Week in, week out, I sit at this computer and bang out a column. It’s pretty much my space in the paper. Some weeks, the column literally writes itself. The subject matter is so obvious a blind man could swing a bat and hit it. Other weeks, it’s a little bit more difficult.
I first met The News & Observer’s great columnist Dennis Rogers at an N.C. Press Association meeting many years ago. I had long heard the argument between those who said a column should remark on the news of the day and those who said personal observations about personal events were fair game.
What, I wondered, did Rogers think about that? He had written a great many columns over his career, some intensely personal, others in which he was merely an observer.
It’s OK, to write about personal topics, he said, as long as there’s a larger point.
Fair enough, I thought. That would be a good philosophy. Readers will, of course, judge whether I’ve been true to that admonition. But I’m always impressed by the topics that draw the most comments from readers.
Dogs, believe it or not, are at the top of the list. I’ve written from time to time about my pets – about the joy they give me, the way the frustrate me, how much it hurts when I lose them. I’ve had readers write me to tell me about losing their own pets, how much my dog looked like their dog, how I could cure my dog of a bad habit. All those comments are valued more highly than any of the writers probably will ever know.
Other columns have been about the needs of others and how readers can help. And it has been gratifying to watch as people rise up and help total strangers simply because they have the resources to do so and they read about the need in this space.
Sometimes the columns have not been well-received. I’ve been called a Democrat by Republicans, a Republican by Democrats (sometimes based on what the readers read in the same column) and a fair number of things unprintable in a family newspaper.
When I first started writing a weekly column some 21 years ago, I wrote about nothing more important than the confounding art of cooking macaroni and cheese from a box for the first time. It drew howls of laughter from co-workers and readers and even an invitation to dinner from a little old widow lady who took pity on me.
My first news editor, Jimmy Allen, always wanted me to write a column in the sports section I produced in the Wake Forest newspaper. I never could bring myself to do it. I didn’t have that much to say, I thought. I might be able to write one or two, but then I was sure my well of ideas would dry up. I didn’t start writing them until I started my second newspaper job and my new boss told me, simply, I would write one each week.
Thankfully, the well hasn’t run dry yet. I try to be observant of the things that happen around me and I certainly keep up with the news. But I would love, love, love it if you, dear reader, would take a moment and drop me a note about something you think is column-worthy. There is always room for a great idea.