Langden MasonLangden Mason, who writes the popular column Don’t Get Me Started, brilliantly weaves into his writing the influences and experiences of growing up on a farm in rural Fluvanna.

Born in 1963, he recalled being content growing up in an age when one used a phone booth instead of a cell phone, drank from a garden hose instead of bottled water, and sat down as a family for dinner instead of microwaving meals individually. He does not dismiss the technological and medical advances over the last 50 years, but believes we’ve somehow lost a lot of the core beliefs that made us a great nation such as patriotism, trust, and the art of conversation without polarization.

He went on to say his parents instilled in him a belief that one could achieve happiness by working hard, doing the right thing, and being a good citizen without bullying and hurting others’ feelings. He believes they were right. He sees the diversity in his friendships as a path to better understanding and cites his upbringing as something that made him a good writer and a better person.

Smiling and sharing memories and witticisms, Mason is always engaged with those around him. His column and plays capture the lament of what we’ve left behind in our past.

Writing began with his parents informing him that great adventures were only a book away.

“I read a lot and my mother taught me to color within the lines, but left room to think outside the box,” he said. After tackling great literature and poetry, his favorite English teacher had his class diagram sentences to learn the structure of writing.

“I learned the importance of word placement and the need for proper grammar,” he said. “A picture is worth a thousand words, but a single sentence, when structured properly, can provide a pretty amazing picture.”

He smiles when people think writing is his full-time job. 

“I’m no Stephen King, John Grisham, or J.K. Rowling. Writing is my hobby,” he said. “The best advice my father ever gave me was, ‘Find a job you enjoy that will support the hobby you enjoy.’” He has worked for State Farm Insurance for over 30 years. He began his career as an underwriter and is currently an agency training specialist, and likes the fact he is able to blend his hobby of writing into the realm of developing curriculum and presenting training sessions.

For Mason, writing is therapy.

“Putting your thoughts on paper not only removes a thought or idea from your mind, but ultimately develops that thought and gives it substance and validity,” he said. “I then have the capacity to develop further ideas, evolve personally, and provide new and improved writing.”

Mason has been writing his Don’t Get Me Started column for 18 years. He said he has no difficulty in writing a humorous column every week because humor finds him.

“I believe there are overlooked funny moments in all our lives that could easily be turned into a weekly column. Media tends to dwell on pessimistic and often macabre news going on in the world. I want to take my readers away from all that for about five minutes every week,” he said. “A writer has to be willing to poke fun at himself to bring a smile to others. The reader will either find the subject funny because it is happening to me or he will find it funny because he can associate with it as he has been in the same situation.”

Mason said the most difficult thing about writing humor is thinking about the one individual in your family or realm of friends who might not find the humor in what you’re writing at the moment.

“I cringe a bit knowing they won’t think what I’m conveying is funny,” he said. “The positive part of this ‘humor hurdle’ is that it makes you work twice as hard to make sure the next sentence provides a joke that will make that individual laugh out loud.”   

In his youth, Mason began reading plays by Tennessee Williams, Neil Simon, Edward Albee, and many others. He became engrossed in the story line through dialogue with little description. Mason’s plays, which are performed locally, have been original musical comedies or based on movies from the 1960s.

The first time his parents let him stay up to watch the “late show” movies, he fell in love with the physical, situational screwball comedy. He liked the writing and was drawn to the zany, farcical characters that had him doubled over with laughter. He wanted to write like that.

He is presently writing a new comedy entitled Present Company Excluded and will produce and direct it this fall at the Carysbrook Performing Arts Center. The play is set in a Hollywood bungalow in 1962. A group of actors are attending a cocktail party on Halloween and find themselves involved in a murder that occurred at another cocktail party 20 years earlier. There are ghosts, a séance, and a lot of comedic situations.

“If Shakespeare, Neil Simon, and Noel Coward had collaborated on a play, this would have been the result,” he said.

Mason’s advice to writers is the old but true cliché: Write what you know and the product will be heartfelt and believable. 

“Most importantly, I never steer away from making myself the brunt of the joke,” he said. “No family is perfect and neither is any man or woman. We share the common thread of misunderstanding and frustration with ourselves and our fellow human beings. If you desire controversy, provide your own opinion. If you desire a connection with your audience, write about the imperfections and pet peeves we all share.”