I'm fortunate to have this forum. Everyone likes to be heard.
Years ago, when I started 'From the Valley' I asked one of the best journalists ever — the late, great publisher/editor/writer, Mr. Robert (Bob) Waters — what areas, topic-wise, he thought I should choose, if I continued to keep this charade of a column going.
Charade: Bob knew that only through fluke happenstance did I ever get published in the first place. (But, he never objected to it.) I was in the newspaper office one day, dropping off an ad for a friend, when I was asked by his (Waters) then day-time editor, if I had my article ready. I told him he had mistaken me for someone else. “I don't write columns,” I explained. He shot back, “Do you want to?”
I told him I'd give it a shot. True story. Toughest interview ever.
Back to Mr. Waters: Knowing I was a novice who knew as much about being a newspaper columnist as I did about quantum physics, he advised (about topic choice – lest you forgot), “Thomas, you have a blank canvas. Never be tethered to one idea or field of thought. Go wherever your creativity takes you.”
I listened. And I've boldly gone to places where maybe I shouldn't have. I could have played it safe and stayed home. But I didn't. I have no regrets. Whether playing the devil's advocate or jokester looking for a laugh, eliciting feedback is the nature of the business. It's the juice that fuels this process because, quite simply, an involved, reactionary audience is the lifeblood of the craft.
When possible, I respond to all the comments I get, good and bad. Like I said, everyone likes to be heard … and acknowledged of the fact, that they were.
Interesting, huh?! Those of you who are still with me — and haven't left to count the number of fibers in your living room carpet — are about to be rewarded. I have something that you just might thank me for some day in the near future. Or whenever.
What's that mean? I received an e-mail, not long ago, from a gentleman by the name of E.R. Baxter III. Over the course of emailing back-and-forth, we've gotten to be “keyboard' pals, of sorts – or on the verge of such.
He offered some insight into my column; and compassionately stopped short of suggesting, I seek counseling. He was chagrined, he wrote - maybe, offended - that I had a reluctance to read books. He reacted to my confession like a vampire would to falling into a garlic patch or even worse, the president being forced to deal with reality, the truth, whatever. I was a bad boy. Shame on me.
'Who is this guy?' - I wondered. So I googled: ERBaxterIII.com. It's a website. (I think - I'm not that familiar with the language of modern technology.) I encourage you to do the same – so that you'll get to know who and what he is about. It's worth the look-and-see.
I've not the room to explain the breadth of this man's resume. But I can tell you this: he knows about writing; a lot about writing. In fact, he's an author, a retired-professor and just possibly, although it's not listed, a ventriloquist (maybe not) – among many other things.
I bought one of his books.”Niagara Digressions.” Baxter's ability to compose anecdotes and stories revolving around his youth in WNY, — with the history of the area as a backdrop — reads as smooth as polished marble. His dry-humor wraps the reader into a sense of contentment, not unlike the way a cardigan sweater comforts you in its warmth.
Get the point? For a non-reader, like myself, it was a worthwhile exercise. (And note, I'm not being paid; I'm trying to help someone. And that's you, the reader.)
So check it out. Christmas is coming - as are the long cabin-fever months of winter. Treat yourself or someone else.
Finally. Corny book joke: One book says to another book, “You look sick. Have you lost weight or what?”
“Yes,” the other book replies, “I had my appendix taken out.”
Ah-h … I'm really not interested in any feedback on that inexcusable morsel. But thanks, anyways.
Bob Waters, I miss you, my friend.
And that's the way it looks from the Valley.