Saturday, September 27, 2008
R.I.P., Paul Newman
A year or so ago, I posted here about writing fan letters, and I made a list of people whose work or lives have inspired me enough that I feel an obligation to express my admiration and gratitude to them. I don't remember how close to the top of my list he was, but I actually wrote Paul Newman a fan letter last month, and finally put it in the mail a couple of weeks ago. Somebody had shown me a recent picture of him looking frail and I thought, better get this done before it's too late.
Paul Newman died yesterday. I have no idea whether or not he got my letter. In my narcissistic writer mind, I imagine he did, and the letter killed him. With kindness. If he did read it, I hope he felt, wow, I really have touched people's lives in some way he'd never quite felt it before. The letter mostly emphasized how his life has enriched mine, from movie moments I'll never forget, to witnessing his political activism, to the inspiration of the Hole In The Wall Gang camps for kids, to the good food, good works, and good packaging copy generated by Newman's Own. And I told him that he made me feel better about getting older, which is no mean feat.
I sent the letter to the Newman's Own address, and included a piece I'd written for an "encouragement project" at Hallmark. As fan letters go, it was pretty damn good, I must say. I really hope somebody got it to him.
And I hope anyone who reads this will take the time to tell someone who has inspired you what that inspiration means. These people aren't always going to be around.
I never told David Foster Wallace how his work blew my mind, and then it was suddenly too late. You can't anticipate an early exit like that, and I'm not saying a fan letter can prevent it. But it's worth doing. It feels satisfying to have gotten this one out before Paul Newman died, even if he never saw it. At least I didn't leave it on the table.
I hereby hoist a Fig Newman in honor of a great actor, humanitarian, and all-around cool cat. Man, them's good eatin'.
So this week, I'm picking a writer. What do I really want to say to...Philip Roth? Robert Bly? Billy Collins? Or Annie Proulx? It had better be good.