The Mountain Times

°F Fri, April 18, 2014

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Looking back at five years

It was five years ago this month that I started writing my column for the Mountain Times. From the moment our former publisher Royal Barnard gave me the job, I knew that, in its modest way, it would be one of the great strokes of luck in my life.

I think it really was luck, by the way: before becoming a columnist, I'd written only two articles for the paper - one a feature on the local bus system, the other an interview with some of Killington's foreign workers - and, although I'd worked pretty hard on them, neither showed any great gift for entertainment or commentary. Yet, these were precisely the gifts that I was sure I possessed.

If I remember correctly, only one of the articles had actually appeared in print when, incredibly, Royal asked me whether I'd like to start writing columns. It was in large part because I was young - so young, in fact, that I was hesitant to say my real age, for fear I wouldn't be trusted - that I got the gig: the idea was to get a more youthful voice into the paper. I was 20 years old.

The first column I wrote - although not the first to be published - was an alternately stern and sarcastic article about Facebook, which in 2008 still seemed new enough that to "explain" it to people might not be redundant. I had been hired, after all, to get the Millenials reading, and I knew that college newspapers were publishing all sorts of opinion pieces on the great social network - it was the best thing ever, a giant waste of time, etc. My own piece, which seemed very insightful to me at the time, sounds now, as I reread it, kind of pompous and kind of lonely: I wasn't actually a member of Facebook back then, and I was really just using the subject as a way to condemn those of my peers who were not as frowningly thoughtful as I ("I suspect, however, that the main reason behind Facebook's success is youthful narcissism") - I was, after all, a serious, paid writer. I still do columns like this sometimes, sadly.

The second column I wrote was a '90s-kid nostalgia piece on the Nintendo 64 - again, I was aiming straight at my "target audience," in a friendlier way this time. Royal saw what good there was in these articles, and they convinced him that I could do the job he'd offered. I myself was utterly convinced; it took me a while to become less so. Once I had come up with a title for the column (actually, "Generation Y" was my mom's invention - the idea was both to suggest youth-oriented content and to refer to my last name) and had penned a jokey introductory piece that contained not a single real fact about my life (I was 20 - I'd never done anything), we were off and running. I, who had read the "Jo's Jottings" column in the Mountain Times as a child, was thrilled at seeing my own byline every week.

Although I felt myself to be full of funny ideas and acute observations, it eventually became challenging to think of subject matter for "Generation Y." I vacillated between "Slate"-esque cultural commentary and Dave Barryish humor: self-consciously important "insight" one week, determined goofiness the next. I wasn't sure what I was "supposed" to be writing. I learned that it was easy to have feelings and even a few observations about things, harder to sharpen those feelings and observations into a polished and not-pointless-seeming opinion piece. I learned that creating opinions, whether jocular or serious, is exhausting, that sometimes you just want to be free of them.

I'm so glad I kept writing, though, and every once in a while I dip into the archives to remember what I've written. I have never been a diarist, but because of "Generation Y" I have this incredible record of what I've been thinking for the past five years - or, more precisely, of what my brain was able to put forth when I forced it to think about things. I had all this space to be stupid, and to learn - so very, very slowly - to be less stupid. (If you want to find out how dumb you actually are, try writing a few opinion pieces every month for a couple years, and then wait a couple more years and go back and look at them.) Did anybody outside my own family actually read all of this, column after column, monitoring my clumsy growth? I sure hope not. (To all readers: thank you so much, I hope my gaffs were at least entertaining.)

And, oh, I still have so much growing to do. I really am tired of having opinions. How does one write neither opinion nor fact but, instead, truth? That's what I'm going to work out someday. I wish I still had copies of the Mountain Times issues of my childhood, so I could revisit my predecessor, "Jo's Jottings," and try to figure out how to be as admirably pointless in print as she could be.
I'll find my purity sometime.

Then again, who knows how long they'll let me keep doing this? I'm 25 now. I can't believe how quickly the time has past. Pretty soon I'll be too old to be writing the "youth column."