I was disappointed to read that Don Stratton will no longer be writing his Friday column. Certainly, as a former police officer who once upon a time was helpful when I worked as a supervisor in Limaâ??s Parks and Recreation Department whenever I asked him to send a policeman to one of our playgrounds as a guest speaker, I felt Stratton had a lot to say in his columns, especially about his experiences in the department.
Now, given Donâ??s reputation as a straight shooter who eschewed political correctness when it came to administering his duties back in the day, it really didnâ??t surprise me that his columns would elicit some criticism.
After all, his writing style was as direct as his approach to his former job patrolling our community. Heâ??s going to speak his mind.
Despite the fact that he claimed in his final column not to be bothered by those who found the time to criticize his efforts as a columnist, the fact is, I think he was. Otherwise, he wouldnâ??t have mentioned those who were critical.
As for this criticism thing when it comes to columnists, well, thatâ??s something that kind of comes with the territory. When you put yourself out there in words that surround your mug and your name is written in 14-point boldface on a weekly basis, you essentially invite a reaction. Not only will there be the nice comments spoken when people take the time to tell you they enjoyed something youâ??ve written, there will also be criticism.
While no one I know really likes to hear criticisms, the fact is, like pop-up cloud bursts, for those who write for publication, they will happen and will cover the gamut â?? from the words you use, to how many there are, to what you write about. As to the whys of this, Iâ??ll call it the Bobby Knight mentality. The legendary basketball coach, once upon a time, had a pretty adversarial relationship with the media.
This disdain was probably a lot stronger when it came to writers. One of the more famous quotations was one Knight delivered as to his assessment of the writers who reported on his Indiana Hoosiers. Knight opined, â??All of us learn to write in the second grade. Most of us go on to greater things.â?ť
And, in that quotation, I believe lies the crux of the criticism when it comes to writers and especially columnists. The fact is, a lot of those who criticize somehow think this writing thing is pretty doggone easy, as in, sort of, just pick up a pen and move your hand, I suppose, because they can write out a grocery list and even spell broccoli with two câ??s.
One of my favorite critics is actually a pal of mine, someone I donâ??t see all that often anymore but used to see at the best barbershop in the history of Lima, the one operated by Dan Grothaus in the 200 block of North West Street. Really the only comment that could be construed as being positive through the years of writing for this paper by this guy was when I wrote a story about my friend Danâ??s retirement a few years ago. Otherwise, from what I write to how I write it, whenever I see my pal, he always takes his shot.
A few weeks ago, I saw him for the first time in a long time at the Knights of Columbus while working a bar shift. On a particularly busy night as I was in the back bar region grabbing another bottle of Crown, he sidled up to me and said, â??In your columns, why are you always touting the fact that you were an English professor?â?ť
Of course, the criticism leveled was in the part of the verb touting, as in bragging and, of course, the sarcastic use of the word professor to describe my time as a high school English instructor.
I really didnâ??t have the time to point out that while there are times if itâ??s relevant to a topic Iâ??ll mention my experiences teaching, many columns I write are devoid of any reference to my former occupation. I also didnâ??t have the time to engage him in a discussion as to the fact that columnists often tap into their own personal experiences to draw some parallel to their readersâ?? experiences in their jobs. I also didnâ??t feel I had the time to ask him why on earth that should be any more bothersome to him than my mentioning my experiences as a bartender or a customer service rep for a cleaning company, both of which Iâ??ll periodically do if itâ??s necessary to move a column forward.
And, I certainly didnâ??t have the time to point out to this former accountant that not once in my life did I ever walk up to him and render any commentary on his accounting methods.
All I did was give him the most succinct response that I figured would terminate the exchange and allow me to finish making the Crown Manhattan I had already started.
I said, â??Because itâ??s my column.â?ť
He stood for a moment, nodded his head affirmatively and simply said, â??Youâ??re rightâ?ť before moving away.
So, Don, I guess you shouldnâ??t have been all that surprised that you had critics. Despite the fact that neither of us ever touted our journalistic endeavors by placing them alongside the collected works of such iconic columnists as H.L. Mencken, Red Smith, Bill Murray and Mike Royko, there will always be those whoâ??ll want to tell you whatâ??s wrong with what youâ??ve written.
And, really, thatâ??s OK because a columnistâ??s job is to elicit a reaction, and whether it be positive or negative, if you get one, itâ??s probably best if you embrace it.