by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
May 11, 20067
A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- So, I've just published my first book.
It's called "A Thousand Words or Less: Favorite Columns 1996-2005." (The title, by the way, refers to the standard word limit when I started as a columnist in 1989. Now the industry standard is 700 words - editors believe readers have short attention spans. I disagree.)
Self-publishing, while more acceptable now, is still an act of bravery, if not vanity and self-delusion. I look at it this way: I once covered a meeting of farmers who fell to discussing their dislike of the local newspaper (where my column regularly appears) - bashing the Brattleboro Reformer is a hallowed local tradition. One said, "Oh, I don't know. The Reformer, it sucks up the juice." With this book, I'm sticking my neck out and saying that my work may be good for something besides animal bedding.
The project has been a trip down memory lane. I've been covering my little corner of the world for quite a while now, so the stories I tell provide a kaleidoscopic and telescoped view of important events in Windham County - as well as in the rest of the world.
There's the horrific account, for example, of how a Reformer reporter was stabbed by her ex-boyfriend at a gas station on our main strip road, Putney Road - an event that traumatized the town. There's a description of the first, wildly successful Strolling of the Heifers, which now draws about 30,000 people to town to celebrate Vermont's agriculture. There's also my confession that I didn't think much of the idea when I first heard about it.
For those Brattleboro folk who remember back to 1992, there are several columns about the amazing cross-cultural exchange between Brattleboro and the 11 O'clock Choir of the New Hope Baptist Church of Newark, N.J. When those 100 African-American gospel singers, plus many of their family and friends, stepped off the buses, they more than doubled the black population of Brattleboro and thrilled us with their music, spirit and joy.
I've written about my brave, graceful and beautiful mother in many columns. At almost 89 (she hates it when I give her age), she is still dancing and choreographing musicals for her Florida condominium. She'll be with me at the book launch tonight at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center.
In honor of Mother's Day, we'll be talking about mother-daughter relations as well as her shows. I'll read some columns and we'll answer some questions. I've enlarged some of the photos I've taken of the shows, so you can see what great legs these senior-citizen dancers have. Mom has even brought along some of the costumes. So it's glitter and glitz galore starting at 7:30 p.m., along with carrot cake and coffee for all.
Sept. 11, 2001, was a world-wide nightmare, and like many writers, I tried to comprehend the horror. The columns I wrote, especially the one I wrote on the day of the attack, are in the book, along with a good selection of political columns. It won't be a surprise to my regular readers that I was against the Iraq war long before our misguided President attacked that poor country, and nothing I've seen since has changed my mind.
On politics and social issues I have strong and sometimes passionate opinions. In that I'm not unusual. Everyone I know has them. What surprises me is how very few women do what I do. As it turns out, I am the only female op-ed columnist in the state of Vermont. As WKVT's Fish said when he interviewed me on the radio Tuesday, "You'd think if there were 12 in the country, six of them would be in Vermont." But, no: there's only me.
In 2005, a national controversy erupted over the dearth of female columnists on the op-ed pages of the nation's papers. "Think of a man as carrying a quiverful of arrows," wrote Zofia Smardz, editor of The Washington Post's Sunday Outlook section, trying to explain it. "When he spies a target, he lets fly with the whole caboodle. Most of his arrows will miss the bulls-eye, but one is likely to hit. And that's the one people will remember - and applaud. A woman, though, proceeds slowly and considers carefully. Only when she's pretty sure she has a perfect shot does she sent off a single arrow.. And she hits the mark! Amazing! But... too bad. The guy's already walked off with the prize."
In response, I wrote a column called "A Quiver of Female Opinion Arrows." Again, it won't be a surprise that I don't think a vagina and an opinion are mutually exclusive, or that when it comes to having the courage of their convictions, women differ from men.
The saddest section of my book comes, fittingly, at the end. Because I've been writing for so long, I've had to do more than my share of obituary columns. Some have been about cultural heroes, and some have been about close friends. If for no other reason than to carry forward the memory of these loved ones, the book was probably a good idea.
Reviewing my old columns meant going over reader mail, and that was the most fun of all. I love the hate mail the most. In the book, I gleefully quote some of the best. ("Why don't you change your name to Marxel" may be my favorite line.)
But the big thing, the most important thing, the thing for which I metaphorically fall to my knees, look up at the stars and thank the Lord almost every night, is that through writing this column I have been graced to find a voice and an audience. No writer can ask for more.< AR Correspondent Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org and learn how to get a copy of her new book.