Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Never too late to pursue writing if you’ve got the talent

It’s never too late to pursue writing as a vocation if one belatedly discovers having the talent and the great reserves of energy to do it. Shirley A., who describes herself as “75 years old, living alone with almost nothing” (I’m withholding her surname to keep her privacy), makes this point with such disarming frankness in a recent e-mail that I thought I shouldn’t keep her sentiments all to myself. I am therefore sharing them here, verbatim.

October 26, 2013

Dear Sir:

I am reading “English Plain and Simple” and I am gaining so much, including being entertained by it. When I am done with the 463 pages, I might be able to express well what I want to tell you: how grateful I am that I found you and how much I am indebted to you. You see, I have had no formal education (in writing or otherwise) so I am not very encouraged to write anything, but your book is helping me a lot. You have no idea how much you will be contributing to my future happiness. I am 75 years old, living alone with almost nothing, but I hope to be able to fend for myself when I have nothing more but written words to see me through.

I just had a few good laughs today, reading quotes from H.L. Mencken. I just asked my daughter to send me a Nook and to order for me all that you recommended in pages 96/97 to Jay [Some informal prescriptions for better writing in English (1 – One Man’s Meat)].

Meantime, know that you are so much appreciated; if not for you, life would be meaningless and useless for me now. For the first time in my life, I have something worthy of the time God has given me on earth. I will not waste it now.

Thank you very, very much.

Very truly yours,
Shirley A.

My reply:

October 27, 2013

Dear Shirley,

Just call me Joe.

Thank you so much for your compliment about my book. I want you to know that I greatly appreciate it.

You express yourself very well. I have no doubt that even without having come across my book, you already had the facility to write good, compelling English prose. Perhaps all that my book has really done was to perk up your imagination and give you some ideas on how to put your writing talent to good use. But at 75, having discovered that you have the power to do it, you can now pursue a worthy enterprise that definitely can see you through in the years ahead—write a volume of personal essays perhaps or, if you strongly feel it’s worth telling, even the story of your life. Mind you, Shirley, not everybody is blessed with the talent or the motivation or the energy to do what you can do at your age, so my advice is: Go for it!

About H. L. Mencken, I must say that he was a great influence during my formative years; in fact, I still get a thrill down my spine every time I’m rereading his overarching polemics. Which gives me an idea: While waiting for that Nook from your daughter, why not read Mencken’s In Defense of Women in the Project Gutenberg e-book right now? The beauty about Mencken is that even if you don’t agree with his strong views, it’s always a delight to savor his acerbic thoughts in his superb English.

To ensure no dull moment in between your bouts of writing, Shirley, I have another suggestion: join Jose Carillo’s Forum, my English-usage website. You can ask questions or share your views about English or whatever in its discussion boards. You can even use it as a sketch pad or sounding board for material intended for your essays or autobiography. Who knows, someone from among the Forum’s over 42,000 members worldwide just might give you invaluable feedback or, at the very least, simply brighten up a sullen day for you.

Sincerely yours,
Joe Carillo

(The e-mail conversation above originally appeared in the weekly column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in The Manila Times, November 2, 2013 issue © 2013 by Manila Times Publishing. All rights reserved.)

Rejoinder by Shirley A.:

October 28, 2013

Dear Joe:

I am very honored and flattered that you replied to my email although, I just wanted to thank you and didn’t expect you to waste anymore of your precious time on me.

Certainly, you have my permission to use the email or any part of it as you please and, well, that makes me very happy. Your book will do a lot for me in acquiring more knowledge and skills, if not, boost my confidence, as well. For sure it will elevate my too-elementary-style of writing to a higher level that would satisfy me. I have read and studied so many books including “The Elements of Style” but I am still very poor in punctuations and grammar, too. I also have a copy of “The 10 Most Annoying English Grammar Errors.” What it is doing now though, is, I am so afraid you will find many annoying grammatical errors in my writing but please don’t mind me, after all, I haven’t finished your book yet.

My one great desire was to get a college degree but even 10 years ago, I was already too old to be out in the streets using public transportation so, that was out of the question but if there was a school across from where I live, I will, most assuredly, still try. I am very envious of people who have a Ph.D. but I just accept and am grateful for what God gives me. I had a nagging feeling that He didn’t really want me to go through all that, at my age, proving my instincts right because of the appearance and advantage of your book, giving me what I long for and yet, not having to go through a lot of hassles, as would have happened, had I gone back to school.

I will follow all of your suggestions and advices and thank you so much for the link. I did want to read “In Defense of Women.” We seem to think along the same lines because last night, I was wishing I had a copy of it when I saw it among his books in the internet.

I can’t thank you enough, and I hope one day I can tell you that I had written an autobiography and a book on essays. I don’t have the resources to add The Manila Times to my daily read but if you send me the link you will get more appreciation and thanks from me.

Very sincerely,

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