Participatory Journalism - an homage to George Plimpton
I decided finally that I would pack it in. As I turned forty I resolved to stop procrastinating, stop considering myself an unpublished writer simply because I hadn’t written anything and I’d actually get down to the art of writing. It had taken me 25 years. During the United Kingdom’s Official Census of 2001 I was temporarily unemployed. Conscious of disappointing any future offspring with an interest in genealogy and, in a matter which imparted both contemporary truth and some information of distinction to my descendants about my hopes and aspirations as a man, I wrote my occupation on the census form as “writer of fiction”. Here then as a forty-year-old I was to rejoin a dream that had been interrupted by a quite successful career as a technology consultant. If you’ve read of £150M homes in London with sound emanating from invisible speakers in the walls, gargantuan TVs that appeared as if from nowhere and private IMAX cinemas in iceberg basements then I was likely the guy responsible. For someone otherwise comfortably successful in his profession, writing was a bold course - perhaps the most Hemingway thing a man of forty could do short of running with the bulls in Pamplona and potentially exposing the soft belly of an inflated ego to a gouging. Here however I was joining the writing tradition of another hero of mine George Plimpton. Plimpton was a pioneering “participatory journalist” not well known in the UK but a lion in the world of publishing and writing. Harvard-educated Editor of the Paris Review, Plimpton would emulate his heroes. He pitched in a Major League Allstar exhibition game against legends Mickey Mantle; he played professional golf on the PGA Tour; he boxed with Archie Moore; he ran plays in an exhibition game as a quarterback for the Detroit Lions; in short, he had crossed the Rubicon and stepped down out of the observer’s press box in order to have a serious go. And that is what I’ve tried to do too. I’ve perhaps not been as successful. If Plimpton played for the Lions then I might have at least been published by some rag. My writing is not as good as I would have hoped. Often re-reading I desperately understand the purpose of an editor and a benefit of an intimate knowledge of punctuation. What I have learnt however is that life is about doing and not just dreaming of doing. It’s also not so much become about succeeding but it is about trying your hand at something – preferably something you enjoy. Sometimes I write a sentence and I think it quite nimble, it dodges the obstacles of amateurism, like a professionally thrown football it loops through the air in a tight spiral. For that moment I even consider myself a writer proper. I think I wanted to be a writer so my children might have something to remember me by. Some legacy of thought that told them more of the man their father was than a career choice that I found as a respite to youth unemployment. Perhaps in that, even only after less than a year I’ve been a success, so then if they come to read this after I’m gone then I’d say stop procrastinating too. Go out and do whatever you’ve wanted, but put off until now.