Omphaloskepsis

My first (and perhaps my last) manifesto.

This story took a lot of time and effort to put together. As a composition instructor, I like the idea of reflecting and meditating on, and writing about, the overall process of what went into this story while it’s still fresh in my mind.

Interesting story about this story; it didn’t start out to be this story. During the last week of last year, I was in Pittsburgh on a belated honeymoon (another story) when my editor called and told me a local diner was closing for good. Sawyer’s was a place that emphasized local and organic food and proudly considered itself part of the slow-food movement. In addition to covering this closure, my editor mentioned a late January opening for a cover story and floated the idea of exploring why restaurants like Sawyer’s (emphasizing local/natural/organic) have a difficult time surviving in the area.

I started working on the story, speaking to a few restaurateurs, doing a little research, etc. I even started drafting a bit. Then I wrote this a couple of weeks later. That story got a lot of play, both because, I have been told, the review was right on the money, and because plenty of other people were incensed that I could say such crass and ruthless things about a revered fixture of the community. (In my own defense, I only said nasty things about the nasty food I was served.)

After that hubbub, I spoke with the publisher of the newspaper, and we decided to take a new angle on the cover story. We thought it might be fruitful to explore the issue of supporting good local dining a little wider, and, in short, grapple with why the greater Lansing area falls short (in more than one way) in the quality-dining department as compared to, say, Ann Arbor, or other similarly-sized/situated cities.

When the angle was settled (in comp terms, when the prewriting was over), the writing process got really messy—false starts, changing themes, lots of cutting and pasting and cutting, ever-refined ledes, some sources incorporated then removed, others added in late. Looking back (and perhaps forward) I wish I would have tracked changes in the document I composed to show my composition students how writing is typically (very) messy, even for the most accomplished communicator.

It’s a good reminder, I suppose, that writing, even under deadline, takes time, reflection and patience. I walked away from the story a couple of times, saying, “Done!” only to go back and revise again. As I read it now, I realize I missed a couple of opportunities to make some points that would have added some additional context or depth to the story. Oh well. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I’m growing more and more fond of blogging and the fluidity of networked writing as compared with print media and its tendency toward ossification. Unless I’m granted another cover story (I’m not holding my breath) the thoughts and opinions I published in print, for better or for worse, will appear to be the same tomorrow as they are today—very much a static medium compared to this digital environment where I could change my mind and publish those thoughts in a new post 10 minutes from now.

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