A: open your mouth

And the way they die is by chance-TJK, October 30, 2008

Serious is like poison-HF, October 31st, 2008

Q: How do you protect yourself against a hand grenade exploding in close proximity?

A: open your mouth. The force of the explosion causes your viscera to vibrate, and if your body is a closed system, they are likely to vibrate right into Jell-O. The more you know

Despite the recent proclimation by a French J-schooler that “Friday should be abolished”, I tend to feel like Thursday and Friday are my best days. Not only are they achingingly close to the weekend, but it’s on these days that I get the prolonged exposure to my two favorite profs: TJK, who has been quoted with some frequency in this blog, and HF, who has not. Readers should not infer anything about these gentlemen from this observation, except that it is significantly easier to take accurate notes in one class than in the other, owing largely to the prescense of a table.

This particular Thursday and Friday were each so profound in their own right, and yet each almost totally opposite from the other that I find compelling reason to write about both. Here. Now.

As usual, TJK’s class was full of reporting advice, most of it heavily practical. For example, if you find you are being followed by the secret police, it is best to quietly let them go about their business.

People will get a whistle and blow the whistle into the phone if they think the scret police is listening. Very cute, but the secret police don’t appreciate it.  A note was made

If the KGB makes your tea the way you always take it and leaves it still steaming beside your favorite chair when you get home, you should probably just take some xanax and try to chill out. That’s just the way they say hello.

Also, it can be unwise to pose for pictures with heavy artillery (kalashnikov/ak-47/m-16 and up), even if you think it’s really, really cool, or slimming. For one thing, you really don’t know how it works. For another, it might really fog up your quarter inch thick gray plastic rims, as happened to TJK during the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran. (corollary-if you’re suiting up for war, best to wear a suit and tie because “Someone seeing me with a coat and tie and a camera around my neck would say ‘what else could he be?’”)

There I am, all cool, my hands in my pockets, all smiley, and all confident that nothing would happen. You should never feel comfortable in the middle of a war.

Finally, if you’re tempted to do something that might land you in jail, consider:

When you’re in prison, you can’t write. They’re not paying you for glory, they’re paying you for copy.

On almost the opposite side of the globe you have HF, who talks in almost spiritual/metaphysical terms about what it means  to write, and to write well. Here you have a man who says his institution of 22 years (this being my entire lifetime, for reference) would push him further and further from their base of operations until he was literally as far a as a human can be from NYC and still be on the planet. And when he still bothered them, he quit.

His advice is almost childishly contrary.

For example, no interview on any subject should last less than two hours. Period. Without exception. There is no subject worth writing about that cannot fill two hours (are you blinking twice? Has your mouth dropped open in wonder?)

For another, did you know that your invisible reporter’s cap doubles as an invisibility cloak?

When you put your fedora on, you, your ego, your person, disappears behind it. Every human is interesting by the nature of their humanity. Every human is textured and layered and dimensional. Only you, among all people, are lifeless and dull and flat. Imagine

“For my sake the world was created. I am but dust and ashes.”

Those who cannot feel the littleness of great things in themselves are apt to overlook the greatness of small things in others. – Kakuzo Okakura, The Book of Tea

Imagine a world in which “story is the most beautiful word”, in which you find yourself engaged hand-to-hand combat in a life-or-death battle with the letter C. Imagine.  Imagine a world where the most important thing is the thing which is, by its nature, most fascinating. The thing which is most wondrous. What if reporting were like magic?

Watch out Thursday, there’s a new guy in town.



Filed under 3rd World Imagineering, Columbia Graduate School of Journalism

2 responses to “A: open your mouth

  1. John

    Molodetz! Enjoyed the different perspectives.

  2. dude, no wonder they wear fedoras. I now understand. Also, no going to jail. Then who would I call freaking out? I mean really!

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