I was amazed when people read the first one and I am still humbled and amazed when people tell me they are still reading them. One of the most important factors a writer can take into consideration is their audience. Who is the writer writing for?
I am writing for my people, Harlan Countians, Kentuckians, friends, family, students, parents of students, church family and ordinary everyday people. I know there are a lot more impressive columnists out there. I certainly am not in competition with any one of them. I’m sure some things I write about are of no interest to some people. Occasionally, I write something that seems to be of great interest to everybody.
Another important thing a writer must consider is their purpose in writing. A writer can write to entertain, inform, persuade, encourage, uplift, share a personal experience, inspire others, and on and on. I try to do all of those things at one time or the other.
Still another consideration for the writer is writing with their own personal voice, their own style. I write as I am. Sometimes I am as country as cornbread. Other times I might be more intellectual. Whatever comes out on the page, I guarantee it is purely me. I don’t try to be anybody else, impress anybody else, or give a false impression about anything. I am what I am and that has to be good enough. I am better at being me than anybody else on the planet, so why should I try to fool my readers, or take on airs?
One thing I’ve learned over all these years and columns is that when I write from the heart and tell the truth about things I’ve been through, felt, or hope to do, I am writing straight to the heart of somebody who will read the column and know exactly what I’m talking about. As human beings, we tend to feel alone way too often and afraid to let our “cat out of the bag.” But as humans, we all have similar needs, similar dreams, similar hurts and similar goals for the future. We are not alone. All too often we just try to keep our real selves hidden from critical eyes and ears because nobody wants to sound silly and nobody wants to be ridiculed or rejected.
After all this time, it is difficult to find something new to write about each week that I feel like will be interesting and encouraging to someone.
I really couldn’t make up my mind what I should write about this week. I think we’ve all seen and heard enough about Sandy the Frankenstorm to have nightmares about it. We’ve had enough election coverage to kill the donkey and the elephant. We’ve had enough speculation about the future of the country in the next four years to put gray hairs on our heads. I didn’t want to talk about any of those.
With all of the weighty matters in the news, I thought I would like to write about something really funny, but couldn’t think of anything long enough to make a whole newspaper column. The best kind of humor is when we can laugh at ourselves or laugh with others for doing silly things that we know we could just as easily have done.
I could tell the funny story about the awful smell in my classroom that remained a mystery until a student volunteered the fact that his shoes were probably the culprit. I could hardly believe that anyone’s shoes could smell so outrageously bad. I was actually dumb enough to take a whiff when he stuck his foot up and almost passed out! I literally gagged until I couldn’t breathe. How silly was I to do the sniff test?
I could tell the story about my students saying they had seen a rat near the building. I, of course, pictured a cute little 3-inch mouse with beady eyes and a long skinny tail. So I told them to calm down and stop over reacting. That is until I saw the river rat as big as a small possum go scurrying past and nearly had a heart attack. It probably measured 12 inches from tip of nose to the end where the tail started! I promptly rounded them up and went back to the classroom.
I could tell about getting to school, going all day long, getting home and realizing that I had three pair of glasses on. I had a pair on top of my head, a pair on my nose, and a pair hanging from my shirt collar! Am I invisible or what? Why in the world nobody mentioned that I had three pair of glasses on my person at the same time, I’ll never know!
I could talk about how aging does strange things to our ability to discern color — especially in the semi dawn hours when teachers are getting ready for school in dimly lit bedrooms. One day I got to school with a dark brown tank top under a shirt, a black pair of pants, and navy socks. I thought they were all BLACK! The funny part is that I’d had that garb on all day long and didn’t realize the mess until I was heading home in the sunlight!
I once wore a shoe of one kind and a shoe of another and didn’t realize it until I was at my destination. Luckily I had tennis shoes to put on — which didn’t match my clothes at all, but were at least from the same pair!
Sometimes people give me good ideas about things I could write about. I try my best to come up with a column on the topic they’ve requested. Ideas come from many different places.
I hope I will still be writing 800 columns from now and am still able to think of something worth saying. I have loved having the privilege of writing a weekly column for the Harlan Daily Enterprise. Someone asked me once how much I had to pay to have my column published each week. Believe it or not, I get paid a very small amount. But the money is not the reason I write — not by a long shot. I write because I love this place, the people who make this place so unique, and in the hopes that I will say something that helps another person have a better day for having read it.