Storytime III

Dec 4, 2004

I’m back in Boston (Cambridge, really) for the annual Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism, where I sit in the back of the room and soak up all the writing rules and journalism wisdom and kick myself for not being a more disciplined writer. Then I remember I’ve just spent 25 hours relaunching my weblog, where for four years I’ve attempted a sort of narrative blogging to share stories from my life and family history.

I wanted to blog the conference, to report to you what these brilliant writers are telling us about the craft of narrative, but the damn hotel that’s going to charge me for the more expensive room they put me in instead of the less expensive room I reserved (hotel rooms on the Southwest Airlines first-come-first-seated method; no complaints, though, since I’m on the twelfth floor overlooking the Charles River) isn’t so progressive they’d think to install wifi access, and so I’ve had to walk to Cambridge’s Central Square to the 1369 Coffee House for Internet access. No reports, then. Suffice it to say that Seymour Hersch, Tracy Kidder, Norman Mailer and all the others are inspiring. O let my writing henceforth reflect these sage writers and their tutorials.

I’ve also come to this cafe to sip chamomile tea with honey to soothe my blistered tongue, the last stage – I hope and pray – of the cold virus that skipped through me and Erin and the girls over the last month. This tongue ailment sucks. I’ve had to numb it continuously, and when I’ve been chatted up by other conference goers – there’s a large contingent of Cleveland Plain Dealer writers here, among others – I’ve spoken with a lisp and a pained expression.

Last night, I met up with Bridgit Green, a fellow Vanuatu PCV. Bridgit served in Vao Village on Malekula Island, and has been living in Boston for a few years, earning a master’s degree in international public health. It was great to catch up with Bridgit, hear about her boyfriend and family, studies and travels. In Vao, Bridgit helped a group of women to open a roadside cafe; at my suggestion, they named it Vao Nao (“nao” is Bislama for now).

ADDENDUM: Some thoughts on the Nieman speakers: Hersch was disappointing. About 10 minutes into his off-the-cuff remarks, I was adamant that speakers to writing conferences should be required to prepare their speeches. Norman Mailer did, and his talk was so much more enlightening and entertaining. Harrumph. Tracy Kidder was excellent as a speaker, but as a panelist, humdrum. Too humble, I think, or introspective. He’d obviously put some thought into his speech—though when I met him here in Chapel Hill in November, he feined forgetfulness of the Nieman engagement.

Anton Zuiker

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