Monday, January 11, 2010

Waiting on a Train

Short one today, because I’ve been doing a lot of traveling this weekend, during which I’ve been reading Haruki Murakami’s novel The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. I traveled from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to Washington, D.C., via Amtrak, and the choice in reading material was shockingly appropriate.

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle--though it only mentions trains in relation to Tokyo’s transit system--is an exercise in patience, as Murakami guides readers through Toru Okada’s crumbling life. Okada, who encounters an array of bizarre characters, including psychics, a megalomaniacal politician, a “psychic prostitute,” and a morbid sixteen-year-old obsessed with a constant consideration of death.

Throughout the course of the novel, Okada waits and waits and waits--in a well, on benches, near subway stations, in cafés. But through these moments, Okada acquires a deeper understanding of himself and others in his attempts to absorb those environments and to comprehend the bizarre circumstances of his life--a decomposing marriage, friendships with women, a missing cat, and a strange series of encounters.

We usually view waiting as this non-descript space between events and transportation as a movement from one moment to the next. But all of this downtime--such as my rides on trains and a layover at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station--is actually a great opportunity to observe how people behave. In The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, Murakami uses Toru Okada and his perceptions of others as a way of reminding us that waiting can actually be a valuable opportunity for reflection.

But more on this waiting idea, after I finish Wind-up Bird Chronicle and then read Harold Schweizer’s On Waiting.


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