WELL, I didn’t expect to get diamonds – more likely, the traditional gift of tin or aluminum. I thought maybe an empty soup can or two might have been quietly tied to the rear bumper of my car, or somebody could have ambushed me outside the dry cleaner’s to wrap me lavishly in foil.
It turns out that contrary to my delusions, a curmudgeonly columnist does not get mistaken for a bride celebrating her first decade of wedded bliss. Rather, 10 years waft by on the job and nobody even notices. Poor, poor, typical me, as my son once put it.
The Internet tells me that if this had been a genuine marriage and not just a professional shack-up between me and the North Shore News (the product of which comprises this blog), I might have expected a commemorative gift. Experience as a journalist tells me, however, that writing is its own reward, and if you get a pay-cheque as well, you should be bloody grateful.
I truly am grateful, and I do most sincerely thank the News and you, dear readers, for letting me churn out 1,000 words almost weekly since February, 2001, with barely any blow-back. That’s 500-odd columns, some of them odder than others.
I say “barely any blow-back.” I have certainly heard from the less-than-impressed over the course of that decade. As a columnist, I’ve been called assorted names, some of them accurate. I’ve been accused of being prejudiced against cats, nerds, food bloggers, Christians and police officers of the Lower Mainland.
One U.S. reader chastised me for being immature, with “ingrained body shame” (untrue -- I’ve carefully nurtured my body shame) because I ribbed the eager recruiting efforts of the American Association for Nude Recreation. I’ve been called “insane” and “smug and cocky” – though I prefer to take those as compliments -- and have been taken to task for needling numerous celebrities.
One column drawing attention to the ethical pitfalls of travel writing got me in trouble with my fellow travel writers and I had to defend my views on CBC radio’s Early Edition. Once there, I stressed that, for the most part, Going Coastal is intended to be a humour column. That it may not always be humorous to everybody – or, indeed, anybody -- is one of its perils. Nevertheless, I don’t intend to post an “exaggeration advisory” on each column, because I feel it’s implied.
Unfortunately, Google has made it impossible for snarky writers to fly under the radar any more. Bigwigs and earwigs alike discover you’ve mentioned them and they track you down. Luckily, most people seem to understand that my tongue is lodged firmly in my cheek. I once received a surprisingly gentle rebuke from notoriously harsh radio talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger for making fun of her in a column. A few years ago, somebody in the office of famous American rabbi Shmuley Boteach pleasantly acknowledged they’d seen a piece I’d written suggesting that he use the Rejection Hotline to get rid of his would-be neighbour, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. I also enjoyed an appreciative e-mail from Trevor Blackwell, the CEO of Anybot, manufacturer of a robot I’d found ripe for parody.
Equally unexpectedly, a man wrote from the Greenland Art Review after one of my columns suggested that TV renovation expert Ty Pennington re-decorate Vincent van Gogh’s bedroom. The Greenlander wanted to point out – I’m not sure why -- that the way van Gogh set up that room suggested that he was left-handed. Did he think Pennington should leave it alone, in case van Gogh came back? Beats me.
On the other hand, I heard from one reader that I got a mention in a Salvation Army Church sermon that compared me to “Job, Jonah and other sufferers.” I hope this was because I had written about having brain surgery, and not because I whine so much. Somebody from another church also wrote to say that he’d been reading my column “religiously,” which seemed to me to be ill-advised.
What’s surprised me most over the years is the kindness of you readers, and your desire to connect. I received many emails wishing me well after my surgery. A story about my dog’s tussle with a skunk drew emailed tips for stench removal. Another about the passing of that same pet elicited an outpouring of mail from people who had lost beloved dogs themselves. One, gratifyingly, said the column had made him realize that it was finally time for him to start combing the shelters in search of another dog.
That was just as heartwarming as the time one thoughtful stranger dropped off a bottle of wine for me at News headquarters – I must have sounded like I needed it. Still, I have to admit that the best compliment you can give this column is to keep reading. Many thanks for doing so, lo these many years. And, if you don’t mind, here’s to many more.