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DIANNE KLEIN

Saying Goodby to Educational Experience

August 01, 1993|DIANNE KLEIN

I've been going through my letters, stacked on shelves, piled on my desk and tucked into drawers. These are the letters that I've meant to answer but never did. They contain something that makes me put them aside, something that would be violated if I were to toss them in the trash.

So the stacks grow, until I stop looking at them as missives from individuals and start thinking of them as piles of paper gathering dust.

I understand this process. The same process allows politicians to function and business people to get business done. Efficiency dictates that I throw most of these letters away, so as not to get bogged down in other people's lives.

And I will . . . .

But that means that I have to open them all again, which I've been doing, dawdling, letting the letter writers' emotions wash over me once more. The letters are in longhand or tapped out on a machine. All of them make me react, many conjure tears.

Some aren't letters at all, but drawings that let me know what's on a youngster's mind. Several are an especially exuberant form of thanks. Now how can I throw away that?

The subjects of this correspondence are all over the map. That's no surprise because that's exactly how this column has been. I've written about whatever I've felt like and I'll always be grateful to have had the privilege of doing just that.

Now I am giving it up. This is the last time that you will read me in this space. And a note to all you grammar vigilantes out there: I mean just that. Read me. This column has been about who I am.

I've aired my opinions and I've given stories a spin. I've never believed in that vaunted journalistic concept of objectivity. Each of us sees the world through different eyes; thank goodness for that. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't strive to be fair.

I can't give a neat packaged answer as to why I am leaving. I have not won the lottery or anything close. (Maybe I should have ordered from Publishers Clearing House when I had the chance.)

*

My best-selling novel is still unwritten, although my guilt about that continues to mount. And, no, we are not moving to rural Utopia so that I can stay home with my daughters and pickle cucumbers from the yard.

How about I'm leaving because I have been writing this particular column for nearly four years. Because journalism is about moving around. Because maybe standing still is as risky as moving along.

Because our house sold in a week. Because maybe, in this real estate market, that was a sign.

We are moving to Los Angeles County, which many on this side of the Orange Curtain find impossible to understand. They, at least, had the sense to move away from all that .

I was making calls the other evening to invite my daughter's girlfriends to a slumber party at our house. I had this exchange with the father of one:

Me: "It's not really her birthday, but we're moving. We figured we'd have an early unbirthday party since all her friends are here."

Him: "Lucky you. Getting out of California. Wish we were."

Me: "Uh, no, we're not going out of state."

Him: "Well, at least you're getting out of Southern California. That's what counts."

Me: "Uh, well, actually we're going to L.A."

Him: "Oh."

I'll still be at The Times, writing features for the news section in Los Angeles now. That will be a change. On slow days, I won't be able to whip up a column about some remarkable insight coming from the mouth of babes. (Hey, so what if these babes happen to be my own?)

Truth is I didn't realize how far I'd taken this until the other day at the beach. (Promise. This is the very last time . . . .)

I was sitting in the sand, hugging my 2-year-old in an effort to warm her and stop her tears. We'd just been walking along the shore when, all of a sudden, she'd taken off running kamikaze-style into the surf. I almost died. Instead I ran, managing to grab her arm just as a wave knocked her off her feet.

So there we were in the "There-there-it's-OK-but-don't-you- ever-ever -do-that-again!" stage, rocking back and forth. The 6-year-old, who had witnessed the whole scene with a mixture of horror and glee, was looking kind of smug.

Then she turns to me and says, "Mom, are you going to write about this in your column?" Naturally, she was hoping I would. She says her little sister doesn't get in trouble enough.

*

Well, we should all get into a little trouble every once in a while. That's how we learn. That's how we grow. I think I've learned more from writing this column than I have from anything else in my journalism career.

I've learned the importance of speaking out, even when many don't agree with what you have to say. I've learned that the big shots often have the least to say. I've learned that people open up to you if you really listen to their words.

And, most important, I've learned about connections. We are, all of us, more alike than we are not. That's what journalists should write about more. That's what opens doors.

I will miss writing this column very much. Thanks for the honor of being read.

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