By Jack Cawthon 2008|
When I attended the one-room school at the mouth of Barbecue Run (yeah, it's been a long, long time) we would often begin the day by each student reciting a Bible verse. This was before the Supreme Court replaced the Supreme Being and called a halt to school systems filling the minds of impressionable youth with religion and neglecting phy. ed.
Those kids who weren't too well versed or a little lazy, which I never was as a good little kid, would take the easy route with the short "Jesus wept." This was good only for a time or two until the teacher was ready to weep and demand a little more effort.
In hindsight, I missed the verse that would lead me out of the holler as I traveled the hard road from Letter Gap to Glenville and even the harder road of life. A little longer than the shorter verse, but all descriptive, "all is vanity" was penned, scrolled, or carved in stone, and appeared in the Psalms, possibly written by Solomon under the pen name of "The Preacher." It was certainly someone disillusioned with life, or just maybe writing in general, because we have his words at hand. Maybe he had been rejected by all the major publishing houses of the day, not knowing that he would someday appear in the most widely published book of all time, not counting the movie scripts made from it. Alas, the only royalty he received was from the throne.
What all of this is leading up to, if anything, is that all writers must have a good dose of vanity to put forth words assuming that someone will read them and, with hope, be impressed by the writer's wit and wisdom. Or be half impressed by the former and so-so with the latter.
Why else do you suppose publishing houses that produce self-published books are called "vanity publishers"?
I have gone the route of vanity writing, even if you ignore (please don't) what I am doing here. When on The Payroll I sometimes wrote vain scripts for vain people proclaiming the greatness of those public servants and their vast accomplishments, one of which was to determine my pay raises. I could have put wondrous words into the mouths of babes, had there been any, but, as usual, leadership was dominated by men.
It's called "ghost writing," and if the avid ghost hunters as shown on television were to take their equipment into government buildings the readings would go crazy.
OK, I've established my credentials so as not to be trusted with writing, but in those years twixt God and the Devil I have been able to generate words of my own choosing, but not necessarily well paid ones.
When I began spewing forth in the Glenville Pathfinder I was full of youth and a lot of other substance and I cared little who I splattered as publisher Linn Hickman, bless his heart, had given me full freedom to spout to my heart's content. However, when I condemned my teachers with incompetence for putting someone like me out into the world I did find that I had readers.
Then, when I found myself reprinted from time to time in the Charleston Gazette and in Jim Comstock's Richwood News Leader—Hillbilly hadn't come along yet—my vanity knew no bounds.
Then came the darkness. Twenty-five years of it during which I was paid, somewhat surprisingly much like the novice prostitute who in the beginning didn't realize she was supposed to receive compensation. Then, there was Hillbilly, again, with an aging and wiser, if possible, Jim Comstock and writing was again fun. But as all must, Comstock died, and Hillbilly limped along for a time and also died, not with a bang but a whimper.
Then out of the cyber darkness emerged a new light: the Hur Herald shone forth. It again offered freedom of expression, sort of a West Virginia Hillbilly on techie steroids.
But who is out there reading? The Weavers, Herald producers, not the folk singers, can measure the "hits" and they seem to be numbers ending in may zeros. A writer receiving "hits" in olden days generally meant irate readers wielding a cane, perhaps a custom that should be revived.
From my standpoint, I still have trouble relating to an unknown audience, any nut who can turn in and who may have dropped out ages ago. I hope that most of them if they read this can identify with the writer.
Back to vanity, if never left. Who are you and are you reading this stuff? If you aren't then you can hardly give a decent reply to the question. Much like "if so-and-so is in the store please come to the front as your party is waiting." Or "if you get this message…" Well, you get the point. I would like to hear from you. A nice long message saying what a terrific column this is and without it you couldn't go on with life. Hey, all is vanity! Get with the program.
Read more Cawthon's Catharsis under Columns