“I don’t like deadlines — when it’s finished, it’s finished.” - Haruki Murakami

What is a perfect piece of writing? Some Japanese critics would argue that it would be far from what Haruki Murakami produces. Older readers have said his writing is “stinking of butter” ( batakusai — バタ臭い ), which is used to describe something that is heavily Western-influenced. Though some believe this is a disadvantage, its incorporation has undeniably helped the novelist develop a global appeal. But this influence is not why he has become so accomplished; instead, it has perhaps made his writing more approachable. Personally, I believe Murakami’s unique voice and style are a crucial factor to his success, as well as the contemporary issues he explores deep in his writing.

Besides my agreement with most of Murakami’s philosophies as an author, I have also found that the more I seek to understand his characters, the more connections I make to their struggles caused by suffocating routines and inescapable order. Both of these issues can be seen in the short story “Sleep,” which I further evaluated in one of my IB English Lang + Lit course socratic seminar discussions recently. When I first read the story, I was bewildered by its unusual elements. I would think to myself, “A woman who hasn’t slept in 17 days and isn’t tired? How bizarre.” But later on, through evaluation of the plot, character dynamics, internal monologue, etc., this strange form of insomnia started to reveal itself as logical, or at least as logical as a situation like that can get. Motherhood, marriage, gender roles all have taken away a part of the protagonist’s freedom which she slowly realizes. This reflection has inevitably affected her mental health and can be understood further with psychoanalytic concepts. In truth, this story is far from what it may be interpreted to be at first.

I think that my socratic seminar participation on “Sleep” had its strong moments as well as its faults. I enjoyed facilitating the conversation as the ‘leader’ and organizing group ideas. I hoped that we could as a group take advantage of the time that was provided to discuss efficiently by doing so. I want to improve in our next seminar by developing my ideas further and not fearing speaking too much. I try to avoid talking “just to talk” without having anything meaningful to say, but by doing so, some ideas I had developed go unheard. There is an appropriate balance one can find to deal with this issue, which I just haven’t found yet. I also want to work on my language when I present and be more concise.

In our seminar, I think all participants did well on relating what we had read to other literary works. Whether it is Kafkaesque philosophy or novels like “The Vegetarian,” many connections like these can be made to this story. Still, novelists are not the only ones that can express global issues one can make connections to through work. Artists can as well, but instead, do it visually. This is precisely what Felicia Chiao does with her illustrations. Through her work, she channels complex emotions and mental health-related issues into layered illustrations. In one of her post descriptions, she states, “I was diagnosed with bipolar two this year and have been drawing a lot to work through it. I have a hard time talking about it with words but drawings are a little easier.”

“Sunny Days Inside’’ by Felicia Chiao

In one of my favorite illustrations she has made, “Sunny Days Inside,” the repeated images and character frequenting different rooms with the same facial expression makes us observers question whether what restricts this character is physical space or something beyond that. Being in a routine that repeats itself is exhausting, especially when struggling with a negative mental state. Days can begin to blend; our daily lives can seem miserable and inescapable as the protagonist in “Sleep” felt and perhaps the character we see in this illustration. Then again, Chiao has stated that she purposely does not explain what her art means, giving us as the audience no definitive correct answer leaving room for interpretation, just like how it is with Murakami’s short stories.

I think that I can relate to the illustration displayed above and the protagonist from “Sleep” to an extent. Lately, I have had this ominous feeling from everything starting to look the same. Days have begun to meld together; I have been swallowed whole by my responsibilities. Being stuck in my house for so long has made me forget even the most simple things; there is no time to pay attention to the weather. I can’t tell if the anxiety caused by this routine is what is making my stomach feel full even when I haven’t eaten, or maybe I am so nervous all the time that nothing is appetizing. I’ll wait this out; perhaps if I keep it up, something as crazy as what happens to Murakami characters will happen to me. Maybe then this ache will be alleviated.

The crevices of my mind