I like to joke that I was the oldest participant in the Summer 2012 Literary Journalism program, but the only one not writing a memoir. It wasn’t true (the memoir writing bit), but I’m certain that, of the nine of us, I had the most difficulty using the personal pronoun in my writing. More than two decades have passed since I was a newspaper reporter, but I absorbed the lessons of hard news training very well, and back then there was no place for the personal pronoun.
I applied to the Banff Centre program to help me break from the hold that newspaper training had on me. At the Leighton Colony, I shared the Painter House with Drew Nelles. At 26, he was the second youngest participant (and, yes, he was working on a memoir). I was astonished to overhear Drew tell someone that he reads every issue of the New Yorker magazine cover to cover. As an on-again, off-again subscriber, I often don’t make it past the cartoons. Drew worked upstairs and I was downstairs. When we arrived in Banff, his writing was at a more advanced stage than mine, so I spent more of my time hanging about the house — reorganizing and rewriting, reorganizing and rewriting. It became apparent, as we critiqued each other’s work, that Drew is a precocious master at structure, no doubt aided by all that New Yorker reading.