D is for …

I have been a compulsive talker. To some, it might be my greatest asset; to others, my biggest flaw. Value judgments aside, it’s fair to say the Amazon Queen’s bestowing upon me the nickname Jabber Jaw is perfectly justified.

Certainly, I’m almost never at a loss for words. In fact, there’s only one situation in which I find myself drawing a blank. It’s when someone will say, “I’ve been thinking about your column and I’ve got an idea for you.”

I’m not taken aback because it’s so rare — in reality, it happens often enough that it’s no surprise at all. No, I get called up short because I have to choose my words carefully so I don’t hurt their feelings.

Here’s the thing: I know those folks are trying to help me, but inevitably their effort will be in vain. First, after over a quarter-century of cranking out a column a week, there are few subjects someone can suggest that I haven’t already covered.

Next, suggesting something for me to write about, no matter what it is, is an exercise in futility. It’s not because I ignore advice — I do listen. But to me writing is an inexplicable, internal process. Ideas come to me through some weird inner process, rather than any external source … That’s why I never know what I’ll write about from one week to the next.

So, not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings by a quick reply they’d find either dismissive or condescending, I do what I almost never do any other time: I pause, think over the suggestion in detail, and then choose my reply carefully. The only exception I can remember happened last week at Paul Smith’s College’s annual pancake breakfast. The suggestion maker was Danny Spada.

Danny and I go way back at Paul Smith’s. I met him his first semester there, in fall ’74. By then I was a grizzled teaching vet, having survived two shell-shocked semesters in the trenches of academe. We’ve been great pals ever since.

Danny is the most deliberate person I know. Maybe there’s someone more deliberate — a Renaissance painting restorer, a brain surgeon, a bomb defuser — but I doubt it. I’d bet if he ever had an impulse, he waited till it went away.

Beyond that, he’s determined, and as a result he has a long list of accomplishments. He has several advanced degrees in different disciplines. He was the APA’s wetlands specialist for somewhere around 30 years. He’s a professional musician, an accomplished motorcyclist, a craftsman, a fine husband, a father, and on and on and on.

He’s also a connoisseur of fine literature. In other words, he reads my column regularly. And when I saw him at the breakfast, guess what was the first thing he said? Take a bow if you guessed, “I’ve been thinking about your column, and …”


So what was his suggestion?

Just this: That I define any Yiddish words I use in the columns. And being the scholarly lad he is, and dogged report writer he was, he wanted me to do it in a glossary at the column’s end. I listened, and mulled over my reply, because I knew he’d pay as much attention to it as I had to his question.

First, a glossary?

To me, it’s a meshugge idea. I mean, I write a column, not an article for some scholarly journal. If my readers saw a glossary, they’d immediately think I’d turned into some kind of pretentious snot (at least I hope they would).

If not a glossary, how’s about defining the terms in situ?


Nope, there’s no way I’ll be defining Yiddish words, or foreign phrases, or even obscure references (something I do in almost all my columns).

Why is that, you ask?

Simple: I like to write, and maybe more to the point, I like to have fun with my writing. Not saying there isn’t work involved in writing — of course there is. But so what? What doesn’t require work, except maybe falling off a log? But writing is something I know I can do, and while it takes effort to think up a column and actually finish the damned thing, I enjoy doing it.

There are far too many self-declared writers who whine and carp endlessly, about the pain, struggle and sturm und drang of writing. Matter of fact, they bloody well wallow in it.

It’s been my experience that poets are the worst of the lot. I don’t know how many times I heard some T.S. Eliot wannabe kvetch about how they spent six hours, or six days or six months, sweating over whether to use a comma or a semi-colon in one line of their self-conscious dreck. Worst of all, other T.S. Eliot wannabes will be taking in the kvetch session and nodding in heartfelt agreement — a fellow sufferer for their art.

The way I see it, if it’s that painful, why not quit and take up something easy like plumbing or welding or blacksmithing? Because the sad truth is whether their poetry ever sees the light of day, with either semi-colon or comma, no one’ll ever notice … except their fellow martyrs in their writing club.

OK, so I’ll admit I know nothing about poetry. But I do know this much about poet/whiners (and writer/whiners too), which is none of them ever wrote to a deadline — and none of ’em ever will.

But as I said, I’m not a member of the Pi Tau Alpha writing fraternity (Pain, Torture, Agony). I like to write. And I figure if I like to write, the least I can do is try to write stuff my readers will like to read — even to maybe have some fun with it. And thus my putting in foreign words, obscure events, esoteric works, hitherto unknown characters, and the rest.

I think of it as a game of sorts: Folks can read my stuff and pretty much figure out the weird references by context. Or if they can’t figure them out, they can just keep reading, since they’re not vital to understanding the whole magilla.

But if they’re uber-curious and really want to know what those things are? Hey, it’s not like the grid’s gone down — at least not yet. If you can’t find those references on the internet, it’s because either your computer, or you, are farblunget.

So when you do find what you were looking for, you’ll get not only a feeling of accomplishment, but maybe even a chuckle or two. Which as far as I see it, it’s a win-win for all of us.

Of course, I told Danny this at the breakfast.

A long moment passed.

“OK,” he said, in perfect Danny fashion, “I’ll think about it.”

That, for my dear friend Danny, is the Understatement of the Ages.


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