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Fifteen years | Chuck's World


October 19, 2016

I’ve seen a lot of Bruce Springsteen lately, with his new book out and him being interviewed by everyone apparently able to borrow a microphone.

It’s not that he’s been a recluse. He’s just been a little more visible lately, and I’ve noticed something.

He must get the same questions hundreds of times, and still, when he hears one he wrinkles his brow and squints his eyes even tighter than he normally does. He looks a little discomfited, and then he starts to talk, slowly, sometimes hesitantly, sometimes fluently.

And I figured it out. He was just trying hard to tell the truth.

It’s harder than you think. Hiding nuggets of honesty in paragraphs of glittering, puffy clouds of nothing words is a whole lot easier, and lets you off the hook at the same time. It’s an easy trap to fall into.

I know all about this, by the way. All any of us has is our story, but tell only part of that story and what’s untold starts to look like disingenuousness, at least, if not dishonesty. When I say it’s a trap, I mean it.

I will tell you that the words I write in this newspaper are words I take very seriously, even the ones I misspell, and I wouldn’t lie to you. On purpose, anyway.

But the truth? The whole-nothing-but truth? The you-can’t-handle-the-truth truth? The squinty-eyed truth?

In most cases, you don’t want to know. In some, it’s none of your business, and whose business it is would probably not appreciate seeing it in a newspaper.

The rest is just personal statistical noise, trivia that nobody really wants to know, although sometimes that doesn’t stop me. I do take the whole subject of honesty seriously, though, as I said.

For example, Mr. Springsteen has been pretty open about his struggles with the dark nights of the soul, the bouts of deep depression that seemed only alleviated by grabbing a guitar and standing on a stage for three-plus hours, night after night.

This is something I share. I doubt it would come as a surprise to anyone who has read this column on any sort of regular basis, but yes. I’ve had times that were dismal but manageable, and other times when I was completely paralyzed by the sort of despair that’s impossible to convey to someone who’s never been there.

And, yes, I’ve been treated several times by medical and mental health professionals. I’ve taken medication. It’s OK. Lots of people are worse off.

Maybe some of them feel better when they hear that The Boss shares their pain. Maybe they’ll feel the same if they know that some guy who writes in the local paper does, too. I have no idea.

This is what makes truth so tricky.

It turns out I’ve been walking this interesting path between entertainment, observation and honesty for 15 years.

I had a nice conversation with my editor the other day about this. At what point does somebody who writes about nothing much in particular, most of it revolving around what he sees through his window on any given day, decide that he’s run out of gas?

It took me two years to get this column. Two years of writing emails and sample columns, trying to persuade a busy publisher that I had some ideas.

We finally met for coffee, a couple of weeks following the Sept. 11 attacks, discussed the nature of writing to time and space, with deadlines and word count maximums.

We talked about what a readership of this sort of newspaper might be looking for and what not.

My first column was published on Oct. 17, 2001. For a year it ran beside a picture of me that looked suspiciously as though it had been lifted from a hostage video.

I wrote about current events, local controversies, presidential elections and prayer in schools, but mostly I wrote about what it was like to be the father of a 16-year-old iron-willed daughter and an 11-year-old autistic son, the owner of a house that always seemed to be in the process of falling down, and a yard that kicked my butt every spring.

I wasn’t aiming for a Pulitzer, in other words, just trying to keep readers entertained for however long it took for their coffee or sandwich to get made.

All of those pieces, spanning 15 years, from the time I was a 43-year-old dad until today, the father of grown children and now with a 3-year-old diabetic grandson, make up my story and my truth.

I’ve been through four lawnmowers.

Eventually I moved more into full-time freelance writing, a world that’s changed tremendously since those early days. I’ve written four books. I’ve ghost-written more biographies and blog posts and advertising copy than I want to think about.

None of this made me rich or famous, or was even particularly profitable.

More truth, then: I failed at being a writer. I just couldn’t made it work, and barring something unexpected, I probably never will.

But, in some way, over these 15 years, I’ve finally found my identity. I’m not a writer; I’m a columnist. It’s what I do, and will continue until you or I decide it’s enough, that too much information is finally too much, or just too boring.

For the moment, though, I’m just grateful that you’re reading, and grateful that I got a chance, and even grateful that my lawn will never give me a break.

Sometimes this stuff just writes itself.


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