I’ve been carrying around a collection of Joan Didion essays from the sixties, reading one every evening on my way to work. The hum of the train. The sway of the tracks. I sink down in my seat and get lost in John Wayne or California, soothing the transition between fitful sleeps. I’ve been covering Gaza this week.
I’m not sure what more I could tell you about these pieces. I could tell you that I liked doing some of them more than others, but that all of them were hard for me to do, and took more time than perhaps they were worth; that there is always a point in the writing of a piece when I sit in a room literally papered with false starts and cannot put one word after another and imagine that I have suffered a small stroke, leaving me apparently undamaged but actually aphasic. I was in fact as sick as I have ever been when I was writing “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”; the pain kept me awake at night and so for twenty and twenty-one hours a day I drank gin-and-hot-water to blunt the pain and took Dexedrine to blunt the gin and wrote the piece. (I would like you to believe that I kept writing out of some real professionalism, to meet the deadline, but that would not be entirely true; I did have a deadline, but it was also a troubled time, and working did to the trouble what gin did to the pain.) What else is there to tell? I am bad at interviewing people. I avoid situations in which I have to talk to anyone’s press agent. (This precludes doing pieces on most actors, a bonus in itself.) I do not like to make telephone calls, and would not like to count the mornings I have sat on some Best Western motel bed somewhere and tried to force myself to put through the call to the assistant district attorney. My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does. That is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out.
And so, 2008 comes to a close. It started, for me, in Chicago and New York. Seventy-five thousand words, a diploma, a road trip through the Deep South, an imploding job market, and a gamble across the Atlantic. Now in Paris, in my newsroom, a dozen screens of live wire footage flickering war, death, destruction, despair… With this, it ends, and with this, 2009 begins. Be healthy, ask questions, and make an honest start to the new year. As much as you can.