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Getting started writing for the Gazette

People ask how I began writing articles for the Gazette. 

I just slipped casually into it, beginning in my early teens, when I would climb the three long flights of well worn wooden steps to the press room for leftover paper. The odor of printer’s ink was intoxicating, already seeping ephemerally into my blood.

It began when, for Christmas, I had been given a small portable printer, capable of turning out items on 3-by-7 inch sheets of paper. It came in handy for creating small posters for school events. Hardly earth shaking, but for me the results were dramatic, and more so when students barraged me for more than just prom or sports events; there were campaign publicities for student offices, announcements for upcoming committee meetings, news of new menus from the school kitchen – almost anything that needed to be told was grist for my mill.

So I continued climbing those stairs, buying left-over paper at 10 cents a stack, and enjoyed the spirit of a modest publishing career.  

Years passed. That little printer was long forgotten, but the dormant spirit for composing returned when I came back to Houghton after WWII and after a college education that opened up a teaching position for me at Michigan Tech.

One of our peripheral Tech obligations was to contribute in some way to the community at large. Well, I’d done some writing while in college, even won a few prizes, so why not write, here? 

My academic interests focused on three things: the power of knowledge, what made people tick, and the arts. Having lived in the Copper Country for most of my life, I knew the tenor of our varied communities, so I wrote about school productions. I reviewed movies. I covered musicals and other local events.  

People seemed to liked what I wrote. The publishing editor’s wife liked it, said I had a good style, whatever that meant. The head of the Humanities Department appreciated it, said it brought attention to our communal contribution. And I liked it because I was writing only about subjects I found interesting. 

At first it was a weekly column of approximately 600 words, called it “The Catbird Seat.” Subjects? Anything that our readers might find interesting – the local arts of course, bios on local personalities, and (as ever, a teacher) introducing anything that might expand the readers’ minds and imaginations.

Politically, the original Gazette was unabashedly conservative and Republican to suit the Copper Country’s bent. But with ever changing publishers and an attempt to hold a steady middle-of-the-road appearance, only a subtle swing to one side or the other seemed to become the norm – and checking the political cartoons became an obvious way to determine each swing.

When for many reasons it became necessary to shrink the paper, my column shrank as well, slightly longer but only once a month. I missed the weekly challenges, but being able to expand the column was a nice trade-off. The title changed to “Over 60,” to appeal to the majority of readers, but also to anyone else curiously interested.

Sources for information? Eyes everywhere, ears to the ground, constant attention paid to the state of contemporary life, and a gathering file of broadly useful information from nearly everywhere. Friends helped from home and beyond with novel information, or I might find something online – pithy, informative, sometimes humorous bon mots from around the world – all collected and eventually woven into articles. 

Some of the material might seem trivial, but spiked with tidbits of rare information, something to generate thought and stir the imagination – that was my goal, always my underlying motivation. Knowledge is power. Make it interesting. Mix it in.

Lord knows, I’m no Samuel Pepys, whose rambling volumes written nearly four centuries ago are still being read the world over, but having spent a lifetime in endlessly gathering “Power,” I continue, hoping some of what I’ve learned will rub off and, perhaps with luck (and in union with the other local columnists at the Gazette) will make your lives just a little richer by recording our private interests for your amusement – daily, weekly or monthly.

If that isn’t reason enough to continue what began decades ago, then consider what Maya Angelou once wrote: “If you’re going to live, leave a legacy. Make a mark on the world that can’t be erased.” 

Nuff said?

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