The Rapidian

Invisibility cloak donned: What would you want to observe?


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From The Rapidian staff

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Neighborhood participants in the video:

  • Rich Holshoe, Midtown resident
  • Jennifer Holshoe, Midtown resident
  • Joshua Duggan, Midtown resident
  • Amanda Narvaes, Midtown resident (law student nerd alert!)
  • Eric Jordan, Nantucket Baking Company

From The Rapidian staff: Say you're a fly on the wall. Or, no—let's do this up Harry Potter-style—say you have an invisibility cloak. You can go anywhere you want, hear anything you want, completely unnoticed. What's your first pick? That was the question I posed on a Monday night as I strolled around my neighborhood, camera in hand.

Despite the young-adult fiction twist, the question isn't a new one. Narrative nonfiction, or literary journalism, has been a long-practiced, long-devoted art form where journalists weave themselves into the backdrop. As Rapidian reporter Michael Tuffelmire will be proving much of this week, interviewing will result in self-censored answers while going undercover can be a trove of unfiltered observations.

While they are too numerous to count, an example is Gay Talese's "Frank Sinatra has a cold," published in 1966 in Esquire. Talese shadows Sinatra for three months, following him from movie set to dinners and seeing how the star is adjusting to a changing entertainment landscape ("I don't want anybody in here without coats and ties"), but never interviewing him. It was his piece that spawned the term "New Journalism," and it is still widely taught in university classrooms. Here's a taste:

Sinatra with a cold is Picasso without paint, Ferrari without fuelonly worse. For the common cold robs Sinatra of that uninsurable jewel, his voice, cutting into the core of his confidence, and it affects not only his own psyche but also seems to cause a kind of psychosomatic nasal drip within dozens of people who work for him, drink with him, love him, depend on him for their own welfare and stability. A Sinatra with a cold can, in a small way, send vibrations through the entertainment industry and beyond as surely as a President of the United States, suddenly sick, can shake the national economy. [Hear Talese read an excerpt]

Anne Fadiman's "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down" is one of my favorites, in which Fadiman documents a Hmong family's quest in central California to navigate their daughter's epilepsy, a mysterious mixed blessing in Hmong culture but approached as a flat-out defect by Western medicine. The vast cultural divide has all players splitting hairs over terminology, routine and social cues. Fadiman keeps tabs on the family for several years.

I was feeling a little shy when I dispatched myself last night, so I approached friends, acquaintances and those I've seen around the block but with whom I've never had an excuse to chat up.

My own answer was to peer over the shoulders at Nantucket Baking Company and learn their baking secrets, especially for the herbed sourdough and five-seed loaves. To my surprise, I got an off-the-cuff invitation to be an intern. Ask and you shall receive.

This is a fun question, but a reminder: The Rapidian does not in any way endorse self-endangerment in pursuit of a story. So, dear readers, pray tell: If you could see anything you want, observe anything unfiltered, what would it be?

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It seems a lot of times the meetings that go on in higher levels of government and sometimes academia don't always reflect the wishes of the people but rather those of a popular political mindset or even corporate wishes. I'd like to just once hear how those decisions are made. That and the room where they decide who the next pope is going to be, I'd like to be in there and see how they decide to make grey smoke or white. Oh, and the masons, do they really control everything? Who arrreeee these peeeopleee???

That closed door meeting that former President Bush had in fall 2008 with his financial team.  And if I could ride on one of the Mars rovers.

would very much like to know "if the owls are not what they seem" as they say on Twin Peaks.  How close are we to making contact with extra-terrestrials if we haven't already?

No recent decision made behind closed doors frustrates me much more than the one to sell out Rice University's freeform college music station KTRU to a classical/talk NPR station in Houston. Seems like decisions were made very covertly. Id like to find out more about how this happened.