The Essence of the Written Word

I came to the cities in a time of disorder
When hunger ruled.
I came among men in a time of uprising
And I revolted with them.

I ate my food between massacres.
The shadow of murder lay upon my sleep.
And when I loved, I loved with indifference.
I looked upon nature with impatience.

In my time streets led to the quicksand.
Speech betrayed me to the slaughterer.
There was little I could do. But without me
The rulers would have been more secure. This was my hope.

– Bertold Brecht

I saw the last section of this (revised) poem on Facebook the other day when a friend posted it alongside a story about a Chinese dissident who had barricaded himself into his home to avoid persecution. I read it and immediately put it into Google to find the author.

Bertold Brecht was a German writer born around the turn of the century. He lived through both World War One and World War Two, although he got out of Germany for the second war. When I read this poem (which is only really the middle section of a longer poem, with a couple lines deleted) the words stuck in my mouth. They felt heavy, like they meant something regardless of context.

It’s so rare to see powerful writing, particularly in the everyday. It’s something I’ve been working on, hopefully with success.

I was going through emails the other day tossing out old ones and I came across one I wrote to the former editor at NHPR about the mess in Transvale Acres following the Irene flooding. Check it out:

The fact is most of the lots originally were campsites and were never supposed to be anything more. People bought them and built illegally because they knew they could never get building permits for so close to the river. The neighborhood is private, without town roads or infrastructure, so the development largely happened under the radar. They built everything without talking to the building inspector, so half the houses were shacks jacked up on cinderblock stilts. People obviously knew it was happening, but town officials going back 40 years ignored it.
It’s hard to fault the current administration for a problem they inherited. Officials don’t like to talk about it, but they tried to deal with the problem before the storm. They looked for ways to clean up the neighborhood, but without funding to compensate property owners for the homes they would have been forced out of they didn’t get anywhere.
Then the storm came. The emergency declaration gave the town the deep pockets it needed to finally address the problem. It took political will for town officials to step up and enforce regulations their predecessors ignored for four decades, but most people think it was the right thing to do. 22 people had to be rescued out of Transvale Acres on the night of the storm. The question has come up: What happens if durring the next flood a firefighter dies trying to rescue someone out of sub-standard housing that the town allowed to stand? It may seem draconian now, but over the long term it’s the right move.
The real fault here lies with the people who built houses illegally 30 years ago and the officials who ignored it then. Everyone else is a victim. Sure, illegal construction happened more recently, but by that point the problem had become too widespread: What’s the point of issuing a violation for an illegal porch if the house it’s attached to isn’t supposed to be there? The town, and the homeowners who bought from the original owners, were in an impossible situation.
So that’s the story: the situation sucks, particularly for homeowners, but the town is stepping up and doing the right thing for the first time in decades. And although it’s going to be painful, without the storm there would have been no mechanism to compensate these people.
I like to thing it’s strong writing. Her response was this should become part of the script (the script, however, never got written). I keep playing with my writing to see what I can make it. It’s nice once in a while to feel like you’re writing with weight, not just to get the basics of an idea across.

New Projects…

So I’ve got a handful of new projects I’m lining up, some international, some national, some local, all cool. I made my first pitch to the New York Times, something for their travel section, which I’m waiting to hear back about. And I might be able to do a one week fellowship that would give me a foot in the door on doing some international reporting. That, combined with a couple good stories I’ve got in mind has me looking all over while enjoying each day at the Sun.

And it’s not like I’ve got a shortage of stories there. I’m working on one about how the budget committee is becoming a resurgent force, and another about how Irene is impacting the town four months later. That one will likely be an NHPR story as well.

Somedays things are quiet. After four days of vacation, that wasn’t today.

Luckily I got a great NYC trip in, with a slew of fun pictures. Now to just figure out how to incorporate that into my world more…

More NHPR, But Not What You’re Used To…

I had my first piece for Word of Mouth, a really cool program on arts, culture and new trends and ideas today. It was a story about an arts program, the Caravanserai, touring rural New Hampshire. The introduction of Islamic sounds in the North Country fit the bill of what they were looking for, so they contacted me about doing a story. There were some challenges (several of the performances I was planning to go to either got shortened or cancelled), but all in all I think it came together well.


I might try to mash the radio story together with the video I did and make a stronger piece all around. Who knows. We’ll see.


So I found out today I had been spelling Michele Bachmann wrong. I had Bachmann right, but there is one L in Michele. I’d been using two.

I also found out some New Hampshire voters are not pleased she waited so long before visiting.

Bachmann is now a margin-of-error candidate in the Granite State. In June and July she was polling as high as 18 percent, second only to Mitt Romney. Now she’s hovering around 2 percent. Not a good sign, but in some ways it’s still early.

Not that she should be concentrating on New Hampshire anyway. She’s a strong candidate in Iowa and South Carolina, where social conservatives have a louder voice. Up here Independent voters and even Democrats can opt into the primary, making it tough for a candidate with her views to win. Plus the frontrunner owns a house here and governed one state a way. And libertarian Ron Paul has a strong network here. To expect Bachmann to make serious inroads is too much.

Still, not visiting for four months might be too long for someone serious about a White House bid. I met fans of her’s today who were cautious about her for exactly that reason.

If she pulls off another strong debate performance, however, she could easily shoot upwards. Still three months to go. Can’t wait to find out where things land.

Hopefully you caught my NHPR piece this morning. If you didn’t, I’ll post a link soon. I’ll have coverage in the Conway Daily Sun too, so don’t miss it.

Vacation, Candidates, and a lot more Radio

So I was gone last week out to Colorado for a family visit and some mountain fun. Now I’m back and things are no slower than when I left. Michelle Bachmann is going to be here this weekend, and I’m covering her visit for both the Sun and for NHPR. The day I got back a man’s body was pulled from the Swift River (always a depressing story), and the municipal budget cycle is starting to heat up.

I left for my week off amid another flurry of stories — Hurricane Irene, an NPR tape sync, coverage of an emergency town meeting — not really needing a vacation. The variety and the pace of coverage lately, from presidential candidates to a natural disaster to what at times appears to be impending economic doom, has kept me entertained. I go to work every day looking forward to what story I’m about to find. Sure, it was great to get away with my wife and visit my brother and his fiance, but it was a nice break, not a needed one.

I did, however, pack an extra radio story and some NPR work into that last week. Now I’m doing the same. I can’t help it though, when there is a chance to cover a cool story, I’m going. Now it’s just time to see what’s next.

More Radio

It’s my last few days before I leave for a week of vacation in Colorado, and I’ve been cramming in as much work as possible. Today I pulled together three Conway Daily Sun stories (all bypass related, which is always interesting), finished an NHPR Hurricane Irene update and pulled my first gig for NPR. Not a story, but a technological trick called a tape sync. NPR reporter Howard Berkes interviewed a guy in Madison by phone while I sat there with my microphone in his face. Then I shipped the quality audio recording to Berkes, who can pull sound from it that won’t sound like a telephone call.

And on Tuesday I got to chat with a reporter at NHPR about a story idea about I-93 that I’m in no position to do. I can’t complain when I’m having so many ideas that I can’t even get to all of them. That’s a bit how it feels at work know, which I love. Every day is guaranteed to be fast-paced.

Throw in a little radio and I’m in heaven. Now I have to get to sleep so I can do it again tomorrow.