By Robert Ross

"Writers live twice. They go along with their regular life, are as fast as anyone in the grocery store, crossing the street, getting dressed for work in the morning. But there's another part of them that they have been training. The one that lives everything a second time. That sits down and sees their life again and goes over it. Looks at the texture and the details."
                        Writing Down the Bones  by Natalie Goldberg


It's early afternoon, my wife and I decide to do something that we don't ordinarily do in the afternoon go to a movie. It was one of those spur of the moment things, and in the process we thought we could save a little money, avoid the crowds and have some fun.

Tickets for the afternoon matinee were $7.50 each. So much for saving money. But, there were no crowds so we continued on with our adventure. Once inside, it was time to hit the snack bar. After all, what's an afternoon matinee without some goodies. One medium popcorn $3.25! Well, I think to myself, maybe if I order one small soda pop, I can get out of this "spur of the moment, save a little money" adventure for less than twenty bucks! I must have been dreaming. The four or five ounces of sugar water was $2.75.

On the upside, the movie was entertaining (Men in Black). After the movie, as we exited the theater, the little voice inside became noticeable. It urged me to talk with the manager. Twenty-one dollars for an afternoon movie was unacceptable in my book so I had to let someone know.

I guess I still live in a movie dream world that was inspired by the Mesa Theater in Los Angeles. When I was a kid, Sunday afternoons at the Mesa would set you back nine cents. My two older sisters and I would stop at Thrifty Drug Store, buy three big thick suckers for five cents each, then make the mile walk to the Mesa Theater for a two-movie matinee. The entire cost for three people, including food (in this case, suckers) was forty-two cents. I know, I know, that was a few years back. But, twenty-one dollars!

So I asked the manager for the name and address of a higher up. It was time to write a letter. I envisioned this corporate executive working in one those glass/metal looking buildings in the big city. After arriving home, I flipped on my computer and began to, as Natalie Goldberg stated in her book (Writing Down the Bones), "relive my experience, go over the texture and the details." I did what writers do, express myself by writing.

The following day, the letter was completed, and a copy was sent to the manager of the theater mission accomplished. A week later, another problem cropped up. The mail was delivered to my house at around six P.M. Six P.M. is an unacceptable delivery time. The letter writing process repeated itself. And so it goes. A life spent, reliving and reviewing, a life spent writing . . . of capturing thoughts and images, of capturing texture. A life that I've come to accept.

William Zinsser stated in his book On Writing Well, "writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time." William Zinsser knows the reality of writing. The "quick letter" that I wrote to the movie theater corporate offices was probably written and rewritten five times, then slept on, and then rewritten one final time. The letter to the post office required an equal amount of work. One must deal with sentence structure, grammar, and spelling in addition to clarity of thought and an accurate description of events. And most importantly, the question "why" has to be examined and answered. Why am I writing this, what do I want?

I think most writers will agree that there are two rewards that accompany each writing project. The first reward is in the writing itself. An idea comes to mind. Twenty-one bucks . . . hey, what's going on here? What about the Mesa Theater? What about the nine cents that it used to cost? Taking those thoughts and putting them into a coherent letter is a challenge with its reward being the satisfaction of achieving the goal. When a letter or any writing project is complete, there is a feeling of fulfillment that is difficult to describe. Out of nothing, from words that seem to be floating in the air, the writer strings together an idea like a jewelry maker would string together a necklace. And if it's done well, the end reward is a feeling of completeness, wholeness and satisfaction.

I'd like to say that my letter to the movie theater executive resulted in a change in corporate policy a drop in prices but in this case, there was no response. Which brings me to the second reward. The second reward comes in having your work acknowledged or responded to in some way.

Last year I received an E-mail from someone who said that they had cut out the column I had written and carried it with them for two weeks. The writing had impacted them. This person thanked me by E-mail. That "thank you" was, and is, cherished by me. In many cases, that's why I write. The thank you that I received completed the process, it was, the second reward. I write for the satisfaction of writing and also to be heard, to be acknowledged, to be appreciated. These are rewards well worth the work.

Fulfillment, satisfaction and acknowledgment, reliving experiences, going over the texture and the details is a writer's life. And, it's worth the effort. But I'll tell ya, I still can't believe the cost of the matinee . . . I mean when I was a kid . . .

Robert Ross  can be reached at

Copyright 1997, by Robert Ross, all rights reserved

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