by Robert Gillis
Published in the Boston City Paper, 3/2018

While Op-Ed pieces are by their very definition a personal opinion, I hope you will indulge this oddly self-serving personal piece from me.

Recently I have been doing some soul searching (as part of one of my countless mid-life course corrections).  When you reach my age (ahem, mid-twenties, give or take) you realize that your TIME is precious.  I’ve been bouncing around the idea in my head of what to stop doing, what to say no to, or, as advised by Henry David Thoreau, “Simplify, Simplify.”  

For the last months I’ve been considering stopping the op-eds (no one suggested that but me, to myself) but I began to consider, should I stop doing it?   After all, it’s been 22 years.

Then two things happened:

  • I considered – really thought about it daily — how much WRITING is part of ME. If you asked me, at my core, what I am — “A writer” would be one of the five things I would list.  I have been writing since I was a kid.  I have always been writing; it’s in my DNA; I love it.  I re-read “Zen and the art of writing,” and remembered how much Bradbury’s passion for writing resonated in my own soul.    I remembered the times I have had ideas where I have literally raced home to get them onto paper, and I have jotted down notes on dinner napkins and scrap paper to not forget a thought.   The happiness at getting a story or idea out of me and into the world – long story short, I NEED to write.
  • During that same time period, after the dearth of any sort of feedback, nearly a dozen different people (really!) brought up that they liked something I wrote recently, In one case, someone I have not seen in ages walked over to me at a store and said he just wanted to tell me how much he enjoyed my last piece. I was amazed. 

Coincidence?  Maybe the universe was trying to tell me something?  Whatever it was, the timing was perfect for me to see that I’m still getting a message across to people.   That the work has value.  Even a small value.

Which brings me to frequency —   you may have noticed that the banner at the end of my op/eds has changed from “regular” to “occasional” contributor – that is accurate, and deserves an explanation.   Why does Bob, who never shuts up, write less these days?  

Since 1996, I made an effort to get a get in a piece about every two weeks, and was successful in that endeavor for about 10 years.  I wrote about everything — stories of my life, new experiences, and organizations making a difference in the community, local heroes, my church and faith, events that moved me, current events, and so much more. 

Around 2006 or so, my “every two weeks” became more like every three weeks. 

This was not due to lack of material, nor writer’s block, but a conscious effort on my part to submit (what I considered, anyway) to be worthwhile material or what passed my own test of quality.  No longer would I write just to fill space, or to comment on benign matters (op/eds about the new trash sticker program).   God rest his soul, my dear friend Bob Shea once commented how unimpressed he was at my op/ed that water conservation in summer was a good idea.  I had to agree!

So I began a process of writing when I was MOVED to write, or when an idea was bursting out of me.   I write when I have something to say.  It might be a need to share humor in dark times, to comment on a specific event, or to celebrate a personal/family milestone, to share the story you have not heard, give you MY take on something, or speak about happenings in our home town.  It’s what I feel I need to say, or something that needs to be said.    

Portrait of the geek as a young man: Author Robert Gillis hard at work writing, 1985.
Portrait of the geek as a young man: Author Robert Gillis hard at work writing a story on his trusty TI-99 4/a computer, 1985 – doing what I loved, then and now..  

I always said I’d it for free, and these days, I DO write these for free – it’s not for the money – it’s because I NEED to WRITE – and it’s a joy to share that writing publicly.  And I plan to keep doing it.  As long as the Foxboro Reporter and its staff will have me, and as long as I have something to say, I plan to keep doing it.    But I’d rather give you my best (or best effort) than filler, so that’s why you don’t see me as often here.

If I can get in a piece even monthly that means something, shares a story, that will make you think, make you laugh, make you angry, or perhaps look at things in another way, then I have done the job.   I will try to do better than once a month, but I am promising once a month going forward.  

Wrapping this one up, I would also encourage YOU to start submitting pieces to this paper.   The articles that a high student wrote about the Florida school shooting, as well as the terrific piece by a local resident about the fire station, are two perfect examples of well-written, well thought-out pieces that made me think in a different way and I enjoyed reading.  And then a resident wrote a thoughtful response to one of THOSE pieces – excellent!  We need more of that.  We need more residents to write here.      Your ideas should not be confined to a social media post.  Write them HERE where 5000+ people can read it in the paper of record for your home town.

Ideas for my next few columns are already percolating as I write this, there’s a LOT going on that I need to talk about here — but I thought it was a time to clarify why you don’t see me in these pages as often as before, and what convinced me to keep going.   

With that said, I will end this one with, talk to you again very soon!

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