NOTE: My sincere thanks to those who've encouraged me in my decision to return to writing this blog. The following was written recently as a contribution to a friend's project on the sounds of place.
THE WRITER AND THE WATERI'm a writer. No, not that kind of writer--the kind who writes novels or short stories or syndicated columns or the sort of longer pieces published in The New York Review of Books. Rather, I'm the sort once described by a kind-hearted copy supervisor as A Journeyman Writer. Or as the late John Leonard might have put it, A Pen for Hire. Or, to say it plain, A Hack. Which means, as I prefer to think of it, You Got It, I Write It. Whether it's an ad, a speech, a brochure, a direct-mail fundraising letter, a marketing strategy document, a book review, a jacket blurb, or a research report detailing patient reactions to a new anti-high blood pressure medication.
But there's another kind of writer I am. The kind whose response to many, even most situations, is to write about them. As if the only way to consider them was as words captured on paper or screen [push the 'Save' button]. Not in the personal style of a diary, but in the form of a poem, a short essay, or a letter (yes, I still write them in the age of the e-mail). I write--like so many others who do what I do, no matter the particular form--to find out what I think, what I feel. So when the opportunity arose to write a blog, set down my thoughts, and reach an audience at little cost, I grabbed it. In the several years since it began, I have made WALKING IS TRANSPORTATION a kind of online receptacle for my enthusiasms of the moment.
One of those enthusiasms was the ability to write about the waterfront--specifically, the Kill van Kull, the narrow waterway dividing Bayonne, New Jersey and Staten Island's north shore--only two short blocks from the office I'm working in right now. I imagined myself hanging out at the water's edge, tracing the shoreline, coming to understand the importance of the maritime industry to Staten Island's fortunes--getting my feet wet. But it never happened.
Yes, I walked on, wrote about and photographed the Bayonne Bridge and the as yet unprettified romance of the maritime industrial landscape on either side of the Kill. I reviewed a book on a local maritime business--the last of its kind on Staten Island. I began to feel I had taken a few additional baby steps toward understanding this place.
THE VIEW IN THE MIND IS A SOUNDBut since that time, I've realized that my view of the nearby waterfront is not a view, not an image or a picture at all. It's a sound. The sound of dredging. The steady subterranean growl of a tanker. The whistle that sounds exactly like the one that announces the approach of a speeding train. The occasional staccato blast so passionate, it's the shofar on Yom Kippur.
And one night early in the summer, I find myself in the dining room, standing perfectly still and listening to an extended conversation of foghorns--I imagine them as sea animals in some noisy mating ritual--up and down the Kill.
The Kill van Kull is what Staten Island sounds like.
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