Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Man of few words has a special message for you

When I enter these hallowed halls — from whence I retired nearly six years ago — for the purpose of writing a weekly column, I turn on a computer and stare at it for a few moments.

By the way, in retirement I still try to respond to emails I receive at The News-Herald, but since I see them for only a brief period on Monday afternoons, chances are that correspondents will not hear from me in a timely fashion.

I’m sorry, but that’s how it is. If you write to me on a Tuesday, I will not discover what it is that’s on your mind for nearly a week.

In point of fact, if you were to read the listing of names in the masthead on this editorial page, you would be aware that my name is at the very bottom of the list, and my title is “editor emeritus.”

If, in further pursuit of knowledge, you were to look up “emeritus,” as I did in Robin Palmer’s Merriam Webster, you would learn that it means, “holding after retirement an honorary title corresponding to that held last during active service,” meaning I don’t have the responsibilities here that I once had.

Just thought I’d clear that up for all the folks who wonder why I don’t do this or that. As some are wont to say, it’s not my job.

But I digress.

I am still staring at the computer, but you will notice that I have already filled some five inches of my allotted space.

Sometimes when I sit down to write, I have an idea what I want to say. Sometimes I do not. That is the way it is in this business.

Sometimes, through a process compounded of equal parts of deep thought and day-dreaming, I have mentally composed an entire column — about 22 inches, if you must know.

If I remember all of it on Monday afternoon after leaving a Rotary meeting and stopping at the bank to pick up my weekly allowance, I will transcribe it on Robin’s computer.

I use her computer for the very practical reason that she is not usually here when I am here, and it would be a waste of corporate funds to provide me with a computer of my own because I type for only about an hour and a half per week.

Getting an idea of what to write about ahead of time, however, lessens the probability of staring at a blank screen for a prolonged period of time.

Because, let’s face it, when you sit down to write, sometimes you know exactly what you are going to say and sometimes you don’t.

No one, to my knowledge, has ever expressed this conundrum more succinctly that the late, legendary editor of The Wall Street Journal, Vermont Connecticut Royster (yes, that was his real name).

The most yellowed clipping I have on my desk is from that venerable paper. The clip must be at least 40 years old. Yes, I save a lot of stuff.

The head on it says, “Puzzlements.” He starts out by saying, “Among editorial writers and other journalistic pundits, it’s almost unthinkable to let anyone think that as they think things over they don’t know what to think.”

He goes on to say: “The nature of our work casts us in the role of professional amateurs. Few of the tribe are experts in anything, and of course none can be experts in everything. “Yet the tribal custom calls for some comment one day on Red China, the next day perhaps on the policies of the Federal Reserve Board and on another day some opinion  on the proper size of the Defense Department. Rarely is one of the clan found wanting in that duty.”

So you get an idea of what a hard job I had for all those years.

But I am not seeking sympathy because I can’t think of anything to say right now.

On the contrary, I know precisely what I want to say, and I have known it from the moment I sat down in front of this machine.

I have been stalling for a bit because what I want to say to all of you, whom I consider dear friends, involves only two words, and I would look silly saying those two words in 22 inches of space because I would not want to appear to be squandering my allocation.

Were I do to that, they might cut me back to two words every week, and that would not work out very well next week, because at that time I will have three words for you.

But this week I have but two words to express my feelings, and I mean them from the bottom (and corresponding concomitants) of my heart.

Here are my two words for you:

Merry Christmas.


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