Anniversary Wonk

  Jerome Shea       January 26, 2008      Weekend Wonk

“You’re all entitled to my opinion.”

Says here that my maiden Weekend Wonk column was posted on the 20th of January, 2007. But I didn’t want to break into my three-part wonk on language abuse which concluded last week, so with this marking of the milestone I am, to vary the old phrase, a week late and a dollar short. Still, I do want to mark the milestone, look back a bit, pay some debts, and, well, celebrate. It’s been a wonderful year, pounding out these wonks.

Especially now, in my retirement, I am deeply indebted to two men. One is Dick Lanham, who radicalized my thinking about rhetoric some twenty years ago. Although I am officially a professor emeritus here at UNM, I still get to teach my classical tropes course in the fall and my prose style course in the spring and will do so until they carry me out feet first. Dick hovers around both courses, a benign presiding genius. The other, obviously, is Matt Cone, who put the whole Macinstruct thing together and decided that Shea, his old tropes and style teacher, should be the Weekend Wonk. Because the old routines suddenly disappear, retirement ain’t for sissies, as a friend puts it. Dick and Matt have kept me out of trouble as well as they could.

And let me not forget Dan Shea, the self-styled “Wee Wonk,” who gallantly stepped in more than once when old Pops was overwhelmed or his muse was in a snit. I can’t decide if Dan is a writing bartender or a bartending writer these days, but he has clearly been a lifesaver. Thanks, boy.

Matt said that I could write absolutely anything I wanted to. Over the year I tried to do just that. I wrote about time and about running and about teaching and about getting old. I told tales on myself, some flattering and some not so flattering, but you can’t go wrong writing about what you know—unless you finally come off as a narcissistic bore, and those readers who may think so have been kind enough not to tell me. I wrote about language and will surely write more about it. I have dragged the Longsuffering Diana into these pages, when she is not at all fond of that epithet. I took you to Florence with the Sheas and the “Crupnagels” (“Bruno” and “Gladys”). You got to hear my opinions, lucky you, on bottled water and Don Imus and indiscreet politicians’ (longsuffering) wives and George Bush. You rode along on my peregrinations in the Little Red Beast.

One of the many things that I have a hard time getting my mind around is the very nature of this cyberspace business. I kept thinking of my audience as the people here in Albuquerque. But as Gertrude Stein famously said, “There’s no there there.” I had to keep reminding myself that my readership encompassed the whole world. At the last minute I changed “Hey, how ‘bout them Isotopes [our local AAA baseball team], huh?” to “Hey, how ‘bout them Broncos, huh?” so that at least my American readers would get the reference.

Matt guesses that I might have about 300 readers a week. Over the year, about five emails “poured in,” as the old gag goes, but I appreciated them. Last week I mentioned my new cyber-friend Xavier Kreiss, in London. And a nice woman in Australia caught that factoid about humans being 97% (!) water and set me straight, dried me out a bit. The George Bush wonk (“Diatribe”) got three replies, one reader not happy with me at all but two cheering me on.

Week in, week out (almost). That’s a stimulant, but a small worry always, like a sore tooth or a lump where you shouldn’t have one. Whenever I saw that I could stretch one wonk into two, or even three, there was much joy in Mudville, believe me. When I was going out of town I tried to get two or three wonks ahead…and then I would see how quickly the weeks ate them up. In case you’re wondering, I’ve already written the wonk that will follow this one, and it’s the first of a two-parter. Hurrah! But I don’t have a clue what I am going to follow that with.

Most of all, I have enjoyed these wonks because at last I can call myself a writer—not someone with vague pretensions to being a writer who never seems to get down to business. Notice that I didn’t say I was a GOOD writer. But I’m working on it. When I do get started on a wonk I lose myself in the words, in the sentences, in all the choices to make—in the craft. On all of my syllabi I have printed a take-off on the Hell’s Angels’ motto: “Live to Write, Write to Live.” Finally I am living up to it. I am a writer.

Thanks Matt, and all of you. See you next week.

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