Postcards From Purgatory - The Dears

It seems our book group here on the blog isn't taking off. Not lighting fire, shall we say. That's cool, man. I'll just go ahead and start. I'll say what I thought because I suppose that's what I do here, just blather on and on about writing and running and then sometimes it connects with someone and sometimes I just never know. 

Haruki Murakami writes a lot. He writes all the time. It's his jam, his full time job except when he is teaching or running. And he also runs a lot. He runs ALOT. A marathon every year. And he's a three hour and change kind of guy, although I get the idea he has slowed as his body has aged. He's sixty one now. I read his book, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle many years ago at the urging of my friend, Page McBee, a tremendous writer and deeply fashionable joy of a person. She has a fancy for elegance in prose and intricacy in concept. She loves people's ability to shake down something insanely difficult into a sparse poem of a thing, like dipping a pan into a rushing river and shaking it until there's gold. So often, when she suggests things to me (which by the way is my favorite avenue for finding new things to read), I bring out a pen and note it in my unwieldy scheduling book. This particular suggestion took me a while to get to because the volume was so thick. I was in graduate school at the time so this undertaking seemed unrealistic despite the fact that I would watch hours of Queer as Folk on Netflix one after the other, beyond my control like little narrative piles of cocaine. It should be noted that I would fast forward through any scenes with the lesbians in there because, of course, on a show about men, they were flat, boring, irritating characters that gave my people a bad name. 

When I finally got over my delusions of time constraints, I devoured the book in about four days. It, for me, was so strange and beautiful, it was almost hallucinatory. It was an epic meditation on the search, on the haunting. Murakami led me around time, geography, perspective, and character to a place with utterly different rules than my life. And utterly different rules from any other book I had been to. I just loved it. I finished the text, but remained under its spell for weeks. I talked about it to whomever had read it, whomever would listen at all. I urged others to read it with a sense of the urgency unhidable in my voice. Little quivers ushered from my windpipe, encouraging visitors to his land. I lent out my copy so many times until finally I didn't get it back, and I still have no idea where it is. I don't actually care. I hope it's out there showing itself off in its quiet way. I never read another novel by him. A few short stories, but no other novels. People kept insisting that was the best one, so I left it alone. I had faith that it was enough. 

Then this memoir arrived. One concerned with my current undertakings of the running and the writing. Plus I love memoir. I love to hear a person lay out their own version of a life lived. Knowing someone believes their story is worth telling at all. It's really just incredible that a person could do it. I find the act alone to be formidable.

But this? Well. I don't know. I found parts of it interesting. I liked the overarching idea of the writing. I respected the sharing of it. But I didn't love it. I wanted to. It's clear to me the author is not comfortable talking about himself and his accomplishments. It's clear to me that there is something lost in translation, which itself, is always an elegy to me. The ways in which something is necessarily lost in not just a different language, but across a cultural chasm. Even in the his masterpiece I wondered, what am I missing here as I read? What thing, as an American do I not get, as we are not schooled in the text of the subtle. 

But again, all of this respected, I thought the book was boring. There, I said it. And I felt kind of jealous the whole time. The guy runs and writes all day. miles and miles of both. And even though he never, EVER sounds like he's bragging, it's just over and over the telling of the same things with not as much viscera as I prefer. One time he even runs over sixty miles. It costs him something for sure, but dang. 

I just wondered what y'all thought. 

And I think it's his discomfort with the personal revelation that stilts the story. One thing I learned by doing this is that I always suppose I am writing to someone whether I am or not. This is not intentional for me, but it actually is a kind of crux of the work. There is always, for me, the gesture of offering when I sit at the keyboard. I understand that just because there is an offering, it doesn't mean a person has to accept. Rejection is much more common a lesson than acceptance. I have a nice letter from the MacDowell Colony to show for that. I guess it turns out that my belief is in the people of the planet. That it is better to try and say hello than to not. And so perhaps my writing is an effort to go ahead and believe that my hello to strangers is worth something. That each story has inherent value, if even only one human can receive it. Also, I am willing to be wrong about this. It could be an entirely narcissistic undertaking that millions of people feel compelled to participate in. But I doubt it.

In other news: My friend Gus Seinberg, the gay, Jewish dog, is going for surgery today. He is so cute, wondering why I keep not giving him any food. Who can blame him? My sugar-free evilness feels a little more at bay this morning, and I feel safer going into the land of the public. Or rather, I feel the public is safer. And I continue to feel that Mama Sox should take American Idol this season. 

Sara Elise

PS... Please add to my book suggestion list. Thank You. 


  1. "How the Brain changes itself." Recommended by Deidre Lyn (aka Tantrum), I'm finding it FASCINATING. Not poetic- fascinating.

    or Actic Dreams- poetic And Fascinating. really.

    Sorry if you wanted fiction; my literalism is really whopping these days.
    xo, jam

  2. Enjoying the blog, Sara. You rock. - Noah