From 1995 till 1997, I wrote a humor column, “The Gad About Town,” for The River Reporter, a great weekly newspaper in Sullivan County, New York. (I still read it online.) It held the distinction of being the only column in the newspaper that did not generate even one letter from readers. Another editorial columnist, a genial elderly man, wrote the most innocuous weekly pieces and received the most vituperative letters disagreeing with everything he wrote. I admired that this only amused him.
I did create one controversy: once, our music columnist used his own space one week to disagree with me and take me to task about something I had written. Since he could have written a letter to the editor complaining about me and also submitted his usual column, but chose to sacrifice his space to rebut me, I became skeptical about his music suggestions.
The “Gad About Town” column held one other distinction: It won an award, the only award for which I have ever even been nominated. To this day I toss out the phrase “award-winning writer” every chance I get. (Not true.)
On deciding to create the blog that you hold in your virtual hands–and thank you for visiting and reading it–I also decided to name it after that old column, as no one has taken up the name at either my former employer or anywhere else. Or so I thought. A little research revealed that someone now owns the domain name “gadabouttown . com,” and as per the name, its owner writes a fine journal about the many things that interest him today there. (That is of course what a gad about town is and does: a gadabout shares observations, sometimes talking, sometimes writing, sometimes even listening.) This is the reason my blog is entitled, “The Gad About Town,” emphasis on “The,” and poses no competition to that writer’s work.
One of the new “Gad’s” earliest entries concerns his selection of the name “Gad About Town.” My first column in 1995, I recall, was itself about choosing the name “Gad About Town,” which I selected from a long list of none because my first deadline was approaching and something was needed above my 800 words written about not having a name for the column that was about to be published. (I even offered a clip-out and mail-back-in name-this-column contest, which earned zero entries and thus solidified my not-first non-choice of “Gad.” I have just now decided to remember that in my second column I declared that everyone who didn’t enter was a winning non-winner.) (I had no prizes to offer, anyway.) (Is this microphone on?)
Thus, my “Gad” column provided me with a great opportunity to learn to write with little feedback. Up until then, everything I wrote was for a professor’s eyes or an audience’s ears. (Later, when given the task of writing the story of my life, a friend understood why I was having difficulty: “You only wrote when someone was handing you a twenty-dollar bill.”)
“To learn to write with little feedback.” That sounds like a witticism, but really it was valuable to learn to not assume an audience or to write everything as if it is a letter to a loved one. What will follow in the future here is more of that letter.