A blank page can be daunting. Especially first thing on a Monday morning, which is how I usually start my week.
As a columnist, it’s my job to fill the page with something – or nothing. Yeah, nothing. You read that right.
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. Readers tell me they enjoy this column because I write about nothing, and they can relate to that.
Most of us have a familiarity with nothing. We all have personal experience with the lack of something – which in essence is nothing – depending on your thesaurus.
Because I write for newspapers, sometimes people confuse me with a journalist.
Journalists write about important and critical matters, like crime, volcanic eruptions and the color of dresses. They are expected to be neutral and stick to the facts. Accuracy about the who, what, where, when and why of a story is critical.
Journalists who get this wrong – or worse yet make things up – do not stay journalists for long.
Journalists write about something – and it’s a something that is real and palpable.
Columnists enjoy creative liberties. We tell stories. We voice opinions. We’re even allowed to write about nothing and – on the best days – it becomes something.
Every week, I hash out a few paragraphs. Coming off my inkjet printer, they take up a page or two. Week by week it isn’t much. Close to nothing, really.
But then each year at about this time, I print out copies of all the columns from the previous year and place them in a three-ring binder.
When printed in their entirety, they amass about 100 pages and embody a quantity that feels a lot more like something than nothing.
I thought the nothing-something analogy lent itself to numerous lessons that could benefit my kids, who’ve been known to procrastinate on large projects, so I approached one son with my freshly printed stack of words. I held up two pages.
“This is what I write each week,” I said. “It doesn’t seem like much, does it?”
He nodded in agreement. Next I held up the full stack.
“But when I write a little each week, and print them all at the end of the year, they make this large pile. I wouldn’t be able to write all these pages in a week, but when I break it down over a year this big job gets done.”
I was on a roll and decided to keep going. I separated about 20 sheets from the bunch.
“If I got behind by this much, it would be hard to catch up. It’s important to stay on schedule.”
I was sure the life lessons were flowing like hot lava or maybe a professional athlete’s long hair – smooth and fluid – straight from me to my kid.
My husband, who’d been sitting next to me, must have been feeling the flow himself because at this point he spoke up.
“So when mom prints all those articles at the end of the year, what does that mean?” he asked.
We sat on the edge of our seats, anticipating the answer. Our son looked up from his phone. A blank stare can be daunting. But I wasn’t ready to end the lesson just yet.
“You know,” I prompted. “I write a column each week and at the end of the year I have a whole stack to print out. What’s something can we learn from that?”
His answer is sure to become a family classic. He said, “You print them all at once to save paper?”
My husband and I gave each other a look and (honestly) tried not to giggle.
I guess the significance of my deep and meaningful life lessons sounded like a lot of nothing to our son. Apparently I’m even better at doing nothing than I thought.
I’m still chuckling, which is something.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright and author.