Copyright © 2014 By Ralph F. Couey
November 3, 2006. That was the day I went to the Blogger website and officially opened "Race the Sunset" with a post about Ben Rothlesberger's motorcycle accident. Tonight, some 7 years and 9 months later, I am penning the 500th post on this blog.
Writing was, in my youth, something I avoided with every trick of deception I could muster. But as I grew older, I realized that in my life's experiences I had acquired a voice, and something to say. We were living in Somerset, Pennsylvania at the time, a place where winter generally begins in mid-October and doesn't relinquish it's grip until mid-May, with an average of 100 inches of snow hitting the ground in between. That leaves a lot of long winter evenings in which to explore the inner reaches of the mind and soul. I began to write in fits and starts, learning a lot about content and how to construct a sentence along the way. And how to self-edit. Eventually, I acquired enough confidence to submit some pieces to the local newspaper. The first thing published was an entire page devoted to the beginning of motorcycle season. I still have the aluminum print plate, although it's faded quite a bit.
My foray into becoming a columnist began with a strict ration of one piece per month. Eventually that increased to once per week. I remember with great joy and pride the day when the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat editor told me, "You were just too good to keep out of the paper."
A few months later, I began to submit to the other local paper in Somerset. I was told that due to the close proximity of the two papers that I would have to write separate columns for each. Now I had gone from writing one piece per month to writing two per week. In addition, I picked up an occasional column in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and a few other smaller papers in the northeast. I was having the time of my life. I was an honest-to-God newspaper columnist with a loyal following.
But the only consistent thing in life is change. My day job, a small federal agency, was shut down, my co-workers scattered to the four winds. I ended up in Virginia, after cutting my ties to the two Pennsylvania papers. After all, I reasoned, how could I be a "local columnist" from 200 miles away? I had, by this time also acquired a bit of an ego with regards to my writing and blithely assumed that I could pick up another columnist slot there. Things however came crashing down to reality. My submissions to the many local papers were completely ignored. In a short period of time, I went from being a columnist to just another free lancer with a dream.
My productivity dropped off accordingly. Stripped of the requirement to produce two quality columns every week, and consumed with the responsibilities of establishing ourselves in this new place, I found it difficult to write even two or three times a month. Looking back at those pieces, I can see the struggle taking place. Rather than seeing flow and pace, I saw words and phrases which were forced and uneven.
So, why didn't I just give up? Well, writing is like getting a skin rash. No matter how hard you try to ignore it, you just feel compelled to scratch. I still love to write. I have two books I'd like to finish at some point, but my bread and butter, the short essay, continues to be my brush and palette.
In looking back over the history of this blog, I can see the diversity in my interests. I actually sat down and made a list of the subjects from which my inspiration has flowed. There are two subjects, motorcycles and life in general, that lead in the count. Motorcycling has been my passion for over 20 years and in the early years, posts roared with V-Twin engines and gleamed with paint and chrome, as the countryside flashed by. Life in general is a catch-all, I know. But within there are musings about the death of a lawnmower, the collapse of a closet, endless sentences about the interminable nature of a Pennsylvania winter. But I also wrote about love and friendship, gardening, and a friend's cows which she treated as pets.
The third topic, which I called "Reflections," consists of what I think is the best of what I've done. As an example, I was out walking on a fine fall day, my favorite time of year, when I passed under an elm tree at the same moment that a passing breeze dislodged a bunch of leaves, which showered down on me. A quiet gong seemed to go off inside my chest, and I couldn't wait to get home to write about the glories of autumn.
History is another subject that has populated the blog. Many of those were posts, starting in 2011, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. In those posts, organized by month and year, is a fairly complete chronology of the major, and many of the minor actions which defined that conflict, both on the battlefields and in the congresses. I've also written pieces in response to domestic and international news events, many regarding the disturbing increase in mass shootings in this country.
Other subjects include the various aspects of 9/11, mainly columns written about the development of the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania, and effort of which I contributed to in a very minor way. I wrote about being a Grampa; sports; hiking, the newest of my passions. Running, my weight loss surgery, the passage of time, entertainment, pets, religion, space, the challenge of writing, and some pieces extolling the country in which I live.
These pieces cover the gamut of emotions from happy to sad, from questioning to pessimism, birth, and death.
I intend to continue writing here, and I am ever so grateful to those who have stopped by, all 48,090 of you, to spend a couple minutes tasting my cooking. It's so true that this writing thing is an itch I can't seem to scratch, and as long as I experience that sensation accompanying a fresh idea that demands that I write or watch my head explode, I will continue to make that effort.
Will I ever be a columnist again? I'd like to think so, but one thing that is required of any writer is that undefeatable sense of optimism that someday, somewhere there will be an editor who will fall in love with my stuff.
I retire in 7 years and I fully intend to spend whatever years I have left after that trying to punch through that wall which stands between a writer and the nirvana of publication.
In the final analysis, it is what I must do.