A column about columns

Michael Boylan's picture

Rick Ryckeley’s column will return next week.

He’s been a little under the weather but I’ll leave him to tell you the details. I would hate to rob him of several weeks of column material because I know that writing a weekly column is hard to do.

I’ve been at the newspaper for a long time and I’ve written columns sporadically during my tenure. I would generally write one when I had something to say or when space demanded it. Last week I wrote about my friend joining the unofficial club of parenthood. This week...I’ve got nothing.

The brain freeze really makes me appreciate what Rick is able to do. Not only does he draw upon his childhood and his experiences growing up on Flamingo Street, but he has also established a way to write about his family and to make all of them characters. One would be tempted to read his column and think he is just throwing a weekly journal on the page but it is much more involved than that.

My childhood doesn’t seem as rich and entertaining compared to Rick’s. There was no bully down the street I grew up on and while I liked my teachers I had many of them and none of them stick out in my memory like Rick’s Miss Crabtree. Well, there is one exception. My fourth grade teacher and I did not get along and almost 30 years later I can still picture her and remember our run-ins. I’d put her name in the column but I am afraid she has a Google Alert on her name and she’d find me and want to quiz me on world capitals.

One thing that Rick and I do have in common with our columns is that we like writing about our families. Rick was smart though because he refers to his wife as The Wife and his son as The Boy. That made them characters immediately and allows them some distance and privacy. If anything gets exaggerated or misconstrued, they are simply characters and the reader subconsciously allows for embellishments. Rick has given himself some wiggle room if he ever needs it. I have named my wife and children in my columns. I’ve never said anything (too) embarrassing or revealed secrets, but the internet will keep those columns out there forever.

In addition to being a weekly reader of Rick’s column, I also read and copy edit the columns of Sallie Satterthwaite. Her columns run in our Wednesday paper and if you’ve never read her work, visit our web site and dig in to her collection of columns as soon as possible. She is another excellent columnist and one who makes it look effortless. She has named her family in her columns but this has been a way to welcome readers into her life and share thousands of beautiful moments and thoughts. The thing I find the most impressive about her columns is the way she can start with something small and tie it in to something much larger by the end. Her column this week on alarms is a perfect example.

I have always been a fan of columnists. Growing up outside of Boston, the columnists Bob Ryan and Dan Shaughnessy demonstrated a fascinating way to cover sports. They expertly blend the experiences of the athletes, the fans and the community. I think they are certainly factors in what makes the New England sports scene so unique. As I got older I started reading the brilliant columns by humorist Dave Barry and when I moved to Georgia I discovered the King - Lewis Grizzard. I was definitely a Yankee when I arrived in Georgia and Grizzard was as Southern as Southern could be and yet I find so many common threads in his columns and books. I still think of some of the imagery from his work every time I hear a Swingin’ Medallions song or head up to Athens for a Georgia football game.

What all great columnists do (and what I hope I’ve done from time to time) is write about something that sparks a reaction in the reader. Maybe the piece helps you reconnect to an emotion or a memory or perhaps it moves your brain to consider something you haven’t before. Ultimately, a column should entertain you. I know that The Citizen runs some terrific columns from some great writers and next week we’ll get one of them back.

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