Yesterday my friend Marcia Meier posted a very interesting quote on Facebook, and a lively discussion followed. Here’s the quote:
John Updike said, “No amount of learned skills can substitute for the feeling of having a lot to say, of bringing news. Memories, impressions, and emotions from your first 20 years on earth are most writers’ main material; little that comes afterward is quite so rich and resonant. By the age of 40, you have probably mined the purest veins of this precious lode; after that, continued creativity is a matter of sifting the leavings.“
“Oh, wow!” I responded, “disagree, disagree, disagree! Wild, rich, new News after fifty! New experiences, new expansion, new material, new and much more original writing!”
Why is it so common to believe that all one’s News comes from the first 20 years of life, that that one mines this lode for the rest of one’s life as a writer?
The truth is, I have changed more radically since I turned 50 — have leapt off more cliffs and found myself flying, have loved more new people and had more new experiences, have broken open and broken my heart in completely unexpected ways — have created new News to report upon, over and over — than I ever dreamed of when I was 20 or 30.
And not only have I found new News to write about, I have found new ways to write about it. Every day I work to write more and more like no one else but me.
Because why bother to write a poem that somebody else could write? And why bother to live a life that somebody else could live?
To those starting out, soon or late, I say: you don’t have to be in a hurry. You don’t have to get in a rut, especially a rut involving literary circles and literary reputations.
Updike did. He lost the freedom to change who he was, to experiment with his own being. He was a great writer, but he never got to write from what might have been new News. What a tragedy, to feel you’re just “sifting the leavings.”
One of the delightful things about being “old” — especially being an “old woman,” but that’s a subject for another blog — is that you fly under the radar. No one cares enough to watch. You’re free! Free not only to write any way you want, but free to BE any way you want.
Free to experiment with your own self. Try this, try that. Surf the waves. Fail. Make a fool of yourself!
What does that sound like? It sounds like what went on in those first 20 years.
Because RIGHT NOW is just brimming with News to report on! Completely NEW News!
And if this is the way it feels to be on the downhill slope, all I can say is, Woo Hoo! What a ride!