I received an email sent in by a reader. Well, actually, I don’t know if you’d call him a reader. I should probably just call him “Bill.”
Bill wrote: “My sister sent me some of your blog entries and I liked them initially, but I began to lose interest quickly…
“Your work is often full of indecorous humor… You’re sometimes trying too hard to be folksy…
“Before you get upset with me, Sean, I do not wish to disrespect you. I have been teaching college English for a long time.”
Well, Bill, I’m embarrassed to say that when this email showed up I was watching “The Golden Girls.” I should be humiliated to admit that I was not reading heavyweight literature like T.S. Eliot or Melville. Because I’ve pretty much proven your point. Even though I’m not sure what your point was exactly.
Anyway, in this particular “Golden Girls” episode Burt Reynolds was a guest star. And since this is a family column, I won’t share every indecorous detail of the episode because, for starters, I don’t technically know what indecorous means.
What I will tell you, however, is that Burt Reynolds came bursting into the room and the scene went like this:
(Studio audience applause—also a few cat calls.)
BLANCHE: My God, you’re Mister Burt Reynolds!
BURT REYNOLDS: I hope so, or else I’ve got the wrong underwear on.
(More cat calls.)
The thing is, I’m not claiming to be a true writer. Real writers wouldn’t draw inspiration from “The Golden Girls.” Real authors draw inspiration from Bach preludes, and they smoke fine cigars.
A few months ago, my friend Robert organized a meeting with a well-known author like this. Robert and I arrived at a large estate in Central Florida. A woman invited us into a mahogany study.
On the walls were pictures of this writer, gracing magazine covers, playing golf with celebrities, shaking hands with high-ranking officials, rescuing children from grizzly bears.
When the author joined us, he poured drinks from a decanter and presented a small humidor box to Robert and said, “Cuban?”
Robert said, “No, Scotch-Irish on my mother’s side.”
And I felt silly. I’m nothing like that author. Oh sure, I took a few community college English classes, but big deal, even plumbers, waitresses, and electricians take college classes.
As a matter of fact, at one point I thought I would become an electrician. I even did a short stint as an electrician’s assistant.
Electricians made decent money, so since I had no high school education I was thinking to myself, “Hey, this is a great gig, I’ll be an electrician!”
Then one day my friend was wiring a large condominium panel, but he was not wearing high-voltage hand protection. He got shocked so bad it knocked him back ten feet. He peed his pants and forgot his name for a solid hour. I looked at my friend lying in that puddle and I decided to pursue a career in fast food.
It was around that time I had one of the first writing jobs I ever had. It was a tiny publication that covered a regional beat. I’ll never forget when the editor read a few of my writing samples and announced that she would hire me for two hundred dollars.
“Two hundred bucks?” I said.
“That’s right,” the editor said. “I accept cash or personal checks, you can pay my secretary.”
I always wanted to be the kind of writer which I imagine you probably are, Bill. A writer’s writer. Once, I wanted to backpack the Appalachian Trail with nothing but a typewriter and a roll of toilet paper tucked in my backpack. I wanted to make a grand commentary on what it means to be human.
But then, I’m lazy. And how would I watch “The Golden Girls” on the Appalachian Trail? Answer me that.
So I don’t need help feeling crummy about myself, I have felt that way for long enough. Over the years I’ve had plenty of reminders. Sometimes, I’ve wondered why I kept trying.
Well, I have figured out why I keep trying. I figured it out a few nights ago.
I was in Pintlala, Alabama, a town so small they have both city-limits signs on the same post. I was doing a show there. Afterward, I was shaking hands with a few people when I met a young man.
He must have been mid-twenties. Reddish hair. It was like looking at a picture of my younger self.
His name was Jason. He said, “I like that you use a lot of commas, even though it’s against the rules. My teacher once criticized me for using too many commas.”
I asked him if he was a writer. And I saw that look on his face. It’s the same look I wore when I read your email. A little embarrassment.
“A writer?” Jason said. “No, not really. I mean, maybe I am…”
I mean this with the utmost respect, Mister English teacher, Bill, sir:
That young man is a writer, no matter what anyone says. One day he is going to realize this, and I hope he feels so fulfilled that buckets of self-worth start oozing out of his ears. Maybe then you can send indecorous emails to him like the one you sent me.
Now if you’ll pardon me, “The Golden Girls” is back on.