Down the Rabbit Hole

Old photographs of strangers, discovered in this way, seem precious, even faintly sacred. And who can resist studying the stranger’s face for clues to a suddenly pressing question: Whatever happened to you?” -Dan Barry, New York Times

January 25, 2018—while at the New York Times building—I got to meet Dan Barry, a reporter, and writer-at-large. We chatted for a while, got to talking about stories and he shared a summary and the origin of one he’d just finished that was pending publication the next day. Dan told me something I knew from my experience: how—in writing (and in life, too)—one thing often leads to another. He called it going ‘Down the Rabbit Hole.’

Case in point: The story he’d just completed came about because of another project which required research in an old history of New York City he had pulled from the vault (deep in the bowls of the building, which I would get to visit that afternoon). Written several decades ago—and over twenty years since anyone had touched that book—what he found inside side-tracked him and led to the writing of a story different from the one intended. [He then returned to his original project, which sounded fascinating, too.]

The story Dan had just told me started with him finding a photograph dated 1935 of a little girl with her dog, left inside that old book. He wondered how it had got there (not a book a young girl would read or even have), remained for decades and then ended up—photo riding along—in the New York Times reference library. While I got to hear this from him the day before it was published, you can read it here (and find out how he satisfied his curiosity).

This moment with Dan made me recall something from over forty years ago when I had found an old passport and love letters wrapped in a late Fall 1918 newspaper. I wrote of that accidental discovery in The Old Trunk. And that we all have them—trunks (even if only metaphorically)—where we store memories and experiences. In it, I write about what’s in my own and that they too can be a rabbit hole of contemplation, but—if treated the right way—are something that gives us perspective and context. The positives are life-affirming as we return from the exploration.

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