What I got back, some thirty years after the fact, was a photocopy of the original letter I wrote. I wrote it to try and get a young friend of mine into the University of Southern California film school. The original was spit out of a tractor feed printer, and I confess I missed the tiny flanges of paper that used to connect that strip of holes. I remember how I composed it on my mother's computer, on Wordstar, a program I barely understood but I wanted to make this thing look as impossibly impressive and professional as possible. Beyond the technical aspects, I strove to put as much heart and soul into this letter as I could, ensuring my good friend of a safe and prosperous future and a career that would take him places about which we only dared to dream.
My friend didn't make it into USC. I blame the admissions office. I blame Wordstar. I blame myself. The good news is that he doesn't seem to blame me. He ended up at the University of Colorado, the same fine institution that gave me my Creative Writing degree. He graduated from the School of Engineering. Graduated. No real thanks to me, but he kept the letter.
All those years.
When I looked at it again, through the haze of middle age and all the time that has passed, I thought of all the other letters I had written since. Written for friends. Written for people with whom I am friendly. For school. For jobs. For jobs in school. Letters with effusive praise and appreciation, none of which was faked or inflated. I like to tell myself that it was my skill as a wordsmith, working with something other than Wordstar, that made the difference when those who received those letters sat back in their chairs and said, "Well, after reading this I can't see how we could imagine a more qualified candidate."
Sometimes I wrote these letters begrudgingly, sending a colleague off on a new track or a path that I might have investigated myself if I weren't so very, very busy.
Writing letters of recommendation.
But mostly I'm happy that I can have an impact on the lives of those around me. I am almost always flattered when the opportunity arises, and I only wish that I could guarantee that my words and the way I string them together would be enough to put the subject of that letter over the top. And my most sincere apologies to those of whom I failed. I hope your life had another twist or turn that my letter from being the bane of your existence.
Thank you for your consideration.