Barry Smith: Irrelativity
August 3, 2009
It may not surprise you that this column was the direct result of a brain injury. Not just this column you’re reading right now, but the whole “Irrelativity” series of columns which, as of this month, started 15 years ago.
Yes. A brain injury. No kidding.
Usually I take this opportunity each year to do an anniversary “greatest hits” column, which I like to think of as “cut – paste – done!” But 15 is the “Pink Eraser” anniversary for columnists. So, let’s go back to the beginning …
One winter morning in early 1994 I was in a slight auto altercation – my car was hit by a truck sliding on the icy road. Not a major smash-up, but it rattled my head a little. A lot, actually. A few weeks after the accident I was so unable to focus that I could barely make a sandwich. I took all sorts of tests, and it was determined that I’d sustained a closed-head injury, which is the cranial equivalent of those Ronco inside-the-shell egg scramblers. I quit my job and started recuperating. For months I sat around the house, trying to clear the cobwebs. I did all kinds of treatments and stuff, but still, recovery was very slow.
I’d also sustained some physical injuries, which meant lots of couch/TV time. Luckily, this was during the time of the O.J. Simpson preliminary hearings! Gavel-to-gavel coverage, live, every day! Oh, it was a glorious time to be couch-ridden.
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After a week or so of All O.J., All The Time, I was inspired to write something about it. A letter to the editor, I thought. Why not? My roommate had a computer, so I dragged myself to it and wrote a silly little letter about O.J. Then – get this – I printed it out and faxed it to the newspaper. You kids won’t understand, but that’s how we rolled back then.
The editor of the paper, someone I’d worked with at a radio station, called me back and said he really liked it, can I make it a bit longer so he can run it as a guest column? Of course. I’ve got nothing but time. Time and O.J. And since all the words are there on the computer screen, my damaged little brain was able to constantly refocus enough to make coherent sentences. Sandwich-making was still a challenge, though.
I wrote more on it, faxed it, and he called back giddy with excitement. He said, “If you could write something like this every week, you’d have people all over the valley waiting to read what you’ve written!” Well, I may have had brain damage, but my ego was still fully functioning. I hung up the phone feeling the rush of destiny. Really? People? Me? All over the valley? I have found my calling.
(NOTE: In retrospect, I realize that the editor probably said that people “All over the alley” would eagerly await my writing, but you hear what you want to hear, right?)
I wrote a few guest columns and soon was awarded my very own weekly slot, with my very own picture. I started making lists of potential column names, one of my favorites being “A Trout in My Butt.” I had brain damage, remember? Eventually I settled on “Theory of Irrelativity,” which I thought was clever. I now know better. I even created a formula for said theory: (EI)20. Get it? Like Old McDonald and his farm!? EIEIO! Brilliant! Again, I now know better. The first column ran with just the word “Irrelativity” as the title, as there wasn’t room for “Theory of.” I made a bunch of “Theory of Irrelativity” T-shirts. They all got stolen from the office.
For a while, when I’d save a column on my computer, I’d give it a short title along with the month and day. No year. Why bother? I mean, it’s 1994 – I’ll always know that I wrote this in 1994. It’s not like I’m going to do this for a long time or anything.
Now – boom – 15 years have gone by, and here I still am, writing away each week. Apparently you have to do something really drastic to get fired from being a columnist, like writing an entire column about how you first started writing a column, for example. I’ll keep you posted.
Thanks to everyone at The Aspen Times who has helped me put this stuff in the paper each week. I appreciate your support and tolerance. And thanks to you for taking the time to read my column each week. Yeah, you, in the alley – thanks.