Put in a call this morning to Steve Kuusisto up in the wilds of Syracuse to find out how he’s doing and what’s going on in his world these days. He’s doing fine, he reported in answer to the first question, and Nothing, nothing’s going on, he said to the second. “My life is boring. I’m boring.”
He was being hard on himself. Steve’s writing a memoir about his first guide dog, Corky, and he’s been working away at it doggedly. (Sometimes I just crack myself up.) Every day he gets up, walks the dogs, Nila and Harley, has a fortifying breakfast, and heads downstairs to his basement office to write. He types away until lunchtime, climbs the stairs to the kitchen, makes himself a sandwich, plays with the dogs, then returns to his desk for another couple of hours. “Boring. Boring, boring, boring.”
“Boring can be good,” I said, “Boring is maybe what you want.” And I told him how for the last twenty pages of the biography of John Updike I’m reading, Updike had been boring in the exact same way as he scribbled away at what would become Rabbit, Run. I wasn’t sure if dogs figured in Updike’s daily routine but otherwise it was just like Steve’s.
“But,” I said warningly, “He’s about to become un-boring. He’s not working at home anymore. He’s rented a little office in downtown Ipswich and he’s about to start doing research for Couples.”
I was referring, of course, to the serial adulteries that will soon wreck his marriage. Alongside the biography, I’ve been reading some of Updike’s fiction and poetry and, as it happened, yesterday, I’d just read the first chapter of Couples where he introduces the character I immediately identified as Research Subject Number 1, Angela Hanema:
“What did you make of the new couple?”
The Hanemas, Piet and Angela were undressing. Their bedchamber was a low-ceilinged Colonial room whose woodwork was painted the shade of off-white commercially called eggshell. A spring midnight pressed on the cold windows.
“Oh,” Angela answered vaguely, “They seemed young.” She was a fair soft brown-haired woman, thirty-four, going heavy in her haunches and waist yet with a girl’s fine hard ankles and a girl’s tentative way of moving, as if the pure air were loosely packed with obstructing cloths. Age had touched only the softened line of her jaw and her hands, their stringy backs and reddened fingertips.
First, “bedchamber”, Mr Updike? I’ll let that one slide because I’ve been in that room.
Second, did you notice how he follows up the deliberate banal but exact detail about the color of the woodwork with the impressionistic description of the time and weather, the spring midnight pressing on the cold windows? One of Updike’s best tricks. He does the trick in reverse at the end of his description of Angela.
Third, he knows that woman’s body too well.
At any rate, I didn’t quote that passage to Steve but I gave him the gist.
“So, see,” I concluded, “Boring is a good thing.”
Steve seemed to find that reassuring and after we spent some time lamenting the sorry state of the Red Sox we said goodbye and he diligently went back to being boring.
You can check on how dogged, diligent, and un-boring Steve’s being with his actual writing about Corky at his blog, Planet of the Blind.