I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do this.
Two weeks ago, I gave up the column I’d been writing for seven years that focused solely on Omaha’s indie music scene. I did it so I could begin to write this new, completely unstructured column.
The Reader’s publisher/editor, John Heaston, said I could write about anything I wanted. Anything. The sky’s the limit. It was as if a great omnipresent being had told you that you could have anything you ever wanted, anything at all. What would you do? The first thing you’d probably do is find your best friend and tell him or her about this incredible opportunity you’ve been given. “Can you believe it, I can have anything.” And after you finished congratulating yourself, you’d begin mulling over every thing you’ve ever wanted and create some sort of ordered list with the thing you most crave at the top.
But the more you thought about it, the more dissatisfied you’d be with your list. So you’d rearrange the order and then rearrange it again. And once you thought you’d settled on a target, you’d begin questioning if you made the right choice. “Do I really need this?” At the end of all your scrutinizing, you’d come up with… nothing. The whole world at your fingertips, and you couldn’t decide what you really wanted.
It’s kind of like being given a column in a newspaper with no boundaries, no direction — the ultimate blank sheet of paper. I’ve been given the opportunity to write about anything I want in 900 words or less, and I’m terrified I’m not going to come up with enough topics to meet my deadline every week. Writing an indie music column was easy. EASY. In a town like Omaha, there’s always something cool going on or some bit of inside information that could be expanded to fill a column. And if I didn’t come up with an idea, I could always write a bunch of CD reviews.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat in my dark office at 5 a.m. on a Monday morning with nothing to write about and somehow managed to pull something out of my ass. For example, had this been my old column, I could have written a snarky essay on the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards, which were held last weekend, or I could have written about the pointlessness of The Grammy’s, or I could have compared how the media covered the death of Whitney Houston vs. the death of Jay Reatard.
Writing a music column is a lazy endeavor. It’s fun and simple, quick and easy. Just listen to some music and write about it. And I’ve thrown that away so I could write… this.
So yes, I’m frightened. But it was Eleanor Roosevelt (or Matt Damon in “We Bought A Zoo”) who said, “Do something everyday that scares you.” I figure if I’m not writing something that I’m a little bit afraid to see in print, I probably didn’t try very hard or take any risks. Part of that fear, of course, is alleviated by the fact that no one reads The Reader (just kidding, John).
So here’s the plan.
At its very core, this column will focus on the same things that my old column focused on. I’m not going to avoid music topics, but I’ll also no longer avoid non-music topics, either. I’ve always wanted to write about local art, food, theater, literature, people, dogs, cops, robbers, trees, politicians, the media and the rest of the world, and have held back because it didn’t fit my old column’s format. Now I can.
But I need a steady flow of ideas to make it happen, and that’s where you come in.
Have you seen or heard something cool that you want the world to know about? Drop me a line. Do you know someone who is doing something special and important but is being overlooked and forgotten? Let me know. Is some thing or some one doing something to piss you off and mess up your world? Tell me about it.
Even better: Have you ever really wanted to go somewhere or do something but ended up staying home instead because you were afraid you didn’t belong there? We all have. And maybe that’s what this column is about — telling people that there’s nothing to be afraid of. You don’t have to spend your life sitting on a couch staring at an appliance. You are invited to do anything you’ve ever wanted to do.
Hey, maybe I can do this after all.
And if I can’t come up with any ideas for next week’s column, I can always just write a bunch of CD reviews.
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This as-yet-to-be-named column is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on arts, culture, society and the media. Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org.