I recently finished up Bill Buford’s Among the Thugs, which is an absolute beast of a book. Aside from that great apocalyptic party scene in Bury St. Edmunds, there’s a terrific set piece in which Buford gets pummeled by Italian riot cops. I love the way he recounts his thought process while being savaged with batons—it makes me wonder whether only writers’ minds work this way:
All this was exceptionally painful, as would be expected, but my experience of it was different from that of the other who were being beaten up. Their experience was one of simple pain. For me, it was more complicated, because I knew that I would be writing about it. While being beaten up, I was thinking about what it was like being beaten up. I was trying to retain the details, knowing that I would need them later. I thought for instance that this experience was not so different from the one I had witnessed in Turin several years before when a Juventus fan, who had also surrendered, was beaten up by a number of Manchester United supporters. I thought of the fact that I could even think of this coincidence and marveled at the human mind’s capacity to accomodate so many different things at once. And I thought about that, the fact that, while being beaten up, I could think about the human mind’s capacity to accomodate so many different things at once. I thought about the expenses I had incurred and was grateful that I was going to get something out of this trip after all. But mainly I was thinking about the pain. It was unlike anything I had known and I wanted to remember it.
…and I wanted to remember it. Amazing to realize that an individual under such pressing physical duress could have such immediate perspective. But when your life is given over to telling stories, this is the default approach to every situation. There’s always a little voice chirping in your ear, “Imagine how this will sound on the page.”