Jan 31, 2010 | Klosters, Switzerland
Jan 31, 2010

Leaving the hotel in the morning in Klosters, there were three cars idling in the cold air, coughing out clouds. A police car blocked the way, and burly men in suits guarded the street. A group of Latin American men came out, and the bodyguards hustled around them, carrying out computers and printers they'd taken all the way from somewhere to Davos and which they were now taking home, keeping their secrets safe as they traveled. The men posed for a photograph in front of the mountains, which were clean and snowy under a bright sky, and I thought how there must be some kind of inverse relationship between the number of bodyguards you have and the clarity of your conscience.

They rolled away in their motorcade, and I waited for the bus to take me to Zurich. Later, when I woke up on the plane and looked at the map on the wall, I saw Miles City, Lewistown, Billings, and Bozeman. The names were plain, honest, American names. Montana was under us and we were almost home.

You could feel things sorting out and getting simpler, and all of the late-night extravagance of the European conferences was getting distant and reducing into vague feelings and anecdotes, and I thought how this must be how it is returning from war, when all of the madness starts to settle and distill into war stories — portable narrative chunks to be handed around to family, friends, and eventually to your kids. Such stories abstract and obscure the insanity, yet somehow contain and preserve it, too.

There's a nice neatness to this, and even though you know things aren't actually as simple as you'll now recount them to be, that is how it always is with stories, which get at the essence of a thing by leaving a lot of stuff out.

In any experience, if you are sensitive enough to see it, there will be something someone says, or two things that line up in a certain way, or the light hitting something as it does, and you will find that one small gesture contains the full essence of the thing, and then you can throw away everything else and just keep the gesture, which is like the jeweled nucleus that is small and sparkly, reflecting back the rest of the thing in its many glassy facets.

That is what becomes the soul of a story, and you can build up the rest of the story around it, and then it doesn't really matter what style or material you choose because the story will have its soul and it will feel authentic no matter what you make it into.

Without a soul it won't be anything and shouldn't pretend to be a story, and you should keep looking for something else or learn to be more sensitive.