Three marriages, an eyepatch and a damaged liver.
This morning I awoke with my heart in my mouth. I awoke from nightmares, war like.
I'm not sure how I'm going to make the rent. I just coughed up a months rent to pay for hostile environment training. A training that will prepare me, should I put myself in the position, to go into a war zone. Deadlines are gathering, I need to find work and make big decisions. I need to write this blog. There is an imperative. To file copy.
Marie Colvin died this week. She has been the name on everyone's lips. From politicians on BBC Question time to columnists across the broadsheets. She has been held up as an exemplar of the trade of journalism. She is the women who went the extra mile, the one who exposed what was really happening in Homs, who demonstrated with words what happens when a regime tries to stomp out an uprising. More than that, she has been held up as a bastion of the fourth estate, the free press.
All of this runs counter to the wounds inflicted upon journalism under examination in the Leveson inquiry. Marie Colvin was not one of those journalists. Neither tack, nor tabloid. She did, however work for Murdoch, who underwrites the Sunday Times, who paid her PAYE and expenses. (Famously she once left a satellite link live for 20 hours a ran up an enormous bill for him).
At the top of her career she was in demand by the all Broadcasters.
I only discovered her two days before she died. Her last report from Homs was being hailed as heroic. And it is.
Here, in her final report, the hero is welcomed into Homs. It could be from the Homer:
"Arriving in the darkened city in the early hours, I was met by a welcoming party keen for foreign journalists to reveal the city’s plight to the world. So desperate were they that they bundled me into an open truck and drove at speed with the headlights on, everyone standing in the back shouting “Allahu akbar” — God is the greatest."
This morning I awoke terrified and inspired to keep going. I thought of a photo of Colvin under fire, writing her dispatches under the cover of a Land Rover. Staring into her computer screen, absorbed, intent. I may be under fire put my life is not threatened. Yet there she is filing copy. Her mind quiet in the zone, the calm place where thoughts arise and sentences construct.
People often talk of war zones as being the place where they felt most alive, senses sharpened. This must be true for all the great writers. Those who sought to communicate conflict. Hemingway, Steinbeck, Wilfred Owen, Laurie Lee....
The rawness of living in such situations must bring focus and immediacy to words. There is no time to pontificate. Just get it down and get it right. Every second alert, death lurking in the air around you. The immediacy of sound and vision and smell acting as a spring for stream of consciousness. For the poets this is certainly true. They wear their hearts on their sleeves. But the hardened war correspondent is supposed to be collecting fact as a purely dispassionate bystander.
I don't buy it. Certainly not in the case of Colvin. She was motivated to go back into Homs because it made her angry, her desire to tell the story of the bombarded was empathetic. Surely journalists feel passions under their human skin, their blood pumps the same way as anyone else's?
It's just a question of how much they let on.
So this maybe a part of the path I walk.
Colvin walked into war zones with one eye. Why should I therefore fear loosing my glasses?
She may have been the archetype foreign correspondent that a BBC commentator once pontificated on. You know the type, he said: "Three marriages an eye patch and a damaged liver."
Is there, in her an archetype a natural self destructiveness?. Well yes. There must be. But it arises from a passion to live life in the raw. How many of us accept death inside as a living reality everyday? Is she indeed a martyr for truth? What deep convictions compelled her and many others like her to make such decisions in their lives?
One only. Human truth. To communicate the reality of what war does to mothers and fathers and children.
Her reputation as a writer did not provide protection. The flak jacket of fame, useless.
The obituaries say she choose to go back in to Homs, having been warned that she was a target.
There in her last work I see the years of experience exposed in the spontaneous craft of telling a compelling story.
In her there is a poet:
"They call it the widows’ basement. Crammed amid makeshift beds and scattered belongings are frightened women and children trapped in the horror of Homs, the Syrian city shaken by two weeks of relentless bombardment." The words in bold conscious of the sound they make.
Here too, the high-street hack:
"It was the last time she saw Maziad, 30, who had worked in a mobile phone repair shop."
And, the scene setter mixed with the fact gatherer:
"Foam mattresses are piled against the walls and the children have not seen the light of day since the siege began on February 4."
Colvin went into the eye of the storm. A place from where mobile phone pictures have been relayed around the world after being picked up an authenticated by a wiz kid at a London newsdesk. All valid, all lacking the encapsulating picture only words can provide. Facts gathered from more scenes than a film maker can respond to. Collected, connected in consciousness, and poured onto the page. The old fashioned way; never to go out of fashion. The best of the old analogue mind married with digital media span her story across the world.
Here, colleague Christiane Amanpour on CNN:
"You need people like Marie Colvin and...who go in there an humanise these endless hours of very brave You tube video. Its not enough (videos). You need the human story, you need the face to the numbers, you need the emotions of the people, you need to hear what they are going through under siege and that's what Marie and everybody gave."
Did she give in vain?
In short. No.
She told the truth as she experienced it.
She lived, in the end, the ideal. To tell the truth to power.
She described what she saw and gave voice to those who's voice was unheard:
"On the lips of everyone was the question: 'Why have we been abandoned by the world?'”
She died doing what she wanted to do.
She died living for truth.