"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
John Donne and death's collage
"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind...
"Perchance he for whom this bell tolls, may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me...therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."--John Donne
Not all deaths are depressing, but those that seem unnatural, or freakish, or unfair, or unnecessary, or untimely, or hit close to home, drag me down with reality. Such as with the execution of The Midwest City Sun this past week. I'm a newspaperman, a journalist, and I've become almost numb to almost daily pronouncements of the demise of newspapers. I mourned with the death of The Rocky Mountain News last year. Last night. I dreamed about the death of another major metropolitan newspaper. I read that after the recession, major advertising won't be coming back to those struggling papers.
But I'm also a weekly newspaperman, and I believe the community press still has a future, as long as there is a viable community to serve--one with population and business, and therefore readership and finances to serve.
That's why the death knell for the Midwest City Sun depresses me. I have two great former students working there, putting out a good paper, Aaron Wright and Jeff Massie. I know them. They're hard-working, committed to excellence, good journalists. I mourn for them, but I also mourn for all the people in eastern Oklahoma County. There are several communities that were served by this paper, and those communities are losing a vital part of their identity and existence. Communication has the same root word as community--one is essential to the other. Where will those people go for information about flu shots, about local government, about schools, about people marrying and dying? They will be ignorant and thus detached, and isolated and separated. An ingredient of the adhesive holding them together is gone.
I don't understand why the corporate owners didn't make an effort made to sell the paper. The Sun was a good paper in a viable community. Perhaps it wasn't making the obscene profit margins corporations demand. Perhaps it is a tax write-off. Perhaps it is just murder in the first degree.
Make no mistake--putting out a newspaper is a challenge, an ordeal, a demand of hard work and worry and stress. I know I don't want to work that hard any more, but I believe local ownership could survive here. I agree with my forward looking, tech-savvy friend Jeff Mayo of the excellent family-owned newspaper, the Sequoyah County Times in Sallisaw. He read my note on Facebook and responded, "I smell opportunity here."
I quote John Donne for several reasons. First, while I've repented of being an English major and devoted myself to writing to be read, our literature has made me a better writer. Second, Donne's lines about "No man is an island, entire of itself" have stuck in my mind for decades. Third, "For whom the bell tolls" has taken on a life of its own with Hemingway's novel. And, last, as with all great writing, it comes back to jog your memory and thoughts through people and comments...separation is a strong theme in his writing, one that is constant in our lives.
I don't mind being a dinosaur--it's actually sort of fun--but I don't like being a lonely dinosaur, separated from the rest of my kind. That is what upsets me about the death of The Sun. A newspaper's death diminishes me. I can hear the bell tolling, and I know who it is tolling for.
I don't like being depressed, because I want to live, not in the past, or worrying about the future, but in present tense. That's why, in the midst of death, autumn, I find my favorite season.
Some deaths are beautiful, as with the leaves. They portend separation, yes, but it's natural, timely, and thus beautiful. When a person is excruciatingly ill, death becomes a blessing. When people have lived a long, "good life," it is anticipated and natural. Those deaths are saddening because they are separation, yes, but since you can remember the good times, the stories, the vitality of their lives, they're not depressing. I and my colleagues often toast our good friend Bob Illidge, always laughing, sometimes with a tear in the eye. We miss him, but we're not depressed. We're inspired.
That's one reason one of my favorite songs is "Autumn leaves." Natural life and death and separation can be sad, but beautiful at the same time, because we are all connected.
Death is a collage, of past, present and a future we know not of...sounds like the newspaper business.
I still believe, to quote another poet, Shelley, who wrote almost 200 years after Donne, "If winter comes, can spring be far behind?