As I recover from surgery and resume my writing practice, I find that at least for today I must deviate from the standard advice column form. I do this with some fear, as my strict adherence to the form has served as a dependable ritual. I feel I must, however, today, in order to speak simply and directly to you.
Accustomed to being robust of mind and strong of body, I have written columns at a feverish clip for the past nine years, inventing, testing and discarding, brainstorming and editing, writing far more than will ever be read, in order to craft a column every day that contains at least one thing that is sparkling or unique.
Being weak and slow for the time being, however, I am forced to relinquish some of my tried and true writerly tricks. I have to just use plain talk.
Let us hope that what first appear as difficulties will turn out to be blessings, that my temporarily diminished energy forces me to be more selective and to see phenomena in a more fundamental and stripped-down way. I also hope to establish a more useful conversation with you. Up till now, the writing of this column has been like a performance, which I have sometimes feared to see judged harshly. Thus I have sometimes avoided the comments section. Like other writers, I can be thin-skinned. But now, I am coming to you basically to say that I have nothing to hide and nothing to prove. Let us learn together. Chastened by disease, surgery and recovery, forced to appear with no pretense of art, I am free of fear. So I expect to spend more time in the comments section and less time perfecting every turn of phrase.
Over the years, I have thought hard about how to best use this column to do something worthwhile. After all, I have a unique and privileged position. My employer's hand is liberal and light. Within reason, I have the luxury of writing practically anything I choose. So I ask myself, what can I offer that is both much needed and little provided? One answer has been to make each column somehow dazzling and unique, to "swing for the fences" every day.
But that is not possible right now. I am slowly recovering from difficult surgery. But I can offer you something just as rare: the honest thoughts and feelings of someone much like yourself. I assume that you, like me, are somewhat unusual. You are not like everyone else. Only rarely do you see your voice and viewpoint reflected in the press. While not perhaps bowling you over with the virtuosity of my prose, I still wish to acknowledge phenomena of consciousness and emotion that for the most part are not discussed elsewhere, and thus establish a dialogue with you of unusual intimacy, humility and risk.
It involves risk because a writer, in particular one who presumes to offer advice to others, must have a competent facade. He must distinguish himself in some way. He must have more knowledge or insight than the average Joe. Otherwise, what is he offering?
So what am I offering? Today, all I am offering is the voice of a friend. Today, I am offering a healthy, egalitarian dialogue.
Nothing could make clearer my status as an equal among equals than my current difficulty mustering the intellectual and physical energy necessary to analyze, reflect, empathize, be humorous, enliven with stylistic flourishes, make subtle allusions, compress, be logical, etc. -- all things a writer hopes to do in every piece, things I have tried to do five days a week for the last nine years, things which, if attempted right now, would threaten to make my writing a parody of itself.
So I ask your permission to admit, from time to time, Heck if I know!
The beauty of making such an admission is that we are surrouned by readers of great wisdom. There are many kindred spirits here. We now also have the services of research associate Stephannie Behrens, who has stepped forward to provide depth and real-world heft to some of my responses.
I also wish to admit that at times, in spite of what I know to be true, this extraordinary role I have landed in has gone to my head. I have occasionally succumbed to the delusion that I do have unique answers, uniquely cooked up in my utterly unique brain.
Clearly, that is madness! I do not have unique answers. I do not have a unique brain. I just have one voice among millions.
Do not be concerned: I'm not having a crisis of faith. I'm having a moment of realism.
One more thing. On Wednesday, June 2, I begin eight weeks of proton beam radiation therapy at Loma Linda University Hospital in Southern California. I don't know exactly how travel and the schedule of treatments will affect the column, but I plan to write three days a week for a few weeks, and eventually work up to five days a week.
I remain profoundly grateful to the many readers who have shared with me their strength, their hope, their knowledge, their resilience and their kind regards.
So this is my column for today. The next column will run on Friday.