Reasonable questions for a columnist

Posted Oct. 14, 2011, at 5:30 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 07, 2012, at 7:39 p.m.

When people I first meet learn that I write a weekly column for the paper, the first question is nearly always “What’s it called?” — followed by “What’s it about?”

I don’t have a good answer for either.

“It doesn’t have a name,” I say, and, “It can be about anything, I guess.”

Neither answer sounds very legitimate or important.

Generally, people smile politely and nod and I’m left hoping no one presses me further, because I truly don’t have much of a better answer.

Unless asked directly I generally don’t mention that I’m a columnist, at least to people in the readership area.

I’m not ashamed, nor am I afraid to defend myself or my opinions against someone who — insert gasp here — might not agree with my point of view on a particular subject.

It’s just that at some times and in some places I might not be in the mood to debate a matter or be criticized for something I wrote weeks or months ago.

All columnists generally have loads of people offering up subject ideas for the next column.

I, at least, welcome each and every one.

This week, during my way-too-early water workout class, someone asked whether I might have something to say about environmentalist and northern Maine national park advocate Roxanne Quimby’s recent interview with

You know, the one in which she said Maine was a welfare state with the most aged population in the country, the most obese population in New England and was having difficulty keeping its rural schools open.

I thought about it.

Clearly that interview probably wasn’t her smartest move if her intent is to sell her idea of a national park to the residents of the Katahdin region.

But one would be hard-pressed to deny there isn’t some truth in those painful words, regardless of how you feel about Quimby or the park.

The horrendous shooting in Seal Beach, Calif., that occurred this week nearly led me to another discussion about the importance of diligence when dealing with domestic disputes.

The 42-year-old man who allegedly walked into a hair salon and killed eight people, including his ex-wife, was described by neighbors as a heck of a good guy. The ex-wife’s attorney and her friends, however, knew the fear she was living with. They were aware of the threats.

It happened anyway.

Over and over again we hear those left behind saying they were aware there had been threats but never thought it would go so far.

Threats of domestic abuse and homicide need to be taken seriously — each and every one.

I’m not sure exactly how to say it differently.

Someone else suggested that I should discuss the protest movements growing rapidly in New York City, Washington, D.C., and seeping a bit more slowly but steadily into rural parts of the country, such as Bangor.

I’m seeing what everyone else is seeing. I’m reading the signs, I’m hearing the anger and I’m shaking my head at the placating, but seemingly useless, responses from federal politicians.

I really don’t know what else to say.

There is a very real chance that the Downeast Correctional Facility in Bucks Harbor might be closed to save the state money. The state needs to cut costs. I’ve toured that facility a couple of times. It has long been in need of serious renovations, but it also has a terrific work program for inmates, probably one of the best in the state.

It provides decent-paying jobs and benefits for about 60 Washington County workers. Washington County is one of the poorest in the country.

I think closing it will probably save the state money. I feel sick about the loss of employment in that county. I’ve yet to decide exactly where the blame lies in that story or whether blame lies anywhere.

I’m not exactly sure what more to say about that.

Newspapers in Portland and Bangor are offering up early retirements and buyouts and laying off staff. I could have opined, I suppose, on the future of newspapers in our society — if there is one.

What is it for? What is it about?

And perhaps most important: How much does it cost?

Reasonable questions all round.

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