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Cathy: So I’m no John Updike

This is a crosspost from my new personal blog.

When John Updike passed away recently, Charlie Rose aired a great retrospective of his handful of interviews with Updike and I watched absorbed, as I have always loved Updike, and Charlie Rose fairly gushes when interviewing him. One stand out moment for a writer watching enraptured as I was — and I’m paraphrasing the wondrous Updike here — he said “If I’m not writing at least six hours a day, six days a week, I feel like I’m faking it, that I can’t call myself a writer.” He equated it with a carpenter and other professions showing up to the grind.

I caught the message, and while I do sit here for some extended hours of the day, I don’t write six hours worth of steady writing a day. My first thought when I was watching as he said it was: Yeah, well where was Mrs. Updike during those six hours, six days a week? For many years, I imagine, raising his kids, doing his laundry, making his meals, etc., while he got to wile away his time in front of his notebook and typewriter, blissfully alone with his thoughts in order to write them down.

I have a strong work ethic that plants my butt in this chair in front of this computer everyday. But it’s a highly interrupted work ethic as I still manage the household from my seat as well as watch the baby and the guys, and garden and laundry, and well, you get the idea. While I am writing, or not writing as the case may be, I am still managing S’s special needs with his school, which currently involves shooting emails to his teacher, but not much more, thankfully. It was a rough couple of years there. I’m still trying to figure out the better ways to manage his development positively at home and keep tabs on the teen and the toddler who is generally in my arms or getting into the wires underfoot.

In the meantime I’m constantly sketching scenes in my head when I’m away from the computer attending to life, and often find myself quite divided and making very slow progress on the manuscript. Never mind, being so close to its end that I’m leaping ahead mentally to other ideas… really can’t wait until I I finish this manuscript, so that when I am listening to my kids, I am present. When I hug them, that is all I am doing, not mentally writing a possible scene variation at the same time.

Is this ADD? Is it simply the limitations of a brain functioning on a minimum of sleep for several years now? Is it is just the thoughts at this stage of a manuscript for any writer who also happens to be a mother-wife-you name your hyphenation here. I have lots of them. I choose all of the above particularly that last bit. I am too busy having a life and managing so many others, that I can’t have the old Virginia Woolf Room of One’s Own experience. Neither can any of the other writer-mothers I know. I feel torn in many directions all the time, but mostly between the kids, my husband, and writing.

So I’m no John Updike. I do however really miss his articles in the New Yorker tremendously.

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6 Comments Post a comment
  1. cathy, that juggling act is the key, isn’t it? updike was not taking care of the children, doing the laundry, etc. it really is a huge juggle that we all deal with, each with our own unique challenges. you and i are on our usual connected brain wave as i just posted a story similar to this on my blog, which is now sitting in draft in the cc que as a cross post. there’s wanting to find the time…and then there’s real life!

    May 19, 2009
  2. yep, this’ll post tomorrow on my blog. once again, going to try to write that last scene today, if c naps! and even then, i just threw the first load in and haven’t been out to water yet….can’t wait to read your version….

    frankly i’m just jealous of updike’s voluminous output! if i could have just one uninterrupted thought, from beginning to end, what would my writing look like?

    May 19, 2009
  3. Kristine #

    Any mom of young children who can devote six hours a day to writing either doesn’t sleep (Ever) or has really good childcare. I’m not in either of those boats. I’m happy if I get a good hour or two of writing in a day, and that’s if all the planets are aligned in the Universe and nothing else is going on, which rarely happens. Most often, it’s more like one hour, but I make that one hour count.

    May 19, 2009
  4. thanks for weighing in, kristine…good for you for getting an hour a day in!

    May 19, 2009
  5. You’ve been on a tear lately, Cathy — go you!

    May 20, 2009
  6. thanks, miranda!

    May 20, 2009

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