Here’s a quote T.C. Boyle used in his review (NYT book review last Sunday) of John Updike’s final collection of stories. It’s from a story titled “The Full Glass”. A man approaching 80 reflects on an affair he had, as a young man, with a vibrant, brassy woman. When she dies, he thinks her death “removed a confusing presence from the world, an index to its unfulfilled potential.” To me that’s great writing. Lightning. The flash that makes you see far beyond the sentence and story.
Okay enough with the lightning. Well, maybe just one more thing. I remember watching a late-night show once where a guy who’d been struck by lighting three times was explaining how it felt. Nothing poetic about it. The talk-show host asked him if he didn’t think someone was trying to tell him something. That got a laugh but the guy, who was a golfer, shrugged the host off.
“My mother-in-law hates golf,” he said. “She thinks golfers just naturally attract the wrath of god.”
Do writers? I think writers, like other artists, need hubris to attempt the act of creation. Hubris, in Greek and Roman myths, often led to punishment of a good old-fashioned nature (those were the days) like blinding, dismemberment, being burned alive and so on. So, it’s dangerous. Writers, as a group, don’t really need a higher power to punish them though. They do a pretty good job of inflicting punishment on themselves. They drink too much. They have a high suicide rate. They spend unhealthy amounts of time starring at walls and thinking over things they’ve seen or done in an attempt to fill blank pages with symbols. It’s a strange way to spend one’s life. It can take a lot out of you.
No, I don’t think writers just naturally attract the wrath of God, but they may occasionally annoy him. I can hear him wonder aloud, “Who do they think they are anyway?” Maybe that’s part of our problem. We don’t know who we are much of the time. When we’re deep in a manuscript sometimes who we are blurs with who our characters are, and it can be a struggle to have normal conversations about the weather and the price of gas, eat spaghetti, button up shirts properly.
Anyway, the golfer was kind of a putz. I mean, come on, you’re out in an open area with a piece of metal in a violent storm and you wonder why you get struck by lighting?
Or so I think today.