The advice, now more cliche than sage, is to "write what you know."
Perhaps that's why many of you were so moved by Tim Brennan's account in last month's Seniority about his struggle with the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.
He truly was writing what he knows.
Many readers wrote or called us with praise for Tim's courage in opening his private life for examination so others could gain insight into the disease. Other readers, including a whole group of caregivers from Largo, wrote and asked for more from his diary.
We passed along your praise and comments to Tim Brennan, who lives in Michigan, but whose mother and brother live in Pinellas County.
I don't know Tim. Like you, I met him last month in Seniority, when I read words like this and wanted to cry: "You see, there is no cure for the disease. No miracle drugs are available to stop or slow down its progress. No operation can be scheduled to cut out the bad parts, helping to heal the good ones that are left."
But I do know Tim Brennan is unlike any writer I've met. Most of us have healthy egos; we might doubt our abilities at times, but not what we have to say or your desire to read it.
Not Tim. When one of my editors, Cynda Mort, wrote Tim to thank him for the article and pass along comments from readers, Tim said he was humbled.
"I am not a writer," he said in a letter to Cynda. "For caring people to want more of my small attempts at trying to describe a life which attempts to challenge Alzheimer's disease reinforces a feeling of humility and makes me totally aware of my communicative shortcomings."
We beg to differ. Tim Brennan is a writer. For some of us who are too often pretenders, we know he is the real thing.
Tim says he's not sure he will be able to provide more writing for us. He worries about the disease's progression. But he is considering your requests.
For now, here is another sample, from a letter Tim wrote that was published in a church bulletin after a priest praised Tim's article.
"My memory is exceedingly poor. Once, after forgetting to eat, forgetting to brush my teeth, forgetting to give Peggy (his wife) a message that someone called, forgetting to do something I was supposed to do at home, I left the house to go mail some letters and realized I locked myself out of the house.
"I then crawled though a kitchen window back into the house. I got my car keys and forgot the letters again. So I returned to the house, retrieved the letters and lost the car keys. I looked and looked for them and finally found them in the front door lock.
"I gave up trying to leave, and as tears started to well up in my eyes, I turned my head up to keep them from running down my face and with a sudden tremendous surge of pain, anguish and raw fury . . . I extended my arms upwards and yelled to the sky, "Why God, Why?'
"And with absolute quiet as an answer, I became immediately ashamed of it, for it was made known to me that God was crying, too.
"Three weeks later, as I slowly came out of a long, mentally fog-bound period, I began to understand that "Why' does not need to be a question; "Why' doesn't require frustration and anger as a driving force. "Why' can be a positive statement. It can be an affirmation of hope, of love. I then wrote the enclosed poem as I thought of Peggy's trials last fall.
"Tonight, just before falling asleep, I will thank God for giving me today. . ."
The poem he wrote includes this ending:
Thoughts are fleeting
and before they die,
The tries that failed
Without just alibi,
Were efforts to help
Simply gone awry.
My love is forever
And you are the why.