The Bell Curve: The bell tolls for the last time

It all came together on New Year's Eve. The fresh beginning of a new year. The addressing of personal issues that long needed resolution. The growing stress that transforms an opportunity into a chore. The growing sense of time fleeting. The sudden alignment of personal stars that signals a change.

Time to put The Bell Curve to bed.

I know this compilation of feelings. I've had it before, most notably 20 years ago when I gave up teaching at UC Irvine. The teaching juices were drying up. Creativity was buried in my files. So was enthusiasm. I was no longer satisfying my toughest critic: me.

When that takes place, it is time to take a hard look — especially when the stress of deadlines turns simple tasks into projects shouting for attention. The days of writing an 800-word column weekly in a few hours instead of a few days are over. The effort is beginning to take time and energy sorely needed elsewhere.

Writing for a daily newspaper is both a public trust and a rare opportunity to be heard. First of all, it requires the writer to have something to say and, second, to say it with honesty, clarity and knowledge — and hopefully with a touch of humor about the frequent absurdity of human behavior.

I'm leaving this in good hands at the Pilot. And I'm not leaving town.

I'll be around on the fringes to see if Newport Beach continues to reject women as mayors and Costa Mesa Councilman Jim Righeimer has a firm hold on the coattails of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) in his efforts to negotiate foreign policy that's supposed to come from the U.S. Department of State.

Every once in a while, I'll feel old stirrings to comment on the current local misdoings from the safety of the Forum page.

I wouldn't, for example, want to miss the opening of the smashing new restrooms I picture in the largest non-expansion airport on the planet. Or to follow the adventures of Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) in Sacramento, where he must be savoring the opportunity to offer a bill to require an immigration check of all gardeners and babysitters of legislators.

These were the fun things, where the 800 words weren't enough. And as I turn to leave, after many years with this gig, I know the fun things are mostly what I will remember.

First, there are the loyal readers, often strangers, who mostly wrote intelligent and thoughtful letters and who hailed me on the street and at public functions by my first name as a friend, whatever the nature of their comments. I hope I can keep those friends.

Then there are the fine young people who built a foundation for a career in journalism at the Pilot. And finally, of course, the editors who are frequently called on to make lemonade of lemons or to save writers from their own gaffes.

I have no beefs with Pilot editors who have always treated my copy with respect and professionalism. So this is an amicable separation, like it was at UCI. I wrote a book and created a column after I left the campus.

I'm a lot older now — pushing 90 — but the same juices still run. The book I wrote has to be marketed and maybe a new one has to be written.

But even that isn't what this is all about. It's about recognizing that it's time to discard my 800-word limit and move on — with gratitude for The Bell Curve experience and with an attitude of openness toward new adventures to come.

Happy New Year from The Bell Curve.

JOSEPH N. BELL lives in Newport Beach.

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