When the kids were little, Karin instituted a family tradition, Twice around the Table. After dinner, you were required to remain seated, wait your turn, and then share three things.
First, you told everyone the worst thing that had happened to you. You could gripe—briefly—about your problem. It could be anything, but there were recurring themes. Our family’s four females often cried “foul” over vertically-aligned toilet seats. My son and I were tried, convicted, and sent to Camp Soggy Bottom for re-education.
We’re both currently out on probation.
After you vented, you shared the best news of your previous 24-hours. You HAD to tell an upbeat story, even on a crappy day. We sometimes sat in silence and waited… and waited…. and waited… for a sullen child to scrounge up a shred of sunshine. The rotation went clockwise, one person at a time.
Then we took a second trip around the table.
Now each of us had to say something nice about the person to our right. This too could be a protracted process, especially if there’d been a squabble. Karin made it a point to strategically seat warring siblings side-by-side. The remark had to be a genuine compliment about the person’s character or behavior—not just appearances. “I like your shoes” didn’t qualify. NO ONE LEFT THE ROOM without doing “partner-praising.”
And the clock was running…
The kids’ favorite TV show, the Simpsons, aired shortly after dinner. So, peer pressure played a big role in this gambit’s success. The children learned that no matter how mad they were, being forced to say something nice didn’t kill them. More often than not, it was so funny to watch a grump being coerced into kindness that we all cracked up…
These days our offspring are scattered, and Twice around the Table is trotted out only on special occasions. I shared this story because “Or So It Seems” has reached a milestone. The column marks its first anniversary today. So it seemed fitting to check in, take stock of the last year, and do a Twice around the Table with you.
Let’s give it a go.
What’s the worst thing about writing this column?
I’ll quote the late humorist Lewis Grizzard who said that writing his column was “like being married to a nymphomaniac—fun for the first week.” What he was referring to, of course, was that the thrill of writing—making love with language—is tempered with the challenge of having to produce on command, week after week, without having to say to your editor… “Not tonight, dear, I’ve got a headache.”
I ran through my favorite material pretty quickly. Years of stories drawn from oddball moments and quirky friends were devoured in short order. Once these low-hanging fruitcakes were gone, I had to summon my muse. This demanded a lot of hand-wringing, pencil-chewing, and staring out the window. Karin swears that this is “good for me,” and she points out that there are still plenty of tales to tell. Yes there are, but they seem to lurk bat-like in the recesses of my grey belfry, emerging at 2 am on deadline-day. It is daunting to snatch one that can be tamed, but satisfying too. Still, the relief I feel lasts right up to the instant my story is filed…
And then the process starts all over again.
I have another issue—getting the piece polished before it’s due. All too often I file my story only to find that it contains a typo, grammatical error, or some unintended silliness—the by-product of a stray sentence fragment from a previous draft. I then have to beg the indulgence of the submissions editor to make the correction.
OK, so that’s two gripes. But I’m going to fudge here so I can give a shout-out to Editor Joe Domke, and thank him for his patience and courtesy. He routinely accepts revisions well past deadline. Since I’m only one of many writers he works with, I know he has plenty to do. But he never complains, and I’m always pleased with the way he lays things out.
Kudos to you, Joe.
This brings me to my second, more pleasant task.
What’s the best thing that’s happened while writing for anewscafe?
Oh where to begin…
First off, it’s a thrill to craft these stories and see them in a publication I respect. Aside from my own work… the stories in anewscafe are credible, varied, and interesting. It’s an honor to be in the company of such knowledgeable and talented writers.
Next, I’ve found that it’s a joy to work with Owner/Publisher Doni Chamberlain. She’s upbeat, and she allows me to experiment with various forms, styles, tones and goofball topics… including fart filters. Writing for her is fun.
On top of this, I enjoy hearing from you. Almost 30 years ago, I was a breaking-news reporter, and feedback was limited to terse phone calls, letters to the editor, or the occasional in-person visit from someone who wanted to “set you straight.”
Thanks goodness for the security staff.
Now readers can interact with the writer, and your comments have enriched my stories and made for lively discussions.
Better yet, I never know who’ll drop in for a chat.
Imagine my surprise back in February to find that my column about ghost stories received a comment from R.L. “Bob” Stine of Goosebumps fame. I thought it was a joke, until he confirmed it was really him on his official website. What fun.
My thanks to all of you who’ve posted—famous or not—or who’ve stopped me in the supermarket and shared a funny story related to a recent column.
So I can point to my great colleagues, a fun publisher, and lively readers when I say that I’ve had a fantastic first-year experience at anewscafe.
Now it’s time to do my third and final task, saying something nice about the person to my right. In this case, it’s my right-hand-companion-in-life, my wife.
Karin has been indispensable. She’s played an instrumental role in this column’s growth and success, suggesting many good ideas and offering helpful comments. She’s consistently offered encouragement when I was weary from juggling the demands of my day job, our family and this column. She’s also a tactful and talented editor. More than once, she’s set aside her demanding job and schoolwork, staying up with me well into the wee hours to help me punch up my prose and make the dreaded deadline. She’s my biggest cheerleader, and I would not have completed 52 columns in a row this last year without her. But more than that, Karin’s been willing to let me, week after week, create my own parallel tall-tale universe and have some fun at our family’s expense. She’s more than just “a good sport”—several readers described her as “a saint.” How right they are.
Whew. I’ve finished my three requirements, and I’m done for this week. I’ve griped, noted some successes, and made my sincere compliment. I can now leave the table. And if you’ll excuse me, I need to work on my next assignment.
I’ve got to double-check that toilet seat.
Robb has enjoyed writing and performing since he was a child, and many of his earliest performances earned him a special recognition-reserved seating in the principal’s office at Highland Elementary. Since then, in addition to his weekly column on A News Cafe – “Or So it Seems™” – Robb has written news and features for The Bakersfield Californian, appeared on stage as an opening stand-up act in Reno, and his writing has been published in the Funny Times. His short stories have won honorable mention national competition. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-ten finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. He has two humor books in print, The Doggone Christmas List and The Stupid Minivan. Robb presently lives, writes and teaches in Shasta County, Northern California.