About every dozen years or so, I go through my trusty writing machine (a Macintosh Classic I got used 15 years ago; screen comes in two colors--black and white!--and she still rides like a dream) and clear out the false starts. See, for every completed column you read, there's apt to be a false start. Maybe two or three.
Sometimes I get halfway through a regulation-sized column, or even further, before I realize I've taken a wrong turn somewhere and am heading into a dead end. More often, I quit after a sentence or two, either thinking I'll get back to it and then forgetting the point I intended to make, or not having any idea of a point to make in the first place. (Not long ago, I started one based solely on a title I liked, and still like, very much. The title is "What Would Thoreau Do?," and in my mind, it would have been an extremely cool column, had I been able to think of even one damn idea to go with it.)
(Note to self: Try rereading Walden and see if anything pops into head.)
Every now and then, something happens that so overpowers whatever I've started that I have no choice but to leave it behind and go in the new direction. For example, on Sept. 10, 2001, I was working on a piece about the differences between sarcasm and bitterness. Then on Sept. 11, 2001, something else came up.
But that's not to say what I'd already written was crap. It just means that, after the gaping trauma of 9/11, then the invasion of Afghanistan, then the invasion of Iraq, then the deterioration of the Bush administration into little more than a pack of lying hyenas, then the re-election of the lying hyenas, then Hurricane Katrina, then the election of America's first black president, then the resurgence of the lying hyenas (new name: "Tea Party"), then the re-election of America's first black president, along with a few other things that have happened since then--like my daughter going from age 11 to age 23 and our dog dying and Idaho's Legislature acting like it has never been outside of Bumpkinberg city limits--I forgot I'd ever even started a column on the difference between sarcasm and bitterness.
However, about every dozen years or so, I go through my trusty writing machine (a Macintosh Classic I got used 15 years ago; screen comes in two colors--black and white!--and she still rides like... hey, wait a minute. I already said that, didn't I? See, that's another thing that's happened since Sept. 10, 2001--I've gone from age 53 to age 65. Or is it 66?)
(Note to self: Ask wife how old I am.)
Anyway, the point being, as I was cleaning out those false starts I was telling you about, I came across that unfinished scrap about sarcasm and bitterness, and I've decided it's too good to throw away like some old Tijuana Brass 8-track the dog (now dead) chewed up.
And so, as I have yet to come up with a topic on which to write this week that interests me very much, that is what you're going to get--some stuff that goes back 12 years. Stuff that slipped off the desk when I got distracted watching the second plane fly into the South Tower and got lost under the sofa cushions of my mind.
The title I had chosen back then was "Curdled." Don't ask me why. It probably had something to do with how I intended to conclude the piece, but we'll never know now.
Not long ago, a casual acquaintance informed me he'd stopped reading what I write. Said I'd gotten bitter lately. "You're wrong," I said back. "I've been bitter all along. Ha!"
No, seriously, I can't recall what I replied. I was too shocked. Yes, I have indeed been bitter all along, that much is true, but I thought I was hiding it pretty well. Thought I had it under wraps, in the written word at least, if not in my day-to-day grumping about. And now here's someone telling me my sour side is peeking through. Boy, was I embarrassed. The guy might as well told me my Dockers were split out in back.
Now, I've never tried to hide the fact I'm sarcastic. Sarcasm to me is what sanctimony is to a TV preacher. It's what I sell. It's my journalistic raison d'etre --French for "bread and butter." Trouble is, the line between good-natured sarcasm and foul-tempered bitterness is as easy to cross as Main Street in Melba. It's all a matter of quantity. Get it? If a little of something causes sarcasm, then a lot of it causes bitterness. While a lone incident or two would only be grounds for sarcasm, a long history of such incidents would end up in bitterness. See what I mean?
Take, for instance, the matter of those...
"Cope! What you mean Obama ain't never gonna get impeached? I's abeggin' to differ!"
"Red, for God's sake, I'm in the middle of a column here. How'd you get in, anyway?"
"Y'r doggie-door has a loose hinge. An' another thing... who's do you think you is, calling my sweet home o' Murdian a mean-ass smear on the map?
"I believe I said 'A meaningless smear on the map.' But we can talk about this later, can't we? We'll do us a whole column together next week, OK?"
"But we's a wantin' Obama t' get impeached now, Cope. Right now! Afore folks forget all the scamdals what he caused! An' here's you sayin' he ain't done nuttin' to get impeached for."
(Note to self: Fix hinge on doggie door.)