Sunday, February 02, 2014

Monday Me and the Not-So-New Journalism

So this week in my MFA workshop we’re reading a piece called Frank Sinatra has a Cold.  It is a celebrated piece of journalism that came about when the writer, Gay Talese had the creativity, foresight, and gumption to forge ahead with his assigned Sinatra profile despite the fact that his subject was down with a cold and wouldn’t agree to the interview.

Being, as it were, the 1960s, creativity in nonfiction wasn’t, as my students say, a thing.  At least until Talese made creative nonfiction a thing by spending a week following Sinatra from afar and talking about the icon to anyone who WAS willing to go on record.

The piece launched a whole movement called New Journalism, which is, of course, the only journalism I have ever known.  I have long held the belief that the real story is what ACTUALLY happened, not what you wanted or planned to happen.  Take, for instance, a young journalist who went out on her first Big Story to interview a radio personality who not only failed to show up for the interview, but unexpectedly quit the profession and disappeared permanently from the grid.  The plucky journalist assumed that the personality, who was celebrating her 30th birthday at the time of the disappearance, was having a hipster, one-third-life crisis and wrote an entire book on the travails of entering the third decade.  Way to go, young journalist, way to go.

Which brings me to the original topic of this post, which was originally supposed to start with the next line.  There is a scientific experiment afoot in my house.  It began earlier in the week when bestie posted this link about the power of words.  Since, as a profession, I broker in that particular commodity, I was instantly intrigued.  I wasn’t familiar with the source (and still can’t vouch for it) so I took to google to see what I could find.

The gist of the experiment concerns two jars of rice (although there are 3-jar variations).  One jar is complimented, thanked, or otherwise praised each day.  The other jar of rice is insulted, jeered, or otherwise dissed.  (I know, it sounds ridiculous, but stay with me).  YouTube suggests that a majority of independent analysis (translation: curious people doing home experiments) supports the idea that the praised rice stays fresh, whereas the insulted rice molds.

The idea is that words have the power to literally change the structure of physical things.  Biblically, we can turn to the episode when Jesus cursed the fig tree and it died (of course, he’s Jesus, but…) and there’s also the adage about love being the “secret ingredient” in food

If true, the implications of this experiment are considerable; even frightening.   I admit to being skeptical, but if it is true, I want to know.  If my words have the power to either preserve or kill, I need to know. 

So I’m taking the question to science, and inviting you to follow along.

And here’s where the post gets tricky.  Like a good journalist, I had an interview all ready to roll here concerning the particulars of the experiment.  And, like the predicament of the above mentioned young journalist, my interview subject is permanently gone.

The subject of the interview was Monday Me.  Monday Me made you a nice video about the experiment, sitting next to the steaming pot containing the sanitized the jars I pulled out with tongs and filled with a couple scoops of Minute Rice (which Monday Me explained was not generally used in our house). Monday Me was thorough and witty—everything you’d want in an interview subject.

But, alas, she’s gone; permanently deleted in an editing mishap resulting from the interviewer’s (also me) poor decision of recording the video on my mac in Photo Booth. So, you’re just going to have to take it from Sunday Me that there are two sanitized jars of rice on my studio counter.  I have been praising the one on the left and railing the one on the right all week. Future Me will keep you posted.

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