Rebecca Mead with a beautiful piece on the movie The End of the Tour, based on the book Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, about a road trip writer David Lipsky took with David Foster Wallace when Lipsky was working on a profile for Rolling Stone. Emphasis mine; that last sentence is so gorgeous I can't stop reading it over and over.
The movie ends before the article can appear in Rolling Stone, so the relationship between Wallace and Lipsky that it represents is all preamble, no aftermath. And, in fact, the proposed article didn’t ever appear in Rolling Stone: according to Lipsky, in the afterword of his book, Wenner changed his mind about wanting it before it was even written. It was not until after Wallace’s suicide, in 2008, that Lipsky wrote up his notes into a long, award-winning article about the author; his book, which consists mostly of transcripts of their conversations, followed. (A meta-narrative of betrayal has, nonetheless, unfolded: David Foster Wallace’s widow and his estate have strenuously objected to the film, insisting that Wallace would never have wished the magazine interviews to be used this way.)
In “Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself,” Lipsky writes that he was relieved by Wenner’s fiat that he shouldn’t write the piece, rather than experiencing it as a loss somewhere on the scale between devastating and irritating—the usual range of feelings available to a journalist upon having a piece killed. “I tried to write it, and kept imagining David reading it, and seeing through it, through me, and spotting some questionable stuff on the X-ray,” he writes. Lipsky was too lingeringly attached to the period of intimacy—of having momentarily befriended Wallace—to attain the necessary detachment to reshape that experience into a story. Given that, it’s probably just as well he didn’t have to write it; it wouldn’t have been a success. Any reporter may fleetingly fall in love with his or her subject during the process of researching a magazine profile—the singular dance chronicled by “The End of the Tour.” But for the work to be any good, the writer’s greatest libidinal pleasure must be discovered afterward: when the back-and-forth is over, and the recorder has stopped recording, and one is alone at the keyboard at last.
It's such a delicate balance. You need a very real and true interest in the subject to do it justice, and yet when you finally go to write the piece, you need the professionalism to retreat from your biases, desires, ego, your very self, and do the subject justice.
It's such a tricky dance, and it's a balance I failed to find in both the NYTimes piece on Amazon this past Saturday and many of the responses from current and former employees. I was all ready to contribute my thoughts on the controversy here, I have hundreds of words in draft form, but I decided to put them on ice for a few days, to see if I might achieve some zen-like distance from which to edit myself.
I've recently taken a few baby steps into meditation, and on a flight today I reread Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. It's a coincidence that both share the word meditation, but both have much to offer in finding a path to that productive and clear-headed place from which to write well. It's love that starts you in the right direction, but it doesn't get you all the way there.