Patti Smith Cardiff Coal Exchange

Photo: Sarah Campbell

They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes. Given how hard I worship Patti Smith this means I probably shouldn’t even be in the same room with her. The thought sticks in my head like gum on the sole of an expensive shoe as my best friend and I scuttle through raindrops into Cardiff’s Coal Exchange. The lights are low and security minimal. An unobtrusive table covered in tee-shirts suffices for merchandising. “When is the support act on?” my friend asks. Security shakes his head: no support act. My heart hippity-hops. I hate the farce of standing around while two guys in black take an hour to plug in the headliner’s guitar. Tonight is already exceeding expectations.

The stage is small, low, close; we could hop over and perch on the edge. No fanfare, no lights-up-lights-down, just a sudden soft landing of feet onstage. Patti smiles at our delayed whoops of recognition. She opens her mouth and the world breaks open. There is no discernible relationship between that slight torso, overhung with an Electric Lady Studios tee-shirt and a too-big black blazer (red marker pen hooked in the left pocket, as if she’d just been labelling boxes) and the voice that envelops the air. It’s like being run over by a Rolls-Royce.

I’m dancing barefoot
Heading for a spin
Some strange music draws me in

“The look on your face,” my friend says (later). I wonder if the look matched my thought: that I am finally looking at a flesh-and-blood human after a lifetime of watching holograms.

She extends her arms in blessing, evocation, incantation. Girl is washed up on Redondo beach by the waves her throat makes. The mike is a token gesture; a puff of smoke to screen the dark art of her voice. There is a peace sign inked on the left knee of her jeans, like kids did back in high school. It matches the girlishness of her grin. “I went looking for a Welsh rarebit today,” she tells us, “rarebit” drawling out like rabbit in flat American vowels. A man in the crowd calls out an offer – he makes a great Welsh rarebit. She chuckles, flashing un-American teeth: “I’ll see you after the show.”

I want to freeze every instant, turn each note to ice then taste it melt. Lenny Kaye, her musical compatriot for over 40 years, is tucked in the corner, making magic with his guitar. The rest of the band moves in orbit; Patti is the centre of the universe. Dedicating a song to the people of Japan Patti says gently: “We’ve been very cruel to Mother Nature and she can be very cruel back… we honour you, Mother.” It should be a platitude, but it isn’t.

None of the words tumbling through my head are strong enough to hold up to her light: sincerity, energy, androgyny, and the one that comes closest yet falls most infuriatingly short: integrity. Patti Smith is the most complete human being I have ever seen. This is not performance, it is revelation.

She tells a little story about her friend, Johnny, before playing (for the first time, live) his birthday song: ‘Nine.’ “We were sitting at the bar and I said, ‘You’re a pretty handsome guy.’” she recounts. “I’d never noticed before because he’s so radiant that even if he were the ugliest man on earth he’d still be beautiful.” If anyone else told this story I’d think: “Lucky cow, hanging out with Johnny Depp” but I’m thinking: “Lucky son of a bitch, Patti Smith wrote a song for you!” Together, they must gleam like stars.

She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. Her face should be carved in granite, Rushmore-size. I strain to memorise the slant of her cheekbones, the swoop of her nose, the triumphal lines that mark her as an elder. “I have Welsh, English and Irish blood,” she says. Someone boos the word “English” and she scolds: “What do you want me to do? I can’t divide myself.”

If only time would slow down. She dedicates a sweet, sad song to Amy Winehouse; whisks us to CBGBs with ‘We Three’; then lulls us with the affectionate rollick of ‘April Fool’. Between gripping my friend’s hand and shrieking myself hoarse I try to grab as many details as I can: the black and silver ring on the middle finger of her right hand; the band on her wedding finger; a charm bracelet on her left wrist; the unbuttoned cuffs of her jacket; the jeans stuffed carelessly into cheap-looking gilt biker boots. Her cloud of brownish-grey hair carelessly plaited at the ends.

Then, sudden as she soft-footed on, Patti slips off stage. The band continues. She’s right there – a handful of feet away, next to the mixing desk. She looks over, smiles and waves. Jaw slack, I wave back, willing, praying, desperate to transmit some of my love and awe. You’re more than a hero. Faces around me begin to take note and bodies eddy towards the slender barrier. She blows a pair of kisses then drifts back to perch onstage between the monitors, heels swinging like a kid on the edge of a dock, un-self-consciously singing along as her band mates whirl through snippets of old standards.

Everything is easy. When she’s ready, Patti gets up and sings again, as natural as a cat rising from a patch of sun and stretching. She joins the band in a fierce guitar jam, notes racing, her free breasts moving beneath that baggy tee. I am transfixed. It is almost unbearable.

Desire is hunger is the fire I breathe.

A man with a pink-and-purple Mohawk grabs his partner and they dance as we throw our voices back to her because the night belongs to lovers. I’m sweating; hot and cold as my last first kiss. When the opening chords of ‘Gloria’ reverberate my heart melts into my stomach and fizzes like popping candy. G-l-o-r-i-a she spells and we’re spellbound. My sins my own/they belong to me.

I refuse to contemplate the end. A girl in a black spaghetti-strap vest with cropped blonde hair dances beside me, golden arms twirling in tribute. The band slips quietly offstage. We stomp, whistle, and holler; please come back, please.

Patti shed the blazer a long time ago, stopped once to wipe her mouth on her tee-shirt. She is at once huge, luminous, a warrior king/queen (beyond sex, beyond gender, beyond binary) and a slip of a woman, sinewy, and not young. Anticipation clenches my heart like a fist. “You don’t need their shit!” Patti cries, raising her arms (prophet, priestess, the voice of one crying in the wilderness) “Be free!” The air crackles and atoms smash as the band launches into the driving riff of ‘Rock’n’Roll Nigger’. The blonde and I scream like schoolgirls. Baby got a hand; got a finger on the trigger. Baby, baby, baby is a rock-and-roll nigger. My blood rushes like it’s late for an appointment.

We wobble out: dazed, high, jelly-legged and dry-mouthed. The engine of compulsion is revving: I must write, have to. But anything I muster will be inadequate to the point of dishonesty. There is so much I want to say: thank you Patti, I love you, hallelujah, how?, you’re beautiful, you’re an artist, you’re a blessing. Thank you.

She is benediction

Related Posts:
Best Songs: Top 10 ‘Signature’ Songs
Patti Smith Woolgathering
Patti Smith Banga

Bikram Yoga – Learning to Bend


Everyone who gets into Bikram yoga eventually takes up the 30-day challenge: 2,700 mind- and body-twisting minutes. My Day 28 is off to an inauspicious start. The yoga studio is locked, the instructor outside on the pavement with us. We fidget and pull up collars, rubbing our hands against the chill. “I got up at 4.30 to get here,” one woman grumbles. I check my watch. If I miss this class it will mean rescheduling an interview so I can come after work. The mere thought makes me tired. I can just about manage morning yoga but post-work is a different, more brutal ballgame. Thankfully someone arrives with keys and we scuttle inside, shedding shoes and coats as we fast-forward through our usual pre-practice routine. Then we are in the sauna-like studio, breathing, bending, flexing, balancing, and stretching.

I understand why people look askance when I enthuse about Bikram yoga. Superficially, it is more pain than pleasure. I often lie on my mat before class, eyes closed, enjoying the 110-degree heat, hoping the teacher won’t come in, won’t turn the lights up, won’t cajole us to our feet. But he or she always does. Then I hoist myself up, gaze into my sleepy eyes in the mirror and think: There is no way I can do this. It isn’t possible. Practice builds confidence, but most days Bikram yoga remains a contemplation I neither desire nor understand. Yet it’s as addictive as chocolate brownies and Fraser box sets. At least in part because it poses problems I can solve. For 90 minutes the hardest decision I have to make is: “Am I going to stand on one leg now?”

These little disciplines have larger echoes. From bad weather and bureaucracy to late-running trains, most things are out of my control, much to the despair of my inner control freak. When the universe refuses to cooperate I want to demand better; or use irritation as an excuse for bad behaviour. For example, I love to travel, but I hate airport security. Just thinking about it makes my neck tingle. On a recent trip the security attendant pulled me aside. My liquids were in the wrong sized plastic bag. My jaw clenched. I fished in my mind for a sarcastic remark but then the discipline of the yoga studio came to mind, those hours of minute-by-minute decision-making. Maybe I was entitled to be angry, but I could also just stand there for thirty seconds and wait for the wave of pique to pass. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. The woman transferred my shampoo, conditioner, and toothpaste to a fresh Ziploc bag and handed it over. I took another breath. That was it? She smiled, told me to have a nice flight and, instead of sulking off ashamed of my petulance, I could look her in the eye and smile back. My god, I thought, I don’t have to be a bitch anymore.

It was a minor moment of clarity. My choices don’t change the world but they change my experience of it. Bikram devotees do 30 day challenges, 45 day challenges, or 100 day challenges because regular practice rehearses a truth: Life is a challenge and we have no idea how many days we’ll be required show up for. The best we can do is try to pick right, moment by moment. Every time we choose between anger or patience, kindness or judgement, bitterness or forgiveness we create new possibilities and alternative relationships.

Smoothie Central

A couple of my favourite smoothie recipes:

Mango Chilli Smoothie

A crazy concoction but incredibly tasty: this cool, slightly sweet, fresh tasting with just a hint of chilli heat. The ingredients list might look like a dog’s dinner but trust me, it’s the cat’s pyjamas.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 ripe mango
  • 1/3 cucumber
  • 1 ripe medium pear
  • 1 large handful fresh spinach
  • 1/2 chunk fresh ginger
  • 1 fresh bird’s eye chilli
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2-3 ice cubes
  • water as desired

Green Goodness Smoothie

This is my favorite breakfast at the moment. Simple, healthful and delicious. I make mine extra thick so it’s basically ice cream. Yum.

Ingredients

  • 1 banana, frozen
  • 1 ripe pear
  • Small chunk of fresh ginger, peeled
  • Handful spinach or other dark leafy greens
  • Small handful raisins or 2-3 prunes
  • 3/4 – 1cup soy or regular milk
  • 3/4tsp ground cinnamon

 

Not least my nearly-award-winning Un-beet-able Breakfast Smoothie

A fabulously thick, creamy, bright pink, gently sweet drink chock full of goodness. Try it at home!

Ingredients

1 medium apple
1 medium banana
1/2 small avocado
1/2 small raw beet
8-9oz unsweetened non-dairy milk
1tsp maple syrup
1/2tsp cinnamon

Sweet-tart Cacao Smoothie


Ingredients

1 medium banana, frozen
2 small purple plums
1 medium ripe bear
1/2 inch chunk fresh ginger
1tsp maca powder
1/2tsp cinnamon
1 1/2tsp cacao powder
Water and/or non-dairy milk

Melon, Pear & Orange Refresher
Ingredients

1/2 Galia melon
1 ripe pear
1/2 beetroot (cooked)
large handful round head lettuce
1 orange, juiced
1/2 inch chunk fresh ginger
200ml almond or rice milk
Ice

Family On Bikes – On The Road

The continuing adventures of the Family on Bikes. For the story so far read Week 1 – One Revolution at a Time, Week 2 – Sticking Together? and Week 3 – Decisions, decisions and Week 4 – Semi-Charmed Life

Nancy moved back to Boise with the boys in February 2005; John followed at the end of the school year. She knew in her bones it was the right thing to do. For the first time in years they could spend time with family without casting one eye ahead to goodbye. Davy and Daryl could revel in Fourth of July firecrackers, Thanksgiving turkey and a white Christmas. It felt odd to put the boys on a school bus and not see them till the end of the day, but after the emotional and physical strain of the Vogel’s final months in Malaysia Nancy was prepared to accept daily separation as the price of much-needed stability.

So when John came home after his bad day and suggested taking the boys on the road Nancy’s response was reflexive. It was an absurd idea. “That’s not what parents do,” she reiterated when John kept talking about it. A week passed, then two. They stopped by to visit her mom and John, to Nancy’s surprise, talked about the mooted trip as if it were a solid plan. His determination was infectious and she found herself wrestling with two diametrically opposed value systems.

On one side everything cautious, conservative and conventional argued against the idea. She rationalised that it was normal for families to lead separate lives – mom and dad at work and the kids at school – and that it was normal for husbands and wives to communicate in hurried conversations between carpooling and ticking off the to-do list. Every time Nancy sat in a school meeting, or chatted with other parents on the sidelines at soccer practice, she heard the same thing: separation is normal, this is how people live.

Weighed against social expectations was Nancy’s long-cultivated habit of considering the options and choosing based on the merits of the situation. Though she struggled to reconcile her notions of responsibility and freedom, the more she thought about John’s plan the more Nancy felt like she was the crazy one for clinging to staid ideas about what parents do. “My boys were never going to be eight years old again. If I didn’t spend this time with them I was going to lose the opportunity,” she says. “Life is short. You have one chance and you have to grab on to it.”

Once the decision was made Nancy and John acted swiftly. Within weeks they commissioned a custom-built bicycle for three, recruited family members to housesit and packed their panniers. In  June, when school let out, the Vogels strapped on their helmets, mounted up and became the Family On Bikes.

What was their biggest worry as they faced the unknown? Nancy chuckles: “Our only real concern was that the boys enjoy themselves. We were afraid they wouldn’t like it.” It didn’t take long for more pressing issues to arise. From Idaho they peddled into the tawny expanse of the Oregon desert, which stretches for hundreds of thinly-populated miles. “I’d driven through it numerous times but I had no concept,” Nancy admits. “I didn’t understand how remote it was.” They soon discovered that just because a town was on the map was no guarantee it would provide anything as useful as food and shelter. Early on, they found themselves working through a string of hamlets too tiny to even have a grocery store. After one leg of the journey fuelled by potato chips and candy from a tavern they began to quiz the locals as they planned their route. Other challenges included waking up to find their water-bottles frozen solid and, once, leaving their gear out only to have it drenched in a midnight downpour. Each minor catastrophe added up to another piece of wisdom: no matter how tired you are, always repack the panniers and cover everything in a tarp before you turn in; keep a water bottle close so you can at least clean your teeth on an icy morning. “It felt like every time we figured out the rules the whole game changed,” says Nancy. “There were so many things we hadn’t thought about – that we didn’t even know to think about.”

The one thing they needn’t have fretted about was the boys: Davy and Daryl were too young to worry, or second-guess their parent’s decisions. They took life on the road at face value. It was Nancy who was the family worrier during that first, year-long tour of the states. Each day a knot of tension would clench her stomach as the afternoon waned and they needed to find a camp site. John had a knack for spotting a good pitch, though, and gradually she grew confident he would find them a safe home for the night. Touring together was a daily lesson in trust: trust in herself, her husband, her children, their physical strength, their relationships, and in the kindness of strangers.

Relying on others runs counter to America’s superstitious belief in self-reliance and at first Nancy wasn’t comfortable with the idea of relying on anyone else. “We felt we shouldn’t ask for help,” she recalls. Over time and distance, though, they encountered warm hospitality, freely offered. One time a farmer pulled up alongside and asked if they’d like some dates from his orchard. They followed him to his farm and wound up camping on his land and the boys got to help run the irrigation system. Generous residents offered food, water, directions, advice, sometimes even a place to stay. The graciousness they encountered helped Nancy develop a new perspective on self-sufficiency. She and John tried to be prepared but plainly they couldn’t control everything. Nancy began to embrace spontaneous kindnesses as a “huge source of comfort.”

You Are What You Read

After finishing university with its routine of “required” reading I moved to London to work at a music magazine. To my sheer delight I was surrounded by, inundated with, magazines. All the monthlies I couldn’t afford arrived on subscription: Vanity Fair, Esquire, GQ, Vogue, Details, plus Rolling Stone and a weekly dose of high-gloss, low-IQ celebrity fare from OK! and Hello. Plus unlimited access to Q, Mojo, Mixmag, and Arena which were produced in the offices around me.

With that journalistic goldmine to hand, I got out of the habit of reading actual books. The only two that made the trip from Philly to London were my dog-eared Franny & Zooey and a signed copy of Trainspotting, sentimental relics of my teenage years. Occasionally I borrowed a beach-read from my flatmate, but for the most part I read in 50 to 1500 word chunks of magazine-speak. A couple years later my company launched the future publishing phenomena that was Closer and Grazia, to join Heat in the ranks of the half-million-plus selling women’s weeklies. They were as were as brightly-wrapped as the contents of the office Cadbury Roses tin, and twice as addictive.

Books were passé. They were demanding and required concentration. Why bother when I could get instant fix on every page of Closer? At some point I said, half-joking, that I’d forgotten how to read: “Gossip magazines are turning me illiterate.” It wasn’t far off the truth. My attention span and love of words – honed over 17 years of serious reading – had fallen apart. My exposure to new ideas and information, and my ability to absorb and analyse, was being chipped away by a diet of mental junk food that bloated my mind with vapid nonsense. Realising that I had fallen into the mental equivalent of Supersize Me, I made a conscious decision to read more books.

It was like swapping chips for carrot sticks. Sure, it was good for me, but I had to work at reading books. There was a rhythm and a discipline to engaging with a long piece of text that I had lost. The shiny weeklies winked and pleaded: read me instead. I started rationing: Vanity Fair and Vogue once a month; Grazia or Closer as a Friday treat. Gradually, the diet of full paragraphs and polysyllabic words got easier to digest.

My main excuse for junk reading was the plea of many fast-food fiends: “I don’t have the time/money/energy to get something nutritious.” Turns out that, as with food, cheap and good-for-you is easy to come by if you know what you want and plan ahead. Thanks to Kindle, I have an accessible, wide-ranging selection of books perpetually to hand. But an e-reader is no more necessary to good literary fare than one of those prepared-meals delivery services is to a good diet. The best and most intriguing source of books is charity or second-hand shops. Unlike Amazon, which overwhelms with options and makes you wait for delivery, they offer an instant fix. Browsing the shelves you can snap up everything from the latest best-sellers to arcane anthropological tomes. Second-hand shops gifted me Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House, Henry James’s The Aspern Papers and Muriel Spark’s A Far Cry from Kensington. They’ve introduced me to Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Mead, Anton Chekhov, Alice Walker, and Kurt Vonnegut. My handbag currently contains Hard Travelin’, Kenneth Allsop’s brilliant history of the migrant American workforce, purchased for £1.40 in a Marie Curie shop.

Accustomed, once again, to a feast of words and ideas, I happily turn my nose up at Metro and the gimcrack lure of Closer and its cousins. I still subscribe to Vogue, and occasionally spend an hour perusing magazines at Waterstone’s, but my compulsion to keep up with the Brangelina marriage saga, or to find out who has cellulite/forgot her mascara/fired her nanny is gone. Quitting junk food does a body good – and the same is doubly true of the mind.

Charity Shop Finder (UK)
London Book Swap
Oxfam Bookshop Finder (UK)

Family On Bikes – Semi-Charmed Life

The continuing adventures of the Family on Bikes. For the story so far read Week 1 – One Revolution at a Time, Week 2 – Sticking Together? and Week 3 – Decisions, decisions

“We led a charmed life,” Nancy says of the dozen years that passed between leaving Albuquerque and returning to Boise in 2005. The couple’s first international teaching post was in Alexandra, Egypt, for two years. Then they moved to Ethiopia, fell in love with the country and chose to have children there. Twins Davy and Daryl were born in the United States but they made the thirty-five hour flight to Africa aged just six weeks. It was the just the first of many excursions. Before the boys were born John and Nancy spent school holidays cycling in countries like Mali, Zimbabwe, Israel, and Yemen; afterwards, little changed. Davy and Daryl celebrated birthdays in Thailand and Vietnam. They crawled up Mount Sinai before they could walk. “Travelling with them was easy. We never worried about what we couldn’t do.”

In 2002 they took another post, teaching in Taiwan. After two years Nancy’s doctor told her she had “smoker’s lungs”. Concerned about the “horrendous” pollution’s impact on the boys, Nancy and John talked about moving back to the US. Reversing out of the life they’d chosen was harder than getting in, however. Due to hiring schedules going Stateside would mean several months of being unsettled and unemployed. “It is easy to move out of a country,” Nancy says. “But very hard to move back. Emotionally, there is that aspect of ‘we’re jet-setting around the world.’ We were living a life that so many people envied. It was glamorous and exotic. Did we really want to leave that?”

Despite nagging unease they decided to cling to continue on to Malaysia. What Nancy calls “the worst six months of my life,” followed. From the moment they landed everything that could go wrong did. Shortly before the school year began Nancy’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. Nancy wanted desperately to be in Boise but felt bound by her commitment to the school. Guilt-stricken and unhappy, she struggled to cope with a litany of troubles. Their household goods didn’t arrive as expected. Her classroom assignment came through late, leaving her no time to prepare. Daryl fell on the playground and broke his arm then came down with a mystery illness that took weeks to diagnose. “It was chaos at school and chaos at home.” Not surprisingly, Nancy fell ill with a virus that kept her out of the classroom till Christmas. Over the holiday the family took off for a much-needed break in Burma. It was there they got news of a catastrophic tsunami. Though physically safe, they had friends across the tsunami zone; it felt very close to home.

All the optimism and guts that carried Nancy and her family across years and continents seemed to evaporate: “We had lived a charmed existence for so long. The world was our oyster. Everything was good. Everything worked. Then all of a sudden it came crashing down. Our personal lives were in chaos; the world was in chaos. I wanted stability. I needed to come home.”

No Regrets

There is an incredibly poignant piece in the Guardian on the top five regrets of the dying. It is so easy to get caught up in busy-ness and think: “I’ll be happy tomorrow, I’ll talk to my friend tomorrow, I’ll make time for myself tomorrow, I’ll start following my dream tomorrow.” No, no, no. Think about what you want, who you love, and where you want to go in life and act NOW. No regrets.

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

Creative Facebook – Who Will You Be?

Facebook is easy to hate. It swallows our lives then regurgitates them back to us in one-line status updates and shaky camera phone photos, right? Yet for all my bitching about wasted hours and insidious advertising I can’t tear myself away.

After hearing a presentation from Eric Edge, Facebook’s head of marketing communications, I have a new perspective on the situation. A garrulous, handsome kid in a crisp shirt, Edge was at an IPA creative conference to deliver the secrets of Facebook’s unseemly success. Which cook down to a set of aphorisms like “The journey is 1% finished” and “done is better than perfect”, all of which sound as if they should be emblazoned on those sickly ‘inspirational’ posters featuring pictures of snow-capped mountains or crouching tigers. Glib isn’t necessarily wrong, though, and advice like “be okay with giving up something good in the quest for something great” can apply to life as well as social networks.

Arguably Facebook’s real allure is creativity, rather than connectivity. It give users the chance to vicariously partake in a culture of freewheeling innovation and it lets create a facsimile of their perfect life. I am far more interested in posting my content, tagging my photos, and projecting my image than I am in reading about anyone else. My guess is that a lot of people feel the same way. I – we – stick with Facebook because it is desktop access to a parallel universe created in our image. People get into trouble on Facebook because they let loose and act as if their boss/teacher/parent/partner doesn’t exist. Instead of self-censorship, why not harness that energy?

According to Facebook’s ethos of creativity, courage and change, the solution to healing the rift between our real and digital lives is to learn from it. Why be content with being your ideal self in just two-dimensions? Take a good, long look at how you project yourself on Facebook then figure out how to become that in real life. Ultimately, Facebook is a tool. You can use it to build a persona, or use it to become more of a person.

Writers on Writing – John McPhee


John McPhee, the great American factual writer (he doesn’t like the word nonfiction: “nonfiction — what the hell, that just says, this is nongrapefruit we’re having this morning. It doesn’t mean anything. You had nongrapefruit for breakfast; think how much you know about that breakfast”) on why writing is hard but not writing is impossible:

I was a very nervous writer about my own work, and am to this day. I never have any confidence when I start out on a story. I gain confidence after the first draft is written. But before the first draft is written, I’m almost as lacking in confidence now as I was back then…. I think it’s totally rational for a writer, no matter how much experience he has, to go right down in confidence to almost zero when you sit down to start something. Why not? Your last piece is never going to write your next one for you….
[Yet] Writing is a sustaining thing. I decided when I was young that I wanted to write, so that’s what I do. If I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t know what to do. Without it I’d probably croak.
-John McPhee

From a Paris Review interview .