A bit MIA for the holidays

I was in Baltimore the last few days helping my boyfriend move into his internet-less apartment, which writing-wise was pure misery and explains the lack of blog posts, but fun-wise definitely enjoyable.

Getting there, though, was such an ordeal. On my way to the bus stop Saturday, I ran right into SantaCon NYC 2009, smack dab in the middle of 33rd, where my bus was supposed to be. It would have made the perfect picture post had it not been for my fear that I’d missed the bus. I paced up and down the block, shoved a few santas aside with my suitcase, and even chased a Bolt bus down the street (and was told, rather rudely by one driver, that I needed to wait “UP THERE!” Insert menacing stare). Turns out the bus was 40 minutes late. I’ll just file it in my “Of course it would happen to me” folder, right along with shoddy Internet on a (non-Bolt) bus that my friends say has never failed them and a schedule change on the subway the ONE day I try a new route.

Tomorrow I’ll also be en route to Virginia for the holidays, so don’t expect a regular posting schedule until January.

On that note, happy holidays!

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The writer in chief

Photo by Beth Rankin on Flickr

With Obama’s acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize (and all its criticism: “Peace?! How can someone who wages war win an award for peace?!), I thought it would be the perfect time to share this GQ article about the president’s writing background. Instead of arguing for or against this prize and whether Afghanistan is a just war, I’d rather talk about his speech, which, in all its six-page splendor on the NYT, is an excellent read. I found myself stopping at certain parts to admire passages or to absorb exactly what I’d just read.

We are all aware that the man knows how to deliver epic speeches. What this piece does is give a glimpse of the process. It touches on his background as a fledgling writer with aspirations for social change and community organizing. A friend even surmised from a conversation he had with Obama before he became senator that he yearned to write another book.

Fortunately for him, he gets to use his writing chops in office. He usually conveys his thoughts to his speechwriters, revises their drafts and finishes just in time to deliver it. Sometimes he doesn’t even run through it.

The most interesting part to me is how the author suggests Obama’s writer self is both a strength and a weakness:

As readers of “Dreams from My Father” are aware, Obama’s personal story is a good one. And as the writer of that story, Obama is more attuned to the power of narrative and is more in control of it than any president in recent memory. Yet this same attention to narrative can also seem the source of Obama’s psychological and political shortcomings; they are the writer’s classic failings. The story that obsesses him is his own story: He tells it over and over, stamping it into the larger American narrative and often conflating the two, a feat of authorial arrogance that’s simultaneously an outsider’s plaintive quest for belonging. In the telling, he shades and edits as a writer does, employing straw-man characters (those who would rather do nothing than fix the economy; the villainous Bush administration) to set a backdrop for his own heroic odyssey. Most perilously, Obama believes more strongly in the magic of words, especially his own, than perhaps any of his recent predecessors. His default option is to give a speech, and he’s maybe too prolific at doing so, since a disproportion of words to deeds is what ultimately undermines a politician.

But to the Obama White House, words are deeds. This belief that the president can swoop down and save the day with a game-changing speech has become a cornerstone of the administration’s political strategy.

When Obama delivered his speech today in Oslo, he was clearly responding to his critics. He addressed several points — universal human rights, the notion of a just war, fighting for something despite the odds — and prompted an emotional reaction from me.

I suppose that’s why people, liberal or not, are enamored with his speeches. Whether or not you agree with him, he speaks in a way that forces you to look at things a bit differently, even if for just a fleeting moment. Or at least until the speech is over.

Latest: Band Q&As

Photo by flickr’s Ferrari + caballos + fuerza = cerebro Humano

I’d never done band profiles before, so I was at a loss for questions when they were first assigned to me.

There’s something intimidating about talking to musicians as opposed to public officials or school administrators (which are the kinds of people I used to deal with). Musicians don’t have to be formal, so they can say whatever they want. I was afraid my attempts to appear nonchalant might actually backfire, leaving me as the rambling idiot wielding a pen and notepad. Still, I took comfort in their unfamiliarity. Like government officials, musicians have their own jargon — What makes sense to them might sound abstract and nonsensical to me — and, after covering education and local government, I’m used to that.

Fortunately, the bands (the fearsome sparrow, Aeroplane Pageant and Horse’s Mouth) were pleasant to talk to, gave insightful answers and, in most cases, made sense. Ultimately, I approached them the same way I approach all my interviews: I loaded them up with questions with a nod and a smile. The biggest challenge was probably deciding whether to hold an alcoholic beverage or a voice recorder.

Good news for my editor, I chose the latter.

Why must you write?

I think I came out of the womb writing. The first thing I ever sold was when I was 10 years old. A five-part serial to the Cleveland News young people’s column. And before that I was doing my own little newspaper in the neighborhood. I’ve always written. I never decided to be a writer, I was just… There’s a scene of a film called “The Red Shoes,” where Moira Shearer, who was a brilliant ballerina, is talking to the ballet entrepreneur. A Balanchine kind of figure. And he says to her, “Why must you dance?” She wants to join his company and she thinks about it a moment and then she says to him, “Why must you breathe?” And he says, “I must!” And she smiles and walks away. I didn’t choose to be a writer. Thats what I am — I’m a writer.”

— Harlan Ellison

I used to make my own newspapers, too. End geeky aside.

Are you a Tigger or an Eeyore?

Q. Let’s talk about hiring.

A. There are a number of things that are really important to me. One — and people laugh that I have this philosophy — is that you only hire Tiggers. You don’t hire Eeyores. It doesn’t mean they have to be loud, but I need energy-givers and I have to get a feeling that this person is going to be able to inspire people. Are they going to be optimistic about where they’re going? Are they going to attract people who are like that?

No. 2 is, will they be able to stand up to me when they believe in something? I’m very passionate. I need people who are going to be able to make me look at things in a different way. So, I have to ask those questions, like, “Give me an instance where you really believed in something and you were able to change the course and it was successful, whatever that was.” That’s really important, because you don’t want people telling you what you already know, or not telling you what you need to know.

Q. What career advice do you give people just starting out?

A. One, take the time to absolutely find what makes you excited to wake up in the morning. Take the time. You don’t have to decide in five minutes. Two, don’t be afraid to take risks, but know when there’s a difference between risk and suicide. Know what that line is for you, because everybody is different. Three, be very, very watchful, careful and cognizant of who you want to work with and for, and make sure that that is aligned with your values, because that’s going to make you feel whole.

— Mindy Grossman, chief executive of HSN Inc., as featured on The New York Times