Struggling with writing often interferes with columns

Voices of the Clarion

Posted: Sunday, November 27, 2005

Every few weeks or so, I’m privileged to write one of these columns.

OK, they make me. But I can write about anything I want, they insist.

Except, that is, any subject having to do with my daily beats — which for me are generally state and local politics and natural resource issues. They’re strictly off limits.

Well, thanks a lot. Right out the window go all the topics I’m dying to voice an opinion on.

It’s a necessary restriction, of course, given the importance this business attaches to objectivity, or at least the perception thereof.

The wonderfully irreverent columnist Molly Ivins once called absolute objectivity a worthy goal toward which dedicated reporters ought strive. In the end, she added, it is unattainable.

Reporters almost never know everything there is to know about a subject before they write the news, she said. How could they? How could anyone? News is a river.

Knowing something, however, can subconsciously influence the words you choose, she warned. Experience and practice play their parts enhancing self-discipline as we learn to recognize biased or unnecessarily pejorative phraseologies and alter them before stories go to press.

When we don’t recognize them well, that’s why editors are allowed to live.

If one cannot be 100 percent objective, then, Ivins said, one must strive to be fair.

So in the interest of fairness, then, I’m not going to tell you how maddening it is that I cannot tell you how frustrated I am with the wearisome state of politics in Alaska, the national and the world. But since that avenue is closed, I’ll tell you instead of the irritation de jour.

You see, my muse has left the building and I’m suffering from severe writer’s block. That explains the preceding banalities. My apologies.

I was supposed to deliver my column for last week’s Sunday edition, but late-breaking news compounded by my procrastination got in the way. My editor, knowing I’d let her live, let me off the hook. Fortunately, another reporter heading off for vacation had delivered his column a week early, so his filled my space.

Great! That gave me few more days to come up with a topic. Yeah, right.

So here it is, Thanksgiving Day morning, the turkey is on the grill, I’ve vacuumed the living room, my daughter Kate’s busy with various projects mostly under protest — “It’s a holiday, Mom!” — while my wife, Lynn, puts the finishing touches on pies and cakes before the guests arrive this afternoon.

And I’m pounding the keyboard delivering this stream of unconsciousness. Hope I’m not ruining your Sunday coffee.

There’s a football game on the tube — Atlanta is cleaning Detroit’s clock. It’s not even interesting enough to distract me.

The smells from the kitchen wafting up the stairwell to my room signal the approaching feast to be shared with much-loved friends who’ll begin showing up in an hour or so.

Kate’s just brought me a snack to tide me over and asks, “How’s it going?” in her warm and genuine way.

“OK,” I answer, though it isn’t.

She leaves me to my task and heads back downstairs.

It’s snowing outside — not hard but steady. At this rate by tonight, it should add another inch or so to the accumulations of the past week that have Homer looking like a Hallmark card.

From my toasty hillside home, the Homer Spit is barely discernible; Kachemak Bay is calm and gray, the distant Kenai Mountains only a memory behind a shroud of white.

I guess I’m pretty fortunate that the worst of my worries concerns getting this column in so my editor can go home, bless her heart.

Considering where many of our sons and daughters, husbands and wives are at this moment, I’ve got much to be thankful for — a warm home, loving family, engaging friends.

My extended family is spread out around the country, but mostly on the East Coast. I’m taking a moment to phone home to wish them a happy Thanksgiving, making another of those periodic connections that keep us all grounded.

Turns out, it was snowing there, too — upstate New York — and a goodly portion of the immediate family was just starting dessert. I could hear the squeals of a newborn in the background. Mom says everyone’s healthy and I’m reassured. I miss them.

But now, there’s a rising cacophony of conversation and tinkling glasses downstairs. The guests are arriving, and it’s time for me to join them.

Here’s hoping your Thanksgiving was as nice as mine appears about to be.

And, oh, that muse? She’ll be back. Probably right after a scotch or two.


Hal Spence is a reporter for the Clarion.

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