Commentary | Scanlan says goodbye, but doesn’t get all sappy about it

For what it’s worth, this is my last column in The Daily. I had planned a kind of emetic valedictory column, and to bring tears to the eyes of all and everyone, but I accidentally deleted the thing (actually, I never wrote it).

I planned to go through The Daily’s digital archive and find all of my past columns and then maybe cut-and-paste them into one file and do a word count and let you know exactly how many individual words I have semi-permanently installed on the internet and the bound volumes in The Daily’s office through the past four years. But I abandoned that idea, first because it seemed sticky and self-indulgent and second because it seemed like it might be a lot of work.

I went online to see what other student-newspaper columnists wrote in their final columns. For the most part, what I found was revolting: either the saccharine tone of Oh, The Places You’ll Go, or some variation on Polonius’ theme, “Oh, All of the Life Lessons I Have Learned” or else some fetid combination of the two. The former species of valediction is charmless without the acid-casualty illustrations, and the latter is just charmless.

When I started writing this column, it was a food column. I wanted to write for this newspaper, because Jan Wong did it, and so did basically everyone else in Canadian journalism. I went to my first Culture meeting in the cafeteria on the second floor of the Shatner building and left with the last pick of the CDs and the bottom of the barrel story in the section. My CD review ran, but my publicity-piece about a poetry reading – as it happens, it was a sort of cabal-meeting of the late middle-aged rediscovering their wrinkly sexuality – never ran in these pages. It didn’t deserve to – I had no idea what a piece of writing for a newspaper ought to be like – but my amour propre was shocked anyway. I was both terrified of the other writers and convinced of my own superior worth as a writer and as a human being.

So I submitted a food column, and snuck into The Daily through the back door. My column ran in the Mind&Body section for two years. After my first year, I edited the section for one semester. I was unable to balance my full course-load, my two jobs, my other commitments, and the business of trawling through and editing copy. The editors of The Daily do a grueling and difficult job and I am very happy to have worked with three very good ones – Julia Barnes, Daniel Goldbloom, and PJ Vogt (the year that I edited Mind&Body, the section was either edited by me or collectively edited after I quit). I loved the camaraderie of being a Daily editor, and I missed it even when I was relieved to never have to go to production night thinking about my 9 to 5 shift Saturday morning. The Daily can be a frustrating snarl of politics and tedium, but it can also be much, much better than any other student paper I’ve ever read, largely because the editorial board takes itself and the paper very seriously. Sometimes that means pretension and long, long meetings, but most of the time it means a striking commitment to quality and fairness.

I always tread gingerly around politics – I think I have leaned more to the right than most of The Daily’s editors, and certainly all of this year’s columnists. Of course, in the political spectrum of The Daily, and within the strictures of the Statement of Principles (which essentially mandates that the paper will be left-wing) that places me in the same political bracket as Bukharin. I have not, I don’t think, been delicate with most of the other issues I have written about – and the inbox of my email account has often been filled with agrammatical rejoinders from the sweaty-palmed masses. I am sorry if I offended you. There are two possibilities – either I misjudged or overstated the case, in which case my apology is genuine (hyperbole isn’t always good writing) or I still think that I am right, and I am being insincere and just want everybody to shut up.

I regret writing so much about McGill in the first half of this year, and most of last year. A very close friend, and a better writer than I, who I know reads this thing online sometimes, told me that my writing was getting stale when I flogged the same dead horses – the same puffed-up popinjays and smug parrot-leftists in the Shatner building, the same stultifying, anti-intellectual emphasis on the “student movement” that pervades student government, the same frustrated nationalism stemming from going to school among a throng of unilingual Ontarians and brassy Americans.

So I tried to write about whatever I felt like – sometimes I didn’t feel like writing at all, and those columns were probably very bad and I am sorry to have inflicted them upon you – and I hope that I was able to at least occasionally write some amusing and muscular prose. I have mostly enjoyed writing Hand to Mouth, and I hope that you have mostly enjoyed reading it.

Padraic Scanlan may be reached at main.a.bouche@gmail.com.


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