ALL ABOARD: What Michael Phelps, oscillating fans and gerunds have in common

It occurred to me this week while watching extremely fast Olympic Jamaicans run, incredibly fast Olympic Americans swim and exorbitantly expensive Olympic TV commercials linger that the writing of a weekly column has the same initial excitement.

Certainly this South Whidbey First Amendment effort is not on the international scale of the Olympics, but we did garner a bronze in excellence last week for newspapers with a circulation of 10,000 or less featuring five-digit zip codes that start with 982.

As my brother Lew used to share with me during our childhood Midwestern bouts of wiffle ball, badminton and horseshoes (all Olympic sports in the back yards of Columbus, Ohio), “You know Jim, you run off at the mouth better than most catfish.”

Beginning a column is like the sound of the gun that starts the 440.

You’re off, but not by much.

You’re on your way.

A specific distance.

Measured in column inches.

A precise language. No more than 500 words.

Oh my God.

Do I use another adjective or just wait for the next gerund?

I cannot help but feel the tension of a Michael Phelps as I begin the next paragraph.

Will I touch the side of the column when I want to?

What if the editor stops my margins before they are ready?

As I began this column, I thought about all the other columns.

All the words. All the misspellings. All the confusion.

The years of effort beginning with our junior high paper, The Cub Courier.

(Columnist’s note: In 1961, The Bear Facts, my dad’s recommended title for our school news, was considered too racy for seventh-graders.)

From The Cub Courier to The Knight Errant, our college fraternity paper featuring my monthly column on how to party.

Then the much-appreciated Whidbey Chronicle, The Loon, The Island Independent, the Whidbey Marketplace and our award-winning South Whidbey Record, our Olympic medium of neighborhood journalism.

Gliding around the curves of a column, like the 220 in track, is a joy to be shared only by doing.

The splash of the pretend ink as it hits my monitor.

The fiber optic transmission in the middle of the night, across international borders, without incident, just electricity.

Fascinating, isn’t it?

Like the history of the oscillating fan, the relative similarity of athletics and journalism, of competition and deadlines, of obscurity and the classifieds, we are there when the heat is on.

Up to the moment.

Up to the minute.

Or at least the column inch.

The thrill of the word chosen.

The feeling of the word transmitted.

Who needs synchronized diving when you can choose between a diphthong and a split infinitive?

Considering all of the letters in the alphabet and all of the words in the dictionaries and all of the languages spoken, it is certainly a wonder to me that there is not more confusion.

What if we were all politicians and had to interpret each other?

Oh my.

Here’s the finish line.

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