My head hurts. My carpal tunnels hurt. My blood is mostly coffee sludge. I've become a master of doctoring up Top Ramen. I know the shame that is ordering pizza from a place three blocks away because I can't be bothered to stand up because this sentence is connecting with that one and this with this one and oh my god I'm actually writing, there are words coming out and they make sense and I actually think I have something here and wow I'm going to win the pulitzer and.
If you're just starting out as a freelance writer -- hell, if you're well-established as a freelancer -- I strongly urge you to read this piece by Scott Carney, a Colorado-based investigative journalist and anthropologist. In the piece Carney suggests freelancers abandon the long-held practice of "silo" pitching, wherein writers pitch articles to one outlet at a time and rather take their publications out to multiple editors simultaneously.
Around the corner from my house, inside the streetside window of a fancy spa, a slogan painted on an interior wall reads "Allow sufficient time." As the spa's clients emerge from their massages and saunas and wraps, the sign reminds them not to rush back into the world. It also reminds passersby like me not to rush through the world. I'm still trying to learn that lesson.
I've been reading a lot of letters. It seems all I do these days is read letters.
But here's a letter for you. I wish I could send it to you on the onion-skin I so often find myself reading, the translucent sheets etched with the black ink of a an old Hermes's or Corona Portable's hammer-strikes, the sheet carefully folded into an envelope covered with bright stamps and decorated with a picture of a DC-3 and bold capitals reading "VIA AIR MAIL."
Of course, I can't, but I still want to say hello, because it's been a while (probably) and I miss you (certainly) and connecting beyond the superficial digital zones where we encounter one another. You may know where I've been, but perhaps something will settle on this screen. Letters, whatever their substrate, allow thoughts to steep better than ever-flowing streams of information we feel we must address and process now. Right now. Always now.
So feel free to read this and whatever letters follow at your leisure.
Today brings a bloom of beginnings from a tangle of endings. Perhaps that's not surprising. I suppose beginnings and endings all occupy coterminous space. And as I write, I'm struck by how my own beginnings and my own endings weave around one another and, often, between two places — Los Angeles and Portland.
But I'm writing today to recognize one simple beginning: the redesigned, relaunched version of my website*, upon which, presumably, you're reading these words. I do so hoping to re-introduce the world to my own background as a writer and journalist and as a storyteller, and to re-pique your curiosity about Melville Jacoby, whose adventures, romance and experiences as a journalist in World War II-era China and the Philippines will be the subject of a forthcoming book.
It's complicated ... and that's the point. Journalism doesn't have all the answers, and we shouldn't expect it to. We shouldn't expect our stories to solve things for us.
Journalists' primary role is not to answer the challenges that face our society: it's to bring light to those challenges, so that those with the proper tools to solve a given problem will know that the challenge exists. In a sense, we're brokers, we're middle-men, we're matchmakers between problems and solutions. But those problems and solutions still have to get to know one another, find the right match. We can't consummate their relationships, we can just help them find one another.
I understand – trust me I understand and kinda don't want to discuss – that the publishing world is rapidly changing. Even if it weren't, it takes time and patience to get something published. But I wonder about the rules of the game. With information spreading so rapidly how am I supposed to do this, to wait patiently on a story that is constantly evolving? Even if things go well with this story, how do we publish, how do we write or report anything? How do we set boundaries? Do we just say “that's the story” even as it continues to change? Do we just cut convenient slices of ever-lengthening timelines out?
few weeks ago I started typing on one of my dad's old typewriters. The arms of each key on the Royal Arrow moved slowly, as if moving through molasses. My words tripped over themselves, caught in the machine's throat. Dust dulled the dark gray casing of the machine. Another typewriter sat on a table across the room. A portable Corona, its curved black shell was decorated with a gold-colored paint, although the decoration was muted somewhat by the years passed since the machine was owned by the journalist Melville Jacoby, a cousin of my grandmother's who died in an accident in the Pacific as he covered World War II. Also known as Mel Jack, I hope to share his story another time -- I only invoke him now because I can't help thinking about those machines, about what it feels to squeeze words onto those pages and what it feels like at this moment to string words across this screen.