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Five years later, there are still lessons to learn

Sunday, April 10, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:38 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

This year is filled with notable anniversaries, but there is one I only discovered recently. I have been writing this column for five years this month. So I thought a trip down memory lane was in order.

I remember being approached by a newsroom editor who asked if I wanted to write a column for the “new” Taste section. I was told I could write about anything my heart desired — with a few rules. I wasn’t allowed to write hard-hitting editorials about local or national issues. Being the token conservative in the newsroom, I knew that rule was a given. And the column wasn’t to be a preachy epistle about how “together” we can change the world. My mission was to write a light-weight missive about life — and, oh yeah, could I make it humorous?

I figured this adventure would last for a month or so until either I ran out of material or someone in the newsroom got up the nerve to tell me my column stunk.

I spent a week trying to decide about what topics I would explore. At first I thought a column about my grandkids would be cute. I would call it “Grammy’s notebook.” But though I love to talk about the 14 little darlings (only 12 back then), I wondered about the appeal to the readers. Then I thought I’d delve into the deep mysteries of midlife, but again I thought that the subject would attract a limited audience. I finally decided to keep my options open and write about myriad topics.

My first column was met with “constructive” criticism from a Journalism School colleague. She e-mailed me to say that though the column was “cute,” I took too long to make my point.

Keeping that in mind, I made my point in the next column right away. And right away I got an e-mail from an offended reader who said I had a lot of gall for writing that I preferred being called Grammy over Grandma.

I was shocked. I had no idea my column would offend anyone; I was just trying to be humorous. I started checking each column for possible hurt-feelings factors.

Three months into the gig, I was enjoying writing the 900-word piece. I was getting one or two e-mails each week with positive feedback. Then I wrote a column about grocery shopping and the niceties ended. The general manager of the Missourian was furious that I wrote I hated grocery shopping. She said I had angered all grocers who advertise in our newspaper. I also got an e-mail from a young mother who said I was “intolerant” when I noted that I avoided a mom pushing a cart filled with five toddlers — two were fighting, two were whining while pulling items off the shelf and the infant was in full scream.

After that, I stayed away from controversial issues, focusing more on poking fun at myself. Apparently self-abuse was a winner because I got several “you go, girl” e-mails.

I remember at the end of the first year writing a lengthy poem I titled “Ode to the season.” It took hours to craft the verse, but I thought the finished product was good. Then I was called into the new boss’s office. He told me I was never to write another poem again. He

didn’t praise me for making it rhyme.

By the end of the second year, I realized that my column had become a “dear diary” of sorts. All I had to do was sit down and review the previous week and something would pop out. It has helped that I have a large family.

At last count I have written 28 columns about my weight, and lest you middle-aged men forget what we have to endure, I’ve mentioned menopause monthly. I have enough columns about grandkids to publish a book and have talked about my long-suffering husband in more than 300 paragraphs.

I have been recognized on the street, which I find fascinating because I no longer look anything like my column mug. My favorite story is the woman who came up to me and said she appreciated all my hard work. I was truly flattered until she mentioned the Mid-Missouri Food Bank. I told her she was talking about my sister.

It’s been a fun five years with only an occasional writer’s block. I’ve learned that is doesn’t matter where we live or what we make; our lives have a million similarities. I’ve learned some of you still take this column way too seriously. And I’ve learned not to take it personally when you write to disagree.

If you have a comment or want to read my poetry please e-mail me at jdh@socket.net


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