Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fear and Loathing in Overland Park pt 91

Rabbit, Run

Death. Death yet again hits it on the head.

I was going to write about a few things. I was going to write about Gitmo being closed, but I figured I could save that for another day as we’ve already been given varying degrees of answers on that.

I was going to write about which was better, margarine or butter, but decided against it (for the time being).

I was going to write about the Super Bowl, but really, I’m not sure I care enough about the game to write anything, except maybe the commercials, but who cares? Except for the awful GI Joe trailer we’ll see and the one-second Miller High Life commercials, I’m at a loss to even care.

So what do I write about?

Something I know. Something I know enough about to care. Something no one else seems to have mentioned on this site.

John Updike is dead.

I’ve written about death in recent memory more than I’ve written about it in years. It’s disgusting. To think that life is here for so many of us today and could be gone tomorrow. It’s better to burn out than to fade away, and no, Nirvana and Kurt Cobain are not the first place where that came from.

But the idea, the idea that life could be over tomorrow, what does that do to you? Does it make you feel like less of a human being, something that I struggle with daily, the thought that maybe I’m a creature and not really human?

Does it make you a robot? One on this earth for a specified amount of time only to disappear on one random day that you will never know is coming until the last minute.

In any event, what does that do to us? To you? To me?

John Updike is dead.

Most of us have read something by him. One of the Rabbit novels. Centaur. Witches or Widows of Eastwick.

We’ve probably seen a movie or two that he worked on or wrote a novel that got turned into that movie.

We’ve probably been forced in a classroom to sit and read through some of his short stories or Gertrude and Claudius or Brazil.

Or we’ve seen mention of him on the Simpsons in at least 2 episodes, one of which he ghost-wrote the biography of Krusty the Clown.

But did we really know anything about him? Is that why some of us are venting frustration that he is gone and some are not?

If you’ve read Witches of Eastwick and liked it, now is the time to read something of his. Or if you liked that terrible movie, read the book. It is leaps and bounds better than the movie, and I’m an unabashed Jack Nicholson fan.

But what about Updike? What about him kept me, the reader, enthralled? Made me want to keep reading and made me want to keep writing?

I was forced to, on occasion, read some of his novels, short stories, and other things he wrote. I was an English Major, so it makes sense that I was forced to do so.

But why did I keep reading him?

It seemed effortless. For him to switch gears almost constantly in every book he wrote, it seemed like he wasn’t forcing himself to do so. It just seemed like he could do it because he could do it.

He wrote science fiction. He wrote romantic sagas. He wrote epics. He wrote prose. He wrote short stories. He wrote historical fiction and historical non-fiction. He wrote religious novels. And he wrote books about the devil.

He wrote a series of novels about a man nicknamed Rabbit, and Rabbit, Run is one of those books you may have read, read excerpts from, or heard about. And if you’re like me, you may have enjoyed a part of it or it may have touched you.

It spoke to me, and I’ve read the entire series of Rabbit novels because of it. Because it was real. It felt like something that could happen to me and damn well probably would. It influenced me as a writer as it did so many others, and it influenced me as a man.

Rabbit, Run is a book with no ending. It leaves everything up in the air. It’s depressing, it’s honest, but most importantly, it’s real.

It’s influenced the reader in me and it’s influenced who I am today, just like everything Updike did. I’m not going to say he’s one of my favorites, he’s not Hunter or Chuck or Hempel or any other writer that I may hold in personal regard, but what I write and how I write it could be as easily attributed to him as it could anyone else.

Because it’s effortless. Because it’s real. Because it doesn’t at any point seem untrue or false or like he’s trying to tell a story that he has no right to tell.

That’s why I liked John Updike and that’s why I will continue to like John Updike.

And yet, here I am, yet again, talking about death. Talking about a figure who helped shape who I am and what I enjoy has passed on. Like so many others. Like George Carlin. Like Hunter Thompson. Like Johnny Cash and Jim Henson and Stan Winston and so many other heroes that I have had in my life.

What do you do once all your heroes are dead?

Do you stop living?

Do you stop fighting?

Or do you continue forward? Do you continue to make good on the promises you have made because you want to be someone else’s hero, someone else’s attainable truth or attainable position in life?

Do you keep fighting so that other people can see what it means to fight? To struggle? To achieve?

That’s why I will keep going on.

That’s why his death, while it affects me, will not destroy me.

Because life is meant to be lived. Enjoyed. Sought out and fought for and written about and described and made better for all those people that will follow you later in life.

This isn’t about giving up.

It’s about sticking to your guns and enjoying the ride.

So thank you John Updike. I enjoyed the ride. Good luck.


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