Two things about this old interview from March strike me as worth more attention. The first is the role of technology and its pernicious effects on long-form writing:
He thinks it’s possible that his huge appetite for work – for juggling a publishing company with philanthropy and writing – comes from a sense of how short life is. His parents were in their 50s when they died; his older sister, Beth, killed herself when she was 33. “Having lost people when they were young, you feel intimately acquainted with mortality, I guess. Though I procrastinate worse than anybody.” Writing is so hard. “I need eight hours to get maybe 20 minutes of work done. I had one of those yesterday: seven hours of self-loathing. I used to write in the middle of the night. I suppose I was surprised by the sedentary nature of writing: like, wow, most of this is sitting down and typing! So I used to add a bit of adventure by starting at midnight and working until five. That was excitement! But now I have two kids [he is married to the novelist Vendela Vida, with whom he wrote the screenplay for the Sam Mendes film, Away We Go; she also edits another of their projects, The Believer, a literary magazine]. So it’s bankers hours for me.”
At home, where he writes, he no longer has internet access. A four-month stint with wi-fi proved “deadly” for his productivity and having no access at all ensures that he is not tempted to “look at Kajagoogoo videos and old ads for Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum” on YouTube. “Writing is a deep-sea dive. You need hours just to get into it: down, down, down. If you’re called back to the surface every couple of minutes by an email, you can’t ever get back down. I have a great friend who became a Twitterer and he says he hasn’t written anything for a year.”
I’m in that distracted world now, but less because of technology and more because of a changed family situation. But still I like the imagery of a deep-sea dive. I have had the idea of a long-form article about the importance of creativity and lateral thinking in the emerging world of data-modeling and -mining. But every time I go to write it, I’m distracted by my RSS feed reader…
The second, more positive piece of the article comes a bit later, in talking about the 826 stores. We live down the block from the superhero supply shop (826 Brooklyn), and it’s pretty cool:
When Eggers and his team signed the lease at 826 Valencia Street in 2002, the landlord told them the building was zoned for retail; they could put their tutoring centre at the back but out front they would have to sell something. Eggers hit on the idea of pirate store. Not a kitschy place about pirates; a store for pirates. Every 826 now has a shop up front: they’re welcoming, the children love them and they raise funds (in Brooklyn, it’s a superhero supply store; in Boston, it’s a Bigfoot research centre).
I love the make lemonade element of this anecdote. The ability for some people to transform obstacles into opportunities is something I kind of suck at, but want to get better about. The turning of the tutor centers into a retail store with a secret tutoring back entrance makes my heart sing a little.