I’m starting to learn how to function ‘writing on the road’, so for my subscribers, and for anyone who is interested, here’s my wisdom so far.
Travelling anywhere is a wrench in your gut, the most uncomfortable kind of living no matter whether you’re staying in a palace or a trash can because the transience in itself feels ragged. There’s jet lag, there’s the strain of meeting new people, old friends, remembering old rivalries, old problems, negotiating new ones, negotiating your host’s preferences, etiquette. There’s trying to remember where you put your fucking toothbrush. There’s trying to figure out what the weather is going to do in this part of the world. There’s trying to make yourself flexible, amenable, there’s trying to mould yourself to someone else’s life. There’s the cultural differences that make connections with others hard.
Travelling is fucking difficult and you have to take care of yourself, and so what I’ve learned is this: in one month, I can only expect to focus for one whole week on one person and what they think. And I need to intensely focus on that person and absorb that and try to get who they are and then I need to sit back down.
Two people in a month is hard; three is impossible. These things are about negotiating personalities and when you are trying to do someone justice you have to pay all your attention to them. You need headspace as much as they do.
A week is the best amount of time to get a person. The first day you step into their world and get fried from the electricity. The second day you adjust. The third day you digest. The fourth day you start to ask questions. The fifth day your subject will start to talk to you. In many ways the fifth or sixth day is the most exciting: trust has been formed, there’s a sense of ease about it. Karla’s ‘agenda’ comment: that’s the centre of that piece and it took about five or six days to get there and it was the nail I hung everything on, because it was important.
Any longer than a week and both your brain and theirs is cooked.
2a) Bring a child’s toothbrush. It’s tiny and cute and fits in any goddamn bag.
2b) For god’s sake, charge your phone. You never know when that conversation, the one that moves the goalposts, is going to happen, and it needs to be recorded for when you aren’t drunk/tired/eating a huge pizza.
2c) The people surrounding the person you are writing about are your best source of information on who they are and what makes them tick. Grill ’em. Whatever context you are not getting from talking with the person you get from them.
2d) Their environment is a character in the story too. It’s part of who they are. Grill your surroundings.
3) THE GUINNESS CLAUSE.
Waiting is so important. It’s connected to trust. The trust you have in your subject, and the trust they have in you.
One of the things I have realised is that this project is designed to give time to things, to people, to games. When Lester Bangs opens with some question designed to do conversational violence to his subjects he’s just trashing his own car, and yeah, it worked out for him, I guess he liked the testosterone edge it gave him. Sure, he managed to get something out of people. I’ve done it too in the past. And yes, these people aren’t your friends, but they’re professional creators with a sweet core you are trying to bite into and these people are still people. If you start in a new workplace and insult all your new coworkers it’s probably going to take more than a week for them to feel like you aren’t someone who should be stonewalled. And I usually have only a week in any one place. And I’ve found waiting – waiting is always rewarded. People want to talk to someone who is patient, kind, and who they feel comfortable around. They will say contentious things when they think you understand why they hold those views. And when you finally write those down within context, those views are aired in a way that respects them.
I guess this project is about waiting.
You can catch up with all my travel writing about games people here.