September 29, 2006

Talking, Not Writing

I have been making my living as a writer of one kind or another for years, as a technical writer, travel writer, opinionated bloviator, journalist, and reader-supported blogger. It's the only real skill I have, so thank God I've made it work. Otherwise I'd be waiting tables or tending bar. Sometimes, though, I need to talk instead of write. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past couple of days.

I spent a few days in New York and a few days in Washington. Doubleday editor Adam Bellow was kind enough to give me the spare room in his Manhattan apartment. He and I spent two days on and off working out a verbal agreement for our next project. The first project he and I put together – which isn’t a book, exactly – should be announced in a couple of days. Our second project will be a great deal larger and more significant if everything works out and, well, you can probably guess what it is.

Lebanese blogger Tony Badran called me as I was getting ready to leave New York for Washington. So I turned the car around and spent the afternoon with him and Paul Berman (author of Terror and Liberalism) in the Cobble Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn. Paul took us to a Jordanian Bedouin restaurant and guided us through the menu. Tony may be an “Arab,” (the quote marks are on purpose, long story, ask Tony) but Jordanian Bedouin food is not exactly the sort of thing you’re likely to find in the hip and sometimes snobbish establishments of Beirut.

Paul suggested Tony, Lee Smith, and I join forces on the Internet. We should write, edit, and archive articles in one place instead of in several. See Lee? See Tony? I told you guys we ought consider something like this. Berman came up with this all on his own, apropos of nothing. It isn’t just me.

Then it was time to head down to Washington for the Pajamas Media panel at the National Press Club. I went for the socializing, the networking, and the shop talk more than for the panel. Lots of us did. The panel, for me anyway, was what made the important parts possible.

Those of us who sent an RSVP picked up name tags at the door. I’ve always thought name tags were a bit dorky, but they had an interesting effect at the pre-panel cocktail party. I’d walk around the room making eye contact with various people. I recognized some by their faces. Others I didn’t. Few people recognized me. They looked at me the same way everyone else in the world I don’t know looks at me. Then they saw my name tag and something clicked. They knew who I was by my name, but not my face.

It happened over and over again, and it happened to lots of us. It was pleasant but odd. Nothing like that ever happens in regular life. It can’t. The only time I walk into a room and everyone recognizes me is when I walk into a room full of my friends. But then they know me by face. Even the most famous writers in the world won’t have that kind of experience except when specific people are artificially herded together in one place. Journalists and bloggers make up a geographically fragmented community. Sometimes it's nice to be in one room.

Me in DC 4.jpg

Since few people recognized me, here’s what I look like. At least this is what I looked like on the night of the PJ event. I don't wear a tie every day.

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Just before the event I visited the Washington Memorial with Fausta (left, and yes that’s her real name) and Judith Weiss.

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Here is Roger L. Simon, with his new hairless Kojak look, at the podium introducing the panel discussion of how partisan is too partisan?

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Democratic pollster Mark Blumenthal sits next to Jane Hall of Fox News on the panel.

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Richard Miniter wore a pair of silk pajamas. But he wasn’t the most casually dressed at the event. His jammies cost 3,000 dollars.

Nick Gillespie.jpg

Reason magazine editor Nick Gillespie wore a “D.A.R.E to keep kids off drugs” t-shirt, which is a bit like me wearing a Hezbollah t-shirt. (As a side note, though, I did pick up a Hezbollah t-shirt in Baalbeck. My brother bought a Hezbollah flag. Because it was funny! That doesn’t mean I would wear it, especially not in Beirut or Jerusalem. Nick would get the joke, but a Lebanese army officer saw us buying that stuff and sadly shook his head in disappointment.)

Apostolou and Robbins.jpg

Brookings scholar, friend, and all-around good egg Andrew Apostolou (left) showed up for the shmoozing and had to leave early. Andrew visited me in Beirut and, because he is not American, was allowed to visit the Lebanese border when Hezbollah was planning its latest assault. The (Lebanese, not Hezbollah) military intelligence officer in Saida wouldn’t let me leave Lebanon’s sovereign territory because he said it was too dangerous.

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Adam Bellow (left) chats it up with Oxblog’s David Adesnik.

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PJ editor Gerard Van der Leun, who sort-of recently relocated from Los Angeles to my part of the country.

Glenn at NPC.jpg

Glenn Reynolds moderated the event. Michael Barone of US News and World Report is to his right.

Glenn and Austin.jpg

Some of us went out for food and drinks after. Here is Glenn again with Austin Bay.

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Here are Sandra Rozanski (left) and Claudia Rosset. Claudia and I were also in Beirut at the same time, but we didn't meet until we both went to Washington.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at September 29, 2006 11:10 AM
Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Pajamas Media BlogRoll Member



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Essays

Terror and Liberalism
Paul Berman, The American Prospect

The Men Who Would Be Orwell
Ron Rosenbaum, The New York Observer

Looking the World in the Eye
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

In the Eigth Circle of Thieves
E.L. Doctorow, The Nation

Against Rationalization
Christopher Hitchens, The Nation

The Wall
Yossi Klein Halevi, The New Republic

Jihad Versus McWorld
Benjamin Barber, The Atlantic Monthly

The Sunshine Warrior
Bill Keller, The New York Times Magazine

Power and Weakness
Robert Kagan, Policy Review

The Coming Anarchy
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

England Your England
George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn