Reader reaction and the mental hospital hotline

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Husband-and-wife journalists Bob Miller and Callie Clark Miller share the same small house, tiny bathroom and even the same office. But not always the same opinion. The Southeast Missourian sweethearts offer their views on every-day issues, told from two different perspectives.

SHE SAID: Someone has been reading our columns very closely.

I realized this earlier in the week when a Speak Out caller accused me of endangering my stepson Drew.

This caller must be our most avid reader, as he or she (probably she, if I were guessing) quoted incidents from almost every single column we have published since July. Thank you, dear Speak Out caller, for confirming that at least one person is interested enough to read -- and even memorize! -- the dull goings-on of the Miller household.

The caller's comments did bring to light one actual important issue though: the impact this column has had on our lives.

Every week, we put ourselves out there to be judged by readers. Our decisions, our feelings, our opinions.

I think the majority of readers are intelligent enough to realize that, for the most part, this is a humorous column and that the issues and events written about tend to be exaggerated. Confession: I actually can lift 5 pounds. And Bob sometimes makes exceptions about watching baseball.

For two people who have a collective 14 years experience in the newspaper business, we were awfully naive about the effect this column would have on our lives.

Yes, there's a photo at the top of our column, but I didn't expect so many people to recognize us in public. At a local hospital recently, a radiologist told me I look much better in person and should have that photo retaken. I wasn't sure how to respond.

One woman informed me that after 27 years of marriage, she's still dealing with the same husband-related frustrations I've written about. Ah, hope for the future.

So at the very least, we've got people talking (and even calling Speak Out!) That's what it's all about I guess.

HE SAID: I originally wanted to be an artist. I quickly discovered in college that I wasn't a good one (sloppy execution for the most part), but I found a different path, one where I didn't create pictures with charcoals, but with words.

I was a late bloomer. Unlike my cute and talented wife, I didn't grow up wanting to write for a living. I hated reading as a child.

I'm embarrassed sometimes by what I don't know. I only started writing because some college professors thought I was good at it. Then I found I liked it.

But when I started writing I never thought of the craft as a way to make a name for myself. I wanted people to enjoy my work, sure. I'm a needy writer who is fueled by readers' responses, but I've discovered recently that no amount of writing can draw feedback like a silly little picture in the newspaper.

Suddenly people recognize more than a byline. They recognize my face.

I feel awkward when strangers approach me, but I am flattered when they say they enjoy our column.

The Speak Out that Callie mentioned didn't bother me as much as it did her. We all know that Speak Out is an anonymous public sounding board, but sometimes I wonder if it's also the emotional-release hotline for Farmington's mental hospital. While I disagreed with the caller comparing a rescued cat's flea and ringworm problems to child endangerment and manslaughter charges, I think he or she pointed out a lot of what this column is about.

We're not perfect people. We make mistakes. We disagree. We write about our flaws, our fears and our relationship.

When we wonder why parents would put their children in danger by filling their houses with garbage and beer cans, we're not doing so from a pedestal. We ask from the perspective of two young flawed individuals who haven't got it all figured out yet.

So go ahead and judge us. That's what we're here for.

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