Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Tao of Hammer: Know thyself

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2013 at 8:40 AM

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Greetings from South Central Texas. I'm writing this from my temporary home in San Antonio, where I began intensive training for my new job last Monday. Everything has gone well so far, knock on wood. The weather has been great, my new coworkers are friendly and helpful and our training instructor is, quite literally, world-class at what he does.

I have this new job due to the fact that President Barack Obama's economic policies have stimulated the economy and freed up capital for well-paying jobs such as the one I have. I'm feeling good about things. Everything is going to be all right.

One of the reasons I accepted this promotion, besides the obvious financial benefits and increased job security, is so that I can finally shed the low-paying and high-stress burden of being Steve Hammer, the crazy liberal local newspaper columnist and resume the role of being Steve Hammer, the helpful coworker, good husband and friend you can count upon.

But I'm not yet rid of the role of crazy liberal writer. I have five or six more pieces to deliver before I bid farewell to the job of weekly columnist. And since I've already been paid for most of them, not only do I have to deliver these columns, I also have to try and do as good a job as possible with them.

Even in Texas, former Indy coworkers who preceded me here have been asking me questions about this column. Will I continue it? Will I miss it? Will I find it difficult to be a liberal Democrat in deeply red Texas?

The answers are no, no and no. It has been an honor and a privilege to write this column every week since 1993. It has also been an albatross around my neck for 20 years. Hunter S. Thompson was wrong about many things, but he was correct when he compared writing for newspapers with being a prostitute and having sex with lots of strangers. It's only fun when you're an amateur, he said.

Old whores don't smile very much, he noted, and neither do old reporters and columnists. I will not miss the weekly grind. I will also not miss being recognized on the streets of Indy, even though I try to make myself as invisible as possible in public. The picture that has accompanied this column for seven years is a depiction of me trying to look as unlike myself as is humanly possible.

And, as longtime readers and personal friends alike will tell you, I clearly do not care what other folks think about my views. I've never claimed to be 100 percent correct in my political or personal philosophy. I've been moderately successful at being a columnist because I am sincere, occasionally outrageous and sometimes humorous.

But the reactions from readers don't affect me one way or another. I've gotten literally thousands of nasty emails and letters from readers and my columns have provoked at least one bomb threat to the NUVO office. I've also gotten as many compliments, so it evens out. As long as my editors a) don't hate my stories enough to make me rewrite them and b) send me a check that clears the bank, whatever else happens doesn't matter that much to me.
Insults don't diminish my sense of self-worth and compliments do not overly inflate it. I have written this column because I am passionate about the things I believe to be true. And for the check. Because Indianapolis media outside of NUVO is generally so bland and generic and devoid of real personality, I have stood out from the rest of the dreary pack.

I am not a prose stylist in the way my friend David Hoppe is a master craftsman of words. Nor do I have the gracefulness of Dan Carpenter of The Indianapolis Star. I have looked at them with admiration because they are almost surgical in the precision with which they assemble their columns. They wield scalpels. I come at my columns holding a chainsaw, baseball bat and sawed-off shotgun. There is room in Indianapolis for both approaches.

Having said all that, when my run with NUVO is over in six weeks, I will feel a small bit of sadness that I won't be able to provoke violent reactions among thousands of tea-bagger conservatives in the Hoosier state. Their hatred fuels me to live a better, more productive life. And the readers who simply think I suck, well, I will miss them too, because for all of my life people have said I suck at what I do and I nevertheless keep pressing on.

Right now, not only do I feel the pressure of learning a new, extremely high-level job, I feel the clock ticking on my career as a newspaper columnist. I have so much yet left to say before I'm done and I've already out of room this week.

As always, thanks for reading. See you next week. God bless.

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