In one of his more famous statements, Winston Churchill admitted, “In the course of my life, I have often had to eat my words, and I must confess that I have always found it a wholesome diet.”
I cannot consider myself in Mr. Churchill’s league, but as a son, brother, husband, father, uncle, co-worker, teacher, musician, I have had to eat crow – my words – often and apologize, privately or publicly.
In my youth, I supported the notion of Art for Art’s Sake, meaning the artist has complete control over their work, and if anyone objects, that’s their problem. I observed this in visual art and music. I came of age in New Orleans, which was experiencing a golden age of jazz, R & B, rock ’n roll, gospel, street music – even country music and bluegrass. I heard Edward Kidd Jordan, a music educator and performer of way-out, avant-garde jazz speak about how his music was appreciated in rural Mississippi, where he grew up. I could listen to that discordant, atonal, polyrhythmic music in person, but found it hard to hear on record.
In my middle thirties, I earned a fellowship with the National Writing Project at my alma mater, Southeastern Louisiana University, where I learned about the “rhetorical triangle,” which unites the writer, their work and their audience. I suddenly understood that if an artist, writer or musician is not creating something for an audience, what good is it? (I have looked at enough incomprehensible work in museums and dull movies to have this theory proven to me.)
When I retired a couple of years ago, people told me “Oh great – now you can always do what you wanted!” My first thought was, why do we have to wait until we’re old to do that? In time, I sent some written pieces to the Eureka Springs Independent, because for much of my life I had imagined myself as a writer, and this newspaper seemed a place where I might post my curious takes on our life and times.
When I first emailed a column to this paper, I was told not to use some curse words nor to include URLs (Internet addresses.) The editor kindly repaired some of my grammatical errors, but essentially, I have been permitted to send in my mindful ramblings and see them in print and on the web a few days later.
Until recently. I took a phone call from the pastor of a local church, who told me one of his congregation had read my pieces in the Independent and was scared that I might be promoting shooting up churches. The pastor, who believed he had read correctly the intent in my column was calling to “allay the fears” of his parishioner. We had a nice chat.
I am not a gun owner. I am not a church-goer. Among my neighbors and close friends are folks who do own guns and attend church. I am deeply sorrowed when someone invades a church with a gun. I told the pastor that I have a friend who has left his church because people carry guns into that church. I want to believe that places like churches and schools are the safest places in the country (particularly locally, where people use guns as meant to be used, not for killing innocent people.)
Unfortunately, in the USA in the 21st Century, that is not always the case. The massacres we see in places of worship, educational institutions, places of entertainment, are even outnumbered by suicides and individual homicides. I was stating the case for discreet regulation of guns. I am humbled and embarrassed by the thought that one of this newspaper’s readers interpreted that as a call to shoot up churches.
I had presumed that the general readership of the Independent, especially on the opinion page, has a rather liberal perspective. Sarcasm, irony, puns, figurative language and rhetorical questions are elements that I commonly employ in constructing my pieces. I apologize if I offend or scare readers, and I will certainly aim to be more careful in future.