News and Tribune


July 7, 2013

CUMMINS: Writers lead lonely lives

NEW ALBANY — If odd people didn’t write, you could not read. You’d stay in contact with a live television or punch a mechanism with fingers turning to stone. A writer, or a wannabe, sits at blank paper or a grayish screen, staring, fidgeting, waiting for inspiration. You can’t force inspiration, which is like waiting for the cows to come home. Cows carry a heavy baggage and need relief, just as columnists need topics to write about. Maybe someday, my computer will read me, my explosive emotions and shallow thoughts. Computers are rapidly becoming a form of an animal taking on a few human characteristics. I see it now, my thoughts transcending through space to a machine’s inner core. It will then write from its heart and mine, beautiful sentences making sense to a degree. We’re almost there, don’t you know? When driverless cars hit the road, mind-reading computers can’t be that far behind.  

 The human mind is complex, which compliments the complexity of the recent discovery of how two digits — one and zero — changed our lives. Robots are on the verge of becoming human in every way except they’re plastic without veins to let blood run through. Writers aren’t robots yet as they shed blood waiting for inspiration and a topic to pursue. Writers lead lonely lives, but readers don’t. Think what your life would be without the Bible, the U.S. Constitution and Dr. Seuss. Thank a writer for his suffering and sacrifice as he stares into space until words, some indecipherable, appear.

We sit there stifled until letting the imagination wander hoping it makes contact with a word, phrase, event, person, place or thing. When I looked out my window for inspiration and saw a mockingbird sitting in a holly tree day after day, I had to write about it. The Dalai Lama and Thomas Merton also inspired me, but I don’t understand how Sarah Palin sneaked into some of my articles, too. These themes, family, politics, technology and cyberspace, all distinguished by the absurd aspects of the human condition, provide a wealth of material. My family is weird; what about yours? When writing about politics, I go mad like they do. Technology can’t be described, but “back then” can. When I compare back then to now, it’s like describing daylight from dark. Going back helps me keep my head on straight and nerves in check. 

Why do I write? Why do you breathe? Writing was something I wanted to do, but family kept me to the grindstone until my nose ground down to two hairy holes. After retirement, my life took off again like it did at age 15 when Mary Lou walked by, a thunder clap and blazing bolt dissolving my heart into mush. Taught myself to use a computer and practiced writing stuff that had no way to go but up. Some of it did, and since age 66, I’ve published nearly 650 articles. Writing an article each week is only part of it. At age 69, I published my first book, followed by three others with a fifth, “Anne’s Story,” coming out soon, and “My Life in a Schoolhouse” in the works.

Better late than never works for me as described in “Retirement is a Blast: Once You Light the Fuse.” For most of us, retirement provides the chance to do what we want to do, up to a point. Helen Keller said, “Life is an adventure or nothing.” That’s my mantra — writing is an adventure, and when I began, I could not stop. It’s a compulsion and a passion. Old folks are passionate, too, or should be about something, anything — bird or grandchildren watching, surfing space or the sea, converting stamps to email, or if nothing else, brim-level living. You could become passionate about politics like politicians are, but then you’d be a robot without feelings. If passion wanes, what is there to keep us living an adventurous life? An acquaintance said, “You write better than you used to.” Why can’t life be the same — better than it was. 

 One writer described writing as staring at a blank piece of paper until the blood begins to drip. It’s lonely sitting here waiting for drops of words to coagulate. What’s even lonelier is that those words might be gibberish. Science tells us that frowning wrinkles the face, whereas smiling helps prevent heart failure. I do not like to write about war, oil or deficits. I prefer writing about chuckle subjects like the absurdity and drama of the human condition, of which I am proudly, an integral part.

Contact Terry Cummins at


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