Saturday, January 31, 2009
"When I write, I aim in my mind not toward New York but a vague spot a little east of Kansas. I think of the books on library shelves, without their jackets, years old, and a countryish teen-aged boy finding them, and having them speak to him. The reviews, the stacks in Brentano's are just hurdles to get over, to place the books on that shelf."
- John Updike, The Paris Review Book of Heartbreak, Madness, Sex, Love, Betrayal, Outsiders, Intoxication, War, Whimsy, Horrors, God, Death, Dinner, Baseball, Travels, the Art of Writing, and Everything Else in the World Since 1953
There was a time when I wondered why more people did
not go to church. Taken purely as a human recreation, what
could be more delightful, more unexpected than to enter a
venerable and lavishly scaled building kept warm and clean
for us one or two hours a week and to sit and stand in unison
and sing and recite creeds and petitions that are like paths
worn smooth in the raw terrain of our hearts? To listen, or not
listen, as a poorly paid but resplendently robed man strives to
console us with scraps of ancient epistles and halting accounts,
hopelessly compromised by words, of those intimations of
divine joy that are like pain in that, their instant gone, the
mind cannot remember or believe them; to witness the
windows donated by departed patrons and the altar flowers
arranged by withdrawn hands and the whole considered
spectacle lustrous beneath its patina of inheritance; to pay, for
all this, no more than we are moved to give-surely in all
democracy there is nothing like it. Indeed, it is the most
available democratic experience. We vote less than once a
year. Only in church and at the polls are we actually given our
supposed value, the soul-unit of one, with its noumenal
arithmetic of equality: one equals one."
--from Churchgoing, from Pigeon Feathers and Other Stories, 1962, pp 249-250
["All the years I was at the elementary school the high school loomed large in my mind. Its students, tall, hairy, smoke-breathing, paced the streets seemingly equal with adults."]
Paraphrased: The high school loomed large in my mind when I was at the elementary school. Its students paced the streets seemingly equal with adults.
"It was there that my father performed his mysteries everyday, striding off from breakfast, down through the grape arbor, his coat pocket bristling with defective pens. He now and then took me over there; the incorruptible smell of varnish and red sweeping wax, the size of the desks, the height of the drinking fountains, the fantastic dimensions of the gymnasium-auditorium made me feel that these were halls in which a race of giants had ages ago labored through lives of colossal bliss.
John Updike quoted in Five Boyhoods, edited by Martin Levin, Doubleday, 1962, p.177
And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop and market
the quips, the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their tears confused with their diamond earrings,
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
their response and your performance twinned.
The jokes over the phone. The memories packed
in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That's it: no one;
imitators and descendants aren't the same.
"Perfection Wasted," by John Updike, from The Collected Poems of John Updike, 1953-1993 (Alfred A. Knopf). P.231 ISBN #0-679-42221-8