Columnist Jim Cahillane: Reading and writing for fun and fame


Published: 1/23/2019 8:34:59 AM

When reading a new book, I head to the acknowledgments page. It’s there that the author takes his or her opportunity to thank a number of people who helped during the creation of the book in hand. 

Wise authors will thank their spouse and children first because writers are not the easiest of home companions, so I hear. Generous scribblers thank everyone from mail carriers to their comfort animals. Brilliant scholars may generously praise old friends, which warms the heart. 

In my view, the most important nod goes to their editor. 

A good editor is a gift from heaven. Writers love every notion that flows from their mouths, pen, typewriter, computer and printer. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were mere stenographers of God’s word. In contrast, not a few egotistic authors lay claim to being the Apostles’ successors.

Wrong! Every one of them needs an editor to correct their drafts, which oft leads to noisy discussions and a more polished result. 

Even so, only the author gets his or her name on the piece.    

Surprise — local newspapers are back in the news for coming back. That’s good news for our hometown paper. In my humble opinion (IMHO), having a well-respected public forum is as valuable to Valley discourse and our democracy as all Five Colleges combined.

A challenging school assignment was to read a newspaper story and write up a short review on the information that you gained from it. Students of my era were quick to read the sports pages to check on a favorite team or player. Even better was to look for your name there when you played sports for your school or an independent team. 

The Gazette covered them all, even Hamp’s Over-30 Basketball League Sundays where (ahem) diehards played into their 40s. Old boys made a sick search for transitory scorecard glory on Monday.

The Williamsburg Senior Center has hatched a new intergenerational pen-pal program with the town’s Anne T. Dunphy Grammar School. Sixth-graders and seniors communicate across the ages via carefully vetted letters hand-carried back and forth. In November, all 34 of the letter writers shared a school lunch with plans for another in February. I sat down with my “pal.” We’re 75 years apart in age but share interests in sports, in reading and in writing. My young man was said to be shy, which turned out not to be true. In his letters, he shared a list of favorite things: colors, summer camp, Frisbee, soccer, football and basketball! Maybe he’ll become a famous author like my other new friend and Gazette reader, Kevin Cook. Kevin moved to the Valley from New York City. For my part, I’m envious of my pen pal in his exuberant youth and Kevin for his baseball books plus a storied Sports Illustrated career — oh, well, c’est la vie.

Every teacher agrees that reading is fundamental. Improved writing tends to follow one’s reading habits. I’ll recommend interesting books like “The Wind in the Willows” to my young doppelganger, but won’t use longish words in my letters. I don’t want to put him off our mutual project.

 I recall how, 30 years ago, I found the courage to attend a weekly writer’s workshop with poet Doug Anderson. Doug followed the Amherst Writers & Artists format, asking us to write for 20 minutes. He left it to his writers whether or not to read their work aloud. Each evening began when Doug dumped dozens of old picture postcards onto the floor as idea starters. Doug cautioned us all to offer only positive responses. A negative review might cause a newcomer to quit right then and there. One week I wrote a discourse on blood. Doug declared it an essay, and rare. 

 I must have taken his words as gospel; here I am writing another.

Later, I invested a few dollars in Doug’s first poetry book, “Bamboo Bridge,” based on his Vietnam War ordeal. Support your local poet.

I’ve been reading pro and con letters to the editor discussing whether the Gazette Opinion page requires a reboot. A fair number of conservative readers are decrying factual critiques in opposition to their media-scarred views. It’s plain to see that Editor Hauser encourages and publishes letter writers and columnists of all stripes. I like that Brooke has found younger women writers, many students at local colleges. Those brave souls possess the gumption and raw talent that I wish I had had at their age. 

 Sticking your neck out in print is not for the faint of heart. However, nasty social media denigration of fellow citizens indicates a lack of grace. Impress your friends with an historic Gazette byline for your considered opinions. Write away!

I’m kicking off the year with a book that has me laughing out loud: Ben Schott’s spot-on homage to P.G. Wodehouse, titled, “Jeeves and the King of Clubs.” Loyal fans of Bertie Wooster’s fanciful world of English country houses and London clubs are in for a treat with a twist. May every other Gazetteer also find reason to laugh out loud in 2019 — it feels great!

Happy New Year!

Author, poet and columnist Jim Cahillane resides in Williamsburg. He aims to survive winter with the aid of Burgy’s top-grade Meekins Library.

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