In the Suburbs / A quarter-century milestone in the Citizen
Twenty-five years ago, I was an aspiring writer, and I still am. Ideas for stories and books filled my head, and I envisioned writing a novel someday. I was also the father of two teenage daughters, a daily rail commuter to Manhattan and a busy guy.
In the spring of 1988, at the suggestion of a close friend, I visited an astrologer in Manhattan after work one day and found the experience very enlightening. Of all the things the astrologer said, the one very strong takeaway for me was her observation that I was itching to write and I probably would do that sooner than later.
The woman didn't know me at all, and I'm sure my friend didn't pay her to say it. So I took her prediction to heart.
About two weeks later, after a quiet dinner one evening with my daughters, I decided to write a personal essay from a dad's perspective about the joys and pressures my daughters faced going through high school.
My target for the finished piece was a regular column in The New York Times Magazine -- "About Men." I finished the piece within a few days, did some heavy editing, placed it in a self-addressed stamped envelope (the accepted submission method for those ancient days of the '80s) and sent it off, whispering a quiet thank you to the astrologer. My serious days as a freelance writer had begun.
The rejection notice arrived about three weeks later with a polite note encouraging me to keep writing and to absolutely submit another piece. Like most writers with high hopes, I was crushed but not defeated.
I immediately started sending the piece out with creative query notes to more Connecticut outlets, including the Fairfield Citizen, with the hope that then editor Pat Hines might run it as a guest column. I heard nothing for two months.
Then one day, Pat responded to my query letter and article with a much different proposal than I'd expected. She asked by "snail mail" if I'd be interested in writing a weekly column for The Citizen. The 750-word, weekly column would be called, "In the Suburbs" and would be the musings and perspectives of a busy commuter.
As long as the pieces didn't become political diatribes or come across as too preachy, they would run once a week. She would begin with my little dinner piece about my teenage daughters and their lives, but before running that column, she wanted five more columns -- insurance, as she called it, that the column would have a six-week trial run.
Three weeks later, after creating a variety of 750-word-specials and having a photograph taken, I saw my first column in the first week of June 1988. And that was 25-years ago this week.
In all the writing I've done over the years, I wasn't always prepared for the reactions of people in my own town to certain columns. In those early years, there were only letters to the editor or face-to-face meetings in our local supermarkets. Emails didn't come until the '90s.
For instance, there was a column in which I said that we need to be our own advovates when it comes to medications. My subject was my own wife. She was on a drug designed to offset seizures following a brain aneurysm, but it caused depression. I called the doctor and insisted he change the medication.
My wife initially was not thrilled with the column. But people we met in supermarkets and drug stores said it was valuable. Those kinds of columns, including one about tough love and another about domestic violence, generated letters and, when I met people in person, high-fives.
Over the years that she was the editor, Pat encouraged me to write those kinds of columns along with those about various Jewish holidays and traditions and family. Those columns were and continue to be well received by readers.
Today, my current editor consistently challenges me to write much more about Fairfield and always to write the best columns I can. We may not always agree philosophically, but I certainly respect his expertise and his judgment.
As I begin my 26th year with the Fairfield Citizen, I continue to find an abundance of ideas that I hope will resonate with readers. I feel like I've traveled so far from that simple dinner with our daughters 25 years ago, but I've also built a wealth of new reader friendships along the way.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.