Thursday, August 19, 2004

Coffee Break's Over, Everyone Back on Your Heads

Well, that's a punchline to an old joke, isn't it? My employing it is a way of indicating that the gala, even raucous, celebration of my 50th post is OVAH -- some of you are no longer welcome in my home; some of you will not get your deposit back. It is also an example of an "inside" comment made by a columnist with the full understanding, or at least hope, that only some readers will get it and then will love the columnist all the more for the sheer delicious exclusivity of it.

The relationship between a columnist and his readers is just another example of insider trading. The rest of you: Google and ye shall find. You really shall.

But the gala celebration is over. Post I must and post I will. It has been said of many a writer that he did not enjoy writing but he enjoyed having written. With "column" writing, deadlines make the writing less onerous -- if you write several times a week your work is never of its mother born but always from the womb of that muse mother untimely ripped. You know you have to let it go, and how sweet to see if off screen and out of mind. But so very soon here's another one that needs writing!

It was fun soaking up all the kudos like a free pitcher of daiquiris. Now, back to work.

Yet whynot whynot whynot recycle the email celebrating my 50th that I sent out to various friends and acquaintances and colleagues asking them to do my work for me, i.e., give me more ideas about, and questions to ask about, newspaper column writing.? I'm getting some responses. Cool. Also, that email gave me the opportunity to decide what my greatest hits have been, not the happiest of exercises and one that will keep me writing for another 50 posts.

Here's the email for all you lurkers out there everywhere:

You are invited to take part in the gala celebration of my 50th post taking place at my weblog Column*Which, now in its fourth month of existence.

It takes a community to raise a child. It will take a community to get me promoted to full professor. You have been selected to receive this email because you are the best and the brightest people I know. (I don’t get out much, never have.) I am asking you not just to peruse my blog but to comment – not praising or blaming but helping me in my scholarly enterprise, which is explained so beautifully in the Column*Which introduction ….

I suppose I can explain it here, too. I’m working on a book on newspaper column writing, and my idea is that writing a “column” online – meeting deadlines, thinking about my audience, deciding just how confessional (sex life, drugs, Republican tendencies, etc.) I should be -- will help with my understanding of the process of column writing and will raise questions that I can ask real columnists when I return to that part of my research. So far, my pseudo-column has worked well. I have accumulated insights, some of which I’ve put in my “columns” for your intellectual stimulation and some of which seem so darned insightful that I haven’t put them online where rivals might see and steal. (Vain or merely paranoid? Hmmmm – hard choice between stupid and mentally ill.)

What I need from you is additional insight. Take five minutes and tell me: 1) What is it that characterizes the newspaper columns you like? I’m particularly interested in any ideas you have about what makes newspaper columns unique; or to put it another way, to what extent are they not just personal essays that happen to run in a newspaper; or to put it another way, in what way does being in a newspaper shape them in ways that no other venue would shape them?

2) What questions – other than the merely autobiographical -- would you ask a newspaper columnist you really admired? What has puzzled or intrigued or interested you about newspaper column writing?

3) If you are now or have ever been a columnist, reframe the previous two questions from an I-ish point of view. Everyone who has a good idea that I use gets a footnote -- everybody. I’ll put in a bowl the names of all those who respond in any way (including those of you who will respond with the abuse which for some of you is the only way you can say I love him so much) and pull out a winner, who will get a bottle of something or other, no, better than that – A’s-Red Sox tickets!!

Most of my recent “columns” have been personal because I sensed some avoidance of emotion in my column writing early on; that is, I felt greater comfort writing about column writing rather than actually writing a column, so as far as focus is concerned, this is a work in progress. If you have time to read only one column, here are some suggestions from earlier in the process:

* 8/11 Fool’s Parade, my most recent post on the nature of column writing

* 8/5 She Doth Teach the Torches to Burn Bright, broad-brush humor for Shakespeare lovers with a sexy picture at the end

* 7/30 I Remember Herb Caen, some impressions of Herb Caen that may or may not be rooted in reality

* 7/28 Maria Maria, which is a little a bit about my drinking habits and a little bit about where I work

* 7/25 To Die To Sleep, a rumination on death prompted by my visit to Torri Minton shortly before she died

* 7/23 The Dog with Half a Face is just what it says

* 7/20, 7/18, 7/16 all discuss the Jon Carroll column *

* 7/5 Me and Michael, or how I look like Michael Moore, I think

* 6/28 Who’s on First, What’s in the Barrel…, a discussion of inside jokes in David Kipen and Ray Ratto...

* 6/14 "You stand at the blackboard, daddy .... A cleft in your chin instead of your foot," in which I explore how Adair Lara used her dad in her column and I speculate on why she lost her column

1 comment:

G Pabst said...

Oh, yeah.

And I most like a columnist for the same reason that Jessica loved Roger Rabbit.

"He makes me laugh."