Scribes’ Cyber Salon


Encouraged by the spirited, informative, and inspiring discussion the writer’s quote and question generated last week, and in the tradition of literary salons, places writers gathered to discuss their work and ideas on the art and craft of writing, I launch Scribes’ Cyber Salon. Most of my favorite writing friends live all over the world, so we have to share this experience in cyberspace.

Every week, I’ll post a quote by a writer, well known or not so well known, and ask a question to stimulate contemplation and conversation. I look forward to your cyber company and comments. Take a seat and join the conversation.

So what do you think of this quote by John Updike?

“We’re past the age of heroes and hero kings. … Most of our lives are basically mundane and dull, and it’s up to the writer to find ways to make them interesting.” (From Writer’s Digest)

Do you think your life is mundane and dull? Do you think it’s up to us, as writers, to make people’s lives interesting? I look forward to reading your answers.

9 Comments on “Scribes’ Cyber Salon”

  1. I think this is a fascinating idea, Skywalker. I have to admit I don’t ever remember reading anything by John Updike, so I had to check him out on the internet. What I discovered confirmed why I haven’t been attracted to his work and why my initial reaction to his quote was — “I don’t agree.”

    The world he writes about, White Protestant middle class, is not the world I have lived in. Life lived on the margins in terms of class, spiritual beliefs, and ancestry, is anything but “mundane and dull.” Just surviving is an adventure, and just helping one’s children survive takes everyday heroism.

    And Hero kings? Martin Luther King and Malcolm X come to mind, but there are hundreds of thousands and more on the frontlines today who are advocating for peace, environmental care, and fairness for people across the globe.

    So instead, I ask “How could life ever be dull and mundane?” We are beset with so many challenges and so many opportunities — the hard part is choosing where to focus. But no matter what we choose, it is exciting and invigorating to do what we can when we live in challenging times.

    • Thanks, Carol. Like you, I’ve never read Updike either (which may be the case of many writers I’ll be quoting). I chose this quote though, because I found it problematic also. Because, for me, life is about giving meaning to living. Writers don’t give meaning to other people’s lives. We tell stories, provide information, stimulate thought, maybe inspire and motivate action. Your analysis of why some may see their lives as “mundane and dull” is telling in terms of looking at substance abuse, meaningless violence, the burgeoning of mental and psychological problems, and even the state of the economy. If anything, a writer’s job is to help people recognize they have the power and responsibility to make life meaningful and purposeful if not for themselves, then for the benefit of others.

  2. I don’t consider my life mundane or dull, partly because I don’t have time to do all the things I want to do as it is and partly because I’m no longer a teenager who feels left out if I’m home on a Friday night. Financial stability through writing or music would be the icing, but the cake hasn’t been too bad at all.

    My philosophy as a writer is to entertain first and be an artist second, so I’ll gladly take up the challenge of brightening a reader’s life.

  3. Hmm, these words are filled with coded meanings. If looked at from a perspective of someone from the upper class, it could be interpreted as a statement of ennui. That state of disenchantment and air of detachment which the wealthy seem to affect so well. What they really mean is our lives (the non wealthy) are “mundane and dull”. The wealthy will stoop so low as to “enrich” and “entertain” the masses to the amusement of the upper crust…polite condescension.

    If Updike wrote this from a less-than-upper class perspective, this statement just seems like an unimaginaitve way to say that life is meaningless (existential). Since we no longer have nobles (heroes and kings) to live vicariously through, then our entertainment must be found in the writers (court jesters).

    Of course, I could be way off base here on all points. This is going to be an interesting series…

  4. “We’re past the age of heroes and hero kings. … Most of our lives are basically mundane and dull, and it’s up to the writer to find ways to make them interesting.”

    How do we define heroes and hero kings, perhaps we’ve past the romanticised age as such, for genuine history does not paint many in such ways, except for the spoken words of their engaged heralds, or those written words by their propaganda scribes. Champions of the people were few and far in between, perhaps writers from the time like today, are just as engaged in making a living, and what sells is often the stretch between imagination and reality. How far did John Updike delve into southern and eastern cultures around the globe on such matters in terms of heroes and hero kings of their past ages, it would be interesting to compare similarities and differences in his early days. But it would seem his depth of field reside for the most part inside of his local environments and extended surrounds.

    “Most of our lives are basically mundane and dull”, this could be said of many lives through out the passing millennia. Living day to day is nothing new, though as individuals within cultures/communities, we can still choose, we have choices to make life as interesting, exciting, or as dull as we want. Such a statement painted with a broad brush lacks insight and resides in a superficial perspective upon everyday life without contemplating the varying dynamics in the multitude to daily interactions. As each of us do intersect in many stories, histories, and events. When I read the word interesting inside the end to the above statement, I find myself injecting the thought of, escape inside the collated stories of others to form a work of fiction, where all the mundane parts are cut out and discarded on the floor to thinking and creating such written works.

    In a pausing though here at the end, I can say, not every moment to one of my days is dull and mundane, for my story is continually evolving through encounters and interactions. I think John Updike miss interrupts life in the generic use of “basically mundane and dull” when the single word routine sums up the same aspect. But outside of routine, our lives are anything but, mundane and dull.

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