Photo provided by Scott Saalman


Guest Columnist

“If I could just get it on paper, I might make some sense of it all.” — Jimmy Buffett


Says so in all caps on a coffee cup gifted by my boss.

It serves as a sentinel near my laptop, staring me down while I struggle to live up to its bold proclamation or, more so, to my own visions of grandeur.

It has yet to hold even one drop of coffee. It’s THAT coffee cup, the coffee cup of cool, the one too precious from which to drink. It serves a more important purpose than lending itself as a ceramic vessel held aloft and slightly tilted between coffee pot and coffee-breathed mouth. I have dozens of other coffee cups drafted to deliver my java jolt, but none try to fuel me with a sense of purpose like this bone-dry I AM A WRITER cup.

I am worthy of the cup’s words during the good days, when the connectivity between mind and fingertips is undammed and true, and the keyboard clacks like a train undeterred from its destination; when there is no distraction, only traction; when clear thought arises as steam within the brain’s boiler, percolates and belches determined bursts of black font through the imagination’s smokestack, effortlessly populating the white field before me with a journey charted by letters, words, sentences and paragraphs that hopefully entice you to chuckle, nod or stifle a yawn while in the comforting presence of your own cherished, truth-telling coffee cup: World’s Greatest Golfer; #1 Grandma; Workin’ Harder Than An Ugly Stripper; or There’s A Good Chance This Is Whiskey.

When the writing is good, I feel most grand, the little engine that could. I can almost tolerate myself. I am a writer. I don’t need a cup to prop me up.

But then come those dreaded, damning days: when the train jumps track, and the keyboard clack is muted by clock tick; when the computer monitor displays only a blank glow, and I am derailed by self-doubt; when I sheepishly glance at the coffee cup, fully expecting to find I AM A FRAUD lasered on its side; when a painfully familiar and brilliant line from Bruce Springsteen’s “Brilliant Disguise” comes to mind, “God have mercy on the man who doubts what he’s sure of.” I have been haunted by these Springsteen syllables since their release in 1987, the same year I embarked on a newspaper career that guaranteed I would be paid to write — by paid, I mean minimally paid. Near college graduation, the then “love of my life” informed me she had learned that “reporters don’t make a lot of money.” I had no Plan B. My muse, unamused, vanished into oblivion. My first of many lessons in the economics of love.

My life as a reporter was short — three years at three papers, the final one firing me for not “delivering the bang for the buck” expected of me based on story samples that had prompted them to hire me, making me feel like a limp writing hack carried on some heroic copyeditor’s back. Specific lyrics from Harry Chapin’s epic dream-crusher song, “Mr. Tanner,” spoke loud and clear: “Full time consideration for another endeavor might be in order.” With bruised ego and blighted byline, I exited newspapers, but the desire to write a column, a dream dating from my early double-digit years, remained. It took getting kicked out of newspapers to find my place in them. The Perry County News first paid for my freelance humor columns, then The Herald. Now, the Courier and Press runs them, too.

You would think that by virtue of a byline, I would not question the coffee cup. I AM A WRITER. Four words I never dare say aloud, from fear of both failure and feelings of fraudulency awaiting beyond every bend.

I am not a successful writer. Each of my five self-published column collections represents a slice of humble pie. Last night, their Amazon “best-seller” rankings were: "Nose Hairs Gone Wild” (5,216,777); “Will Write For Food” (6,774,204); “Mr. Serious” (7,392,322); “Column Writing is Not Pretty” (7,950,125); “What Are You Going to Write About When I’m Gone?” (3,542,351). My life’s work commingles with the millions.

Last night, I bought a copy of “Will Write For Food” to test the rankings system. Overnight, it climbed more than six million notches to the 393,883rd position. A book with a bullet — a mere $8.07 purchase prompting a butterfly effect in book sales rankings.

Sadly, I have purchased my own titles at other times, too, suckered by the dreaded “boomerang book,” a copy I once sold to someone only to see the same copy being resold on Amazon. I buy it just to see who I originally sold it to, hoping to unmask the unimpressed.

I recently paid $31.22 for a “Nose Hairs Gone Wild” boomerang book that I originally sold for $14.99 to someone who gifted it to someone for Christmas in 2012. With the orphaned book back in my loving hands, I read the nine-year-old inscription: “For Joan ... I hope you enjoy my Nose Hairs.” Apparently, Joan didn’t.

Maybe I can sell it for $16.27 and break even.


Says so in all caps on a coffee cup gifted to me by my boss.

Maybe I should lighten up on myself. Believe the cup. If you can’t trust your coffee cup, what can you trust?