Rendered Fat Content


Anton Graff: Selbstbildnis mit Augenschirm [Self-Portrait with Eye-shade] (1813)
" … actual ink on actual newsprint."

The easiest ink this author ever gets comes from having a letter published in the local paper. It doesn't amount to much of an accomplishment, but I admit that I take great personal pride in it, reading the result over and over again as if marveled by its very presence. It seems precious to me there as I stare down at the same old page made wondrous by my letter's presence.

The local paper will publish almost anything submitted by any reader, and about a quarter of those they do publish appear have to been submitted written in fat primary crayon, probably with the 'r's transcribed backwards.
Quite a few of them fail to make much of a splash and their authors appear to have never considered impact when they drafted them. They just drop a line to support some candidate or declare satisfaction about something. A very few seem utterly incoherent, like the one that complained about the local school district in a prose style that might have been a distant fifth language. The editor sometimes edits submissions, but wisely chooses to leave unedited the letters that indict their authors with their own unintended irony. Overall, I'd say that few of those submitting letters understand the principles of letter-to-the-editor writing. I consider it an under appreciated art, well worth practicing.

I've been submitting letters and seeing them published for twenty years. In that time, I've only had one submission out-right rejected, and that one arose from a misunderstanding. It was a poem, a take-off on that famous one about never seeing a poem lovelier than a tree, except my version praised (faintly) the efforts of the local electrical utility to preemptively maim our lovely canopy to prevent limb loss during wind and ice storms. I think that I will never see a poem as lovely as a utility pole … or something like that, it started. The editor at the time called to inform me that I'd violated a rule they had which disallowed poetry as a letter to the editor. On reflection, I understood why. The fiftieth man from Nantucket complaining about the police department would have doubtless grown tiresome. I rewrote that one in prose paragraphs, changing little, and it passed muster.

I cannot say that any letter of mine ever managed to incite dramatic change. A few apparently pissed off a few. The one where I argued for interpreting the second amendment as granting the freedom to own blunderbusses irked the AR-15 crowd; so much for framers' original intent. My brother took the wrath on that one when he was verbally accosted in a grocery aisle, asked if he was my brother, and given a warning for me to stop writing those damned letters. I was not dissuaded. Few seem persuaded by my efforts, but I persist. One of my personal rules for these letters insists that I not attempt to overtly persuade anybody to believe anything. I've found it much more persuasive and pleasing to just share a vignette, like the letter I submitted yesterday about a current rash of book banning attempts toward our school district. I just noted that banned books tend to be more likely to become best sellers, the beneficiaries of much free publicity from those insistent upon eradicating them. Banning books reliably produces the opposite of the book banners intentions. I just thanked them for their efforts.

In writing my letters, I'm standing up in the foxhole, disclosing my position and perhaps endangering myself. These days, with divides so danged passionate, it would not surprise me if I received a little retribution from one of those violent agitators for anarchic government. I accept the risk and figure that this might be one thing I can do to help nudge the conversation in more positive directions. I suspect that some read my letters and feel reassured that there's at least one confident and reasonable voice remaining out there. There's a cadre of us here, humble progressives who deign to share our visions of a better world. We do not foment for revolution. We do not find fault with government regulation. We are not endlessly whining about common sense mandates. We're Authoring better conversations, ones where there are reassuringly often more than two sides engaging.

When the paper comes, I open it to the Ledda2duhEduhduh page first. I see if my submission's there. I'm only allowed one letter per month and I try to satisfy the very letter of that rule. Never a month passes but what I submit another. How else could I acquire such easy ink? I'll sit down right there and read the letter, then read it again. I might close the paper then reopen it to that same page to read that submission a third time. I might read it through a half dozen times before I can set it aside, but I'll come back later. It seems a marvel, a wonder, that my byline appears in actual ink on actual newsprint. David A. Schmaltz, Walla Walla, it says. When we were on exile, I'd submit long distance. Then, the editor would add the addendum, Long-time Resident to the byline notice, rounding out my bonafides.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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