That path is now overgrown. As a person seemingly lacking the stringent self-discipline necessary to scale the heights of Maslow's ziggurat, I have tended to comfortable and unhealthy habits and become estranged to the earlier version of myself, that good Jon who would win money for an hour's worth of paragraphs. So here I am, trying to reconnect, and perhaps its working. This already feels good, though I know where it is going. For the little I've written in the past year, I have made a consistent effort to at least better acquaint myself with good writing. That's important, right? I have read more this past year in New York City than any other previous year, certainly including any year spent at Bard. It amounts to a whopping twelve novels. I am a slow reader and a slow writer, but careful at both. I get somewhere, but at ease, which is generally how I proceed. Yesterday my friend Danielle described me as a "long-suffering competent," which I liked, despite not being entirely clear on the meaning. Probably means what it means.
I've seen some famous faces in the past week, if you're the type who looks at the flaps of book jackets. Salman Rushdie, who edited this year's Best American Short Stories collection, presented the collection last Wednesday at Symphony Space on the upper West side, with readings of two stories by the actors Jane Alexander and Michael Rapp. Josh got tickets for himself, myself, friend Jean (who scored me a sweet hardcover edition from her job at a lit agency), and friend Jon, who also likes books and who was also born October 2. I've never read anything by Rushdie, though I'll get around to it. Apparently the fatwa, though still technically in effect, no longer keeps him from making public appearances in rooms full of aging Jews. Rushdie is a hope-giver. His existence says, hey, look, you can be a chubby, aging, bald literary nerd, but as long as you score a Nobel, you can score with the likes of Padma Lakshmi. He's a charming man.
Also charming is Haruki Murakami. I'd learned that he was going to be publicly interviewed as part of the New Yorker Festival on Sunday. Tickets apparently sold out twelve minutes after they'd gone up, but, I was told, a few would be available for $25 at the door an hour prior to the event. In the early afternoon, after toking with my friend Jes the remainder of the previous night's birthday party favors, we boarded the N, Manhattan-bound. She scrambled off at 34th, toward Penn Station, and I continued on. I got to the venue at 1:50, two hours and ten minutes before the scheduled interview. There was already a line of hopefuls, some of them outright "fans" of Murakami, which I suppose is what I'd be if I didn't recoil from the idea of literary fandom. Only three people ahead of me. Okay, the guy in front of me planned to buy a ticket for his girlfriend, too, so that's four. After waiting that hour and ten minutes, it was revealed the the tickets held for at-the-door sale numbered exactly two, but, the staffwoman assured the now thirty-person-long line, there are always last-minute cancellations, and those tickets would be resold at the door just prior to the interview. Okay. Only two people ahead of me. I could stand for another hour, whatever.
I chatted the dude in front of me, a cool fellow who, it turned out, also worked as a paralegal just a block away from me. We debated the pros and cons of the Hale & Hearty Soup on Remsen street, him railing against the prices, me apologizing it's flavorful selections, and the fact that it is the only healthyish alternative in an area stocked with KFC, Popeye's, Nathan's, and McDonald's. The woman behind me, an attractive 28-ish Japanese American woman who had somehow kept her PR job on Wall Street, spoke giddyishly with me about maybe getting Murakami to sign some of the first-edition Japanese editions she'd toted along. Behind her was a tall, brightly-adorned girl who said she'd come from Korea to New York just to see Mr. Murakami. Definitely a fan. (Apparently his public appearances are exceedingly rare). Paralegal-dude and his ladyfriend were informed that two tickets had become available. He wished me luck. The gals behind me looked hopeful, but with a tinge of dread. I was next in line for a cancellation-ticket, it was ten minutes to four, and legit ticket holders were now being permitted entrance. I looked at the tall Korean girl. Who flies 14 hours in the hopes of scoring a ticket? She seemed sincere in her love for the author. A New Yorker photographer asked her to pose with her Korean editions. She giggled sheepishly. Pretty cute, I thought. I decided that I would be a major jerk if I took a ticket and left her standing on the sidewalk, forlorn, perhaps utterly crushed, so close to getting in but ultimately denied. Staffwoman came around with a couple in tow. Apparently the couple was willing to sell their tickets to us. She pointed to me and the PR girl, said you and you, you can go, pointed to the Korean girl, said not you. You, you, not you. Oh man did Korean girl look crushed. I told staffwoman that Korean girl could have my ticket. Staffwoman looked shocked, told me I was a good man, Charlie Brown. Told me that she'd do everything she could to see that I got a seat. A man walked by while Japanese American PR and tall cute Korean were sifting through their purses to pay the couple. He overheard staffwoman, looked at me, said "oh, are you looking for a ticket?," and then handed one to me.
I sat next to Korean girl, whose name is So-Hyun, though her friends call her Soy. Mr. Murakami came out looking like one of his own protagonists, suit jacket over a faded Tide t-shirt, slacks, sneakers. His English, though fairly accented, is fluent, which I guess should be expected of a man who has translated Carver and Fitzgerald into Japanese. Deborah Treisman, fiction editor of New Yorker and elegant lady extraordinaire, made a brief introduction and got down to the quiz. Murakami writes because it is fun. He doesn't plot things out ahead of time, he just sees where they go. How does he know when a story is finished? Well, it's like making love; you know when you're done. What does he listen to? When he writes, baroque. When he drives, he likes R.E.M., Beck, and Radiohead. He does rewrite, sometimes heavily. He never reads his own stuff in Japanese once it's published, he prefers to read it in English. The translations are very faithful.
There was the man: easy, relaxed, probably even happy, nearing 60 and not looking a day older than 50, probably thanks to all that running. Discipline, he said, was very important. It is hard to sit down and write a novel. It is next to impossible to continue to sit, decade after decade, and write novels. You have to be tough. He learned his toughness from running.
So here is a baby step, on the way to running. Hey, I'm meeting So-Hyun for coffee tomorrow.