Kafka on the Shore

Last week I complained that I didn’t feel like I read. Like it had been so long since I had read voraciously that I didn’t know what it was like to want to read. The friend I was speaking to told me that she thought reading happened in “cycles.” Her words seemed vaguely familiar, like I’d spoken them to her before. I have a reputation for having read a lot, or at least having read a large variety of things, but I’m also older than her. And it’s true that I believe what she said, that there are times when you write and times when you take things in, and that I’ve often relayed that, if not to her then to mutual friends. I’m writing a lot now, but it still seemed like an issue.

I used to think reading would heal me. It used to feel that way—healing. I don’t know whether it does anymore. Or whether I want to be healed. I don’t know what I’m looking for, in other words. Or if I’m looking for anything.

I want reading to feel mystical again, like waking up early and walking outside before all of the lights turn on. Like hearing praise from someone who usually tells you you’re wrong.

I’m reading Kafka on the Shore right now, by Murakami. He writes what are probably best categorized as “metaphysical thrillers.” Mysteries that extend to the life of the reader, because its signs intersect with life’s. The “Archduke Trio” was mentioned, and I felt the urge to look it up, the specific recording above.

I’m not sure if what I felt then was as powerful as what I’ve felt before. But I was reminded of a fall spent listening to recordings of Vladimir Horowitz on the car stereo, navigating very early morning traffic with a sleeper in the passenger seat. Leaving before the light. Looking for signs of any kind—in music, in books, in poetry. In light reflecting off buildings or off the body of the sleeper.

Fog Diary


I feel an immense pressure building in me, gathering at my temples. A pressure that builds without release. A pressure that creates a kind of paralysis, choking some part of me off.

Every so often I take a deep breath and I realize that I haven’t been breathing well. I take a deep breath and remember that I’m alive, that I’m not just the strain I feel when I stare out the window or look at my phone or watch television. When I went outside last night, to walk to where I’d left my bicycle, last night on a warm September evening, walking through campus I felt like I was taking a deep breath.

When I got to my bicycle I didn’t know what I should do: ride down to the bank or find a coffee shop or bar in which I could read? I wanted to make use of my time in a better way than I had that evening, but there were so many options it was difficult to choose. I wanted to do everything at once, I wanted to have a profound or almost religious experience. Instead I rode to the bank and deposited a cheque, then I walked across the street to the Tim Horton’s and read about Roberto Bolaño’s life.

As I was entering, a man I had been walking behind turned around abruptly and came in behind me, muttering about how he’d thought the restaurant was closed because the blinds were closed. He hadn’t tried the door. It took me a minute to realize what he had said, and I reflected that I sometimes acted that way around strangers, speaking low and quickly in a baffling way, and I felt deeply disturbed, because it was obvious that the man who had been walking in front of me was homeless and maybe out of his mind.

I lingered by the entrance and let him get ahead of me. A line built behind three women who ordered around thirty dollars of food. It was almost ten o’clock at night and only three people were working: two in front and one in the back I never saw. I wanted a doughnut or a hot chocolate, I wasn’t sure which.

That afternoon I’d talked to my brothers on the telephone and one of them told me he was studying for the GRE. We talked about the illogic of tests and about acceptance rates at universities in the United States. My other brother said he was happy working as a bike courier and that his ideal life would be couriering three times a week and using his brain somehow the other two days. Montreal is not very expensive. He says that he’s happy because he has a little money and doesn’t have to worry.

I have bills that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to pay, based on my truly awful ability to find work. That’s fine. One day I’ll move to Montreal or Hamilton and work in a bar and start a press or a literary magazine, which probably won’t make any money but which will at least give me something to do. Work is important for experiencing and feeling things about the world.

I feel stuck or stuffed but it has helped to write out my feelings and actions in detail. Later today I will finally go to the Pompei exhibit at the ROM and like a character from the eighteenth century I will try to feel pathos when I look at all of the ruined lives I am walking through.


Yesterday a friend told me she knew I was a writer before she met me because I looked so brooding from across the room. I was flattered by that comment, but also alarmed: I never know what image of me is available to others, and I don’t necessarily want to appear brooding. I’d rather appear friendly. At the time I was brooding because I was still emerging from a period of relative darkness (darkness that always threatens or is always there). I feel larger now. (I probably still look like I’m brooding.)

I am corresponding with someone who will join the program I am in soon. She says that she’d like to tell people that what she wants to do with her future is go to the desert and write, or spend time on a beach, having sex and writing poems. I don’t know how suited I would be to living in those ways. But I have lived for poetry more than anything else. I have made ideas or art the centre of my life. And I’m avoiding that now, and corresponding with her has helped to remind me of that.

I told some friends in my program yesterday that I was thinking about what we were getting from the university, and I said that the most valuable things we’ve received so far have not come from the institution.

Except for access to the library and possibly the athletic centre.

Anyway, I am tired of feeling discouraged by the fact that my share of institutional power has been limited because I didn’t get as many “A’s” when I felt completely alone in the world and wanted to die. I’m tired of wanting institutional power. That hunger destroys writing. The only task is to write. I will never be the academic they want me to be and that’s fine because I have no interest in that life, which is actually a kind of death.

I just want to lift myself from this fog and see the world clearly.