Archive for Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Be thankful you’re not a columnist

November 25, 2008

Writing a column ought to be easy. After all, you just sit down and write, right?

Actually, it can be difficult. It’s not the writing that’s such a problem, of course: it’s deciding what to write about. Until you find a topic on which you can expand, a blank page — or, in today’s world, a blank computer screen — is a daunting prospect, the stuff of cold chills and sweaty, sleepless nights.

Several writers have commented on this. Bill Vaughan, the late humorist of the Kansas City Star, once wrote that writing a column is like being married to a nymphomaniac. It’s great at first, but before long, you begin to wonder how long you’ll be able to produce. The late great Red Smith said it was easy: “All you do is sit down and open a vein.”

Writing a weekly column, you sort of get into a pattern. The deadline I’ve set for myself is noon on Monday, and I usually make that OK. Once that hurdle is surmounted, it’s clear sailing — until Friday or so. Usually about Friday I start thinking about what the topic will be for the next week. It will stay there, more or less at the back of my mind, through the weekend. Usually by the time I go to bed Sunday night I’ll have something in mind.

Occasionally, however, I find that a topic that I’ve selected just won’t work. Or, rarely, I’ll start going one way and the column will just sort of take over and head off in a completely different direction.

Sometimes, the calendar suggests a topic, and that’s the case this week. Thursday is Thanksgiving, so what better way to mark the holiday than by counting one’s blessings, as it were?

First, of course, there’s family. I have a wife who loves me — and, what I find to be every bit as important at this stage of my life — puts up with me and my infirmities and most of my shortcomings. I have three children who seem to be more or less launched on productive lives of their own, and three grandchildren (with more hopefully to come) whom we can watch grow into adulthood.

I still have my health, or most of it, and most of my faculties. I just move a little slower than I used to. I can still see well enough, and hear well enough — although the latter capability is contested by some.

There are a lot of good books still unread. For that matter, there are a lot of old favorites that I enjoy reading almost as much as I did the first time — or, in several cases, the third or fourth.

I’m glad to live in America. There are places in Europe and elsewhere with great charm, but on balance we’ve got it all. I think it was Ben Franklin who said something to the effect that democracy isn’t perfect, it’s just the best we’ve come up with so far.

I’m glad to live in Kansas. Other locales have their appeal, but I like living in a place that has four recognizable seasons without any great extremes. I heard the other day that in Nunavut, the northernmost province in Canada that was formerly the eastern part of the Northwest Territories before it was split off in 1999, they give the temperature in “minutes to frostbite.” I complain about the cold as much as anyone, but our cold here is small potatoes compared to that. Similarly, Kansas summers may be hot, but I remember stopping for gasoline years ago in Gila Bend, Ariz., on a drive from San Diego to Flagstaff. The thermometer outside the filling station said 119 degrees. Inside, a sign said simply, “But it’s a dry heat!” Thanks, I’ll take Kansas over those extremes any day.

Good neighbors are a boon as well. This includes not only the friends who live close by, but groups and organizations in the community who make life easier, such as those at Vaughn-Trent Community Services and Basehor-Linwood Assistance Services.

Above all, we should just be thankful for life, with all its complications and complexities. As the fellow said, it sure beats the alternative.

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