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October surprises and the news you need | Chuck's World


Last updated 10/19/2020 at 11:32am

I am a keeper of irrelevant anniversaries, which strikes me as a talent not unlike being able to raise one eyebrow or dislocate your little finger, mostly because I can also do both of those things.

Dates get stuck in my head. I don’t understand it, but I accept it and try not to write too many columns about it. I can tell you the anniversary of when we last switched internet providers, but you don’t really want to know.

It was in October, though. They’re all in October.

I don’t understand that, either. October is full of these useless numbers, dates that suddenly turn my head as I sense an echo. Some friends were in a bad car accident on Oct. 13, 1975. My wife and I arrived in the Pacific Northwest on Oct. 4, 1983.

An important meeting, a casual conversation, a crucial decision here, a road not taken there – these are all October memories, and I have receipts.

These aren’t really irrelevant as much as trivial memories, matched up with a day. Why they tend to cluster in October is a mystery. I have many theories, which are all fascinating and I will not be sharing.

I’ll just note that this week, I’m entering my 20th year of writing this newspaper column. You may commence with the cards and flowers now.

It’s not important to you. It’s not important to me, even, although I usually think about it.

My eyes are clear. No spectacular acts of journalism have graced this space. No stories have been broken or insights delivered. I began a few weeks after the attacks of Sept. 11, and for the past seven months I’ve been writing during the most severe global pandemic in a century.

It feels like I’ve written a lot about pets.

Also computers, and TV shows, and mostly me. This is a community newspaper, and while there are certainly important local stories to weigh in on, such as waterfront parking and property taxes, it’s always struck me as the better part of valor to stick to what I know.

“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle,” George Orwell wrote. He was referring to political upheaval, but I thought it was also important to document that time I went to the dentist. Because I assume you also have teeth.

I’ve made many ephemeral pen pals over the past two decades, readers who check in regularly for a few years and then disappear, either eventually uninspired by my misadventures or else having moved on in one way or another.

On the day my first column was published, composer Jay Livingston died at the age of 87, having left us dozens of memorable pop songs and the theme from “Mr. Ed,” which he not only wrote, but sang on the show.

More famous names have passed since then, presidents and popes and movie stars, and sometimes those names have shown up here.

But when you begin at the age of 43 and are now 62, things are going to happen. My dad died. My daughter got married. My wife won a trifecta of medical calamities a decade ago, and I wrote columns from hospital rooms.

I also wrote from far away, from Texas and Massachusetts and Scotland. I’ve written on desktops and laptops and tablets, and occasionally on my phone. At least once I wrote in longhand and gave it to my wife to type and send to my editor.

I’ve made friends I’ve yet to meet, and some who’ve become regular companions. I’ve been complimented, praised, insulted, threatened, and inspired by readers, and none of this really matters at all.

I’m content with this. Sometimes I revel a little in my insignificance, even. Foolish consistency, as Ralph Waldo Emerson noted, is usually a tip-off that you do other foolish things, but I’m generally happy with the routine. At the same time, I’m very much aware that I can disappear tomorrow and not be missed. You don’t really need me.

But I think you need this.

You’ve probably read Beacon publisher Paul Archipley’s column about this newspaper’s plans for the future. Change has been inevitable, and it was already being discussed in 2001 when I began here. The tenuous arrangement between content providers and consumers was already cracking, as the file-sharing culture that popped up among the first internet generation in the 1990s extended to journalism.

The joke used to be that newspapers and magazines would give their product away for free as long as you promised to read the advertisements, although there was more truth than humor there. Classified ads were the first to go, and then there were just so many eyeballs in so many places. Advertisers had their pick, and newspapers became an afterthought.

And here we are.

There are workable models for sustainable local journalism, but they need your help to work. Beacon newspapers have had an online presence for as long as I’ve worked here, but it’s where the future of journalism lives, and it’s where we have to go.

I urge you to read Paul’s words, and seriously consider a subscription . It’s affordable, and it’s never been as necessary as now.

And it has nothing to do with me. Local news will be needed regardless of what I do here, although if I go back to the dentist I’ll let you know, you bet.

I should probably go back.


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