New News NOW

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!

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  1. I don’t have the least disagreement with what you wrote, Ruth — after all, I’ve shared in your joy myself, and witnessed your blossoming as a writer.

    I’ll point out, though, that although Updike was quoted accurately in Marsha Meier’s Facebook posting, that quote lacked important context.

    It took me less than 3 minutes to find the original article (in the AARP magazine, of all places) and it’s nuanced and also very funny and I don’t think the quote that appeared in the Writer’s Almanac did it justice at all.

    There was a time when I would have felt as though surfing over to the AARP site was about as problematic as surfing over to a porn site. It still seems odd to me, but I urge readers to get over there and read all of what Updike wrote about writing and getting old.

  2. Love this, though I have to say I’m afraid you’ll always have trouble flying under the radar. You have such a presence.

  3. I’m with you on this one, Ruthie. As we women grow older, we only grow more confident in our power as human beings. If we are writers as well, this means we have even more to plumb for material. You go, oh wise woman! You are one of my role models.

  4. Absolutely, positively agree that there is new news after 20 – after 30, after 40, after 50, and beyond. My grandmother is 103, and she’s still living in NOW. I have that as my daily example. But, having read the Updike article, I too must say that this particular writer fell victim to the pull-quote. Unfortunately, I can’t exactly relate to his problem, as I do not have a “body of work” that I am trying to improve upon. Maybe that’s not unfortunate. Maybe it is a blessing to have written my first book at the age of 50, knowing that I have no career to establish. It’s all gravy. Kinda cool. Nothing to prove.

  5. Ruth, love what the quote brought you to write:
    “why bother to write a poem that somebody else could write? And why bother to live a life that somebody else could live?”

    And I’m looking forward to your forthcoming blog-post on the joys of flying under the radar since turning 50 (though I agree with Nina…you may be popping up on more radar screens than you realize).

  6. Thank you so much for this, Ruth! It is just what I needed to hear today, as I ponder my last couple of months of being in my forties. You have inspired me to soar higher. From your fellow Haiku-er,
    Ellen Tumavicus

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