Archive for February, 2012

Run and write with Haruki Murakami

Posted in book review/summary, health and fitness, writing on February 20, 2012 by gohelpyourself

Novelist Haruki Murakami writes three to four hours a day. (Photo by Gal Oren.)

By Anthony O. Alcantara

I wish I could do that. But if I did, I would easily be left behind, and as for writing, I wouldn’t even know where to begin a novel.

I’ve never read any of Haruki Murakami’s novels. His popularity in bookstores, however, intrigued me, and I made a mental note to read some of his works this year. When I came upon his book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, I said, “Hey, I used to run, too.”

I learned that he runs every day. Before I got married, I was doing exactly that — run every day, for about two months. And before that, I was running three times a week. I felt a connection. So I guess his book about running — a memoir, actually — would be a good place to start to experience his work. He talks about how he writes, too. Vicariously, then, I could run and write with Mr. Murakami by reading his short book.

It’s inspiring to read how Murakami nurtured and allowed running and writing to feed on each other, to provide the physical, mental, emotional, and creative fuel to keep the two things going.

Murakami has been running every day for more than 20 years. Is it because of his strong willpower? Natural runner’s physique? Superhuman leg muscles? Perhaps a childhood trauma that left ominous voices in his head shouting, “Run, Mr. Murakami! Run!”?

Nope. His reason? “It suits me.” That’s what he said in the book. I wish it were that simple for everybody. For him, no amount of persuasion will convince anyone to take up running if it doesn’t suit that person.

The problem is, getting up from the sofa to the fridge to get food suits many people. And they prefer doing that instead of running. We can’t do much about that. But if you find any suitable physical activity that suits you, then that would be a good start.

As for being a novelist, he said there should be three ingredients: talent, focus, and endurance. Talent, of course, can be developed, but there must be a modicum of talent to begin with. I like his take on focus. Indeed, without focus, your talent will go to waste. Murakami concentrates on writing three to four hours a day. Not many can do that.

And as for endurance, he says you need energy to keep your focus on writing. If you feel drained and exhausted after hours of writing instead of energized and motivated, then, obviously, you won’t last long in the craft.

What is interesting to me is that talent, focus, and endurance are the basic ingredients of being excellent at anything. It can be cooking, singing, or weight lifting, or whatever “suits you”, as Murakami would probably say.

He seems to be deliberately thoughtful, quietly passionate, and compassionately wise. You may want to read his short memoir. Who knows, it may suit you, too.



A tribute to my guitar teacher

Posted in music on February 10, 2012 by gohelpyourself

My guitar hero, Franco, leftmost holding a trophy, is shown here with the other winners. Guess who's the "girl magnet"?

By Anthony O. Alcantara

Disguised as an impresario who organizes megabuck shows, I went to the Cultural Center of the Philippines recently to watch Guitar Forays, the closing concert of the 2012 Philippine International Guitar Festival and Competition. To my deep shock and chagrin, nobody even acknowledged my presence.

And when I got rid of my disguise, nobody even noticed. So I just assumed my usual role–the unobtrusive fly on the wall.

My unobtrusiveness was momentarily disrupted when Mr. Greg Yu, also a good-looking fly but so much more wealthier and older and a bit chubbier, announced the champion of the competition. It was my guitar teacher, Franco Maigue.

I would have wanted to high five Tony Boy Cojuangco, who was only two meters away from me. But Gretchen Barreto was beside him. And I feared for my life when I saw her expensive-looking high heels, which appeared very capable of inflicting unimaginable pain.

Beautiful guitars

So it was with great joy that I clapped and cheered for Franco. He won a Yuichi Imai Limited Model guitar worth $12,000, or more than half a million pesos, and P35,000 in cash. The second placer was Takashi Endo of Japan. He brought home a Milagro Guitar by Neris Gonzalez and P20,000 in cash. Worrapat Yansupap of Thailand was third place. He won an Armando Derecho Concert Guitar and P15,000 in cash. There was also a special prize for Best Filipino Guitarist, which Roneil Santos won. He got a Milagro guitar, too.

Japanese luthier Yuichi Imai, right, tells Franco how to install the strap for the guitar case. One day I hope to play with Franco's precious guitar.

Four years ago, I took lessons from Franco. He already had a reputation for excellent guitar playing at that time, and he seemed to be popular with the girls. Hoping to imbibe his great guitar playing, and not necessarily his celebrity status with girls, I asked him to teach me the basics of classical guitar.

I was not really a beginner. I taught myself to play the instrument in high school. But then, I’ve developed bad habits. Franco fixed the bad habits, though sometimes now they have a way of creeping back.

He taught me what a solid top guitar was. At that time, all guitars looked pretty solid to me. He also taught me how to use a nail file and sandpaper for my fingernails.

Playing with the heart

Anyway, I didn’t see him play during the competition because of work. I heard that his competitors–who came from the US, Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia and Japan–were a formidable lot. Some demonstrated technically flawless guitar playing.

They said that what made Franco win, despite having exceeded the allotted time, was how he made the judges feel the music, with puso, with heart. The judges, who were all foreigners, felt it.

In the end, playing with heart may be more important than playing flawlessly. Playing with emotion may matter more than not missing a single note. Winning hearts may be more fulfilling than winning a competition.

And I congratulate Franco for his hard-won and well-deserved victory.

(If you want to know more about classical guitar playing, the Guitar Friends, and the Philippine International Guitar Festival and Competition, check this out: