To make ends meet during the early years of my journalism career, I pulled an all-nighter once a week, translating articles from Japanese to English for a Los Angeles-based Japanese business weekly. The editor there was a kind soul, a portly Colonel Saunders-type character, complete with a full black beard and mustache. One day, after turning in my assignment, I asked him, "What do you think it takes to be a good journalist?"
I waited to hear his answer, expecting him to talk about fortitude, strength of one’s convictions, ability to see the truth. But instead he answered, "Good health."
What the heck? I wondered later, as I took my 23-year-old body back to my day job at a daily newspaper. Mr. Editor had spent one too many days in the composing room. Good health?
He had tried to explain it to me later: journalism was a rigorous field, requiring late nights, driving to odd and sometimes dangerous locales, and being "on" most of the time. To sustain a lifetime of this, you needed a strong body to withstand both the physical and mental battering of the job. And, of course, the pay would not always be good, I knew this firsthand, requiring moonlighting and other side jobs to pay the rent.
Many years later, I was reading an article about the master Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s devotion to exercise–either swimming or jogging–because writing required so much "concentration."
And I concur: there is a connection between body and mind. And it’s not even about our simple definition of "good health," as countless of excellent writers have struggled with physical limitations–Flannery O’Connor and her battle with lupus being one.
No, this is more about the intersection of body, mind, and soul–concepts that the west seem to maintain in different compartments. I guess in the Judeo-Christian tradition, there are not physical exercise practices comparable to tai-chi or yoga. But fasting and food restrictions are prevalent in the Bible, but those values have not been embraced by popular culture. (Can you imagine middle America saying, "No, I’m fasting today," as many times as "Supersize me"?)
I go to a gym that’s literally two blocks away from my house. And yes, I actually do walk over there. While I exercise, I don’t think about what I’m writing. Instead I must concentrate to my step aerobics instructor: "L-connector!" "Turn step!" "Airplane!" "Hopscotch!" "Mambo!" All this to rerecordings of very bad eighties and nineties music. (I know, not very meditative.)
But it’s wonderful. Here in this mirrored room, I’m not a writer or a wordsmith, but just another middle-aged Asian broad in a T-shirt and yoga pants, in a sea of twentysomething rail-thin females and a sprinkling of men.
It’s about keeping weight and cholesterol levels down, but it’s also about working the body so that it can support all the physical and emotional stamina of producing a book. To make yourself so dog tired and you can actually fall into a good REM sleep and have all those subversive and crazy dreams that may help you solve a creative problem you may having. It’s about vanity, too, because you’ll be photographed more times than you’d like, only later have those images placed on websites and in newspapers.
So that Japanese Colonel Saunders lookalike did have a pearl of wisdom worth sharing. The older I get, the more important it is to do a Murakami.
WEDNESDAY’S WORD: kokoro (SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI, pages 127 and GASA-GASA GIRL, page 20)
How to define kokoro? A mixture of heart, mind, soul. In western culture, intellect and emotion are separate, but in Japanese culture it’s all together.