Quote of the day/week/however long

"Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does."
~William James

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Got The Bug?

The temptation is a powerful one.  Most long-term consular officers (that is, those who keep doing tour after tour as conoffs, whatever their cone) have been hit with the bug.

An extraordinarily strange day on the visa line will do that to you.  A perfectly ordinary day in ACS will, too.  Closing down at the end of such a day, any consular officer can be forgiven for thinking, "Some day I'm going to write a book about this stuff."

Consular work gives would-be writers a generous supply of unique material, sometimes every day.  Even if you remove the fussy law-related details that readers don't understand and don't want to learn, many consular stories are powerful enough to stand on their own as riveting just-so tales about the human condition and its complexities.  In fact, any story that will make listeners laugh out loud and want more when related in a friendly bar, can also make readers laugh out loud and want more.  (A tip:  the very best parties are the ones attended by both consular and DHS officers.  Each of us knows half of a great story.  We know the opening, they know the punch line.)

The US diplomatic community has, of course, proven itself to be an eager consumer of these stories, as recent editions of both the Foreign Service Journal and State magazine have proven.  So why not reach beyond  the choir, and tell them to the rest of the world?  With a few exceptions - such as this absorbing tale from O Henry - this can prove more difficult than we envision.

First, of course, is the difficulty of writing.  The world - as everyone knows - is divided into two groups.  In this case those two groups consist of those who want to write, and those who actually do write.  Writing is a surprisingly difficult and bossy taskmaster that, if it doesn't suck up every speck of your mind, energy and time, will go sulking off to afflict someone else and leave you with ten pages you will never get beyond.  As a dear and often-published friend of Madam's says impatiently to those who claim that they 'want to write', "Look.  You're either a writer or you aren't.  A writer writes.  Everybody else talks about writing.  Choose."  The British writer/impresario Alan Moore says, “It’s just constantly raising expectations for myself, to the point where, inevitably, I must surely collapse under my own mass and become some sort of creative black hole.”  Unless this observation makes you nod in rueful agreement, you're not likely to add much to those ten pages.

Second is the Privacy Act.  Some stories are so unique that we can't help but give away who the fool citizen was who got himself into such a pickle.

Third, and the highest hurdle to get over, is the fact that so many of our fellow citizens, safely moored in the warm and amiable harbor of the US borders, find it extremely difficult to grasp the situations in which their fellows find (or bury) themselves:  they are truly great stories, but who will believe them?  When we finish with some of them, even we can hardly believe them.  When we think of telling our consular stories, we remember that most often it is our fellow officers who roll on the floor laughing; even our own loyal family members smile politely but uncomprehendingly.

Should these difficulties stop us?  That's up to us and us alone.  You're either a writer or you aren't.

1 comment:

Melissa V said...

It’s Friday, and that means that the Weekly State Department Blog Roundup is up – and you’re on it!

Here is the link:

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