December 27, 2011
How does a writer refuel? How does a writer rest? Is there ever a time when I am not writing, not thinking of a project in progress, or what I will work on next? These are questions I have asked myself for years because I much prefer writing and working to resting, or what passes for resting in my lexicon. As you can imagine, the languorous post-holiday days are a challenge. Two days after Christmas, a week when most people are allegedly resting, and here I am at the computer writing this blog, getting up early to swim or work out, jotting in my jotting journal about a film I saw last night ("Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"--outstanding) and enjoying all of it. In fact, I never relinquish the routine or discipline of the artist/writer. Never. Is it possible, therefore, that I am resting as I write? I think the answer must be yes as I carry my moleskin everywhere every day no matter where I am going and what I am doing. I am always writing something down, even if it is just a list of observations and disparate thoughts. Thus does my mind clear--and rest. Thus am I able to refuel. And I read a lot; reading and contemplation, walking and meditation. It's all necessary for me.
And I wander in museums and book stores, yes, real book stores. And I even buy some paper books when I begin to miss the sensory experience of holding a book, flipping back and forth, inhaling the often subtle aroma of the paper and ink. I bought two this week: Julian Barnes "The Sense of an Ending," and Erik Larson, "The Devil in the White City." I got half-way through the Barnes and gave it to friend who is a Barnes fan. I thought to myself, and wrote in my moleskin, that it was fascinating to be inside the male protagonist's brain, but also boring. And why did this book get the Man Booker prize? I have no idea. As for the Larson, recommended by many people, it is my first Larson, a page turner, an inspiration. Already I am thinking that I'd like to get back to a nonfiction project. But what will it be? I have no idea just now. Having just finished two books, I'm supposed to be resting.
December 12, 2011
Home late from Brooklyn--near 1 a.m.-- on Friday night on the 3 train, escorted to the station by a recently returned soldier from Iraq, the deserted streets opposite the monumental Brooklyn Museum felt oddly safe. On the train in our still de facto segregated city we were the only light-skinned folk and there were about ten men sleeping in their hooded sweatshirts--a homeless underground riding the trains at night for shelter--a New York most of us never see or acknowledge.
We'd been to a gallery opening in Crown Heights, the gentrified side of Crown Heights, and when we'd arrived and surfaced from the train, we'd crossed Eastern Parkway, walked in the wrong direction, and found ourselves in the 'hood, far away from the gallery. There were three of us-- a burly man, two tall women--but we could have gotten rolled, for sure. We went into a store to ask directions and everyone was helpful and kind. We were two journalists and a photographer, had been to more dangerous places, and always survived, more than survived, we'd been invulnerable. We were not afraid. We were on the street, but not of the street.
I remember talking to war reporters in London at one party at another, returned from one war or another. They partied hard and recounted their exploits without reference to the dead bodies they had photographed, or the near-dead moments they had experienced. I thought them callous. I did not want such callous disregard to ever happen to me. But a numbness set in after 9/11 and then when I worked on "Another Day in Paradise," my two-year project with humanitarian workers, and, then again, when I worked on a revision of my family's war story, "Searching for Fritzi." To be numb or callous is not good for the writing, or anything else.
It is true, of course, that a certain distancing is required as we work and that we develop a narrative persona, or journalist's persona, to get the story and retain our own sanity. This must happen no matter what we are writing about--small stories and big ones. But we must guard against becoming numb or callous.
These days, a broadcast reporter can often be seen tearing up during an interview. S/he is not ashamed to show the audience an emotional reaction. Even war reporters and photographers--Jon Lee Anderson, James Nachtwey, Nicolas Kristoff, Scott Pelley, many others-- have achieved the tender balance between sensitivity and distance. They seem to take shelter in the work itself, the value of their reporting, and their humanity and integrity.
December 6, 2011
I've been reading my cousin Cameron's blog this morning: http://cameronkopf.blogspot.com/. He's a French horn player who toured with the Phantom road show for many years and has now settled into rural living in Northern California with his partner, James. Cameron is a loquacious, dynamic story-teller --very active on Facebook when he's not writing a novel in thirty days. On November 1, he wrote this email: "Today was Day #1 of the http://NaNoWriMo.org novel writing contest which goes on all through the month of November (50,000 words to win), and I surpassed the daily minimum word output (1660) and managed to write 2727 words today! Not that I'm counting or anything."
Needless to say, he went a bit quiet during the month of November and I've missed him. So I checked his blog this morning. I'd always thought the blog was special and not only because I'm crazy about Cameron. He writes from an awareness of the beauty of his surroundings and the interconnections of his physical presence in the world and his interior life. It has not been a life without struggle, a struggle transformed into art and an artful rendering of his days. Musicians are disciplined creatures and even Cameron's blog inspires discipline. It's regular, devoted, and careful while, at the same time, engaging to read.
Cameron is also a collector: old typewriters, a rather quaint hobby these days. And his blog is written on a typewriter--he alternates--and then scanned into the computer, a perfect combination of old and new technologies.
Day after day, the blog is written, and accumulates into a body of work, a collection of gestures and experiences. Always, it begins modestly, tentatively, and then it grows exponentially and becomes a project. Some become books or columns in online magazines, such as readallday.com by Nina Sankovich. She writes: "From October 2008 through October 2009, I read a book a day and wrote a review of each book here on Read All Day. I began my year in an effort to come to terms with the tragic death of my oldest sister, Anne-Marie, and to find purpose and meaning in my life. I called my year of reading The 365 Project."
Nina's blog was picked up by the Huffington Post and then it became a book: "Tolstoy and the Purple Chair." Both the blog and the book are must-reads.
That all said, some blogs just remain blogs and that's fine, too. It's good writing practice. It's writing.