I'll get back to "Best Books of Bellabell's 2008" before the Big Ball drops in Time's Square, but in the meantime, let me ask you this:
How do we feel about fan mail?
Have you ever written any? Movie buff though I was, I didn't pen any adoring letters during my childhood or adolescence. But in my mid-twenties, the recorded voice of soprano Eileen Farrell made me hyper-ventilate and even shout a bit during a particularly demanding finale. So I wrote a short, grateful letter to the glorious diva. Have no idea now what I wrote. I do know what she wrote back, however. Still have the brief, kind note, with its dark blue engraved letterhead and her written signature.
Movie historians insist that Joan Crawford answered every piece of email she received. I can believe it--don't want to, don't want even to think about why she did, but I do.
New Age composer-keyboardist Mike Rowland turns out CD's with titles like "The Fairy Ring," and "Mystic Angel." Frankly, the music is what cartoonist Gerry Trudeau once called "air pudding." You'd never mistake it for Mozart. But it gives a serene comfort I've never found in other "tinkle-bong-bong" offerings. For me, it is the perfect relaxation/meditation/go-to-sleep music. And when my sister-in-law laying dying in Arizona (too young! too young!), I kept Rowland's music playing softly in the background for several days. Everyone who passed through the room stopped,listened and commented on how soothing it was. So after wearing grooves in the CD's, I finally wrote Mike Rowland a fan letter. Because I tried too hard to make it natural and unassuming, it was awkward and a little tacky, but I felt I'd paid a small debt.
Recently I saw a fine local production of the one-man play "I Am My Own Wife," the true account of a German transvestite whose efforts to save artwork of Jewish victims during World War II were both admirable and questionable. The lone actor played a full stage of roles, some 15 or more characters, and kept the play credible and absorbing from start to finish. So I emailed him a note of congratulations. But I don't think that counts as "fan" mail, "fan" being derived from "fanatic" and I not even remembering now the young actor's name.
But I am truly a fanatic on the works of Alan Bennett; and his slim novella, The Uncommon Reader, has tickled me so much I really want to thank him. But this man collects writing awards the way some Brits used to collect wildflowers.
I'm sure fan mail is, for him, just one more thing to assign someone else to deal with, whether through his publishers or by agreement with the local Postal Service (and heavy tips on Boxing Day). Bennett has been known to suffer fools gladly--well, no, not gladly. But gently. For 15 years, a wildly eccentric old woman, a stranger to the writer, camped in Bennett's front yard in her battered yellow van. After dealing with Miss Shepherd and her demands and dementia, surely Bennett views fan mail, yea or nay, as a small nuisance.
But, do we write such letters primarily for the sake of the recipient, or for our own sake? I begin to think the latter. We write so that we may benefit from the actual expression of gratitude, which, until such expression, is only appreciation, an intellectual exercise. Whereas gratitude is an emotion, a resident of the heart, which it warms and comforts.
If you were going to write a fan letter, who would it be for?