There were two years I celebrated this past week: 1776, when the United States declared independence; and 1983, when my first column appeared (in early July) in the Los Banos Enterprise. Yes, today’s column means I’ve been a columnist for 35 years.
First, I need to thank all the editors and publishers who have put up with me over the years, while journalism has taken so many twists and turns.
Second, I’d like to thank my readers. They’ve been willing to peruse a miscellany of columns over the past three and a half decades and have encouraged me to keep doing something I enjoy — writing.
I guess I’ve always been a writer, or a person who likes writing, at least going back to my sophomore year in high school, when Father Dismas required that I and the rest of his students write an essay a week. I found writing tough going, but strangely satisfying. I even sensed, at times, that I was getting a kind of “high” from it.
I continued writing through my college years, when I worked on the school newspaper. After college I had a summer job as the sports editor of a suburban Chicago daily. When I moved to Los Banos in 1971, I wrote press releases for the Los Banos Campus of Merced College. Then in the summer of 1983 I worked as a full-time Enterprise reporter, and that’s when one my colleagues suggested I write a column.
And here I am still writing 35 years later, churning out a short essay a week just as I did in Father Dismas’s high school English class. I enjoy it even more today than I did in 1964.
Much of my column writing is personal, revealing thoughts, opinions and experiences to my readers as I engage in a convivial conversation with them. Some readers find enough in my writing to return to subsequent columns in print or on the Enterprise web site.
I hope my readers sense that I’m trying to share with them a little of what we fellow Los Banosans, Californians, Americans and humans have in common. I try to find topics and ideas that bring us together, rather than drive us apart. (Lord knows we have more than enough of divisive talk and writing these days.)
Hoping readers empathize with my thoughts and feelings is big expectation, but one I have each week. I trust that my words are not just sounds made in a lonely forest but ideas my readers connect with, even though these readers are invisible to me, just as I am invisible to them.
I do hear from my readers every now and then – in grocery and drug stores, in bars and restaurants and sometimes in print when they email me or write a letter. Mostly they say they like reading my column, and I take them at their word, recognizing that some just might want to make me feel good.
As I reflect today I also realize I’ve been in some ways writing a memoir over the past 35 years, not delivering a tightly knit narrative of my life, but presenting a series of verbal photographs of myself. It’s not that I’m anyone special, just a guy trying to make sense out of life, just as my readers are trying to make sense out of theirs.
Maybe in this bonding of writer (me) and readers (you), we achieve a sense of commonality, a feeling that we’re all in this together, even when you and I don’t see eye to eye. As my friend David said to me the other day, “John, I didn’t agree at all with your last column, but I liked reading it.”
I feel that folks reading my column experience many of the same emotions in life I do, many of same puzzles and insights, some of the same epiphanies – whether I’m writing about my family members or friends, about my community or my world, about books or “real life,” about living or dying.
I’m grateful to readers like Ben, a friend a little older than I am who’s been reading my columns since I started writing them. When he comes up to me in the grocery store and says in a very brief, gentle way, “Thanks, John, for writing your column,” I get all the feedback I need to keep on writing.
And so, dear reader, I leave you with a simple and heartfelt closing for putting up with me for however long you have: Thank you for listening to what I have to say, pondering it and recognizing that we’re all in this challenging but wonderful project of life together.