Unlike the novelist, the poet nor a playwright, columnists are not performing center ring. They must be contented with their self-imposed role of being second-class citizens in the world of literati.
With this undisciplined existence, a columnist is licensed to be cheeky, drawing from so many strands of inconsistencies in human behavior and getting away with a fair amount of authority.
It is its personal intimacy, a chatter with pen in hand, in an urban conversational manner. The writer seems to speak directly into your ear, confiding everything — from wisdom to gossip in the usual see-saw of modesty and egotism, universality and touching eccentricity as it deals lightly and harmoniously (even struggling for honesty) with personal experiences, opinions, prejudices — all having to do with the varied aspects of life.
Others say column writing is the most profound work of the intellect in the face of life. It is notoriously flexible and adaptable. For prose to move anywhere, in all the directions, it should be open to digression and the promiscuity of the mind.
It is fragmentary and random, as the writer gives you spontaneous thoughts and lets you know, in addition, how she gets to the point — through the seashell soul of intimacy, candor and irony, taking a stand on just about everything. From tragedies (which ennobles a man) to comedies (which cuts a man down to his size), even rich speculations about a man’s sexuality, morals or lack of it.
They draw out parts through similes, metaphors, hyperboles, exaggerations in fleshing out ideas, with what it wants to discuss. It says what is at issue and then stops where it feels itself complete, not where nothing is left to see.
What joy indeed to write without playing the pedantic schoolmaster — void of all learning crammed out of books. A columnist is just a decent person looking at you or me, or anyone else, of what she thought about life with mock solemnity. You can take a stand on just about everything from political, to cultural, to personal life, in a blend of reportage, getting away with what borders on autobiographical. You’d want to strangle that columnist who does his or her craft with glee.
Column writing represents a mode of living. It parts a way for the self to function with relative freshness in this uncertain world. It doesn’t make excessive claims, nor compulsive sprinkling citations, to get a free ride or other men’s brains.
In a field where objectivity is akin to the Holy Grail, newspaper columnists are free to express opinion. Unfettered by the need to be objective or fair, columnists can be scathing in their criticism, unabashed in their praise, funny or poignant, arrogant or intensely personal.
Political columnist George Will said, what distinguishes a valuable columnist is “an ability to see what everybody sees, but not in quite the way that everybody sees it.”
And according to Virginia Woolf, all columns are addressed to the ‘common reader’ she has defined as that “somewhat fussy figure who may or may not exist but has been solicited and invited to partake.”
And now gentle readers, how to give an old saw a new twist as I cobble a column.