Dear Reader: I will be brief, because I must.
Recent research indicates that the newspaper-reading public wants short, concise writing. Newspaper managers quite reasonably strive to give their readers what they want. In an effort to do so, a stake must be put in the ground somewhere. In these pages, that stake has lately been set at 450 words.
One can say much in 450 words. The Gettysburg address, arguably the greatest expression ever written in American English, is 269 words. Shakespeare’s sonnets average about 136 words. When the Nazis demanded the Americans surrender at the Battle of the Bulge, Gen. McAuliffe’s famous answer was just one word: “Nuts.”
But not all writing is amenable to such concision. Not for nothing is Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” several hundred thousand words long. Proust needed all of one million words to make “Remembrance of Things Past” a titan of literary creativity. And it’s precisely in the breadth and depth of Boswell’s “Life of Johnson” that we perceive the mind of the great etymologist.
In “My Left Turn,” I have aspired to something other than mere reporting of facts or expressing of opinions. I can write in six words: “I oppose the war in Iraq,” but that is not interesting nor will it advance public debate.
Occasionally, I have tried to capture something elusive or subtle about our natural environment or our community. Such writing necessarily includes details. And I confess that sometimes I write only for the pleasure of creating sentences of rhythm and character. This end is commonly at variance with brevity.
Therefore, bowing to circumstances, this 69th number of “My left Turn” is the last. My head understands but my heart does not. It rails at the implications of the demand for shorter writing.
Yet I will not end on a negative note, but with sincere gratitude. I thank Kate Walsh, managing editor, for the privilege of writing for these pages. She gave me leave to freely express myself without censure, and she has treated me with perfect respect in all circumstances. Many others at Nashoba Publishing have also been supportive.
Above all, it has been a pleasure to share the writing experience with you, Dear Reader. I hope you feel the same. Thank you for your letters. Your words of encouragement were very kind. Even the excoriating ones bore the complement that you lent me your attention. What more could I have asked for?
I will make no summary statement about “My Left Turn.” I’ve amply had my say. I will only repeat what I wrote in the first number, that I humbly hope our community is in some small way better for my efforts.
Chris Mills lives in Groton with his wife and three teenage children. Chris can be contacted at email@example.com.