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John Updike, work, the Carpenters

February 2, 2009
tags: , ,

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(photo lifted from The New York Times)

“The days are short,/ The sun a spark/ Hung thin between/The dark and dark.”

“January,” John Updike

John Updike died this week of lung cancer. I realized a couple things. First, the idea that I could smoke until I was his age (76) and die peacefully finally went from fantastic to ridiculous. I smoked the day Paul Newman died and it reaffirmed what I was doing; as if, all the warnings from my parents weren’t enough – hey, Hud survived this shit! (Regardless, of course, that he definitely did die of lung cancer – but hey, that’s addiction.) Why I smoked to be cool but my parent’s pride was not enough is something I’m going over as I approach a month of being smoke free. Second, when I first saw a pic of a young Updike smoking back in a October New York Times Book Review, I was just as proud to be a writer like him as I was to be a smoker like him. Oddly enough, that was one of the first times I actually considered myself a smoker – something I denied even after buying so many packs.

But as the week went on, and I came across a Robert Frost collection at work that noted that Frost wasn’t published until he was 40, I remembered the Updike’s biggest influence on me: in his first 20 years as a writer (starting when he was 21), he put out hundreds of short fiction and nine novels, he was a regular contributor to The New Yorker, and accomplished his truest goal: “give the mundane it’s beautiful due.” Here I had succumbed to the clearly unhealthy and completely wasteful in hopes of looking cool, and overlooked most of my goals and promises to myself. As a smoker I felt I looked like a writer, but was I? I think I’ve let my fear of success have enough of me and I’m ready to actually take myself seriously as a writer.

For the last few years my method of writing has been to write when it comes to me. While I think I better my writing through reading and studying grammar and remaining ever-conscious of how I’m writing, I do not think my craft would benefit if I committed myself to writing every day, or a poem a day, a limerick a Wednesday, etc. However, I have so much work I have laying around. There’s the work in progress “This City Anew,” which started as a poem directly influenced by George Oppen and has expanded since into the size of his “Of Being Numerous.” There’s the four or five pieces I’ve worked on while Erica was out of town, and most of them are done, but I really should get them together and fine tune them. And there’s the play I’m supposed to be working on with my brother Kelly – something I still take very seriously even when it’s been months since I’ve looked at it. I still believe it’s best to show and prove rather than to talk about what I’m going to do, especially anything about how I’m going to do that. So I’ll leave it at this.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 25, 2009 12:00 AM

    So I posted a status of RIP John Updike, and someone told me “so sorry for your loss- were you close?”

    sigh…

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