All Write, Columns

Readers make writer’s job enjoyable

While tidying up end-of-the-year paperwork, I dislodged an overflowing folder from the top of the filing cabinet.

It was my reader feedback folder, filled with printed emails, cards and letters I’ve received from newspaper readers this year.

Sifting through them, I’m amazed anew at how columns pounded out from my windowless, basement home office, find their way to readers across the region and prompt response.

Before COVID-19, I did a fair number of writing workshops and speaking events, and at almost every one I’m asked, “Where do you get the ideas for your column?”

After all these years, I still haven’t found a pithy answer, because writing a personal column is well, pretty personal. That’s why it’s such a joy to find something I’ve written resonates with others.

Thumbing through the notes, I found a response to a column I’d written when I discovered what the phrase “Netflix and Chill” means in contemporary culture.

The note was from Dean, 73, who said, “You rascal, you!”

I’ve never been called a rascal before. It was epic!

An email from Stan, a fellow author, and former teacher, said, “You really know your vowels and consonants.”

I immediately forwarded that one to my editor, whom I’m sure has wondered at times.

A column about anticipation drew this response from Gina, who said, “I do have the feeling of your words in my soul today.”

No writer could wish for more.

Publishing a segment of my quarantine diary prompted a comparison to Erma Bombeck that absolutely thrilled me.

When I bemoaned in print that the shutdown order had limited my wardrobe to gray yoga pants or gray sweatpants, Bob wrote, “I look forward to Thursday’s for your articles. Please don’t ever stop. Stay healthy and wear whatever you want at home.”

I’m confident, Bob would approve of today’s usual deadline attire – a fluffy pink bathrobe and matching bunny slippers.

Sometimes reader mail offers important validation on critical issues. When I wrote of my horror at discovering my husband had used MY MONDAY MUG, Marcia wrote, “By the way, the mug thing made sense to me.”

I forwarded that one to Derek.

He didn’t reply, but he hasn’t used my Monday mug since.

Cards and letters sent to me at the newsroom are now forwarded to me at home.

When I wrote about a benefit of pandemic life was discovering the joy of the newspaper crosswords, a thoughtful reader enclosed a pencil with her card.

An elegant typewritten note on gold-trimmed stationery proved delightful, especially since it was written in response to a column about my cats.

Arlene wrote, “When there is so much sadness in these difficult times, you brightened my day on October 22 with your cleverly written article about Thor and Walter Scott.”

I don’t know if the column was clever, but I do know that my cats are.

Jan sent an email that made me smile.

“Thanks for your column – one of the few items I can BELIEVE IN THE SPOKESMAN!! (caps courtesy of the writer). Hang in there.”

I’m hanging in there, and I hope Jan is, too.

Bombeck once wrote, “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.”

It’s a line I’m privileged to walk twice a month.

In fact, the column that generated the most feedback this year blurred those lines a bit.

I wrote about my first masked, socially distant outdoor visit with my 89-year-old mom. She lives in a retirement facility just blocks from my home, but six months had passed since I’d been able to see her in person.

Readers shared their own stories of being separated from family members during the pandemic.

Bill wrote he’d been apart from his bride of 53 years for 22 weeks.

“If some of my friends read your article, they may now have a better understanding of what I’m experiencing,” he said.

Humans weren’t made to live in isolation. This year more than ever, I value the feedback of faithful newspaper readers.

Thank you for reminding me that even in the midst of a global pandemic, our stories can still connect us.

Here’s to a brighter, better, and healthier New Year.

Columns

Word Trouble: I don’t think that means what you think it means

I’ve been told I have a way with words.

After all, I’ve spent many years making a living writing them. But this summer I learned I’d apparently lost my way – at least when it comes to contemporary euphemisms.

Each year I host a gathering of friends in our backyard gazebo. The Great Gazebo Girlfriend Gathering provides a way for me to bring friends from varying parts of my life together to reflect, reminisce and laugh.

It’s also quite an educational event.

My friend, Judi, told us about her stay at a cute bed-and-breakfast with interesting room names.

“I saw that on Facebook!” I said. “I thought it was cool that your room was ‘Netflix and chill.’ ”

A brief silence fell.

Then someone giggled. Someone else tittered. Judi’s eyes got big.

“What?” I asked.

“Cindy, don’t you know what ‘Netflix and chill’ means?” my friend Sarah asked.

Puzzled, I gazed at her.

“Of course, I do,” I replied. “It means you’re going to watch a movie and relax.”

I’m pretty sure the resulting howls of laughter could be heard for miles.

Apparently, somehow, when I wasn’t looking, that innocently descriptive phrase has morphed into meaning something entirely different.

Here’s the Wikipedia definition: Netflix and chill, as a distinct phrase, means to watch Netflix with a romantic prospect with the eventual expectation of sexual activity.

And that’s the most family-friendly definition.

Reader, I beg of you, do not look this up in the Urban Dictionary.

Horrified, I gazed at my laughing friends.

A blush spread over my face and deepened to a reddish hue as I recalled my response when a much younger colleague asked what Derek and I had planned for the weekend.

“Oh, we’re going to Netflix and chill all weekend long. I can’t wait!” I replied.

He grinned.

“Good for you!” he said.

Then I remembered how I’d told the grocery store cashier the same thing. He paused in the midst of scanning my items, smiled and winked at me.

“Awesome,” he said.

I endured my friends’ good-natured ribbing for the rest of the party, but honestly, I hoped they were pulling my leg (definition: to make someone believe something that is not true as a joke, which I looked up to be sure that meaning hadn’t changed).

When they left, I turned to my trusted youngest son.

“Sam, what does ‘Netflix and chill’ mean?”

Peering at me, he cautiously replied. “What do you think it means?”

That’s how I knew my friends were telling the truth, and I was mortified all over again.

I hoped this was something only teenagers, young adults and their parents knew, but recently that hope was dashed.

When we met my friend Jill and her husband for dinner, the subject of my embarrassment came up again. (Honestly, I’ll be 70 before I live this down.)

To prove the phrase wasn’t known to merely the younger set, Jill asked our server, “Do you know what ‘Netflix and chill’ means?”

“Yes,” she replied. “And I only do that with my husband.”

Lesson learned. The next time someone asks what my plans are for the evening I will reply, “My husband and I are going to watch a movie via an online streaming service and relax.”

Or, because truthfulness is important to me, I might just smile and say, “We’re going to Netflix and chill.”