…from Barry Head
I write because, after a swanky education at Phillips Exeter Academy, Oxford University, and a post-grad year at the University of Leningrad (as it then was), I hadn’t any idea what to do with myself.
My first job was with TIME Inc. in New York, first as a trainee and then a reporter in the magazine’s New York news bureau. My boss was a stickler for using words correctly, and I thank him for that to this day. It wasn’t his fault that what I reported from the streets, crafted as carefully as I knew how, too often came out transmogrified by the anonymous writers upstairs. I stuck it out for only a year, but by the time I jumped ship, I knew that I felt at home working with words.
I tried to write short stories for a while. A couple appeared in national magazines, but it was no way to support a family. We moved from New York to Seattle, where I freelanced for a fledgling, investigative, monthly magazine, subsequently joining its staff for a spell as a writer and editor. Then back to freelancing, learning how to spin words for public relations, advertising and corporate-self-congratulation. I’d learned fast that, to stay alive, a writer had best become competent in as many ways to manipulate words as possible. Such possibilities, of course, are endless.
A job offer came from Boston—to work in Public Television on a new series called The Advocates. That job eventually led me to Pittsburgh and learning, from the master himself, how to write words for children on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The assignment was supposed to last six months, but turned, to my great good fortune, into a 30-year association with that remarkable man, Fred Rogers. The joy and illumination I found in our collaboration and friendship are beyond words and survive Fred’s death.
Some ten years ago, play writing grabbed me by the throat and has yet to let go. Whether or not I ever get a play produced, trying to wrestle words into the art and craft of theater gives me more anguished pleasure than any kind of writing I’ve attempted. And now, for the first time, a novel seems to be taking shape. Truth be told, right now it’s resisting shape of any kind. I’ve got my work cut out for me trying to figure out how novel writers weave and juggle words to pull off such stunts.
Working with words vies for time with my other passion, painting (as you can see from this website). There’ll be no winner, though, because there’s no contest. It’s more like a pair of yoked oxen hauling a cart full of scrap metal along a rutted road toward an unknown destination. I’ll never get to wherever that place may be. No one does. All I can do is go on using words, colors and shapes to depict the landscape as it moves by.