Letters, calls and the roar of the crowd:
Mandy Heeke, Jasper, Indiana: I am in eighth grade at Jasper Middle School in Jasper, Indiana. I've had to read your columns for the past eight weeks. For each article I had to write a summary about what your view was, and what I thought about it.
I was just wondering, what you would say if you were asked about abortion. Would you be for or against it?
COMMENT: I am for abortion in only three instances:
1. In the case of rape or incest.
2. To save the life of the mother.
3. If the woman wants one.
Kimberly R. Hoffman, Jasper, Indiana: What advice do you give to the youth of America? I am very interested in your response, and there are many of us here in Jasper who will gladly follow it.
COMMENT: When I was about your age, a man that I admired sat me down for a heart-to-heart talk.
"Son," he said, "if you expect to rate, don't expectorate."
I can honestly say that no adult ever gave me advice that was any more valuable.
Tony A. Neuhoff, Jasper, Indiana: Would you risk your popularitand acceptance by your readers to do an article in which you express your opinion on a controversial subject?
Lori A. Eckerle, Jasper, Indiana: Have you ever written an article that has brought you a major controversy? And if so, what was the article about? Secondly, what is one topic, if there is one, that you would not write about because of a possible controversy?
COMMENT: There is no topic a columnist should avoid because of controversy. Provoking thought is what column-writing is all about and thinking often can be very controversial (especially to people who are unused to it.)
The war in the Persian Gulf was obviously supported by the vast majority of Americans and anybody who questioned any part of that war was going to be very unpopular. But that was no reason to avoid writing about it and stating what I believed.
Just joining the herd and supporting something because everybody else does it doesn't make sense for a columnist or a citizen or an eighth-grader.
If you're going to pull the sled, you might as well be the lead dog, someone once said, because that's the only one whose view changes.
I don't know who told me that, but it may have been the same guy who told me about expectorating.
Brandi Keusch, Jasper, Indiana: In your column "Learning Ropes on Firing Line", you stated that a person may always be the same, but depending on who they are with, people may think of them differently.
For example, if an average person was with a bunch of dweebs that person would look brilliant, but if he or she were with a bunch of smart people they would look dumb.
COMMENT: This is why I try to hang around presidential candidates as much as possible.
Abby L. Kuntz, Jasper, Indiana: I was wondering if you ever ruout of ideas or have writer's block. If so, what do you do to get past it?
COMMENT: I run letters from Jasper, Indiana.
Arah Leslie, Jasper, Indiana: I am beginning to wonder where yoget some of your column ideas from.
COMMENT: Columnists get ideas from all kinds of places: Fro what they see and what they hear, from what they feel and what they think. They get ideas from readers and colleagues, from the mail and from telephone calls. They sometimes travel around the country and the world to learn new things.
They get ideas from people with axes to grind and scores to settle. And from people so battered by life that they feel their local newspaper is their court of last resort.
A columnist's ideas are as rich or as poor as his ability to perceive life around him. All he has to do is open his eyes, his ears and his mind.
And sometimes I just take old Erma Bombeck columns and put my name on them.
Toni Williams, Jasper, Indiana: I had many questions whilreading your column, but the one I asked myself the most was "How did you get started being a journalist? Was it a life-long dream, or was it a sudden decision? Who hired you? Do you write many books?" Another question I have is "What do you do in your free time?"
COMMENT: In my free time I write magazine articles and books. I have written two books so far and a third is under way. The tentative title is: "My Life, Volume I, The Early Years."
As to how I got started in journalism, well, I followed a rocky road. I never wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to play the trumpet in a bawdy house. I wanted to hang around the bar with a purple derby on my head and play my music.
When I told my mother this, she was horrified and packed me off to college where I learned all about journalism.
And I remember the day I got my first job. I wrote my mother and said: "Ma, I have become a newspaperman!"
She sent me a trumpet.
In all seriousness, I would like to thank the students of Japser for writing to me and for reading their daily newspaper. The one piece of advice I have for students at any level of education is to read on their own time, even when such reading is not assigned in class. Read anything.
I read so many comic books as a kid that my parents thought I would grow up to become Batman (actually, I liked the Green Arrow better.) As the years went by, I turned to slightly higher quality stuff.
But the reading habit is what is important. Once you develop it, the future is yours.
And every time I despair of the quality of education in America, I am going to re-read the letters from Jasper and be uplifted.