I was a columnist for the local paper in high school.
It was a county paper.
It was a weekly, county paper.
It was a weekly, county paper with a small circulation.
It was a weekly, county paper for a county so far up in the northeast corner of North Dakota, people thought we lived in Canada. Some of my friends could spit on Canada from their property.
But, I loved people, writing, and driving all around the county, so it was a great job for me. I marveled when I was handed a paycheck, because I would have worked for free. But, since it kept me in Mountain Dew and jeans, I always cashed it.
After writing a few articles, my editor asked me to write a column. A weekly column. I hardly knew what one was, let alone what to write about. He mumbled “just write something” and walked away. He came back with a camera, hollered, “Hey, Melly!” and snapped a picture with my mouth open as I was hovering wordless over my IBM Selectric. A few minutes later, with still nothing brilliant on my page, he returned and asked for the name of my column.
Name? It needs a name? Name. Parents had nine months to pick out a name for their babies, I had less than nine minutes. If I couldn’t come up with an answer quickly, he would return with his wooden ruler and make my desk his drum and the entire office his stage.
I truly think he believed his ruler could tap the pace for my brain waves, that the faster he tapped, the faster I typed. It wasn’t his ruler, it was my youth. Remember those days when brilliant thoughts poured from your….um brain… and…um…onto ….um….um….what was I saying?
Yea, the name. Eleven years of teachers answering all my questions with “Look it up!” I did what any smart student would do, I grabbed the dictionary off my desk. I opened to the “M” section to make an alliteration and mumbled through the words until I got to the “Ma” section. I didn’t love the title or the picture, but I had a column to write and couldn’t fuss over the particulars.
I had no idea the amount of taunting in the high school hallways I would endure from those split-second decisions, but telling myself to ignore torment dished out by classmates that couldn’t read my column kept inner turmoil to a minimum. Coping strategy was crucial for high school, wasn’t it?
I also had no idea the picture of me in braces and “I really wore that to work?” would haunt me for decades.
A cold Mountain Dew later, I had my first column. It went straight to the typesetter without any corrections or editing, which I now recall with the clichéd chagrin. It’s always awkward reading early writings, especially early teenage writing, but I’m struck with the irony.
I was young and ignorant, and had much to learn on the fly.
The Magnum Opus wasn’t the writing I produced, it was what writing for the newspaper produced in me.
I love it!! What you wrote AND your picture!! I have pictures like that but without the braces. For me what is embarrassing is the glasses!! Who would have thought that we would have laughed at our glasses years later?! Has anyone told the kids that about the glasses that are in style now?!
And to think I got to marry this women…
What a neat experience for a high schooler. I don’t care if it was almost in the Canadian wilderness, I’m impressed!! The beginning of a life-long writing journey as a 17 year old. Pretty neat.
Thanks, Tandis. It is fun to see the hand of the Lord in leading me this direction, I will write about that another time. And, just to keep the facts straight, I was 16. 🙂 I graduated at 17.
Karen Higgins says
Aw, thanks! Am having fun reliving those high school years with new insight.
Don’t we all have pictures like that?
Yes, we do! I have a friend who calls these The Shameful Years, but not because of what we did as much as how we looked!