By John Corvino
Having made my official “comeback” two weeks ago with one of my heavy-duty, quasi-philosophical columns (“Three Questions About Harm,” June 17), this week I present some lighthearted fluff: random reflections on column-writing.
Normally I find these autobiographical columns rather self-indulgent. “Hey everybody! I don’t have anything interesting to say, so I’m going to talk about me!” (Remind you of anyone you’ve dated? Thought so.) One suspects that such columns are the product of deadlines approaching faster than ideas do.
In this case, one would be right.
Actually, it’s not so much a lack of ideas as a lack of ORGANIZED ideas that presents the problem. For me, writing is organizing. (I’d like to believe that the coherence of my writing is inversely proportionate to the orderliness of my desk, but that’s probably wishful thinking. My desk is a disaster, and don’t even get me started about my shelves.)
Anyway, the time I would have spent organizing my ideas this week I instead spent serving jury duty, where, lo and behold, they frown upon laptops, notepads, and anything else that might keep jurors happily distracted during endless hours of testimony. No wonder Martha Stewart got convicted.
It’s not fair, really. People with “real” jobs (i.e. not philosophy professors and erstwhile columnists) get time off from those jobs when they serve jury duty. People who write for a living, by contrast, get to stay up late and bang out half-baked columns while conjuring up imaginary surprise witnesses to spice up the next day’s trial. (“I admit it! I tipped off Martha!”)
But I couldn’t disappoint my readers. After a seven-month hiatus, I was deluged with fan mail begging for my return.
(Actually, I’m imagining that too. However, I’m pretty sure I have SOME fans, since this week I’m being recognized with a Spirit of Detroit Award for, among other things, my work for the gay press. I’m visualizing the award as a tiny statue resembling the downtown sculpture of the same name, and when I get it home I plan to put a little Pistons jersey on it. This has nothing to do with the main thread of the column, but you can’t say I didn’t warn you. Jury duty is SO boring compared to what it looks like on Law & Order.)
Anyway, I do genuinely appreciate my readership, and I know that a kind of relationship can build between writers and readers, albeit one that is largely one-sided. Sometimes I get e-mail from appreciative readers. Occasionally people even recognize me from my picture and approach me in public.
Such visibility can at times be awkward. For instance, the following has happened more than once:
Complete Stranger: “Hey, you’re the philosophy writer dude, right?”
Me: “Why, yes I am.” (I love it when people call me “dude.”)
Complete Stranger: “HmmmÉ..”
Me: “What? What is it?” (shamelessly expecting Complete Stranger to say something flattering).
Complete Stranger: “Oh, never mind.”
Me: “No, really, tell me!”
Complete Stranger: “I expected you to be taller.”
If I had a dollar for every time a complete stranger said to me, “I expected you to be taller”… I’d have about four dollars. Which is a lot, considering that I’m not that short (5′ 8”, without shoes).
How does one explain this? Do I WRITE like a tall person? What could that mean??? These are the deep questions that occupy me when I’m not inventing surprise witnesses during Jury Duty.
Then there was the time I was standing at a urinal in an Atlanta restroom and the president of the Georgia Family Council (who had seen my work online, and happened to be at the adjacent urinal) decided to introduce himself.
I have since debated this man twice in public forums on equal marriage rights, and both times I could not escape the thought that when my opponent and I first met we were standing next to each other holding our wee-wees.
Those debates, as well as various public lectures, were part of the reason I took a break from the column. My travel schedule, combined with my teaching responsibilities, started to take a toll, and I found I had too little time to write a regular column while carving out the necessary time-blocks for serious academic research.
But I’ve missed writing shorter, “popular” pieces. I’ve especially missed the opportunity to rant whenever some public figure says something stupid about our issues, which lately has been pretty often. And so I’m back. Thanks for reading. Check back in two weeks for some serious philosophical commentary (or 750 words of whining about how damn long this trial’s taking).
John Corvino is also known these days as Juror #6. He writes bi-weekly for BTL.
Suggested pull quote: “I’d like to believe that the coherence of my writing is inversely proportionate to the orderliness of my desk, but that’s probably wishful thinking.”