In Learning from Legends

As we continue reading our way through Dispatches from the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters and Survival by Anderson Cooper, we follow the journalist through some of the worst places on earth: the wastelands of Somalia, war-torn Sarajevo, volatile pre-election Iraq, murderous Rwanda, post-Katrina New Orleans and more. One theme that continues to jump off the page is the inner conflict Cooper is constantly battling. On one hand, he’s a journalist and, as such, must capture the most devastating stories to attract viewers. On the other hand, the devastation he’s witnessing is real and he feels a tremendous amount of guilt about having to decide which hardships are worthy of air time and which aren’t.

“‘That child’s bad, but I think I can find worse,’ I say to myself, deciding whose suffering merits time on TV. You tell yourself it’s okay, that your motives are good – at the moment you might even believe it. But later, alone, lying in bed, you go over the day and feel like a fraud. Each child’s story is worth telling. There shouldn’t be a sliding scale of death. The weight of it is crushing.”

Cooper’s story forces us to remember that all dreams have a dark side, but unfortunately it usually takes living your dream to see it. From post-Katrina New Orleans he recounts, “Over the phone my producers are telling me that I’m doing great. Each day they tell me the ratings for my broadcast are high, but the truth is, I don’t want to hear about it. This is not a ‘story’; these people aren’t characters. It doesn’t feel right to talk about plot lines and rating points.”

As someone who’s chasing a dream, I admit to being somewhat starry-eyed about what the reality of being a self-sustaining fiction writer will actually be like (if and when I’m fortunate enough to get there). At this stage in the game, I still write for pleasure and regularly experience a rush of endorphins after a marathon session. My vision of my writing life is pretty much heaven on earth (and, coincidentally, includes palm trees outside my window). However, from reading the blogs and books of published writers, I’ve come to realize that there are some stark realities I fail to consider, like how painful bad reviews must be, how demanding the business can probably get, the challenges of being a “newbie” writer, or the stress of constantly worrying about things like sales figures, self-promotion and when the next big idea will strike.

Of course, these stark realities shouldn’t prevent us from chasing our dreams, but considering them up front might help us manage our expectations and avoid the feelings of disillusionment that Cooper describes.

Conversation starter: Anyone out there living a dream and contending with a dark side or downfall they didn’t anticipate?

Read along! This month we’re reading Dipatches from the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters and Survival by Anderson Cooper.

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  • Suzanne
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    What a great question: I hope you’ll get some interesting responses. And then that you interview them, especially any published authors, to see how the dream compares with reality.

    Regarding Anderson Cooper, although I haven’t read the book I’ve been very interested in him during his recent coverage of the Haiti crisis. His emotions, frustration, and compassion often showed through his coverage and unlike a lot of reporters who simply stayed within the safe confines of the airport, he was constantly in the middle of the crisis.

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