One of the more humbling and rewarding parts about being a columnist is the connection I have with you.
I've shared with you my thoughts on everything from free speech on college campuses to pickleball cliques, while also revealing my own personal journeys and hardships. On some days, you write me words of encouragement. Other days, you tell me when I get it wrong.
Tom Horner was one of several readers who thought I missed the mark on a column I wrote about a new full-time Taylor Swift beat reporting gig — the only one of its kind in the nation — going to a man. I said the reporter hired by the newspaper chain Gannett was more than qualified, but the decision still stung given how much Swift writes for and about girls and women.
Tom, a public relations veteran and former journalist who once ran for governor, said newsrooms need to become more diverse. But he balked at the idea that one's gender should count against anyone for landing a specific beat.
"If a reporter with shared identity isn't available to cover a newsmaker, should the story be ignored?" he wrote. "As absurd as that seems, it is exactly what is happening in the world of art with the debate over cultural appropriation. In the eyes of many, an artist — painter, writer, performer or other artist — who does not have a shared identity or experience with the subject too often becomes the target of such vitriol that useful perspectives now are left out of the discussions."
I think that's fair criticism. I also heard from Brian Berube, a 67-year-old Edina man who grew up in poor, rural Missouri and later worked in such male-dominated professions as firefighting and college athletics. He said I won him over with a line in which I asked whether a trust-fund kid from Manhattan would be the logical pick for a full-time poverty reporter based in Appalachia.
"Couldn't argue with anything you said," he told me. "I grew up third-world poor — it's hard for me to not get choked up about it. I don't know if a trust-fund kid from Manhattan or Wayzata can truly get it."
A kinship over head lice
The ultimate day-brightener came in an email from Cornell Anderson, who read my itch-inducing column about the lice infestation on my scalp. His 10-year-old granddaughter, Waverly Hagland, lives in Sydney, Australia, and just received honors in a national poetry contest. (Her assignment was to write about a "small animal." I can't think of a more original entry than her ode to the common head louse.)
Behold, the wittiest words you'll have ever read about lice and their eggs:
How delicious must a clean scalp look
For some tiny little NITS!
Some hair like an enchanted forest,
Dandruff, a sandy beach,
Those scrumptious little bits!
Making people's heads itch,
Traveling head to head,
Soaring through the sky
In a fingernail bed.
When you put a hat on
You switch off all their light,
And when you take it off again,
They shiver in delight!
Once they find a good spot
At the back of your head,
You itch and scream and shriek
Wishing that they were dead
Does Waverly think lice or nits are anything to be embarrassed about? "No, not really," she replied. "Everyone gets them, but if I hear nits are going around in my class I stay away from people that are itching their heads."
Good call, Waverly. I hope to read your work for many years to come.
Getting better slowly
Finally, I received dozens of emails after I detailed my health scare this summer with Guillain-Barré syndrome. Many were from fellow survivors of GBS (also known as "get better slowly"). Their stories contained similar acts: numbness in the hands and feet, quickly followed by a lack of coordination and mobility, and the frustration over missed diagnoses.
Alexis Irish of New Brighton experienced the same "tingles, the multiple ER visits before being believed, needing to be strategic to be admitted, even the spinal tap showing zero signs," she wrote. "I felt so alone in my diagnosis and knowing another Minnesota woman of color had GBS makes me feel less crazy."
Alexis said she's become elated at the smallest things she can do and feel: "You could never fathom how much joy I felt in stubbing my toe and FEELING that it hurt."
Another reader, Lisa Paschke, cringed at how I described my initial fears that I would be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She said portrayals like mine keep people like her in the shadows.
"I am one of the thousands of people that walk among you every day that suffers from MS but you would never know it," she said. "The medications and treatments for this disease have come a long way in the last 20 years and many people live with the disease without anyone knowing they have it. Not their friends, co-workers or often not even their families."
I know several people who have MS, and while they've experienced a wide spectrum of effects, Lisa is right — it is a manageable condition for many.
Matt Nelson of Maple Grove came down with Guillain-Barré days before turning 35. It took him months to regain his strength, and he still has lingering symptoms four years after his diagnosis.
"My biggest battle was dealing with the health anxiety that came for me after having my body fail me," he said. "I went through counseling for that and have found that talking about it and sharing my story has always provided me with some therapeutic benefit, and maybe that's why I'm emailing you now ... and maybe that's why you wrote your story."
Yes, that's part of it. I write stories to reflect, to share information and knowledge, and to feel less alone — in hopes that others will feel less alone, too.
Thank you for keeping me writing.