Roger Marolt: Roger This
Dear Roger,I have to tell you how much I like, no, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!!!! your column. It seems like you get your writing out of the way pretty quick and then have lots of free time. Week in and week out your writing has convinced me that there are plenty of opportunities for dissatisfied middle-aged people that passed the GED test on the first try to succeed as a newspaper columnist without any experience. Because of you I recently told my boss at the Dairy Queen to pack sand (he told me I was taking too many bathroom breaks) and submitted writing samples to The Aspen Times. It is the place I want to work at! I asked them for your job. Any advice?Yours truly,Margaret Floop, Parachute, Colo.Dear Marge,You realize that this puts me in an uncomfortable situation. It means that I may soon be writing my last column. The problem is that farewell columns, with the sentimental “good-byes” and making sure you spell everyone’s name right, generally take more time than the normal ones, but they don’t pay any better.Be that as it may, I wish you luck in your pursuit. Yes, being a columnist is at times a thankless job, but the pay is exceptionally low so your chances of being randomly selected for an IRS audit are pretty slim. You are at least comfortable in this world when you realize that you are not worth the government’s time. Who wouldn’t be thankful for that?It sounds like you have done your research, so of course you know that it is important in this field to have skin thicker than a filling station latte. If it is said of demanding positions that “you can’t please all the people all the time,” you can say of being a good columnist that “you aren’t doing your job properly if you please anyone anytime.” You are undoubtedly aware that you must be very careful what you write about people. Some folks just don’t want to see their names in print. Being such a fan as you are, you will surely remember when I wrote the touching piece on Constance Filibini and referred to her as, “… the sweetest, most kind-hearted person I have ever known, whose continual selfless service to the community has set the benchmark for philanthropy that can never be equaled here or, as many believe, any place but Heaven …”That tender story brought tears to my own eyes as I read it aloud, but what you don’t know is that she wrote back after the story was printed: “Mind your own business, @#%*&^&! P.S. I hope to see you and your beautiful family at the County Fair organic fruit pie bake-off again this year. Remember, all proceeds go to charity.”I will tell you that three slices of her blueberry tart during one hot afternoon kept me incapacitated off and on (if you’ll pardon the expression) for several days afterward, but I considered it a small price to pay to get back into her good graces. The other kind of people are those who want to be written about all the time. Trust me, it will seem that every time you are busy doing research on Wikipedia or catching up on local leads at the coffee shop, these folks will call to tell you about the latest things they are involved with and to make appointments so you get the details right. Don’t believe for a moment that you can ignore them. If you disregard their messages, they will stop by in person to chat or wait in ambush and throw rocks at your car as you drive by. For them there are restraining orders. Then there is the hate mail. You will get gobs of it if you are half as good at this job as I am. Be sure to save copies of every last piece of it. It helps during your performance reviews. Aside from that, learn to appreciate the negative. A wise mentor told me that you can learn more from criticism than you can from praise. She said, “If all you consume are the sugarcoated bits, you will end up fat and lazy.” I try to remember this daily, usually right before my nap.And while it may be good for professional growth to consider what your critics say, I will tell you that you don’t have to indulge them with thoughtful answers that might promote future feedback. My standard response to unflattering e-mails is: “Hey, you! Thanks for reading. Roger greatly appreciates your thoughtful comments. Keep ’em comin’! If you are not the intended recipient of this message, please notify the sender immediately.” Lastly, I encourage you to consider taking up your new career in a place other than Aspen, Colo. This is a small and well-informed community. People will actually read what you write and be prepared to discuss the issues with you. Maybe this has occurred to you, but it certainly hadn’t to me. The first time somebody confronted me on something I wrote I would have preferred being naked on stage at the Christmas pageant soloing “Highway to Hell” accompanied by a first-year piano student. But, through experience I have gained wisdom. My advice in this situation is to be straightforward. Simply admit that you can’t remember what you wrote about. In closing, I will offer that, if the column gig doesn’t work out, given your interests you might look into a career as a men’s A-league softball umpire or the spokesperson for OPEC. I feel the temperament required for these positions is similar to that of a columnist. Come to think of it, have you considered becoming a tax consultant?Sincerely,Roger
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