Time to Fold 'em

  • Posted on Jun 03, 2018

This morning's Courier column, and my last. Moving on, after forty-plus years of columnizing.  


            As Kenny Rogers sang in “The Gambler,” “You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run. . .” 

            Great advice, and not just for poker players. Time to fold ‘em for this columnist.   

            I’ve written local columns for the Cedar Falls Record, then for the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, for forty-plus years, beginning in February of 1978.  I’m no quitter.  

            Not that I haven’t thought about it, and in fact did take a few months off when living in Germany and Sweden.   

            But I always returned to commenting locally on anything that caught my brain as needing attention.   Deaths of friends and family, closings and openings of local schools and restaurants, religious and educational issues, politics, strange experiences at home and abroad. Basically, I made a public record of private thoughts.  

            I lost a few friends, and probably angered others who never said anything. Plenty of letters came in, some with advice on where to go after I die.  Happily, many letters were complimentary, offering agreement and encouragement.   

             Still, why didn’t I just shut up, as a colleague once suggested.  

            Two reasons:  deadline pressures forced me to develop a coherent train of thought and stay with it until hitting the “send” button. It was a worthwhile challenge, and I recommend it to aspiring writers.         

            More important, I got to know readers who otherwise would have remained strangers.  Over the years a fairly sizable group of readers wanted to meet over lunch or coffee to hash over ideas.   That was always stimulating, and occasionally downright exciting.   

            But lately I’ve noticed I’ve been repeating myself. I look through my online collection of a thousand old columns and find that I’d rather read my older version than the one I’m working on.  

            Worse, I feel now that I’m mostly preaching to the choir. Those who disagree don’t bother to read. 

            For this very column, for example, I was going to write about how the whole country has become a dysfunctional family. The head of the family is a raging bully who pits one side of the family against the other, hurting them all. Time for separation and divorce.     

            Great column idea, but it’s more preaching to the choir.                   

            The older I get the more I prefer quietude, reading, meditating, and playing my guitar by and for myself. That’s the life I lead now, and it seems just right.  No need for the essentially narcissistic act of writing in public.  

            So, I’m retiring cheerfully from columnizing, though I hope to write occasional guest pieces as the spirit moves me. You can access a thousand past columns at  www.cedarvalleychronicles.com

            Thanks to Nancy Newhoff and Saul Shapiro, Courier editors during most of my tenure, for their tolerance and good humor.  And special thanks to readers whose responses helped keep me going.  

            It was a good long ride.  





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“Even before the advent of the Internet, Cawelti’s columns went 'viral' in the Cedar Valley… the role of a columnist is to be thought provoking, to take tacks that shed a different light on an issue or possibly cause a reader to reevaluate a position. At the very least, it should bring clarity to a particular perspective, whether you buy into the commentator’s worldview or not.

Scott's work does just that.  Enjoy this collection of his writing.”

-Saul Shapiro, Former Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier Editor
Read Shapiro's entire introduction.


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