Every writer I know has a story (or ten) about stories that were “killed.” By that, we mean that we proposed (or were assigned a story), usually went out on somebody else’s dime to report it, then wrote it (and often re-wrote it), only to have the story summarily executed, usually without any reason obvious to the writer, by the top editor at the magazine. Here is my chance to resurrect some of my favorites:
Travels with Dalai: This piece was commissioned by Details, after I pitched to an editor I had worked with at another magazine. That was probably a bad choice. I traveled around the country for 10 days with His Holiness, reporting on how he comported himself as a political leader. He was, bar none, the most impressive person I have ever met. The editors seemed to think I was insufficiently critical. Or something.
Excerpt: Just like any political campaign, the fundamentals of the “Free Tibet” campaign boil down to three things: message, organization and money. But since the Dalai Lama is not ordinary candidate and Tibet no ordinary cause, everything about this tour has a uniquely Tibetan twist. Not man American politicians, after all, will go around the country exhorting audiences “to love all living things,” as the Dalai Lama does. But His Holiness is no naif. He knows that the world may not be ready for such an extremist thought. So he adds, with an impish grin: “Except maybe mosquitoes.”
Inside the “green room” on Nightline, when Ted Koppel asks the Dalai Lama if he wants some makeup, and His Holiness replies, “Maybe a little lipstick.”
My lunch with Richard Gere, who struck me as a pretty serious student of Buddhism, and a cameo by the Beastie Boys.
A secret meeting with then First Lady Hillary Clinton, which the entire Washington press corps missed.
The Global Gold Rush: I pitched this story to National Geographic and was assigned what was to be a cover story. A top editor who gave me the assignment left the magazine, and the new one decided to reassign the story — after I had traveled to Indonesia and Ghana. Here is my unexpurgated story.
Ramadan in Algeria: While I was a Knight International Journalism Fellow in Algeria, my children suggested that since we were in a Muslim country during the holy month of Ramadan, we should show our respect by fasting: no drinking or eating from sunup until sundown for the entire month. I wrote Slouching Towards Ramadan, which was slated to appear in the Washington Post Outlook section, but was bumped by events and never ran.
The Raja of Chortenistan: This is a story about one of the most interesting and understated men I have ever met — and one of the most amazing journeys of my life. Five old friends trekked to the remote Buddhist kingdom of Mustang in far north-central Nepal near the Nepal/Chinese border in 2005. One of my trekking companions was an a Tibetan exile living in North Carolina who had last crossed into this Himalayan kingdom when he was a child fleeing the Chinese. Another old friend, who had made his home in Nepal for decades, invited our group of five to make this extraordinary trek with these enticing lines from T.S. Eliot:
Oh, do not ask, `What is it?’/Let us go and make our visit
The New Yorker looked at, but did not choose to publish, this Letter from Mustang.