Journalism

The late, great Susan Sontag once said that her definition of a writer was someone who is interested in everything.

As you can see from the various articles and essays archived here under the categories of Cultural, Foreign, Travel, Styles, Education, Environmental, Miscellany/Humor, Popular History and In Search Of: I most certainly am!

What do the wildly diverse subjects of the several dozen dispatches, reports, letters, et al., have in common with each other? Not much, really — except that I was interested in them. Also, that I thought them worthwhile enough to write about: over 90 percent of the 400-some-odd articles and essays I have published in 60 or so publications were self-generated.

If one must generalize further about my strange, wonderful, far-flung journalistic career, I suppose you could also say that I am drawn to subjects, people, places, institutions and trends that might not normally interest another “literary journalist.” This helps explain the amount of time I have spent writing about education, the closest thing to a “forgotten beat” as there is in general journalism; ditto for my style journalism, not to mention my so-called “Baltic fetish.”

“I don’t understand your career,” my attorney Bob Stein once said to me after I published “Looking Forward to Mondays” a fervid dispatch on New York’s China Club in the Styles section of The New York Times and “Sweden: After the Fall,” an 11,000-word disquisition on the new Swedish malaise in Wilson Quarterly, in rapid succession. “You write about geostrategic affairs and the party scene!”

Exactly.

To me, that is the mission of an independent freelance journalist: to go where other staff journalists (or more check-driven freelancers) might not wish to go.

But really, I think it all goes back to Sontag’s definition of a writer as someone who is interested in everything. Nearly 40 years after publishing my first essay about the pinball craze in the Cornell Alumni News, I am proud to stay that I still am.

And I hope I always will be.