Time Magazine Wrestles John Irving

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June 12, 2012 by David Gillaspie

Every sports fan has their special time, place, and people.

From the Gipper to the Clipper, to the Flying Tomato on a half-pipe, they know who they like and why.

Just like you.

Movie people are the same with slight variations. They like an actor, a director, or maybe a screenwriter, and see everything they can. Maybe they stalk them on spokeo.com to feel closer. Film fans are like that, obsessive.

Then there’s lit-fan.

Readers who love their writers create clubs. They build shrines and plan vacations to visit where their favorites used to live.

Why say ‘used to live?’

In the mangled words of former Boston Celtic coach Rick Pitino, “James Joyce isn’t walking through that door anytime soon.” (And neither is Larry Bird.) But you can book a tour of his life and times and those of his characters.

Lit-fan has to be the most disillusioned of all fans. If their favorite writers aren’t already dead, the alive ones are either churning out re-hashed crap that milks the themes of their most famous works, gone crazy enough to live the life of one of their famous characters, or they’ve shut it down and look out a window with resentment that God didn’t give them more to say.

Then there’s John Irving, a writer who’s done it all and got the clippings to prove it. From the cover of Time magazine to the podium of the Academy Awards, Irving knows the drill. And the drill is work, work, work.

The most recent Irving story in Time is not about some over the hill drunk load sitting in a fat chair and talking through his nose while he chains a pack of Red between sips of whiskey/energy drink from a hammered silver flask.

Oh, hell no.

This is John F-ing Irving, The Wrestler. If you show up at his place to research a story, you go to the wrestling room.

From Time:

He slaps the side of my head–twice, in quick succession–then hooks a hand behind my neck, and we lean hard into each other, our weight stuttering us one way, then the other.

“Keep your elbows in,” he says, his breath hot on my face. “Nothing’s going to stop me from tearing into you except those elbows.”

He bullies his chest forward, and I block him with an elbow.


In a gym in midtown Toronto in February, I am wrestling John Irving. We are surrounded by treadmills, barbells, medicine balls. The floors are padded and the walls mirrored, our reflections grappling…”

Most people at the famous Iowa Writers Workshop are there to write. Makes sense, right? Irving found time for the wrestling room.
At Iowa.
Wrestlers with kids hope they will wrestle. They join clubs and teams to get mat time. Irving built a wrestling room in his house.
This is the guy who could do more for wrestling than anyone else. He could endow coaching chairs wherever he wanted. Maybe he has? He could buy all the gear needed for every school around him. Maybe he has?
But John Irving is a wrestler, not some trash talking, grandstanding, look-at-me ain’t I cool, Joe. He’s a wrestling writer dedicated to his work. And this guy works and works and works.
He knows what it takes to go three rounds. He knows what it is to show up at eighty percent and give one hundred.
Did the Time guy know he’d have to go a few rounds with Irving to get the story? Was he prepared to get slapped around?
If every writer had to compete with their subject of interest, which sport would be more valuable? Writing about John Irving makes for a better person the same way wrestling makes you better.
Just be ready to go on the whistle.

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