Can you believe it? It’s been a full year since I stopped writing my weekly newspaper column. A lot has happened in that year. I’ve gone through several painful divorces and finally learned how to dance without screaming. (I get really into it.)
Originally, I’d intended to take a about six months off from writing. Just to let my mind recover from the crippling schedule of 400 words a week. To let those word lesions heal. But then six months became a year. And then a year became this paragraph. And now I’m ready, once again, to become Dallas’s premiere humor columnist.
Let’s face it. If there are better writers out there, they aren’t as good as me. Tricky literary tricks such as the passive voice were mastered by me. My prose was so good, editors used to take red pencils and circle big swaths of my writing. Often times offering marginalia such as “Needs work!” and “No!” How cool is that? An editor recognizing that I should get even more work! And sometimes being so overwhelmed by a passage he can’t believe I even wrote it!
Successful Writer Poses with Man in Gray Shirt
Now I just need to find a publication. I’m thinking about a little paper called THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS
. Or perhaps a little something called The New York Times Bestseller List. With frequent reader entreaties, I’ve thought about gathering my cornucopia of historic columns into a book form. But I need to take a scrapbooking class first.
Until I firm up my next writing gig, I present to you an encore of MY FINAL COLUMN. I’d forgotten how raw, gut-wrenching, and English it is. Its words still sting like something that stings you when it bites you with its tail, or maybe an insect. Like a few writers before me (John of Patmos, Luke the Physician, Paul of Tarsus) I know what it’s like to write as if taking dictation from God. And I also know what it is like to stop working for awhile and pop back up again (Tom Arnold).
I may have been off my feet for the past year, but by God, I’m ready to scream-dance once again.
Gordon Keith: Final Newspaper Column, August 2011
Shortly before his death, my grandfather told me, “Gordon, never stop learning.” His eyes then widened and went dim as my blade did its work making his final bit of learning that I didn’t like people talking while I watched game shows. But the old man had a point. We should always learn, try new things, and accept the quirky challenges that fall on our paths to salvation. Learning is living. At least that the BS I used on myself when I was tricked into taking this job.
I was forty-five minutes late to my Quick interview. I’d been drinking at home and almost forgot about our early lunch meeting. The Quick Editor in Chief in those days was a guy named Rob Clark and he wanted to meet with me for an “important business opportunity.” I just assumed it was a murder for hire so I said yes. He told me a time, and we agreed on a place.
I strolled into a pre-burned up Terilli’s restaurant at 11:45 and glanced around. The guy in the front booth motioned me over and shook my hand. “Terrell Owens?” I said.
“No. I’m Rob Clark and I want you to write a column for Quick.”
That sentence shocked and confused me, especially since he was doing that tickle your palm with his middle finger during the handshake.
“You do realize that I am barely literate.” I said.
He laughed. “I think you’ll be great. You’ll learn.”
That was over six years ago. I’ve been writing a weekly column ever since. I don’t know whatever happened to Rob. Prison, I suppose.
You know the old cliche “All good things must come to an end?” Well, I thought Quick would last forever if it made it past two weeks. Hip, irreverent, and made of paper. Seemed like a formula for success. For a tabloid or a heart. Plus, I was now writing for them. What could possibly go wrong? Just as in promises between high school sweethearts, forever never lasts.
You hold in your dainty hands the very last issue of Quick. Sad, isn’t it? This little paper that became such a habit for you, and such a source of recreational drug money for me, is turning up the house lights and shutting down the bar after seven beautiful years. I hate to see any print product go away, especially one that publishes a weekly picture of me, but life moves in one direction- forward. If you swim against it, you’ll be tired, miserable and sick of going nowhere. At least that’s the BS I’m telling myself now.
As Quick’s “lead“ columnist for more than half a decade, I’ve seen good and bad. I’ve exposed city graft (“City Graft Exposed” June 12, 2004) and I’ve exposed myself (“Columnist Held in SMU Case” March 10, 2011). I’ve written 318 columns, most of them good to great (3) and a handful of bad ones (315). That’s 125,000 words. Pretty amazing for someone with nothing to say and 400 words a week to say it in.
I really thought I would have quit this job a long time ago because I quit everything I try. Except drinking, and some mild forms of petting, but as I sit down to write my very last column, I feel a little misty eyed.
The hardest part was breaking it to my family. When I told my parents that Quick was closing, Dad asked “what’s Quick?”
“It’s a paper.” I said.
“Oh, that’s nice. What did you do for them?” mom asked.
I told her.
“You’re a Communist? Oh my!” she said, clutching her breast.
“No, mom. A columnist,” I explained, also clutching her breast.
It was awkward.
There’s no way for me to sum up our years together or put anything into perspective at this point, partly because I’m on deadline, and partly because I’m an illiterate who was tricked into doing a column instead of a lucrative murder for hire plot. But I tried. I tried to take the challenge in front of me and do with it what I could.
Thank you for reading. Enjoy your life.