This is the one hundredth My Left Turn column. This signifies nothing, but as author I am drawn to taking a retrospective look at four years of writing, and to wonder what, if anything, it comes to.
The raw statistics are these. Of the first 99 numbers, 31 were about politics, 40 were about society and modern life, 10 were about family life as I have experienced it, and 18 were about nature. This is not a premeditated result. The original conception of My Left Turn was for it to be a left-leaning political and current affairs column treating, as the editor put it, anything of interest to our readers.
Of the above categories of subjects, I can say categorically, and with some irony, that the subject I least enjoy treating is politics. I think it shows. Most readers will agree and some have said so. The subject I most enjoy writing about is nature. I love our local rivers, woods and ponds, and writing about them feels very much like writing love letters. Whatever one thinks of My Left Turn in absolute terms, I believe its relative best is in the nature pieces.
It is from my least and most favorite categories that I choose my least and most favorite specific numbers. My least favorite by far is “Dear Sarah.” This miserable epistolary style attack on Governor Palin not only made me wince post-facto, but it attracted more vociferous reader criticisms than any other number. By way of explanation I had in mind something very different, and kinder, but I wildly missed. A man who works for a newspaper and whose opinion I respect said the media’s treatment of Sarah Palin made him ashamed to work in the industry. Hearing that was my worst moment as author of My Left Turn.
As for my favorite number, it’s a toss-up between “Working to Live” and “Quiet Eyes.” “Working to Live” is about work and the importance of teaching young people to search broadly for careers that feed their souls. I wrote the piece as a means to report certain hard lessons I have learned during the vicissitudes of my own career. “Quiet Eyes” is one of those love letters I mentioned before, in this case about Baddacook Pond in Groton. It is likewise a reporting of certain lessons learned, but of a wholly different and happier kind.
Most critical reader feedback mentions the style of writing in My Left Turn. It is often called judgmental, elitist, and affected. Clearly many readers hear a snobbish tone in it, though no conscious snobbish attitude motivates the writing. Quite the opposite is true, in fact. But I do strive for a certain style with formality and rhythm in it. I love words and metric sentences, but in my efforts and experiments far more often than not I fall short of the mark. Still, every so often I flatter myself that there is a glimmer of hope, and a modicum of success, and I resolve to keep trying.
One hundred pieces. Some adequate, some execrable, most somewhere in between, or so I believe. Writing them and answering for them has been sometimes a joy and sometimes stressful. But I can say this much. Not once have I sent off a new number for publication without an abiding sense of wonder that I live in a land where a chump like me can ask for an audience of thousands, and have it. To the excellent people at Nashoba Publishing, and above all to you, dear readers, thank you. And, with your continued indulgence, it’s on to the next one hundred.
Chris Mills lives in Groton with his wife. He has three adult children. Chris welcomes reader feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.