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July 01, 2014 7:18 am

AMEND CORNER: Writing for fun and healthy living

Written by Don Amend

Being a column writer for a newspaper is fun.

How else can a guy get 20 or 30 column inches periodically to tell readers almost anything he wants to tell them. He has to be carful not to libel anybody, but otherwise he’s free to write whatever the publisher allows him to.

Fortunately, the Republican publishers I’ve worked for have allowed me freedom to express my opinions, left-leaning though they may be.

Since my medical troubles began two years ago, the fun of writing this column has been augmented by its therapeutic value. Producing this golden prose forces me to pay attention to what’s going on out there in the world instead of on my physical troubles.

Writing it makes me feel useful and allows me, on occasion, to practice one of my favorite hobbies, poking fun at sacred cows. This hobby has earned a certain notoriety in some circles, often drawing negative responses, including an email once that suggested that I might be ridden out of Basin on a rail. Given my contrary personality, I rather enjoy that notoriety.

My column also gets my picture in the paper, allowing a surprising number of people I don’t even know to recognize me on the street and stop to tell me they enjoy what I write and encourage me to keep writing it.

The Tribune also tells me my contribution is useful, and being useful is especially important to a guy who is on the downhill side of 70 and somewhat the worse for wear, giving me some assurance that I won’t be put out on an iceberg to freeze next winter because I’ve outlived my usefulness.

The only drawback to all this fun I’m having is that I have to keep thinking up things to write about, topics that will be original, informative and entertaining or otherwise make people want to read them. Sometimes this is a problem, as it has been the last couple of weeks, during which two or three topics have blown around in my brain without taking root.

This search for a topic led me to look back at the history of this column in search of inspiration. That meant digging through digital files as far back as 15 years ago, when I produced my first Amend Corner for the wonderfully named Basin Republican Rustler.

A couple of years later, it began to appear in the Republican Rustler’s sister paper, the more pedestrian-titled Greybull Standard, and both papers carried it until 2006, when, to the dismay of the editors, I ended it.

During those years, I rarely missed a week, and some weeks when one column seemed inappropriate for one of the papers, I wrote two. After I started working at the Tribune, I began to contribute columns to the Tribune occasionally as well, which meant I wrote three columns some weeks.

During my search, I became curious about how many columns I had turned out. Counting them was time-consuming, since I found numerous duplicate files, alternative versions and a couple columns that were never published. Eventually, though, I was able to eliminate all but the published columns and came up with a number that, if not 100 percent accurate, is pretty darn close.

When I totaled them up, I found that, between Oct. 21, 1999, and May 22, 2014, I have written around 500 columns, give or take a few. That’s an average of over 34 columns every year, and there were a couple of years when I wrote more than 60.

Some columnists might, after this many columns, publish a collection of their work, but I’m not going to do that. There will be no “Don Amend’s Greatest Hits” printed, if only because I think such an effort would produce only a pile of unsold books in my storage shed.

That’s because only a few of the 500 are gems. There are some I am quite proud of, and others that are quite good, but too many of them are ordinary or worse, pedestrian.

Fortunately, though, I don’t remember any that I’m ashamed of or wish I hadn’t written, although from time to time errors have crept in that were embarrassing.

Well, as my columns go, this one certainly doesn’t fit into the gem category, but it offers a bit of insight into a writer’s life, which, when I think about it, is similar to anybody’s approach to life. Every day you try to accomplish something worthwhile, and you’d like for each day’s work to be gem quality.

It doesn’t happen often, though, and many, if not most of your days turn out to be just ordinary.

You have to accept those ordinary days, but though you accept them, you must keep trying to produce gems, because you want your life to be defined by your best efforts.

Today’s column doesn’t have a lot to recommend it, but I’ll keep trying to define my life with diamonds. If the Tribune keeps asking for my column, I hope at my present rate to produce my 600th in about four years. I’ve already started thinking about my 502th, and I think I’ve found a couple of entertaining topics to work with.

However number 502 turns out, I’ll have fun writing it, and my mental and physical health will be better for the effort.

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