Sunday, December 23, 2007

Freedom Of Several Kinds

This is the first time I've written for this blog since I left my job, and also the first time in six weeks. When I started it in 2005 it was because, more than any other single reason, I wanted people to be able to keep up with what was going on in a new chapter of my life. I used to be quite a phone person, but that's faded since high school and I don't always relish the thought of verbally recounting anecdotes, episodes and impressions just so someone knows what's been keeping me busy. I also have not been very good at writing letters or e-mails, unless some particular reason exists, so the blog was meant as a bulletin board for general day-to-day information for parents, friends and anyone else who was curious what I was up to.

That has changed somewhat, for reasons I haven't really given much thought to until now. I seem to keep up well enough over the phone or in person with most of the people I think want to know what I'm up to, so the blog has morphed mostly into a place for long-form extemporizing, and as such hasn't seen much recent use. I've received lots of compliments to the effect that the blog is well-written, which I'm happy to hear; but I never really know what to write any more, or why to sit down and do it. The events of my life are a fairly open book and I'm always keen to keep the grapevine up to date, but the blog isn't really a factor in that equation any longer. So, what to do with Lapplander?

I still don't really know. If you look back at the archive there was my fairly remarkable exchange about Balkan war crimes with an impassioned visitor who has since moved on, among other memorable moments, but also a lot of news dumps that I no longer am very interested in pursuing. In fact, for now, I'm kind of burned out on journalism. I can't stand talking head TV shows, not the least reason for which is that they're mostly about the insecurities and buffoonish opinions of the people talking rather than what's actually going on in the world. I don't hate newspapers but don't count them as a reliable source of in-depth information. Magazines are fairly predictable and I don't make the time to read them anyway. The events of the world can unfold without my constant attention for a little while, and you don't need me to tell you what's going on -- if you care, you'll find out yourself, and if not, try as I might, I can't make you. So, I still enjoy writing here and I'll continue to do it, but like me, the blog is changing.

So. If moving to Washington opened a chapter in my life, that chapter is either closing or taking a radical turn. When I go back (about which more in a moment) I'll go back a different person than I was when I came, and also than who I thought I'd be at this point when I first made the jump. I expected to be knee-deep in the journalistic-political roundelay after two years in the Big City. I've seen a lot of it up close and it didn't quite grab me the way I had planned. I've never cared about politicians' personal lives, foibles, gaffes, minutiae and plastic surgeries, and if the last two years are any indication, journalism in Washington is about these things at least as much as it's about torture, lying and the Constitution. Editors actually think this stuff is interesting and good fodder for party conversation. Which is fine for them, but it seems to inform a lot of the journalism that gets practiced, in both obvious (read The Politico some time) and subtle ways, and it's not something I want to deal with for the rest of my life. I know you can still be a serious journalist and get things done, but it frightens me to think of spending the next fifteen years wading a minefield of colleagues and higher-ups who think speculating about Barbara Boxer's nip-tuck is funny, revealing and meaningful in some larger sense.

This, in large part, is why I decided to go to Africa. That and the fact that I can afford it. It's time to do something extraordinary, I told myself (a line I find myself repeating when people ask). Before I bought my ticket I thought it would just be fun to take a trip, but in thinking about it I realized I need a fundamental step back from my approach to living as much as I want to see the world when a chance comes my way. This may sound very twenties-ish and melodramatic, but a lot of my assumptions and ambitions have been scrutinized and rebutted in the last two years and I can tell I'm headed somewhere I didn't intend. This is doubly strange for me because I've always prized having direction. I now feel like I don't have as much direction as I frequently give myself credit for. This is a recent phenomenon and I'm glad it's happened now rather than in my mid-thirties when it seems to hit everyone else, if Hollywood is any guide.

Because I'm financially secure -- the greatest gift anyone can give anyone else, other than love, by the way -- I now have the luxury of making certain decisions at my own pace, which has always been, let's say, very fast but not without contemplation. I have to decide what I want to do next professionally. I have to decide whether I just want to be a writer or whether I'm going to start doing it. I also have to choose who I really want to be and why, which for me has to be a conscious choice as much as a natural result of the millions of accident in one's life. I have to make a lot of decisions. I'm not traveling to avoid them, I'm traveling to help me make them. Just so you all are satisfied on that point.

I'll update this again before I leave.