In my life’s story, from newspaper reporter, then television reporter, to full-time writer — is there something to be learned in that journey —  through fading light — from the scientific process of fermentation?

Fermentation is defined by Mirriam-Webster as an enzymatically controlled transformation of an organic compound.

I love the idea of transformation. But all I knew about fermentation, prior to getting an assignment to write about it,  was that you can’t have a good beer or wine without it.

So — fermenting in the fading light. When I refer to “fading light” I have in mind a coming birthday and the relentless march of time. Aging, like fermentation — occurring sometimes in darkness, sometimes in light — is an equally relentless natural process. I  “brewed up”  that particular metaphor because in recent years, I’d been assigned writing projects dealing with fermentation and related technical subjects for M.I.T.. I made some money, too; enough to stay afloat in retirement, along with the help of some income from radio work.

It was fun and enlightening being a non-scientific person learning about obscure but important areas of modern technology.  For instance: have you ever heard of  tribology? It’s the study of wear-and-tear affecting, among many other things, engine parts and contact lenses. Tribology, fermentation technology, design thinking, machine learning — I was having a field day reading and writing about such things, mostly for in-house MIT organs, and on at least one occasion for an outside technical journal.

Then, on account of human and economic processes, this free-lance employment evaporated. I’d been working as an independent contractor, i.e., writer,  for a former television producer/colleague who’d begun her own public relations company. MIT was a client. She was good enough to throw paying assignments my way. But her client-related priorities had, of necessity, shifted away from writing jobs toward the non-verbal side of PR campaigns. I was disappointed, but grateful for the work while it had lasted — and for the fascinating subject matter. But I was also suddenly without a fortuitous and accidental source of income.

And I was back thinking about myself as just a writer —  a “creative” writer. I’d been blessed to win awards for my broadcast writing during a four-decade career. Those were fact-based, incident-based “news” stories. Now, I’m trying to write “story” stories. “Once-upon-a-time” stories. Some of them, through a process of creative fermentation, have been good enough, in my mind, to submit to outside literary journals. They were rejected — but that’s all part of the creative process. It’s one of those labors of love — but a labor no less. I don’t always love it. No writer does. Quotes abound among writers about the challenges of the daily grind of filling the blank page. But, as mom said, use what talents  you possess….”

Only rarely is there any money to be made in most writing work, much less creative writing. Not that we shouldn’t try.  The late Pulitzer-winning, TIME magazine theater critic William A. Henry III claimed to believe that only a fool writes for anything but money.  He and I were colleagues at the Boston Globe when he was the Yale-educated, 20-year-old newsroom wunderkind and I was a glorified copy boy.  He wrote pure, confident, grammatically flawless simple as well as compound sentence. But his light faded suddenly when he died of a heart attack in a London hotel at the age of 44.

For writers, time is of the essence. We cannot always wait for the fermentation process to begin before we put pen to paper or finger to keyboard.

Stephen King, to cite one famous example, makes lots of money. But I truly don’t think money was ever his motive in setting out on a writing career. He is to be admired for his seemingly obsessive and prolific pursuit of multiple story lines. Sure, he makes money as his books sell and get made into movies and TV series. But I believe he is simply driven to tell stories, and is lucky enough to love writing  in the wildly popular genre of horror. And, though I’ve read little of his work, I get the sense that he never lets the perfect be the enemy of the good. He’s prolific because he’s not in search of the mot juste. He just lets his imagination fly onto the page. (Extending the fermentation metaphor, I sense that he sells many narrative bottles of wine and lager before their time — and millions eagerly drink them down, just fine with the taste.)

Summing up, I would like to remain a television or documentary performer in some fashion while I still have a voice, on-camera skills and an abiding love of the world of the media and the people who labor in it. Perhaps I could make a little money that way. I need the money. But I’m primarily a writer. I don’t write RETIRED on my tax forms. I write — WRITER.

So, wish me luck.

POSTSCRIPT: Here’s an excerpt — a quick sample — of something that appeared in an MIT news release a few years back encouraging people to enroll in a course on Fermentation Technology. It was being offered in the Institute’s Professional Education division, an extensive and popular post-graduate curriculum of on-line or on-campus courses for technology professionals seeking to get up to date on new developments in their industry. Did I write it? I think I wrote some or most of it, or fashioned it out of existing course catalogue material, sometimes admittedly lifting whole phrases. This was safer than adjusting words and risk changing the precise technological meaning some tech-savvy catgalogue writer had crafted before me.

It reads:


“If you’re going to borrow ideas from nature, the first step is to understand how nature works.”

That laboratory rule-of-thumb has guided MIT Chemical Engineering Professor Dr.Kristala Jones Prather in her groundbreaking work on bacteria.           Dr. Jones Prather will be one of your instructors if you sign up for the MIT Professional Education short program, Fermentation Technology

Dr Prather Jones will be a principle lecturer in the course being offered July 29-August 2 on the MIT campus.




What are the clinical implications of bioprocesses?

          What is the biological basis for industrial fermentations and cell cultures?

          What are the economics of bioprocess simulation?

  • You’ll examine bioractor operations in bacterial and mammalian cell systems.

         The aim of the course is to review fundamentals and provide an up-to-date account of current knowledge in biological and biochemical technology. The lectures will emphasize the place and perspectives on biological systems with industrial practices.

More than half of the lectures are currently working in industry or have industrial experience.


The course is intended for engineers, biologists, chemists, microbiologists and biochemists who are interested in the areas of biological systems in prokaryotic and eukaryotic hosts. If you are generally familiar with general aspects of modern biology, genetics, biochemical engineering and biochemistry and have a general knowledge of mathematics, this might be the course for you.


Professionals who’ve previously taken this long-running course say it’s given them real-world tools for dealing with day-to-day challenges in their workplaces:

          “Í’s a great overview of fermentation theories incorporating all aspects from research down to manufacturing functions.”

–Associate Scientists, Glaxosmithkline Biological, North America

“The instructors provided a broad range of experience both in industry and academia. They went beyond the curriculum and provided real-world examples.”

–Sales Operations Manager, Finesse Solutions

          “This course allows me to ask better questions when I develop automation control solutions for my manufacturing science counterparts.”

          —Automation Engineer, Genentech





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