Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Goodbye, friend, and thank you
I just learned today that Southern California journalist and Topanga's own man of letters, Al Martinez, passed away Monday. He was 85. Al had been a columnist for the LA Times since 1985. He had also written for many other Southern California print and online publications.
I knew of Al because he wrote of Topanga Canyon, the community where he and his family had made their home since the early '70s, and where I have lived since the mid '90s. His writing made me feel a part of here.
I also knew Al because in the fall of 2012 I pulled a tab off a flyer thumbtacked to a bulletin board at Pat's Topanga Grill that said "Topanga Writers Workshops" and called the number. For a couple of months, I attended Al's Writers Workshops at his home, up the hill from my house in Topanga's "Post Office Tract" neighborhood.
The first time I attended, I realized I had another connection with Al - his wife Joanne had been a member of a book club I'd participated in sporadically a few years earlier. A smart, intelligent woman with incisive comments about the books we read, she was intriguing, yet during those years I didn't really take the time to know her well. This will teach me - and I hope it teaches those who read this - don't overlook people you encounter. You could be bypassing jewels.
Al was a wonderful guy, and very encouraging in his workshops to a novice writer like me. He gave me great feedback and strong praise for the embryonic works I submitted to him. But he didn't give specific criticism about structure or form or voice, or all those technical details I felt I needed; nor were his workshops a collaborative environment where students critiqued one another. Al followed a different kind of model, one that was not like the writing classes I'd attended at college. So, eventually, I told Al I thought I might take a break from his workshops, and check out the classes at the UCLA Extension Writing Program.
I often thought about going back, but I didn't. When I decided to apply for MFA programs, I thought about asking Al for a letter, but I also didn't. I told myself it was because it would be an imposition, since I hadn't spent that much time with him. I told myself it was because his health was fragile, which by that time, it was quite obvious that it was.
And I also felt a little ashamed at having abandoned his workshops.
And now, I feel even more ashamed. Because, when it really comes down to it, I didn't really do Al justice.
Though he didn't help me tinker with structure or form or voice or all those things that writing classes give you - what Al gave me was unconditional confirmation that I am a writer. He gave me the confidence and the motivation to go forward to do what I hope to do in the next years.
Thank you, Al, and go softly. What you gave me was the spark, the start. Who could give me more than that? I am so grateful to you.
UPDATE: Another memory of Al, from a better writer than me, Patt Morrison. I'll have a vodka martini, straight up, with an olive, for you, Al.