towards anything he desired halfheartedly, but with everything he had. He told himself, if he were to fail, he would have to accept that — but not giving all he had to his true desire would leave him regretful. He told himself that if things didn’t work out, it would be alright and that he was young and could always start over.
As university students, this concept seems difficult to grasp. The valuable lesson of being accepting and kind to oneself often goes unlearned until we meet with some sort of tragic circumstances where we have no choice but to treat ourselves gently. And as long as we continue to live, we will learn something new about ourselves. The inability to be accepting of change is a waste of time and life can fall unfortunately short. Into my final two years as a UBC undergraduate student, I learned this lesson.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running has carried me from alienating myself from my heart’s desires to running full speed towards the things I only dreamed of doing.
And as I continue running, sometimes walking or stopping to check out the scenery, I plan to carry this lesson of acceptance and nurturing change with me until I throw my cap in the air, alongside the thousands of caps of my fellow dream-chasers and graduates who also decided that it was never too late to turn things around and become the student that they wanted to be.