Column: Running Out of Space is Always a Good Excuse By SUSAN PARKER

Tuesday February 14, 2006

I spent over four hours working on this week’s column, but I wasn’t satisfied with the results. When this happens, I send it to friends whose opinions I respect. 

I have several acquaintances who are willing to read through rough drafts and give me advice. Some of them are writers, some avid readers. Two of them are good with grammar, sentence structure, when to use a dash instead of a comma, who instead of whom, that instead of which. 

One of them gets my sense of humor. Another is a communist with political opinions on everything. I have a friend who works at home and is available on short notice. Sometimes this is the most important quality one needs from another when seeking advice. 

I send works in progress requiring a second opinion to specific people depending on their expertise. I never send a column about neighborhood issues to my Idaho writing partner Karen because her concerns center around snow, mountain lions, and frozen pipes. But if I’m in doubt about where to place a comma, she’s the one to ask. I don’t send anything humorous to my communist friend because, well, he’s a communist. 

I have to be cautious when sending essays to the friend who works at home because she tends to like everything I write. 

The column I needed help with was about recent activities occurring in my house and how California politics affected those activities. In the essay I mentioned Arnold Schwarzenegger. Because the mere whisper of his name smacks of controversy, I sent the piece to my communist acquaintance for evaluation. I also e-mailed it to my friend who is always available, in case the communist wasn’t. 

This, of course, was a big mistake. 

They both got back to me. The always-available friend said she liked the column and could find nothing wrong with it. Several hours later the communist weighed in and said the opposite. “You complain about everyone around you, make yourself look like a clueless do-gooder, and don’t really say anything. Start over.” 

I re-read the column. It was true there were some complaints in the story, but they were other people’s complaints about Arnold, not mine. I re-looked at my do-gooder status. I had written about a young houseguest who needed help with her homework and a lift to school. I edited her out of the story, but by doing so I was left with only Arnold and me. The column no longer made sense. I put the homework back in and made myself appear less helpful, but it’s difficult to write about one’s self in a negative light. 

I started over. Maybe I could write on a subject nobody else had ever written about, but that was unrealistic. Maybe I could discuss something newsworthy in an uncommon way, but none of my views on current issues is very unique. Perhaps I could just repeat what other people had already said. 

I made a list of hot topics and my relationship with each: 

Brokeback Mountain: liked it 

A Million Little Pieces: couldn’t get through it. 

Jessica Simpson: don’t know who she is. 

Israel and the Gaza Strip: haven’t been there and don’t want to go. 

Danish cartoons: haven’t seen them. 

Marin Avenue: once rode my bicycle from the bottom to the top but couldn’t do it now without risking heart failure and possible death. 

Ashby BART station: 

• Went to the last community meeting but no one from the neighborhood was there; perhaps the Ed Roberts Campus is no longer an issue. 

• Haven’t been to the flea market since my neighbor Mrs. Scott died; don’t need incense, lavender soap, used furniture or CDs. 

Sideshows: saw one and thought I might be killed; never want to see another as long as I live. 

Iraq: too depressing. 

George Bush: ditto. 

I re-looked at the old column. Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all, but now, thank God, I’ve run out of space.