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Jim Bishop: Swan song-A fugue of bittersweet music

“Friends, I will remember you,
Think of you, pray for you . . .”
– The late John Denver (1971)

Urban legend has it that novelist Louis L’Amour (1908-1988) was speeding along at his typewriter and his daughter, a child at the time, asked, “Daddy, why are you writing so fast?” Louis replied, “Because I want to see how the story turns out!”

I can relate on two levels: one, the majority of my journalist career was spent pounding away on typewriter keys, first a manual Royal Standard and then an IBM Selectric II. I prided myself on increasing my words per minute count without making airers (stet).

Secondly, I’ve cranked out a lot of articles at a fast pace because there were so many wonderful stories that needed to be told. One of my few regrets as I slowly slip into retirement are those tales that didn’t get written because I was often running down other trails, pursuing projects I deemed less significant but were part of my regular work flow and expected of me. I would have preferred to see how those unwritten stories would turn out.

And now, I’m pondering what direction my own story will take as I cast some final thoughts into cyberspace.

In my dreams, perhaps, but in reality I little imagined that an initial rant I pounded out on my manual typewriter and submitted to the News-Record lamenting what I deemed the sorry state of popular music – and this was early 1990 – would evolve into a regular Saturday feature on those pages that would last 21 years.

“Bishop’s Mantle” – I was asked to give the essay a name and that was my suggestion – premiered Feb. 20, 1990. I was elated that the DN-R ran my cranky piece. I basked in the moment; surely this was my 15 minutes of fame, and the accolades that came from many quarters.

Buoyed by the reactions, I dipped my quivering quill into the inkwell and scratched out another mini-dissertation, this one some practical pointers on strengthening marital relationships (as if I was some kind of authority). In a few months, these uneven discourses morphed into a weekly conversation (I never did know when to stop yammering) in the “Saturday” Skyline section of that paper.

The dialogue expanded when the News-Record established its own web site and posted the column on line. I often forgot this until a response came from a reader at a distance. This also provided a helpful reminder to be careful what I wrote, because one never knew who might be reading or might forward a given piece to others at a distance who may or may not necessarily be enamored by my take on a given theme. Such encounters proved helpful learning experiences.

I have been heartened by the numerous reader responses regularly received in person, by phone, by email and even handwritten letters. Being told that something I wrote connected with them, or they were helped or encouraged with some personal struggle or doubt was the best affirmation this writer could receive. I even received birthday and Christmas cards from complete strangers (“fans of ‘Bishop’s Mantle”) or was told that they cut out and pasted a certain article on their refrigerator or informed their spouse, “You need to read this.”

I’ve believed for a long time that this outlet provided a regular “escape valve” from the pressures of the more routine writing that was part of my daily schedule. The column, along with other avocational pursuits such as radio and other free-lance activities, helped energize my daily toil while also helping keep me on track with my many ongoing deadlines. I sought to take the approach that this weekly communiqué was a sacred trust that could easily be abused or used as a platform to promote my work place, EMU.

“Thanks” seems like such a meager effort to express of my sincere gratitude for all the affirmations received all these years. The criticisms too for the most part were constructive and graciously delivered, seldom did I receive a personal blow below the belt. These treatises opened many doors to speaking engagements, often about the writing task, to area organizations and school groups, where I interacted and tested ideas with persons I otherwise may never have had opportunity to meet. What a joy and privilege; I have been blessed beyond measure.

It’s been a great ride, and the journey isn’t over. There are more columns to write, stories to tell (and, oh no, more pundemoanium) to share. Some of this will simply happen in other times and spaces in the days ahead.

I don’t like saying goodbye, letting go and moving on, but I do so with this proverb that hangs in our kitchen, words that I’ve tried to live by and in turn commend to you:

“Dance as if no one were watching,
Sing as if no one were listening,
And live each day as if it were your last.”

Jim Bishop retired June 30, 2011, after 40 years as public information officer at Eastern Mennonite University. Contact him at

augusta free press
augusta free press