Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - November 26, 2021
1,000 and counting
By the fall of 2001, I was well past the 20-year mark in the journalism profession. But while I was enjoying teaching the
subject at Kansas State University, the occasional feature stories I wrote for various publications weren't sufficiently
scratching my writing itch. I was missing my newspaper years of researching stories and molding them into tales I hoped
were both entertaining and informative.
Still, with daughters aged 15 and 9, I was hesitant to add yet another thing to my plate. But one day I took the leap. I asked Romelle Van Sickle, the publisher of the Riley Countian, if she would have any interest in a column that would add contrast to the news items in her paper. She said she would, and suddenly my plate was heaped a bit higher.
When I mentioned my new venture to husband Art, he was startled at first, as I had never mentioned what I was considering. But he quickly moved on to thinking it would be fun to see what I would come up with.
When he asked to see one of my early efforts before I submitted it, I balked. He frowned and asked why. Art has always been "brutally honest" in his comments and I was concerned he might find an error. "Let me get this straight," he said, "if I find an error, that's terrible, but if the whole county sees it, that�s OK?" I had to laugh and quickly got over my hesitation. From that day forward, he's been what some call the "first reader."
A few changes have occurred over these 20 years. The Riley Countian was published on Thursday, but the column is now posted on Friday. Until early 2010, the column was just called "Snapshots," but when I switched from the newspaper to posting it online, I added "Kansas" to the title. Going online meant I could pair images with the text. I also doubled the length, as 500 words seemed a bit too few to adequately discuss many topics.
The English version of a Chinese proverb counsels us that "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step," suggesting that over time, those steps add up. Twenty years of columns sums to about 750,000 words. "Guinness World Records" says "Remembrance of Things Past" - with 9.609 million characters - is the longest book ever written. With an average of five letters and a space per word, that equates to 1.6 million words. The English version of "War and Peace" is about 600,000 words. Those figures give me a great appreciation of the accomplishments of authors Marcel Proust and Leo Tolstoy.
But unlike those famous authors, I've had the advantage of addressing a wide range of topics without having to blend them into a meaningful whole. So holidays, such as Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, and family celebrations, including birthdays, graduations and anniversaries, have been great sources of fodder. My love of history has meant I've focused, at times, on the soldiers of World War II, the end of The Great War, my Swedish ancestors' arrival in America, and Kansas State University's connection with a soldier lost in Operation Desert Storm.
But the largest grouping can best be called "miscellaneous" or "quirky." How else does one describe the Venn diagram of subjects that includes eating lutfisk suppers, visiting geographical markers, watching the sun rise on the summer solstice, measuring lengths in Smoot units, enjoying peonies and day lilies from our family farms, and so many more?
Another advantage of posting the column online is it has allowed readers to immediately respond. In some cases, comments have provided inspiration for subsequent efforts. I've been intrigued in regard to what topics have prompted reader comments. Art often has mentioned that famous football coach Vince Lombardi observed that, try as he might, he couldn't understand why the team played exceptionally well in about a quarter of its games, poorly in another quarter, and average in about half. I'm not sure how I would appraise my own efforts, but they certainly seem to me to vary substantially. Still, it isn't unusual for my personal evaluation to be quite at odds with the comments received from readers. Of course, a great response might just mean the subject resonated and not reflect the quality of what I wrote.
As the years have passed, Art has helped a lot with research, a pastime he greatly enjoys. He often remarks how interesting it is to read old papers because he gets a glimpse of how topics were perceived as they were still unfolding. On my "Kansas Snapshots" home page, I shared my motivations when I began the column. One bullet was "to provide a mini-family history for my children and other family members." When combined with "share personal stories that have a universal message," I think my columns may provide a similar perspective as reading those old newspapers, but on aspects of life unlikely to be covered in a publication focused on news.
My first column appeared the Thursday after Thanksgiving and this one will post the Friday after. During these years, there have been times when the writing came almost effortlessly, and others when the rewriting seemed endless and the final versions weren't dictated by feeling they were finished, but by the approach of the deadline. But with more than 1,000 columns behind me, I can say that I'm very thankful for the opportunity I've had to share some of my life with you. I'm always interested in your comments and observations as I look forward next week when year 21 begins!
I tried to select a representative column from each year using some sort of criteria, but in the end, found that to be an impossible task. Each of these struck my fancy ... today. Tomorrow, quite possibly, would have yielded a different group. Each is a link to the related story.