Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 26, 2017
Words! Words! Words!
I'm so sick of words!
I get words all day through;
First from him, now from you!
Is that all you blighters can do?
Those are the lead-in lines to the song “Show me” from the musical “My Fair Lady.” They are spoken by Eliza, who would like her suitor to shift from all talk to a little more action.
But if they were uttered by a speaker at a convention of journalists, I’m afraid all of us would have to shout, “Yes!” Words are pretty much all we have.
Husband Art, an engineer by training, sometimes laughs at me and the predicament we journalists and many of our colleagues in the arts and so-called soft sciences face. He likes to point out that those who make their living in his area always know where they stand because they have an indifferent and inflexible judge - Mother Nature. Mother always lets them know immediately whether they are doing something properly, and no one gets an “A” just for effort.
But journalists, like violinists or painters or chefs, are graded subjectively. Typically, people in these professions rely on the opinion of two groups: the people for whom they do what they do and individuals considered experts in their field.
Writing is also a craft - something a person can get better at only with practice. So back in November 2001, part of my motivation in deciding to write a column was to guard against the criticism: “Those who can, do; those who cannot, teach.”But it was only part of my motivation. While there have been some weeks when I’ve struggled to find a topic that I hoped was interesting, most have been fun to write. How else could I have zipped past the 15-year mark without noticing - until Art recently drew my attention to that fact.
A few things have changed along the journey. At the beginning, Romelle Van Sickle was the editor of the Riley Countian in nearby Riley, Kansas. My newsprint-and-ink journalism background combined with her interest in having the column in her paper nudged me to take the leap.
The first column was little more than an opening “Hello” to which Romelle appended the following: “(Gloria Freeland and her husband, Art Vaughan, live in Keats. Their daughters, Mariya and Katherine, attend Riley County schools.)” The first part is still true, but the girls’ Riley County days are long gone. Mariya now works at Kansas State University and has passed the 30-year age mark. Katie, six years behind her big sister, is teaching in the Junction City school district.
Romelle retired some years back and Donna Sullivan took over. In 2010, Donna decided she wanted to make the paper a bit more “hard news” in composition. I thought about approaching several other local papers, but Art convinced me to go a different direction. I had long wanted to include photos, but traditional newspapers just don’t do that with columns. Furthermore, on a good news week, a column is the first thing bumped to gain space. His suggestion was to “get with it” and go online so I could reach people spread over a greater distance. So it was one of those changes that first appeared to be a bad thing, but turned into a good thing.
When I began, Romelle wanted some sort of graphic that would immediately identify the column for the reader. While I continued that logo - a clip of a film negative strip - to the online version, it really needs an overhaul. While I was once a constant consumer of the 35-millimeter film pictured, digital cameras pretty well killed that technology. For the online version, Art added a photo of me to the strip, but I’ve changed a bit since then. My cataract surgery two years ago means I now only wear glasses for reading. I’m also older, but I will pretend I still look the same.
Everyone benefits by an editor, and Art has been mine. Around the time I approached the 10-year mark, he decided to go through all the columns and catagorize them. It sounded like fun to see what areas I concentrate on and which I may have overlooked. So we established nice categories like children, family, history, holidays and so on. Art made it through about three years of columns before he called it quits. A column dealing with the girls interacting with their grandparents at Christmas and comparing it to how things were when we were young would fit so many categories.
We’ve set an upper limit of 1,000 words and if my first draft goes over, Art starts chopping. But except for my earliest ones, I am usually pretty close to that word count. Art pointed out that over 15 years, the total is nearly 750,000 words. The longest book most have heard of is “Les Miserables,” which comes in at 650,000 words. A typical novel is about 10 percent of that figure. The Harry Potter series was a little more than a million words. These comparisons make me appreciate authors’ efforts even more than I did before.
But why am I mentioning this now? Why not last November? The answer relates to my earlier mention of the need for peer review. Earlier in the year, I submitted two of last year’s columns in a contest conducted by a professional journalism group and recently received the results (awards). While it was nice to be recognized, I think the judge’s comments may be the most useful.
Art can also look at what are called the “web analytics” and see when most people read the column and what browsers they use and any number of other things. But if you have any comments, corrections, suggestions or just an observation, don’t hesitate to write. After all, words are all I have!
Logo used with the online column. The 35 mm filmstrip is a thing of the past as are my glasses - except when I read. The sunflower photo was taken in a field near Goodland, Kansas while visting an anniversary party that led to the column "Wedding cake in western Kansas".