Note: Though it's about a month old now, here's my farewell column that ran in the newspaper the week of my departure in August. I'll miss writing columns, as they were basically blog posts guaranteed to be perused by about 4,500 readers. That's pretty nifty. I doubt I'll ever have that many reading on here.
Headline: Bidding adieu on wave of change
Out my back door (the name of my column)
They say change is the only constant in life, the only sea upon which we venturers set sail.
And for some, this idea represents a veritable quagmire of fear and angst, as one contemplates the vast unpredictability that is life.
And yet for others, the advent of a morphing societal canvas represents a challenge and a delight — an opportunity for learning; an opportunity for adventure.
But what does this have to do with Wyoming? Well, I’m getting to that.
You see, friends, whether you know it or not, my professional hourglass is nearly expired in the fine Jackalope City. That is, Aug. 19 is my last day at the venerable Douglas Budget newspaper and soon the words “John Stuart” aren’t ones you’ll see each Wednesday. The name will be as mere vapor of yet another reporter gone by.
But I’ll return to this point shortly. Back to my starting line. . .
I changed schools 12 times from when I entered kindergarten till I wrapped up high school. Although I lived in the same town, the winds of change seemed to accompany me like a bad habit.
Despite dwelling in the same house throughout my childhood, the school audibles were ones I lobbied for to my parents — swallowing a scholastic cocktail in the form of home school, private and public institutions during my K-12 tenure.
Thus change was often my norm, bolstered by a solid family life, as I even bobbed from school to school between semesters on occasion.
I loved the contrast of personnel. The difference in rules and the fresh breath of perspective at each change. Some years I tucked my crisp shirt in and wore a belt. Others I simply rolled out of bed and could slouch to my heart’s content.
When it came time for yearbook autographs the vanilla adage “Have a great summer. See you next year” wasn’t always the truth.
But I had amigos at each school and above all I loved the science of human interaction and how social groups functioned — an interest I carried into my adult life.
Not even my unsuccessful bid for fourth-grade school vice-president (dang teacher’s kid stole the election) allayed my interest in the undiscovered.
Side note: You’d think a flawlessly delivered speech to the 500-person student body and Beach Boys “409” entry music would cinch the deal. Seriously.
End side note.
But this interest in humanity is what brought me to Douglas from my native Oklahoma soil. A blatant curiosity in the unknown. And that’s certainly what I’ve gotten these past 12 months.
When I first arrived in town there were several bits of advice and warning offered in my direction:
1) There are “lots” of “single ladies” at the church I was attending. The message was uncanny.
2) Winter will be COLD. I might shrivel up, develop unhealthy addictions or die.
3) Everybody knows everybody else, so don’t say nothing about nobody.
And these are wise tenets to be sure, particularly that No. 3...and how.
But the most notable thing I’ve observed is the sheer spectrum of life in this small community, as observed in my sundry assignments. From sex offender court proceedings to local government rumblings to stories about charming, 104-year-old grandmas, it’s been a well-rounded year.
I traipsed the barren expanses of the North Antelope Rochelle Mine and snapped photos of children at the Glendo Fourth of July Parade. I wrote stories about deceased, beloved community members — the hardest ones I would write — and about people sacrificing their lives for the betterment of their neighbors.
And I don’t write this as self-serving banter, but as means to portray the vibrant city that is your Douglas. The strong community that is your home.
There are blights on her countenance, as every city — as an extension of humanity — has, but I see many twinkles in the several thousand Wyomingites gathered here on the high plains together. And the real truth is that you all need each other, for worse and for better.
I’ve also learned there are often two truly valid sides to an argument (regardless of what your news editor proclaims ex cathedra). And the one with more power or prettier words ain’t always right.
In the book “The Survivor Personality,” the author states a truth that is seminal to human survival. I’ve returned to these words throughout the year (especially in the cold, hibernating winter months when I was resisting the aforementioned shriveling urge).
“In most homes and schools, asking questions is not viewed as a skill or talent to be cultivated, not nearly as much as learning answers. This, even though life’s best survivors ask lots of questions — good questions, impudent questions, disruptive questions.
“People who adapt and thrive well are like curious, playful children who never ‘grow up.’ They retain from childhood a curiosity about what exists. . .They enjoy playing with situations, people, and their own experiences.”
These words have guided me these months and could perhaps bring some clarity to your own lives, if not a desire to do something different, if only for experiment’s sake.
I dare you.
So with these principles in tow, I take my leave from Douglas and Wyoming, in lieu of my Okie homeland. I’m contemplating several options for future employment and hatching plans of the next venture, in the same way as Douglas was magically (and thankfully) born. I’d go into more detail about my future plans, but as we’ve proven, life is about change and you might just end up calling me a liar in the end.
Thank you, Douglas. You’ve been very good to me and taught me much of what I didn’t know, even if it meant I learnt it with a rap on the knuckles. I hope I’ve helped more than I’ve torn down. Survivors are, after all, supposed to ask the ‘disruptive’ questions sometimes, too.
Have a great summer, friends, even if I won’t see you next year.