As they said at the circus, it’s time to empty the cages and pitch the tents.
Consider this 2.0 retirement column.
Memorial Day is my birthday, and a chance to reflect on the fact that I have a few months left before I spend half my life at the Statesman Journal.
Not my professional life in the press; it would add another decade and change. No, that’s been half of my whole life.
My decision to stop writing a regular weekly column for the SJ is somewhat of a selfish decision.
This means I can go fishing, camping, hiking, and backpacking without having to lug around the Nikon, my digital recorder, a notebook, and a mechanical pencil.
Note for aspiring outdoor doodlers: Pens work when wet.
In fact, this is my fifth or sixth attempt to write one last column in two weeks.
I did drafts of ‘career in review’, ‘highlights and low points’ and other summary style formats.
I’ve finally come to the conclusion that anyone who’s read me over the decades knows all about it, warts and all. And those who haven’t read the articles and reviews will have no idea what I’m saying.
Doing the math and deducting one year for the time between retirement 1.0 on October 30, 2015 and returning to part-time active duty in 2016, that’s about 1,300 weekly outdoor columns.
The late Hall of Famer Ted “the Splendid Splinter” Williams once said, “Baseball is the only business where a man can score three times out of 10 and be considered a good player.”
I hope indulgent readers will give me the same leeway.
A wretch stained with ink
All in all it was a nice ride.
My father used to say that the best thing about teaching was that the work was different every day.
This analogy applies in spades to being among what were once called the “ink-stained wretches” of the press corps.
Ink stains are gone in the digital age, as are darkrooms, enlargers and chemical baths for film.
But the people, both in the press and among the public, remain largely the same.
The former are always a dedicated cadre of truth tellers and fact checkers. The greatest humiliation comes when you have to write a correction or, God help you, a retraction.
Like being a scientist, which was my first ambition at university, the truth counts above all for journalists in the written press.
Truth be told, the greatest joy of my career as a columnist has been making someone famous, even briefly.
There have been times when a framed laminated article about a big fish, an achievement, or even a restaurant review, is displayed on the wall of a sporting goods store, home, or hot dog shop with my signature on it.
All the treasured McNuggets of a personal story.
When it comes to a purpose, it doesn’t get any better than that.
At the start of a small weekly – we used to say ironically that we “published weakly” – there was a mantra among the three editors: “Why the hell would anyone want to read this?”
Making it personal, making it interesting, just making it interesting to read became the credo.
And that has always been the goal.
Like the Splendid Splinter, the hope is that the columns and articles measured a good chunk of time.
Everyone has a story to tell.
And if you dig hard enough, almost all of them are worth telling if you do it convincingly.
Column no. 1
If you’ll allow me to digress, I’d like to tell you about the first outdoor column I ever wrote in this small Southern California weekly nearly half a century ago.
It was the story of a motley group of pensioners who gathered almost daily to tell lies and fish, mostly unsuccessfully, for halibut off Goleta Pier.
The central character of the play was Louie, a retired railroad worker from Louisiana, whom he called Looooz-E-anna in his Southern drawl.
Thinking back, he also referred to the fish he was chasing as “halibut.”
After retiring, Louie had been persuaded to move to Goleta by his son who worked at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Reader reviews of the inaugural column were mixed.
Crickets from readers and tears of gratitude from Louie for recognizing that his life and experiences were worth telling.
That intimate and personal experience at the Studs Terkel of telling everyone’s story has kept me hooked to do so ever since.
Thank you, Louie.
And thank you all for the memories.
Like I said, it was a nice ride.
THOUGHTS OF THE WEEK: Live your life like someone is going to write about it, and your mom can edit the draft.
Contact Henry via email at HenryMillerSJ@gmail.com