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by Robert Roth
“To a good friend, thank you for your support.” “To a writer I greatly admire, thank you for your support,” “To someone who has inspired me over the years, thank you for your support.” “To someone I've just met but feel I've known forever, thank you for your support.” For the most part people who have written massive books, eloquent essays, a thousand magnificent haiku usually don’t come up with anything more than that. So that is what people mostly say. I certainly feel good when someone writes some version of that to me.
The first time I was asked for an autograph was at Queens College where an extremely friendly middle-aged woman, an alumnus, asked me to autograph a column I had written for the school paper. I wrote something nice to her and she thanked me very warmly.
Since then writing inscriptions has been one of my favorite art forms. It could be on an article, a copy of a magazine or a book I've written or an anthology I'm a part of.
I could write beautiful and original inscriptions. It usually was brief or pretty brief and to the point. And I could always capture something special about the person or about the moment we were sharing. I could focus in and even if I had just met the person a second before, I could write something very particular to them, maybe a bit playful, maybe extremely serious, always with some feeling of appreciation. If it was someone I knew better it would be that much more meaningful and spot on.
At one book signing I wrote absolutely individual inscriptions to each person. There may have been fifty people lined up. Some of whom I had just met. My mind focused into each person; I was totally locked in.
Of course what might resonate in the moment, might make absolutely no sense five months later. “Sounds nice but what was he referring to?” “Purple what purple?”
For reasons I am unsure of I've lost this gift. Once in a while I still get it right. But that is the exception. What happens instead is I get an idea that feels specific to the person and then almost immediately I get all tangled up. As I try to untangle myself the comment gets longer and longer and increasingly more convoluted as I try to work my way back to the original idea. At times it's so hopeless I need to switch gears in mid sentence and go off in an entirely new direction. I try as much as possible not to cross out too many words. When I'm done I get bewildered looks, a kind of a smile, since the intent is obviously positive, but no one holds the book to their chest anymore.