In Search of Lost Time

This article, published in The New York Times Magazine, will always have a special place in my heart. I’d taken a longish childrearing sabbatical away from serious journalism because I’d found that I just couldn’t manage small kids and non-negotiable deadlines at the same time. When the kids went to school and I was ready to return, I discovered that my mind was not functioning as quickly or dependably as it once had. This freaked me out. I assumed that I’d lost my edge and that no one would want to hire a journalist who no longer could suck up information like a gigantic sponge. I was wrong on two counts: my memory wasn’t gone. It just needed a ton of support, which I learned to call “scaffolding.” A wonderful editor at The New York Times Magazine, Ilena Silverman, recognized that in my particular style, I could deliver useful science and emotion in the same paragraph. She responded to my pitch, assigned the story, and promptly went on maternity leave. I worked happily and endlessly with Vera Titunik, another editor at the magazine, for the six months that Ilena was home with her new baby. But she returned when it was time to do the final edit. This was an experience that I’ll never forget, in part because it showed me what it meant to be fact-checked within an inch of my life, but more important, because I learned how it felt to be respected as an author. If it took ten minutes for me to locate precisely the right word, so be it. Ilena would wait.

While I was writing the piece for the Times, I sold the book proposal for Carved in Sand. In a wonderful example of literary symbiosis, the article shaped the book, and the book shaped the article. “In Search of Lost Time,” a title chosen by the magazine’s editor, who had a thing for Proust, hit the stands more than two years before Carved in Sand was ready for publication. By the time the book came out, I assumed that people would have forgotten. They had not: at every speaking engagement I had, whether it was in Manhattan or Indianapolis, people told me that they’d first heard about my quest for midlife memory in the pages of The New York Times.