Staring at a blank page is no one’s idea of fun, least of all a writer. But it’s what we do here at the magazine every month. Right now, for instance, my mind is in a thousand different places; the last place it wants to be is here, trying to fill this bloody page. I’ve always been amazed by (and dubious of) writers who claim to have no problem doing what they do. In college I heard a talk by the novelist Isabel Allende, who admitted to having no fear at all when she sat down to write. I can’t recall if she used a typewriter or wrote in longhand (this was in that golden age before computers). However she did it, the words just flowed. “She can’t be serious,” I thought. “No one whose writing is worth a damn would say that. Would they?”
I’m a good 25 years older now and know better than to question my elders (most of the time...). I have to give Ms. Allende, who has written many well-regarded novels, the benefit of the doubt. Clearly there are some writers who can sit down and pour it out on the page brilliantly. Christopher Hitchens, who died in December after a brutal 18-month bout with esophageal cancer, was one. In his time Hitchens wore many labels—leftist, atheist, polemicist—but he was never an apologist. Whether you agreed with him or not, if you cared at all about intelligent discourse, high-minded journalism, and the written word, it was hard not to admire his brains and heart. He spilled them out on the page for all to see, willingly. The man lived and wrote by the courage of his convictions—an old, overused phrase but utterly true in his case. His book learning ran deep and he was a fierce debater. But he could also be very funny. Once, when I was covering the media beat at The New York Observer, I had to call him to get a response. The subject was plagiarism, which he had apparently downplayed in some public forum. Basically, I had to ask him if he was pro- or anti-plagiarism. His answer was instantaneous: Couldn’t write without it. He went on, quoting chapter and verse about how plagiarism was, in fact, a pillar of great literature. He was so agile, witty, and disarming that we were both chuckling by the time we hung up. It takes real cajones to defend the art and practice of appropriating other writers’ words for the betterment of your own. You only have to read Hitchens’s work to see that he never had any need to do that.
This month we’ve put a lot of words—all our own—in the pages of this issue. Bill Powell defends Mick Cronin and embeds with the Occupiers at Piatt Park. Donna Covrett tangles with the wily Master Chef Chu. Katie Laur extols the virtues of gallerist Phyllis Weston. And Amy Knueven, Alyssa Brandt, Linda Vaccariello, Jonah Ogles, and Amanda Boyd Walters tease out the smartest ways to de-clutter your life. All brains and heart. All for you.
Originally published in the February 2012 issue.
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