Butler is one of the smartest people I’ve ever spoken with. There’s a level of thinking and depth you don’t often hear from someone who’s in their mid-30s. You expect it from, say, George Saunders, but listening to Butler speak was a treasure for me and I hope so for you.
Like Holland, Glenn Stout, and Charles Bethea, Butler never studied journalism, yet he’s one of the best at his craft. I sense a theme that some of the best at this craft aren’t journalists by trade, but people who have a keen sense for language, are widely read, and think long and hard about the work. They aim for impact, not a sound bite.
“I was a poetry major in college which was of course of great concern to my parents.” —Charles Bethea
Here we are with the first episode of 2016, No. 16, sweet sixteen, Charles Bethea. This was a fun episode as we talk about Charle’s start in freelancing, his love of breakfast, and one of his favorite quotes of all time.
Like Eva Holland, Charles’ writing takes you places. He’s funny and his writing has a smooth feel to it. Suddenly you’re done with the piece and it felt like nothing, like gravity did all the work for you.
Aside from having his work published in The New Yorker (where he has a regular sports column on its website), the now-defunct Grantland, and Outside Magazine, he was also a producer on the short documentaryFair Chase, about persistence hunting. If you read Born to Runby Christopher McDougall, you know that this is a theory about man’s early hunting by wearing down and overheating four-legged prey.
Anyway, point being Charles is a busy man with serious chops.
Here’s the link to the episode since folks with mobile devices still can’t stream it from the blog post (Podomatic is NOT on its game with this bout of customer service). Here’s the embed anyway.
Also here are links to a sampling of Charles’ work. You can find more at his website charlesbethea.com.
I should probably be doing work, but my train derailed and I figured and I’d better atone for my sins. I wrote a post here saying Charles Bethea’s profile in Outside Magazine had the worse opening paragraph I’ve ever read. It was hyperbolic and hurtful. The post was written by a bitter hand. Worst of all, I attacked a fellow writer, which is minor league baseball. I’ve had my work raked over the coals and it hurts. I was a rock-eating troll.
My wife sent me an image of a poster that says, “How to Feel Miserable as an Artist”. Almost every one hit home, especially the first one: Constantly Compare Yourself to Other Artists. This is what prompted me to rail Bethea’s Outside piece, which I have since read and is well done. It was done purely out of insecurity. I also came across this: 20 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. Again, I was weak-minded.
What prompted this mea culpa was Bethea defending himself in the comments of that post as well as in an email to me where he said, “Have some balls and publish this comment on your site.” Go read it. It’s smart, funny, and well written, a total zinger. I also wrote a long reply with my tail between my legs.
I told him in an email that sometimes freelancing puts me in a dark, dark place. I’m alone for hours upon hours when I’m not shadowing a character. Even then, it’s likely a story that will barely pay for the gas it took me to get there. This makes me bitter. That’s a ‘me’ problem. And reading his opening graf to that story hit me at this intersection. It doesn’t make it right. It’s just what happened.
I wondered if the blog post would somehow reach him. These things have a way of flowing down the river of the Internet to the source of our angst. I feel slimy.
Still, as a result of my childish tantrum, we’ll likely have some civilized discourse about writing and magazine journalism. Remember when I spoke about luck? Maybe in this instance I made a friend out of a crummy thing I did. That’s luck. Undeserved, but luck no less.