The Wednesday Westport News columns have moved to Fridays. The shift feels awkward and slightly off-balance, yet surprisingly invigorating as change can be. Along with moving to Fridays come feelings both cognitive and emotional, and for me, a new name for my column -- "In Other Words."
I'm still here. Only the name has changed.
Years ago, when I was invited to be the Westport News humor columnist, it happened abruptly, without warning. The then editor in chief, Lise Connell, phoned me on a Saturday morning offering me the job. Humor columnist? I pondered. Was I equipped? Could I handle it, and mainly, was I even funny? I wasn't sure.Those random thoughts tripped through my head in a matter of seconds. No time to think it through. Lise wanted my spontaneous, unfiltered reaction.
At best, big decisions allow for contemplation. I didn't have that luxury. Lise was impatiently insistent. She wanted a columnist, and she didn't like wasting time.
My late husband, Mort, who happened to be standing by and overhearing the conversation, while not fully interpreting its impact, whispered: "Whatever it is, just say yes." His words resonate still.
I learned a lot about taking risks from Mort. He enthusiastically supported my choices, be they creatively unconventional and slightly offbeat. Even on occasions when he rolled his eyes where we clearly disagreed, he never wavered from his position as my head cheerleader. His spiritual presence amplifies loudly.
And so, with Mort's prodding from the sidelines and with some trepidation, I accepted the position of humor columnist. The column would be called "The Light Touch," and I wondered how I would carry it off. At first, it seemed daunting and overwhelming. But a weekly column was a rare opportunity not to be dismissed lightly. Recognizing that, I was ready to forge ahead, and Mort would never have forgiven me had I reneged. His confidence was both flattering and intimidating.
Looking back now, those early essays seemed to me leaner and less seasoned. As I entered new territory, slightly green around the edges, I groped for a voice to be heard. As I matured, so did the column. It grew into itself, earned awards, and gave me a forum in which to cultivate and express myself, observing life with my own pair of funny glasses. Looking through that distorted lens, I viewed the world differently, understanding how life's little foibles were potential column fodder begging to be explored and written.
The job of columnist carries with it privilege and responsibility, and it demands integrity. I had freedom to write what I chose, but simultaneously needed to rein myself in lest I went too far. There was an understood and subtle boundary line, which, once crossed, could get me into trouble. Traveling that literary landscape and learning the ropes, I tried maintaining proper protocol, and discovered that being funny was also about being intuitively protective. I came to understand what the business of being a columnist meant. Our present editor, Jim Doody, resides over us with fastidious professionalism coupled with his unique brand of wit and style. He keeps us in check while applauding our diversity. We journalists are a lucky bunch.
The years brought with them new adventures, opportunities, disappointments and unforeseen tragedies. Mort died too young, and I wrote my heart out as a cathartic way of handling the grief and rage surrounding his death. My readers wrote letters and mourned along with me. My loss became empathically theirs.They buffered my pain, and allowed me -- encouraged me -- to get on with the business of living ... and writing. Your emotional presence was dearly felt as I stoically moved forward. To this day, I remain grateful for your support. My readers are the invisible voices resounding inside my head as I do what I love doing most: write.
En route to the present, time has healed many wounds. My psyche is tattooed with scars. The column, while generally humorous, has evolved into reflective essays as well. And I evolved, too. Mort liked the heading "The Light Touch." He felt it defined my work. But not entirely. My columns are not always "light" as "The Light Touch" suggested. I find more serious and contemplative writing has become a larger part of my repertoire. And so, "In Other Words" will give the columns room to explore wherever their destinations take them.
I think Mort would understand and encourage me to stay true to my convictions and desires. He would enthusiastically endorse the change as much as he encouraged me to take on the column so many years ago. And so, I now turn away from "The Light Touch" and with special care and dedication to my late-husband, Mort, a column -- "In Other Words" -- is born.
Judith Marks-White is a Westport writer, and her "In Other Words" appears every other Friday. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.judithmarks-white.com