“All artistic creations are born of a resistance to one’s era.” Yukio Mishima
“All artistic creations are born of a resistance to one’s era.” Yukio Mishima
Most folks think of writing as a monkish, abstract endeavor more akin to meditation than exertion. But there’s a vital connection between the discipline of putting one word after another and taking one stride after another, as Nick Ripatrazone explains in this must-read Atlantic article:
The steady, repetitive movement of distance running triggers one’s intellectual autopilot, freeing room for creative thought. Neuroscientists describe this experience as a feeling of timelessness, where attention drifts and imagination thrives. …
Since I’ve returned to distance running, I’ve changed the way I think about writing. Writing exists in that odd mental space between imagination and intellect, between the organic and the planned. Runners must learn to accept the same paradoxes, to realize that each individual run has its own narrative, with twists and turns and strains.
Writers and runners use the same phrase—“hit my stride”—to describe the moment when exertion and work become joy. Writers stuck on a sentence should lace their sneakers and go for a jog, knowing that when they return, they will be a bit sweatier, more tired, but often more charged to run with their words.
We know a sound mind in a healthy body is sharper and livelier because mind and body are not two separate entities. Each one affects the other. But Ripatrazone expands on this truth by proposing that running helps the mind harmonize with the rhythm and tempo of the body, stimulating the writer’s ability to “focus on a single, engrossing task and enter a new state of mind entirely—word after word, mile after mile.”
I fully agree, and would add that other physical activities also promote writing ability. I’ve found that weightlifting, a strenuous, repetitive, and somewhat dangerous activity, sharpens my focus and endurance, two qualities essential to getting words onto paper. Yukio Mishima even wrote a book, Sun and Steel, about the benign discipline lifting weights imposed on his writing. And Ernest Hemingway relied on boxing to help him break occasional writer’s block.
Here’s how I came to write it. While researching an alt history novel I’m working on, I saw a video about Japanese Kamikaze pilots saying good-bye to their loved ones and dedicating their lives to their nation in a solemn ritual before taking off. It was deeply moving to see those young men preparing for death. I could not help but recall Mishima’s Patriotism.
A few days later, I read an Atlantic article entitled How Indie Rock Changed The World. That’s when the scenario and characters came to me. Several of my interests, including music, history, electronics, and writing converged into a gritty, yet hopeful, post-apocalyptic tale. I hope you enjoy it.
The best fiction and writing blog posts from around the ‘net, all guaranteed to make you a literary ninja. Compiled by mishima.
Charles E. Yallowitz – What Do You Look For In Magic Beasts?
Kathryn Lilley – Brain Science Offers Solutions for Writer’s Block
Alice Osborn – How Do You Book A Book Signing?
Timothy Pike – Are You Afraid Of Success, Dear Writer?
Damyanti – Do You Submit Like A Man?
Andrew Toy – The Elimination Game
Susan Holmes – The Writer’s Craft
Purpleanais – Does Anybody Really Believe in Freedom of Speech?
I think writers are as necessary as doctors. Like a doctor, the writer performs the vital functions of diagnosing patients, advising them, and healing them.
Diagnosing: Through the generations, writers, like doctors, pretty much say the same things over and over, but in fresh, personal language. That’s because the human condition does not change. We must be told we are mortal, that we can and will get hurt, and that we should take better care of ourselves and loved ones.
Ernest Hemingway’s magnificent tale of war and loss in A Farewell To Arms remains one of the most powerful and vivid tales of the madness of World War I. Of course, its narrative is timeless because humanity is still being dazed and bloodied by conflict and loss. I still recall reading that book in high school, and how it shook me to the core the way it made the abstraction of death real. In the powerful final scene, the protagonist, Frederic Henry, makes the nurses leave the room where his wife has died in childbirth. He is determined to say goodbye. However, something is wrong:
But after I had got them out and shut the door and turned off the light it wasn’t any good. It was like saying good-bye to a statue. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.
Feel the lid of the coffin slamming down? The “statue” image chilled my marrow at age 17. An invaluable lesson.
Advising: Because death and suffering are real, the writer, like a good doctor, must caution readers about what they should and should not do. Sometimes we don’t listen, and need to be slapped in the face and reminded there are certain risks we’re taking without thinking about the possible consequences. Larry Niven’s “Bordered in Black” is one breathtaking example. I won’t give away the plot, but the story begins with Earth’s most famous astronaut destroying the first faster-than-light ship, from which he’s just explored the farthest reaches of space. Niven’s advice is this: Out there in the dark unknown, in alien places where the light from the nuclear fires we call stars cannot reach, there may have arisen Beings that are nothing like the cuddly ET. Nothing at all.
Something to think about before we broadcast more “Come on down!” messages from our radio telescopes.
Healing: And finally, no matter how well we take care of ourselves, pain and loss will find us. One story I enjoy re-reading is Yukio Mishima’s “Death in Midsummer,” which is about the accidental drowning of two children. The parents struggle to recover, and are finally able to return to the beach where their children died:
From beneath the clouds, the sea came toward them, far wider and more changeless than the land. The land never seems to take the sea, even its inlets. Particularly along a wide bow of coast, the sea sweeps in from everywhere.
The waves came up, broke, fell back. Their thunder was like the intense quiet of the summer sun, hardly a noise at all. Rather an earsplitting silence. A lyrical transformation of the waves, not waves, but rather ripples one might call the light derisive laughter of the waves at themselves – ripples came up to their feet and retreated again.
Those lines, I think, illustrate the surprising and timeless beauty that can emerge from harsh reality. By confronting our mortal condition, we appreciate more intently what it means to live. Finding that beauty is often difficult and fleeting, but it is possible, and literature helps us see it.
And those are the reasons I read. And write.
The central theme in my writing is the struggle to live an authentically human life in a world that is globalized, homogenized, and ground down to airy abstractions. There is no doubt in my mind that the proliferation of modern afflictions, from depression to diabetes, is the result of an artificial lifestyle that disdains the physical and idolizes the abstract.
We are told to dedicate our lives to economic success and despise non-material fulfillment. Homo economicus wanders the earth in a body that is little more than the minds’s chassis.
So I was pleased to see this recent article in the Johns Hopkins Newsletter discussing the expanding chasm between human needs and the ill-fitting lifestyle we have allowed to overwhelm and warp our lives:
Almost all aspects of our modern lives that wouldn’t be included under the “Paleolithic” lifestyle are inherently bad for us. Studies have shown that even artificial lights interfere with melatonin production and alter our circadian rhythms. Our sedentary lifestyles present some grave health complications for bodies sculpted by millions of years of evolution to be able to handle insane amounts of physical exertion. For most of human history, sitting in a chair for nine hours a day and surviving would have been mutually exclusive concepts. We just haven’t been built to do it. We are completely out of our element in this world of sensory excess. And it’s not looking like we’ll ever adapt to it while modern medicine and societal norms effectively prevent the barbaric natural selection process from occuring. So because we will not adapt to these new conditions, the only thing we can do is adapt our individual lifestyles.
How can we salvage our humanity in such a world? The author suggests what I believe is a pretty good start:
I suggest that we should all let out our inner Homo erectus as much as possible. In an ideal world this means coming downstairs and spending time talking with your housemates or roommates instead of watching Netflix in your room. This means eating more nutrient-rich food that hasn’t been designed in a lab. This means cutting Internet porn out of your life. This means reading more books in print. This means taking on that huge project. This means getting sweaty on a regular basis. This means living life in the manner that millions of years of natural selection designed you to. You just might find that if you’re cognizant of the needs and health of your inner paleolithic cave-dwelling hominid, he or she will fight tooth and nail to get you ahead in life.
Yes. Not a bad start.
Jonathan Barrett, the protagonist of my novella Aztec Midnight, is passionate about many things, including his wife, Aztec history, the memory of his father, and the lore of ancient weapons he learned from Robert Horse, the elderly Mescalero Apache who befriended the young Barrett in his native Texas. Barrett is what the ancient Romans venerated, a man who has achieved mens sana in corpore sano — a sound mind in a healthy body.
Yukio Mishima relates his journey toward achieving that ideal in his highly readable Sun and Steel, which you can read at Google docs.
And for a glimpse of what could happen if society staggers too far down the road of a globalized, abstracted world, you can read my flash fiction piece Snake Heart.