I’m in Salzburg, Austria, at a conference on biography at the Salzburg Seminar.
Several months ago, when I received an email about to the conference, my impulse was to hit the delete button — Salzburg was too far away, I had too much work to do, it would take too much effort to unpeel myself from my life.
But my finger hovered for a moment over the keyboard, and various of my happiness-project resolutions pushed themselves into my mind: “Focus on books,” “Show up,” “Follow my curiosities,” “Only connect,” “Push myself,” “Take time for adventure,” “Listen.”
So…here I am in Salzburg.
Now that the conference has started, I’m astonished I hesitated even for a moment. This afternoon I sat in a seminar room with seventeen people, all absorbed in questions of biography. We’re provided with everything necessary for intellectual stimulation — everything from pens and paper, to a picturesque mountain outside our window, to plentiful coffee. We have no task except to wrestle with questions like, “Where and how do you begin the story of a life?” and “How should you think about objectivity and subjectivity?” and “Why do you decide to write a particular person’s biography?”
Fact is, in ordinary life, people rarely mention Boswell’s Life of Johnson. Here is come up in practically every conversation.