Dear Diary...A few weeks ago Scott Ostler in his column in the San Francisco Chronicle printed an anonymous letter: Scott: You express concern that you might be boring your readers. Ive been trying for six years and havent been able to get past your lead paragraphs. (Anon) His reply in the last paragraph of his column is an amusing insight into the joys of writing for others consumption. "Bless your heart for trying. My gimmick is I always write a terrible opening paragraph, in order to weed out the readership riff-raff. And oh, the irony: You missed seeing your own letter in print."
My gimmick is not to read anonymous letters and certainly not print them. In the 70s when I was in the Real Estate business, I decided that anonymous letters are not worth reading. They started pouring in after the Marin Independent Journal published a front-page story about my company and our ads, "Would you pay $6.00 for a pound of coffee when you could get it for $3.50? Then why pay 6% to sell your home when we will sell it for 3½%. Dont be penny wise and pound foolish."
The IJ received so much flack about my "free publicity" from offended real estate agents who advertised in the IJ that the then editor would not let the advertising department accept any more of my advertisements. I went from front-page to no page. He would not respond to my letters. So, I wrote the Consumers Union. They answered immediately. The upshot being I got my ads and they got a law passed requiring the listing agreement to state that listing and selling fees are negotiable. Dont underestimate the power of the pen. (Since then, the IJ has been sold to the Gannett newspaper group.)
To me, people who send anonymous letters are in the same category as the makers of obscene phone calls, graffiti "artists," and hit and run drivers. It is a category of people with a fundamentally defective character. So why read their spleenful missals? Besides, anon letters are easy to spot. For instance: A letter without a return address is probably one. A priest friend confided to me that when he was involved in a controversial project for the Archdiocese, he received numerous unsigned letters with vehement remarks "obviously not written by Christians." I wondered why he would subject himself to degradation by reading them. I invited him to join my crusade to stamp out anon letters by not reading them.
Why not read them? If you have ever received one, you know why not. First of all, anon letters are not "secret pal" letters with nicely printed sentiments with Hallmark on the back. Whatever anons write is bound to be an unkind, most likely degrading or threatening. So why read them? Remember: Unless you belong to a Secret Pal Club, fan mail doesnt come without a return address. Moreover, our fan mail usually contains donations to help pay for this newsletter, Sees Candy or restaurant dinner gift certificates.
That is not to say that I dont get signed letters that may be unkind, degrading, or taking exception to something that Ive written or said. Some are criticizing me, the Church, or the pastor for some slight, real or imagined, they perceive committed. Yes, there are many things other than beauty, which is in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes it is a speck. Sometimes it is a plank. (Matt. 7:3-5)
Critical letters follow a usual pattern, beginning with "I am appalled/dismayed " and ending with a copy to the Archbishop perhaps the adult version of "Im going to tell your/my mother." Anyway, I try to read the signed letters. Sometimes the writer makes good points. I may even follow their suggestions but rarely answer their letter. In the correspondence department, just keeping up with the fan mail, "thank-you" correspondence, and the e-mails is all I can manage.
One criticizing letter I didnt finish reading, although it was signed, was received several years ago. Its kept a reminder of how not to write an appalled/dismayed letter. The first paragraph of the letter from the president of an institute began with the usual "I am appalled/dismayed." Moreover, he was "doubly dismayed." The next three paragraphs also began with "I". "Boring!" I remember thinking as I started to read it. "Too many I words." After noting the myriad of people getting copies besides the Archbishop, I stopped reading at about the second paragraph.
When I was in College, back when the earth was cooling, an instructor in a creative writing course made a lasting point. "Unless you want to lose the interest of the reader," he said, "Do not begin a letter or paragraph with the pronoun, I. The only exception is when you begin with I love you". Good advice, but I must admit that my favorite letter began with: "I was inspired by your " After that opening, how could one lose interest?
Come to think of it, "I love you" might be a real attention grabber when we are appalled/dismayed and feel the need to write a letter and expect to make an impact by it. "What would Jesus do?" is also a good question to ask when writing a letter as in any situation. He certainly wouldnt send an anon letter. There are too many people like me who wouldnt read it. After considering his Golden Rule, he might start with, "Anyone who hears my words and puts them into practice is like the wise man who built his house on a rock" (Matt. 7:24). Those are words to live by.
Fr. Joe Landi is a Parochial Vicar at St. Cecilia Parish, San Francisco, the Archbishops Liaison to the Charismatic Renewal, the Editor of The San Francisco Charismatics, and the Board Chair of Sierra Point Credit Union, South San Francisco, which serves the Charismatic Renewal membership. Opinions expressed are his own.
You can contact Fr. Landi by e-mail at email@example.com, read other articles in the September Newsletter, or return to the Main Menu of this web site by clicking on the blue. © 1998, The San Francisco Charismatics, (ISSN 1098-4046). All rights reserved. The San Francisco Charismatics is a member of the Catholic Press Association of the Unites States and Canada.