Ever read an article or book or hear a song and think, “Wow, that’s amazing”?
Yeah, so have I.
Did you ever take the time to find contact information for the journalist, author, artist or songwriter and to drop a note to say “Thanks”?
I know. You probably thought all of the same things I did, things like, “That person wouldn’t even read my mail, let alone care what I think.”
You might be surprised.
In an interview, Richard Bach, who wrote “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” once said, “Writers rarely hear back from readers. It’s usually a one-way communication. Your ideas and the way you sing them go out into the world and you don’t know, but you can be absolutely guaranteed that your family of readers will find what you have written and they will be touched, as you were touched by the idea when it was first handed to you.”
Almost 25 years ago, I looked forward every day to two things in my local newspapers – a column by a Peoria journalist, Rick Baker, and the humor columns of Erma Bombeck. I was so addicted to those two writers that I begged my family to at least let me read their columns before I began preparing supper.
Once, after I’d been reading Baker’s work for a decade or so, he was to come to my hometown for a book signing. I, however, had to work that afternoon at a grocery store. The signing was to end at 4 p.m. – the same time I got off work. I made a beeline for the time clock and nearly ran to my car at the end of my shift, hoping that I could catch the investigative journalist and thank him for his work.
As I rounded the square, I saw Baker walking along the side of the bookstore headed to his car, parked in a lot behind the store. I slowed to pull into a parking place in front of the big church across the street with its large stained-glass windows, but kept on driving instead.
Because I thought, “Ann, you dummy! If you go running after him now, he’ll think you’re a groupie!”
A short time later, Rick Baker, a young dad with a lot of paragraphs left to put on the page, was killed in a car crash. He never knew that a writer-wannabe working in a grocery store was studying his storytelling skills with hopes of being a writer herself someday. He never knew that his words made a difference in her life.
After Baker’s death, I vowed that next time I had a chance to thank someone for his or her touch on my life, I’d do it.
But I’m a slow learner.
A few years after Baker’s blank column – the one the paper published to commemorate his passing – Erma Bombeck wrote her last column. That woman who made us all laugh once said, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me.’”
I suspect Bombeck may not have had a chance to use it all – the talent that was her special gift – and I know for certain I didn’t take time to thank her for the way her words brightened my days.
Back then it wasn’t so easy to thank an author or an artist for his or her work. A book signing, a lecture, or a chance encounter were often the only in-person opportunities, and most authors only received communication from fans through their publishers.
Today, social media has changed all of that. Many authors and musicians are on Facebook, Twitter, or have websites or blogs. Often, they will respond to their readers.
I can tell you first hand, because I know people who make their livelihood hunched over keyboards, pounding out the pages of newspapers, novels and non-fiction books, that readers’ words make a difference, provide a shot in the arm when the words are hard to get on the page, and offer hope that “Yes, these words do touch people just as they touch me.”
Living in Galesburg, Illinois, I had a chance to meet playwright Edward Albee and Carl Sandburg biographer Penelope Niven and to thank them for their work. On visits to Abraham Lincoln events in Springfield, Illinois and Gettysburg, I’ve met a number of Lincoln authors, and thanked them for the way their books help me with my research.
Social media helps me to keep in touch with them and others.
A couple of years ago, through a chance encounter on Twitter, I had a chance to thank my favorite author, the same Richard Bach I quoted earlier, for the way his books have touched my life.
Today, I write for a living – because of writers like Baker, Bombeck, Albee, Niven and Bach.
Some of them know that.
I don’t know if it matters much to any of them, but it does to me.
On Friday, Aug. 31, Bach, who loves flying as much as he loves writing, had an unexpected event when he was landing his beloved Searay airplane, Puff, on Washington State’s San Juan Island. As I write this, Bach lies recovering in a Seattle hospital.
This author who first touched my heart with a “soar–till-it-hurts” seagull more than forty years ago and who motivates me to pursue my highest right still today, can bet his aviator’s scarf that this reader touched by his ideas is rooting for his healing and recovery, as are many in his family of readers.
Who do you need to thank for the way their work has touched your life?
Take time today.
© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012