Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Grace under pressure

In the same way that a badly adjusted set of binoculars gives you two overlapping images, the two McCains don't come together for me. It must be frustrating for his handlers to be be unable -- due to some internal blockage in the candidate -- to get the amiable self onstage instead of the less palatable one who shows up for debates and now hollered speeches.
Dick Cavett, Talk Show

My beloved granddaughter has played soccer almost from the time she could run. This fall she will begin playing for her Pennsylvania high school team. A few days ago my son, her father, told me how beautifully she played in a recent scrimmage. He lamented that she rarely played that well in actual games when she knew people were watching and any mistake on her part could be costly. As Dick Cavett similarly laments about presidential candidate John McCain in 2008, this young soccer player "gives you two overlapping images."

As a newspaper journalist, and especially as an editorial page editor for so many years, I got to know many politicians, and I observed that McCain was not alone in seeming one way when campaigning for votes, or newspaper endorsements, and another way in more casual circumstances. In fact, many of us, probably most of us, behave differently under pressure. Some students know the material but do badly on tests. People can speak effortlessly in small groups but freeze up if asked to give a speech to a crowd. I have observed that even beauty contestants often look so much better after the pageant is over. Their smiles are no longer forced, their gestures no longer posed. They become real women again.

Mike Royko
Newspaper deadlines force reporters to write under under pressure, sometimes great pressure. I did it for many years, but I never felt I did my best writing under such circumstances. I thought I did better with my weekly column when I had days to write and rewrite.

All this brings me around to Mike Royko, the great Chicago columnist, who turned out five pieces a week, mostly for the Chicago Daily News. I recently started reading One More Time, a collection of his best columns published in 1999 after his widow and several friends sorted through the nearly 8,000 columns he wrote. "Considering the gems Mike regularly wrote, selecting the best was not an easy job," said Judy Royko, his widow.

My newspaper often used Royko 's column on our op-ed page, so I got to read many of them. They were always good, and even though they were mostly about Chicago, they still informed and entertained readers in Ohio. And to think, Royko wrote five columns a week, or one column each working day. From experience I know the difficulty of writing just one column a week. The pressure of doing five a week seems unbearable. Yet Royko did it, and did it well, for many years. There are some of us who can do our best even when the heat is on.

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