So this is what’s going to happen next week:
A few days back, a regular reader and sometime commenter who goes by the name of Mr. Mark sent me an email after I’d mentioned a column I wrote back in the day. He said he had a pretty big file of my old newspaper columns, which he’d saved when he was reading me in the paper (or on the paper’s website) at the dawn of the decade — roughly 2001-2003, when I left on a sabbatical fellowship. What’s more, it was all in .doc format.
Generally speaking, I despise 90 percent of what I write, especially the stuff I wrote for the paper, because…well, a lot of reasons. Mostly I’m just sick of newspaper columns in general, with their calcified structure: Open with anecdote, tie it to larger point, state your position, respectfully acknowledge opposition, regretfully disagree, finish, hit the bar. (That’s the columnists lucky enough to have freedom to state a point of view, I should add, a fast-shrinking group. Lots of editors think columnists should basically be feature writers who get a picture with their byline, and shrink from the personal pronoun. “Who cares what you think? Who made you such an authority?” they might ask at the Christmas party, to which the writer might reply, you did.)
I wasn’t immune to this. Once you learn it, it’s easy, like outlining a romantic comedy. The fact others find it difficult doesn’t make it a rare and valuable skill (unless you’re Mitch Albom), only an obscure one. But never mind that.
When I was writing my column, I only had to go through my own work product once a year, at contest time. A detail I recall from a many-years-past, great WashPost profile of the author of “Mandingo” was that he refused to self-edit in any way. “Do you expect me to return to my own vomit?” he would ask his son, who did the chore instead. I totally get that. Totally. It was agonizing, and going through this file kept by Mark wasn’t that much easier, but what the hell, it came at the right time. In lieu of new material while I’m on vacation, how about some really old material that’s still new to most of you — five of my old newspaper columns?
I know, I know: Curb your enthusiasm!
I’ll run them Monday through Friday next week, and they’re all loaded up, ready to go with WordPress’ scheduling feature set to release them at 12:05 a.m. (In fact, I’m writing this a few days early, so I can check out that very feature and fix it, if need be.) I’ve put notes on them explaining background when necessary, and you’re free to talk about them or, as usual, whatever else you want, in comments. I’ll read them all when I have internet access, which will be intermittently through the week.
I guess this brings up matters of copyright, and I have thunk on that a bit. I’ve decided to plunge ahead and use them without permission, mainly because, a) I’m busy this week and don’t want to call or write the new publisher and get ensnared in what likely will be a knee-jerk “no;” b) while I assume the purchase price of the paper included its archive, I can’t be sure; and c) it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission. That’ll have to do. In any event, I’ll note here that the next five days of material probably belongs to The News-Sentinel, an Ogden Newspapers property of Fort Wayne, Indiana. I’m sure if the owners of the Pittsburgh Pirates thought they could squeeze a nickel out of my decade-old work, they’d have done it by now.
So. Have a great week, all. I’ll be in and out, most likely, but I’m warned to expect half-a-bar cell coverage and very little 3G, and besides, I need a break. I’m concentrating on reading, writing something other than this and seeing all the Upper Peninsula has to offer. I hope it’s not snow. Enjoy the wayback machine, and I’ll be back on the 22nd.