Well, to be honest, I’m not shy, but the thought of blogging has troubled me all week. So many ideas have been aswirl in my head that upon examination, they all sounded boring. And I made the mistake of looking at Peggy Noonan and Ann Patchett’s blogs.
Today, for the fourth time, I’m snowed in, which is saying something when you live in Richmond, Virginia. As I look out at the blanket of Nebraska-like snow coming down, here is the list of ideas I thought I’d blog about, then changed my mind. Roger Angell, particularly his beautiful, funny, sad essay on aging and how we ignore the elderly, found in the February 17th issue of The New Yorker. Then, I wanted to write about his stepfather E.B. White, but gosh, that didn’t seem right either. My fifteen-year-old introduced me to “Humans of New York” which is a blog showing photos, stories and quotes from man (and woman) street interviews so I thought I’d do something similar. I’d call it “Town Chat” and ask friends and family what they liked and didn’t like about their lives; however, when I say my daughter’s face wrinkle up with an eye roll to heaven, I nixed this one too.
So, in the end, it came back to me. Tyler, the 57-year-old writer. I’ve been selling articles and essays since 1982 so this is a long list, yet what I have most loved about being a writer, and yes, I’m self-taught, is the people I’ve met. Not people like your mom and your neighbor. The other types. And I’ve loved the stories heard while wandering around interviewing them. Once I sat in a prison and interviewed a murderer named Pappy who was covered in tattoos and had a pet mouse in his cell. In cold blood Pappy had shot to death a young tough who was trespassing on his property. In parting he gave me an illustration of a mouse in a ball and chain and striped pajamas (Pappy), and a female mouse in a pink blouse with pad and pen (me); the cartoon is still in a box in my attic. I used to be a food writer and I went to visit an Atlanta housewife to hear about her special dishes. She wanted to talk about food except she also wanted to discuss her health issues and show me what skin cancer had done so she got on her knees and lifted up her blouse, making sure I could see the hole the doctor had left. I remember it was mid-morning and we were eating Hot Crab Dip. And once I was interviewing a rednecky businessman who assumed I was carrying marijuana, after all I was a writer, so he thought we could smoke a little while we chatted. He must have been very disappointed when he found out I didn’t have any pot in my shoulder bag.
I’ve interviewed crooks, lotharios, the poor, the rich, the smart, the not-so, the winners, the losers and rarely people like me because they are not particularly interesting to write about. I’ve been offered jobs, asked out on dates, stood up, generated Letters to the Editor, and received a note from a nut. Lucky me, I’ve never been assaulted or cursed at. I still buy old fashioned Stenobooks (the tan and green ones) and write notes bearing on my knee. The only time I used a tape recorder I was interviewing the City Manager in Savannah and the recorder ate most of the Q and A and I had a tight deadline. To this day, I have handwriting as bad as a doctor’s. And I’ve always prided myself on keeping a confidence, regardless of what the interviewee tells me. It’s just good manners.
The only celebrities I’ve interviewed have been politicians. At one time I worked for a woman married to a congressman from North Carolina and she wanted to write a D.C. entertainment book so she set up meetings for me with the likes of Tip O’Neill and Jim Wright. I’m probably the only writer who ever sat in the offices of the Speaker of the House and a Congressman who did not discuss politics. Mrs. Congressman ended up changing her mind about the project so I wound up with no book, no job, and a return to the temp agency so I could somehow pay my rent.
I have tried to interview relatives of celebrities. This was all for naught. Flannery O’Connor’s mother, Regina, refused to come to the phone and when someone told me I lived near one of Williams Faulkner’s relatives in Charleston, I knocked on her door, surely we could be friends; alas, the answer was “No, thank you,” and a quiet close of the door. I never did find out if she was related to Mr. Faulkner.
In my salad days, like many young writers, I sought easy fame. I actually wrote Herman Wouk, Russell Baker and Peter Taylor, the first two responding with Xeroxes on how to become a good writer. Mr. Taylor sent a postcard from Charlottesville: nice, to the point, wishing me luck. I still have it in my desk.
First Blog. Done. Thank heavens.