It's a Sunday morning back in Pennsylvania. It snowed yesterday, but only enough for a slight dusting on the wooden planks of the deck out front. The hard macadam surfaces remained too warm for the snow to stick. I made a fire in the living room and watched three hours of golf. I miss my wife.
Spinsheet, the magazine that I got my first article published in a few years ago, and the magazine that really gave me my start, and for which I continue to write for monthly, keeps a small blog on the magazines website (spinsheet.com). I meandered over there a couple of days ago to see if the new issue was available online yet, so I could download it and create a .pdf for my archive. They had posted a brief bit on an article that appeared last week in the Washington Post about Matt Rutherford, an article I think I had only just read a few minutes prior to finding it on the blog. Matt had a link to it on his website.
"Matt Rutherford's gotten quite a bit of press from multiple Spinsheet articles (even two before he launched his solo around-the-Americas adventure!) to the evening Capital to Cruising World, but leave it to the Washington Post to write the best one yet."
I didn't think the article was that earth-shattering. It was obviously written with the non-sailor in mind, which is understandable, and a good way for Matt to get press and support outside the sailing world.
Do sailors get 'stuck on ourselves and our sailing terminology?' Yes, but I do not think this is a bad thing. There is a difference between falsifying a story to create drama - which I believe is what the Post story does - and speaking in a way that the general public won't understand. There is nothing wrong with using the correct terminology. A good writer - I'm thinking of Chichester and Knox-Johnston, both sailors referred to in that article - can seamlessly relate a story that both a real sailor will read with interest and that a layperson can understand, without dumbing anything down. Writing something real can educate people. Nobody wins when it's dumbed down.
This kind of relates back to a post I wrote almost exactly two years ago called 'Standards.' Why is it that we as a society often defer to the lowest common denominator? With regards to writing, it's at best insulting to the people who do understand what their reading (Post readers who are also sailors, for example), and at worst it's an outright lie. The Post piece pointed out that even Matt's shotgun had gotten rusty and corroded over the 20,000+ miles he's sailed. And yet right there on his blog on the same day, he espoused how much fun he had with it shooting cans a thousand miles east of South America. In Matt's case - as it was for the pioneering sailors he's increasingly being compared to - the story is so unbelievable that adding drama is unnecessary, and almost takes away from the nature of his trip. Bernard Moitessier, in the appendix of The Long Way, still the standard of incredible sea stories, and yet written so truthfully, offers advice to people who want to write about their adventures but don't know how to start. "Just tell the story," he says simply.
One look at the route map on Matt's website is all you need to see to infer the drama of his experience. It's increasingly obvious, especially in an election year, but what (I think) people want is the simple truth. Why can't the weatherman say it's going to be seasonably cold and breezy instead of 'bitterly cold with wind advisories in effect.' It's February! We have gone so far off the deep end with dramatizing things that understatement can sometimes be more dramatic if only for its departure from the norm. It's like the guy who spends all his time talking and never listening. Sometimes the quiet ones have the most to say, in the fewest words.