In my youth, I was deeply inspired by George Orwell’s essays and nonfiction. When I was in high school in the suburbs of Philadelphia, I told my parents – in between washing dishes/prepping food at a restaurant for minimum wage and doing a high-brow internship with business friends downtown – that I wanted to follow in George Orwell’s footsteps in Down and Out in Paris and London and actually see how the downtrodden lived, moving from middle class Havertown life to the streets of Philadelphia for a few weeks as an experiment.
My mother somehow convinced me otherwise, but my obsession with George Orwell’s writings continued. My only regret in immersing myself was a few years later when I “loaned” an early printed edition of Homage to Catalonia to a lovely lady with whom I shared a delightful weekend. The only problem was that I never saw her again. She still has my book, a particular volume that is not exactly cheap to replace.
Looking back, I honestly would have traded the book back for those few days (how one’s priorities change). But while you can lend or lose a favorite volume – or, hmmm, barter it – you can’t take away the printed words. And Orwell’s essays, especially the wartime dispatches on topics ranging from rationing to making a proper cup of tea, still ring in my head. Some of the sprightlier – if not occasionally wandering – ones appeared in a series he wrote for the left-leaning Tribune between 1943 and 1947, in a column titled “As I Please.”
In recently looking back at this series, I thought to myself: it’s been years since I’ve had a column. And while I could never begin to approach someone like Orwell in the informal nonfiction essay, I remember how much pleasure it brought me to give sufficient time to the craft, not just the job of writing.
Earlier in my career, before I joined FreeMarkets, the firm that really shaped who I am professionally today, I was a management consultant by day for a Boston firm and a monthly columnist by night for the now defunct Internet Week. I actually joined FreeMarkets when one of its founders, Sam Kinney, read an essay I wrote in its sister publication Information Week, back in early 1999.
Then I took a break from writing real essays. Yet I have loved to write my entire adult life. But finding the time to really devote to the thinking involved in crafting a good essay has left me as Spend Matters and our broader business has grown -- let alone during the nearly 5 years spent at FreeMarkets.
Now fifteen years later, it's time to dust off the pen again. Good nonfiction writing is a beautiful thing because crafting and sharing it can be indulgent and selfless at once. Like parenting and relationships (both in my family and my company), it’s something I feel the need to make time for again. So weekly – or perhaps at longer interludes as the case may be – I will take up the pen (not just the impersonal keyboard) and write a column under the Purchases line.
I'm doing this for you and for me. Many columns will center on company procurement. Others will just touch on it, dancing around personal “purchases” which bring either pleasure or lessons learned – or both. But I can promise each and every word that makes its way into this column will only be there after careful calculation and deliberation. After all, it wouldn’t be a true essay without applying diligence to both the minute details and overall theme.
Up next: the rise and fall of the English shirt – fit, pricing, and promotion.