CROSSROADS TO SOMEWHERE: Can Just Anyone Learn How to Write?

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By W.T. WIMPY HIROTO

CR2S is approached every now and again by students interested in journalism, or elders simply wanting to put pen to paper/fingers to keyboard. Encouraging and supportive, I always suggest making other inquiries and to seek additional advice; the more the better. Never forgetting to add the caveat: Do not enter if you have a desire to make money.

There is no such warning to pre-med, law, business, architecture or science students. Or any other field of interest, other than religion. Journalism had only secondary appeal until Watergate burst onto the national news scene. This short-lived popularity was soon overshadowed by television and eventually shoved under the bus by social media.

So when a Yonsei displays an unfettered interest in writing, it warms the cockles of my heart. While simultaneously making me feel guilty if I don’t delve deeper into the question of why. It’s kinda like someone pointing toward a future making chopsticks. (Do they still have wood shop in schools today?) Learning to bartend at least has a future; people will always drink. Or become a veterinarian; pets will outlast people.

I’m undoubtedly biased, but there is a purity about youngsters drawn to journalism; their seeming disregard for (immediate) financial reward gives them a leg up on being public servants. Which is a prerequisite to being a reporter. You’re certainly not in the game for personal glory or winning a Pulitzer. A byline would be the ultimate, and you can’t eat it. 

There was once a quota for (Nisei) students at SC School of Dentistry. Entrance into medical and law school wasn’t simply a matter of grades or finances, either. I’m sure architects, musicians and engineering old-timers can recite chapter and verse from the book of hard knocks. Whether a crown of thorns or not, prospective journalists are the only professionals initially disregarding monetary goals.

When someone inquires about becoming a columnist, that’s when I take off my glasses, pour a flute of champagne, sigh, and confess, “I really don’t know how it’s done.”

I remember a creative writing teacher telling us that everyone, e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e, had at least two past experiences worthy of a magazine article. This was when slick publications proliferated, with the advent of Confidential, Playboy, and paperbacks. Every newspaper in the country, large, small and weekly, had innumerable specialized columnists. Today’s lack of space, including entertainment and sports, has drastically reduced byline opportunities. Oddly, the electronic wasteland that is the blogosphere has taken up some slack. That’s because the vast majority in this element are amateurs and it’s usually free of charge.

Never having ventured into this new realm of creativity, CR2S can offer no help, leads or references to interested youngsters – or oldsters – for that matter. How so many can freely and easily create (and subsequently be read) is beyond my comprehension.

But you know, inevitably, every conversation/correspondence I engage in turns to the challenge of how to translate thoughts into words onto paper. If it is a talent, I can’t explain or describe. If it was learned, it wasn’t at J-school. Born to write? Maybe. My mother wrote haiku and my father could whistle “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.” The ability to drink, a sometime writer’s prerequisite, was a gene I inherited. 

With apology and a modicum of modesty, I was a fairly bright student who started kindergarten early and skipped fifth grade in grammar school. But certainly wasn’t a nerd, geek or Mensa. For no discernible reason, I started to keep a daily account of thoughts and activities from age 13; the diary covered December 1941 to April ’52. I did not work on any high school newspaper staff or yearbook.

Three years of overseas duty were not spent very wisely, but I was the go-to guy who ghosted responses for GI “Dear John” losers. Enrolling in junior college because I didn’t have a clue of where I was going, I inexplicitly began to devour English literature at the city library. It was my introduction to reading, of any genre; which mysteriously translated into a USC journalism major. And as they say on the radio, the rest is history.

Now to be found as a weekly feature of The Rafu Shimpo. 

While the majority of my Nisei compatriots — and there is/was a wide and noted range of them — wound up highly successful by whatever measuring rod you wish to apply, most all of them are now sadly deceased. I win out on the basis of longevity; which we all agree is not something to brag about. Many of them made a whole slew of money, drove big cars and lived in bigger homes. Again, a whole lot of nothing if you’re not alive.

Not meaning to gloat, nor suffer the wrath of widows, but the few who remain would trade places with me in a Boyle Heights minute. All the renown and money in the world can’t buy this cherished newspaper space. It’s more exclusive than a gated community. And it’s where CR2S gets to write about anybody, anything, anytime. Now if that ain’t the epitome of unprotected flimflam foolery, it’ll do until next week.  Sayonara, you all.

 W.T. Wimpy Hiroto can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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