“…WE NEED TO TEACH PEOPLE HOW TO THINK. ONCE YOU CAN THINK, YOU CAN, WITH THE RIGHT INSTRUCTION, LEARN TO WRITE A GOOD SENTENCE.”
“Once you can write a good sentence, then, and only then, do you have a shot at writing a great short story -- or code that can change the world and help maintain America's leadership position through the 21st century.”
The above is from a truly marvelous article by Bernard Meisler, a senior software engineer and publisher of SensitiveSkin magazine. You will find the piece at www.theatlantic.com under the heading:
“The Real Reason Silicon Valley Coders Write Bad Software.”
Though clearly it depends on what you write, I hold to the view that a writer is required to be, in essence, a thinker, first; and should keep himself or herself generally well informed – both through direct observation, and through extensive reading. Other factors such as empathy and travel come into play too; but, for the moment, let me focus on reading, and current affairs at that.
Given the sheer volume of information out there, how to do the latter to best effect is a good question. All I can say is that once you have read The New York Times, a truly extraordinary newspaper, you could do a whole lot worse than follow up with The Atlantic. It is an impressively erudite and comprehensive publication of the same sort of standard as The Economist, but, in my opinion, somewhat better; and it covers an amazing variety of subject matter. If a subject has serious relevance to the human condition, the chances are that it will end up in The Atlantic sooner or later; and it is particularly good at covering economic matters and politics (both great interests of mine). Mind you, if sports are your passion, you would be wiser to look elsewhere; and it doesn’t feature naked women – or even naked men – that often.
I have known about The Atlantic for years, but didn’t start reading it regularly – which means daily (the online version is updated with great frequency) - until one of its most highly regarded journalists and bloggers, Jim Fallows, phoned me up to get some information about military matters. As an additional incentive, he offered to fly out to where I lived in Virginia at that time, and give me – and my children – a flight in his Cirrus aircraft. This was, without question, the most unusual offer I have ever had from the media. Normally, one merely trades favors or helps out of the goodness of one’s heart; and, as you will know, we authors are notorious for our innate goodness.
I gave him the information he was after well before the actual flight, but eventually, true to his word, Jim came out and we ascended into the sky in his very cool flying machine. One of the many neat things about the Cirrus is that it has its very own parachute – a useful but unusual feature in a single-engine aircraft. Just to be clear, the parachute is attached to the aircraft not you, so if your engine cuts out, and no landing zone is available, you can float down in comfort. Without such a resource, panic is a viable option.
Jim had no reason to know this, but I love light aircraft flying nearly as much as I love helicopters, and did a great deal of bouncing around Ireland in such fixed-wing machines (categorized as ‘general aviation’) when I was in my early twenties. I say “bouncing” because we normally flew off grass fields, and landing seemed to consist of a series of juddering hops until we had to stop to avoid running into a cow, or a sheep, or a dry stone wall. These days, ostriches might be a problem as well; and as you will know, it is generally considered unwise to tangle with an ostrich. Yes, there really are ostriches in modern Ireland – and only some are human. Land of ‘Saints, Scholars, and Ostriches!’ Ireland is not what it used to be.
All of this – the Irish bit – came about because I was in love; but that is another story, both wonderful and tragic.
Let me conclude by saying that not only is Jim Fallows a truly remarkable journalist; but he is widely, and rightly, acknowledged as such. He is also a prince of a man; and a pretty good pilot. Every now and then, I am privileged to meet people of such caliber; and such encounters buoy my shaky faith in the human condition.