Nixon wave

“Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.”

— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

This column is going to make a lot of people happy. And — perhaps — a few others a little bit sad.

Me? I suppose it’s a strange combination of the two emotions.

Since my early 20s — approaching 40 years now — I’ve been writing columns for newspapers. Lifestyle columns. Sports columns. Humor columns. Not-so-humorous columns.

Over the years I’ve made some readers angry enough to cancel their subscriptions, while others — if we’re to believe their claims — insisted my golden prose is the only reason they continued to take the newspaper.

Well, that and the obituaries.

But it all ends today. This is my final Standard Deviations column.

(APPLAUSE BREAK)

Twenty years ago, I was covering the visual arts beat for this newspaper. During an interview with a local artist, I asked about the inherent difficulties in the creative process of putting paint to canvas.

“The hardest thing,” the artist said, “is knowing when a painting is finished. You have to learn to put down that brush at just the right time, because even just one more stroke will start to undo it all.”

Indeed. This is, at once, both the hardest and easiest decision I’ve ever made. I’ve loved writing this column — a darn sight more than any of you have enjoyed reading it — but there comes that moment when you realize your little Crayola masterpiece is finished and it’s time to hang up your art supplies.

“The time to quit,” author Kimberly K. Jones wisely suggested, “is before you wish you had.”

And that time is now.

No, I’m not leaving the Standard-Examiner. I’ll continue to write and edit the weekly GO! arts and entertainment magazine. But from now on I’ll be keeping my ample opinions to myself.

It’s important to note that this was my decision — no one is forcing me out. The editors I’ve had over the years have been nothing but supportive, and the current crop is no exception. In truth, I’ve always marveled at how I was given free rein to write whatever came into my twisted little mind, with very little blowback from the higher-ups.

Oh, I’ve had plenty of people try to get me fired for my opinions over the years, including a couple of people working for the newspaper at the time. But I can think of only two or three times that editors have given me genuine grief about something I’d written. Which is a pretty good record, considering all the outlandish manure I’ve shoveled since the early 1980s.

Only once, back in the 1990s, did an editor decline to run one of my more controversial pieces. And even after one of my columns caused a Davis County hotel to cancel its 50 subscriptions of the Standard-Examiner — no small thing in tight economic times — management continued to have my back.

My current editor gave me the option of either writing a farewell column or going gentle into that good night. And while the latter held a certain appeal, I feel like readers at least deserve an explanation as to why, going forward, their Sunday morning blood pressure will be dropping a good 20 points.

It’s been an amazing ride, and I’ve loved every minute of it. I also know that from time to time I’m going to miss having this creative outlet-slash-bully pulpit. But if we’ve learned anything from Brexit, it’s that farewells are sometimes inevitable — even when nobody seems to want it.

So, to those who’ve followed my column over the years and count themselves fans, I offer a heartfelt “Thanks for reading.” And to those who consider themselves the polar opposite of fans and disagreed with just about everything I wrote, I say “Thanks for reading.”

There’s a quote — often misattributed to the poet and playwright Oscar Wilde — that I believe perfectly sums up my tenure as a newspaper columnist for the Standard-Examiner:

“Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.”

Either way, I suspect more than a few readers are smiling today.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/MarkSaal.

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