Some good advice came in on the qualities of a columnist

We received lots of suggestions about what makes a good A.M. Costa Rica columnist. There was repetition, of course. Readers have similar criteria for someone writing a column; i.e. be well-read, and informed and accurate. Be dependable (my editor certainly agrees with that), and interesting. Sue thinks a good columnist should “stir your mind and cause a laugh, a tear or a strong shout of agreement or disagreement” and should be able to laugh at the self mocking motto, “Costa Rica …we make easy hard.” And finally, be opinionated but not a rant. All agree, there are enough ranters in the “letters to the editor” section.

Randi in San Ramón listed seven points of advice beginning with not only should a columnist be living here, but he/she should like living in Costa Rica as well, and Ruth added ”but not be overly charmed by its inefficiencies” (claiming to quote my son Justin on that). To which Randi adds, “Be able to see through the eyes of the paper’s audience, and to a lesser degree, through the eyes of the Ticos.”

Fitz, as a reader, wants to experience the sounds and smells and feel of a place, and Randi says, “engage the senses of humor, compassion, adventure, whimsy, and originality” (to name a few), but would agree with Fitz, “Express provocative thoughts inspired by the simple acts of grace that occur in our daily life.”

And finally, a columnist should be able to take criticism.

Thank you, everyone, for your thoughtful advice and descriptions of what makes a good columnist. I will try to remember all of them as long as I write — anything.

Recently I read an opinion column in The New York Times by a woman who recounted living in New York as a student in 2002. She took all kinds of bizarre and unusual jobs in an effort to feel like a real New Yorker. After thinking that New York had certainly changed since the 60s when I lived there. I doubt I would have taken a job as a dominatrix just to know the New Yorkers who patronize them, although I agree, in their other lives, the clients were probably New York movers and shakers.

Working for Levi’s didn’t make me feel like a San Franciscan, even working as a Kelly Girl temp for lawyer Roy Cohn on a divorce case between a famous Broadway playwright and his French wife didn’t make me feel like a New Yorker.

I felt protective and defensive about San Jose, California, and comfortable in the city, finding it modest and welcoming compared to its neighbors to the north, but mainly it was about the university. But I do feel like a Josephina. Why?

The other day I was telling some new friends who were visiting, where Mora’s Bookstore now is, and one of them, Richard, a painter, leaned forward, slapped his hands on his knees and said, “I finally get it!”

We all looked at him with “Get what?”

“The reason for giving directions by landmarks and buildings instead of street numbers.”

I had never heard anyone defend this direction giving practice, just complain about it. Then he explained that with physical references you actually see where you are and where you are going, while saying “the corner of 12th street and 2nd Avenue, or 234 West 57th street, you have no mental picture of your city.

It is true, when I think of a particular location in San José, I can see the surrounding stores or parking lots or visualize what is usually going on in a nearby park.

Fitz feels like a Washingtonian because he is very much involved in the cultural and political life of the city as well as the business of having built a number of buildings there. He also thinks it is a beautiful city and simply likes coming back to it and being in it.

San José is not yet a “beautiful city,” although parts of it are. I always love the moment when my bus or taxi arrives in front of the Gran Hotel with its yellow half-circle awnings above the windows, and the Teatro Nacional to the right, looking permanent and elegantly European and welcoming. Some people find the city threatening, I find the streets filled with pedestrians friendly and energizing.

It’s just my kind of town; everyone has one, I am sure. I hope they are lucky enough to live in it or near it.

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