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Column No. 300: Why I Write

“A writer is someone who has taught his mind to misbehave” – Oscar Wilde

Well, folks, today is a milestone of sorts. This column represents my 300th since I first began writing for StateCollege.com in the fall of 2009. I was in my third year as the executive director of the Nittany Lion Club at Penn State and thought that this was a great way to spread the word to a broader audience. I wrote about Homecoming and even called out the student body to get to Beaver Stadium early for the Nov. 7, 2009, showdown with Ohio State.

Wow, a column every other week for the past 15 years (with a few short breaks due to changing jobs). A lot has transpired during that time, some good, some bad, some electrifying, some devastating. I feel very blessed to have been able to share my thoughts and life experiences, and to comment on issues that impact us locally and around the globe. The question that stands out to me is…why do you still let me do so?!

I would like to thank Dan Myers and Geoff Rushton for giving me the chance to become a regular columnist and for allowing me the opportunity to give back to the community in my small way. I believe I have connected with a good-sized group of regulars who genuinely like my writing style. 

That connection doesn’t include my youngest son, who constantly tells me he doesn’t like my storytelling style and is always criticizing my writing. That’s OK because it keeps me on my toes. Can’t please everyone after all. I do appreciate it when someone will communicate to me how much my article impacted them and that they really do enjoy my “common Joe” style. I especially like it when they say it in front of Ryan.

To write in a public forum and to do public speaking takes a certain amount of vulnerability, self-confidence and self-deprecating demeanor. Some of my columns are meant to be funny, some thought provoking, others downright silly or cynical. Regardless, I hope that I have made you laugh, think, remember, pause, analyze, reconsider, and even get your blood pressure up every now and then through my words.

“There are better writers than me out there, there are smarter writers, there are people who can plot better — there are all those kinds of things, but there’s nobody who can write a Neil Gaiman story like I can.”  – Neil Gaiman

On a recent flight from Sun Valley, Idaho to Denver, I came across an article in United’s Hemisphere magazine where Toastmasters International CEO Daniel Rex was interviewed by Chris Norris for a column titled “Speaking Terms.” Daniel spoke about how terrifying his first speech was and how people believe it must all come to him so easily now as he looks so confident and unafraid. He responded, “Are you kidding me? I’m always worried about presentations. But that’s OK; it’s often what makes us better. I refer to the old adage: Keep your butterflies flying in formation.”

I can so relate to that feeling of still having butterflies in my stomach when the deadline approaches for writing a column or preparing to give a speech. It is that sense of the “imposter syndrome” that people won’t enjoy or agree with what I write or say.

“The artist doesn’t have time to listen to the critics. The ones who want to be writers read the reviews; the ones who want to write don’t have the time to read reviews.” – William Faulkner

My “go to” columns have always been about sports (predominantly Penn State hockey and football) and my buddies Sportster and Barkley, the family dogs. My Barkley stories typically get the most readers and generate the most comments. In fact, one of my favorite articles of all-time was the one written by Barkley. I do have a few columns that I have started writing that I have never completed and a few that are finished that I have never submitted because they just didn’t seem appropriate in my mind to submit at a particular time.  Some may eventually get to my editor extraordinaire Geoff Rushton, but some are likely to end up in my trash file.

I spent last week working with the 12 youth hockey teams (ages 5-18) in Sun Valley. The organization has grown from 100 participants seven years ago to almost 300, and it’s been an absolute pleasure to work with the kids and the association. I’ve actually written a number of columns about my experiences teaching there, which has consisted of two weeks in July for the last seven years and a week in the winter for the past two. Many of the members of the Campion Ice House rink staff, Sun Valley Youth Hockey association coaches and volunteers, parents of the players and the players themselves have become great friends. 

Is there a favorite column? Well, that’s going to be a tough one. Writing has become a real joy for me, and while I’m certain that my Penn State English 15 professor is shaking his head in disbelief that I have written 300 columns and a 300-page book, it’s impossible for me to pick just one. I will sometimes repost the ones that have a more serious tone on LinkedIn.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” – Maya Angelou

While it’s hard to pick one, certainly a few stand out. The story of the Pegula Gift for hockey and the first home game at Pegula Ice Arena. Ones about THON and my relationship with the Seybert family, Helping to raise awareness for the hearing impaired was a tough one for me as I had to let down my guard to tell my own story of my hearing loss. A few others that I think of off the top of my head were about the global energy crisis, the joys of coaching youth sports and college sports, especially remembering Coach Paterno

Perhaps two of the most moving columns for me to write told the story of my cousin’s struggle with mental health issues and our visit to The Flight 93 Memorial: A Reminder to Never Forget.

So why do I write? Because I am passionate about helping others and I am grateful to have a platform that allows me to participate publicly. It reminds me that sharing stories with others and about others is a calling for me, one that fills my soul with joy. If I can make someone laugh or smile, think a little deeper, or just inspire them in some way to live a more joyful and fulfilling life, then any time and energy I put into a column is worth it. I hope I have touched your soul in some way and helped bring joy into your life over the years.

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” – Robert Frost

Note: Quotes are from “Seven Inspirational Quotes That Will Encourage Your Writing” by Natalie Frank writing for LetterPile.com