I’ve recently decided that I’ve always wanted to be a columnist. Now, that sentence could have a coach and horses driven through it but its basic truth might stand up with a little explanation.
When I was at school there was a tortuous process that teachers had to go through to get me to write anything. It usually involved threats and they were often threats that came close to being carried out. I never got into serious trouble but I remember just how hard it was for me to have the confidence to put pen to paper for anything. It didn’t help that there was a reasonably large and, undoubtedly well-meaning, group of people around me who were interested in my education and how it was progressing. They would comment on the thank-you letters I wrote after Christmas, with special reference to the fact that my handwriting was so atrocious they couldn’t read them. This, of course, only made things worse, and to avoid those kinds of comments I would write less and less. The lack of practice and the lack of subsequent content sent all of this into a downward spiral.
I managed to pass exams as my formal education drew to its merciful close, and I’m sure there were parties in the staff room when it became obvious that the teaching workload would tail off considerably following my departure.
The strange thing is that this was around the time that I began to develop a fondness for expressing myself creatively using words on a page. When I didn’t have to I found it enjoyable to write things down. In my late teens I wrote reams of impenetrable poetry, full of adolescent angst and the realisation that I didn’t understand the world and my place in it. Of course, I know now that that lack of comprehension is perfectly normal for most people and it’s a healthy place to start a more rational informal education. Most of what I know and understand of the world is self-taught and has come after an education that realistically only consisted of learning to pass exams. And on the whole, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of simultaneously being both teacher and pupil. I know stuff because I’ve taken it upon myself to find out, to reason and to draw conclusions based on the evidence I’ve uncovered and noticed. I know stuff because I’ve wanted answers and wanted to learn. But, as they say, I digress.
A new-found ability to write, and the miracle audience that came with it where people actually enjoyed reading what I now discovered I could produce, led to me looking at other ways of expressing myself. I moved away from poetry and wrote plays; I wrote short stories and articles. If only the concept of the blog had been around then, I would have blown fuses and brought down servers. I would have made a name for myself. A few years ago I realised a long-held ambition and wrote a book. I still don’t have the confidence to make sure it gets published, and the achievement for me was in the writing of it, but I’m certain that it will all come together somehow, sometime.
Having said all that, I have a, probably rose-tinted, memory of always having enjoyed reading. So I’ve always known the power of words and the effect they can have. And even if it turns out that I didn’t really always know it, I certainly know it now. And that’s why I want to be a columnist, with a well-pronounced ‘n’ in it.
I really like the idea of writing a pithy, eight hundred words on any given, or acquired, subject; to let the imagination flow and take flight, or to let the bile flow and dribble away down the drain of human awareness. I’ve just looked in the Oxford English Dictionary, and the definition of ‘columnist’ is: ‘a journalist who writes a column in a newspaper or magazine’. That sounds really dull. It demonstrates the absolute lack of spark and imagination that I believe a columnist should have. I would want people to read and enjoy my writing. I would want people to nod sagely at the things they read and wish they had written them. I would want them to think that I was articulating their thoughts.
I have a favourite columnist. His name is Joe Bennett and he lives in New Zealand. He writes a column that appears in several local and national newspapers. I enjoy his writing enormously and he usually writes the things I think I think. I promise here and now that I will regularly write a column. It will be about anything and everything and it will be my view of the world, a window to look through on the absurdities of life and the joy of living.
And this has just become the first.