Dearest loyal reader, especially you who have recognized me in malls and supermarkets and thanked me for making you laugh or cry,
The time has come. After 36 years of writing about personal joys (a wedding! a grandbaby!), pitfalls (driving lessons for my first kid, who claimed 4-way stops were optional), and grief (losing my father, who warmed up my car on cold winter mornings), and mother (whose purse I still carry), I am calling it quits.
I blame my decision on my little voice. You know, the silent nudge you should obey but too often ignore. The one that said perhaps 21 was too young to marry; even though he was and still is the one, I needed to live on my own first. The one in the McDonald’s parking lot that said to move my car away from the truck with skulls lined up on the dashboard, the one that warns me not to allow my grandchild to wander the Target toy aisle alone, as kidnappers work fast.
Now it’s telling me: Enough. Enough navel-gazing, as writers of a higher literary caste call writing about self. Although I always have considered how my experience might resonate with you, the criticism has merit. Writing this monthly column has allowed me to complete an experience: sending the first kid to college, seeing that son sworn in as an attorney and his brother don a doctor’s white coat, losing a breast, putting a 21-year-old cat to sleep. I wrote as much for me as you. The words I penned made life come full circle: It happened, I wrote it down, it was over. If in the process I made myself laugh—even a little—or swallow past a lump in my own throat, I considered the finished product a success.
These times do not feel right anymore for fluffy commentary. What with unprecedented polarization in our country and frightening internal and external threats, who wants to read about somebody’s annoying foot pain or the scrabbling of raccoons in the attic? I feel guilty using this outlet to quibble and gripe.
An applicant for a staff position in this magazine once wrote: “Times have changed. This is not Deborah Paul’s magazine anymore.” I was offended, but maybe he was right. My generation is fading. Our conversation too often concerns health woes, not where to find the best craft beer. We shy away from social media rather than live by it, and summon our grandchildren when computer glitches confound us. If we are tweeting, we probably shouldn’t be. We need to exit the stage before it is too late, before our thoughts and declarations are ridiculed for their dowdiness.
Upon her retirement, a friend once said she could look back and say, “I did that, and I am proud.” I like that mindset. Then was then and now is now. I am 70. My mind and humor are intact, but my perceptions are old. The next decade might well be my last—my last good one, in any case. My mother only half-joked that after turning 90, things went downhill fast.
Call me selfish, but I want these last years to be unencumbered. Rewrites no longer interest me, nor fretting if I am any longer relevant. I am done coming up with topics, measuring my months by how long remains before the next piece is due. I want to take a walk now, not after my work is complete.
I promise not to waste away on the couch bingeing on HGTV. Instead, I will read more books, bake more pies, cherish my loved ones. I will worry less and trust more, judge less and accept more, value the wisdom that comes with age but hold my advice until it is solicited. Most of all, I will appreciate the here and now: my ability to see and hear, smell and savor.
I don’t know if a singer is still a singer when his voice is silenced. I do know that language is my first and greatest love. Writing is not just what I do but who I am. I think in complete sentences and dream in dialogue. As a kid, I wrote detailed letters home from camp and to pen pals never to be seen again. I wrote silly high school newspaper columns, and poems and song lyrics for parties and clubs. I wrote articles for free for agency newsletters and, later, restaurant reviews when I barely ate myself. I worship words and always will.
I dedicate this last column to the memory of Mildred, a dear old lady who wrote me lengthy letters with exquisite penmanship after every installment. To Professor Levin, who long ago saw in this student talent and drive, and hopes there is a book in me still. To Mary, an esteemed editor who promised to tell me when my work was no longer good and, thankfully, has not as yet. And to my friend Charlie, who when I confided I was finished, said he might pass out. You won’t, Charlie.
It has been a profound honor to share my life as youth became middle age and middle age turned into elderly. I hereby heed my little voice. After 432 consecutive columns, I can say, “I did that, and I am proud.”
All the best,