As a freelance writer I cover many different topics: film, architecture, food, travel, business, sports, science, books, television, politics, and so on. From day to day it usually doesn't seem so crazy, though. Different deadlines throughout the course of any given week or month create their own schedule for what story I work on when. But every once in a while there is a day like today, which leaves me feeling downright schizophrenic.
This morning I was just having a first sip of espresso and reading the paper in bed, as is my daily ritual, when the phone rang. It was a member of the National Horseshoe association calling in regard to a story I'm writing about how to win games traditionally played at summer barbecues.
A few minutes later, just as I'd slipped back into bed and reached again for the sports section, the phone rang a second time. This time it was an architecture firm returning my call about a condo project they're doing in the South Waterfront neighborhood; I had wanted to know if their switch from two skinny towers to one bulky tower was due to neighborhood pressure to preserve views of Mt. Hood. These activists are threatening to derail efforts to make this new Portland neighborhood again fall victim to the collective squattiness that already mars the city's architecture.
Back to bed I went, but the phone wasn't done ringing. This time on the line was the editor of a small newspaper I take pictures for; she needed me to resend a shot I took last week of a woman and her dog at a senior center.
Afterward I turned off the ringer and turned down the answering machine volume so I could finish my paper and espresso, not to mention get dressed. But I had to hurry because it was time for another scheduled phone interview. This time it was with an expert on croquet, as part of that same article about summer barbecue-oriented games. He explained to me all the different ways of gripping a croquet mallet so as to change the ball's topspin, depending on how far you want it or your opponent's ball to be sent flying.
Next I drove over to St. Vincent's hospital near the Portland/Beaverton border for an interview with the head of the Oregon Medical Laser Center. I'm writing a science story about the use of a naturally-occurring protein in the human body called elastin to make replacement tissue for arteries, stomachs, etc. It really feels like science fiction. The doctor came to the conference room for our interview straight from stabilizing a heart attack victim.
After the interview I got talking with the head of PR at St. Vincent Hospital, who used to work in Hollywood on Baywatch and other TV shows. She told me all about Tony Danza, whom she worked with for years just after Who's The Boss. Apparently he's an extremely hard-working guy and usually very nice, but once in a while he throws quite a temper tantrum, which this woman from the hospital was once victim to. She also told me about a tirade thrown by Joey Lawrence (of Blossom fame) and and his brothers. As watchers of the show understand, naturally my response to the story was, "Whoa!"
Now I was running late for another interview. This one was back at home over the phone, and was for another science story. (Science was always my worst subject in school -- how did I ever get into writing this stuff?) The topic was a new generation of treatments for acid reflux. In the past there were two treatment options: surgery with a few nights' hospital stay and a two-week recovery and limited long-term success rates, or taking acid-inhibitor medication like Nexium and Prilosec for the rest of one's life. But now there are new endoscopic procedures that can be done on an outpatient basis and involve strengthening the esophageal valve at the opening of the stomach. The most promising procedure involves injecting a fluid that hardens in the esophagus into more of a spongy solid form and ultimately is covered by the body's tissue, thereby keeping more acid from coming back up the esophagus. Acid reflux isn't a very sexy topic, even for science, but about half of the entire adult American population suffers from it to some extent, so the story ought to be of interest.
As soon as I got off the phone with the doctor in New York I was interviewing for that story, it was time for the fourth interview of the day, which continued the odd back-and-forth between hard science and frivolous picnic games. I was scheduled to speak with another croquet expert, who was talking while on the road in Mississippi. He said all that information I'd gotten earlier in the day from the other croquet expert, about different mallet grips, was largely irrelevant to casual backyard croquet because casual players overwhelmingly use lighter, more toy-like mallets. He also discussed the different types of croquet, both the sophisticated traditional version of the game and the more recent and easy-to-learn "golf style". Apparently the Egyptians are the world's best at golf-style croquet, because after the British ended their occupation of the Suez (after World War Two, I believe), they left all their croquet equipment behind but there was no one to teach the Egyptians the traditional game. So the Egyptians enthusiastically took up croquet but played it more like golf.
Today was exceptionally hectic, but I think it represents very well the odd balance I've been able to strike thematically with my writing. It's not something I've consciously pursued, just an unrepentant dilettante by necessity writing about anything I can think of and, with the help of an editor here or marketing coordinator there, lots of stuff I never would dream up.