Thinking Out Loud: On The Personal, The Political, The Public And The Private (v5.0)

BOOK: Thinking Out Loud: On The Personal, The Political, The Public And The Private (v5.0)
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More praise for
Thinking Out Loud

“Quindlen deserves her place on the masthead, has earned her Prize, and even sounds like somebody who would be fun to have to dinner.… Much of the pleasure is in the writing—[her] ability to turn a deft phrase, to notice the telling detail, to put a wry spin on a subject.”


Boston Sunday Herald

“Ms. Quindlen has mastered—mistressed?—a thoughtful, argumentative style that neatly sidesteps the criticisms usually leveled at feminist writers. She is neither strident nor shrill. But she also knows that ‘please’ is not always necessary.”


The Baltimore Sun

“Taken individually, these pieces are short commentaries on news events or issues of the day; seen as a whole, they constitute a history of the conflicts and ironies that have characterized the turbulence of the past few years.… Always there is Quindlen’s incisive use of language, her quick wit, and her ability to see the private effect of the most public of deeds.”


The San Diego Union-Tribune

“Quindlen writes with rare insight, intelligence, and wit. Most of all she writes from the heart.… Whatever the issue, whatever the emotion, Quindlen’s ‘thinking out loud’ is worth a careful listen. Long may she type.”


The Buffalo News

This book contains an excerpt from the forthcoming edition of
Loud and Clear
by Anna Quindlen. This excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming edition.

A Ballantine Book
Published by The Random House Publishing Group

Copyright © 1993 by Anna Quindlen
Excerpt from
Loud and Clear
by Anna Quindlen copyright © 2004 by Anna Quindlen

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

www.ballantinebooks.com

This edition published by arrangement with Random House, Inc.

All of the essays that appear in this work were originally published on the Op-Ed page of
The New York Times
, from 1990 through 1992. Copyright © 1990, 1991, 1992 by The New York Times Company. Reprinted by permission.

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 93-90547

eISBN: 978-0-307-76355-6

v3.1_r1

My advice to the women of America is to raise more hell and fewer dahlias.

—W
ILLIAM
A
LLEN
W
HITE

Contents
“ALTOGETHER FEMALE”
—An Introduction

One afternoon in Denver a young reporter came to interview me about a novel I had written. But the talk soon turned to my opinion column in
The New York Times
, since, like half the young reporters in the business, this one wanted to be a columnist someday. (The other half want to be executive editor.) “But is it really necessary,” he asked after some preliminaries, “for you to wear your gender on your sleeve?”

For a moment I thought about telling him where my gender really resided, but he seemed pleasant and earnest and I didn’t want to embarrass him. Besides, although he’d worded it in a peculiar fashion, his question was one I’d been asked often, by colleagues, friends, critics, and readers. Truth to tell, it was a question I’d asked myself for a long, long time.

Half a century ago Dorothy Thompson, perhaps the best-known woman to fill a column of type on any paper’s Op-Ed page, complained about being habitually told she had “the brains of a man.” Her strength, she insisted, was “altogether female.”

(Miss Thompson, who at the time was writing three columns a week, touring the lecture circuit, and being touted as the second most powerful woman in the country after Eleanor Roosevelt, laid it on a bit thick when she added, “I wish somebody would say that I am a hell of a good housewife, that the food by me is swell, that I am almost a perfect wife.…”)

But her complaints underscore a question that has been with me since 1990, when I became the third woman to write a column on the
Times
Op-Ed page. Is it part of the modern mission of a woman columnist to be somehow overtly female in print?

The answer might not have been yes a half century ago, when Miss Thompson was assigned to produce a “cozy woman-to-woman chat,” a “chat” that became one of the most influential columns in the country on the state of the world and the nation. And the answer may not be yes a half century from now, when the idea of gender specificity may seem quaint. My predecessors at
The New York Times
, Anne O’Hare McCormick and Flora Lewis, were both women with extraordinary expertise in geopolitics; they could have written under their first initials without any clue to their sex being contained witiin their copy. My successors might well be women who air their opinions in an atmosphere so egalitarian that making much of being a woman is superfluous.

But right here, right now, I believe it is not only possible but critical, not only useful but illuminating, for a woman writing an opinion column to bring to her work the special lens of her gender.

I am one of those people who have loved newspapers all their lives, loved the smell of them, the feel of them, especially loved the idea of all those reporters, out on the streets and at their desks and phones, discovering first what’s what and whipping it, every day, into some coherent version of instant history. I love the chaos and the cacophony of newsrooms, with their barracks sprawl and utter lack of privacy. When I first started working at home, I was amused by the sympathy the arrangement evoked in people who said it must be so hard to write with kids around.
Trust me: a preschool is less noisy than a fair-sized city room any day of the week.

I grew up in the newspaper business, went from eighteen and covering demonstrations against the Vietnam War to thirty-one and visiting abortion clinics under siege. I was a city columnist when New York was in a period of extraordinary flux and an editor when the
Times
was in a period of flux too, trying to re-create itself in a changing market.

Those changes were good ones because, although I had long loved newspapers, even I had sometimes felt that the events contained in them were somehow other, the sort of things that happened to other people, the kinds of things about which the people we accost at the scenes of tragedies say, “I never thought something like this could happen to me.” When I first began working in the newspaper business, I was hard-pressed to find myself between the pages of the papers for which I worked.

I don’t mean my literal self: I believed then fervently in the idea that I was meant to be hidden from the reader, a byline without a face, a voyeur without a point of view. But I could not find approximations of my life, either. There were murders and Senate bills and press conferences and White House briefings and Vietnam casualties and Russian evasions. But those of us looking for reflections of our own lives, our problems and relationships and constant concerns, found them more often in fiction than in the daily newspaper. We women had a section of our own, supposedly, called the woman’s section, but in small papers it seemed to consist largely of recipes, sewing patterns, and Dear Abby or Ann Landers, and in larger and more sophisticated newspapers there was a good deal about couture and the Beautiful People, the kind of people I had no opportunity or desire to meet.

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