Before leaving for London, I wrote a letter to the people living in the house in Hampstead where I lived for a time in 1967, asking if they would allow me to come into their home and take a nostalgifying look around.
What follows is a peek into a writer’s process, tracking my efforts to make my letter to these people as persuasive as possible. It will also bring into question the writer’s character. Am I admirably meticulous? Or terminally anal? The decision on that matter will be yours. Though if you choose “anal”, I may not agreee.
For maximum enjoyment, print up the final version of the letter, and follow along as I delineate my writing decisions. To add an interactive component, play along, imagining what you would do in my place. Make a game of it, with scoring, a winner, and perhaps even a trophy.
It’s fun for the whole family.
And it’s free.
Okay, here we go.
Two hundred and fifty-seven words.
And what they went through to become the following final version of my request:
Dear 10 Church Row Homeowner(s),
My name is Earl Pomerantz. I am sixty-six years old, and I live in Santa Monica, California, a sort of beachside suburb of Los Angeles.
From December 1966 till July 1967, I lived in your house, renting a flat on your top floor, with a roommate, and later, moving down to a large room on the floor immediately below. Since then, on subsequent trips to London, I have made pilgrimages to Church Row many times, standing across the street from your home, wishing I could ring your bell, and request a brief visit to my past. To date, I have abstained from doing so, for fear of intruding on your privacy.
Now, from the upcoming Christmas Day until the following January 10th, my wife and I will have the pleasure of being in London once again. It was suggested to me that an appropriate approach to the proposal of a visit was to put my request in writing prior to my arrival.
This is that request.
If you are amenable to my dropping by, so I can show my wife where I once used to live, and also engage in a personal exercise in nostalgia, please contact me at (my private e-mail address), and let me know. It is certain that such a visit would be a substantial highlight of our trip.
I hope this request itself is not too much of an intrusion.
Wishing you and your family Happy Holidays, and a joyful New Year.
Okay, back to the top.
Dear 10 Church Row Homeowner(s)
I thought of “Dear The People Who Live At 10 Church Row”, but is sounded too cutesy. “To the Residents Living At 10 Church Row”, sounds like a foreclosure notice. “To Whom It May Concern” wafts the institutional vibe of a neighborhood fumigation announcement. I thought about “Hi, there”, but rejected it, as risking rubbing potentially stuffy English people the wrong way. I finally, though not entirely happily, settled on “Dear 10 Church Row Homeowner(s), bracketing the pluralizing “s” to avoid charges of “Man-of-the-house” sexism.
You see how complicated this is? And I’m still on the salutation.
I start with my name and my age, including the age to add weight to my request. “The man’s sixty-six. Who knows how long he’s got left?” I mentioned where I was from, including the more familiar “Los Angeles”, in case they don’t know where Santa Monica is. I could have said I was from Los Angeles, but that wouldn’t have been accurate; I’m from Santa Monica. Accuracy is important, don’t you think?
I informed them precisely when I lived at 10 Church Row, and alluded to the house’s layout, all to affirm my credibility, and by so doing, elude sounding like, “Hi, I’m a burglar, and I’d like you to let me in, so I could rob your house.” I then added,
“Since then, on subsequent trips to London, I have made pilgrimages to Church Row many times, standing across the street from your home, wishing I could ring your bell, and request a brief visit to my past.”
Can you imagine me, standing forlornly across the street? You’d let that guy in, wouldn’t you?
“To date, I have abstained from doing so, for fear of intruding on or privacy.”
Come on! I’m a sweetheart!
I then let them know when we’ll be in town, buttering them up, hopefully not too obviously, by saying,
“...my wife and I will have the pleasure of visiting London once again.”
I could have just said we’ll be “visiting London once again.” But I wanted them to know it was a pleasure.
“If you are amenable to my dropping by…”
“Amenable”, a second shot at it, felt like a fine, English-sounding word. It was originally “If you are open to my dropping by…” But I thought “amenable” was more “burgundy smoking jacket with leather patches”, so I changed it.
“It was suggested to me that an appropriate approach to the proposal of a visit…”
First, it was “a polite approach”, then, for a moment, “a respectful approach”, then, finally, it was “an appropriate approach.” It seemed better. In a country where they say things like, “It’s just not done!”, “appropriate” fits right in.
Also, check out my modus operendi. I didn’t inflict my will on the issue. I solicited suggestions on how to handle things. Appropriately.
“I hope this request itself is not too much of an intrusion.”
That one gave me some concern. Was I being sweetly solicitous? Or was I sucking up, to the point of parody?
“Wishing you and your family Happy Holidays, and a joyful New Year.”
Generic but respectful, alluding subtly to Christmas by capitalizing “happy” and “holidays.” Possibly too subtle, but I had nothing to lose. Capital letters come cheap.
Finally, the “sign-off. “ At first, I didn’t have one. But then, I went back , thinking English people expect a “sign-off.”
Hardly original. But better than “Yours truly” – I have never understood what that meant – and considerably better than the alternatives, “Take care, you guys” and “I’ll see you around.” “Cheerio” didn’t not even enter the picture.
It took me twenty minutes to write the original draft of the letter and two hours for the revisions, the proportion being not that different than when I’m writing my blog posts.
Did I make it better? I hope so. But I don’t know.
Did I make it better? I hope I did. But I really don’t know for sure.
Did I make it better? I think so. But I may be fooling myself.
Did I make it better? “Two hours” to make it worse? I have to believe I did.
Did I ma…”
I’ll let you know if I hear back.