I have long enjoyed giving keynotes and presentations, as well as talking to the press and analysts. But an appreciation for writing is something I only discovered very late in my career when I started doing this blog a couple of years ago. But, when I think about it, I should not have been surprised. A late-life love of writing is something I got through osmosis from my long time friend and colleague Marty Reilly, who died on May 20, 2007.
For many years Marty worked in Executive Communications at IBM. He was known as one of the top speechwriters in the company. It was my luck that about fourteen years ago or so we started working closely together. Marty indeed wrote my speeches, but that does not begin to describe our relationship.
His office was next to mine. Casually walking over to Marty's office, bouncing ideas off him and thinking aloud about whatever was going through my mind at the time became one of those not-so-small pleasures that you don't realize how much you relish until you no longer have them.
Marty and I would spend lots of time discussing how best to communicate whatever topic it was on which I had to give a presentation or interview. We would often remark how much easier it is to give a presentation if you don’t have to worry whether the audience understands what you are saying. But boy, when you start looking at the words coming out of your mouth from the point of view of your audience - things get much harder and much more painful.
All of a sudden you have to ponder if you yourself understand what it is you are saying, why you are saying it, and why anyone should care. You realize that the first step in giving a presentation has to be to catch the attention of the audience, hold it, and then make sure that you clearly communicate whatever it is you want to say to them in the simplest and most compelling language possible.
All this I learned from Marty.
For years, whenever I would come up with a new idea, no matter how harebrained, convoluted or bizarre, I always had Marty to help me think it through. After a while, the idea would start to take shape through our back and forth conversations. It would become structured, organized - and even elegant, if I may say so. For Marty and me, thinking aloud was a process of discovery, to see if we could somehow find what it was that I was so excited about, and whether there was a little jewel amidst all the surrounding gorp that we could dig up, polish and build a whole new way of thinking and talking about a subject around.
And once you get used to exercising your brain by thinking aloud, why stop at items related to work? Marty and I would just as easily discuss matters of politics, films and baseball as we would supercomputing, open source software and the Internet. We particularly enjoyed our theological conversations, whether it was about people and topics from the Old Testament, the New Testament or from testaments in between. Why not? If what you were really doing was going deep inside your mind to try to uncover what was there, how you really felt about a subject, and how best to communicate it to everyone around you, few things should be off limits.
Through all these years I watched Marty produce wonderful speeches and documents. His writing was eloquent and beautiful. For a long time, frankly, it scared me off from writing anything myself, because the bar was so high. I always had Marty - my speechwriter - to rely on to do my speeches and whatever other documents I might be called upon to write.
But then, about two years ago, my colleagues convinced me to start this blog by essentially pushing me off the plane with the promise that the fall would be cushioned, that it was good for my character, and that in the end I would learn to enjoy the pain. A blog was something you had to do yourself with nothing more than a little editing help here and there. I was petrified.
But then I discovered my inner Marty.
As it turned out, through all this time of hanging out with Marty, I had been absorbing his love of words, if not quite his proficiency with them. At times I have found myself spending what seemed like hours searching for just the right turn of phrase to express what it is I want to say. I often feel like a mad, obscure poet toiling away at words that few will read.
What I learned form Marty is to let the words come from inside yourself -- to keep chewing on them until you can just about taste them. For Marty, writing was a sensual experience, not just an intellectual one - and somehow he passed that on to me.
In so many ways Marty and I were very different. Politically, I was generally on the more liberal side of issues to Marty's more conservative side. His views were influenced by his Irish Catholic, Jesuit, humanities world-view, in contrast to my Cuban Jewish background and technical training. But rather than dwelling on our differences, we would spend our time finding common ground - where the most universal ideas and easiest to communicate points of view would be found.
For the last two years, my blogging routine has been pretty much the same. Struggle with the writing of the blog, then edit, re-edit and re-edit some more, then send it on to Marty and a couple of other colleagues for their advice and comments.
When I finished my draft of last week's blog, I sent it on to Marty as usual, even though I knew he was not feeling well and had already been admitted to the hospital. As I am now finishing this draft, I wonder what I should do and how I will adjust.
I really miss my friend and colleague, Marty Reilly.