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FLASHBACK* - "Portrait of an Idol: Haruki Murakami at the New Yorker Festival"

The stage was bare except for two chairs and a small table, on top of which was a pitcher of water and two glasses. The talk's moderator, New Yorker Fiction Editor Deborah Treisman, sat on the one side. Haruki Murakami, his legs crossed, sat on the other. He was wearing a creamy beige suit over a white t-shirt so washed-faded the Tide laundry detergent brand in the centre of his chest was almost as white as the T-shirt itself.
His shoes, like a narrator from one of his novels, were red, also tremendously faded, sneakers.

His hands were in his lap and he spent much of the afternoon's talk looking down at them. When he looked up, to punctuate a point, say, you saw the full colour in his cheeks. He is in his late fifties, but all his marathon running and highly, highly disciplined life show in his glow. He looked healthy, happy. You don't get the sense this man knocks back Bukowskian quantities of cheap booze.

If Murakami drinks, (he does; read his first ten novels), he drinks the good stuff and he doesn't overdo it. If he's self-assured it's the good kind, the confident kind. None of that arrogant stuff.

You can't fake humility. Murakami was the self-effacing real deal, and this is a guy touted to win the Nobel Prize. It's not that he is so daft as to not realize how big a literary celebrity he is. But nor did he do as I'd seen Jhumpa Lahiri do at a New Yorker festival event two days earlier - so overwhelmed by her fame as to selfishly reject it, seeming to play that celebrity 'I hate that you love me' game.

Murakami wasn't rejecting anyone's thanks. Instead he was warmly receptive to it, like Audrey Hepburn's Roman Holiday princess saying "thank you" in that gloriously warm and generous way of hers.

I previously posted the New Yorker blog piece about Murakami's talk , thrilled as I was to be mentioned in it (I'm the Canadian). While it highlighted many of the anecdotal threads of wisdom the famous novelist had to give, it couldn't cover all the talk had to offer.

It mentioned Murakami outlining harmony as one of the essential elements in his fiction. What wasn't mentioned was the balance this man gives off not just in his prose but in his presence, the way he sits, the way he takes his time to think over a question; a long time before he will start to speak; an act he also is in no rush to babble through. Murakami doesn't babble.

This guy who drinks little, is early to bed and obscenely early (as early as 3am) to rise, described all of his working endeavours, including writing, translating and revising, as fun! That he used the word 'fun' was mentioned in the blog. What wasn't was how childlike sincere he came across when saying it, or the number of times he said it (I've no idea, but it was a lot.)

One final addition to the online New Yorker piece was an audience member's astute observation that reading Murakami is a calming experience. Perhaps that explains why so many fans read not one but all of the guys novels. This not to say his stories are without their darkness. They almost all delve deeply down the dark well. Yet even in the digging there remains a seemingly contradictory serenity. Murakami so embodies a spiritual calm it all but changed the way we audience members breathed for a couple hours of a Sunday afternoon (I don't even think I'm exaggerating). Though he never discusses religion, and as far as I know is not in any way a religious man or even affliated with any religion, I think his grandfather was a Buddhist priest. This seems pertinent.

Speaking of Buddhism, I doubt I am the only person to walk away from watching their favourite living writer wishing that they too could diminish their ego to that degree.

*Originally Posted October 18th, 2008