Say it loud

We do it for our children at bedtime. We might do it for our colleagues during meetings. We certainly do it for analysts on earnings calls and for assembled crowds at keynotes. But there's one audience -- the most critical audience, arguably -- who we always seem to leave out.

Think: when's the last time you read your own writing out only yourself?

Every actor knows that the only way to fully understand and truly inhabit a message is to speak it aloud – but the footlit stage and the silver screen aren’t the only environments where you’ll see this truism taken to heart. Spend time in any broadcast television newsroom in any market, large or small, across America – and our team can speak from experience on this – and you will notice that, from every workstation, voices are rising: the voices of writers, listening to the phrases and sentences they’ve created before they put them into their anchors’ mouths.

There’s a reason for this, of course: television writing is an aural medium, with stories intended to be told and heard, not read – it’s writing that’s designed explicitly for the ear, not the eye. But there’s a greater lesson to be learned here, one that TV writers (and screenwriters, and playwrights) know well: effective communication rests not only on what you say, but on how what you say sounds.

Consider, for instance, what’s happening right now, as you read these words. Is this a silent process? Presumably yes, in one aspect – we don’t imagine you’re reading out loud. But certainly no, in another aspect – there is a voice speaking the words you’re reading, isn’t there? It’s the voice of your internal reader, the voice that only you can hear, the one inside your head that takes these black shapes on this white page and turns them into the rhythmic cadences of language and invests them with meaning. To say it another way: you’re reading this sentence out loud right now, even though you’re not making a sound.

Recognizing that silent reading isn’t silent at all – recognizing that reading isn’t just visual, but also auditory – allows us to structure all our written communications for maximum impact. This can mean employing flourishes like repetition, assonance and alliteration (as we’ve discussed in the past); it can mean employing a spare and direct writing style; but you can’t employ any of these techniques until you read your own writing out loud.

Try it. Whatever’s next on your writing agenda – an email, a memo, a blog post, whatever it is – before you send it out to your audience, try reading what you’ve written out loud. Listen to how the words fall on your ears; listen to how the words sound in the sequences you’ve structured.

And if you don’t like how they sound, hit the delete key and start rewriting – because your audience will be listening too.

A brighter shade of truth

A story doesn't have to be true to be a true story.

If you're someone who drops in on these pages regularly, you may recall coming across that phrase once before. You may recall the tale we told you about Ernest Hemingway and his singular approach to revealing the truth through plain and direct language; an apocryphal tale, possibly, but a good one nonetheless.

Now listen: we want to tell you another story.

This is a story about a place in America that's as real as the town or city in which you live...but you'll never find it on a map. This is a story about people -- men, women and children -- who are as alive as you are, who share the same dreams and joys and fears as you do, whose strengths and frailties and failures and triumphs are the ones that you see in the lives of your loved ones and in the reflected eyes of the person who returns your gaze from the mirror...but not a single one of these people has ever drawn a breath, nor will they.

We present to you an exercise in creative nonfiction: the story of a small town that exists, in one way or another, in every state in America -- and of the people who live there, and who struggle each day for dignity and hope in a hopeless place.

With plain and direct language, with emotional reality and intellectual honesty, we present to you the story of their lives.

This story is called "At the edge of the lake" -- and it is the first of several that we will bring to you between now and the end of the year, as part of an ongoing, long-form communications project aimed at exploring the possibilities of shining a brighter light on the truth through the creation of author-driven narratives.

A story doesn't have to be true to be a true story.

And this one is as true as they get.

When the quiet comes

If silence is golden, then we've been minting 24-carat bars of quiet around here for the past month or so.

At least, that's how it might appear.

Behind the scenes, it's been anything but hushed -- and we've got some pretty exciting news to break on the blog over the next few months: not just the long-promised sixth installment of Strong Language (and again, we promise you you'll never see this one coming)...but also a long-form communications project that we can't wait to reveal.

Stay tuned.

Staring at the sun

It's been a long, hot summer

Let's get under cover

Don't try too hard to think

Don't think at all

Listen. Can you hear the man's voice channeling the siren's song? Can you hear what she's saying to you, through him?

Of course you can. And it's attractive, isn't it, what the voice is telling you to do? It makes everything so much easier. It makes life so much quieter, and cleaner, and calmer:

Ignore troubling truths. Trade empathy for apathy. Do it. You'll be glad you did.

I'm not the only one

Staring at the sun

Afraid of what you'd find

If you took a look inside

You'll be so very glad you did, because the shadows are growing long down here. Growing long, and they are dark around you, and close.

Don't look. Don't look.

Keep your eyes on the sun. Bask inside its warmth. Let your vision curdle in its glare. Nothing to see here. Nothing to be afraid of. There is nothing at all that can hurt you.


There's an insect in your ear

If you scratch, it won't disappear

It's gonna itch and burn and sting

Do you want to see what the scratching brings?

Be careful when you answer that question. Be careful. You may not like where it leads you.

To unequivocally condemn the recent events in Charlottesville is necessary, immediate and obvious -- the example set by the President of the United States notwithstanding -- but to stop at condemning them is to come up short. To stop there is to scratch once at the insect in the ear of America; it is to scratch once and assume that the buzzing and itching and stinging will go away.

It won't.

So we scratch, and we scratch, and what the scratching brings is an encounter with a disease that is a product of modern times, and yet utterly timeless.

The disease is called despair, and the rage we saw in Charlottesville was its symptom.

Referee won't blow the whistle

God is good, but will He listen?

How different are these days from the times of a pre-Renaissance leader of outcasts, a man who rode to power on a wave of despair, higher and higher, only to see it crest in an all-consuming inferno of rage

How far is the distance between a Virginia evening and a man with a torch in his hand and an Alabama morning and four little girls lying silent in their Sunday best?

How long is the road that runs between us and a child who stands at the curb speaking two words, only two, over and over and over?

And how long will we keep our eyes on the bright and blinding light in the sky and away from the darkness crawling through the dying towns and forgotten city streets of America?

You're not the only one

Who's staring at the sun

Afraid of what you'll find

If you stepped back inside

Nelson Mandela was right, and Barack Obama was right in quoting him: hate is not innate. It is not natural to the human spirit. It is a pollutant, an external infection that replicates and multiplies within the stagnant swamp of the despairing soul.

Hate is a virus. It is a contagion, communicable and destructive.

It is a virus that is passed on through the stories we tell each other about each other.

It is a virus that needs an artificial dichotomy to survive, a dichotomy that is almost as old as civilization itself: the dichotomy of Us vs. Them

Not just deaf and dumb

I'm staring at the sun

I'm not the only one

Who'd rather go blind

Staring at the sun affords you the privilege of ignoring the reality that there is nothing new beneath it.

Nothing new at all -- but does that mean there is no hope? Does that mean that what's past must necessarily be prologue? 

We don't think so.

We think a new story can be written. Must be written.

We think it's time to look away from the sun, and time to look at each other. Time to understand that the Them who we see -- whether we are white or black, gay or straight, man or woman, Christian or Jewish, alt-Right or hard Left -- is only another image of Us: beautiful, sad and mortal.

This is how we begin to drain the swamp. This is how we destroy the virus. This is how we ensure that Heather Heyer never really dies.

This is how we regain our vision, and how we finally, after so long, come to our senses.