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The Final Chapter

Saying goodbye after six years of Nihil Obstat

Copyright 1996 by Lynna Landstreet. This column originally appeared in Xtra magazine. Published by Pink Triangle Press, 491 Church Street, 2nd Floor, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4Y 2C6.

ix years ago, I was working in production at Xtra, but gazing longingly at the contributors section every time I pasted up the masthead page. At the time, I had had a number of articles published in fanzines and other ultra-small press publications, and had aspirations of someday writing for a "real" magazine -- i.e. anything that actually paid.

Unfortunately, dropping hints to one of the editors only drew the response of "You're a production artist, not a writer!" I contemplated telling him that I'd had actually had a lot more experience writing than doing layout, but that would have meant admitting I'd been, shall we say, a little creative with my resume when I applied for the job, and somehow that didn't seem like a good idea. (Hey, I was telling the truth when I said I'd used Quark XPress -- they just never asked whether I'd used it more than once!)

So finally, I deposited a pile of photocopies of my previous work -- mainly assorted anarchist diatribes from Kick It Over, plus a porn story from On Our Backs -- on his desk, and went back to laying out ads, including a house ad for "culture columnists." I thought that, while I certainly wouldn't want to be doing a regular column, it would have been nice if they'd let me write a little something once in a while...

We all know the cliché about famous last words. Let's just say that when I was told I'd been picked to be one of the new columnists, I just about wet my pants, and more with terror than pleasure. A column? In every issue? That was a little more "real" than I'd been planning on, but I figured I'd better learn to deal with it.

And I suppose I did -- because now, 116 columns later, I'm the longest-running columnist Xtra currently has. Since that first column, I've been through four editors, three Xtra offices, two girlfriends, four apartments, three employers and two computers. I now have roughly as many gray hairs as I've written columns, and I suppose it was inevitable that eventually, it would all start to dim a little.

So, as you may have guessed, what I've been leading up to here is that my editor and I recently had a talk and decided that it was time for a change. I'm currently a full-time grad student, a part-time teaching assistant, and a when-I-have-time Wiccan priestess, and the stress of cranking out a regular column, even in alternate issues, is getting to me. And since columnists seem to have been quitting in droves lately, Xtra's been considering bringing in some new voices.

So yes, this is the last Nihil Obstat. Which means that I'll finally be getting the chance to do what I had wanted in the first place: write a little something once in a while. You'll still see my name in the contributors' list now and then, but not on a regular schedule.

I was hoping to write something really profound for my final column, but since nothing of world-shattering importance has suggested itself to me yet, I thought I'd just close with some words of advice to the next generation of columnists:

  • Don't try to predict what columns will get you hate mail and what won't; there's simply no way of telling. I've written things I thought were guaranteed flame-bait, like my critique of last fall's Days of Action, and gotten no response, and then been jumped on for things that seemed incredibly trivial (ABBA, anyone?).

  • Get used to deadlines; they will rule your life. However, if you happen to be time-impaired like me, practice whining and begging and sounding really guilty.

  • Be prepared to have readers, and sometimes even other writers, interpret your writing in ways you can't even begin to fathom, and assume they know all about you as a result. Learn to be amused instead of offended.

  • If you want to write about something but can't decide whether it's really a "queer issue" or not, consider this: you're queer, and it's an issue to you. Chances are you're not the only one.

  • If you write anything negative about the idea of romantic love or the institution of the couple, you will never get laid again for the rest of your life.

  • And last but not least, enjoy. All those late-night caffeine-fuelled writing marathons will seem worth it when you have a total stranger run up to you on the street and tell you your column's the only thing worth reading in Xtra.


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