Hi, all, from the banks of Brays Bayou. It’s a muggy, gray Tuesday afternoon in early April. Tomorrow I will have been in Houston for four weeks, which is weird to think about! Everything is weird to think about. Remember restaurants? I do.
I’m beyond worried for everyone living in NYC. I’m worried for us all, quite frankly, which isn’t a great feeling to carry around. I do feel like I’m carrying it - it sits on my shoulders, which are drawn up tight towards my ears, and in my jaw, which is clenched tight. I’ve set little reminders to unclench on my phone, which I follow and then forget, seizing up minutes later.
One thing that has unexpectedly come out of this is that I have taken up running. I don’t think it’s solving any problems, and it’s certainly not making me less anxious. I’m aware that being able to have the space to run is an immense privilege; the park is huge, and people are keeping well away from one another. Sustained physical activity has always been one of those things I selectively forget is helpful to me. In the Before Times, there was always at least one workout a week where afterwards I felt refreshed and energetic, as though it was the first time it had ever happened and I had made some miraculous discovery.
In the before times I’d do a brisk 30 minutes on the treadmill, running about half the time, then wander off to the sauna. Now, however, I’m running nearly every day and the sauna is the outside. I’ve gotten up to 3.5 miles, a bit longer than a 5k. In the Before Times a 5k was something to work up to; it was a race I paid for and ran and got a souvenir tank top and a boozy brunch out of it. (Remember brunch? God, I miss brunch.)
As part of all this running I decided to re-read novelist Haruki Murakami’s book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. It’s less about running than it is about what running does for his writing, and it’s a great read. He started running around the same time that he started writing, as a way to keep in shape after closing the bar that had been his livelihood before his first novels were published.
Here’s where I confess that I have never actually read one of his novels! But I’ve now read this slim book twice, and found it meditative and interesting. (And occasionally very funny.)
This little observation comes in a larger discussion about being true to one’s own artistic vision. Murakami talks about how, when he ran the bar, if one in ten people liked it, he was happy, and he worked as hard as possible to make sure that the bar was as true to himself and his vision as possible, to better please the people that truly liked it and would come back. He applies the same philosophy to his writing.
I think that’s a very useful takeaway for any creative endeavor; please yourself, and please the people who like what you’re working on. Don ’t make a generic bar that people visit and then forget; don’t write a generic novel that people read and can’t remember what happens in it. (Obviously easier said than done, but it’s a nice idea.)
The other takeaway from this book that I liked was in the last section, talking about focus and endurance. Focus, he says, is the skill most needed in a novelist after talent. And endurance is the skill most needed after that. Talent, the first, is helpful, but focus and endurance are more helpful and, in fact, more useful, since they can be learned and developed through training.
This is similar to a lot of advice you see these days on writing; be consistent, commit the time, do what you need to do. Of course, focus and endurance are the things in shortest supply right now. Anyone else have intensifying pain in their thumbs from multi-hour scrolling sessions? Last time I got a screentime report it just said “bitch, go to sleep.” And there is a grim kind of productivity porn quality to the exhortations to “do a little every day” that are still ubiquitous even in this pandemic, when none of us can leave our houses and a trip to the grocery store is a chance for some existential dread.
Still, it can be nice, in these trying times, to give yourself the gift of being creative. A little creativity, as a treat. It doesn't have to lead to anything. You don't have to come out of this having written Kafka On The Shore. I don’t have to come out of this ready to run a marathon. Frankly, I can’t imagine anything more painful.
I am attracted to the idea of coming out of all having worked on my focus and endurance. The idea of running or writing every day, with the end goal being more running and more writing? That sounds like a pretty good gift to me.
Housekeeping: Do you have a question you want answered on publishing/writing/agents/books/hockey? Drop it in the comments!
In case you missed it, my client K.M. Szpara was in conversation with N.K. Jemisin on Sunday about his new book DOCILE! You can watch the whole thing here.
This Week In Hockey
Sports: still cancelled! Keeping things #ontheme this week’s Sports Links are mostly running-related.
The Quarantine Backyard Marathon Brings the World’s Most Diabolical Race To Your Screen At Home by Jessica Smetana (Sports Illustrated)
The “backyard ultra” format is daunting, but simple: each runner has 60 minutes to complete a 4.167 mile loop. If they finish before the 60 minutes is up, they can eat, sleep, use the restroom, etc., but they must be at the starting line when the 60 minutes is up so that they can start the next 4.167 mile loop. If you can’t make it to the starting line in time: you’re out. The race ends when the last runner is standing. That means you might only get 10 minutes to sleep, use the bathroom, eat and get back on the starting line before you have to run another 4.16 miles. The race doesn’t stop at night, either. Last year’s world championship race ended after 60 hours. Crazy, right?
The Masochist’s Marathon by George Pendle (Esquire)
The world's top ultrarunners fight to compete in the Barkley Marathons, an ever-shifting race designed by a madman to break their spirits through 100 miles of hellish Appalachian mountains. So far, only 14 people have completed it.
Looking for a quick home workout that requires absolutely no equipment? Dead-eyed human depressive episode Connor McDavid and his agent put together a 15-minute workout that quite frankly had me praying for the sweet embrace of death this morning.
Tips from Someone With Nearly 50 years of Social-Distancing Experience by Rae Ellen Bichell (NPR)
We're all social distancing these days, and it's unclear when exactly that will end. But Billy Barr has been doing this for almost 50 years. He's the only full-time resident of Gothic, Colo. "I'm the mayor and chief of police," he said. "I hold elections every year, but I don't tell anybody when they are, so it works out really well."
Plain Dealer Put Out to Pasture. In Final Death Blow, Remaining Reporters Given Impossible Choice by Sam Ballard (CleveScene.com)
On the first workday after a brutal and debilitating round of layoffs at The Plain Dealer, Editor Tim Warsinskey delivered what will be the paper's final and cruelest blow. He told the 14 remaining newsroom staffers that they would henceforth be forbidden from covering stories in Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, and Summit County and could no longer report on anything that might be deemed a "statewide" issue. Those vast content areas will now fall under the editorial jurisdiction of cleveland.com, the PD's non-union sister newsroom.
Why Do We Read Plague Stories? by Gabrielle Bellot (Catapult)
The brilliance of Camus’s novel is that it is a novel of landscapes, metropolitan and emotional, capturing both a city overrun by disease and a portrait of the shifting emotional worlds of its inhabitants. What is most haunting about Camus’s plague is that it comes seemingly out of nowhere; and at the end, when it seems to have left, Dr. Rieux is acutely, agonizingly aware that a disease like the plague “never dies or disappears for good,” but simply lies dormant, biding its time to later return “in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves.”
And finally, I chose House #4.
This has been A Faster No, a biweekly dispatch on publishing, writing, books, and beyond. This is a free post, but if you’d like to support the newsletter and get exclusive content, paid subscriptions are available for $5/month or $50/year. Feel free to forward.