Personal and Confidential: An Essay

by jimowensjr

When people learn that I enjoy writing they often look perplexed.


Those who have actually read some of my fiction, poetry or essays will respond with varying degrees of approval.  On occasion they will offer, “that’s nice” or “I enjoyed that.”  There are also times when I get the “don’t quite your day job” look.  (I won’t.)  There are times when someone takes the time to write me and email or even write me a letter to correct my grammar, punctuation or, in the worst cases, vent their irritation or set me straight.  So when I got a letter in the letter in the mail yesterday from an unknown sender, someone in California, I was a little ambivalent about opening it.


The envelope was one of those fancy rough-textured kinds of things with an embossed return address on the flap.  It was hand addressed. It felt good in my hands. The handwriting on its face seemed kind.  Now on the rare occasion I receive such a note they normally come as a surprise.  But in this case, I remembered an email a reply to a blog post I had recently received. Its author had been encouraged by something I had published in Tricycle Magazine more than a year ago.  The woman had taken the time to write me a note of appreciation and had addressed it to a former business address.  She told me it had been returned to her and marked “NOT AT THIS ADDRESS.”  So I gave her my new address with the hope she would try again.  In truth, I didn’t expect someone to go to this much effort.


In the article, I had shared some personal struggles about my spiritual journey.  (I know.  That just sounds weird.  I can smell the patchouli oil and incense too.)  The moment I submitted the article I wondered if I should have been so vulnerable.  I’m still wonder.  But the fact she had taken the time to write a kind and generous, handwritten note, to me, someone she has never met and will probably never will, telling me how she identified with my words and how much she appreciated them, was a rich reward for the risk. The things I shared could have remained personal and confidential, buried within me, hiding in the darkness.  But her willingness to acknowledge we had similar struggles helped me remember we all share the same hopes and dreams and fears, and sometimes, victories.


We just don’t let everyone see the difficult stuff.  (And we probably shouldn’t let everyone see everything.)


When people ask me why I write I tell them it’s because its something I have to do to understand the world a little better. It’s also because my Mother reminded me how much I enjoy it and that I should keep at it.  (Thanks, Mom.) I’ll admit I’d like to be a published author who someday makes his living at the craft.  The likelihood is I won’t.  The rejection letters from publishers are piling up.  But that isn’t really the point.  I just write.  And when someone like the new friend I’ll never know writes me a note that is now have safely stored away, I find that is more than enough. So I’ll keep taking the chance of embarrassing myself with silly tales, bad poetry, and observations about the myself, my family, and the world with the hope it moves others to pay a little more attention to themselves and the people around them.  I’ll keep irritating people, risking their disapproval, making grammatical error and editing poorly, in the hopes it might help someone be a little more vulnerable.  It’s funny how taking risks works. It scares the hooey (Is “hooey” a word?) out of you to do it.  But when someone says, “me too,” well, I’d say it’s worth the risk.


And JM, if by chance you are reading this post, please know this.  I’m so grateful for your encouragement and the time and effort you put into to getting the note to me.