It’s been hard to keep a partition between reading for work and reading for pleasure. If it’s something that might have bearing on the content of my book, I want to take notes. Reading for pleasure should be, well, more pleasurable, but the eyes and brain weren’t having it when I’d try to pick up a book in the evening for the fun of it.
With respect to the attention economy, Goldhaber notes, “We struggle to attune ourselves to groups of people who feel they’re not getting the attention they deserve, and we ought to get better at sensing that feeling earlier.” While he’s making this observation about those who recently tried to overthrow the 2020 election, the comment gives me pause because I think it applies quite aptly to the stories of ordinary people that Randy often featured in his work. To the extent that attention functions as currency in our society, what can we make of someone who was undeniably ambitious, yet tried to use his journalism to help lesser-known and less powerful individuals?
It perhaps goes without saying that in order to establish and maintain healthy, productive social relationships, we need to start by paying attention to each other. Simplistic as it may sound, this is a crucial step toward establishing more substantial bonds like empathy, attachment, mutual concern, and reciprocity. “Attention is a bit like the air we breathe,” Warzel comments. “It’s vital but largely invisible, and thus we don’t think about it very much unless, of course, it becomes scarce.”
By stepping into the role of biographer, I realized that I’d taken on the part of quasi-time traveler, putting myself in the same place at different moments and connecting what I’d witnessed in archival footage with the evidence provided by my own senses.
In this segment, Holly asks me how a social work perspective has informed my research and writing, and to describe the experience of becoming intimately familiar with someone who I’ll never be able to meet in person.
A couple months ago, I was invited to give a guest lecture to a class of social work students at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. I was so blown away by their curiosity and enthusiasm, I thought it would be fun to share their questions – and my responses – through the blog.
Instead of distancing myself from the more complicated emotions of Randy’s story, I’ve tried to move closer, even when it’s challenged my comfort levels and forced me to reconsider my own assumptions and beliefs. Being able to explore those uncomfortable spaces has helped me to write about them in ways that I hope will make it stronger.
Shockwaves from the previous night were emanating from every corner of the news and social media, and I had another full week ahead of me. The only way I could keep calm was by focusing as narrowly as possible on why I’d even come to Oregon: the story of Randy Shilts.
When people ask about my project and I say the name “Randy Shilts,” they almost never know who I’m talking about. When I say “And the Band Played On,” if they are of a certain age, there’s often an emotional reaction. Then, they tell me about someone significant in their lives: the uncle who’d moved out west, but then came home to die with lesions on his face; the roommate in New York, who they took care of in his final months; or the older cousin from Milwaukee, whose funeral they weren’t allowed to attend.