Monday, July 21, 2008

So Why Blog?

Somebody who thought they were clever once asked a group of eminent writers this question: “Why write?” And, you’ve got to hand it to whoever it was, because they got an amazing variety of answers from a truly amazing variety of celebrated scribes.

My favorite one of all came, not from my favorite author (I’m not nuts about everything he writes, although I am fascinated by certain things he writes), but from someone obviously bored with justifying his own profession, apologizing for his obsession, making excuses for something that should be as unquestionable as the color of a person’s eyes, or a person’s limp, or a person’s stutter, something as indubitable as why anybody does anything as their life’s work: namely, John Updike, who said simply, “Why not?”

From as far back as I can recall, from even before the time I was literate, when I would scribble on a Golden Rod tablet pretending I was, I wanted to be a writer. And as I've gotten older, I’ve started thinking that maybe it really is like more than a few writers have said: something you’re born with. If not the talent, at least the need, that all-consuming desire to spill your guts – or speak from your heart – on paper.

Or on the computer screen, as it were. Writers my age have had to get used to that...thinking of the screen as paper, I mean. It took me a long time to give up my typewriter. Until, that is, I grew to see the logic that if Gutenberg hadn’t come up with his printing press, books would have been a rarity and that not getting “computerized” out of “artistic obstinacy” was a little like fighting for the right to perpetuate the use of the quill pen. But once I did, largely because work forced me to, I embraced the cybersphere wholeheartedly, and the fact that computers and the Web exist has been, I now readily admit, the only reason I have been able to enjoy the lifestyle I have led for the past 15 years.

Speaking of which, I make my home – when I’m not hanging out in the City of Buenos Aires or traveling back to the States to reunite my past with my present – in Patagonia. That’s a vast region in the Southern Cone of South America that spans the southernmost reaches of both Argentina and Chile. My little corner of it is on the Argentine side of the mountains, in what is known here as “the lakes region” where my wife and I live with our seven dogs and six cats.

In 1988, a friend of mine, Gabriel Griffa, then-publisher of the now-renowned Argentine magazine, Apertura, called me and said that he and his partner, Marcelo Longobardi, who was editor-in-chief at the time, wanted to talk to me about a story. I had given them a little hand with tips and contacts when they were first starting out, since I had a decade’s head start on them in both years and journalism, and Griffa just sort of kept me close by from then on. Anyway, this time Marcelo did the talking. He said they were re-launching the magazine. Up to then, Apertura had been a sort of eclectic "book", a “whenever-it-comes-outly”, with a bit of politics, a dash of art, a dose of macroeconomics and a spattering of entrepreneurial case studies. As the Spanish saying goes, it covered a lot and grabbed onto little. But it was lively and interesting, and reflected intelligence, budding professionalism and uncommon enthusiasm and promise. Now, the idea was to turn it into a business magazine, of the type of Fortune, BusinessWeek or Forbes, but in an inimitably Argentine style. It would be a regular bi-monthly at first, and whenever ad revenues allowed, it would go monthly. The first cover story was to be on The Future, and what Longobardi proposed was that I write the section on the future of news coverage.

I pointed out that I didn’t write in Spanish. Longobardi said he didn’t see why not, since I was fluent in the language. I said fluent was one thing but writing professionally was another. How about, I suggested, if I write it in English and then give it to somebody to translate.

“I’d rather,” he said, “you wrote it in Spanish and we’ll correct it here afterward.”

“Do I get a look at the final draft before it goes to press?”



So I struggled to write my first professional piece in Spanish. I was fairly happy with the result, considering. And I was even more pleased when Marcelo said: “We corrected very little…practically nothing.”

“What about my American style. It’s nothing like how Spanish-language journalists write.”

“Actually, that’s what we’re looking for,” he said, “a Yankee style in Spanish.”

Anyway, the content, more than the style was my problem. I didn’t really have a clue where news coverage was going, although my guess was, to hell in a handcart. But in the end, I took a sci-fi view and latched onto the then-incipient Internet and, at some stage in the article, made the point that someday soon, guys like me, who made their living doing research, commentary and translation, were going to be able to do that job from just about anywhere, even from a log cabin on top of a mountain. When I wrote that, it was just a thought that crossed my mind, a fleeting fantasy from the fevered mind of someone who had been trekking around Patagonia every chance he got for well over a decade. I didn’t really think seriously that within the next five years, I would be doing exactly that. But life’s funny that way, and here I am, installed in this cabin, considerable portions of which I’ve built myself, since 1993, working with clients all over the western world via Internet, while administrating 70 acres of natural forest on the fringe of a 2 million-acre national park in my spare time.

So why this blog? Well, as Updike would say, why not? But I can’t say anything that flippant about it, since I have to admit that I had to do a lot of thinking about it before I made the decision to start this blog. Who was I, I asked myself, to publish anything as grand-sounding as “a writer’s log”. My ultimate goal in life was always to be a madly popular fiction writer and, up to now, that dream has failed to come true in any decisive way. But then, in one way or another, as a newsman, editor, feature-writer, op-ed commentator, editorialist, travel writer and translator, I have been making my living in writing and publishing for the past 35 years. I mean, writing, in one form or another, is my day job, which is more than quite a number of really good writers can say. So if that doesn’t give me the credentials to talk about writing and writers from an expert standpoint, then I don't know what would.

Here I am, then, and here I’ll stay, until I don’t have anything to blog about anymore, which could be a very, very long time.

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