Yep! I just got word that I will be giving a letter writing seminar at the Philadelphia Pen Show on Saturday, January 12 at 3 PM. I am really hoping that those who can come out will. I am looking forward to my (hopefully) upgraded presentation from the DC show!
Truth be told, I have not read this book, but I hope to buy it soon (regardless of the Amazon review).
For the uninitiated, Hildegard of Bingen was a Christian Mystic, a Benedictine Abbess, and a polymath. I have known about her for many years due to the Anonymous 4 recording of her music. As a former student of classical composition at Rutgers University, I was blown out of the water by her approach and skill. While I would never consider myself in the same league as her, I dabble in many fields and am intrigued in what her letters would be like. The time period and religious hierarchy must have been rather hard for her amazing presence as a woman and her letters formal. Still, I am curious as to her ability to stand her ground within it all. Should be a good read....
One of my favorite all time writers is Samuel Beckett. I tried thee times to put on a production of "Waiting for Godot" (I was to be Vladimir) but the wheels always fell off.
Regardless, here is a book of his letters. It is three volumes. I have one of them but... well, it is Beckett and one tends to be disappointed when ones delves too deep within the personal life of one's heroes.
While I am adverse to put love letter writing on this blog (in no time it would progress to 50 Shades of Grey stuff) I cannot help but put up something about the writings of George Carlin to his wife, Sally Wade. I have not read or brought the book, but I have seen selections. It is sweet and the act of writing someone you are spending your life with is rather amazing. The reviews on Amazon seem to be pretty mixed.
For your viewing pleasure: http://www.lettersofnote.com/2011/04/romantic-mr-carlin.html
Sorry it has been so long since my last post. Lots going on and there is never any time.
Here is something I bought that I think is amazing. The amazing comdianne Dawn French decided to write the story of her life via writing letters to people, both living and dead. The letters to her late father, especially one in particular, are soul crushing. The style is, to me, so unique, because she is telling her life's tale by addressing different people. Beautiful.
Well what can one say besides how amazing it is to have the letters of the great American author Ernest Hemingway restored! I have always found the letters of great writers and artists to be inspirational.
Here is the new article:http://ca.news.yahoo.com/dear-papa-luminaries-letters-ernest-hemingway-undergo-painstaking-070417232.html
There was a classic interview with Hemingway in the New Yorker where he said, "I want to mail a lot of letters to my friends and I want to get a lot of letters back!" When Hemingway has a hard time getting a reply, yikes!
I am sitting here watching the amazing French film "Diva" and realizing that the composer Erik Satie had some amazing letters. Calling Erik Satie a composer is like calling a butterfly an insect. I will not go into his eccentric nature as that can be found very readily online, but I will say this: He was a man that was known to have only dated one woman his whole life, Suzanne Valadon. After that, his intimacy to the outside world must have been through letters. I actually had the luck to stay in the apartment across the street where the whole incident with Ms.Valadon happened.
Regardless, here is a letter of Satie's for your reading:
I am still trying to find the artist that inspired me to paint with words in my letters. I thought it was Fredric Remington, but, after doing some research, I do not think so. Still, here is a link to some of his rather amazing illustrated letters:
The difference between formality and politeness
is often a point of confusion for those from relatively informal
cultures. On the other hand, those who have been brought up in
relatively formal circumstances often experience discomfort and even,
over the long-term, disenchantment, in less formal circumstances.~Wikipedia "Formality"
As the personal letter is a form of communication that can be described as a slow motion conversation, perhaps the question that must be asked is how much formality is needed within a conversation. As communication is a matter of function, one must ask if the situation of the personal letter between friends is in need of any formality. Kicking out a predisposed framework can lead one to feel helpless. But this does not seem to be so with the letter.
difference between formality and politeness is often a point of
confusion for those from relatively informal cultures. On the other
hand, those who have been brought up in relatively formal circumstances
often experience discomfort and even, over the long-term,
disenchantment, in less formal circumstances.
If history as anything to show about this, the personal correspondence between people (without severe psychiatric issues, and I do not mean that in a snarky way) has always seemed to follow a general structure, most likely based on the desire for receiving the information as quickly as possible.
The following is from the book, The First Man" by Albert Camus, published after his death. This letter, and the reply from his teacher, are included with the book.
He wrote this fresh from his speech in Stockholm
accepting the Nobel Prize for literature. He had this to say to his former
Dear Monsieur Germain,
I let the commotion around
me these days subside a bit before speaking to you from the bottom of my
heart. I have just been given far too great an honor, one I neither
sought nor solicited. But when I heard the news, my first thought, after
my mother, was of you. Without you, without the affectionate hand you
extended to the small poor child that I was, without your teaching, and
your example, none of all this would have happened. I don't make too
much of this sort of honor. But at least it gives me an opportunity to
tell you what you have been and still are for me, and to assure you that
your efforts, your work, and the generous heart you put into it still
live in one of your little schoolboys who, despite the years, has never
stopped being your grateful pupil.
I embrace you with all my heart.
As someone who loves Camus and believes in the unique beauty and power of the personal letter, this is amazing.
think I should state here that what I will be writing/talking about is:
The Personal Letter as Part of a Correspondence. So when I talk about
"the letter" I mean it in terms of a written verbal dialogue between two
people. Given this definition, a few words need to be said as a
“ If I write it down.....it has to mean something.” ~an actual quote from a 17 year old student when I asked him why he does not write letters.
awaken each day in the opening moments of the 21st century to find
communication between people to be omnipresent. EVERYONE seems to be
communicating ALL THE TIME!
I can count on one hand how many times a gas station attendant has NOT
been on the phone when I have been getting gas! Everyone with a cell
phone between the ages of 11 and 30 seems to be always texting or
updating their social media account every three nanoseconds . So many
people are communicating at a rate that only 20 years ago would have
seemed like a dream from Philip K Dick via a Halcion side effect.
Hollywood there is a saying, “Faster, cheaper, better. You can only
have two.” While such a paradigm cannot be applied to everything, it
could very well be applied to personal communication. Instant
gratification has a price tag. Why wait? (Ooops, hold on. I gotta check
will not say anything bad about the new speed of communication via the
computer age. Like ink and paper, it is simply an invention whose time
has come. Besides, I am typing this on a laptop! One should not bite the
digital hand that feeds.
is not an expository or creative writing class, but a brief seminar on
the personal letter. Becoming better at the mechanics of grammar and
spelling and such are well beyond the scope of this meeting. However, I
STRONGLY suggest that if one feels the need to get better on such
matters, PLEASE go and take a class with a good teacher. I cannot state
which class to take, but it would give to logic that a creative writing
course, in its focus on description and story development, would be the
place to go.
In the present world, there still seems to be a desire for letters to be read. The desire for
letters is there. But whatever time technology saves us (ONLINE DMV CAR
REGISTRATION!!! THANK YOU GOD!), usually gets swallowed whole by
something else, our human natures directing us to that which requires
the least amount of effort. We are in an age where we barely have to
leave the couch to pay our bills, order our clothing and movies, and
basically amuse ourselves to death. "Oh, a letter takes time and I don't
have that kind of time." Yeah, okay, you have watched three hours of
cute kitten videos that have made your brain cells atrophy. Yeah,
putting on your ipod and writing a letter to someone would have been a
REAL waste of time! (BUT THOSE KITTENS SO CUTE WHEN THEY TRY TO GET OUT
OF THAT PAPER BAG!)
there is an entire type of psychological therapy called therapeutic
letter writing. Let me repeat that. Letter writing is used as a form of
therapy! Pen to paper linking up to the inner narrative yet again.
the past 20 years we have seen personal communication take
unprecedented leaps in speed and decrease in cost. Long distance calls,
that which could run into the most terrifying of amounts is now free,
along with video communication via the internet. Video and audio in real
time. Free. Let us not wonder why the letter (and even phone calls,
thanks to texting and social media) have been placed in the "used bin"
of technology. But in that act lies the odd shift. Texting, digital text
on a tiny screen, is less personal than a phone call, a human interactive voice on the other end yet it is more
popular than calling. A call MEANS something, it is an investment of
time and in real time with a real person. We have chosen the least
intimate of all options. If the simple phone call has been shoved aside
because it carries too much weight, how much more the letter! Yet,
thankfully, it survives.
Part Two : A Horribly Brief, Unnecessarily Eurocentric, but Kinda Cool History of Written Communication
I would like to focus, at least for a few moments, on the fact that,
while communication is evident throughout Nature in both animals and
insects, it is the human race that has the ability to write it down.
Communication is, according to the dictionary, theimparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs. Lesion
studies in patients with Gerstmann’s syndrome (a neurological disorder
that is characterized by a constellation of symptoms that suggests the
presence of a lesion in a particular area of the brain) have pointed to
the parietal cortex (the part of the brain that integrates sensory
information) as being critical for writing.This
study at Stanford University showed that the left parietal cortex was
involved in writing. This thing that we do all the time is still a
mystery, yet it is a built in part of us. A unique part of our brain is used when communicating through writing.
us take this one step further. That drive we have within us to
translate what we have in our brains, our consciousness, into the
physical world pre-dates written language. The Cave Art from the Cave of
El Castillo is said to be over 40,000 years old. Before language there
was a desire to take a reflection of the outside world via perception
and transcribe it. It seems that mankind has always had the desire to
make concrete what was going on inside.
So perhaps there is something to be said by our need to communicate, to get it out. We are hardwired for it.
PART THREE: A REALLLLY Brief and REALLLLLLLY Fast Basic History of the Letter
oldest known relative to contemporary paper is from China from about
200 BC and was used as a substitute for silk. However, Papyrus goes back
to about 300 BC and was, over time, taken up by the Greek and Romans.
Romans used what is called Atramentum librarium to write with and, with
paper and a black substance, you get the letter! There are, thankfully,
VOLUMES, of letters from Roman times, two examples being those of the
Roman Orator Cicero (January 3, 106 BC – December 7, 43 BC) whose
letters helped with the Renaissance many years later, and the Roman
emperor Marcus Aurelius(April
26, 121 A.D. – March 17, 180 A.D.). While these men were in no way part
of the common people, give them a read when you can and you can see how
the behavior of the personal lives of humanity do not change very much
if one needs a piece of evidence of the power of the letter amongst the
common people,at this same time, one need look no further than than the
New Testament where the letters of Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jude
helped provide the architecture for Christianity. Unlikely this kind of
thing could have been done with a text.
hundreds and hundreds of years, the written word was available and
used. But this was usually limited to those who had an education and
money (i.e. you were not laboring 15 hours a day in a field or at some
other type of agrarian work). While the poor who wrote personal letters
wrote of the day to day, the wealthy and powerful, keeping alignment
with the Roman habit, wrote personal letters for each other as well as
letters made with the idea being that they would be read and reread as
part of history long after they were gone.
forward about 1800 years when technology finally takes a bump up
allowing paper and ink to become more readily available via wood pulp.
At this time you have more and more people getting educated, better
technologies for transportation, and things get rolling.
1922, Mary Owens Crowther wrote a book called “”How to Write Letters”
which you can now download for free on the internet. In it she states as
follows, “The heyday of letter writing was in the eighteenth century in
England. George Saintsbury, in his interesting ‘A Letter book’ says,
‘By common consent of all opinion worth attention that century was in
the two European literatures which were equally free from crudity and
decadence-French and English-the very palmiest days of the art.
Everybody wrote letters, and a surprising number of people wrote letters
well. our own most three most famous epistolers of the male sex,
Horace, Walpole, Grey and Cowper-belong wholly to it; and ‘Lady
Mary’-our most famous she-ditto-belongs to it by all but her
childhood.....” Folks, according to some, this artform peaked before
Ben Franklin knew how to build a kite.
am not so harsh. Why? Because I am talking about the intimate
communication between two people. With the 19th and 20th centuries,
personal letters were still the most common way of communicating between
long distances. Personal letter writing, in volume, just kept
I need not state in detail what caused the slow demise of the personal
letter in the latter moments of the 20th century: other forms of
communication that were quicker.
PART FOUR: Doing It With Words
Okay, so what’s the big deal here? Communication evolves with technology! Big deal!
let’s take a step back. In order to write a letter, you have to do
something somewhat unheard of these days: sit in a space for more than
10 minutes and focus on what you are thinking and feeling. Yeah, sure.
This is going to catch on!
when one writes a personal letter, one must sit in one place and focus
on what one wishes to say. This need to focus, reflect, and transcribe
is at least one reason why letter writing is STILL being used as a form
of psychological therapy. To transcribe that which is only in the
imaginary world of thought has deep weight in making sense of who we
are, how we feel, and what we desire.
would go so far as to say that when one writes a deeply personal
letter, something that takes much inner thought, one enters into a
meditative state, the focus being not on the world around but the world
within. Like all meditative arts, letter writing takes time, practice
The Form and the Function
we state that letter writing is an art form then all of a sudden the
statement that a general format makes things easier becomes a Fascist
statement to the Creative spirits.
tells me what I can or cannot write like! No way! If I wanna write my
personal letters on formica copies of French toast in braille Esperanto
then I will!”
Okay. Sure. Fine.
think that there needs to be a split here, in the definition of what a
letter is: an object that can be defined as a work of art OR an object
that, through a common written language, communicates in the same way
that a literary work would. DO not get me wrong! The two can be
combined! But this, perhaps thankfully, is the exception and not the
rule. Artists such as Picasso, Man Ray and Van Gogh (to name only a
miniscule fraction of artists) have letters which have the most amazing
drawings in them. To those of you who can draw well, I salute and envy
you. In my life I have been enchanted when I have received a letter with
a drawing in it done by the author telling me where they are or what
they are feeling. It is amazing.
Okay, but maybe it is about time to hit the core of the matter.....
What Makes a GREAT Letter?
Okay, fine. It is time to pony up and go for the heart of the matter in this seminar: What is a GREAT letter?
Let’s begin at the beginning:
it may be fun to mail that Esperanto Braille Formica French toast
letter to (hopefully) your friend, you may have slipped the grid when
it comes to presentation over function. Maybe. But then again, who’s to
and over my entire life I have heard people from prior generations say,
“Oh, I remember the letters I got from my (friend/future spouse/lover)
and they were wonderful.” Nobody has ever mentioned the stationary.
Nobody. It was the emotion, the words, the honesty, the passion that
was what left the mark. Yes! I love getting beautiful cards in the mail
and I even make my own stationary! (More on that later.) But, I think we
all have to remember that, in the end, it boils down to the words, to
what we say and how we say it.
And how DO we say it?! Start with the delivery system: handwriting.
for the record, in my life I have been told that I have wonderful
handwriting as well as being told that some of my letters look like a
blind person writing in Sanskrit. While I take all of these critiques as
true, I believe my average falls somewhere in between.
is so personal and we keep forgetting that in the digital age. children
in America do not even write in script anymore. (That is a whole other
essay, believe me.) So, handwriting a letter is an intimate act: your
hands, your action, immediate and tangible result that is not digital
dust. One of my friends told me that when she went away to Oxford and
took her exams there via those small exam booklets, that having to write
down her answers in long hand hurt her brain for a bit as it felt like
she had to think a whole different way.
to those of us who take the obtuse technological third rail and use a
manual typewriter to get our letters out, I will state that it is a
personal experience in and of itself. Those hammers never hit the paper
the same way twice...and good luck in making corrections.
Fine. We are all on, literally, the same page. When we write letters,
we transcribe what it is we see, touch, taste, and or feel. But how to
improve HOW we do it?
class could you possibly take to improve your letter writing? Yes,
creative writing, English composition, maybe even a poetry class would
help matters. But I believe that there is a great difficulty in becoming
a better letter writer as it is so personal. I used to hear people say
all the time, “I am horrible at letters.” Okay, how? What are you
comparing it to? If a letter is personal that means it is written of the moment, in the moment, about a moment. This
is not stylized fiction. This is a transcription of the every day to be
given to someone else. Also it is AMAZINGLY personal! Would you really
want someone to write you back and go, “Hey there! I LOVED your letter!
It was great! Thank you! For someone whom I thought was intelligent, you
write like a ten year old on two Benedryl!” Or, “Thank you so much for
your letter. It was so wonderful to hear from you again! How was Spain?
Is Spanish your first language because your sentence structure and
ability to describe things coherently in English is just NOT working.
Talk to you soon!”
accept the personal letter as it is for what it is because we accept it
as we would a gift, which it is. So it up to us to try to become better
at this artform. Here is a radical suggestion that just might work:
composer Philip Glass stated in a documentary that he originally
learned how to write for orchestra the way so many had done for years
and years before. He would simply COPY the scores, by hand, to see how
things were done. Yes, sit down and write out all those notes for hours
and hours. The author Hunter S Thompson re-typed the great American
novel “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald just to get the feeling
of writing a great novel.
insane? Think about it. You can read all day long but that does not
make you a great writer. Writing requires doing it. But you need to
inject new ways of writing into your own without the aid of being in a
classroom or having a teacher. No problem. The next logical step is to
do the same: find a letter from a collection that you really love, sit
down and COPY IT THE WAY YOU WOULD WRITE A LETTER. The action within the habit of writing should
have some effect over time. It is unlikely that there will be an
overnight change in your style, but the simple act of repetition should
push the gears forward.
being said, READING the published letters of others can be a great
help. BUT PLEASE TAKE NOTE: What you will normally read are the EDITED
versions of the letters! The small talk, the everyday communication, all
the small things that make friendships majestic and minutely woven
tapestries of time together, are often edited out simply to keep things
believe that it is not wrong to state that the one quality that makes
up a great letter is the same thing that makes up great literature: It
takes us somewhere.
I was younger, I remember being enchanted by the writings of Albert
Camus and how he seemed to be able to take me to the Cafes of Algeria
and Amsterdam simply from the words on the page. Around then I was lucky
enough to have been writing someone who was in Europe. She had this
amazing ability to do the same thing, to take me away from my insane and
overworked life in New Jersey and into the nighttime fields of Spain
for a midnight picnic. Those letters, as well as the writing of Camus,
had a profound effect on me in many ways. They set the standard by which
I still write my letters.
Two printed examples of letters that inspired me are:
letters of Van Gogh to his brother Theo have inspired generations of
artists as they show the inner dialogue of a man struggling with the
birth of his unique creative self, the challenges of the everyday life,
and the effect repeated rejection has on the spirit. ~Letters
to a Young Poet by Rene Rilke. A masterwork in so few pages, Rilke’s
correspondence to a young poet in need of his help. Wynton Marsalis was
so inspired by this collection that he wrote his own contemporary
version, “Letters to a Young Jazz Musician”.
cannot say what type of letter writer I am. I don’t mail them to
myself. I mail them to others, and most of those others are now silent,
dry streams from where words used to flow back and forth. In some
letters, I was told I was a great letter writer, but I have no idea and I
loathe the thought of re-reading my own letters. However, in preparing
for this seminar, I did get the word out as best I could to those I
used to write to and asked if there was anything they liked from when we
would correspond. The response came back that my writing was
“passionate, funny, painful, and, beautiful.” Okay, that was humbling.
In the end, one must ask only one question when writing a personal letter: Did I get across exactly what I wanted to state to that other person.
Hey, sometimes it is a thank you note for some chocolate chip cookies
and other times it is a transcription of a dark night of the soul.
take letter writing very seriously. VERY seriously. I don’t mean that I
make my own ink and write with a huge plume quill like that awesome
parody in a recent episode of Family Guy. No.
Also, it takes time which I do not have all that much of these days. My
life in letter writing has always been about one thing: trying to
transcribe exactly how I feel into something beautiful.
this research, a beautiful friend of mine told me about my letters. She
that they were not the day to day narrative type things, though such
news was mentioned. She said my letters were almost meditations, me
hitting a topic and having it flow down stream of whatever I was
thinking in the moment. But something else was said that surprised me.
She stated that when I typed out a letter on my stationary (on a 1950’s
manual typewriter), the tfeel was different than when I wrote them out
by hand. I had no idea of this. I thought I simply wrote words on the
page! So, I suppose that regardless of what you may think, the delivery
system of the words DOES matter.
does one get better at something that, for all intents and purposes,
can be one of the most intimate moments of communication? It is a gift,
absolutely unique to each person in each moment. The personal letter,
thanks to the technological advances in affordable ink and paper AND a
postal system with a solid transportation infrastructure, is able to
exist on a large scale. If one were to calculate the cost of a few blank
pages of a generic blank notebook that is on sale, the amount of ink
from a disposable pen (that you can get for free in many places), and
the cost of a stamped envelope from the post office, the entire cost is
around 1/11 of an hour's minimum wage in 2012. This artform and
communication, then, is almost free.
am, by history and practice, primarily a musician. Therefore I believe I
can only approach the process and structure of letter writing via a
musical analogy. Follow me. I promise to not get technical.
music that is defined and consumed as "Classical Music" is, 99.8
percent of the time, not improvised. That amazing Beethoven Symphony or
Bartok String Quartet you love so much has a recipe of notes that are
fixed on the page. While there are some variables, the notes on the page
are the sonic dogma that cannot be deviated from in any way.
other musical forms have an amount of improvisation built into the
form. When one walks into a jam session with other musicians, there is
an amount of restriction. Everyone walks in playing something, say a
guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, laptop, vocals, etc. Everyone
(hopefully) does not start ripping the sink off the wall to use as a
percussion instrument or decide to sing improvisational poetry in a
language they made up on the ride over. Normally, the musicians call out
tunes or they are playing within a certain common style. Maybe someone
brings in an idea for a song and they build off of that. Or, they start
off playing a song known to everyone and then improvise based on that
structure. There is always a beginning and an end, and hopefully a
keys to any GOOD jam session are, to me, three things: Listening,
speaking and supporting/following. These principles can also apply to
personal letter is a medium of personal expression which, by its
nature, has no real definition. Like those French Toast Braille
Esperanto letters? Okay, rock on. However, it seems that one must ask
the question: what the hell are we trying to do when we write a letter?
letter writing is being able to transcribe the inner narrative and to
give to the recipient as close to an exact document as possible. It may
be silly, it may be joyous, it may be full of absolute sorrow. It may be
Love. It may be rejection. And it will most likely be an amazing
cocktail of all of them (shaken, not stirred). But we look to this
medium to state and present what it is we feel as the Truth, a benchmark
of what is considered "Art".
there is a major difference between the architecture of a letter and
that of the other art forms such as painting, fiction writing, poetry,
dance, and acting. There seems to be an unspoken commandment by those
who are NOT in the creative field to say, "Well, they just do whatever
they do because they love it. So what if nobody
buys/sees/notices/respects/reviews/helps with it. They will do it
REGARDLESS! THEY H-A-V-E TO!!!!"
major difference is that while the painting, the novel, the poems, the
play, etc, may never see the light of day, but the personal letter is
made for the sole purpose of being given to one other person, regardless
if it ever makes it there.
there is one thing that Van Gogh's letters to his brother Theo show it
is that the above concept is nothing more than an excuse by those who
believe they are artists to feel better about themselves. Van Gogh's
letters are reflections of his soul, one that was affected deeply by
almost absolute failure and psychological illness. How amazing that he
speaks with such lucidity and passion after having been
institutionalized after an arrest.
letter is not, N-O-T, a monologue! THAT is a diary or journal. The
personal letter is a PRIVATE CONVERSATION WE ARE HAVING VIA THE WRITTEN
WORD. We have all gone off and written some intense five page (legal pad
or single spaced print) one paragraph screed about something to a deep
friend or an ex-lover or someone we believe could withstand the weight
of the what we were offering to them. This should be the exception, not
is expressed in our letters is shot through the prism of how the ones
we are writing reflect in our life. If you find this a bit hard to
believe, I would ask that you simply remember any love letter you have
ever written compared to any letter back home to a mother or father.
Yeah, you are saying different things....or at least Freud hopes so
EIGHT Basic Suggestions for Writing a Very Good Personal Letter
1) Put the date somewhere on the top of the first page!
may seem silly, but if you are in this thing for the long haul, it is
PRICELESS! Plus, everytime you go back to it, when it was written is
staring at you. No need to guess. Besides, all you have to do is look at
your cell phone.
2)Your Entrance is Everything....Okay, almost Everything.
The opening salutation, those first few words, set the tone for everything that follows. “To
Whom It May Concern” kinda has a different ring to it than, “My Dearest
Friend” or even, “ HEY DUDE!” not to mention, “My Beloved” or “HEY
THERE SXY PANTS!!!!” These words set the tone of what follows. Sure, you
can hopefully turn it around later, but take note: Every great movie or
song sets you up from the first few seconds. Do the same when you
3) MENTION THE LETTER YOU ARE REPLYING TO UP FRONT!
As far as I can tell, letter writing in correspondence comes in two, and only two paradigms: Ping Pong and The Batting Cage.
A) Ping Pong: You get a letter, you reply to that letter. There is an unspoken agreement that it is a one to one letter giving situation.
B) The Batting Cage:
One person writes more than the other (most likely on a regular basis
like once or twice a week) with the expectation of a reply coming
whenever the other person gets the chance. Again, neither party should
feel pressure to be writing less or more. It just works out that one
keeps throwing and the other connects whenever they can.
involved in “A”, this suggestion may only hold moderate weight. When it
comes to “B”, this has EXTREME weight! The postal system can be flakey.
Knowing what got there and what didn’t means a great deal. It also
sends a flag out immediately that you read what they sent you. This is
4) Be grateful that the other person wrote you and say so.
allow me to state a cruel and absolute reality here: Nobody HAS to
write back. If the other person took the time to write you back, thank
them. Remember, each letter, yours and theirs, is a gift. Respect it as
5) Bring Your World (Internal and External) to Them
may want to be writing them from the tops of the Eiffel Tower or a
Tibetan Monastery or from a tour bus on a highway in Detroit or from a
1920’s Speakeasy with F. Scott Fitzgerald, but, alas, you are not there.
You are in your kitchen with a sink full of dishes. Hey! Do not negate
your reality! Just tell where you are as it gives some context to what
you are writing like the setting of a movie or the types of instruments
that are in a band.
***POSSIBLE BONUS POINTS:
Referencing the other person when observing the everyday. (I.E. “I am
here at the kitchen table, an absolute three dimensional Jackson Pollock
painting with gross wine glasses reminding me of last night. Remember
the time we had too much wine and tried to sync up the movie “Animal
House” to Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”!?!???! I SO remember that!”)
6) Be silly at random (GUMMI BEARS!!!! GUMMI BEARS!!!!!!!) moments If
the tone of the letter is everyday and you enjoy being silly AND the
person you are writing to gets your sense of humor, GO FOR IT! This is a
one on one communication. Inside jokes that perhaps nobody else on the
planet will understand are welcomed.
7) Talk about what they said in THEIR letter, not just your life.
even though you are able to go on for a legal pad about how great/lousy
YOUR life is, you need to sincerely care about how they are doing via
what they wrote you. This is not a letter for therapy. This is the root
system of a friendship. Bring up what concerns your friend wrote to you.
Unless you are a professional therapist, do not pretend to be one. If
you think your friend needs help, figure out a way to say it. If they
are just having a bad day due to the other people in their submarine
during this tour of duty, show sincere concern by making note of it.
8) Make the landing a damn good one.
you know you are running out of time, steam, and/or space, start to
mention it and begin your goodbye. You want that great movie to end in
the middle of a great scene? How about that great song to end in the
middle of a chorus? Nope. Figure out a way to walk to the exit of the
letter in a few sentences. It helps, trust me. (“ACK! What time is it!
Jeez, I gotta get to sleep or I am not going to be able to do that
experimental neurosurgery tomorrow on the President of the World Bank!
Time flies when I am writing you. Thank you so much for being that kind
9) The Ending Makes the Movie
think it was the drummer Keith Moon who said something like, “Look, all
that matters is your entrance and your exit. Everything else is up for
grabs.” Every great movie or song has a great ending or fade out. Figure
out something that sums it all up.It may be,”With Deepst Friendship” or
“Within a Vat of Emotional Velveeta and Sinking Rapidly” .
try to keep the flow going.With passion or silliness or whatever. Just
remember that the ending matters as much as the rest of it.
it must be noted that while grammar and punctuation are to be on point
so that you can be understood well, all bets are off in every other
regard. You can try to write a letter like one of Samuel Beckett’s short
stories, or write one as a Buddy Wakefield poem, whatever. This is the
communication between two friends. If you try a new format and you don’t
like it or feel it doesn’t work, well, what have you lost? If anything
it will push out your style.
OKEE DOKEE POKEE!!
is what I consider to be an amazing letter. It is a song I put together
that was included on my first CD called “sacred” and is one of the
first things I wrote. The narrator is NOT me.
AIRMAIL My dearest friend,
I just received your two letters and tape in the mail. They were
awaiting me at my old address in the northern part of town. As I read
your words, the sun is just beginning to set upon the hills that border
the village and the sky beams with yellow and violet. Thank
you for writing me as you do, as we have shared so much during our time
apart, it seems as though our trust is genuine and special. It always
makes me feel good to know that there is someone out there who cares
about my life. I've
just awoken from a nap because I spent the whole night on a hoot doing
the rhumba. I showered and came down to the tiny terrace bar, one of two
which flank my building door. The one I've always frequented is filled
with families, tiny four year old girls in pink and purple print cloth
and exquisite 1920's hair bobs, scrounging about in the dirt together
while their grandparents expertly let the world go by as their beers
glow topaz. Moms with leather jackets, plucked eyebrows, smoking. Older
women with sweaters on their shoulders soothing the inevitably ruffled
feathers of the pink printed dolls. Slick black haired men in jeans,
sunglasses and white espadrilles giggle laughing babies. Inside the two
bars from my outside vantage point, I hear the stereo roar as the Madrid
soccer team makes a goal. The
other bar is the scary one filled with the young harder people who are
known as "the heavies." Both men and women have long feathered hair,
tight pants, black skirts, and interesting necklaces in their open
buttoned chests, leather jackets and fringed boots. Then, on the other
side are the night brood, the wild ones. Every night they gather and
listen to tapes and drink liters of beer with a dog or two, leaning on a
fence that faces the garden. Of course the bar group is more splendid
and scruffy in their low class finery. But the wild children were the
first I saw months ago from my fourth floor window. They gathered like
dried leaves in the windy late winter nights, and disappeared before
circle kept its back towards me the nights I waited outside for Herman.
I watched them, envious, dreaming of the Lost Boys, wanting to pass the
beer bottle around and be accepted into their ring of arrogance and
ease with each other. The long hair, the occasional horseplay, the
generosity... I guess we'd have little in common. It was more glamorous
from four flights up. My
favorite character has just appeared: a baby about ten months old,
Deborah. Her mother is the only local I've talked to who doesn't own a
bar or a shop. She is often in the hands of Christina and Carlos, the
bar owner's kids. They are delightfully bright and extroverted. The baby
laughs and laughs when I play with her. As she sits on someone's lap,
she chews on a pack of fortunas. You know she is going to be wonderful
when she is older. I
love you. Your subtlety and irony, even when you are down is dear to
me. I'm sorry you've been in so much pain lately. I'm helpless except to
reach across the Atlantic with an embrace. And remember, you make me
laugh like no one else can. Well,
I must leave you now. The sun has almost completely set and places the
cafe under the gentle blessing of the night sky. The bartender has just
lit the candle on the table, reminding me that I do not know when I
shall return to your shores. My life here is full, but I cannot call it
home. I miss you every day but I know that I must be here for now and
look for your words to travel across the oceans and rest in my hands. I
shall never abandon you in my friendship and your heart shall for ever
remain in mine. I'm not one to make promises, but I know this is one
The night has fallen and I shall walk to my lover's house with memories
of us on my every breath. We may drift in time and in space, but I
never want to imagine us being without each other. May the universe cradle you in her arms, and may the wisteria of dreams hang over your head. Blessings, health, and sweet laughter. I love you always......
******************************************************************************************************** Yep, that’s the good stuff. ********************************************************************************************************
PART FIVE: Really Fast Stationery Ideas That Will NOT turn you into Nick Bantock But Will Have Be YOURS
following are some ways that I make my own stationary. But I am not a
trained artist or craft person. There are about a billion books on paper
crafts, collage, paper making,, and the like out there. So hopefully
these rather simple ideas will get your creativity going via my really
I cannot draw and was tired of having flowers on letters where I was
pouring out my existential anguish, I developed a few ways of making
stationary on my own. But please, one quick aside:
can be “art” but it must be, above all, functional. There must be an
easily readable space on the page where the text can be found and
written. This is why stationery tends to have pictures in the edges. If
you put something in the center, you CAN write around it, but it can be a
bit distracting. Try it and see if you like it. I tend to prefer things
in corners or outlining the sides in the margins
it seems everybody has access to a computer, I see little reason why
one cannot experiment with making a picture in any free photo software
and shrink it to fit in one of the the corners of the page.
Glue stick is your non-toxic best friend! So is the ever wonderful copy machine!
you hate the idea of having stuff pasted to the paper you are writing
on, get a glue stick and attach it to a piece of paper. Then photocopy
it. You can do this at home with a scanner that copies or at any copy
1) Take a Chinese food menu. Tear it up into small pieces. Glue it to a page. Now go copy.
Get an old photo or two or three from the internet and print it out. It
does not have to be amazing quality. Arrange one the page. Glue. Copy.
Not fond of pictures or menus? No problem.
Go to a craft store and find the origami section. There are the most
beautiful papers there, AND they sell them in small quantities. Cut,
tear, arrange, and glue onto the page.
Okay, not a fan of that? Fear the copy machine? No problem.
Write your letter on quality plain white paper. When writing, leave
large spaces between some paragraphs and/or in the margins. Get a small
watercolor kit and watercolor in AFTER you have finished the letter.
Like geometry, not color?
Get a piece of 11X17 inch paper. Fold it into whatever fraction you
like (half, quarters, eighths, not too strange, as someone is going to
have to read it.) Take a writing instrument (or something like it) and
go along all the fold lines. You now have a mosaic where you can write
your words. (Watercolor the sections in with light colors for bonus
will not get into the idea of envelope making because the templates are
easily accessible for free to be downloaded from the internet.
However, please take note: when you download the template, trace it out
on a piece of sturdy clear plastic so that you can see what it is you
are cutting out when making the envelope..
hope you have found this seminar helpful in some way. In my view, it is
the contents of the letter that matter more than the outside, but that
can help and be a great deal of fun in making.
you do not feel you cannot write a full letter, do a post card. Want a
bit more, make or buy a blank card and fill it in. Dip your toes in the
water with a 8.5 x 11 single page. Whatever. Just
start. Try. If you believe that none of your friends will appreciate it
or write you back, there are places to find pen pals on the internet
(i-r-o-n-y). I assure you that if you want to write something, and in
some places be very very creative, you will find a place.
writing in the US is at an all time low and sinking faster by the time I
write this sentence. Ask any mailman. However, this is then the time
for a re-invention. The rules restrictions that come with something
creative being part of a culture are gone. It is up to us, the letter
writers, to keep it alive. Those who are willing to part of the slow
word dance of a correspondence will most likely be open to anything
sincere that is sent.
because this is an intimate form of communication, the emotional stakes
in writing can get very very high. We can get broken when someone stops
writing us and horribly disappointed when someone does not notice of
the effort we have put in. The currency here is emotion and expectation.
This is an art of extreme patience (waiting for the letter to arrive)
and of stillness (you can’t write a letter on a treadmill at the gym).
One must sit and focus and translate the world around and within onto
is simply a matter of being honest all around. If you want to write
like a 16th century nobleman from France or a Klingon during the empire
of Kahless the Unforgettable or like Charles Bukowski as a type of
Smurf...whatever! However, if history tells us anything, then it is that
the letters of those before us, the famous and forgotten, are written
in the time and of the time of the author. It is almost as if writing
letters is the water of personal communication. Nothing needed but the
even if you think they are simple, they will reflect you. If you are
into calligraphy, into different inks, Japanese Stationery, etc. you put
it in there. This is, after all, a conversation between friends.
letters, we entrust our personal history, not to mention our time, and
send it off to someone else. They are photographs made with words that
expose us within a certain moment in time. We sit and read and reread
letters, pulling them out from time to time as the seasons pass and we
see ourselves in what others gave us.
In the movie, “The Help” one of the characters, Aibileen Clark, had
to quit school in 6th grade to help get money for her family. Her
teacher, worried that her brightest pupil would never reach her
potential, tells her to write something every day. She did and it
worked, her inner life and perspective on matters of life growing richer
and deeper with the years. The connection of mind to pen to paper
early part of 20th century gave birth to the amazing correspondence of
three people: the Abbess Dame Laurentia McLaughlan, the museum curator
Sir Sydney Cockerell, and the famous author George Bernard Shaw. From
1924 onward, the three of them wrote letters to each other and became
the closest of friends. Dame McLaughlan was a cloistered nun and was
often visited by Shaw and Cockerell, as it was Cockerell’s need of
information from Maclaughlan about manuscripts that began their
writings, spanning over 25 years, only stopping upon the death of each,
were so amazing that a play was written about them called by Hugh
Whitemore, “The Best of Friends” and was broadcast on Masterpiece
Theater after debuting in England. The entire dialogue of the play is
done in excerpts from their letters to each other.
I do not wish to say too much about it, I will say this: at one point
in the play, Dame Maclaughlan is able to visit Sir Cockerell in London
for an afternoon. Within that entire scene, they do not say a word. To
me this whoes a point upon which this entire seminar hinges: that which
we write is not which we speak. Biology shows it. History proves it.
must not reject what technology brings, but look at what is left behind
after the change. Handwritten communication is part of the legacy of
humanity and we should not forget that. The letters between people have
changed the course of nations. Let us keep our goals the same as those
who came before us who wrote to people they cared about: to be honest,
passionate, engaged, attentive, and kind.
wish you luck in finding a great correspondence and the friendship that
goes along with it. Such things are gifts, flowers in the garden of
life. Some grow fast and furious, dying within the season. Others are
slow and grow deep roots. So go and try. When it does not go as hoped
know that nobody likes when Hope dies. Do your best to find some joy in
the journey and destination of figuring out how to express yourself as
best you can in the written word.
I bid you much peace, hope, and joy on your written journey. I’ll see you in the mail....
PO Box 200 Old Bridge, NJ, 08857 (www.brimstoneandblue.com)
(Today’s presentation was dedicated to the art critic Robert Hughes who passed away this past week.)
All original contents Copyright Michael Kovacs 2012