Progression: How and What?

Above is the title of a piece by John McPhee in the November 14, 2011 issue of The New Yorker.  Here’s a clip:

“For nonfiction projects, ideas are everywhere.  They just go by in a ceaseless stream.  Since you may take a month, or ten months, or several years to turn one idea into a piece of writing, what governs the choice?  I once made a list of all the pieces I had written in maybe twenty or thirty years, and then put a check mark beside each one whose subject related to things I had been interested in before I went to college.  I checked off more than ninety per cent.”

McPhee’s passage helps explain why I’ve made three week-long trips to Gene Smith’s hometown of Wichita and why I may make one more before this manuscript is finished next year.  The passage also has me pondering what it is about my first eighteen years that led me to spend fifteen adult years researching Smith’s Pittsburgh, then his goings on at 821 Sixth Avenue, and now the full story.  It also may help explain why I picked up tennis last spring after a twenty-five year layoff and have played four days a week since then.  Who knows?

-Sam Stephenson

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