Breaking the Ice


Sometimes the hardest part of being a newspaper columnist is figuring out what to write about. Once a topic presents itself, I seldom have a problem producing the requisite number of publishable words before deadline. But as John Dewey said, “There is all the difference in the world between having something to say and having to say something.”
Frozen solid
I once asked former Boston Globe columnist Brian McGrory which he found easier – writing a column or writing a news story. He said that writing a news story was by far easier.

I agree.

With a news story, at least you have a ready-made event or a set of facts to work with. With a column, you have to come up with the whole premise yourself. And that takes work.

I worked hard on this column. It began last weekend, when I realized that I had a column deadline this week. I spent the weekend thinking about what I would write. Thinking is one of the most important parts of being a newspaper columnist. But the only things that came to mind were all the other things I could be doing.

For one thing, I needed to do something about the glacier covering my front steps and landing. An unfortunate synchronicity of snow, rain, sub-frigid temperatures and my schedule had conspired to leave a thick coat of immovable ice leading up to my front door.

Despite my column deadline, the prospect of a couple of sunny days where the temperature might almost reach freezing presented an opportunity that I could ill afford to waste. I had to get out and chop away at this mini skating rink.

Chopping ice, I rationalized, is one of those mindless exercises where one can sometimes achieve a near Zen-like level of focus. Such activities can free the mind to wander in creative directions. Perhaps a column idea would come out of it.

There is a science to hitching one’s own energy to that of the sun in order to affect maximum melting. Every square inch of asphalt or concrete surface I can expose to the sun’s rays speeds the melting all around it.

But despite Saturday’s balmy 30 degree temperatures, I quickly realized that this was not going to be enough warmth to loosen the ice that day. So I went to the movies and saw the new Mickey Rourke film, “The Wrestler,” which I highly recommend. I could grapple with the ice on Sunday, which promised to be marginally warmer.

On Sunday, I succeeded in punching a couple of holes in the ice pack before it was time to fulfill my sacred duty as an American male and watch the Superbowl. My battle with frozen water could wait one more day. Monday was predicted to be even warmer, I rationalized.

But the ice pack that I encountered still proved far more formidable than I had anticipated. Apparently the Global Warming that is powerful enough to melt the earth’s polar ice caps at an alarming rate cannot make a dent in the three-inch thick slab on my walkway.

Living near a wetland and being an environmentally conscious type, I have stayed away from using chemical compounds to treat my frozen surface areas. I prefer to work with Mother Nature. As a result of my eco-friendliness, I’ve had to chop at my steps so hard this winter that I actually broke a off a large chunk of concrete.

That settles it. I’m heading out to buy a bag of Ice Melt, assuming I can make it to my car without breaking my neck. My purchase will probably stimulate the economy out of the recession before Climate Change melts the ice on my walk.

[This column originally appeared in the February 5, 2009 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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