100 columns to thank for

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By 2017-09-10

Written By Aney Darling
Dear Dorothy,

This week I write my 100th Column. I wanted to write something significant, something that made me look back on the many words I have written for 'Dear Dorothy' in the last couple of years and I really couldn't think of a single theme or subject matter that would reflect that. My columns have spanned from political to cultural to socio-economic and personal. I have written of sexism, bigotry, health epidemics and terrorism. But, I still didn't know what I wanted to share with my readers at this centesimal milestone. It is then that I thought of all the people who had helped me become the writer I am today - what kind of writer, is up to you to judge. But whatever kind of writer I maybe, there were a few who gave me opportunity, offered me confidence and continued to support me through the good, the bad and the truly exhausting that seem to find me in the most unusual of times.

And it is these people that I wish to thank in this very special piece.
So, I thought I would dedicate the hundredth print of 'Dear Dorothy' to a few people who made it all possible. I don't want to reveal identities, because they might want to remain anonymous or wouldn't want the thanks I am to bestow upon them. So I will respectfully refrain from mentioning their names in this dedication.

It was my English teacher in Grade 8, at Bishop's College, Colombo who first recognized my ability to string together words that flowed easily. She passed away due to cancer some years ago, but I still remember her reading one of my poems called 'The Winds' and making sure my mother knew that she needed to encourage my skills further. It is she that I am grateful for first and most.
My mother did do this. But, she was so proud of my writing that she showed my work to all her relatives including her brother – the self-proclaimed literary genius of the family - who dismissed the style of my poetry as a duplication of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.' He called me a copycat, "Just pretending to be good," he said. It was meant to be an insult, but I was thrilled! Samuel Taylor Coleridge – I was compared to Samuel Taylor Coleridge! How could I not! So I thanked him then and I thank him again for dismissing my first article published in The Sunday Times as mediocre and uninteresting. I knew then to ignore him and to accept him at the same time; to understand criticism and to face it without doubt or fear. He was my first critique and I thank him for that.
My A/L English Literature Teacher thought that I was good enough to mark his private O/L tuition mock papers and grade them. I felt powerful grading the answers of students almost my age. It gave me confidence. But having read some of the answers, I also felt humbled and inadequate because quite honestly they were much better written than what I could produce at that age – and when I mentioned this to 'Sir,' he told me that some of them were in fact better than what I wrote during my Advanced Level class! I am eternally grateful for his honesty. He always kept me grounded but told me that with time I would become a very good writer.

I am forever indebted to my Professor of English at the University of Kelaniya; just for being herself, for teaching me, for helping me discover my own style, for showing me that I had a very, very long way to go, before I even attempted to call myself a 'writer,' for always telling me, "You have so much potential. Stop being a journalist and do what you were meant to do – be truly great." I obviously didn't listen to her, but I always wondered what she meant. What did she expect of me? What did she think I should do? Could do? How could I be truly great? Sadly, she too has passed away and I can't ask her any of this anymore.

I also owe a big thanks to all my batch mates at the University who voted me the President of the English Students Association. I pretended like it was no big deal, but I can tell you now, it was a HUGE deal. I knew then that there were others who accepted me for me and trusted me to represent them – it was a huge confidence-booster and gave me the opportunity to invite and engage with contemporary Sri Lankan writers, poets and playwrights – which truly helped me nurture and explore my language landscape and its use.

It was the Features Editor at The Sunday Times that first thought that I was good enough to be offered a column - which I rejected to take up another corporate offer (and regretted every day since). She was the one who taught me how to write for print media, how to quote, how to interview, how to edit and re-edit until the story was 'good enough.' She is the one who gave me the opportunity to explore some of the most amazing human interest stories that I have covered so far. She was the one who told me that going to an event and publishing only the PR was almost sacrilegious. She was the one who didn't take no for an answer, the one who told me to never take no for an answer. She is the first editor to give me a cover story. That was my first job ever as a writer and journalist and a time I hold very dear. Thank you so very much for believing in me.

It was another editor that I am extremely thankful for who first offered me the opportunity to write 'Dear Dorothy' for Ceylon Today. She is considered an extremely talented writer and a noteworthy columnist in Sri Lanka so I was happy that she chose to let me have my own column, which has since published over 100 pieces.

Finally I want to thank my editor today, who is not just my boss but a friend and someone I can confide in, during the darkest of hours. It was after reporting to her that I became a wife and a mother. She has witnessed some of the most challenging times of my life and has always, always been supportive. It is rarely that you are given the freedom to write in your own style, trusted to explore your own subject matter, allowed to falter before bouncing back and to become the writer that you always wanted to be. Many a times when I have thought of giving up the column because of very stressful work situations, my personal life hitting rock bottom or simply because I was all over the place, I have thought that I can't let her (who has always appreciated my work ethic and enjoyed my writing) down. I will always be grateful to her for being one of the best mentors that I have had the pleasure to work with.

So, to all these women (and the 'Sir' and my uncle) I say thank you. Thank you for helping me, guiding me, believing in me and for showing me that all these theories of 'women undercutting each other because they are jealous of each other' and 'women in positions of power are petty' are WRONG. Thank you for showing me that women truly look out for one another and are happy to see each other grow. It is the women in my life who have always seen me through. It is the women who have recognized my talent, rewarded my hard work and given me the greatest of opportunities to discover my skills and evolve. It has truly been a privilege working with you all, being mentored by you all and getting to know you all as wonderful human beings.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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