A View from the Hill: An old dog learns new tricks

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This column was a little late getting to the editor. Sorry. It was due on Friday. On Friday morning I was juggling a few ideas and had partially written two columns, but I wasn’t comfortable with them. 

Now it’s Saturday evening, and here I am, writing two columns at once. If there were only a way to knit them together, I could be done now. But there isn’t. It would be like putting a pig’s head on a cow. Or something.

I thought briefly about writing something about my birthday, which was March 3 (mark your calendars!). I got some really nice cards and gifts from family and had a wonderful bowling party at Bayside Bowl in Portland. But that’s all there is to the story.

Oh, wait, I thought I could write about the birthday emails and texts I got from some dear friends, like my dentist, or the mortgage broker who helped me buy a house two decades ago, or my knife-wielding periodontist, or the guy who sells me Volkswagens. But how could I stretch that to 650 words?

Frustrated, I picked up the Portland Phoenix and started reading.

One issue had a column by Kate Gardner about how it annoyed her that just because she went to Paris with her boyfriend (name redacted, for some reason) everyone expected him to propose. He didn’t, for reasons Kate explained in the column she got out of the experience.

Kate shares the space on this page with me on alternate weeks. She is young enough to have been my student when I taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire. In fact, she was one of my students, and one of my favorites. Teachers, like parents, will claim they don’t pick favorites, but they do.

I suggested to Kate recently that we should get together to trade column ideas, because I’d heard from the editor that she had a long list of great topics, whereas I seem to struggle to come up with something worthwhile, or not even worthwhile, every two weeks.

“Looks like the student has become the master,” she quipped. Like me, she’s a wiseguy. (I grew up second from the bottom in a family of five boys, so I’m accustomed to being teased.)

Besides, I thought, I might be able to retaliate, to draw her into a column duel somehow, maybe by writing a column like this. I warned her that her name would appear in my next column, which is this one.

I ran a magazine once and had two columnists who began writing as strangers but after a couple of years were good-naturedly lobbing insults and taunts at each other on the pages of the magazine. It was amusing and entertaining.

We’ll see what happens here.

In most ways, my life and Kate’s life are on polar opposite vectors. 

She can write about jobs that come and go, the difficulty of making friends in a new place – stuff that happens to young people. 

I can write about 69th birthdays, long trips on ferries in the winter (by the way, islanders, I knew those banana boxes didn’t have bananas in them. I was being facetious!), how depressing climate change is (or was, until the coronavirus barged into the room), and journalism issues that interest and concern me.

She’s just getting warmed up – where to live, where to work, how to plow a path through life. Looking ahead.

I’m in the cool-down cycle, moving carefully, pacing myself, keeping doctors busy, hoping I’ll be around to see this country recover from itself. Mostly looking behind.

But I’m delighted to be writing for a newspaper that encourages viewpoints from these different ends of the age spectrum. At least for this master-turned-student, I look forward to the learning experience. Besides, being the student makes me feel young.

Andrew Marsters is an award-winning journalist and former journalism instructor at the University of New Hampshire. He lives on Munjoy Hill.