On Reading ‘Listen, World!: How the Intrepid Elsie Robinson Became America’s Most-Read Woman’ by Allison Gilbert and Julia Scheeres

Elsie Robinson (1883-1956) was an unforgettable writer whose nationally syndicated column “Listen, World!” spanned over 30 years and garnered more than 20 million readers. Yet, her legacy has not met with the justice of recognition, forgotten in the careless oblivion under the shadows of her contemporary starry women writers. Nelie Bly was sensational as an undercover in a mental asylum and an ambitious challenger to Phileas Fogg of Around the World in 80 days. But Elsie Robinson was a champion of writers whose heartfelt writings touched the finer tissues of the millions of hearts who found solace and support in her words. She was honest, and her words were real, alive, and alike, and there was none other like her.

Robinson was my kind of model writer who wrote from her experience and heart. Edgar Allan Poe would praise a type of writer with a passion for intoxicating the heart and the truth to satisfy reason. The fates had let her go through trials of life, but her mind exceeded the compass of her wheels. She didn’t mind working as a miner as a single mother before a tide of fortune finally took her to her literary career in the Oakland Tribune. While her peers and contemporary writers took the naval-gazing, angst-ridden narratives a la mode, Robinson used her writing to communicate with readers seeking elbow room in her column. They recognized themselves in the plight of a stranger and found commonalities in it, making them feel that they were not uniquely flawed. I guess that’s why Robinson didn’t get recognition as much as her contemporary peers, who enjoyed the stardom of literary legacy. She wanted to tell her woebegone readers their problems were not theirs but yours, mine, and ours.

Like Kurt Vonnegut, Robinson wanted to let readers know that to express ourselves in the form of art is to allow our souls to grow, however poor or good, by encouraging us to write our own columns. In that regard, blogging is a great platform to express one’s artistic self without fear of rejection or ridicule, freed from the devil’s advocates of literary purists intent upon finding grammar faults in anyone’s writings. To that end, Robinson is a scintillating writer with an eye for truth and a heart for passion – like the sun in the twilight, remitting the splendor while retaining magnitude, dazzling the eyes of the beholders with the hearts’ contents. As a result, Robinson has become one of my darling writers.

Who is the patron saint of the Internet?

The Internet is a vast open ocean of knowledge ranging from how to fix your clogged toilet and where to find the nearest dry cleaners to the meaning of language you have no idea about and to the year when the world came to being (4004 B.C., just so if you are curious.) Not that the Internet has obliterated the places of encyclopedias or dictionaries, but it has outranked popularity for its convenience with your fingertips without getting your fingers flipping pages after pages. So when I came across an article that the Catholic Church has a patron saint for the Internet, my pique spurred me to write about it.

It is no other than St. Isidore of Seville, a man of God who was keen on anything in the world’s knowledge. His ambition to know everything was sanctified in making Etymologiae, meaning Origins. It is a significant encyclopedia on everything from grammar to medicine, law, religion, and war. But that doesn’t end it. It encompasses pace, animals, ships, clothes, etc. Until the renaissance, the 20–volume magnum opus was a chief reference book in Europe. In the 1990s, a group of Catholics related Isidore’s achievement to the Internet, which the late Pope John Paul Second agreed with but didn’t extend to the patron-saint naming process.

I think it’s fitting to regard Isidore as a Parton saint of the Internet in a religious hint of expectation that he will use his spiritual guardianship of the Internet productively and extensively. Naive as I may be, I hope there will be more pros than cons to using the Internet for knowledge of the world. You don’t have to be Catholic, of course. That would be like refusing to serve someone at a restaurant or a fast food joint because they are different from you.

Auto-correction and Titivillus

Writing has never been easier these days than in the bygone days before the advent of the computer. If you are unsure about how to spell “Tomato,” then the computer will spell it for you by way of auto-correction. And it can even reconstruct your sentences like a pro. The magic is inside the computer, as if it has a mind and even a soul, as it were. This wizardly power of auto-correction can sometimes, however, lead you to an embroglio of nonsense, especially when writing emails or tweeting. Quite devilish, so I think and wonder: are things like auto-correction and the likes a wicked invention of science or science of diabolical existence? Hence, I am talking about Titivillus, the patron demon of scribes.

The birth of Titivillus could trace back to the 13th century when Franciscan theologian John of Wales pinpointed the malicious demonic trickery for the scriber’s mistakes. That’s not a footless excuse for the faux-pas made in a beautifully ornamented medieval script. In medieval times, copying the passages of the Holy Scripture was a painfully punctilious task for a monk to accomplish with perfect penmanship and exquisite illuminations. And the job cost a good amount of his youth with arched back, squinted eyes, and cramped arms and fingers, not in the least due to the time spent scribing. Toiling (even though for the glory of God) and Rejoicing (for the joy of self-fulfillment), Sorrowing always hoovers over the glories. Titivillus often brings this Sorrowing by making the scriber err in labor, such as misspelling or miscopying. When that happens, a corrector scraped off with a penknife or an acidic solution was applied to loosen the ink. Or sometimes he just made little dots under a wrong word, meaning the reader should ignore that bit. In case of more significant errors, the passages were sometimes lined through, and the correction was written in the margin or copied on a smaller piece of parchment and glued into the book.

To think of it, Titivillus has not returned to the Ninth Circle of Hell, always making himself a reason to stay as long as humanity continues writing. Writer’s block is a dark cloud hovering over the soul’s palace, the dome of thoughts. Philological carbuncles, including misspellings and awkward syntax, combine the demon’s interruption and the writer’s fear of writing. The fear is more than devilish trickery or neurotic obsession because it stifles creativeness and imagination of the writer. Still, I cannot help but think that today Titivillus manifests himself in the form of auto-correction, which can change the entire meaning of a whole sentence, often most embarrassingly and awkwardly. You agree?