The year of non-writing
Words are my job, but I wrote almost nothing about my own life in 2015.
On New Year’s Eve I made a list of new, worldview-changing things I did in 2015. It includes mostly good stuff— traveling to Montreal, Atlanta and Seattle; crafting a pointed resignation letter; learning to lead climb — but also some shitty stuff — sitting with someone important to me for nine hours as they received their first round of chemo.
Through all of this, I can think of only one fully constructed piece of writing about any of these defining experiences: A farewell “Letter from the Editor” published in the hyperlocal newspaper I edited and left in October.
It was a sloppy piece, but I had agonized over it. How do you say goodbye to a mass readership that may or may not have cared about you personally? That had never been the goal, after all. As a journalist, and especially as one not “from” my coverage area — an important distinction in parochial Philadelphia — my readers didn’t need to know me personally. Still, many did because hyperlocal journalism forces you to have a presence in the community you cover. So, I wrote about that.
But then there was all that other stuff. Where were the travel essays about semi-spontaneous road trips and cross-country flights? Where were the satirical think pieces about my ill-fated try at primitive camping? Where were the odes to this singular cancer patient’s unflinching optimism?
Will I remember these things if I don’t write them down?
I have wondered if I’m too self-aware to write honestly anymore. I have an editor’s eye. I know, or suspect, how my writing would be received. And because most of my writing is shared publicly these days, I’m in the mindset that everything I write has to be for something, to be published somewhere for other people to read, so I had better keep my personal life out of it for fear of, perhaps, being too seen.
Throughout the year, I wrote dozens of stories — over 150, maybe closer to 200. Some were genuinely enjoyable to work on. Examples:
Meet Cione's own diehard bike polo club
Philadelphia Bike Polo attracts people of all ages and skill levels to its pickup games. The game isn't for the faint…
- This article actually pissed off a lot of people who live in the area who see the bike polo players as harbingers of the yuppie apocalypse. I’m proud of writing something that sounds this cool: “You’re more likely to see tattoos and bleeding elbows than Ralph Lauren model lookalikes.”
St. Adalbert parishioners and their Polish guests journey to see the pope celebrate Mass on the Parkway. Fol…
- This was fun because I had to/got to walk five miles over two and a half hours to see Pope Francis with a rambunctious group of Polish Catholics who cheerfully referred to themselves as “sinners” to passersby.
Walking the dirty streets of Kensington, Fishtown and Port Richmond with those charged with cleaning up after the…
- I followed around two men tasked with cleaning up what are probably some of the dirtiest streets in Philadelphia — “he gets a tetanus shot every five years and wears gloves when separating recycling from trash, lest he get pricked by a needle he missed” — and their positive energy blew me away.
Mother of Divine Grace's Meatball Days bring together generations of parishioners to prepare for the par…
- This story is about a little old Italian lady who taught me how to roll the perfect meatball. I wrote that her peers refer to her as “a saint, one who does God’s work with processed animal products and a frying pan.”
Looking back, I realize that I like these pieces best because I did put myself into them. This can’t be the case with every story, of course. But remembering the joy that came from sharing a personal experience is reminding me that I chose journalism because I am, first and foremost, a writer.
In this new year, I resolve to make the time to reflect on my life as it’s happening, as well as to take written stock of the past. My writing will be better for it.
I will be better for it.