I came to journalism for the stories.
I needed to write. I loved the words and the sentences; the rhythms and the sounds. I loved the typing– a desk, a good window, playing the keyboard, reading to myself in a low monotone that is not quite humming and not quite talking out loud. The keys go clicka clack. Twenty-six neutral symbols are willfully recombined. Text appears; something from nothing. It fills the page. And then the next . . .
But I was young. I needed something to write about.
With luck and perseverance– a great deal of perseverance– I was given my chance. I don’t know how many stories I’ve published over the past two and a half decades. Thick files of them during six years at the Washington Post– back then, they kept the actual newsprint. They clipped each of your articles and taped it to a piece of yellow construction paper, one yellow paper per month. It was a way they had of monitoring your output. It was also thrilling evidence of your existence. You could pull your own clip file. You had proof: You were alive; you were creating; you were making progress. By the early eighties, I was writing upwards of twenty-five long magazine pieces a year. More recently, over the span of time represented in this collection–1988 through 2002–I have had the good fortune to be associated with the kinds of magazines and editors who have allowed me to take my time and to hone my craft? to tell a story, to get it right, to make it resonate.
Each of the pieces in this collection represents at least five months of reporting and writing. Each was a journey of discovery, of course– that is the nature of journalism: you start from zero. I remember as a fledgling reporter being assigned to write a story about mortgage interest rates. My first source had to explain to me the difference between interest and principal. The next morning, upwards of one million people were reading my account on the front page. Over time, I have learned many things, this among them: It is not shameful to be ignorant, only to remain so; truth is more important than pride.
Though I came to journalism for the stories, for something to write about, I have reaped much more. I am who I am today because of journalism– a man crafted by his craft, as it were: a found-art assemblage of disparate notions and sensibilities and odd, useless tidbits of information, all of it collected from the multitude of lives through which I have been allowed to pass, all of it welded helter-skelter onto the framework of the twenty-year-old kid who waded out into the real world 27 years ago with a Radio Shack micro-cassette recorder in hand to report his first piece as a pro: a story about a man who lived on a diet of wild plants. You have to start somewhere, no?