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By Lorrie Lykins

Cambridge, December 6, 2003. The wind whipped the snow around in swirling miniature tornadoes that lashed the trees and piled angled drifts against the windows that looked like forgotten sails. I found myself distracted by the drama of the weather, my eyes wandering to the windows to watch the endless rounds of the snowplows trying to keep the hotel drive clear.

As a Floridian experiencing her first Nor’easter, I was fascinated. Between sessions, I walked through the snow, picked it up, sifted it through fingers swathed in Lands End polartech gloves purchased online shortly before my trip north. The snow was an inconvenience to many – for me it was the first snow I’ve walked through since 1970.

Tom French
Tom French

The hotel listed and groaned under the weight of our volume, our numbers. Some rooms were so packed, people sat cross-legged on the floor, notepads in hand, pens poised, others stood in clusters in doorways spilling into the corridors, straining to hear the words of Tom French, Chip Scanlan, Jacqui Banaszynski. Their pens were poised too.

I wrote for three days, scribbling snippets from workshop speakers and conversations in the hallways, writing down e-mail address of new friends, web site addresses, book titles.

“Write as if your life depends on it, because in a way, it does.”

“Be relentless, write quickly, you can edit later – but just get it down.”

“We all doubt our ability from time to time. It comes with the job.”

“I’m dying for Mediterranean food. Do you know of any place?”

I had the good fortune, quite by accident, of sharing a dinner of Thai food with Harvard Fellow Ted Gup one night. Ted responded to my question of what is was like to work at The Washington Post as a cub reporter in the 1970s by telling me about the first week he was there, a green kid from Akron.

Ken Burns

“I ran around the building asking everyone for their autographs,” Ted laughed between bites of chicken satay.

“Later, when I was assigned to work with Bob Woodward, I was mortified thinking he would be convinced I was a complete idiot, but, of course, he didn’t remember me as the autograph seeker.”

Ken Burns took the time to speak to every person who lingered after each of his appearances. When I sidled up, camera in hand and sheepishly asked a friend of his to take our picture, Burns grabbed my camera, grinned and said “You know, I’m a pretty good photographer.” He threw one arm around me and extended the other out and said “Cheese!” Snap, flash. Can’t wait to have my film developed.

Lorrie Lykins is a full-time freelance writer based in the Tampa Bay area.

Posted in speakers.Ken Burns, working with editors & reporters, writing on December 12, 2003 at 05:14 PM | Permalink