A farewell letter to readers of my column

Published 9:18 am Friday, September 27, 2013

Column: Notes from Home, by David Behling

Dear readers,

I have no idea what most of you look like. Not really.

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I thought I would get that out of the way first, lest there be any confusion.

Not knowing what you look like doesn’t really matter, however, because I know that you are real. You are not fictional, even if imaginary versions of you look over my shoulder every week as I write.

Why am I thinking about this (and writing about it) this week? Because this will be the final installment of Notes from Home in the Albert Lea Tribune.

It’s time to move on. It’s time for me to find out whether the other essays and stories I am working on — some nearly ready to send out into the world, some needing extensive revision — can find real readers, too. A weekly deadline carries many positives, but it does get in the way of writing that doesn’t involve that deadline.

Some of you, those with longer memories, may think this sounds familiar. I stopped writing this column when I worked as a staff writer at the Tribune. Seemed like the right thing to do. Then back in 2003, during the buildup and invasion of Iraq, I lost my ability to trust and respect readers. I could not argue as part of a process leading to the solution of a problem. My voice became shrill and judgmental. I whined. I gnashed my teeth.

There were times when I had to step away temporarily. This farewell is not temporary.

But there are some things I have learned writing Notes from Home that I wanted to share in this final column:

• How deadlines are real; they cannot be ignored, unless you want to be fired.

• How to write about big ideas while using small words! Although I often say I have way too much education, it’s not true. Each level I’ve passed through has sharpened and broadened my perspective. But academic writing is interesting for a tiny audience who really do have way too much education. Notes from Home is for intelligent citizens, who probably are not inspired by semiotics or epistemology.

• How to turn tiny paychecks into giant rewards. (Oh, the power of positive thinking!)

• How unintended meanings and misunderstandings carry real consequences and have a painful impact on relationships outside of the Opinions page of the Tribune. While some broken friendships still fester, I will not apologize for writing the words that caused the breaches. As the line goes in Princess Bride: “Life is pain. Anyone saying differently is selling something.”

There are also some things I hope readers have learned from reading Notes from Home:

• How people — all people — are unique. None of us should assume we know everything there is to know about another person, including their ideas and opinions, based on where they grew up or who they are related to.

• How you out there reading this newspaper have a perspective that is worth sharing. You have a voice that you can use via the letters section or guest columns in this newspaper.

There are some topics, of course, I either did not have the courage to write about or just plain ran out of time, like the unintended consequences of turning abortion into a crime or the way big-box-everything stores undermine locally owned small businesses. Hmm, then again, maybe I just did …

Whatever happens in the days to come, I will continue to write, albeit without a deadline for now. Readers who want to continue to read will find me posting, hopefully regularly, to a blog. But since this letter is not intended as a marketing device, I leave you to find it via Google or Bing.

A colleague at the college where I teach — whom I first met when he was a student in my freshman philosophy course six years ago — is taking over this spot starting next Friday. I hope readers find his stories relevant and interesting; having resumed my status as a reader of the Tribune, I know I am.

Writing this regular column has been among the most rewarding experiences of my life. Even with the angry phone calls, email messages and online comments, I cannot think of anything else I’ve done that had the potential to make so big a difference in the lives of others while also bringing professional satisfaction.

Live long and prosper.


David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea. This is his final column.