DEWAYNE"S WORLD - It's a process

DeWayne Bartels

January has started off with a bounty of praise for yours truly.

In an e-mail from North Peorian Norm Kelly, a stellar local historian, he wrote — after we worked on last week’s column — that it was obvious between the two of us who the writer was. This from a man who has written several local true-crime books.

Then, I received one of the nicest phone calls in my career a few days later from a Dunlap reader.

The caller told me he is a transplant from Las Vegas. He said he had been getting the Times-Observer for just a short time.

He wanted to know if we were affiliated with that other paper in town.

He was relieved to learn that while we are owned by the same company, we are completely autonomous from that other paper.

“On the strength of your column alone (the 1/7/09 column titled, ‘09 just might be fun’) I want to take out a subscription to your paper so I’m sure to get it,” he said.

“I feel guilty about getting it for free.”

That has to be one of the nicest things someone has said to me in this business.

His call came on the heels of another reader — one who apparently does not feel guilty about getting the paper free — who said she reads the Times-Observer every week and could not fathom how I find so much to write about.

Well, I want to address these issues for them and other readers who are surely amazed by me.

There’s really nothing amazing about getting it done. There’s a process to writing.

It starts with me jerking up in bed at 2 a.m. with an idea for a column, and my wife rolling over in bed, saying, “Go in the other room, will you?”

Side note: She says that a lot even while awake when I enter a room she’s in.

Anyway, I go into the office/dining room where I crank up my laptop and stare out the window into our postage-stamp-sized back yard.

I light up a cigarette, and, in the glow from the laptop, I ponder about how, in that soft light, I must look like Antonio Banderas with bed head.

After that, I stand up and put a Pepsi in the freezer hoping to retrieve it at that magic moment between it exploding and being so cold it burns all the way down.

Side note: This is why there is a sign on the refrigerator at the office that reads, “Children, No soda cans in the freezer.” Yep, someone else picked up on my idea.

Anyway, I then wonder why I’m up at 3 a.m., and tell myself I should have taken a dose of NyQuil.

I then wonder what that other columnist from that other paper would do in my shoes.

So, I get up and scratch my butt.

By that time, I’m awake and get started writing.

I’ll do what some would call writing for a few hours. I’ll look at it and say to myself, “What crap.”

I’ll throw that idea out and start pondering again.

By then, it’s time to get the boys up and have them get ready for school.

When I get to the office and everyone is done saying, “Can you go to your office, now, pleasseee?”

I look at some empty space on the front page.

It then hits me I need to write something.

I fool around at the office hitting the keyboard.

Then I go home and sit like a bump on a log waiting for inspiration. I’ve learned this over the years: Inspiration will hit even a raisin if it waits long enough.

I bolt up in my recliner.

My wife rolls her eyes, and, in a drone-like voice, says, “Oh, boy, you’ve had an idea, haven’t you?”

I light a cigarette, put on my coat and roam outside in front of the house, pacing back and forth.

When the idea is the consistency of baby food, I come in.

The wife says, “You have to write in here?”

She shoos me to another room and I write.

As I re-enter whatever room the wife is in, her eyes are rolling like dice in her mother’s elderly hands at the Par-A-Dice.

She knows what’s coming.

“Will you read this, honey, and tell me what you think?” I’ll say. 

“Why?” she says. “It’s stupid.”

“How do you know?”

“I know,” she says,

“I’ve read a bazillion of these. They’re all stupid.”

I whine.

I then threaten to make the kids read it. That works every time. Her instinct to protect the kids is stronger than her disregard for the incredible insight I offer up week after week in this space. 

“It’s stupid,” she says. “Run it.”

So, I bring it to work. I put it down in front of Beth Gehrt, the co-publisher and executive editor.

She’s a pro. She doesn’t start rolling her eyes until after she tells me to get out of her office.

After a lot of moaning, and reminding herself she’s paid to put up with this, Beth scribbles that the column can run over her better judgment and, voila, here it is.

There’s nothing amazing, really. It’s just following a process.