As a writer I'm confident in my abilities not simply because I've been writing for other people for 15 years and been doing this blogging thing for five years or I have one published book and another on the way, but also because I read a shit ton.More specifically, I read a shit ton from writers with whom I identify and/or hope to steal some technique from.
Ben Franklin was one of them because of his topical range. John Keats was another for his charm. F. Scott Fitzgerald (characters), Langston Hughes (context) and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (cause), are other historical literary giants for me. But when I'm thinking of present day greats, I Iook to the overly chagrined James Frey (A Million Little Pieces, Bright Shiny Morning) for his pacing, the ESPN favorite Bill Simmons aka Sports Guy for his humor, the informative and inquisitive styles of Richard Florida (The Rise of the Creative Class) and Malcolm Gladwell (Tipping Points) and Chuck Klosterman, the writer I most respect today.
I'm currently reading Klosterman's Eating the Dinosaur and, among many great chapters, there's a part about how the NFL is the most innovative and liberal league in all of sports. After describing former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle as "the greatest sports commissioner in world history," Klosterman goes on to write, "he convincd America that football was conservative...He made football replace baseball in every meaningful, nationalistic way. And he did this while simultaneously convincing all the league's owners to adopt revenue sharing, arguably the most successful form of socialism in U.S. history. The reason the NFL is so dominant is because the NFL is basically Marxist. This was Rozelle's greatest coup, and everybody knows it." I remember finishing that sentence and getting that same tingly feeling I got after the episode of Mad Men when Don Draper pitches Polaroid or when Derek Fisher hit the 0.4 shot. It just felt perfect.
No living writer writes about more of the stuff that I care about than Klosterman. Music, society, TV, sports, pop culture, generational issues, film...basically all the topics I write about on this blog minus Austin, which can be justified only because he's from North Dakota. He even writes an entire chapter in Dinosaur about ABBA, which is a major win in my book not because I'm a fan of the group, but because I still ended up loving the chapter which is amazing because I'm pretty sure if 99.9% of writers out there tried to make me give a damn about Lynyrd Skynyrd or Right Said Fred I wouldn't unless Gladwell somehow connected it to the increase or decrease of idiots in the world.
Anyway, what I'm getting at is actually timely seeing as how we've just finished the World Series and the mid-term elections. I'm writing about how people in positions of power should be obligated to write to one another or have someone writing about their time in office to hand off to the next person in office. Sort of like Cliff's Notes for the job. I got to thinking about this because while reading Dinosaur on my flight back from Chicago last night I started to get excited about the idea that one day I'd have an email relationship with guys like Simmons and Gladwell and Klosterman the way they do with one another. It's one of my all-time favorite dreams to have, of one day being a peer of guys like that. I bet I'd see better writing in an email exchange with those guys than in 9 out of 10 books in Borders.
But this isn't just about my dreams and ambitions, but about the nation's. Where do we want this country to go? What role does a specific Senate or House seat, a state's governship or a pro sports commissioner have in shaping that future? I happen to think a lot. Not a lot as in every Congressman or Congresswoman is extremely significant to history, but a lot in the sense that every Congressional seat should be treated as if it were an important facet in the making of our future and our future history.
I guess what I'm saying is that if we had better information and knowledge of history we wouldn't be so freaking reactive when we head to the polls nor would be be so damn reticent in adding things to our ways of doing business the day Bud Selig has with instant replay and things like that in baseball while the NFL has stolen their fans, money and spotlight. I happen to loathe Congress - at least the way it's business is done (or not done) today - but I damn sure get myself out to vote. And I am a huge fan of baseball (mostly the Atlanta Braves), but know Bud Selig has not done a good job of protecting America's most important sport.
My suggestion is quite simple: people in high offices and potential significant historical positions (e.g. politicians, federal judges, sports commissioners, Fortune 100 CEOs, movie and music studio heads) should be required to write journals that are passed on to the next person in that position. Think of it as term-based memoirs of the position rather than personal memoirs. These guys like Selig and Rick Perry need help. Instead of just hoping they do their best, we should create a system to hold them accountable amongst their peers and predecessors historically. In order for your chapter to even count in the book of Texas Governors or MLB Commissioners, you'd better be great regardless of your specific era...or economy, right?
I'm not interested in marriages or personal finances and things like that as much as I'm hopeful that these positions would enable dialogue to take places amongst these individuals across generations and centuries. If George Bush had Bill Clinton's private notes on the Presidency, I wonder if he'd have been a better president, and the same goes for Obama following up Bush. I know that people think you can't learn from people who haven't done a good job or that you don't relate to or share ideology or leadership styles with, but that's actually the opposite of the truth. In fact, I'd bet you could learn more from reading about those people's trials, tribulations, successes, failures, challenges and opportunities.
The entrepreneur in me thinks this could even become a business where people get expertise directly from their predecessors...I mean wouldn't it be amazing if I had Ben Franklin's notes along with Langston Hughes' before I wrote Real Role Models? Or Klosterman's notes before I wrote Indisputable? Or if the future Fed Chairman had both Bernanke's and Greenspan's detailed notes?
I'm just a lowly, young writer who looks up to older writers like Gladwell, Florida, SImmons and Klosterman, but I have bigger ambitions...I think that there may be a day when some young writers will want to learn from me. I'm going to take notes just in case.