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Commentary: A writer is who I am

June 14, 2012|By Denny Freidenrich

One night over dinner, my good friend Craig, a terrific photographer, asked me why I write so much. My immediate reaction was to say, "Because I can." My measured reply was more to the point: "Because I have to."

This wasn't always the case when Craig and I attended USC.

Forty years ago, I was a young congressional staff assistant on Capitol Hill. In those days, Richard Nixon was trying to bring an honorable end to the Vietnam War. He also was fighting with the U.S. Civil Rights Commission — a fact I could not ignore. So what did I do? Uncharacteristically, I wrote my first letter to the editor. To my surprise, the Washington Post printed it word for word.

Buoyed by this success, I found myself writing another letter the following year when Lyndon Johnson died. I had moved back to Laguna by then, so reading my letter in the Los Angeles Times was a big thrill. Having neighbors respond to my thoughts was equally exciting.

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From 1972 to 1979, I was lucky enough, or clever enough, to have nine letters to the editor published in various newspapers and magazines around the country. Despite the fact I had no formal training as a writer, I was beginning to find my voice in print. I admit it was squeaky at first; still, it was mine. It was about this time I decided to raise the volume a bit. I tried my hand at writing commentaries.

The first few came rather easily. An anniversary tribute to the Beatles, an opinion piece about Jimmy Carter, thoughts about young voters and more rolled off the page like water from a spout. Then, without warning, I lost my voice. By the mid-1980s, I couldn't write to save my life. More to the point, I couldn't get anything published.

During this literary dry spell, I was spending the bulk of my time changing diapers or looking for work. Either way, I voluntarily gave up the pen in favor of being a father and making a living. I don't regret the choices I made. I just wish I could have figured out a way to write some editorials late at night.

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