It was with a chuckle shaking his brawny body that Kenji Nakagami told me _ as though he was letting me in on a good secret _ writers aren’t “normal” (“futsu”) people.
“Don’t you believe what he says,” he said of another writer, Haruki Murakami. “He is a writer _ not a normal person.”
The idea that writers may not be “normal” wasn’t something I had thought about until then.
And he said it with a conviction that also had not occurred to me: That it’s better to be abnormal.
Normalcy wasn’t desirable.
It was boring.
It was ordinary.
Perhaps in the West, standing out from the crowd is considered a virtue.
But in Japan, being different is a stigma.
I had never wanted to be different, and I was always sad I could never blend in anywhere _ not being white in the U.S., being too Americanized among Japanese.
Abnormality is a special place to be, Nakagami was saying, waving his big glove-like hand in a Tokyo alley after our interview, smiling, totally not normal, totally unique, totally disarming, totally convincing, forever caught in that photo-shot moment, in my mind, more than 15 years after his death.
Hailing from the proud Buraku, his works have more in common with the multicultural works of America in an intense and mysterious way than with what we are accustomed to identifying with Japanese fiction.
If we were happily normal, maybe we would never have become writers.
And maybe we aren’t really writers at all.
Just rejected because of our abnormalities, doomed to the darkness that makes us crazy and furious in crawling out to that blinding ideal with our writing.