A brief history (of the historically brief, as it turns out) of Asking Human Matters …
I started writing Human Matters in 2005 on page two of the Sunday Living section of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. A few months later, they called and asked me to add Asking Human Matters on Tuesdays. The second column would be a Q&A exchange with readers. “Dear Abby?,” people would ask, and I would wince and say, “No!” A dialogue. More of a conversation than mere advice.
I always thought Asking Human Matters was like an evening chat on a back porch or across my neighbor’s fence. There’s little I respect more than an emotionally honest, truly circumspect question. A depth inquiry into self. A real desire to know this life as this life is. Because even when there is no clear answer, such questions themselves can sustain us and feed us, just because we have the courage to ask them.
It was (and always will be) amazing to me how many times my readers’ questions would answer themselves! Or at least contain the seeds of the answer the reader sought. A reader would hand me a question, and I would take it apart like those wooden, 3-D puzzles you see in Little Chinatown. I would hand it back and say, “There it is! The answer! Right there in the question!”
That was fun for me.
Other times I felt compelled to warn a reader. To say, “Look out,” or “Be careful,” or “You’re making the sort of choices where, over a lifetime, you end up alone.” Kinda paternal, I guess, but I’m in my 50s now. I’m feeling more relaxed about being fatherly.
Still other times I had to risk a reader’s disappointment and displeasure and spell out clearly how and why we were going to disagree. Why I would not let go of an idea, even if it scared you, offended you or made you certain I was a very “not with it” or confused (or even in some cases very bad) man.
And my favorite part: Being wrong. I’m not kidding. I rather enjoy being wrong. It was a rush for me when a reader would respond with a lucid, cogent argument dismantling my own argument. I admired those letters so much.
Of course, not everyone was warmed by my neighborly attempts at rich dialogue. A few folks wanted to haul me over the fence and drown me in their back yard swimming pool. George was morally offended by me as a writer, repeatedly reminding me of his Pulitzer Prize. I kept writing back, spelling it, “Pyoolitzer.”
OK, sometimes I am a very bad man.
The Living section was reduced to once each week. Asking Human Matters was transferred to View Neighborhood Newspapers. These were “salad days.” New readers joined the dialogue. People seemed to look forward to getting this neighborhood paper in their driveways each week. Calls and letters increased exponentially.
The R-J, like the rest of the world, had begun its slow morphing into cyberspace. Ah, cyberspace. Always accessible. Ever available. It’s going to be interesting to see where this goes. What it makes of us. What it changes. What it adds. What it subtracts. The place where Everybody Has Something To Say.
Myself? I was, at once, enthused and horrified by cyberspace media. Enthused because the world just got smaller. I was getting letters from Europe! A letter from an ashram in India! A column was quoted in Central America!
Horrified? Well, mostly by the online comments section. Anonymity simply begs for stupid and mean. The worst of us. At Christmas, I acquired “Dad is Fat,” the new book by comedian Jim Gaffigan. Good to hear I’m not the only one deeply ambivalent about this phenomenon. Gaffigan writes:
“I used to have a lot of faith in humanity before the advent of the website ‘comment’ section. These brave, anonymous (people) shamelessly gossip and snipe at one another, bragging about how smart and cool (they are) and mocking people who don’t share their ‘cool’ opinions. Newsflash: High school is over. You are not cool. ‘Cool’ is a ridiculous concept.”
In 2013, philosophical changes at View moved me out of the print version and to “online only.”
I knew the minute that change was made that this was E.L.E. — an extinction level event. Asking Human Matters was “on the clock.” My happy driveway readers weren’t going to suddenly become online readers. And sure enough, the email came last week. It said that, due to budget cuts and the lack of webpage hits (for my View column), the column would be discontinued effective the end of January.
So, no conspiracies, folks. You heard it from the horse’s mouth. The R-J has asked me to continue my Sunday column, still in the print version of the Living section and posted on the webpage.
This makes me happy. Effective immediately, however, I will not be providing in-depth responses (for publication) to your questions. As I always have, I will respond, if more briefly now, to your correspondence.
I love to hear from you, Good Reader.
I’ve enjoyed every minute. It’s been a good run. Thank you for reading and for taking the time to write.
I hope you’ll join me on Sundays.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Sundays in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 702-227-4165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.