Now that makes me groan...and guffaw

I make no claims outside the usual for my writing. But I am always pleasantly surprised at how many folks read my spewings and then approach me on the street to tell me (usually) they like the column and agree with most of my sentiments.

The mailed responses, gratifying in a slightly different way, are interesting, too. But about half of the folks who write in have harsher things to say about my scrawlings.

I understand that. The "normal" person doesn't want to walk up to you and say, "Boy, you stink."

But that same modest soul has no trouble dashing off an angry e-mail or letter. Hey, it goes with the territory. I accept all but physical abuse.

Once, in Hawaii, I received a blown-up, photocopied of my column, with attendant red marks, from a retired English teacher who said she liked my style but bemoaned my grammatical incompetence.

Style and grammar are two different - I would say separate - items. I am what teachers used to label a "natural" writer. I've always read, always had an opinion and always had my own way of presenting said views, orally and on paper.

But grammar - at least the way it was taught by nuns with rulers at the parochial schools my parents forced me to attend - struck me as boring at those times when the nuns weren't striking me in a punitive fashion.

The attention I paid to all those complicated diagrams up on the blackboard was sporadic, and even after 30 years of writing for money, my periodic, long-ago spells of inattention cause me embarrassment more than some might think is seemly.

So I welcomed the old teacher's ministrations to my tangled prose. She seemed surprised when I called her and asked her to review a month's worth of my scribblings. She did it, though, and we struck up a paper-and-pencil relationship that last almost until I fled the rock for the mainland.

I started out as a reporter, but I've been a columnist now for more than 10 years. Along the way I've met a lot of other columnists, and almost all of them enjoy reader response.

Good or bad, your letters and on-the-street approaches are, if they seem genuine, appreciated, because it means somebody is listening and sometimes even thinking about something we've written.

I've also taught writing at some stops along the job-path way.

I was a tutor for football players at a Midwestern university, trying manfully to keep them academically eligible.

I've also taught writing and reading comprehension at a Washington- state work release to area criminals who were being reintegrated (so we hoped) into society.

I've taught journalism at a large (40,000 students) public university in Ohio, and I've taught feature and fiction writing at seminars in Hawaii and junior colleges in rural Hawaii and rural Idaho.

Along the way, I've discovered a reflection of my love in writing in some students in some unlikely places.

I've also seen exaggerated cases of my aversion to grammar, the most flagrant of whom was one of my gridiron charges, who, when asked to write a 750-word (only three typed pages) paper reviewing his previous summer, took an extra week and then gave me two scrawled (in pencil), loose-leaf sheets featuring one capital letter - on the first word - and one punctuation mark, a period, at the very end of his boring screed.

I flunked him, and the coaches found a new, more pliable tutor.

But in this world of reality television, Internet blogs and cable movie channels, I more and more feel like one of those late-19th-century blacksmiths whose highly respected trade was obviously going the way of alchemy.

People seldom come up to their plumber, dentist or architect and say, "When I retire, I'm gonna fix toilets, fix molars or fix EMP."

But many, many folks tell me that when their last day of toil is done, they are going to sit down and write the story of the Post Office, or the grocery market chain that has enslaved them for wages lo all these years.

Writing well, or even correctly, isn't all that easy. I love it, but I fear it some, too. And it doesn't get easier if more and more readers don't - read, that is. There's little point in shoeing horses if all the riders are on the bus.

Now you may fall in line with the reader who stirred this column by saying I'm too pessimistic by half.

But I can show you.

Pamela An-derson - the tattooed, artificially enhanced, blond bombshell who has done more bad movies than the Mariners have lost games this year - has written a novel.

But unlike any other novel I've ever heard of (even Danielle Steel writes her own books), Anderson's opus, her fiction, the product of her imagination, was ghostwritten.

Pamela told a pop weekly that she didn't find hiring a "ghost" that odd.

"Well, there are things I don't really know about, like sentence structure, a beginning, a middle and an end. All those hard things," Anderson said.

Dear readers, I rest my case.

Freelance columnist Dennis Wilken can be reached via e-mail at needitor

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