Friday, July 5, 2024

Andy Young: Four years of 600 words

By Andy Young

This week’s column marks the completion of four years’ worth of weekly essays for this newspaper, each of which has contained exactly 600 words. So … why 600? Why not 400, or 700, or 567, or some other random number?

The explanation goes back to late 2003, when I wrote a letter to the editor of the Community Leader, a free weekly newspaper in Falmouth. The subject was the Boston Red Sox, the baseball team New England, or at least the portion of it east of the Connecticut River, is irrationally smitten with. The Sox had just lost yet another playoff series, extending their championship-less streak to an unfathomable 86 seasons. To make matters worse, their latest excruciating defeat had come at the hands of their arch-rivals, the lordly, arrogant, and maddeningly successful New York Yankees.

In the aftermath, an overwrought Red Sox Nation blamed the soul-crushing defeat on manager Grady Little’s decision to leave his tiring ace, Pedro Martinez, on the mound for too long, allowing the Yankees to tie the game in the 8th inning. That set the stage for Aaron Boone’s decisive home run in the bottom of the 11th.

Twelve days later Little was discharged, which prompted me to dash off a letter to a local daily newspaper, the Falmouth (ME) Community Leader. In it I excoriated Red Sox fans for their overwrought reaction, and concluded by predicting Grady Little would get himself a World Series ring a whole lot sooner than Boston’s American League team would.

Naturally the Red Sox ended their championship drought the following fall. But while my letter’s publication ultimately revealed that I didn’t know any more about baseball than those histrionic Red Sox aficionados I had taken to task for their irrationality did, it also caught the attention of the Community Leader’s editor, who asked me if I’d consider writing a weekly column for the paper.

A chance to sound off in print on whatever subject(s) I cared to write about? Sign me up!

When the Community Leader went belly-up a couple of years later, I signed on with another free weekly, the Yarmouth Notes, to do a monthly column. That led to periodic pieces in an actual daily paper, the Biddeford Journal Tribune. But when each of those publications became defunct, I was left platformless.

Then I had an epiphany. As an English teacher, one of my responsibilities is convincing students that adherence to the “three C’s” (clear, complete, and concise) is what makes effective writers.

Why it hadn’t occurred to me before I cannot say, but I realized that striving for clarity, completeness, and conciseness would serve me just as well as it does high school students who care enough about their writing to put in actual effort. The first 200 or so words of every column I had written consisted of me writing about what I was about to write about. It was the equivalent of the start of my long-ago high school gym classes, where the whole point of doing 15 jumping jacks, 10 pushups, and two laps around the gym wasn’t the exercises themselves: it was about warming up our muscles for what was coming next.

After a writing hiatus of 18 months or so I was contacted by Ed Pierce, who had been running the Journal Tribune at the time of its demise. He had resurfaced as Managing Editor of The Windham Eagle, a print weekly that was attempting to grow rather than disappear, and he asked if I’d consider contributing an occasional column. The rest is ongoing history, in 600-word installments.

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