Wissot: Don’t let a column get you bent out of shape
I’ve been writing columns in the Vail Daily for four years. But I’ve been reading columns in this paper since I took up part-time residence in the village 21 years ago. As a reader, I’ve enjoyed reading the columns of the many fine writers who grace the pages of this paper.
Readers can greatly benefit from reading these columnists. I certainly do. Take Rohn Robbins, for example. Rohn has been writing columns for the paper since it seems construction on the Eisenhower Tunnel began. He writes about the law with wit and intelligence. I know as much about the law as I do open heart surgery. I rely on Rohn to school me on mundane issues in local law as well as the more arcane aspects of the constitution.
Thank you, Rohn.
Anna Suszynski is a staff editor at the paper. But most of us know her from her Sunday column, “Still Life.” I’ve never met Anna, but based on her photo in the paper, she seems young, as in decades after the Eisenhower Tunnel was built young. But at 76, anybody who isn’t dead looks young to me.
Whatever her age might be is irrelevant because she possesses the wisdom of an old soul. Her writing reveals the sensibilities of a poet and the intellect of a philosopher. When you read her column, be prepared for a mental challenge because she will ask you to ponder questions about our human circumstances which don’t lend themselves to simplistic answers.
Thank you, Anna.
Rohn’s columns are informative and Anna’s are inspirational. Mine are neither. The bi-weekly Saturday columns I write are not meant to inform or inspire. I was a high school teacher and college professor for 15 years. That part of my life ended 40 years ago. Informing and inspiring students is no longer my mission in life. Readers aren’t my students. I am not their teacher.
But while I am not a teacher anymore, I still am a learner and I constantly learn from the emails and texts readers send me pointing out facts that I overlooked and failed to consider.
I wrote a column recently on cancel culture controversies and received two very interesting replies. One was from a reader in Kansas who cited a Colorado statute on disorderly conduct (Section 18-9-106) which he believed refuted my claim in the column that making racist comments to someone else in public was protected free speech. I hadn’t thought about that, and am wondering now if publicly calling someone the N-word constitutes disorderly conduct. Where is Rohn Robbins when you need him?
A second reader texted me after a friend forwarded my column to her. In the same column, I referenced the once-popular racist custom white people had of decorating their lawns with black jockey ornaments. In her text she offered me a history lesson on the origins of those ornaments, explaining that the winner of the first Kentucky Derby in 1875 was a black jockey named Oliver Lewis, and placing a replica of him on lawns was originally intended to celebrate his victory. What later was seen as a racist trope began as a congratulatory compliment. Who knew that? I certainly didn’t.
Not all readers react to my columns using polite and pleasant language. Some question whether my parents were married when I was born and ask me to do something to myself that is anatomically impossible. I’m not offended in the least. I expect to be roundly rebuked when I write columns like the one I am currently working on which is titled, “Don’t worry about Marxism. Nobody’s practicing it.” If you wade into controversial waters as a columnist, you need to anticipate that some alligators will be waiting there to bite you. Be my guest. Chomp on.
Sharing your opinions in a column is not a popularity contest and the Vail Daily doesn’t care if readers like or dislike mine. Columnists have little to no effect on political outcomes. Readers don’t change their conservative or liberal views because of what they read in a column. Voters don’t vote the way they do because of a columnist’s opinions. Georgians didn’t elect two Democrats to the Senate in January because of a column appearing in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper. Stacy Abrams, and others like her, flipped Georgia by turning out huge numbers of black and suburban voters.
Columns enjoy a momentary existence. They last about as long as a piece of chewing gum lasts. Once the flavor fades, the gum is discarded. Once a column is read, we trash it.
And the planet continues spinning on its axis, tomorrow arrives, we reach for a new column to read and a new piece of gum to chew.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at email@example.com.