Monday, April 23, 2012

It's a Sputnik Thing

     "I can't help you Kerry Ann.  That's the new math." 

     I thought that was the way all moms got out of doing homework.  I  didn't consider that a grown woman could not do grammar school math.  It was the 1960s and, as a kid, I didn't know new math from old math.    It didn't make sense that multiplying and dividing would change with the generations.  But my mom insisted she couldn't help me with my homework.  She could do the problems though.  She showed me the way she solved them.  It wasn't at all like I was taught and she said I should do it the way the teacher does it because that's the "new math."  As usual, I did what I was told.

     For those of you who have never looked it up, the new math was a Sputnik thing.  The United States had just taken a big ass whooping from the Russians in the race for space.  And now our government decided to beef up the math and science programs in American schools so that we might compete with the commies and beat them to the moon.   We won that race, but it had nothing to do with the new math.  That experiment was a dud.  How children approached math and how teachers taught it, ultimately didn't matter.

     When I got to high school in the mid 1970s, I liked words more than numbers and decided to give journalism a whirl.  To me, it was just telling stories to someone who wasn't there so that they could see it for themselves.  It was fun and easy for me. 

     So you can imagine my surprise when the new journalism came along and screwed with me.  What was so new about reporting?   I read our weekly Suburban News for all the local features and lots of pictures.  And my dad brought home the New York tabloids too.  I liked reading about the mafia in those.  And I always wondered why those reporters used their real names in the bylines.  Didn't they ever see The Godfather? 

     Anyway,  the new journalism took a bit of practice, but I came to enjoy reading it.  It's reporting with an edge, and now that edge is me.  It's exactly how I write.

     Starting with Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, I studied the style and devoured all I could find, especially Hunter S. Thompson.  Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was a little out there for a teenager, but I liked the way the words flowed.  And Timothy Crouse's Boys on the Bus, well, that was real reporting and an incredible look inside a Presidential campaign.

     In searching for a publisher for my new book, Get Out Now!, I've been forced to define my style.  Of course it's new journalism, but these days they call it narrative non-fiction.  And some publishers treat it like fiction in their "Rules for Submissions" instructions.  That's not right.  My skewed views and sarcastic humor are part of my reporting skills.  It's all real and I'm telling like I see it.  Just because I see it bigger and better in order to make it entertaining reading is no reason to throw me a roadblock.

     Stop with the labels.  The wheel has already been invented and so has math and journalism.  Good writing is good writing and, regardless of labels, I hope someone recognizes that I have an audience and they just might have a few laughs reading about my real life as I report it.

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