Opinion » Bill Cope

1,170 Words

Count 'em if you don't believe me


I have had one heck of a time deciding on what to write about this week. It's not that I haven't had ideas. Gad, I got ideas running out my ears. Boo-coo ideas. Only... none of them are any good.

Not that they aren't any good. They're perfectly fine ideas. As dandy a bunch of ideas as I've ever had. Only... I can't figure out how to turn any of them into a column.

Oh sure, I could turn them into columns. Did, actually. A few of 'em, anyway. And they are perfectly fine columns, particularly if you don't mind 40-word columns. I suppose I could stretch them out. Pad them up some. Say a lot of unnecessary and unrelated junk. Milk it. Be repetitious in such a way that it looks innovative. Add some dialogue for color. Invent an imaginary character for dramatic conflict. Throw in more of those section break dots just to take up space. Be repetitious in such a way that it looks innovative. Only... I tried all that and the best I could do was a 87-word column about all the political ads we are bound to see from the Otter campaign over the next five months where Butch will be swaggering through a corral in his cowboy jeans. I called it "Levi Stress" and the first 80 words were about the guy who invented denim trousers.

Trouble is--and I think I've told you this before--it takes 1,200 words, give or take, to fill this space every week. Every! Damn! Week! So as you can imagine--and I think I've told you this before--it's not simply a matter of finding subject matter. There is subject matter galore. Boo-coo subject matter. But subject matter is just the first step.

The way I look at it, a complete, perfectly-blended column is one-part subject matter, four-parts presentation. Or maybe it's three-parts presentation. Or five. I can't remember. All I know is, nobody reads my columns for subject matter. Do you? Of course you don't. That's because the subject matter is out there for all to share. It's like the air. Or public access teevee. Or free hot dog day at R.C Willey's. I'm not privy to any more subject matter than anyone else. In fact, most of you are probably aware of the subject matter long before I am, seeing as how I generally hear about it from someone else, anyway.

My job is to present this free-floating subject matter in such a way that you, the reader, takes more of an interest in it than you would had you not read my presentation. Get it? My job is to turn 10 or 11 words of subject matter into 1,200 words of presentation that will, hopefully, leave an impression. It's like I'm trying to draw that famous picture we've heard so much about that's supposed to be worth a 1,000 words, only the medium I use is--you guessed it--1,200 words, give or take.

And it's the presentation that's been giving me fits. I can't stop the subject matter. It's like a broken water main. It just keeps coming and coming and coming. But lately, I can't seem to get involved with any one of those matters out there deeply enough to manufacture 1,200 words of opinion out of it.

Take, for instance, the book Ann Coulter just released in which she maintains we liberals have made a religion out of our agenda--an agenda which, according to other current conservative thought, liberals don't have one of, anyway. It's a huge accusation, and I'm sure a lot of other liberal writers will spend the next few months writing thousands and thousands--maybe millions--of words countering Coulter's absurd claims.

But as for me, all I could come up with is, "Coulter? Why, she's so obviously nuts, the only wonder is that anyone still listens to her. I recommend you read Ted Kaczynski's diary instead. He's almost as screwy as she is, true, but at least he's a better writer."

See what I mean? Thirty-nine words is all I got out of Anne Coulter's new book and I didn't feel like adding so much as another syllable.

Or what about our brand new governor? You'd think I could come up with plenty of words about that, considering he's Little Jimmy Risch. But my column on that subject matter came out to a measly 11 words: "The shortest gubernatorial term in Idaho history has been appropriately manned."

Then there's the column I wrote about the newest polling which indicates Americans, by and large, have finally abandoned the myth that George Bush is a likable guy, even if he is such a miserable flop at everything else. I'm not sure what changed exactly, but everyone but the most muddled among us now sees Bush as the arrogant little pretender Democrats have understood him to be since the earliest days. So I sat down to make a column out of it, and here it is: "Told ya'!"

You think Boise Weekly is going to pay for a two-word column? Not likely.

I appreciate BW's objection to two-word columns. I've been doing this long enough to understand that they have to fill the other half of this page with advertising or there isn't going to be a BW.

But before the advertising sales staff can sell one of those things you see in the ad below, they have to guarantee the other half of the page will be filled with something else. Which is where I come in. At least on this page. Ted Rall has another page to fill, as do Nick and Shea and Rachael and Sara and all the rest. We are all, to a large degree, excuses to sell advertising.

Normally, I don't have any problem filling my half of the page, but this week isn't the first time my imagination has come up short. It's happened before, and I have no doubt it will happen again. Possibly on a regular basis as I get older.

But I think I have a solution. In the future, when my brain goes 50-words-or-less on me, I will sell the rest of my space to anyone who wishes to place an advertisement here. Think of it as a sub-lease. Whenever I'm having trouble getting the expected 1,200 words out of the current subject matter, I'll call around and let local businesses know a certain portion of my column is available for immediate occupancy. And I'm sure BW won't mind I'm doing it because, not once in the 11 years I've been writing for them have they ever told me I couldn't. And trust me, I won't charge my tenants as much as BW, because I've already made my overhead by writing the column. See how it works?

Dang, I wish I'd thought of this last week. I would have gone with the "Levi Stress" column and maybe made some pocket change off of Moxie Java or Flying Pie.