A way for Tacoma area folks to plug into ‘the great conversation’

Morf Morford is a former News Tribune reader columnist who continues to write periodically for the op-ed page.
Morf Morford is a former News Tribune reader columnist who continues to write periodically for the op-ed page. News Tribune file photo, 2016

It’s almost the season for a new round of News Tribune reader columnists. As a recent columnist, I have a few observations.

Some fellow writers may be far younger than you, some may be far older than you. Some may agree with, and some may challenge, your religious, political or personal philosophies, but all represent our community.

Each voice of a reader columnist, above all, is one of us.

“We the people” is no abstraction. Each voice in this forum is an aspect, a perspective, literally a voice – even a snapshot – of who we are.

There are many things we learn as public writers in our own communities. There are some who will agree, and some, perhaps even many, who will disagree with the positions we take or the observations we share.

Among those who disagree, some will do so with hostility and near incoherence.

Others will disagree respectfully. They are a treasure. These thoughtful objectors remind us that few, perhaps even none, have final answers.

Perhaps the highest and best view of these columns, perhaps even all writing, is that we are all participating in a “great conversation.”

In this case, it is primarily, though not exclusively, local. The writers, and most readers, are our neighbors – people we work with, people we see and interact with on a regular basis in public.

As I gathered my thoughts for my own columns, I never thought of them as “opinion pieces.” They weren’t. My columns, and perhaps most of the columns of my fellow writers, were what I might call perspective pieces, or summaries of observations.

These were, for the most part, distillations of multiple experiences. I was looking for something I had learned, or thought others might want to learn, about this time, this community, this place as it is now.

Our community, our culture, as always, is going through unexpected changes. Who we are is not who we were – and certainly not who we will be. I see all of my columns as provisional.

I am making my way toward a position. I am not interested in “taking a position.” You don’t need to study very much history to see how quickly personal positions or philosophies become stale and fossilized.

I prefer to see “truth” as enduring and beyond all our categories. I diligently move toward it but I have no delusions that I, or anyone, can capture, define or hold a monopoly on what is “true” today, let alone a year or a lifetime from today.

Few people frighten me more than those who believe that they, and only they, know the truth.

One of my readers described my columns as “homilies.” I think of a homily as a reflection, a meditation on hard-won experience. Perhaps she is correct.

There is nothing permanent about newspaper columns. Perhaps every magazine or newspaper article – perhaps even every magazine and newspaper itself – is a reflection, a momentary snapshot of who we are and what matters to us at that particular time.

Newspapers and print magazines may or may not exist five or ten years from now. But the “great conversation” certainly will. We need to talk to, and listen to, each other.

There are cultures without technology and without permanent structures (nomadic cultures, for example), but there are no cultures without stories.

We are always learning from each other. Ultimately, it might not even matter if we agree or disagree. As a writer, I don’t really care if a particular reader likes what I write.

I am as annoyed by rote, mechanical and unthinking agreement as I am by equally unthinking disagreement. My job as a writer is to stir thinking – of myself as much as others.

I may not even like what I write. I stand by it as true, but that doesn’t mean I like it.

If we see things differently, can we do so respectfully?

Perhaps the real question is: Do we keep learning or do we stop?

M. (Morf) Morford is a North End resident, perpetual student of Tacoma and former News Tribune reader columnist from the class of 2010. Email him at mmorf@mail.com.

Calling all columnists

Since 2000, we’ve reserved a spot on our Monday opinion pages for a rotating panel of four to six local columnists.

Now it’s time to invite readers to apply for our 2018 roster of writers.

We are looking for talented contributors who represent the diversity of South Sound residents. Applicants should submit two freshly written sample columns, each 500 to 700 words. Include a cover letter telling us a bit about yourself and how to contact you during the day.

Samples should be personal essays grounded in first-hand experience and observation, not commentary on national or political issues.

Successful applicants will have a strong voice and engage readers with use of such techniques as characterization, narrative, precise detail, humor, vignettes or wordplay. (Not necessarily all of the above.)

Only email submissions will be considered. Submit them to karen.irwin@thenewstribune.com.

Put “Reader columnist” in the subject line. The deadline is Jan. 8.