Thursday, September 17, 2015

Santorum & Columbine martyr: evolution of an instant essay

Last night I took a stab at re-debunking the Columbine martyr myth, restarted by Santorum in the presidential debate.

We've been discussing it on FB, and it occurred to me that readers don't have an accurate sense of how these rapid-reaction pieces get generated, or what we have time to think about. Luckily, two gmail threads, twitter and my iPhone recorded most of the exact times it all transpired.

The evolution:

  1. 7:05pm: Friends started texting/tweeting to me about it. I was taking BobbySneakers for our goodbye walk/run, which lasted an hour, and I didn't see any of this.
  2. Around 7:30, I turned on the TV/tivo, backed up to listen to the exchange, gaped.
  3. I started responding to tweets about it. And wondered whether I had enough to say in a piece. I started thinking about it, while BobbySneakers' dad arrived and I gathered his toys and stuff and turned him over, sadly.
  4. My New Republic editor emailed asking if I had a piece in me, suggesting a few angles. I said yes, and started writing. That was 8:08pm, according to gmail.
  5. I had ambitions to talk about lots of those topics discussed here, but my first order of business was just sorting out what really happened, for people who are all new to this, or for those where it's very fuzzy. 
  6. I tried summarizing, but feared my own memory could be faulty, and/or, I'd get some of it wrong or imprecise if I tried to pound it out quickly, on deadline.
  7. So I introduced the ideas and then pulled up the Word copy of my edited manuscript and pulled in the exact passages.
  8. At 9:16pm, I emailed a draft. 
  9. (I'd marked a spot to insert Santorum's exact quotes, and while Ryan started editing, I searched for a transcript online, found one and sent him the passage and the link. I had not eaten dinner yet, and no time to, but grabbed a piece of cold meat out of the fridge and some carrots to tide me over until we finished.
  10. We went through about 3 rounds of light editing back and forth, mostly him raising questions, requesting sources, links and clarification. I worked through those, fact-checked a few concerns of my own, and at 11:13pm he emailed that he'd just posted the piece.
  11. I started tweeting about it, and responding to readers. Around 1 a.m., I made/ate dinner.

It was a mad scramble just to get the piece written, readable and accurate. Not a lot of time for deep reflection. I had a lot of thoughts about the bigger picture and what this means, and I toyed with them along the way, but nothing that cohered quickly enough for me to feel satisfied that I could address it thoughtfully and articulately at that speed. I'd rather get that stuff right than spit out my first thoughts fast.

I also get frustrated at how knee-jerk some media coverage feels. But I forget what it takes to produce it. It's hard to do much more than respond reflexively at that pace.

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ICYMI: My tribute to breakout bestseller Lucia Berlin & how she transformed my writing. 

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