One thing to realize about writing is that not all your written thoughts will be taken exactly as you intended. One nice thing about writing in public is that you occasionally get responses from readers that can provide some glimpse into how effective your writing was in conveying what you meant.
In a June 1 column about the importance of putting people and places into context when presenting the news I cited the case of Avigdor Lieberman, the new defense minister of Israel, who had shocked the international community by saying that any Arab Israeli who is “against us, there’s nothing to be done — we need to pick up an ax and cut off his head.”
The story became more understandable when you learned the full story of Lieberman’s upbringing in the Soviet Union. Lieberman and other Russian Jews who have found a home in Israel have contributed to a rightward shift in the country’s politics. Closer to home reporters covering Donald Trump have been caught up in tracking the inflammatory rhetoric, while failing to recognize the full context of the Trump phenomenon.
Simple point, I thought, but my column failed to make that very point with at last one of my readers, who sent the following E-mail:
“Read your June 1 piece several times, thinking I missed something, but no matter how I searched, I could not find the connection between Avigdor Lieberman and 80 percent of the article about Trump, the media’s 5-second myopic focus, and Twitter. Seems like Lieberman really bugs you.”
My reader identified himself as “an ardent zionist” and said, “I’ve learned not to engage in debates with anti-Zionists, even if I could engage you at all. Agreeing to disagree is about the best that could come of it.”
I looked back through the June 1 piece myself. I couldn’t see any opinion expressed anywhere about Zionism, a subject about which I know next to nothing. So maybe this time we can’t even agree to disagree — we may not even disagree.
So I didn’t do well communicating my feelings about the media coverage of the national and international political scene. But I may have been more successful in my July 6 column, commenting on the persistent turtle I encountered up at Wrighter Lake, and comparing the turtle’s slow but steady pace to my own grueling effort to dig a dry well for drainage.
A few days after the column came out I received the following e-mail from Gopala (Paul) Rao, a retired professor and research scientist from Dayton, New Jersey:
“Mr. Rein’s column about the turtles in the July 6 issue of U.S. 1 is very thought provoking. While narrating his observations with a mother turtle and her hatchlings near their cottage in Pennsylvania, he put us on a pathway to appreciate how vastly diverse and mystifying can be the ways of life forms other than ourselves on our planet.
“It is his humility that prompted Mr. Rein to recognize that those baby turtles coming out of the trench their mother had put them in may be able to show him a better way to deal with his drainage problem at the cottage. There are lots of things we can learn from nature and other life forms on earth if only we become as humble as Mr. Rein was on that summer day at the Wrighter Lake.
“Mr. Rein even spoke of a turtle god reminding us of our Gods and Goddesses. Mother turtles protecting their offspring in the water without physically going near them but merely observing them form the shore is an analogy we often hear about some of our spiritual masters offering the same kind of protection to their devotees and believers.”
The turtle column also struck a chord with Patrick H. Ryan, proprietor of Gallery 353 on Nassau Street near Harrison. Speaking of turtles, Ryan sent along a photograph of his son with a gargantuan Galapagos tortoise. As Ryan wrote:
“My son Christopher, who lives in San Diego, is interested in exotic reptiles, among other things. In fact, he owns an exotic reptile pet store. One of his treasures is this Galapagos tortoise (not for sale), boarded on a ranch way out in San Diego County. Evidently the ranch has thirty or so of the species, which surprised me. Christopher’s fellow, there to mate, weighs 400 pounds and eats five to six heads of lettuce at a clip. It’s a different world, no?
“Also, your story about hammering through hardened clay struck a chord. On our farm in South Carolina I dreaded having to use a post-hole digger for fencing, as the Georgia red clay was as tough as nails. It was always a teeth-rattling chore. That’s one reason I’m back in the art world.”
Interesting, I think. An engineer and research scientist read my column and got it spot on. An art gallery owner read it and also got it.
A few hours later I was heartened by a communication from another reader, Nick Wilson. In my May 25 column — the virtual dialogue with sportswriter Frank Deford — I alluded to my first job as a professional journalist. In 1965 I was a summer sports reporter, working under the direction of longtime Binghamton Evening Press sports editor John W. Fox.
Wilson was living in Binghamton at that time and knew the cast of characters at the Press. Over this past weekend, Wilson was sent a link to a blog maintained by a writer covering the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open golf tournament in Endicott, New York. The writer had interviewed a guest of honor at the event: John W. Fox, who will be 92 years old next month.
The writer, Andy Reistetter, asked Fox, who wrote columns for 56 years before retiring, how he had handled deadlines.
“I loved being with the afternoon paper, you could take it home with you and look at angles, look up history. Angles is the key word,” Fox said, pretty much echoing what he told me 51 years ago.
Thank you, Nick Wilson, for passing this along. And thanks to all who read this, especially when I don’t make myself perfectly clear.