To the Class of 2020: “Generosity will always make everything better.”

From commencement advice that Yale professor and author Amy Chua would give to college graduates today:

I know this is a difficult and anxious time for you, so I thought I’d share a story. My first year teaching at Yale Law School, I was in my office when I got a call telling me that I was late for the annual faculty photo—which I’d totally forgotten about. Mortified, I sprinted downstairs and burst outside. At the other end of the courtyard, I saw my entire faculty—mostly men at the time, in suit and tie—lined up in three distinguished rows, along with a photographer, looking impatient, plus students everywhere.

“Where writers write when they can’t write where they like to write.”

From a NiemanStoryboard story by Matt Tullis headlined “Where writers write when they can’t write where they like to write”:

Tom Junod
Two-time National Magazine Award winner Tom Junod often writes from home. But not always, and especially not on deadline. In a recent Facebook post, he mentioned that when he is on deadline, he seeks refuge, places where he can’t procrastinate. He has often found that refuge in a couple of Starbucks’ cafes near his home, or at the public library.

The Washington Monument As a Reflection of the Nation

The most striking visual symbol of the nation’s capital is the Washington Monument–dedicated in 1885, it then was the world’s tallest building and with DC’s height limit on buildings it continues to dominate the city’s skyline.

The cover of this month’s Washingtonian magazine features a young boy leaping over the mall’s reflecting pool, with the monument in the background, to say “We Will Get Through This.” It perfectly captured the mood of the nation’s capital today.

How Walt Whitman captured it in the closing lines of 1885 poem “Washington Monument”:

Annie Dillard: “I would write all night until the sun was almost coming up.”

From The Writer’s Almanac:

Today is the birthday of Annie Dillard, born in Pittsburgh in 1945. She began writing poetry in high school, and then studied English in college. After writing a master’s thesis on Thoreau’s Walden, she moved to a cabin in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. There she wrote poetry and also kept a daily journal of her observations of nature and her thoughts about God and religion.

She wrote in old notebooks and on four-by-six-inch index cards, and when she was ready to transform the journal into a book, she had 1,100 entries. “By the time I finished the book, I weighed about 98 pounds,” Dillard said. “I never went to bed. I would write all night until the sun was almost coming up.”

NYTimes reporter Raymond Zhong: “Nothing helps you talk to strangers in China like a cigarette.”

From a Times Insider piece by Raymond Zhong headlined “How I Found Real Voices in China”:

One of the bigger regrets I have about my time in China is that I never took up smoking.

I’m exaggerating, but only slightly. Nothing helps you talk to strangers in China like a cigarette. Whenever I wanted to find out what was going on inside a big company, I would look for someone outside an office or factory having a nicotine break. A shared smoke is a way to freeze time. And for a foreign reporter in a place where people aren’t always eager to speak to foreign reporters, even a little extra time can make the difference between a good interview and no interview at all.

Caustic Columnist Insults Pugnacious Editor at Wise Guy’s Corner of the Bar

From a story on by Ted Cox headlined “I Witnessed The Legendary Mike Royco Vs. Bernie Judge Fight In The Billy Goat Tavern”:

I witnessed the fistfight at the Billy Goat between Mike Royko and Bernie Judge, the infamously caustic newspaper columnist and the equally pugnacious editor.

The whole incident is etched in memory, because over the years I’ve told the story time and again, to anyone who would listen. . . .

Robert Gottlieb: “I have fixed more sentences than most people have read.”

From The Writer’s Almanac:

It’s the birthday of editor Robert Gottlieb, born in New York City. In 1957, 26-year-old Gottlieb was a young editor at Simon & Schuster, when the company was in turmoil and nobody seemed to be in charge.

That summer, he received a 75-page manuscript for a book called Catch-18, by Joseph Heller. Gottlieb thought it was brilliant and offered to publish it. Heller and Gottlieb worked on the book for years; Gottlieb would tape pieces of the manuscript and Heller’s handwritten notes all over his office walls and desk and then rearrange passages. Gottlieb was a tough editor, and he pored through every line, demanding that Heller rewrite whenever he thought it could be better.

Photographers Look at Life in a Time of Isolation

From “Still Lives: Visual diaries from 15 photographers give a glimpse of life in the time of isolation,” a special section in the April 26 New York Times:

Cig Harvey
Rockport, Maine — You have to work hard at living in Maine in late March. You have to make  an effort at being happy when your day can peak with the orange light at dawn. Wear a pink scarf, cook with pomegranate seeds, paint a wall red, something to show you’re not defeated by the unrelenting winter. For the majority of the country, the start of April is glorious, spring bursting full of color and smells. But where I live, the trees are still completely bare. Everything is beige except when it snows. Our reward is the kaleidoscope of summer and fall and then, just like new mothers, we forget about early April, remembering only just how much we love Maine.

How Nick Kotz and 14 Students Won a National Magazine Award for Public Service

Written by Harrison Smith and first published in the May 2015 Washingtonian:

In 1985, Washingtonian won the National Magazine Award for Public Service, the highest honor for magazine writing that illuminates issues of public importance.

The winning story, “Where Have All the Warriors Gone?”, was an 11,000-word account of a peacetime military struggling with the aftermath of Vietnam and the 1983 Beirut barracks bombings. In the course of more than 200 interviews, scores of current and retired military leaders–generals, admirals, chiefs of staff–discussed what they characterized as systemic problems in the armed services, ranging from a misguided promotion system to the politicization of the procurement process. “In short,” the story’s authors wrote, “have the classical values of military leadership–honor, technical competence, concern for one’s troops, the ability to motivate soldiers–been eroded by a system that emphasizes less worthy aims?” The short answer: Absolutely.

Nick Kotz RIP: A Great Journalist, Author, and Teacher

From Fauquier Now:

Photo/Jack Kotz
Nathan K. “Nick” Kotz

Prominent author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist “Nick” Kotz died Sunday after an accident at his home near Broad Run, according to Virginia State Police.

Mr. Kotz got out of the driver’s seat of his car to retrieve an item from the rear passenger side, state police said. His 2006 Mercedes rolled backwards and pinned him.

Mr. Kotz, 87, died in the driveway of his home on Galemont Lane, Senior Trooper B. Boteler said.