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Steve Hansen: My unexpected journey to the 500-column milestone

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Posted: Saturday, July 15, 2017 3:30 pm

This week marks the milestone of my 500th column published by the Lodi News-Sentinel.

Considering I had no journalism degree or newspaper experience, it’s hard to believe I have come this far. Competition was tough and newspaper space limited.

Not to mislead: I did have some background in writing. For one thing, my mother was a “j” school grad from the University of Southern California and a White House reporter.

But she thought my high school compositions were terrible and finally gave up correcting them. Journalism hardly seemed like a future career.

Instead, I majored in music at the University of the Pacific. I was pretty lazy, and thought studying music theory was an excellent option for avoiding long hours of written homework. But I did have a minor in English literature (thank goodness for CliffsNotes).

I wrote a column for the school paper called “Makin’ the Scene,” which was composed mostly of bad journalism plagiarized from equally bad writers.

My stab at writing would not end there. I graduated from Army Officer Candidate School in 1968. Of course, I was hoping for a gig in music. (How’s that for a denier of reality?) Yet during the Vietnam War, it was simply not an option.

Again, good fortune would come my way. While in the infantry, I rediscovered an OCS classmate, who was now in an Army specialized unit. Another writing opportunity would unexpectedly cross my path. This time, I wrote propaganda pieces on how well the war was going (fake news was alive and well back then too), as well as updating various Pentagon papers.

By the early 1970s, the war was winding down, and the Army brass was getting wise to my antics. I figured it was time to head for the nearest exit, and since I had no marketable skills, I decided to enter the field of education.

During this time, my pen started moving again, as if guided by automatic writing. I wrote a book called “How to Buy Cars and Make Money.” Tower Books loved it, KOVR and KFBK promoted it on their talk shows, but most of the copies went into a landfill. I guess it was just too unbelievable for some that buying cars could be an appreciating venture. I also wrote various articles for nationally distributed car magazines.

Soon after, another writing opportunity entered the picture. I quit teaching and went to work for a Sacramento advertising agency. I had a ball writing radio copy for Niello Volkswagen, TV info scripts for “The Pie Lady” and a jingle for Harrold Ford.

But the money was short, the competition stiff and the hours long. Soon it was back to the world of education. I worked as a school counselor, a university graduate school assistant professor and a psychotherapist. I was writing again, but this time, it was a dissertation for my Ph.D., published by University Microfilms, Inc.

It was still hard to make any money with a pen. Royalties from my doctorate earned a total of $5. That was a return on investment just a little better than Enron stock.

Later in life came law school aspirations. Here’s where one really cranks out the paper and redefines communication skills.

But getting back to the main point: I never had a desire to be a writer. Usually we hear success comes from dedication and a passion toward accomplishing a long-term goal.

Yet after many twists and turns, somehow writing kept finding me. While there’s still no real money in it, a passion has developed along the way, and dedication has become mesmerizing.

Life can be mysterious and full of unanticipated journeys. One never knows how the last chapter will end.

I don’t know where the future path will lead, but I’ll keep cranking out the columns as long as the ideas are there. In the meantime, Thanks to all of you who read my ramblings and the exceptionally nice complements you’ve expressed over the years.

Your encouragement and loyalty are most appreciated.

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.

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