Dialogues



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Jon Carroll

Daily Columnist

 
    He’s one of the longest-running writers at the San Francisco Chronicle. For a quarter of a century, Jon Carroll has been penning his column from his Glenview home—giving us a glimpse into his life as a husband, dad, granddad and unabashed liberal.

You write a lot about your family, made up entirely of females. Does all that time with the opposite sex put you in touch with your feminine side?
    I am more comfortable talking about emotions than most guy columnists are—talking about my granddaughter, talking about my wife, talking about my daughters—that sort of stuff. I have, over the years, written some extremely emotional things about each of them. It’s like I have permission to do that, like it’s OK discourse and I can feel safe doing that.

Your daughters are a rich source of fodder for your columns. Tell us about them.
    One of them lives here, and I have lunch with her every week. Her partner is a woman from the West Indies by way of Canada and they adopted a little girl from China. So we have a black-Caribbean-Canadian-Jewish-Irish-Russian-Chinese family.

And your other daughter is a trapeze artist with the circus, as I recall. Do you spend much time with her?
    I got to write lines for her new show. They were going to have jokes and an emcee, which was her husband, who’s French, so they wanted stuff for him to say. I went to New York and sat behind the stage with a laptop writing lines. It was great.

Speaking of writing, you have to be pretty disciplined to write a column five days a week. What’s your routine?
    Because I’m essentially lazy, I get up, I read the newspaper, I drink a sufficient amount of coffee, I go to my room, and I don’t come out of my room until the column is finished. That’s why we had to meet in the afternoon. If I leave before the column is done, it just takes forever to drag myself back.

How did you come up with your signature ending?
    An order came down saying everybody had to put their e-mail addresses at the end of their columns. For me, that was three lines out of my precious space. I was resentful. So I began finding really obvious song lyrics, just from my head, that I could put my name at the end of, rather than having the standard format. They’re supposed to have something to do with the theme of the column, although sometimes you have to hunt around to find the correlation.

After all these years, why aren’t you making the big bucks in syndication?
    I once thought about it. But I’d lose what makes it interesting to me. After 25.3 years of doing this stuff, I don’t want to bore myself. I’ve already kind of said most of what I think. So the only way to do it is not to depend on what you think about, but what you see and what you hear, which means you just tell stories.

Any plans to retire? I imagine it would be tough to give up your platform after all these years.
    I’d hate that, because then I’d be literally yesterday’s news. You have to have a certain level of insecurity to keep writing. Besides, and equally important, what the hell would I do all day? It’s not like I’ve got a hobby. It’s not like I collect stamps or something. I read and I write and I walk and I watch television and I play with the members of my family. That’s kind of it. There are no little sailing ships in bottles down in the basement that I’ve been working on.

—By Ginny Prior
—Photography by Craig Merrill

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