John Updike

Okay I’m gonna do that thing where I get serious.

There’s been plenty said, and I won’t add to the rabble. I’m not as familiar with Mr. Updike’s oeuvre as his obit writers. Like most, I was initially enamoured of his fiction and grew more interested in his reviews as I got older.

However John Updike’s short stories are seminal, for me. The happiest I have ever been as a writer was Sophomore year of college, when I would wake up, hit the button on the one-cup coffee maker (which was then on the bed table), snooze for ten minutes, and then read from an enormous blue tome borrowed from Olin Library (and heinously overdue) – the collected short stories of John Updike. His attention to lavish detail, at times at the cost of story, resonated with me. As a fellow Massachusetts resident and Catholic high school boy, I felt he was writing not just my childhood, but my life up until that moment. Then, at 7:30, I would shower, sit down at my Smith-Corona Electric, and write a ten page short story that was, I realize now, an imitation Updike. So completely absorbed in his world was I, that reading an excerpt in theTimes of “A Sense of Shelter,” my first reaction was, “Wait, wasn’t that one of mine?”

Now, after being officially at this for four years, writing can feel a mire. People have read my work (not true back then) and I’ve lost that veneer of possibility – that maybe, just maybe, I’m a genius (a veneer which I think everyone needs in order to get started). Characters and plots are unwieldy as card houses – and just as impossible to build. Writing is a horrific balancing act, arranging fluttering memories into a structure that someone else might recognize. I’m no longer content to let them tumble to the carpet and see what funny pattern they make.

In other words, I miss pretending to be John Updike. He was the purest pleasure. But sooner or later all writers have to make a decision. Do I want to have fun or do I want to be good? Meaning and pleasure- the hope is that the height of one is pregnant in the other. In the end it’s still a game, but every good builder of card houses knows, you can’t make the Taj Mahal without learning 52 Pickup.

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