by John Bloner, Jr.
It’s been a week of making art, listening to podcasts, reading books, and getting a second shot of the Pfizer vaccine.
I look forward to engaging with mankind again. However, as I’m both an introvert and an HSP, my engagement may find me hiding in a corner rather than the center of the room.
I have books scattered around the house – and in the smallest room in the house, too.
Haruki Murakami’s new collection of stories – First Person Singular – arrived this past week. I cannot get enough of his work. I’ve tried to stop buying books, and have had some success with this diet, but make an exception with Murakami.
Rock icon and author Patti Smith stumbled upon one of his early novels on a snowy day visit to St. Mark’s Bookshop, found herself captivated by the book’s title, A Wild Sheep Chase, bought it and took it over to a nearby restaurant where she spent two hours consuming its prose. “In the weeks to come,” she writes. “I would sit at my corner table reading nothing but Murakami. I’d come up for air just long enough to go to the bathroom or order another coffee.”
I know the feeling. I’d experienced a similar story 15 years ago. I dipped into The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle on a winter’s morning, not expecting to be swept away by the story, but was hooked by the end of the first page. I read nothing except Murakami’s prose until Spring, devouring the books Dance, Dance, Dance; A Wild Sheep Chase; the Elephant Vanishes; Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World; and Kafka On The Shore. With this last book, I followed the author’s advice and read it twice for an intriguing reason, as Murakami states: “Kafka on the Shore contains several riddles, but there aren’t any solutions provided. Instead several of these riddles combine, and through their interaction the possibility of a solution takes shape. And the form this solution takes will be different for each reader.”
Why does Murakami’s writing captivate me? His stories walk a line between waking and dreams, Consider the paintings of Marc Chagall: there’s a sense of the familiar world and the fantastic interwoven. Murakami’s books are like that.
Another reason is music. Before becoming a best-selling storyteller, he ran a jazz nightclub. References to music infuse his prose. In the novel, Kafka on the Shore, one characters enters a coffee shop where he listens to classical music by the Million Dollar Trio of Arthur Rubinstein, Jascha Heifetz and Emanuel Feuermann. I bought this album because of its reference in the novel and listened to every night for months before going to bed, the musicians performing Beethoven’s Piano Trio Op. 97 (Archduke) and Schubert’s Piano Trio No. 1 Op. 99 in B-flat.
Murakami learned to write by listening to music. “What’s the most important thing in writing?” he asks. “It’s rhythm.” Besides writing his own books, he’s well-known for translating the work of English-speaking authors into Japanese, including the work of Raymond Carver. Murakami’s translators take similar care in bringing his words to their countries’ readers.
I was intrigued while writing this article by a video essay I encountered about the author, published on YouTube by The Paperpunk, who describes Murakami in poetic terms: His work stands out like an oddly-shaped island shrouded by the thick veil of sea fog. While the video’s publisher indicates he’s a recent arrival to the writer’s work, he captures the pleasure of reading Murakami so well. He says, His work often dreamlike and set in a languid hypnotic world of mysterious events is built on the back of symbols, metaphors, and prophecies of fate. Watch The Paperpunk’s essay for yourself.
One story in his latest collection, With The Beatles, is not as much about the Fab Four or their music as it is about memory and gaps which form as we grow older and the darkness we keep inside. The story’s narrator arrives at his girlfriend’s home, but she’s not there. Her brother invites him to wait for her. During this sojourn, when the narrator relates to killing time, the brother tells of a strange occurrence. He’s experiencing time jumps. One moment it’s 3 o’clock and suddenly its 7pm. The hours that should have intervened were not there. The missing hours aren’t a result of alcohol or fatigue, they’ve just vanished.
The story itself jumps through time, beginning with an image of a young woman clutching a copy of The Beatles’ album, With The Beatles, traveling to the encounter between the narrator and his girlfriend’s brother, and arriving eighteen years later in Tokyo when the two men have another chance encounter.
This story made me think of how I don’t live moment to moment, but episode to episode, as if hours, days, and years are merely mental construct. In one episode, I’m up at dawn, learning to ride my bike before the older neighbor kids can bark their instructions at me, and in the next, I’m many decades older, pedaling on a rural road toward Burlington, Wisconsin. Is there any space between these occurrences?
Every Thursday morning, some friends and I gather for coffee and conversation. The pandemic has changed our routine, so instead of breaking bread –or in our case, feasting on donuts – at the art studio of our host, Samira Gdisis, she invites us to show up on Zoom.
We’ve recently put together our own seven-week art and writing workshop, in which we use Nick Bantock’s book, The Trickster’s Hat, as our guide. Bantock’s volume provides us with 49 exercises, designed to allow us to lose ourselves – our inhibitions and our inner critics – in order to become better creators.
Nick Bantock is well-known for his seven books, featuring correspondence of his characters, Griffin and Sabine, and for his approach to storytelling through letters and collage images. His inspiration for these stories came from an encounter at a post office, where he witnessed a man removing a gorgeous letter in an overseas envelope from a mailbox and was instantly envious of him. This encounter led him to examine the question, What would the perfect correspondence be? He developed Griffin and Sabine to find out and also to enjoy making letters and stuffing envelopes with them..
“There’s something about envelopes,” he says. “There’s voyeurism with permission”
Opening an envelope, he describes, “it’s like a cross between sex and Christmas.”
I love that line. Enjoy it and many other observations by Nick Bantock in his conversation with
Bill Kenower of Author Magazine.
I recall over twenty years ago when Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop opened on 430 Main St. in downtown Racine and one of the store’s guest speakers was author Jane Hamilton, who described her warm astonishment upon receiving a letter through the U.S. Mail from a friend. Even in the early hours of a new century, letter exchanges had become a rare occurrence.
,Hamilton writes that the act of writing a novel is like penning a note to friend or, in her words “perhaps a group, solemn and still, just beyond our vision.”
The best books feel like they were written just for us, don’t they?
Our Thursday chat has also led us into discussion on other books and topics. One attendee recommended the book, Reach, by Andy Molinsky, as both The Trickster’s Hat and Molinsky’s volume invite us to act outside of our comfort zone. I’ve just begun reading this volume and plan to address it in a future article. You’re invited to listen to the author describe it here.
Over the past year, I’ve become addicted to podcasts. I try to find one for each day of the week, beginning on Sunday night with Ira Glass’ long-running radio show, This American Life. I also tune in regularly to conversations about art, writing, and comics with Gil Roth on his weekly program, Virtual Memories Show. Thursdays often bring conversations with cartoonists on the series, Make It Then Tell Everybody, hosted by Dan Berry, and Saturday mornings are made special when Canadian Danielle Krysa is at the microphone to welcome her guests to the series, The Jealous Curator. Some of my favorites episodes feature her conversations with the artist, Ashley Longshore, who is hilarious in her use of profanity, and inspirational in her takes on art and life. I also cannot live without Design Matters, hosted by author, educator, brand strategist Debbie Millman. Over the span of 16 years, she’s welcomed many authors, artists, musicians, designers, and others in the creative arts to her show, including author and entrepreneur Seth Godin.
Seth Godin drops a new podcast every Wednesday, beginning with his greetings, “Hey, It’s Seth and this is Akimbo, followed by a loping bass line, before he dives into the week’s topic. About Akimbo, Godin writes, it’s “about our culture and about how we can change it. About seeing what’s happening and choosing to do something. The culture is real, but it can be changed. You can bend it.”
My most recent podcast discovery is an autobiographical series, Winnetka, narrated by actress and musician Jessica Harper, and based on her life, growing up in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka, Illinois. I had a crush on her in the 1970s and early 1980s when she was starring in films opposite Woody Allen (Love and Death and Stardust Memories); Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters (Pennies from Heaven); and Peter O’Toole (My Favorite Year), so I was intrigued to hear her story.
Winnetka is about a Midwestern family and particularly about Harper’s Dad, whom she characterizes in a story published in the Chicago Tribune as “compelling in many ways, and ethical,” while also a man with “an explosive temper” and “no tolerance for emotional display.” Harper grew up in the 1950s and 60s when gender roles and expectations were changing from their pre-World War II definitions. Men who were traumatized by their experiences in warfare found no avenues to properly deal with their psychological wounds.
Harper recorded Winnetka in 2019. It’s available here.
One last thing: I’ve been working on sketches over the past month to illustrate a short story, Ferkelburg in Black & White, written by Jodi Diderrich, for publication later this year through my micro-press. The story concerns a puppeteer who takes on a job in a faraway theater only to find, upon arrival, that there’s something strange about the town in which it’s located. Its buildings, people, animals, landscape, and birds are in black and white, except for the puppet theater and its owner.
Ferkelburg in Black & White is a part of a collaborative world-building project I started last December. Nineteen artists and authors contributed their interpretations of life in the fictional town of Ferkelburg, past and present, and their work was published in a 48-page full-color zine in January 2021. I look forward to publishing more Ferkelburg-related material in the future.
For any readers from the Kenosha area, Jodi’s story includes a character who works at a farmers’ market. I’ve drawn him (see top left) to resemble the founder of Kenosha’s own outdoor market, HarborMarket, the late Ray Forgianni. I knew Ray for over 30 years and admire his vision and am grateful for his hard work in taking the concept of a European market and bringing it to reality in my hometown.
Thanks for reading this week’s post. Mark your calendars, if you’re near southeastern Wisconsin, on Saturday, May 8, 2021 when Kenosha HarborMarket opens for the season, 9am-2pm, on the lakefront in Kenosha, between 54th and 56th Street along 2nd Avenue.
Feature photo by Olya Adamovich at Pixabay