Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Letters to authors

Though there are larger and more sinister things afoot, I don't have much to say this week. Except that PBS's "Frontline" is the best show on television (followed ever-so-closely by "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and "Aqua Teen Hunger Force"). If you have the chance to see the current "Frontline" about the history between the House of Saud and the U.S. government, you should, even though it's two hours long with no commercial breaks. It's a really great piece of journalism, and makes me guilty that I've never pledged money to public television.

I did come across this tonight -- a letter I wrote to Anne Lamott a few months back, but never mailed. I think I will finally print it off and mail it tomorrow. You really shouldn't bother with it. Only if you're bored and/or dying. Othersie, Drop it likes it's hot.


Dear Miss Anne,

I have no idea if this letter will ever reach you hands. Writing letters to people through big, scary agencies is not the way things should be. But you have fans upon fans I've come to realize. And you probably don't want them at your front doorstep, bearing gifts of homespun, woolen blankets and crockpot/stewey concoctions, that smell heavily of unkempt livestock and sweaty herbs.

So maybe you won't get this. But that's okay. Maybe the reason for writing letters is actually more in the writing -- in the the sending of messages -- than it is in the receiving and reading of messages. Not to make this sound like a writing exercise; think of it more like shouting at a picture of one's mother after getting off the phone with her that one time when she wouldn't stop hinting that it's harder for 25-year-olds to find a wife than it is for 24-year-olds. But this isn't yelling. And you aren't my mother. And I have no pictures of you. Also, we rarely speak on the phone.

Mostly, this letter is saying about how much enjoy what you write. And the things you write about. And how you write about them. I first was introduced to you during a Creative Writing class with Del Doughty. (You don't know Del, I just like to name drop people with great names that roll of the tongue.) And he had us read Bird by Bird and another book on poetry that sits in my bathroom. Bird by Bird I loved, drinking it like apple juice with pretzels (which I also love). The poetry book I didn't read, didn't even do the exercises we had due in class, because the cover was so much better than the introduction. And I couldn't get over that. So it sits in my bathroom, because I hope to get past the introduction someday. And collecting dust in the bathroom makes more sense than collecting dust on the bookshelf. Why? Because it just does.

After that was Traveling Mercies, during the summer after my Junior year when I didn't get a job, mooched off my older brother for a few weeks, then returned to my parents house, broke and depressed. Not because of your book, but because I passed up my regular summer job as a camp counselor in hopes of landing an internship with a major publisher, being rejected by said major publisher, then having difficulty finding jobs at grocery stores and small radio stations after having DJ'd at my college station for two years. That doesn't help much with grocery stores, but I had hoped it would with radio stations. But neither would have me. I read your book and half of Anna Karenina that summer. Some others, too. But those are the only ones I can remember.

Operating Instructions waited until this last year, during my AmeriCorps year in Montana, at a young Boys & Girls Club in small-town Montana. I bought many, many books two summers ago, before I came out here, called "rah-rah Jesus Books," because I thought my faith might suffer in the midst of small-town narrow-mindedness, and churches that have American and Israeli flying in their sanctuaries, speaking of our President as if he were God's right hand. But it didn't. In fact, I did better than expected. I didn't get into fights, didn't patronize, didn't even make jokes under my breath (there was this one time where I mentioned unions and Wal-Mart, and a large man looked like he might hit me, were it not for his wife politely stepping in). So the rah-rah Jesus books didn't get read, expect for Operating Instructions
(which wasn't rah-rah at all, contrarywise to my friend's advertised opinion), and two separate books by Philip Yancey and Oswald Chambers (more name dropping!).

You might notice that I didn't mention any of your fiction. This is for one reason. Since Modern Brit Lit with Todd Martin, especially since our reading of To The Lighthouse, I have had laborious difficulty reading adult literature, for more reasons than this letter is long. So in the interest of brevity, Virginia Woolf has ruined fiction for me (though not children's fiction, which I have come to simply adore in recent years). I really can't read grown-up books anymore, except the occasional Nick Hornby, because his characters are children in grown-up bodies. Which makes them OK I guess. Don't worry if it doesn't make sense to you, because I don't understand it either.

That's that I guess. I really like to read what you write. Because it makes me buoyant, and it keeps me grounded. And it makes me want to write, too. Senior year of college, I had a column in the school newspaper, where I wrote about anything, and they even let me use run-on sentences and improper punctuation and way too many conjunctions, like I was a big-shot or something. And people liked it. Which made me impulsive and rash, and led me into an impulsive and rash relationship, which led me to an impulsively, rash broken heart, which led into a spring break trip to Haiti, visiting orphanages and hospitals, receiving more than I could possibly give. But what I meant to talk about was writing, and how my writing friends had said I sounded like you, only worse. Personally, I was offended, thinking I sounded like Dave Eggers, only worse.

A little about me before I go, just to give you an idea of who is actually writing this. My name is Jonny, not John. I was born Jonathan, but Jonny stuck early on, and even though I'm a 20-something with a beard, Jonny I shall remain. Music and God and politics and take up much of my time. I guess I'm a liberal Republican, which I've isn't supposed to exist so far away from the coasts. But oh well. It makes life interesting.

As far as music goes, I like bands with names like Cake, Over the Rhine, and Iron & Wine. It's funny to me how music can make you like names that you used to hate. Say, for instance, the name Damien. Such a creepy, occultish kind of name. But when I found not one, but two artists with the name Damien to enjoy, suddenly it sounds as common as Danny or Kevin. I could even have a friend named Damien now, and not even think twice about the off-chance that he might be the anti-Christ (though I might think it at least once, before I got to know him and all).

So that's it, I guess. I've said my peace. And more, too. I'm moving back to the midwest soon, for more school, in hopes of finding a trade of some sort that pays the bills. Because I tend to like electricity, hot showers, and foods other than beans from the can. Wish me luck! (I'm such a sellout.)

Thank you for writing such wonderful words in such wonderful patterns about things that I needed to so desperately hear. Enjoy yourself.

Yours truly,

Jonny Rice


Mailboxes, etc. Goodnight.

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