I’m writing this from a rocking chair, which is an appropriate place to work at this stage of my career. It’s more comfortable than my old office chair, and it fits more conveniently into the cozy condo that will be my home until I find a more permanent resting place.
A while back, I alluded to Rudyard Kipling’s “Noble 600” in a column whose topic I can’t remember. A literate reader promptly corrected me: Tennyson, not Kipling.
I promise you that I knew – and had known since high school – that Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” Kipling wrote “Recessional,” another warning against imperial arrogance, in which he penned the lofty words, “Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, lest we forget; lest we forget.”
I think I had been dwelling, for some forgotten reason, on Kipling’s phrase when Tennyson’s image came to mind: an image of men charging heedlessly into “the valley of death,” though each one knew that, at a higher level, “someone had blundered.”
I have made errors far worse and far more consequential than the confusing of one British poet with another. It has been 60 years since I first put words on newsprint, and though I believe my batting average has been pretty good, it is far from perfect.
But lately, I sense a subtle increase in frequency of errors – little errors, thank goodness, but errors nevertheless. I’m feeling like the aging closer whose fastball is losing its blaze; like the over-the-hill slugger whose swing is losing its rhythm.
I read the originals of recent columns and cringe at the little errors that crept past my eye. Some are the result of deteriorating eyesight – the inability to distinguish between an “n” and an “h.” Others are attributable to numb fingertips and stiff knuckles. They make it tough to maintain speed and accuracy on today’s electronic keyboards.
But these are minor annoyances.
I hate to point this out – even to myself – but my audience is dying. From the responses I receive, I would guess that most of my readers are past 50 and many are 80 and beyond. That means that the majority of today’s population does not share my memories of the world that was before television, the internet, video games and Wii entered the cosmos. Armed drones that can seek out and destroy buildings and people far removed from the controls that guide them were figments of science fiction in my childhood. We played cowboys-and-Indians with chinaberry twigs for guns. That’s a different environment from today’s Power Rangers, who inflict vicarious mayhem with joysticks controlling lifelike figures on screen.
Some of today’s generation are acquainted with Tennyson and Kipling, but these giants of the 19th century have been eclipsed by the likes of Eminem and Tupac, if I’m not reaching back too far. The name Dylan Thomas is familiar, but likely to be confused with Bob Dylan, who is viewed by this generation through the classic aura my generation reserves for Tennyson, Kipling and Wordsworth.
My columns have dealt mainly with things rustic and Southern – topics familiar to the majority of people who grew up in Dixie when it was still the Land of Cotton. But the pervasive media have washed away much of the color that made us distinctive. To those who grew up with me, I don’t have to define a “linthead” or explain what cracklings or red-eye gravy are.
Over the years, I watched the death of the printer’s trade, watched the Lin-o-Type operators doff their green eyeshades and head for the unemployment offices and saw veteran reporters take early retirement because they couldn’t manage the change from manual to electric typewriters.
Now it’s my turn. With this column, I’m making a permanent switch from desktop to laptop, though I fear that even the laptop is doomed to cyber hell. My younger friends (which means most of my friends) are using hand-held devices that can be telephones, radio and television receivers, computers and God knows what else. A person of my age and aptitude barely has time to master a new technology before it becomes obsolete. To keep up with technology, I’d have to let it become my world and forget all about Kipling and Tennyson and Jesus and Moses.
I haven’t advanced beyond the iPad. Anything smaller and my fingers can’t manipulate the keyboard and my eyes can’t decipher the letters and icons.
The world of publishing is also changing rapidly. I have ghost-written a number of books, but never one under my own name. I hope to release a novel soon and see whether it flies. But I don’t know whether to offer it as a printed book or as an electronic tome of some kind.
I’ll figure it out when the time comes.
The wise person knows when it’s time to hang up the fiddle and the bow and lay down the shovel and the hoe. I want to depart under my own steam, to use an outdated metaphor. If you haven’t had enough of me already, you can find a lot of my past work – and maybe some new stuff – on my website, wadesdixieco.com.
In the hallowed past, a reporter signaled the end of his story by typing “-30-.“ That told the copy editor that there was no more to come.
When high-tech arrived, and we began scanning our copy through an OCR (optical character reader), we typed “+ET” to signal the computer that we were finished.
I don’t know what, if anything, today’s reporters use to sign off, so I’ll close my last column with the words: Good bye, godspeed, and maybe we’ll meet on the internet.”
(This is Gene Owens’s last regular column. Readers may still email him at WadesDixieco@AOL.com)