Writing a column is easy, I’ve always maintained. It’s finding the topic that’s the hard part. When I first started out, I always had two backup topics: my kids and my pets. I would write about my older son’s long hair, my daughter’s search for a prom dress, driving lessons, algebra quizzes. Then there was the dog, an unending source of adorableness and mischief.
One day a woman came into the office and asked to speak to me. Her name was Doris. She was always writing angry letters to the editor and I most often tried to avoid her. But when she said she wanted to discuss my columns, I preened in anticipation of expected praise.
She said, “You know how you always write about your children?” “Yes,” I simpered, wondering which of my latest offerings she loved enough to make the trip in to chat with me. “Well,” Doris said, “I’ve got two words for you.” “And they are?” I asked coyly. “Who cares!” she spit out, putting a knife in my heart.
“I don’t care about your kids,” she went on and then told me how bored she had been by my children’s magnificent accomplishments. She said she had no need to hear the details of every report card or single-handed sports victory. She had no interest in the colleges they applied to or the joy/heartbreak upon acceptance/rejection. She even said, that should I have grandchildren, she would not be interested in them either.
And the dog! She did not find him fascinating. She wouldn’t even glance at the framed picture of him on my desk.
I told her I write about what I know and the things I know best were my brilliant and beautiful offspring, and my handsome and talented dog.
“Learn about something else,” she snarled, and flew off.
She really made me think and I started applying the “who cares factor” in pieces that it was my job to edit. One of the reporters told me she would like to do an opinion piece for our newspaper and I was delighted. Would she opine about the conflict in the Mideast, I wondered. Would she discuss the problems of single parenting? Global warming? Civil rights? She handed in her piece and waited anxiously for my reaction. She had written about the perils of choosing one’s perfume.
“Who cares?” I thought with a self-righteous sigh.
Over the years, I’ve tried to write about topics that have some broad appeal. Living in Vermont offers treasures of topics about the weather, the tourists and exercise. I don’t write about politics because I’m too one sided.
Sometimes I will finish a column and then read it out loud to myself in a kind of Andy Rooney whine. It usually sounded pretty good that way. His content seldom focuses on kids and dogs, well, maybe his cat. And everybody cares about what he says, because he’s funny.
This is the 100th column that I have written for the Observer and when I look back on some of the stuff I have produced, I think most of it offers something of interest.
I may have to look long and hard for topics occasionally but they usually pop into my head just in time for deadline.
And then, there’s always my cat who does just the cutest things.