IN THE ARENA has appeared on the opinion pages of the Sunday Times Leader for five years, as of today .
My column first appeared on Jan. 27, 2008. Since that day 263 weeks ago, I have missed only seven Sundays.
There were also two special weekday editions for a total of 258 published columns. They averaged 625 words apiece and I valued writing every one.
It was June 4, 2007 (my 55th birthday) when The Times Leader asked if I would become its Sunday political columnist. I was intrigued by the idea and we talked at length. Our conversations continued off and on for another five months. I had a ton of questions. And one hurdle remained.
Writing for a newspaper means you cannot be a public official. Although I had retired from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, I was still chairman of the then Wachovia Arena in Wilkes-Barre Township.
I had lived joyfully with the Arena project for almost 20 years. It was an exhilarating and rewarding experience. But if I wanted to build new every Sunday In The Arena, I would first have to leave the Arena already constructed.
Samuel Clemens put it this way, Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
I said yes. And that has made all the difference.
Times Leader leadership at the time suggested In The Political Arena as a clever name for my Sunday column. I made it In The Arena. The play on words would also honor former President Theodore Roosevelt's speech in Paris on Citizenship in a Republic (one of my favorites) and it would allow me to write about more than just politics.
Never did I regret my decision. Each week I relished the creative process of writing even more. I have learned much from watching editors work. They are marvelous teachers. Every writer has an editor and more than once they saved me from an erroneous typo or sentence without end. And never once did an editor tell me what or what not to write. When experiencing severe bouts of writer's block, however, I wish someone had offered up a suggestion or two.
But there again the creative process of writing revealed itself. Most of those writer's block columns, the ones that almost weren't, became my favorites.
My columns were not typed in the newsroom. Most of my columns were written at home. But I also conjured them in hotels, in cars, sitting in parking lots, on trains, during vacation and in a fast-food joint with Wi-Fi, buying stuff I wouldn't eat so they'd let me stay. This edition is coming to you from Virginia.
Facing a Thursday afternoon deadline I wrote Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, polishing and editing down to 625 words on Thursday before submitting the finished product.
Many columns included a pertinent twist, an analogous slice of history or scientific nugget retrieved from my brain to further accentuate the point.
A reader suggested I had developed my own style. I just didn't want them to be ordinary. I would not just mail it in. Every Sunday readers deserved the best I could muster and each column took me hours to create.
Whether you agreed with my conclusions or not, I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I love writing them. Newspaper columns should provoke thought, not conformity.
I will continue provoking that thought In The Arena. However five years is a long time and I won't be writing my column every week. Instead of 52 columns a year there may be 12, maybe more. Instead of turning to the editorial page expecting to read my column, I hope you are pleasantly surprised when you find it there on occasion.
Once again it's time to throw off the bowlines …. Explore. Dream. Discover.
My columns were not typed in the newsroom. Most of my columns were written at home. But I also conjured them in hotels, in cars, sitting in parking lots, on trains, during vacation and in a fast-food joint with Wi-Fi, buying stuff I wouldn't eat so they'd let me stay.
Kevin Blaum's column about government, politics and life is published each sunday in the times Leader.