Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Found Objects

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Found Objects

Article excerpt

A SEASONED editor and critic, John Beaufort, once shared a bit of wisdom that has proven so practical over the years that it deserves further currency: "It's not what you look for but what you find."

My friend had been floundering in London after the great war. London then was the capital of world news; Washington, still a backwater. He felt under enormous pressure to get his dispatches back to the States. Then someone shared this statement with him.

It means that we can become so caught up with outlining what we think we need as reporters to put together a story that we overlook the obvious, what is right at hand; we need to become better observers, to cultivate a receptivity to the flow of what is around us, to learn to quiet down, listen, see.

For a reporter, the ability to see what is in front of him is no small matter. Most reporters, it is complained, travel in flocks. Can flocks see? Reporter flocks, in campaign coverage, visit the conventional feeding places - photo ops, speeches, luncheon stops. Nothing wrong with this, but seldom does the conventional lead to the exceptional. (Fine stories do follow asking "What's missing here?")

Time and again I would come upon some report in the mail, spot a potential source in a lobby, course through a city-hall planning department, and come upon a fragment of information, or a quote, that would prove useful or crucial to my work.

Now let us post a corollary. A found fragment can contain the DNA, the identity, a blueprint, for a larger work.

After a dance concert the other day at Connecticut College, choreographer and dancer Dan Wagoner, Harvard University poet Leo Ou-Fan Lee, and I were spiritedly discussing how found objects - bits of string, or phrases, or a particular color, or movement of a bird's wing, the glimpse of a face - can stay with us sometimes for years until they suddenly find a use in the larger work of which they are a part. …

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