June 30, 2021–What do you say when you have nothing to say?

As a youngling I remember reading letters to the editor back in my hometown newspapers. Even then I noticed that the most prolific letter writers–whom I assumed were all older because they usually mentioned “the good old days”–tended to sound like they were recycling sound bites they had heard from TV pundits or the other seniors at their weekly coffee klatches.

I visualized those comments as a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy. The substance was still there, but it was faded and distorted from being copied so many times.

In other words there was little original thought. I vowed I wouldn’t fall into that same trap when I retired.

Yet now I understand how seductive the aged cheese is.

Going to work every day, whatever the career, forces you into new situations with unfamiliar companions in uncomfortable situations. It keeps you sharp. If you love it, it gives you energy. If you hate it, it keeps you angry. Either way, it creates emotion.

In retirement, even if you are active, you are in danger of losing that edge. You shun activities not required by your job, you find it more inconvenient to shave and put on a clean shirt, and you definitely no longer feel the need to hang out with people you dislike. People, not incidentally, that might hold different world views than you.

The result?

1) You get all your new experiences vicariously through television or whatever media streams into your parlor,

2) You wallow in memories,

3) You discuss the weather,

4) You chronicle your boring existence.

When I travel, I enjoy picking up small-town publications and browsing local columnists. They all fall into one of those categories. Those in Category 1 share their opinions on national politics, opinions they’ve heard somewhere else. Those in Category 2 spend 500 words reminiscing.

One of my favorites from another state specialized in the third category. He started every column recapping what the weather had been the past week. I once asked why they continued to run this column, and was informed it was written into his severance contract.

A sure sign a columnist is running out of things to write about is when every column chronicles their day or week. As we stop seeking out new experiences, our world contracts, to first our state, then our town, then inside the picket fence around our house. Sometimes columnists don’t even step outside (unless they are writing about last week’s weather).

Gradually all we write about is our failed garden, precocious pets, and quirky family.

The ultimate sign of having nothing fresh to say is when we resort to writing about what we are writing about, as I am now doing.

I apologize for wasting these three minutes of your life.

Off in search of adventure so it won’t happen again.

PS Sometimes columnists have nothing to write about because the people they want to write about don’t return calls.