What do you do?

David Patrick Columbia is the founder and editor of New York Social Diary, a website that chronicles the lives of the Big Apple’s elite. Since graduating from Colby College in 1962, Columbia has led numerous lives: he's been a stockbroker, an owner of a head shop in upstate New York, a sportswear designer, a freelancer (he wrote a firsthand account of one of Truman Capote's "lost weekends"), and a scriptwriter for a courtroom television show. In 1988, Columbia finally found his calling when he collaborated with Debbie Reynolds on her autobiography. In 1994, Columbia began writing the New York Social Diary for Quest Magazine (a condensed version of the website is still printed in Quest every month). The New York Social Diary website was launched in September, 2000. Columbia has since become something of social fixture himself: he's been the subject of articles and blog posts in New York Magazine, Gawker, and the New York Observer.
  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Question: Beyond a simple title, how would you describe what you do?

 

David Patrick Columbia: Well oh god. How would I describe what I do for a living?

What I do for a living is I write about the world that I believe I am observing. I do not regard myself particularly as a part of that world; although if you do it as often as I do, and you become as familiar to a lot of people in this particular world that I have become, then people think of you as part of that world. But basically I believe that I am an observer, and I am actually inspired by social chroniclers and social historians.

First of all the joy. I have a daily web site as you probably know, NewYorkSocialDiary.com. And part of the joy in what I do now is that at the end of the day after I’ve finished my work, and we put the web site up online and I see it, it gives me joy.

The struggle now is coming to terms with the world as I see it, and how we can make it a better place to live, or if that’s possible. I’m not quite so sure that it’s possible. And also I’m getting older now.

I’m 66, and when you get over a certain age you become aware of the fact of your own mortality in a very real way. And by which I mean you begin to see that the horizon is there, whatever that means.

And yet at the same time I feel very young in a lot of ways because in a lot of ways I’m immature; in a lot of ways my intellect is undeveloped. And so you nevertheless are struggling to come to terms with all these things and keeping your right mind.

 

Question: What purpose does a social diary serve?

 

David Patrick Columbia: Well when I was a little boy growing up in Massachusetts – and as I told you my father got the New York tabloids – those things and the books that my mother read to me as a child, and then books that I started to read as I was growing up; My favorite author was a man named John O’Hara. I was inspired to seek out a life not at all dissimilar to the life that I now have, although it could be defined in different terms. And when I write my columns to tell people about where I have been, I always think of that little boy who was really interested in the outside world. And I think that there are lots of those little boys and little girls out there; and grownup people who have that in them who are interested in what it’s like to be in that place. And so that is basically what motivates me when I’m writing.

 

Question: What is the difference between you and the new bloggers?

 

David Patrick Columbia: I am a fairly knowledgeable person. Even though some people would argue and say it’s not true, I don’t think I know it all. In fact I don’t think I know very much at all. And so I’m always looking for a way to define or describe what I am seeing that is accurate. I think a lot of the younger bloggers actually are very __________ informed, but are very high on personal opinion. And oftentimes that personal opinion hasn’t been nurtured very well because you need time, and you need good information, and you need a lot of curiosity. And there is in our society today among people of a certain generation – actually people who are younger than I actually – where there is, to me, a paucity of curiosity.

 

Conducted on: October 29, 2007

 


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