By Tom Blake
People often ask where I learned to write, expecting to hear a reply like “at journalism school.” Or they ask, “Have you always been a writer?”
I reply, “No journalism school. No formal writing classes, self-taught, and prompted by an unanticipated Christmas-holiday event.”
In 1993, I was in Santa Rosa, California, visiting my 82-year-old mom, as I did every Christmas holiday. My wife of six years said she wanted me to have alone time with my mom, so she stayed home in Dana Point.
The morning after Christmas, she telephoned me to say she and her two boys had moved out. I was shocked.
I hugged Mom goodbye and immediately started driving home.
I had a notepad on my lap. A million thoughts went through my mind. I jotted them down in short, incomplete sentences. I didn’t know it then, but that nine-hour drive was the start of my writing career.
By the trip’s end, I had a mishmash of notes, which soon became a woe-is-me diary, describing things like being served divorce papers at Tutor and Spunky’s, my Dana Point deli, the divorce itself, and, at age 54, starting to date.
I thought dating would be easy, because lots of single women came to the deli. But those women didn’t want to date a broken man.
At night, I honed my writing skills by sitting on barstools at Brio, Hennessey’s and other local singles’ hangouts, unsuccessfully looking for love, and then, at home, I would journal my dating frustrations.
After five months, I converted those notes into a 75-page story and tried to get it published.
I sent query letters to New York Times, LA Times, Playboy and Esquire. No response. Orange County Register recommended I contact Dana Point News, the Register’s community paper.
The two women editors said, “The women of South Orange County will have a field day reading your feeling-sorry-for-yourself column. We are going to give you a chance.”
“Home alone, with only dogs for company” was the title of my first newspaper column. It appeared on July 7, 1994—29 years ago—in four Orange County Register community newspapers.
The editors were right about the vitriolic responses from women.
The first comment was, “Who is this sniveling puke?”
The second: “Get the boy a crying towel.”
And the third: “He complains that younger women won’t go out with him. It’s a wonder any woman will go out with him.”
Welcome to the 1994 dating trenches, Tom.
Soon, the column appeared in 10 OC Register community papers. And then for eight years, the Register itself, the nation’s 20th largest newspaper at the time, as well as the community papers. Opportunity had arisen from adversity.
In 2012, I was fortunate to join Picket Fence Media—the publishers of the Dana Point Times, San Clemente Times and The Capistrano Dispatch.
Recently, PFM was sold to Times Media Group, a collection of 29 newspapers, mainly in Arizona. The show will continue.
The number of columns and eNewsletters written in 29 years is approximately 4,600.
The unexpected move-out by my wife turned out to be a major blessing. It launched a writing career that has been more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. It brought appearances on the Today show and Good Morning America.
And more importantly, it opened the door to meet Greta, a partner with whom I shared so many incredible experiences in the 25 years we were together before she passed away last October. So now, in effect, I’m a widower.
And because of my readers—widows, widowers, never-married, divorcees, and marrieds—I realize I am not alone in trying to find a new direction and perhaps be fortunate again to find a mate. Most of the readers have suffered more adversity than I. Many are currently grieving.
Have things changed on the dating scene in 29 years? Not much, except now there’s online dating, with romance scammers on every internet dating site.
Plus, instead of my writing focusing on dating after 50, it includes dating after 60, 70, 80, and even 90. Same old issues—hard to meet someone compatible. And women still ask, “Where are the men?”
Tom Blake is a retired Dana Point business owner and resident who has authored books on middle-aged dating. See his website at findingloveafter50.com. To comment: email@example.com.