People occasionally ask how I’ve been able come up with something to write about every week for twenty-five years. Actually there’s too much to choose from. Even if I were to write a column a day, there would still be too much. Listening to news while driving or working on the house, a column plays out in my head more than once a day. Sometimes it will stay in mind until I have my laptop open and I can bang out a few lines that will remind me of the rest. Then Saturday or Sunday I start to flesh it out. I edit it on Monday and send it to one venue, then edit some more Tuesday and send it to another. Wednesdays I post it online and send links to other websites, and to people who want them.
|My office desk|
About a hundred twenty have asked for links over the years, but the “contacts” application on my MacBook Pro lost that folder a few months ago. I had to reconstruct the list but couldn’t remember the names of about ninety people who were on it. We’d never met, and my only contact with them was online. They’d read the column somewhere and emailed me to say they liked it. I’d write back thanking them and ask if they’d like links each week. If they responded affirmatively I put them on the list. Going over the 1100+ people on my total contacts list didn’t jog my memory either. Not wanting to abandon my fan base, I included the emails of everyone whose name was unfamiliar and ended up with a new list of two hundred twenty — a hundred more than there were on the original.
Some people started getting the link for the first time and thanked me for sending it along. Since they were obviously happy about it, I left them on. Three people emailed back and asked me to drop them, which I did immediately. One woman made the request with CAPITAL LETTERS and lots of exclamation points!!! I figured she was a leftist whose email address somehow made it into my contacts. For others, I got those kickback messages indicating email addresses were not longer operational. After a couple of weeks everything was back to normal.
|Stream of Consciousness|
Sometimes I’ll start writing about something, but as paragraphs multiply and I approach the 800-word limit, I see that I’ve gone off in an entirely different direction and ask myself, “Where did that come from?” Other times, I’ll write an opening, then be unable to string together coherent sentences in anything like a logical sequence that will result in a paragraph. Frustrated at first, I’m forced to conclude the original thought was only a muse, more suited for poetry than an opinion column.
Twenty-five years of weekly columns adds up to over 1200. Nearly half are archived on my blog which I started in January, 2006. The rest — about 650 — were clipped from newspapers and put in a briefcase along with some letters to the editor they generated. When I read over some of the old ones, it seems as if someone else wrote them. It was someone else in a sense, because I’m not the forty-year-old Tom anymore and sometimes I ask myself, “Who was that guy?”
I’m not the twenty-year-old Tom either and I certainly don’t look like him. I should probably update whatever picture you see where you’re reading this because the newest one out there is eight years old. I have less hair now. I have few pictures of myself, however, since I'm the family photographer. I'm always looking out the lens and seldom into it.
Speaking of the effects of aging, my social security checks start in May. However, I won’t get as much as the Social Security Administration said I would in those letters they’ve been sending me every year. It will be forty percent less than that because the school district where I taught didn’t take FICA (social security) out of my paychecks. They deducted Maine State Retirement only.
I always worked other jobs while teaching, however, and paid into social security for all of them. I still pay into it every year in the form of self-employment tax. Will that be cut by forty percent now too? Heck, I’d be satisfied if they just gave me back what I’ve paid in since 1967 because those monthly checks won’t add up to what they took unless I live a lot longer than I expect to.
Come to think of it, I’d be better off without most of the “help” government gives me. So would the rest of the working people in this country, but we’re all beholden to those who vote for a living rather than work for it. Think about that on tax day. It’s coming right up again you know. Are you going to write a check or get one?