Unreal Nature

November 10, 2017

Expecting a Runway

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:32 am

… Frames of reference are like the constellation of lights, some of them blinking, on an airliner descending toward an airport at night.

This is from Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process by John McPhee (2017):

… Robert Bingham, my editor at The New Yorker for sixteen years, had a fluorescent, not to mention distinguished mustache. In some piece or other, early on, I said of a person I was writing about that he had a “sincere” mustache. This brought Bingham, manuscript in hand, out of his office and down the hall to mine, as I had hoped it would. A sincere mustache, Mr. McPhee, a sincere mustache? What does that mean? Was I implying that it is possible to have an insincere mustache?

I said I could not imagine anything said more plainly.

The mustache made it into the magazine and caused me to feel self-established as The New Yorker‘s nonfiction mustache specialist. Across time, someone came along who had “a no-nonsense-mustache,” and a Great Lakes ship captain who had “a gyroscopic mustache,” and a North Woodsman who had “a timber-cruiser’s guileless mustache.” A family practitioner in Maine had “an analgesic mustache,” another doctor “a soothing mustache,” and another a mustache that “seems medical, in that it spreads flat beyond the corners of his mouth and suggests no prognosis, positive or negative.”

Writing has to be fun at least once in a pale blue moon.

[ … ]

… Frames of reference are like the constellation of lights, some of them blinking, on an airliner descending toward an airport at night. You see the lights. They imply a structure you can’t see. Inside that frame of reference — those descending lights — is a big airplane with its flaps down expecting a runway.

My previous post from McPhee’s book is here.

-Julie

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