Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Writer in Winter

By John Updike, November 2008

Young or old, a writer sends a book into the world, not himself. There is no Senior Tour for authors, with the tees shortened by 20 yards and carts allowed. No mercy is extended by the reviewers; but then it is not extended to the rookie writer, either. He or she may feel, as the gray-haired scribes of the day continue to take up space and consume the oxygen in the increasingly small room of the print world, that the elderly have the edge, with their established names and already secured honors. How we did adore and envy them, the idols of our college years-Hemingway and Faulkner, Frost and Eliot, Mary McCarthy and Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty! We imagined them aswim in a heavenly refulgence, as joyful and immutable in their exalted condition as angels forever singing

Now that I am their age--indeed, older than a number of them got to be--I can appreciate the advantages, for a writer, of youth and obscurity....

(Click on Post Title for complete wonderful essay--money back guarantee)

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Henry Miller: "I began from scratch ... "

From The Wisdom of the Heart:

"I began assiduously examining the style and technique
of those whom I admired and worshipped: Nietzsche,
Dostoyevsky, Hamsun....

"I imitated every style in the hope of finding the clue
to the gnawing secret of how to write. Finally I came
to a dead end, to a despair and desperation which few
men have known.... There was no divorce between myself
as writer and myself as man: to fail as a writer meant
to fail as a man. And I failed. I realized that I was
nothing--less than nothing--a minus quantity.

"It was at this point, in the midst of the dead Sargasso
Sea, that I really began to write. I began
from scratch, throwing everything overboard, even those
whom I most loved.

"Immediately I heard my own voice; I was enchanted: the fact
that it was a separate, distinct, unique voice sustained me.
It didn't matter to me if what I wrote should be considered
bad. Good and bad dropped out of my vocabulary. I jumped
with two feet into the realm of aesthetics, the non-moral,
non-ethical, non-utilitarian realm of art. My life itself
became a work of art.

"I had found a voice, I was whole again. The experience was
very much life what we read of in connection with the lives
of Zen initiates. My huge failure was like the recapitulation
of the experience of the race: I had to grow foul with knowledge,
realize the futility of everything, smash everything, grow
desperate, then humble, then sponge myself off the slate, as
it were, in order to recover my authenticity. I had to arrive
at the brink and then take a leap in the dark."

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Carved Tiger & Heinz Beans

Want to tell the old lady who feeds pigeons
across the street, Stop feeding them
or else. Want to show her my car,
but she's too blind to see the permanent little etchings
& doesnt understand English.
She talks Spanish to the pigeons.

I watched The Boy Whose Skin Fell Off
on PBS after finding the pigeon scars
in my old car's brand new black paint.
I never watch shows like
The Boy Whose Skin Fell Off.
This 36-year-old man has a disease
in which his skin is so thin
anything can cause a sore.
Through the years the sores have welded his fingers
together, his toes, too.
At the end, when he was dying, in this documentary,
they show the sores in all their glory
as his mother changes his bandages.
His entire back, on this frail man's little child's body,
is one big sore.
The back of his head, one whole sore.
70 percent of his body is a sore, an open sore.
He's in such pain from changing the bandage
he is drooling and snot is running unchecked.

At one point his mother removed the bandage too fast
and he went into an agony.
They both stopped for so long a time
I thought it was a still frame.

His skin developed a rare & fatal skin cancer
on top of everything else, & he determined to live
an "extraordinary" final few months.
He flew in a glider, hosted a party,
visited 10 Downing Street, and planned his funeral.
Just say, "Thank God that old fart has gone."

This little man,
who never had puberty because of the disease,
is dying and he dies in the show and we see his funeral.

On his coffin he had them carve a tiger,
a symbol of freedom & strength,
and put a Heinz beans label on there, too,
just to get people talking about what it means.

The old woman is out there again
in the cul de sac, bent over like a 7,
feeding corn slop to what some call flying rats.
I wonder what she says to them.
I wonder if she knows them as individuals.
I'm going to go out there & try to talk
to her, about the birds, not the car.
They'll fly away when they see me coming,
but when they see she's talking to me,
they'll come back & resume.
I can see it now.
It'll be a little afternoon tableau
suggesting for the moment that everything
is all right with the world:
two neighbors are standing & talking
while birds eat corn in their shadow.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009


When I finally saw this film--the cruelty,
the evil, the suffering--I almost had to
stop watching. For most of it I wanted
to go kill every fascist who ever lived.
By the end all I wanted to do was bring
a little beauty into the world.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

New Exciting Ideas For Hit TV Shows:

A hospital where the whole staff is zombies,
except for one normal human nurse who also
happens to be an undercover agent for Homeland Security.

The President is also a secret private detective,
solving quirky cases in disguise in his off time.
A gardener at the White House finds out
about it, and then becomes the President's
confidante and goes on cases with him.

A Western where there are two towns in conflict.
In the main town all the people are infant farmers
who have adult voices with accents from
different countries. In the other town it is all
adult ranchers who act like babies.
The two towns have an ongoing range war.

A show about a village where everything
is in super slow motion, except for one mysterious
woman who comes to town and moves at normal speed.

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Thursday, January 1, 2009

Clarity of the Mystery

I used to see myself as a fella who knows
what I think about everything. Writing novels
has cured me of that. I give up perfection.
(How many novels are about a fully enlightened
& complete personality?)

I give up on the idea of getting it
just the way I want. I would just keep
writing it over and over from the beginning.
From day to day and week to week I'm a better writer
intuitively and at the same time more comfortable
with the incompleteness of my knowledge of anything.
So, it's a good place to be, to see how unfinished
I am, my work is. It's a more precarious place,
as a person or writer, but it's liberating too
because it's real, it's where I truly live.

Any story I'm writing isn't worth a thing
if it doesn't have a fundamental mystery at its heart.
If it doesn't have that unknowable watching me
from the corner of the dream.

When I start a novel I hope the mystery of it will
sustain me to the end. How can something be so clear
and familiar and remain such a mystery?

Many times late at night I think I know what the mystery
of the novel is, what the elemental image means,
and the next morning it's a sphinx again, blinking only
when I blink.

What I love most in stories and books is the clarity
of the way the mystery is pursued, flirted and danced with,
mined and brought forth and then lost in the finding.
Which is more complete and fulfilling in The Treasure of Sierra Madre,
the long arduous finding and gathering of the gold,
or the sudden total loss of the gold in the howling wind?

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