Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"You can learn a lot in a short time when there are tanks in the streets."

I bought a few books before leaving Tuscaloosa, and it's great to be indulging in some non-law related pleasure reading. One of the books I bought is a collection of the Best American Magazine Writing from 2007. It may sound light, but it's really a collection of feature and political writing from magazines like Vanity Fair and The Economist. I just finished reading a profile of the writer Christopher Hitchens, written by Ian Parker in The New Yorker.

First, I'm amazed at the volume of material by writers like Hitchens. He writes political and literary commentary and has published several books on different subjects. His friends have said that sometimes he'll excuse himself after dinner, write a column, and return before the subject of conversation has changed. He's constantly writing.

I first encountered his work at, where he writes a column at least once a week. The thought that resonated with me most, however, was his attitude towards writing in the face of personal tragedy. His mother committed suicide in an Athens hotel, and while he was there, he churned out an insightful expose on the state of Greek politics. Here's the quote that struck me:

"'Everyone said, 'Christopher, how could you?' I said 'How could I not?' It was therapeutic to write. No -- consoling. Useful.'"

I don't write because it's therapeutic. I write because it's something useful, and doing something useful is therapeutic in the sense of regaining confidence and purpose after something negative has happened. It's also, I hope, contributing something positive and practical to someone in the world.

Here's the other quote from that piece that hit me. It's Hitchens talking about the turmoil in Athens while he was there:

"You can learn a lot in a short time when there are tanks in the streets."

True in general, too.


Anonymous said...

Like this post Sharon. - Helen

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the quote about writing as a therapeutic outlet. For me, writing has always been a refuge that helps me to deal with particularly difficult events in my life. After breaking up with my boyfriend of about a year, writing helped me to make sense of what went wrong and reconnect with parts of myself that I had lost track of through a rather unhealthy relationship. I am glad to know that writing gives you a similar sense of purpose and coping mechanism.