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After 50 years in this business of journalism, I apparently have yet to master the art of expressing myself clearly enough for some readers who take their valuable time to pen letters to the editor accusing me of writing sentences and taking positions that, well, don't exist.

It's enough to reduce a grown man to tears. Just kiddin'.

Still, I may need to start stating my views several times over to make sure even the most judgmental eye digests the plain English I strive to express. Toward this end, I've considered returning to high school remedial English and composition classes; perhaps that will help me do a better job of sharing opinions we all can understand. Perhaps a tutor is in order?

Perhaps I exaggerate.

Yet somehow, in light of the contentious state of human nature, I feel even that wouldn't suffice to please those who have problems following my apparently convoluted train of thought.

Capable professors taught us aspiring journalists way back in college to always write on an eighth-grade level to ensure every reader can understand our sentences. I thought I had been doing that.

Let's examine a recent example of such apparent failure in response to a column item titled "The True Santas" published just before Christmas (on a subject I've written on several times during holiday seasons past). I was praising those who make Christmas special for all of us:

"As I've written over the years, all of us who aren't wives, mothers, grandmothers or aunts should pause on Christmas (or before) to thank these ladies who work hard each year to make sure everyone else has a fulfilling and joyful Christmas Day.

"I'm talking about everything from purchasing enough gifts to make sure no one is left out, wrapping them, preparing the breakfast and lunch meal, setting the table, cleaning up the remnants of all those shredded wrappings, then spending time afterwards back in the kitchen to clean the dirty dishes and put all that messy confusion back where it belongs.

"There's no question in my mind that without their exhaustive dedication, our celebrations around the tree undoubtedly would be sorely lacking.

"Oh yeah, I almost forgot how most of our genuine Santas of Christmas also make sure the tree is decorated. Be sure to thank them for the enormous difference they make.

"Oh yeah, I almost forgot how many feel they should rise earlier than most to make sure they're presentable for the inevitable photographs that capture the day's moments for years to come. Whew!"

Those paragraphs drew a scathing response last week from Vicki Fewell of Sherwood, whose letter was selected for publication on this page. The pertinent part reads: "... I must chastise him for his column of Dec. 22 in which he graciously commended the women of his world for doing all the work required to make their men's Christmas so pleasant. Surely a smart man would not put those words into writing for all the world to read, even if he were so lazy and insensitive as to make them true, or so dumb as to speak them. Age is no excuse. No one likes an old sexist.

"If ol' Mike doesn't help his wife next year, at least he should refrain from proudly writing that she does all the work, including buying and wrapping all the gifts, decorating the tree, decorating the home, cooking breakfast and lunch and washing the dishes afterward. It seems he thinks he does his part when he eats and settles into his recliner to watch Hallmark movies. Oh yeah, and he notices her hard work.

"Shame, shame. Those days should be long over for even slightly enlightened men."

Well now, Vickie Fewell certainly poured a bottle of vinegar into my Christmas figgy pudding, don't you think? Suppose all that judgment was justified in light of what I actually wrote?

I've asked myself that question, as I routinely do when criticism of my published words is leveled. Believe it or not, valued readers, I always weigh the arguments and validity of mean-spirited messages in an effort to perhaps learn something new.

In this case, I re-read my thoughts about praising the true Santas who sacrifice to make our (not my) Christmases as joyous and fulfilling as possible. I had my eyes sharpened for any phrases that could justify my supposedly shameful, hardly enlightened, dumb, sexist, prideful, lazy, insensitive and generally selfish approach toward thanking those who so freely sacrifice for the rest of us.

I couldn't find any such references. Perhaps I did artfully conceal such perceived loathsomeness somewhere in those paragraphs.

As I've mentioned earlier, being criticized goes with the landscape in this business of opinion writing. Opposing views are to be expected.

The only thing left to say at this point: Happy New Year, Vicki Fewell. And thanks for reading."

Gotta be better

Let's let out a collective roar of delight over the fact 2020 is officially buried and we can look forward to what 2021 holds for each of us and those we care about.

I don't see how it could be worse than the misery and turmoil we have shared over the past 12 months, knock on everything wooden around me.

While we have a ways to go before staggering together out of the covid brier patch, we apparently can place faith in the vaccines now being circulated to bring this pandemic to an end, perhaps by late fall.

And let's hope the mutated strain of this hellish affliction rearing its head in other nations responds equally well to the same vaccines.

Wicked take bribes

So is there a specific biblical admonition about elected "public servants" accepting payoffs for access and favors to special interests? Turns out the answer is, "you betcha."

One need not be a Bible-thumper or fervid evangelist to appreciate Proverbs 17:23. It's simple enough and I believe deeply relevant to where we find our money-rules-all nation today. The message reads, "The wicked take secret bribes to pervert the course of justice."

I'm certain each of you full-grown adults is capable of discerning how well the message fits in 2021.

Christmas GodNod

Robin Jones sent along this GodNod the other day: "On Christmas Eve, as I always do, I was thinking of my family, who are no longer with me. At this time of year I especially think of Christmas with my mother and dad.

A tradition every Christmas without fail was that my mother prepared a Christmas breakfast that included biscuits and gravy. After my parents died, I carried on the tradition.

No matter what, I prepared biscuits and gravy every Christmas morning. This morning, at age 83, I did not feel great, and reluctantly decided to not cook biscuits and gravy today. I felt a little sad, as that would have been my first Christmas without them.

"A few moments later, I received a text from a neighbor saying she was sending some biscuits and gravy to me. She has never done this before and we had never discussed my custom, nor even talked about biscuits and gravy. I have no doubts that this was a 'GodNod'."

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you. Happy New Year!

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

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