TGIF: Sometimes, you get what you asked for anyway
Last week’s column jumped around from topic to topic, touching on unrelated events and activities. We were celebrating Juneteenth, Father’s Day, the first day of summer, and more.
From week to week, feedback on my ramblings is intermittent, and that’s OK. I count it a success when even one person offers a reaction. So I was surprised at the overwhelming response last week’s column generated. OK, it was actually five or six people, but several mentioned they like the format. Instead of choosing one subject and exploring it ad nauseum (as usual), I offered a series of topics. On one hand, it’s the easy way out, because deep thoughts on a single topic aren’t required. On the other hand, it’s the more difficult route, because a writer needs multiple topics instead of just one.
I don’t know if this format is sustainable. Actually, I’m somewhat confident this format isn’t sustainable. However, I’ve mustered my resources once more, so let’s try it again.
SCATTERSHOOTING — I wondered if there’s a term to describe what’s happening here, jumping from topic to topic as we’re doing. I’ve found several words and phrases that walk around the definition, including “flight of ideas,” “rambling,” “discursive,” “flibbertigibbet,” and “scattershooting.” A respected member of the newspaper columnists’ ranks is the late Blackie Sherrod, a 1941 graduate of Howard Payne University. His artful and entertaining deployment of the word “scattershooting” in his Dallas newspaper columns was epic.
Others who are not fans of this type of format might call it “unfocused,” “flighty,” or “undisciplined.” The most disparaging description I could find is “poor topic maintenance.” Anything preceded by the adjective “poor” automatically puts it into a negative context.
Using the defense that stealing an idea isn’t plagiarism, it’s research as long as you document it with footnotes, let’s call this “scattershooting” and offer a tip of my hat to Mr. Sherrod.
ACTS OF CONGRESS — Family and friends know that your weekly columnist usually devotes Monday or Tuesday to crafting these Friday visits, but the deadline minders at the Bulletin know that it is often Wednesday before the finished product is filed. I don’t like pushing it that late, but sometimes my muse fails to inspire, and I have no choice but to procrastinate.
In my younger life, I tricked myself into believing I usually do my best work at deadline, but that’s no way to live in retirement. As a man of leisure now, I prefer to have columns written long before deadlines. Occasionally, I’ll work several weeks in advance if my muse brings a number of ideas when it visits, and I’ll get ahead of myself.
Such was the case with last week’s column. I guessed poorly (there’s that word “poor” again) regarding the timing of legislation about Juneteenth. Usually, you’ll never lose money betting that Congress won’t take action on something, but I was surprised when a measure establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday was passed by lawmakers and signed into law with two days to spare. So much for my “later this year” expectation, but that timeline was mentioned in several national reports. In retrospect, “soon” would have been a safer wager.
It passed so quickly that some federal agencies, including the Postal Service, didn’t have time to make arrangements to give employees the day off. That will be fixed before June 2022, but perhaps postal authorities will provide a make-up holiday before this year ends. Some may disagree, but I appreciate everything the post office does.
DAZED AND CONFUSED — Finally, I’ll offer another apology. Make that two apologies.
First, I’ve been unable to determine the origin of the phrase “dazed and confused,” but I first heard it as a Led Zeppelin song around 1969. Jimmy Page based it on a Jake Holmes folk tune by that name; Page and Holmes had performed together when both were in the Yardbirds. While Holmes never had a solo hit, you know his work. He’s written several commercial jingles, including “Be A Pepper” for Dr Pepper. Later, Matthew McConaughey starred in the 1993 film with that title.
The other apology is an appropriate wrap-up. Sometimes, when a reader offers a comment on “last Friday’s column” or asks me what I’m writing about next Friday, I fear I seem “dazed and confused.” No, my memory isn’t failing me. But if a surge of creativity — let’s pretend it’s creativity — has me working weeks ahead, I need time to calculate the current topic.
There’s one advantage to this format. I could simply reply, “That’s a moving target. I’m scattershooting!”
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column “TGIF” appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at email@example.com.