CAWTHON'S CATHARSIS - Which Came First?

(02/10/2001)

By Jack Cawthon

When Bob Weaver introduced me to the readers of the Hur Herald he kindly omitted 20 years of my work history. Such a void would become obvious and suspicious in most job situations, expect, perhaps, handling secret documents for the government. Now, I feel that I must offer an explanation as surely this issue will arise again should I ever run for public office.

For 20 years of my life I was confined to a mental institution. But first some background.

The story goes, and most historians have called it a myth but as most myths make interesting stories we'll go with it anyway, that in the early days of this state the town fathers of Moundsville (mothers didn't have much say back then) were given a choice of having a penitentiary or a university located in their city.

After thinking maybe two or three minutes they said give us the pen. They realized, I'm certain, that the misfits and mischief makers would be harbored behind walls and guarded day and night, while in a university setting they would be free to wander the streets and spill over into the countryside. Morgantown lost out on the deal.

After some unsatisfied years spent in Charleston on The Payroll I found myself ever more attracted to journalism on a higher order. Alas, I was unaware at that time that such a thing didn't exist. But in my foolish pursuit I found my way to the mental institution in Morgantown seeking fulfillment, little knowing that I would be drawn into a quagmire that would suck me under and hold me captive for the next 20 years.

I had begun my entrance into journalism as a photographer, a rather good one, if I do say so myself. I then wrote captions for the pictures and in the process became a writer, again with some degree of success.

The next evolutionary rung up on the ladder in journalism is that of editor, proving that Darwin's survival of the fittest might apply to apes but that the Peter Principal of rising to one's highest level of incompetence rules the jungle of the polished product.

I was not your usual run-of-the-mill editor. I was assigned to agricultural publications where the sociologists, animal and plant specialists, foresters, economists and other researchers strove mightily for research money and then published their results for often a less than eager public awaiting the results.

I seemed to end up with more than my share of poultry research, specifically the study of what comes out the end of a chicken opposite the feeding entry.

I soon learned that there are many possibilities for chicken manure, besides stepping in it, and I was to learn all of them as I scraped up the words and put them into print.

Due to my expertise I soon became known through the vulgarization of the language as the chicken-you-know-what editor, a generic used by many writers to describe most editors, but in my case literal, doing little to bolster my self esteem.

From time to time I was relieved by other challenges such as sociology monographs after which I found myself longing for the simplicity of chicken doo doo, simply speaking.

But time passes sometimes like feed through the gut of a chicken, and at the end of 20 years I had passed my prime. I had chickened out. I announced my departure and was told not to let the door hit me on my pass, or words to that effect. I was careful when I exited the swinging door and unlike Lot's wife never looked back.

Like all inmates who have had the security of an institution I was bewildered by the outside world and began to flounder much like a chicken with its head cut off.

I found myself one day in the isolated holler of Big Puf. It was a glorious visit. Even with my odorous past still clinging to me I was accepted for what I was, an outcast laid low by higher education whose mind had been altered by poison ivy.

My stories of amazing adventures gained Jim Comstock's attention at the West Virginia Hillbilly and before I knew it he had put a column heading over my accounts. I was a writer again! Failure never felt so good!

From time to time, people who have left their heritage in the hills, as well as outsiders who can't see the mountains for the flat land, have accused me of making fun of those simple people I found up the hollers.

I can only reply that I am one of them, perhaps more the worst for wear from an outside world foreign to them and alien to me in that I never learned to speak the language or properly observe the accepted customs. Through fate-and higher education-we found each other.

Now, at an advanced age I find myself in the big-time world of cyber writing for the Hur Herald. For someone who never learned which came first, the chicken or the egg, always working at the wrong end to justify the means, I can't help crowing a little.


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