Thursday, October 18, 2018

''Being Dan Bloom''

I am often asked how I came to be involved late in my life in climate change issues of the literary kind, not as a climate activist per se, but rather as a literary activist of the PR kind. It's an interesting story.

I've got to go back to when I was living in Juneau, Alaska in the 1980s, having made the trek to the 49th state by plane in 1979 to visit my brother Art who lives there still. He invited me up there from my unproductive life in Washington D.C., where I was eking out a very small living doing freelance cartoons for the Washington Star's editorial page and then later for the Washington Post's editorial page.

I did sketches and illustrations -- ''spots'' they were called in the newsroom -- for the letters- to-the-editor sections of both papers. The pay was not huge, but it was exciting to get my stuff published and meet people in Washington: Carl Bernstein at the bar called Columbia Station, Ben Bradlee the editor of the Post after I wrote him a snail mail letter asking for an interview with him about getting  job at his paper.

His secretary wrote back the next week and said "Mr Bradlee will see you next Tuesday at 10 a.m." This was 1977.

Mr Bradlee ushered me into his office and said "Bloom, what do you want?" I said I wanted to get a foot in the door and maybe get hired as an obituary writer to start. He said: "Bloom, what the fuck  do you know about death?" He said  ''get the hell out of my office, young man, and go out into the world, Dan, and come back in five years with some good clips. Then we can talk.''

So I went out the door, and a few months later flew to Alaska, got a job as an editor at a weekly newspaper  in Juneau and never made it back to see Mr. Bradlee. I did save my clips just in case.

It was in Alaska, where I spent 12 amazing and wonderful years, graciously taken care of by my brother, spending two years in Nome, one of the coldest cities on Earth where the ocean freezes over in winter and you can walk out two miles and see forever.

Alaska is also where I met a visiting journalist, Hironobu Ishikawa, for the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun during a short tourist cruise he was on in Juneau harbor in 1989. He invited me to come to Tokyo one day and work for the English section of his newspaper called at that time The Daily Yomiuri.

I flew to Tokyo in 1991 for two main reasons, leaving everything behind in Juneau and selling my car for airfare. One, I had met a sweet Japanese woman named Nobuko Enoto when she was visiting Alaska in the summer of 1991 during a two week tourist visit and I promptly fell in love with her. She was the one I wanted to be with. Forever.

The second reason was to visit Mr Ishikawa at the Yomiuri and see about a job. If I was going to marry Nobuko, 28 to my 42, I needed a good job. The Yomiuri paid well, very well and for five years I worked there as a re-writer, subeditor, headline writer, proofreader and occasional reporter with a byline. Those were some of the best years of my life!

Still, even in the 1990s, I was not very aware of climate change issues. At the newspaper in Tokyo, one of our expat reporters, Bruce Brock, flew to Rio in 1992 to attend the UN climate treaty summit there, and my evening job at the paper was to read his stories and edit them for our English-language edition. That was my first brush with global climate issues awareness and it was a wake-up call that started me on my way to my interest in polar cities in 2008, reported by Andy Revkin at the New York Times DOT EARTH blog that year, and later in 2010 in climate fiction novels with a term I dubbed "cli-fi."

Had I not met Mr Ishikawa in Alaska and fallen in ''crazy mad'' love with Nobuko in 1991 I never would have made it to Japan. And I would never have come up with the cli-fi term later on in my life. Read on.
Japan turned my life around. Five years in paradise, meeting and chatting with Haruki Murakami at a Yomiuri literary party and reception. Then I read his novel "Norwegian Wood" in translation ten times in the library at Rykkyo University on my days off from the newspaper.

Somehow, I ended up in Taiwan. Like is like that, as John Lennon once said: "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans." Sure has been true of my life. I never had  a set plan, I never had a game plan, I never really made plans. I liked living free and easy. As a result I never really a career and except for those five years in Tokyo I never made any serious  money. But Taiwan saved my life.

Because it was in Taiwan one day in 2010 when I jotted down the the term "cli-fi" on a napkin at an outdoor sidewalk beer joint when thinking about how to do some publicity for a book I had commissioned from a sci-fi writer in Texas named Jim Laughter. Jim wrote a novel set in the near future of 2075 titled "Polar City Red" with the title the only thing I contributed to his paperback in 2012.

My responsibilty was doing the PR for Jim's novel, and from Taiwan, I used the internet to reach out to book reviewers in America who might review Jim's novel. It wasn't a sci-fi novel, so what to call it? My beer joint napkin held the answer: call it a ''cli-fi thriller.''

So I did, and the nickname for a totally new literary genre began to makes waves in the media: NPR in 2013, the New York Times  in 2014, the Guardian in Britain in 2015, the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia in 2016, the BBC in 2017 and the French news agency Agence France-Presse in 2018.

I didn't invent cli-fi. Cli-fi invented itself over a couple of cold Taiwan beers on a warm summer evening. I was just the midwife.

Where does this all end? It does not end.

 That's what it's like ''Being Dan Bloom.''

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