Every so often, I fear that my next column is going to be like a Seinfeld episode – essentially, about nothing, because that’s what comes to my mind. Occasionally I’ll get inspired, whether by celebrities passing or memories popping, but sometimes – like now – my mind is a holiday-deadened ball of mush. Imagine the gelatinous gunk a CSI coroner pulls out of a just-discovered, long-dead corpse, and you’ll get the idea.
What a lovely holiday image.
Traditionally, as the year begins, columnists write about their new-year resolutions. I don’t make new-year resolutions. I figure, as a Boomer, this is as fully baked as I’m going to get. If I want to resolve to do something new – which I don’t – I would first have to remember if I already made that resolution, what the outcome was, and whether I really want to try it again. That process lasts until February, by which time it’s too late for a new-year resolution, because the year is one-twelfth over.
What’s worse about having a blank brain is that, gratifyingly, I’m beginning to see signs of total strangers reading my blog. It’s nice that my immediate family members, people from church, and former colleagues have asked to be on my mailing list. But I’m starting to see little notes from WordPress that people whose e-mail addresses I don’t recognize are subscribing. I’m getting comments from people I don’t know. I’m glad you’re all here, but the pressure to be funny/insightful/philosophical just builds until I enter the stage known in the business world as “paralysis by analysis.”
I stare at the monitor and wonder: Is this funny? Will this resonate? Is it too soon to get more coffee?
There’s a columnist in the San Francisco Chronicle named Jon Carroll who does what I do, only better. I’ve always been jealous of Carroll because he got to edit my dream magazine in the ’70s, a super-regional publication called New West. I’m not so jealous of him now – I’m just in awe. Five days a week, he writes a personal column, talking about everything from San Francisco politics to his cats Pancho and Bucket to bizarre newspaper stories. Granted, as a high-profile columnist, people frequently send him stories, and that helps him fill space. Still – I’m amazed that his brain hasn’t exploded.
I would love it if my brain were that creative, or at least that facile. On the other hand, I retain the vivid memory of the time, when I was freshman in college, one of my classmates repeated what our English professor had said to her about me. “Howard’s a very slick writer,” she quoted him as saying. “It isn’t until you get to the end of one of his essays that you realize he hasn’t said anything.”
Clearly, I haven’t lost my touch.