C.W. Gusewell

THE KANSAS CITY STAR

For a writer, shared words forge an intimate bond with readers

Actors and singers hear the applause of the audience and the occasional shouts of Bravo!

** Athletes hear the roar of approval that erupts from the stadium crowd.

But a writer, generally working alone, hears – or used to hear – only the reassuring clatter of the typewriter. But now that those venerable machines have been replaced by computers, the dominant noise is the one that Simon and Garfunkel called “The Sound of Silence.”

What the writer has for applause is only what the postman brings in his pouch.

In past years when my schedule was heavier – three columns a week – the volume of mail was correspondingly greater – 1,500 or more letters a year.

In a perfect world, every one of them would be answered.

The world is imperfect, and occasionally time and life’s clutter got in the way. But I can honestly claim to have tried.

Once I did actually swear off – announcing in print that, though I appreciated hearing from readers, the burden of responding had become unmanageable.

That interruption was brief.

One reason was that my parents had long ago taught me some manners – among them that any civil note or letter deserved a reply.

There also was the memory of a time, during a year my wife, our daughters and I lived in Paris, when I’d read a book of highly personal essays, written by a professor of English at a distinguished Eastern university.

I found the work elegant and very moving, and I immediately fired off a letter expressing admiration and my gratitude for the pleasure his book had given me. I got not one word back.

I vowed then that I could never be as arrogantly self-possessed as that gifted but insufferably rude man. And I took up corresponding again, although not always as promptly as I would like.

On a recent Saturday, in fact, I spent the whole day attacking a stack of envelopes that, because of some travel or other distractions, had accumulated on the corner of my desk, one dating as far back as May.

And it wasn’t a chore. It was the nearest thing imaginable to a conversation.

The letter writers told details of their lives – their interests, their joys, their hurts. Several mentioned a column of mine they’d especially enjoyed. One sent short bits of poetry she’d composed. Another chided me gently for some point in a column with which he’d disagreed.

And I tried to reply in kind – sharing something of myself, as they had done.

And finally, as I addressed and sealed the envelopes in readiness for the mail, I was struck by the realization that, solitary though my vocation may be, not once in that whole day had I felt alone.

I’d spent those hours in good company.

What other applause than that does any writer need?