My #BeReal guest today is Ned Hickson.
As a humor columnist, I get paid to be a truth-stretcher. An embellisher. A chronicler of life blown out of proportion. And I get to do it without living in Washington D.C. It’s a skill my mother will tell you I began honing at a young age — usually as a way of getting out of trouble. Again, it’s a wonder I didn’t go into politics. However, I decided to use my skills for the greater good by becoming a writer instead.
Early in my career, I was in a very unhappy marriage. It lasted 15 years because I got good at not being real. Often, I wrote about my married life in a humorous way by portraying myself as the bungling husband always falling short of his smarter, more capable wife. It kept the peace and also gave me an escape. But while it generated laughter for readers, it also generated an identity that I grew increasingly uncomfortable with. My ex-wife, who was a successful business woman, would introduce me to clients at parties or dinners as the guy they they’ve read in the newspaper.
They expected me to be the same silly guy.
And so did my ex-wife.
I was becoming less of a person and more of a commodity in our relationship (I’d say “trophy husband” but hey, this is about being real.) I was losing my identity and, along the way, a certain level of self-respect that only made what was already an unhappy marriage even more miserable and disconnected. When we eventually parted ways in 2006, I found myself a single father with two young children — and the levity of being real landed hard. I realized I needed to focus everything on my kids and decided to put my column on hiatus for a while. I needed to rethink and reboot myself as a person, father and a writer. The last column I wrote before taking time off proved to be my first step toward being real. I was honest with my readers and myself about what was happening and why I was stepping away for a while.
When I returned to the keyboard a few months later, the first column was written in a voice I hardly recognized. Yet it was more me than anything that had come before it.
And so was I.
It started like this: “There’s nothing funny about divorce. At least, not until you have time to gain some perspective and accept the fact that staying up until 2 a.m. reconfiguring the salt and pepper shakers on your dining room table is just part of the healing process — like vacuuming the kitchen tile and mopping the living room carpet. Or getting excited over having extra closet space while at the same time avoiding that space as much as possible. After a few months, I suddenly realized I had moved forward. As strange as it sounds, I think it started the day I threw away the last of the leftovers from when my ex-wife and I were still together. They symbolized much more than my inability, as a single father, to keep my children safe from a biological attack in their own kitchen. Inside that container was something that had started out with lots of flavor; something good and enjoyable; something we had both contributed to. Yet over time it had gotten lost somewhere behind everything else. Though I’m sure it had been checked for freshness a time or two, I stood there holding it — and knowing it had been going bad for a while…”
Ironically, it was this column that caught the attention of the woman who I have been ridiculously happily married to for eight years now. Anyone who follows me or reads my column knows how I feel about my wife. They also know, though kind of a goofball, I’m being real when I write about it now. Though I’m the first to make fun of myself, it’s something I embrace as part of who I am. Not as a coping mechanism, but because it reflects something real in my life as a person, husband and writer.
As a columnist, I get paid to be a truth-stretcher. An embellisher. A chronicler of life blown out of proportion. What I’ve learned is that the best part of life, as well as writing, comes from the inspiration found in allowing yourself to Be Real.
Ned is an award-winning syndicated humor columnist for Siuslaw News. He has been awarded “Best Local Column” from both the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. He is a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, and his weekly column appears in dozens of newspapers in the U.S. and Canada as a syndicated feature for News Media Corporation.
Ned writes about daily life and important social issues, such as glow-in-the-dark mice and injuries caused by overheated pickles in fast food. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, was published by Port Hole Publishing and is a collection of his most popular columns during his 16 years as a columnist.
He has been a volunteer firefighter since 2011.
He also won a pie eating contest once.
Ned is a firm believer in the value of humor in daily life, and its role keeping perspective in an increasingly fast-paced and stressful world — especially during seasons of “The Bachelor.”