Tag: writing

Gary Laney died without warning Friday, two days before Christmas. He was 47. The news was crushing. The shock hasn’t worn off, and I am flailing about in search of words.

His funeral is happening now in Baton Rouge. I wish he were here to talk about it with me. Gary’s presence here two years ago, the day before the funeral of our first editor in the daily newspaper business, was a gift to me from the cosmos. Now, he’s gone, and we are not having lunch together, not having beers, not telling Lake Charles stories, laughing and crying.

In a year of so much loss, Gary’s death is one of the hardest losses to bear.

We first met in the mid-1980s, when my journalism career was just getting started and he was a high school student with an interest in sports writing and newspaper work. He came up one day to the makeshift press box at Legion Field in Lake Charles where I was covering American Legion games, and on some level, he never left. Gary was like a friendly puppy, tagging along as I did my job. He was likable, smart, curious, full of questions, and eager to discuss sports, music, writing and many other subjects.

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shutterstock_103980101Photo by s_bukley/Shutterstock.com

There is something, I am certain, for everyone in “Everything is Copy,” a 2015 documentary about writer and filmmaker Nora Ephron. Perhaps the most compelling reasons to watch it center on writing — specifically writing about oneself and one’s life, and whether everything is fair game. Not only that, but whether it’s essential to tell the stories that others might wish you would never write. The personal stories other writers might be afraid to tell.

Written and directed by Jacob Bernstein, the firstborn of Ephron’s two sons, “Everything is Copy” debuted on HBO in March. My most recent viewing was yesterday, on my late mother’s birthday, a date I picked for reasons that probably make sense only to me.

Today is Nora Ephron’s birthday. If you know her from her writing and directing such films as “Sleepless in Seattle,” “When Harry Met Sally…” or “You’ve Got Mail,” there are moments in “Everything is Copy” that you will surely enjoy. If you know that she was a reporter for the New York Post in the 1960s and then began writing a column on women’s issues for Esquire, the film has nuggets you will appreciate. Her marriage to, and divorce from, Carl Bernstein, known best for teaming with Bob Woodward in covering the Watergate break-in and aftermath for The Washington Post, was fodder for her 1983 novel “Heartburn” — and has a major role in her son’s documentary.

The title he chose for the 89-minute film about his mother speaks to a phrase she learned from her mother, and which invested much of her life’s work and her ability to deal with the most painful moments of her personal life. It is very much, like the documentary, a statement about what to leave in, and what to leave out, as a writer.

As Ephron says in the first of several sections of her own narration during the film, she and her three younger sisters had those three words ingrained in them at an early age.

everythingiscopy“We all grew up with this thing that my mother said to us over and over and over and over again, which was, ‘Everything is copy.’ You know, you’d come home with some thing that you thought was the tragedy of your life — someone hadn’t asked you to dance, or the hem had fallen out of your dress, or whatever you thought was the worst thing that could ever happen to a human being — and my mother would say, ‘Everything is copy.’ ” Write it down, she would tell her children. It’s all material.

As an adult, Ephron wrote: “I now believe that what my mother meant is this: When you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you, but when you tell people that you slipped on a banana peel, it’s your laugh, so you become the hero, rather than the victim, of the joke. I think that’s what she meant.

“On the other hand, she may merely have meant, ‘Everything is copy.’ ”

Survivor tools

Ephron was born in New York City, but when she was young the family moved to Beverly Hills, California, and her playwright parents both pursued screenwriting as a career. The documentary describes their alcoholism and, eventually, the death of Ephron’s mother as a result.

“My mother died of cirrhosis,” Ephron wrote, “but the immediate cause of her death was an overdose of sleeping pills administered by my father. At the time, this didn’t seem to me to fall under the rubric of ‘everything is copy,’ although it did to my sister Amy, who put it into a novel. Who can blame her?”

Part of Jacob Bernstein’s motivation in making “Everything is Copy” was to talk with people who had been close to Nora Ephron, his mother, and to try to better understand what shaped her life and her resiliency, and to take a closer look at whether everything was indeed copy for her. As it turned on, it was not so true for his grandmother, Ephron’s mother, who was so fond of saying it to her daughters.

“My grandmother said everything was copy, but in the end, she only wrote superficially about the things that happened to her,” Jacob Bernstein says in voice-over narration during the film. “Is that part of why she wound up being less successful than my mom? In AA, they say you are as sick as your secrets. Did my grandmother’s failure to admit slipping on the banana peel hasten her demise? Did my mom’s need for control stem from her mom’s loss of it?”

Ephron’s sister Amy offers her perspective on the legacy left by their two alcoholic parents: “I think one of the things we got from them, in a sort of backhanded way, is that we got kind of survivor tools. Watching them not have the equipment to reinvent themselves fueled the kind of reinvention that certainly Nora had — not even a coping mechanism. It’s something way beyond that. It was like, ‘You’re not gonna knock me down.’ ”

Nora Ephron reinvented herself throughout her adult life, through three marriages, through the transition from reporting to column and essay writing to screenwriting and, eventually, directing. She was a mother with a toddler, and pregnant with her second son, when she discovered that her husband, Carl Bernstein, had been cheating on her. Some of her greatest successes came after that heartbreak, but getting to that point was difficult.

She had moved from New York to Washington, D.C. because of the relationship, but she returned to her comfort zone to pick up the pieces of her life after telling the world, through gossip columnist Liz Smith, that the marriage was over.

She wrote it funny

Director Mike Nichols, interviewed by Jacob Bernstein for the documentary before his fatal heart attack in November 2014, tells the story of how Nora Ephron moved into the home of Bob Gottlieb, her editor at Alfred Knopf, after leaving Washington — and the marriage to Carl Bernstein: “Very, very few, if any, people that I can think of have ever survived being publicly cuckolded — Nora being the exception that it’s like those photographs of cats that somebody took, in which they’ve decided to change direction in mid-jump. Because what she did is, in mid-jump, she moved to the Gottliebs’ house and cried for six months — and wrote it funny, and in writing it funny, she won. And betrayed women all over the world knew it and cheered.”

Three years after the 1983 publication of the novel “Heartburn,” which bore a striking resemblance to the story of Ephron’s relationship with Carl Bernstein, Nichols directed the movie adaptation. It was not as popular as the book, which was funnier than the movie and had been popular with women. This excerpt, read by Ephron in footage later used in “Everything is Copy,” might help explain that popularity.

I had gotten on the shuttle to New York a few hours after discovering the affair, which I learned about from a really disgusting inscription to my husband in a book of children’s songs she had given him. Children’s songs. ‘Now you can sing these songs to Sam’ was part of the disgusting inscription, and I can’t begin to tell you how it sent me up the wall, the idea of my 2-year-old child, my baby, involved in some dopey inscriptive way in this affair between my husband, a fairly short person, and Thelma Rice, a fairly tall person, with a neck as long as an arm, and a nose as long as a thumb, and you should see her legs, never mind her feet, which are sort of splayed.”

Marie Brenner, a journalist who was friends with Ephron and who had dated Carl Bernstein before he started seeing Ephron, says in the documentary that Ephron’s writing helped her get past tough moments in her life.

“She had detachment, so that she was able to be her own helicopter pilot, flying up when she was in front of her typewriter and getting it down without feeling the need to vomit her problems all over someone.”

Says Bryan Lourd, her agent at Creative Artists Agency: “She had the ability to go back to the typewriter and write herself out of trouble, and she was very adept and facile at shape-shifting.”

But after Ephron was diagnosed in 2006 with the blood disorder myelodysplasia, which led to the form of leukemia that caused her death, she largely kept it a secret. Brenner, while being interviewed by Jacob Bernstein for “Everything is Copy,” reflects on that turn of events: “How interesting it was, Jacob, that at the end of her life, where everything — your mother’s mantra, your grandmother’s mantra: ‘Nora, this is all material; Nora, this is material’ — at the most powerful moment of her life, when she was facing her death, it was not material. It was not a story.”

A story she couldn’t control

Which brings us back to the main point of the documentary, its raison d’être. As Jacob Bernstein puts it: “For decades, my mother put her private life front and center — writing about her physical inadequacies, the indignities of aging, and the breakup of her marriage to my father. But at the end of her life, she chose to stay silent about the blood disorder that killed her. Why, after being so open about everything else, did she choose not to address the most significant crisis of her life?”

“I think this was a story that she couldn’t control,” says Richard Cohen, a Washington Post columnist who became a close friend of Ephron’s. “The other stuff, she could control. She told it her way.”

Through the process of making “Everything is Copy,” Jacob Bernstein draws some conclusions that align comfortably with Cohen’s assessment.

“I think at the end of my mom’s life, she believed that everything is not copy, that the things you want to keep are not copy, that the people you love are not copy.” He goes on, saying that he thinks her opinion changed to being “what is copy is the stuff you’ve lost, the stuff you’re willing to give away, the things that have been taken from you. She saw ‘everything is copy’ as a means of controlling the story. Once she became ill, the way to control the story was to make it not exist.”

Meryl Streep, who played Karen Silkwood in “Silkwood,” written by Ephron and directed by Nichols, played the character loosely based on Ephron in “Heartburn.” Like many who knew Ephron — Rob Reiner, Bob Balaban, Gay Talese, and even Nichols — Streep did not know Ephron was dying. Almost no one did, including those she worked with on her last projects. Nichols’ interview includes him saying that he was too stupid to realize, as others did, that his last meal with Ephron was a goodbye lunch.

The privacy with which Ephron managed to spend her final days stunned many who knew her, including Streep: “And she’s the one who said, ‘There is no privacy. Forget privacy — it’s gone.’ And this is the most fascinating thing in the whole world to me, because she achieved a private act in a world where the most superficial parts of the most intimate acts are everywhere and sold. They’re sold.”

A means out of victimhood

In an interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air” about “Everything is Copy,” Jacob Bernstein reveals a pragmatic reason for Ephron’s privacy near the end of her life. He says that for his mother, the philosophy that became the title of the documentary “was really a means out of victimhood. It really was the belief in being the heroine of your life and not the victim, and how do you not become the victim if people are walking up to you and saying, ‘How are you? Are you OK?’ She didn’t want that. So, it was a secret that allowed her to move throughout the world in control.”

For much of her writing life, and in the personal life that helped provide the material for it, Ephron was notorious for being ruthless.

“It was part of her whole Dorothy Parker thing,” producer Amy Pascal says, “to cut people to the quick.”

That was not lost on Ephron’s son, whose interview with NPR includes this perspective: “I think that comedy exists in this thin line between bravery and ruthlessness, and part of what I was after with the film was the belief that it’s both, and that it’s possible for the kind of cannibalism that writing is to be both a tremendous source of self-actualization and something that’s a little unseemly and unfair to other people.”

Meg Ryan and others interviewed for “Everything is Copy” says that late in her life, Ephron became softer, more accepting of others’ weaknesses and even her own. But she seemed to remain a woman who considered herself an expert on relationships, and a person who wasn’t shy about giving advice to people, whether about their love life or other matters.

Donald J. Lee Jr., an assistant director and producer who worked with Ephron on “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail,” sheds some light on the void she left behind after being such an influential person in the lives of those she cared about. Talking with Jacob Bernstein, pushing the words through a throat full of emotion, Lee says, “I was riding up in the elevator after your mother died with Mike Nichols, and he just looked at me, and we said, ‘Who … who’s gonna tell us what to do?’ ”

Had she lived to see today, she would have been 75 years old. That’s the age my mother was when she died in 2006, the year Nora Ephron was diagnosed with the blood disorder that ended her life on June 26, 2012.

There are remembrances of her online today, and I’m sure there will be again on the anniversary of her death. People will continue to talk about what they learned from her through her movies, and they will remember their favorite scenes and lines from them. People will write about “Everything is Copy.” They will tweet about her, as people are doing today.

I’m certain that there are people who knew her who will say, as Lee and Nichols did on the day she died, “Who’s gonna tell us what to do?” Don’t think I didn’t say and think the same at times after my mother died. I thought about that Wednesday on her birthday. I’m thinking about the same feeling of loss that people are being reminded of today on Ephron’s birthday, a feeling that’s accompanied by the joy in remembering what made her special.

Like I do regarding my mom, people who still feel that void can return to their memories. Regarding Nora Ephron, they can open one of her books, or watch one of her movies, and discover that somewhere inside each, she is there, in her way as a writer, director or both, doing that just. Telling us what to do. Or, maybe, who we are. The part of her that was confident in her read on men and women helped her tell stories that resonated with so many.

“Everything is Copy” is out there too, and I suspect more people will discover it and watch it because of the discussion about her on social media today, and again in late June. Maybe they will learn how to be their own helicopter pilot, flying their way out of their troubles by finding a way to tell their story — and by being the hero or heroine of it.






The Undefeated is finally with us. The website that bills itself as “the premier platform for exploring the intersections of race, sports and culture” launched Tuesday after a long time in development. If you think 33 months from birth to first day of publishing stories required patience on the part of those involved — and those waiting to read those stories — consider this quote from managing editor Raina Kelley.

“It’s only been the past 125 years that African-Americans have had any regular access to the printing press,” Kelley said. “All real forms of expression African-Americans excelled at when we didn’t have access to the printing press, we want to bring back into the fold. We don’t want to limit to the written word because [African-Americans] have not wanted to limit ourselves to the written word.

“One of the fears is that people are going to think that everything is going to be a screed against institutionalized white power, like “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” or somber and guilt-inducing. If we need to do that, we can do that. But we didn’t want to place limitations on ourselves. We wanted to get this blank slate. We want to be able to push boundaries with spoken word, music, whatever. … We want to match subject matter to the form we think fits it best.”

The video “We Are The Undefeated” released before the launch made it a pretty good bet that those words about not limiting the site’s coverage to the printed word wasn’t idle talk.

Kelley’s comments reminded me of Alice Walker’s “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens” and Walker’s exploration of the roots of her creativity.

Walker puzzles over this as a young woman, until one day she is standing in one of the Smithsonian museums, looking at a quilt displayed with a note that reads, “an anonymous Black woman in Alabama, a hundred years ago.”

Right then, Walker knew exactly where her artistic sense had come from: her mother and her grandmother and the women who came before them.

Though they had not received the education Walker had been privileged to earn at Spelman College and Sarah Lawrence College, they were every bit as creative as she was discovering herself to be. In her grandmother’s quilts, in her mother’s lavish gardens were bountiful expressions of artistry – expressed through the vehicles that were available to them as poor, uneducated black women in the Jim Crow South.

Walker’s recognition of her foremothers’ creativity leads her to ruminate on women’s artistic traditions in general – from the domestic arts of quilt making and gardening to the few written texts that have been passed down by women. Walker sings the praises of Phillis Wheatley, the slave who is widely recognized as the first African American writer, male or female, and she wonders about Frances Harper, Nella Larsen, and her patron saint, Zora Neale Hurston.

Source: Alice Walker: “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens”

Kelley’s remarks took me a long way back — to my discovery of Walker and the rich soil from which her collection of essays grew. They took me back to another point in time — early in my journalism career, and my too-slow recognition of how white most American newsrooms were, and how that shaped coverage. Kelley’s words reminded me of the many uncomfortable moments along the way toward a greater appreciation for the privilege to participate in journalism in ways inaccessible to so many from birth.

Her comments resonated with me for many reasons — because I’d read Alice Walker all those years ago, and Toni Morrison, and “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” and Ralph Wiley, and Harry Edwards, and because I’d read and heard Michael Wilbon, Howard Bryant, and Bomani Jones, and Jemele Hill, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, and J.A. Adande, and others (but not enough). Kelley’s point of view connected with me after years of following social media accounts that underscore so many truths behind what she said, and what Walker wrote, and even what was stitched into that quilt in Alabama that we cannot see with the naked eye, and certainly not the closed one.

In two days, The Undefeated has published powerful stories, including “The Waco Horror,” which will sicken and outrage even those who are well aware of the history of racism and lynchings in the Southern U.S. — even as it gives us an early look at The Undefeated’s promise of unconventional storytelling.

At a time when thousands of former journalists are working in other fields because of the ever-shrinking number of opportunities to earn a living telling stories, it’s exciting to see a new outlet emerge, even if it was a long time in coming. Having hustled to meet daily deadlines throughout my career, covering all of my adult life, I’m mindful of the fact that the work is just beginning for The Undefeated, even after its 33 months of preparations.

I wish them well, and much success in their constant gardening and quilting.

You can follow The Undefeated on Twitter and on Facebook.

the abbey (2)

The photo I took of the church at St. Joseph Abbey and Seminary College in August 2010 speaks to me of more than one time of transition in my life. I pulled it from the archives this month upon learning of the death of longtime Louisiana sportswriter Marty Mulé.

Six summers ago, I accepted a job in Oregon and left Louisiana, which had been my home state since birth. On Aug. 9, 2010, I loaded my car with essentials and set off on a weeklong drive to the West Coast to visit family in California, taking a right turn before reaching the Pacific Ocean and headline up the coastline to my new home. On Aug. 7, I spent some quiet time at St. Joseph — or, as current and former students call it, St. Ben’s. This was a multipurpose visit: fresh air, reflections (the visual and the introspective kind), a reconnecting with a place that had a profound impact on me long ago, and other reasons too complex to revisit here. It was my good fortune that I could end the day having dinner with Marty.

He’d heard I was moving, and he’d wondered if we could get together before I left the state. He reached out to me less than a week before my scheduled departure. No, he wouldn’t be in Baton Rouge before I left, which presented a logistical problem. When I realized he lived close to St. Ben’s, we finalized our plans. I’d spend some time on the grounds at St. Joseph, and we’d meet for dinner at Acme Oyster House on the Northshore. My last Cajun seafood meal would be with Marty.

It was an unexpected last Louisiana supper. Marty and I weren’t especially close. We never worked for the same newspaper, although he wrote columns for Tiger Rag, where I was working when I accepted the job in Oregon. He was not a mentor in the formal sense, but for whatever reason he took an interest in me and in my writing, and we became friendly. He had a way of making people with far less experience than he — and far less talent — feel special.

“I know this is a big deal if Carl Dubois is here,” he’d say if we bumped into each other at an event. It was one of those things you could pretty much count on Marty saying, and it would make you smile and put you at ease every time. You were always glad to see Marty.

Marty had made it onto my radar long before he knew anything about me. At my first job, in Lake Charles, I heard about feature stories he’d written that had impressed my boss and co-workers. His was a name I quickly grew to respect before I’d ever put a face to the name. To me, he was a big-time sportswriter, but upon meeting him, I could not imagine him ever trying to big-time anyone. He was a common man with uncommon storytelling ability, someone who could make magic out of plain language and the facts. He was a genuine guy, good company no matter the place, a man with a passion for reporting and writing.

One day at work, I heard about a story he’d written that referenced the 1958 national championship team at LSU, with a specific mention of the squad known as the “Chinese Bandits.” The nickname came from a comic strip called Terry and the Pirates, which later became a television adventure series. There’s virtually no chance a team would adopt a nickname like that today. Even in the 1980s, when the story came up, there was an uncomfortable edge because of the nickname. Indeed, I listen as my boss and co-workers said the term had been stricken from Marty’s story because it was politically incorrect. That news brought a different kind of discomfort, but it wouldn’t be the last time I’d hear a story like it. Since then, I’ve seen plenty of writers and publications struggle with reporting the details about a point in history and, rather than acknowledge the language of that particular time, completely scrub it, as if it never existed. In the case of Marty’s story, I remember thinking that omitting that piece of history would rob the story of one of its essential pieces, and thus, the richness of full reporting. The discussion in the office made an impression on me, and it resonated as I got to know Marty. The more familiar I became with his work and work ethic, the stronger my realization of his commitment to historical accuracy — the good, the bad, and the ugly. I never asked Marty about it. Now, I wish I had. I’m sure his response would have been more thoughtful and layered than my perspective.

MartybookcoverAt dinner that August night in 2010, we shared stories from our past, and we shared some laughs. Marty paid for dinner, and he gave me a copy of one of his books. It accompanied me on my drive to Oregon the following week.

When I heard about his death on March 12, I remembered that day of walking around on the grounds at St. Joseph. I recalled the peaceful feeling and the calm place it put me in for my meal with Marty. It sent me to the Internet to look up details, and I discovered that the day before he died, flooding hit the grounds at St. Joseph hard. Looking at its website, I saw that familiar, postcard-like view of the abbey church, the one everyone captures with their camera or phone when they are there. The view I wanted to take with me on that August day.

MartysignsitformeI dug into my archives and found the photo I took. It took me back to that afternoon, and to the feeling I had retracing long-ago steps on the grounds there. It took me back to the warm feeling I had before having dinner with Marty, and after. I pulled out Marty’s book. I opened it and found the inscription he penned for me before handing the book to me as we parted ways: To Carl, some memories of your roots!

— Marty

I found our last email exchanges, and our references to my “last supper” in Louisiana. In his email, Marty’s words were in Marty’s voice: “Listen,” he began as he wrote about the meal, starting a sentence in an email the way he often did in speech. I could hear him, and it made me wish I could listen to him again.

Thanks, Marty. For the meal, for the friendship, for everything.

Listen, rest in peace, my friend. If I should bump into you again, I’ll know it’s a big deal, because you will be there.



James Stewart is the protagonist in “Harvey,” the 1950 film in which our man Elwood P. Dowd’s best friend is a 6-foot-3½ invisible rabbit, a pooka. This causes concern in Elwood’s family. Is it the booze? Is he crazy?

Is he more clever than all of them?

There will be no answers here. The reason for this post is this “Harvey” quote stuck in my head, and the reason why.

“In this world … you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant. Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.”

For about a decade, if I saw those words on my computer screen, chances are there was something worth reading above them. That quote from the movie was part of the tagline of SF_Express at SportsJournalists.com, a site where I and many others in the newspaper business (and other walks of life) discussed journalism, writing, editing, pop culture, current events, nonsense and further nonsense. SF_Express brought considerable experience and wisdom to bear on many topics, especially about good writing and editing. The tagline on his posts at SJ.com also included a link to his blog, which changed names a time or two, but mostly was about using words well.

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keyboardPhoto by BrianWancho

And now for something completely different.

2015-05-19 22.48.372015-05-19 22.35.58
2015-05-19 22.50.252015-05-19 22.55.032015-05-19 22.53.49To hear what it sounds like, click here: Hanx writer app typing sounds.

If you haven’t seen it before, check it out with this iTunes preview.

Bon app, Tom.


I’m rereading “Still Life With Woodpecker.” stilllife

A long time ago, I read it, before I knew I’d make a career out of writing (and editing). Ah, words, and the sometimes maddening practice of putting one in front of another, and then another, and the elusiveness they have just when you think you’ve got them all, and in the right order. Sitting at a keyboard, typing, or backspacing, possibly sitting on the delete key, and starting from scratch. (Sometimes you have to destroy the story to save it.)

I remember reading the beginning of Tom Robbins’ third novel, published in 1980, and having my eyes opened. Wow, you can write any way you want to. It doesn’t have to be the way they taught you in grade school.

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underconstructionPhoto by Sergieiev

There are several formidable challenges in my writing and editing life right now. One that’s surely on display here, despite my best efforts, is the difficulty I am having editing my thoughts as I work to put them into words.

When I decided to start blogging again, which led to the creation of this site (which will eventually feature much more than a blog), I promised myself the blog would not be a place where I felt the need to make sure the writing was always “tight.” But even given the relaxed editing standards I’ve allowed myself here in the early stages, I see how bloated my first drafts have been. That’s one of the dangers of not having written regularly in a few years, and of not having an editor. My writing has lost muscle tone, and I always had the tendency to be a bit wordy anyway. It’s clear to me this will be one of the biggest challenges as I continue writing different types of pieces.

But one aspect of it I’m starting to love is what I realized not long ago: It’s a byproduct of the way my mind is exploding lately, how by questioning much of what I’ve taken for granted, I’ve started seeing the world in many different ways. If the worst thing that happens because of that is my writing loses some of its sinew for now, I can live with the trade-off. The upside is too encouraging for me to worry about that too much at this part of the process.

It’s a work in progress, as is this website. As am I.

penandpaperPhoto by topnatthapon

A line I heard today brought me here to post this. I’m certain there are several variations, but the version I heard is easy to remember.

“The faintest ink is better than the best memory.”

Going through notes I’d jotted down, long ago and more recently, reminded me that false memory is a real thing, and that misremembering something can be as troublesome as completely forgetting it. I’ve experienced both in the past few weeks as I’ve stumbled upon notes, whose details are not the way I’d remembered — or of which I had no recall.

Even now, as the world around me distracts me, I’m losing focus about the points I wanted to make in this post. Ideas fade so quickly sometimes. But my main post is: Write it down.

On a piece of paper. On a receipt. On your hand. Or dictate it and record it. Get it on the record, so to speak. Preserve it. Now. Before you forget it.

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keyboardPhoto by BrianWancho

Much of my writing composes itself in my head away from the keyboard. Much of it gets lost in translation by the time I finally sit to write. It has ever been, but lately it seems to happen more frequently.

The words come — maybe while I’m driving, or doing laundry, or in the shower — and they sound right to me, the notes I’d play if only my fingers were on the keys at that moment. Sometimes I think those words reveal great insight. In reality, the greatness is only in my being open to the revelations about myself, but at the time, the words seem magical, and as if appearing by magic. Perhaps no other process in my life confounds and fascinates me more than composing my thoughts into a piece of writing.

One of the worst feelings is leaving the moment, then returning, and discovering the words have fled. They are missing, perhaps lost forever. It can happen after having to deal with something more pressing. It can happen after going to sleep. It can happen as simply as responding to a knock on the door. Then you grasp for the words, and it’s like being in a boat that’s drifting farther and farther away from your destination as you strain to use the oars to get yourself back on course. And the harder you work, the more you push yourself away from where you want to be. So it is with me sometimes when I try to reclaim the words that came before.

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