Monday, November 19, 2012

Something someone said once

I'm feeling a bit off today. My name (sort of) was in today's obituary page. It wasn't me, but it was about as close as I'd ever like to see.

So I wondered what people might say if it was me; what eulogy would I receive? And that reminded me of one of the nicest things a coworker ever wrote about me. It was upon the release of my book, "Dazed and Raving in the Undercurrents," a collection of my better columns at the News Herald in my first 10 years of employment there.

The writer was Claude Duncan, at the time our Editorial Page Editor. Here's what he wrote, as taken from our electronic archive at the paper:

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Bay County perspective: Words as flashes of light

By Claude Duncan Editorial Page Editor

Tony Simmons is a journalist in, for newspapers, a post-journalistic age. With family to support, he thus also practices the bread-and-butter craft of editoring and has during his decade at The News Herald been beat reporter and columnist.

Simmons is good at all that. But he was born a journalist, with fingers connected to the mind’s eye. By training, intent and design, modern reporting in that respect is mindless work, albeit hard work.

Journalism was born of travel writing when much of the world was new to much of the world, and everything — everything — was about discovery. The writer inescapably was a part of his journey, as was self-discovery.

The poet Sarah Manguso, referring to the 18th century French philosopher most remembered for his encyclopedia, wrote that to Diderot, "the word is not the thing, but a flash in whose light we perceive the thing." Journalists like Simmons invoke masterfully what Manguso calls "codependent impulses" with readers. His new book, Dazed and Raving in the Undercurrents, is nothing if not flashes of light exposing this eternal co-dependency.

"Despite what you may have heard, you can go home again," Simmons writes in one entry, from 1995, "but you probably won’t enjoy it very much. … The faces I recall sometimes recall mine. In the Piggly Wiggly, we pass and they ask where I’ve been, what I’ve done with myself. I ask the same. Smiles circulate around uncomfortable silences. Then: a parting with promises to keep in touch."

Simmons often refers to himself on these visits home as "the prodigal." In morality tales, a prodigal is a rejecter who comes to happily embrace that which he rejected. So it is with Simmons, eventually.

Early on, though, Simmons can’t even remember his high school graduation ceremony, presumably as his mind already was in flight from town. When he returns for a niece’s graduation, he connects old slights to newly aging faces. Yet, by then, he also has written of a boyhood friend injured as an adult in a car wreck, perhaps for life. Simmons titled the rumination, "Now is the time to look up old friends."

In one visit home he found, "I am no longer familiar with the landscape of the hamlet where I wandered in my childhood. Trees have grown and grayed. Roads have widened. The houses of old friends have burned or fallen to disrepair or had their stiff, wooden skins covered by synthetic transplants of aluminum and vinyl." By this fall, too late for this volume but memorable to readers of this newspaper, upon seeing a photograph of his grandmother’s house, Simmons "thought of how he missed that front porch, and those days of play and work, and the old woman who had lived there, who always had been an old woman in his memory."

This is journalism eternal. Made peculiar to the time, it could have been written centuries ago, or centuries hence. Something like it was, and will. Self-discovery is human nature at its most unchanging. Simmons’ words are flashes of light for the reader to perceive things. His fingers are connected to his co-dependents’ mind. That is his art.

Dazed and Raving in the Undercurrents, as Simmons notes in his introduction, "is not just a collection of columns. It also is the story of a life — an unwitting autobiography composed as it unfolded." Rather little is nostalgic. It is full of observations about the ordinary modern world’s technological and cultural facets that Simmons, like his co-dependents, inhabits with dizzying degrees of confidence and confusion, skepticism and satisfaction. Always, though, Simmons seems not bored.

This is a book for the excitable who want to feel understood, and for the bored curious who want to understand the world outside their door. Always, it is about Simmons, the journalist, and therefore, always to some extent about the reader.

Claude passed away suddenly on Oct. 29, 2008, after retiring from his position at the News Herald. He was 62.

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