A Winters Tale: My, how time flies!

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This week marks a personal milestone. I have been writing this column,  A Winters Tale, for exactly one year.  

I have yet to miss a deadline, but it’s not because I am extremely disciplined or particularly virtuous (just ask my beloved spouse.)

It’s because in my long former career of reporting news, missing a deadline was a sin on equal par with insulting the publisher’s wife.

So I couldn’t start now.

My self imposed deadline is Sunday at 5 p.m. It’s not as though I need to be the first one in. It’s simply because I have never liked working in the evenings, and Mondays are always chaotic.

After my words are printed, people often talk to me about the “article” I have written. I never correct them, especially if they are complimentary,  but there is a difference between an article and column.

An article is news, and should not present the writer’s opinion, while a column is most often just the opposite.

In the practice of good journalism (a rarity these days), both articles and columns should be based in fact, and strive for accuracy.

But columnists have a rare opportunity to openly present their own ideas, knowing they do not speak for anyone other than themselves.

And that assumes one has something to say.

Years ago, a newspaperman told me (correctly) that writing a column is the hardest job in journalism.

Staring at that blank sheet of paper in one’s typewriter (remember those?) week after week, trying to find a clever topic, he warned, can be daunting.

But my experience this past year has been that there is always something worth writing about in Winters, and I hope I have done well by my readers. 

When I started writing for the Express, I had lived in town for about 11 months.

I was the very definition of the dreaded Winters n-word: a newcomer.

But in taking on this column, my goal was to put a fresh set of eyes on my remarkable new hometown, in effect holding a mirror to a city which over time might have forgotten just how remarkable it is, or simply would like to hear it again.

And in fact, by the time I penned that first column, I had already stopped using the n-word to describe myself.

It was one of Winters’ legendary characters who convinced me to stop.

Craig McNamara was the very first person I had met in Winters. He had given us a tour of his walnut groves, the Center for Land-Based Learning, the playground, all while talking proudly about the spirit of his hometown.

Months after moving here, I found myself on the phone with Craig when he uttered words I’ll always remember.

“Stop apologizing for being a newcomer,” he admonished me. “I’ve been here 45 years and they still consider me a newcomer.”

The curse was broken.

I’ll admit, it was a bit daunting adding my voice to some of the town’s well known regulars: Debra, Maggie, and the moustachioed emeritus publisher I now lovingly refer to as Chuck.

But I think I’ve done OK.

Yes, I have annoyed a few people. I was openly critical of our former City Manager, not for personal reasons, but because I questioned his views on development, and no one likes their views questioned.

I got yelled at in public by the Mayor, but it was all in the course of hammering out an Initiative (Measure A) which in the end is supported by both the Council and Keep Winters Winters.

Someone suggested that I caused a teardrop to form in the eye of Council Member Jesse Loren at the big firehouse meeting, but I believe it was just a reflection from the ceiling lights. 

Later that month, she voted “yes” to place the measure on the ballot, and the community can be grateful for her approval.

I hope she and I will sit down for coffee one day when the government finally stops oppressing small business owners and allows our restaurants to fully open. Man was not meant to dine in the middle of the street. 

In the past year, I have written a lot about City politics, but also about our culture of politeness, the Winters wave, my dog Mizzica, planting and harvesting olives, and my joy at being blessed with a new nickname.

I imagine there will be plenty to write about in the coming year, too.  

As a columnist, I promise not to keep my opinions to myself.

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