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October 01, 2003

Guest Posting -- Nate Davis

Friedrich --

A few postings ago I mentioned that Id once met the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. That prompted Nate Davis, a Murakami fan and an occasional 2Blowhards visitor from Cape Cod, to send me an enthusiastic email. I thought what he wrote about Murakami (as well as about our "sexy words" poll) was terrific. Here it is:

You got to speak with Haruki Murakami? I am jealous. I discovered his work a couple of weeks ago while reading a review of the video game, "Metal Gear Solid 2." The game gets quite surreal towards the end and that put off many of its players and reviewers, but the review I read defended its merits as a thought-provoking work of art and put it into context as a product of postmodern Japanese culture, comparing it with Murakami's work (specifically "Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World").

As the game had given me toe-curling paroxysms of delight, I rushed out to scoop up "Wonderland." What an unexpected pleasure! High-concept surreal sci-fi elements, neuroscience, mystery and eroticism all told with the clear voice of an accomplished storyteller. I kept thinking, "This is what all these new lit'rary snobs could do, if they could just get their own egos out of the way and tell the damn story!" Not that the language is plain, it's just clear, I guess. It does what it needs to perfectly, without unnecessary embellishment His descriptions of natural phenomena give me the same serene feeling that Japanese landscape prints do. That "Wonderland" came through so well in translation is remarkable. I just finished his "Wind Up Bird Chronicle" and enjoyed that every bit as much, but was dismayed to find that much of the story was cut in the English translation at the request of the publisher. This left the novel with several untied ends, and I don't think that was Murakami's intent.

You wrote, "His English was terrible?" Better than our Japanese, I bet! I've been considering the challenge of learning another language well enough to appreciate literature from another point of view, and now I have Japanese to consider. I've thought of approaching Russian to read Dostoyevski or German for Rilke. Not much interest in French, although my wife is pushing for that as she'd like to get a villa in the South of France someday ... On a related note, your search for sexy words reminded me of a conversation a friend and I had about what language sounded sexiest. We both agreed on Russian. It's got a world-weary, earthy yearning to it that has some kind of allure, and a bit of German S&M hierarchical, martial sound withoug going over the top. French, the accepted "Language of Love," has too much sugar and snot. Japanese is pretty sexy too, but in a cloying creampuff sort of way. Any opinions on this pressing matter? My wife thought it was perhaps the stupidest discussion we'd ever had.

Nate and I swapped a few more emails, and I loved what he had to say about trying to put together a culture-centric life. I asked Nate if I could run on the blog some of what he wrote in his emails, and he gave me his OK.

I've been managing a Tinder Box store, a cigar/pipe/gift place on Cape Cod, for about five years now. My wife Donna and I purchased a flower shop in the same shopping center about a year and a half ago, and so all of a sudden we're business owners too, with all the attendant joys and heartaches. This month, we're moving the flower shop into a larger location, so I've been breaking out the power tools and drywall compounds and playing at carpenter.

I "opted out" of college after 1 1/2 semesters in the hopes of becoming a science fiction novelist. I know how you feel about "writing a book," but I feel the typical hubris -- I know the odds are a million to one, but I am going to be that one! Of course I fell into retailing (which is what you do on Cape Cod if you want to get by; that or construction, which I tried for three months).

I've been fortunate enough to fall in with supportive and energetic employers who have encouraged Donna and me in all of our endeavors. They're in their sixties and have started hinting that they'd like us to buy the Tinder Box in a couple of years. I had never imagined myself as a business owner or entrepreneur, but now that that glove is slipping on of its own accord, it feels comfortable enough.

The career muse, status, money, never meant anything to me. My biggest ambition was finding something I enjoyed doing enough that I could look forward to getting up in the morning. Lin Yutang's "The Importance of Living" summarized my attitude pretty well, although after the fact.

I guess the career muse is kind of biting now, though. We bounced an idea off of the Mashpee Commons landlord yesterday: an internet cafe/video game store/LAN party venue/arcade with hip art and lattes. Not expecting him to take us seriously, but now we've got a meeting to talk about a vacancy at the other end of the marketplace and what a great idea he thinks we have. It would mean more bank loans, business plans, late nights, money stress -- blech.

Still, once you own a business it seems the ideas just jump out, with little respect for the bodies that spawned them. My hands are still coated in joint compound and one-coat Martha Stewart Marzipan paint, and I'm thinking about another one of these monsters? Maybe this is what that career madness is supposed to be.

I'm a native Cape Codder. Donna ended up here on a fluke. She was trying to move to Boston with her niece but the apartment fell through, so they picked a direction at random and drove until they could find the first available space. She's from Michigan originally, and had an art history degree under her belt from the University of Michigan before we fell in together working at the Hyannis Barnes & Noble.

The Cape is a bit of a cultural sand-dune, so our access to the arts is somewhat limited. Boston is not far, but we never seem to go often enough. But, honestly, the cultural life on the Cape isn't as bad as it was ten years ago -- not only do we have the Web and Amazon, but also both a Borders and a two-floor Barnes & Noble within a mile of each other. What's missing is the chance to walk to a concert or a play or an art gallery on a whim. Being 27 in a part of the world that's devoted to serving retirees isn't easy either. Still, it's a good enough place to get our business started ...

And really, it is allowing us to do what I hoped to do when I left school: live life on my own terms and have enough time to enjoy the things I enjoy that don't produce money. Not that we have the time now -- but in a few years, hopefully! The free time we do have is split between reading and video games primarily, and occasional movies.

The Cape is a nice place to live. It's driven home to me by how many friends want to move back here so badly; they've seen enough of the country now, and there's something on the Cape that they just can't find anywhere else. The combination of history and expensive landscaping, maybe; the quaint architecture; the sailboats and beaches and harbours we all hope to enjoy someday. In terms of going someplace laid-back to have more time for the cultivation of a mental life, though, we've been thinking about Nova Scotia. Much more affordable, and without the Summer Traffic.

Many thanks to Nate Davis.



posted by Michael at October 1, 2003


I loved reading Nate Davis on Murakami! I think it's completely right to get to Murakami through video games. It made me realize that one of the things I love about A WILD SHEEP CHASE is how much it takes from pop culture. It's a real anime novel and yet beautifully written.

Posted by: Polly Frost on October 1, 2003 8:16 PM

Still, once you own a business it seems the ideas just jump out, with little respect for the bodies that spawned them.

Ain't it the truth. I don't know one small business person who hasn't thought up enough ideas for potential businesses to last them for 10 lifetimes. The "bottleneck" is the shortage of hours in the day.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on October 2, 2003 2:24 AM

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