Monday, 8 March 2010

Famous people who are kind enough to write back

One big lesson I got from reading Don't You Have Time to Think? is about the power of letters– in writing and receiving them. There is something about the relationships that are formed out of this kind of correspondence. I can testify to this because I used to write my friends back in secondary school, sometimes five or six letters a month. And I enjoyed the trouble of reading and writing them very much.

Since I finished the book I would try to reply to every letter, email, SMS, comment or Facebook message coming my way. Well, like I said, I try anyway. There are times when I just let one or two slide because I just don't have the energy or the time or the patience to say or write nice things. Sorry about that.

Now is age of speedy communication, and nobody really write letter any more other than for formal reasons. But every now then I'm reminded to the power of letters by news like these.

Hollywood director John Hughes passed way last year. His departure was unexpected because he had spent many of his last living years away from the Hollywood spotlight. It has also been many years since Hughes directed his last movie. Hughes wrote, directed and produced several of the most memorable movies of the 80s and the 90s like Curly Sue (I remember this one), Uncle Buck (which starred the late John Candy) and Ferris Bueller's Day Off (don't think I've seen this one).

John Hughes, via Wikipedia

On the same day Hughes passed away, blogger Alison Byrne Fields wrote a post about how she and Hughes had been pen pals for many years. Fields has the letters and pictures to prove it. When she asked Hughes if they can be pen pals, Hughes wrote,

I'd be honored to be your pen pal. You must understand at times I won't be able to get back to you as quickly as I might want to. If you'll agree to be patient, I'll be your pen pal.

I'd be lying if I say I didn't feel even an atom of enviousness when I read this.

Fields was a high school teenager then and Hughes was a Tinseltown big shot. No one would've predicted this friendship. And Hughes was indeed a friend. In his letters, Hughes encouraged Fields to keep on writing when she complained that her teacher disliked how she wrote. In exchange Hughes confided in Fields about his life, and also the reasons why he left Hollywood. Hughes mentioned how Hollywood worked his good friend John Candy to death as one of them.

Fields definitely tells the story better than I do, so read the rest of it at Sincerely, John Hughes.

Another famous-people-writing-and-befriending-ordinary-kids story is one of Will Leitch and the venerable film critic Roger Ebert. Ebert was recently in the spotlight after being in Esquire magazine where he talked candidly about being recovering from thyroid cancer and losing his ability to talk, eat and speak.

Roger Ebert and his wife, Chaz

In Leitch's case, everything began with a question emailed to Ebert. Ebert answered back, and Leitch, still in college, was ecstatic. The fact that they both graduated from the same university (University of Illinois) and worked at the same paper (Daily Illini, but not at the same time) only made the feeling much more sweeter.

The friendship continued for years, until Leitch blundered through an article he wrote for web magazine titled "I Am Sick Of Roger Ebert's Fat F—-ing Face", in 2000. No prize for guessing what happen to that friendship. Ebert however, responded in a very dignified way by saying,

Will —

I have always tried to help you, and you know that. I am not sure what you were trying to do with your piece — if you object to me being on television, there is a dial to the right that will take care of that problem for you — what issues you might be dealing with, but I am certain you will grow to regret writing it someday. If you were trying to make a point, I fear you are not in control of your instrument. I wonder if you feel shitty this morning, now that piece is out there. I know that I do.


Leitch wrote his piece, My Roger Ebert Story (please read it for the entire story), as a way of making up for his mistake. He followed Ebert's developments, professionally and personally, sending him emails, trying to get Ebert to write back.

Not very long later, the two made up and the relationship, though not what it used to be, is resumed. Ebert even Twittered positively about Leitch's piece.

A sweet article by a long time friend who did indeed once bring a wince to my fat face. All is forgiven.

These two examples may be about somebody with a big name in Hollywood. I believe the lesson here is not everyone in Hollywood is money-greedy hedonist slime ball. Both Hughes and Ebert showed kindness that were never associated with someone of their stratosphere, taking the effort to reply and be nice to some unknown kid who didn't even expect a reply to their letter in the first place, let alone one that lead to a long time friendship.

I guess it really isn't about the channel used. Although I believe letters feel warmer than email or Twitter or SMS message, the important thing is how the connection affects both the sender and receiver. Hughes changed Fields' life, as Ebert did with Leicht's. If we try to follow in their kind footsteps, God knows whose life may be changed.


ieka said...

ok.. as i finished reading this, i think i should write something for you. :p i do read what you wrote /post here.. more like a silence reader. so keep on writing and share your thoughts even you feel like nobody cares. dont worry if u think that nobody reads it...u urself will, one day in future, read all this back and u will be amazed to see ur own work ;)

r.o.l. said...

Thanks a whole lotta bunch, ieka. I do now write like nobody cares actually, but I try not to waste their (and your) time. This blog came into existence with your help as well. Thanks for reading, and the encouragement.

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