Mandan News

Brian L. Gray: Breaking away – A Columnist Manifesto

You may have noticed it by now, but this column is a refuge from news.

I don’t like to talk business. This column is a place where you’ll see me shoot the breeze. A place to get personal. A place where you can sit down, relax, reflect, and read about some guy’s life that you may have never even met before.

And who knows, maybe my mundane thoughts will allow you to reflect on your own life. I like to think of my column as a funny mirror, interspersed with the classic joys of a fireside chat. Just take a moment to look at my picture as you read this. Notice how friendly and amicable I appear to be. It’s like I have a joke in my head that I can’t wait to share with you, or that I have contained inside me some secret about life that keeps me perpetually content and carefree. And that’s what I’m about in these columns. I’m here to share, to let you in on my life, and I want us both to be better people by the end of this column. That is my hope, and I truly appreciate you taking the time to read this.

These columns are a break from the news. A vacation, if you will. Because when I’m stuck in an office, I need something to transcend me from the strictures of the work environment. Some people have photos of family or loved ones (which are sometimes mutually exclusive), or mementos that serve as reminders of good times outside of the office, like a bowling trophy or ribbons from their days in youth basketball. I don’t get into many offices, so I really don’t know exactly what people put on display. But I imagine some CEO, somewhere, is really proud of his or her pubescent hoops career.

Business has its place in the world, and that place is called an office. I try not to let it stray much further from that. But this job I have is a hard one to run from. Even here, in my column – my haven from work – I find myself discussing work, which is what I’m doing right now. This job is that tough to get away from. But no more. If ever you see my face with a bunch of words around it, you can know with absolute certainty that no business at all is taking place here.

I write my columns because I love vacations – figurative and literal ones. So I struggle with that urge to escape quite often. Because I’ll admit – I have a pretty boring life. I don’t have a life filled with adventures. All I really have in my vault of memories are the type of awe-inspiring tales you’ll hear from the game show contestants on Jeopardy:

ME: Well, Alex, the biggest thing that’s happened to me in my life was when I was 23. I was at a zoo, feeding the monkeys, when the llamas were watching this and getting jealous because I was feeding the monkeys and not them. By the time I walked up to the llamas to feed them, one of them spit on me. That made me angry. SO I SPIT ON THE LLAMA! HA HA! Then they kicked me out of the zoo.

I could only wish my life was like that dude’s from the Dos Equis commercials. It may seem admirable that a youngster like myself is in the position of an editor, but let me tell you – this job is no jolly walk through the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. It doesn’t pay very much, and I’m often up until 3 or 4 a.m. working on stories. But that’s the nature of this business; journalism is suffering these days. So subsequently, I suffer.

But here, in this column, I have the opportunity to separate myself from the medium of journalism, an irrelevant, antiquated pursuit, of which its only visible lasting impression it leaves on its readers are ink stains on their fingers.

Even though these words are ensconced in the medium of a drowning profession, I feel this column, like the alleged ribbons in CEOs’ offices, offer a momentary glimpse of something better, something not bound by limits. In columns I can talk about anything. There are no rules, no parameters, only an ever-expanding myriad of topics I’m able to explore. And I don’t even need to use segues.

I like cotton candy.

Because a column is what you make of it. You throw in some humor, some heart, some insight, some spontaneity, and you’ve done your job.

But you always need a big finish. This column is near its end, and I don’t know if I’ve even said anything of significance yet. Yet I feel every single experience in life is significant. Each waking moment we live constantly shapes us in a different way, whether we realize it or not – every sight we see, every sound we hear, affects us. The slightest breeze or the smallest of insects can awaken us to the most beautiful of things we often ignore.

And the fact that you continue to read this column speaks volumes to me. It tells me you’re reaching out for something, like me with my need for getting away. I am heinously guilty of constantly running from myself. But it’s not just work I try to escape from. I’m always drawn towards learning new things and stepping out of my comfort zone. It’s not good for the nervous system, but it’s good for the soul. Keeping myself aware of what’s around me, and allowing it to impact me, is what revives and fuels me. And that’s part of the reason we reach out. Maybe that’s why you’re still reading this. Because you want to relate to something, you want to improve, you want to understand.

Many people, unfortunately, are built on a foundation where their individuality, their differences, not only define them, but separate them from others. I believe we need to begin embracing the differences among us, instead of using them to keep us apart. After all, change is not that bad. It is, after all, inevitable. It’s happening all the time.

And I congratulate you for getting this far in the column. Change, even in the smallest of forms, has just happened to you.

Well, that’s my big denouement, my spectacular grammatical fireworks display. There’s always a cool down process that must follow the climax, which is what I’m doing right now. It’s meant to be a moment set aside for reflection, which allows you to ease your way back into your normal routine, so as to make the transition more seamless, before we have to turn our attention away from what we’ve been focusing on and get back to our usual business at hand. This period also lets us absorb the new experience, as it integrates itself into what we already know.

Once that is over, we move on to the next experience.

And now that time has come. As much as I hate to say it, I need to get back to work now.