Monthly Archives: February 2013

Writing (and Journalism) as Listening

Robert Krulwich—radio genius, science writer, journalist extraordinaire—delivered one of the most impressive Commencement speeches I’ve ever read to the Berkeley School of Journalism in 2011. It’s the kind of address that’s inspiring but not to the point of blind sanguinity. British science writer Ed Yong posted the full text version, plus a link to the video, on his National Geographic blog, “Not Exactly Rocket Science.” The speech centers on Krulwich’s belief that to be influential, a young person would do well to stop standing in the line for Opportunity. “Horizontal loyalty,” he says—as well as a religious dedication to one’s writing—is the way to effect change. My favorite line, though, comes toward the end of the speech; Krulwich writes:

“But in a world like this… rampant with new technologies, and new ways to do things, the newcomers… that means you… you here today, you have to trust your music… It’s how you talk to people your age, your generation. This is how we change.”

The phrase “you have to trust your music” refers to the idea that each generation brings with it new waves of pop music, of side-street hip-hop or jazz, of Indie flavors couched in guitar strums, of revitalized classical melodies… and so on. As young people, we have to protect each other’s music—that is, we have to protect our values, our core beliefs, our internal guidance systems. We have to listen to the music of our time, whatever that means. In this way, writing is an act of listening. Journalism means tapping into—and trusting—new voices and new timbres.

When I was a freshman in college, my comparative literature professor left me a note at bottom of my first paper. “Try writing more like Mozart and less like Reger,” he wrote. I didn’t know who Reger was at the time, but I did know Mozart.  My professor didn’t know until I emailed him a few weeks later that his comment completely revolutionized my understanding of academic writing. To be fair, not all writing should be academic or Mozartian; but still, the analogy made me see writing as a force to be reckoned with. Your words will refuse to serve your purposes unless you step back and see them for the shape you really want them to take and the sounds you really want them to make.

All of this is to say that, in style and substance, we can each find our own Mozart (and we don’t have to wage severals wars to do so). As a result, we can finally sort through all the Reger-esque commotion that we’ve inherited over the years and extricate whatever Mozartian details seem most promising to our time and to ourselves.

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Human Echolocation

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After another hiatus from blogging, I’m feeling the need to start back up again—this time for good. It occurred to me that brevity is actually as important as everyone says it is, and that I should be able to comment on something interesting each day with not too much effort.

It’s also time to revisit my reason for starting this blog in the first place. Online forums tend to evolve regardless of whether or not the creator decides that a shift in tone or motive is about to take place; sometimes only a very a nimble thread links consecutive thoughts or posts. At this point, though, I’m wondering if my interests are becoming so varied that it’s obvious I’m about to venture far from the epicenter of the original goal. As a production assistant for NOVA, I’m becoming more attuned to the science-y side of myself (I was a physics major too, after all)—but I still view everything in a way that’s pretty humanities-driven.

I want to widen the scope of what I write about on this blog. Why, then, am I still drawn to articles like this one [via NPR] when I search for topics to write on? Human echolocation… I guess it’s because taking a physical, “objective” phenomenon (echolocation in bats) and making it somehow, in some way applicable to our subjective experience and our daily lives, is really why I embrace the connections between science and the humanities. What are the patterns and the cultural myths behind (not about) science? In other words, what buoys science? How can something as basic as frequency in Hertz become a method of understanding our world subjectively as well as objectively? How can science and the humanities/arts come together to merge fact and fiction? How does a novel or a piece of music sometimes reveal more about “science” than a research paper might? And last, how can the things we learn about the world make us feel better equipped to handle our lives with richness and with vitality? How can science itself be a vehicle for human echolocation?

I still really have no clue what I’m talking about, and it’s probably apparent. All I know is that I want to start connecting science and perception and subjectivity and literature and the arts in a way that’s different from what other people do. And I want to comment on societal happenings and to engage with other writers and to continue to become more articulate.

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