SOMETIMES WORDS FAIL ME...

July 13, 2016

There is a lyric in the Harry Chapin song “Story Of A Life” that I’ve always found somewhat appropriate for those of us who toil in my particular line of work: 


“Sometimes words can serve me well,

Sometimes words can go to hell

For all that they do...”


As a newspaper columnist, I understand and appreciate the sentiment Chapin was attempting to convey in those lines. Because there are times when, as much as I hate to admit it, words fail me.


I was oh so proud back in 1991 to earn my hard-earned degree in communications - the first member of my immediate family to earn a bachelor’s degree, darned right I was proud! - but there are times when it feels that having that communications degree does me absolutely no good whatsoever. Because there are times when I look at what’s going on in the world around me, and I simply cannot find the right words to say.


When the 9-11 attacks occurred, the best response I was able to muster was to write a column discussing how my two young sons - ages 10 and 5 at the time - were responding to and coping with what had occurred. It was the only way I knew how to address the situation. Words had failed me. I didn’t know how to respond to the tragedy myself; just as had been the case with the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995,  I simply could not comprehend the enormity of the events of that dark day, could not fathom the depth of the kind of hatred that is apparently necessary to drive a person of ANY faith - Muslim, Christian, what have you - to act in such a profoundly evil way. 


And so - lacking any words of my own that might be adequate enough to comfort even myself, let alone anyone else - I watched and listened to my little boys and shared their response, in the hopes that the old adage about wisdom coming from the mouth of babes might actually have some merit after all.


I knew that column would never win any awards. I didn’t care. That wasn’t why I wrote it. I was looking for a emotional lifeline, some little bit of hope and encouragement that I might be able to cling onto and give me the confidence that, yes, we would get through this. I felt like I had found that glimmer of hope in my children, and I wanted to share it with others. And when I was finished writing that column, I felt like maybe I had in fact actually managed to share something worthwhile. I hoped so, anyway.


A lot of readers seemed to think that I had, and they told me so. One individual in particular did not, however, and was apparently so incensed that he took the time to sit down and compose a lengthy and rather nasty letter to the editor, complaining about how my wallowing in self-pity had added nothing to the national conversation and saying, in essence, “I don’t care how your children are coping.” 


It was the first of a number of such letters I would receive from this individual over the next four or five years, all of which spent more time making personal attacks upon me and the majority of which seemed to say, “How dare you not bow at the feet of George W. Bush and pledge undying allegiance?” After a while the letters stopped bothering me; each new missive was more bellicose and incoherent than the last, to the point of becoming comical to some degree, and over time I began to wonder if perhaps my self-appointed adversary might in fact be suffering from some form of dementia. Either that, or he was simply so eaten up by some sort of hatred and anger himself that he just could find no other way to express than to attack me. Either way, eventually I actually found myself feeling a little sorry for the poor fellow...


But I’ll admit it: I still get a little hot under the collar whenever I think about that very first venom-drenched letter from Walt Pralle. In part because this guy had belittled my children, and that’s not the sort of thing that is going to win you much in the way of favor with me. But also in part because his attack had been prompted by my very real inability to think of anything else to say. I had been unable to give expression of my own anger, my own fears, my own sadness. 


Words had failed me.


It happened again when I first heard about the sniper attack in Dallas last Thursday night. I was struck numb by the senselessness of it all... not just the events of that night, but the events of the two days that preceded them. Two young black men shot and killed by police, seemingly without genuine provocation. A protest march in Dallas - one of several that took place across the country in the wake of the second shooting in Minnesota the day before - which by all accounts was peaceful and orderly, with a great deal of cooperation between those who organized and participated in the protest and the police officers who were on the scene to protect those people.


I saw an interview on television Friday morning with one of the church pastors who had helped organize the Dallas march. He spoke of his admiration and respect for the police officers who had been assigned to that event, and told of how a number of the protesters had actually posed for pictures with some of those officers. From this pastor’s description, and from other accounts as well,  it seemed to me that the march in Dallas had been the very picture of how such events SHOULD take place. Concerned citizens of all races and creeds coming together to express their indignation over injustice, without violence and under the protection of law enforcement. 


Proof that supporting your local police and taking a stand against police brutality or misconduct need not be mutually exclusive to one another. 


And then the madness started...


And again, words failed me.


It wasn’t simply that I could not think of anything to say. It was that the things I did think of to say might be mistakenly viewed by one side or the other as hurtful, or antagonistic, or an expression of hate towards either particular group of people that in reality I simply do not feel. 


Such is the State of the Union in this summer of 2016. We like to think we have made advances in our society, but the evidence so often suggests otherwise.

And no matter how you respond when things appear to be going to hell in a hand basket, you’re wrong. If you say “Black lives matter,” you’re automatically pegged as anti-police. Which is stupid and wrong. If you say instead “ALL lives matter,” you are automatically accused to denigrating African-Americans, Which is also stupid and wrong. We all bleed red...


When put on the spot by a friend, the only response I was able to summon up last Friday was a comment that had in fact been made by someone else years earlier:


“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”


The speaker was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The sentiment is one that I share. 


But the only thing I can think of to add to the remark is one simple, solitary word: 


Amen.


I wish that were enough...


(Copyright © 2016, by John Allen Small)


 

NEW TARZAN IS A WINNER

July 4, 2016

It occurred to me recently that it had been a while since the last time I devoted this space to reviewing a new movie. This seems like as good a time as any to rectify this - and frankly I could not have picked a better movie with which to do so.


Full disclosure: The Legend Of Tarzan was one of those movies I was looking forward to with both great anticipation and, at the same time, a certain degree of dread. Anticipation because, as I have written about many times in the past, Tarzan is a c...


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REMEMBER CIVILITY...?

June 23, 2016
(Note: This is a slightly revised version of something I recently wrote and posted on Facebook, and then published as my weekly column in the June 23, 2016, edition of the Johnston County Capital-Democrat.)


I recently had a… well, I don't know that it actually rises to the level of being an honest-to-Jed Bartlett "epiphany," but it is darn sure something that bears being shared the rest of the world.  (And if it does qualify as an epiphany then I'm just tickled to death, because I don't know...


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ELEMENTARY, DEAR READER...

May 13, 2016

(NOTE: The following is a longer version of one of my recent newspaper columns.)


Over the past few years I have had the opportunity to become reacquainted with an old friend. A fellow I first met when I was a young boy and who became one of my most faithful companions as I was growing up. A gentleman who taught me about the importance of being observant, and of not allowing emotions to overpower logic - a skill I readily admit I have yet to master, though I continue to strive in that direction...


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MEMOIRS OF A BAT-FAN

January 15, 2016

MEMOIRS OF A BAT-FAN



In case you happened to miss it (you’d be surprised, it seems like there is always a few who somehow manage to not receive the memo), this past Tuesday marked an important milestone in the history of American popular culture. 


Well, it was important to some of us, anyway...


January 12 marked the 50th anniversary of the night that the television series Batman, starring Adam West and Burt Ward, premiered on the ABC television network (WLS-TV, Channel 7 in Chicago if y...


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HO, HO, HO...

December 23, 2015
(Above: Thomas Nast's depiction of Santa Claus for Harper's Weekly in the late 1800s; and my son Joshua playing Santa Claus in the 2014 Johnston County Chamber of Commerce Christmas Parade, Tishomingo, Oklahoma.)



(Note: The following article was originally published in the Johnston County Capital-Democrat, Dec. 24, 1992. We re-published it in this week's issue as a Christmas gift to our readers, and I felt it was appropriate to share it here as well.)



He is one of the most recognized figures...


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IT COULD HAVE BEEN ME...

November 24, 2015
(Yours Truly in Greece, Spring 1985 - shortly before the events described below...)



It occurred to me, as I sat down at my keyboard just now to share the story I am about to tell, that I probably should have done so back in June. That month did, after all, mark the 30th anniversary of when it actually happened.


But for some reason I generally don’t think about it when the anniversary rolls around. The subject only seems to come to mind around this time of year. When I’m counting my blessi...


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WHEN DUTY AND BELIEFS CLASH...

September 10, 2015

I had not originally planned on commenting here about the controversy surrounding Kim Davis, the court clerk in Kentucky who was refusing to issue marriage licenses to anyone because she disagreed with the U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year legalizing gay marriages. Not because I don’t have an opinion on the subject (come on, you know better than that) but, rather, because I'm actually kind of tired of listening to everyone else talk about it.


There had already been so much disc...


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HAPPY BIRTHDAY MR. BURROUGHS

August 31, 2015

Tomorrow, September 1, marks the 140th anniversary of the birth of my favorite author: Edgar Rice Burroughs, father of Tarzan, chronicler of Barsoom and Pellucidar, and the man whose stories helped teach me to read and made me want to become a writer myself. 


In celebration I thought it might be appropriate to share a poem in tribute to Burroughs that I wrote roughly 20 years ago now…



IN MEMORIAM: ERB


A Poem By John Allen Small



With simple words on paper

He drew a map that led me

On a ...


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SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT AWARDS...

August 26, 2015

One of the big news stories of the past week revolved around James Harrison, the pro football player who launched a national debate when he announced that he had made his young sons return sports participation trophies they had received because he felt they rewarded involvement, as opposed to actual accomplishment.


Harrison got a fair share of “atta boys” from certain corners, but he also caught no small amount of flack from others who apparently felt that his decision fell just short of...


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About Me


John Allen Small John A. Small is an award-winning newspaper journalist, columnist and broadcaster whose work has been honored by the Oklahoma Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Associated Press, the National Newspaper Association, and the Oklahoma Education Association. He and his wife Melissa were married in 1986; they have two sons, Joshua Orrin (born 1991) and William Ian (born 1996). Mr. Small is the News Editor and columnist for the Johnston County Capital-Democrat, a weekly newspaper headquartered in Tishomingo, OK. He obtained his nickname, "Bard of the Lesser Boulevards," from a journalism colleague - the late Phil Byrum - in recognition of the success of his popular newspaper column, "Small Talk." (In addition to the many awards the column itself has received over the years, a radio version of "Small Talk" earned an award for "Best Small Market Commentary" from the Society of Professional Journalists in 1998.) John was born in Oklahoma City in 1963; lived in the Bradley-Bourbonnais-Kankakee area of Illinois for most of the next 28 years (with brief sojourns in Texas and Athens, Greece, thrown in to break up the monotony); then returned to his native state in 1991, where he currently resides in the Tishomingo/Ravia area. He graduated from Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School in 1981, and received his bachelor's degree in journalism from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais in 1991. The years between high school and college were a period frought with numerous exploits and misadventures, some of which have become the stuff of legend; nobody was hurt along the way, however, which should count for something. In addition to his professional career as a journalist he has published two short story collections: "Days Gone By: Legends And Tales Of Sipokni West" (2007), a collection of western stories; and "Something In The Air" (2011), a more eclectic collection. He was also a contributor to the 2005 Locus Award-nominated science fiction anthology "Myths For The Modern Age: Philip Jose Farmer's Wold Newton Universe," edited by Win Scott Eckert. In additon he has written a stage play and a self-published cookbook; served as project editor for a book about the JFK assassination entitled "The Men On The Sixth Floor"; and has either published or posted on the Internet a number of essays, stories and poems. He has also won writing awards from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the National Library of Poetry. He is a past president of the Johnston County Chamber of Commerce in Tishomingo; was a charter member and past president of the Johnston County Reading Council, the local literacy advocacy and "friends of the library" organization; served as Johnston County's first-ever Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator in 1994-95; served two terms as chairman of the Johnston County (OK) Democratic Party; and has taught journalism classes for local Boy Scout Merit Badge Fairs. He is a member of the New Wold Newton Meteorics Society.
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