When I landed the job as an editorial writer for the Daily Herald, nothing excited me more than producing weekly columns for publication in the newspaper. I’d first done a column back in 1980 when I was just out of college. It was titled Field Day, a weekly set of 500 words published in the Chronicle Newspapers along with my illustrations. I always wished I could have done that for a living somehow.
Having a weekly byline was therefore a dream come true. So I decided to double the fun and write two.
It wasn’t hard for me to come up with topics. Some journalists and columnists seem to lament the “burden” of having to come up with ideas for columns. I viewed the process differently. It was fun to write, and subject matter was everywhere. All I had to do was read the Daily Herald and there were controversies, political actions and news features all waiting to be written about.
I learned quickly that clarity is critical to being fully understood. When a restaurant owner sought approval to build a hotel on the empty lot next to his business, local residents burst into action with protests. But looking at the law and rights of ownership, I learned that the owner had the right to build what he wanted on the property because it was zoned for commercial.
Knowing that the neighbors were not in favor of the development didn’t sway my perspective. Yet I tried to write a column taking their concerns into consideration while still stating that the property owner had a right to use the space for a hotel as long as the city approved it. Well, both sides of the issue saw my column as favoring their position. My attempt at providing a “balanced” view only confused people.
Home school zealots
From that point forward, I stated my case in much clearer terms on the issues I wrote about. Some local homeschoolers were pushing the idea that they should get to play high school sports because the families paid taxes, and I pointed out that being home-schooled was a significant advantage in sports. It allowed students to practice at will without the constrictions of regular class schedules, and also provided unfair opportunities to rest or even sleep off early morning workouts. My argument was simple: “If you don’t attend public schools, you shouldn’t get to participate in public school sports.”
My column hit a giant homeschooler nerve. It spread across homeschool networks and the letters came from everywhere. “Who are you to decide what my kids can and cannot do?” was the basic refrain. I pointed out that my position was based on real-life experience as a competitive athlete. As a distance runner from middle school through college sports, I knew the demands of endurance sports first hand. But that didn’t assuage the homeschool rants. People and their money don’t like to listen to rational arguments about actual sports training and competitive advantages. Those folks only cared about their kids having it both ways.
I still think my position is correct to this day. It turns out the Illinois High School Athletic Association feels pretty much the same way. As stated on a homeschool website, here’s how it works:
The public school in question may be amenable to homeschooler participation, but they are held by IHSA rules which specify that all members of the teams that represent it, actually attend that school. The reasons for this are easy to understand. A school should not be able to use “ringers” or superior athletes who do not even attend their school to attain an unfair advantage over other schools in their league.
So if a public school wishes to offer this opportunity to a homeschooler in the area, how can it be done? IHSA 2003-2004 rules state that a homeschooled student may participate if the student is “enrolled at the member high school, …taking a minimum of 20 credit hours of work at the member school or in a program approved by the member school, and the student must be granted credit for the work taken either at the member school or in a program it approved.” (quoted from “Illustrations for Section 30.10 of the By-Laws”; also see “Illustrations for Section 4.010 of the By-laws”)
Despite the clarity of the law, the letters from homeschoolers poured in protesting the supposed injustice of my position on the matter, and those letters were pursuantly published in the newspaper. That seems like a bad thing from the perspective of getting bashed, but it was actually my job as an editorial to generate interaction with the paper. It is sometimes said of celebrities that “there is no such thing as bad publicity.” For editorial writers it is a bit different. It never pays to be dead wrong or to slander someone, as a columnist for another newspaper did. They got sued for $7M by the Illinois Supreme Court Justice and former Bears kicker Bob Thomas.
I did have one scare as an editorial writer. Every week we received letters from a guy that wrote basically the same gun rights letter week after week. He’d move some words around but it was basically the identical rant week after week about total gun freedom. We printed one of his letters a month, but he got mad when our paper wouldn’t publish his reiterations. Finally, he demanded that we talk it out. He showed up at our office in a green Army coat with his hands stuffed in the pockets. That made me nervous so I met with him in the outside lobby rather than bring him into the office space.
Fortunately, he wasn’t there to kill me. Instead, I calmly explained that our policies apply to all people and that our letter policies are clearly defined in our editorial page masthead where they were regularly published. He’d never seen them, and after that his pressure relented. I gave him some helpful hints about how to make his points in different ways, and he thanked me upon leaving.
So I never lacked ideas but did think up many of the columns I wrote while out running. That’s always been my Idea Generator. That’s still true to this day. Some of my ideas for articles, columns, poems, or even whole books arrive as if thrown from outer space. I’ll be running along thinking about one thing and my mind races through a series of thoughts and suddenly something comes to me. I love that about running. It’s true with walking sometimes, and I now record TikTok content (@genesisfix) about my book Honest-To-Goodness: Why Christianity Needs A Reality Check and How to Make It Happen while out walking my dogs.
The other benefit of running is that it’s always been a form of moving meditation for me. The deep breathing involved in running enervates yet also calms my body and mind––together. I’ve done yoga and like it, especially once the racing thoughts have fallen out of my head and that space comes along in which I’m released from anxiety or the influence of ADHD. Vinyasa too.
But that sense of clarity and calm has always happened with running. It’s a cleansing act. Even worries dissipate or disappear during runs. I’m also better able to focus on executive functions after running or cycling or swimming. That’s why some schools are giving kids exercise as an antidote to ADHD. It wicks off excess energy and oxygenates the brain.
Slow to go
Sadly, it takes a bit longer to get warmed up and going well these days. One of the drawbacks of aging is the longer warmup time required to be fully efficient. Slogging through the first ten minutes of a run or a swim takes patience that sometimes lack. Now I try to be more forgiving with myself about slower average times overall, knowing that the first 2-3 miles are going to be in the 10:00-11:00 mile range. I still close under 9:00 and even under 8:00 per mile. My runs often result in negative splits. That’s okay. I’m still running.
I’ve always needed moving meditation to help my brain be creative and deal with the vicissitudes of life. In many ways, it has been the pen that writes my stories for me, wherever they appear.