Wherever I Go, There I Am.

I know what kind of non-fiction I wouldn’t write.

Academic or scholarly writing. Memoir or biography. Mainstream journalism. Gossip or tell-all. Anything that involves an interview.

This week’s topic was my idea. I’m really interested in how my fellow Confabulators will answer. But I’m nearly stumped.

I already write non-fiction for my job, and I like the kind of non-fiction I’m doing now. I like reading through diverse stacks of primary source material and synthesizing it for various audiences. I like learning the obscure history of common everyday things. Who was this guy? What did he do? How did he get involved in this situation? What is his relationship to the problem we’re trying to address now, sixty years after he died?

In South Park there’s a fancy fountain carved from red marble, and in the summer when the city band plays the kids all splash around in the water running down its sides. It’s a beautiful piece, and you would never guess that 100 years ago it was designed as a public watering trough for dogs and horses. When cars came along, the city stuck that thing on a pedestal and put it in the park.

Ever wonder how natural gas got its name? Because in the gaslamp era, what they used for lighting and heating and cooking was called town gas, or coal gas, or manufactured gas (the modern equivalent is synthetic gas, or syn-gas). It was made by heating coal under controlled conditions to create a hydrocarbon-rich, flammable vapor, mostly carbon monoxide and methane.

The gas works had a holder, basically a giant wooden cup inverted over a tank of water, all within a metal frame; you could tell how much gas was in the holder because it bobbed up and down in the tower as the gas was made and consumed. Europe still depended on manufactured gas well into the end of the twentieth century, when they finally developed the North Sea gas fields and the fall of the Iron Curtain opened the oil and gas reserves of the former Soviet Union.

And I get paid to learn this stuff, figure out the story, and write about it. People tell me I have the coolest job in the world, and I tend to agree with them.

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