Monday, August 26, 2013

An Open Letter to a Friend, 15 years lost and found

(The following is an open letter to a beloved friend of mine who I caught up with last week after too many months of silence. Their life had gone through some serious changes. I figured I should warn them what 2013 is like...)

My Dear Amazing Friend,

I cannot believe that we finally met up on Friday! I haven't even spoken on the phone with you for, what, a year? I am not sure, but then again after all we have been through, time has neither measurement nor weight. The darkest days we have shared together seemed to stretch out into infinite darkness while telling jokes and sharing stories just yesterday passed by in an instant. Perhaps this is the reward we have been given for those endless days of pain and confusion, to have moments where time passes with ease.

Since you have not been in the stream of the contemporary world for about 15 years, I would like to give you a BIT of a tour through what has changed since 1998. While I know you are very much aware of what is going on in the greater scheme of things, I believe that some of the needed minutia may have slid by you Please forgive me if I miss a few things as these years have not been the easiest.

Well, as you have noticed, we did survive the dreaded Y2K crisis and with this liberation we jettisoned into a new millennium more narcissistic than at any point in the history of the world. The news consisted of celebrities' private lives being given more attention than the Watergate Hearings, the bombing of  Pearl Harbor, and the Mi Lao Massacre. . Thanks to the internet and cell phones becoming affordable and accessible, we swiftly began the collapse of our evolutionary upright posture to the hunched back and curved neck beings that would arrive within the next decade.  The internet also had the momentum to allow porn to begin to become mainstream (but more on that later).

As the nation as a whole was reaching a crescendo of self-absorption,  everything changed on the day we now know only as numbers: 9-11. It was as if the need of some bungee cord had been reached and we were all snapped back abruptly from the free fall we had gotten ourselves into. Life kept going as it always has, but our eyes turned from one mirror to another one: the television screen.

From that moment on all of us would be spending our time staring into one screen or another. As the internet grew, it went from becoming something that we spent some time on to something we could not live without. It became a constant companion, a way of communicating, an oracle, a place where one could feel belonged and hated without ever being seen in person, lynched without ever being touched, abandoned without ever having anyone else present.

The internet also changed Music. When you left, people were still buying music in physical form and music with guitars on it still populated the landscape. Now that is all gone. Music has turned into digital dust and, while desired by just about everyone, no longer has any value. People desire recorded music for free. However, it is also possible to make music without spending any money. Bootlegged software and samples can be downloaded and, anyone can make music in one form or another. Once the value of a commodity has deflated to almost free, any price for it seems unfair and a parody and is therefore ignored. Producers o the product have less drive to spend more time make a better product. This now leads me to the world of Apple....

You will most likely have to start practicing religion again and if you wish to worship in this new land, you must go to the nearest temple of Apple (you may remember them as Mac computers) . These places of worship are easy to find, as they are open spaces where you will ALWAYS see people gathered offering money to grant them more power ad status. While you were away, there have been many changed, but perhaps none more so than in the computer world. You could spend money on a nice Mac laptop and an iPhone. This would be good as this will give you the ability to connect with anyone at anytime and have anyone have any access to you. Oh yes, phone calls are pretty much free these days (look around, notice there are no pay phones?) and even video calling, once the clarion call of a new age, is also free and mostly used for porn.

Speaking of porn, you have pretty much walked into Caligula's dream land. The culture today is saturated with pornography and calling someone a "porn star" is now considered a compliment. The socio-landscape today is filled with  porn being the norm for common sexual relations. If you are not a porn star in terms of looks, build, and/or ability you will forever be a disappointment. I say this to you as you may be entering the dating world again and I don't want you to be surprised. Much will be expected of you in every way pretty much from the  moment you say "Hello, are you..?" As you are a grown woman, you may be able to deal with things due to the act that the clay of your soul is already formed. However, you will see the carnage of this expectation in the youth you will come in contact with. Oh yeah, about them....

The youth of today are like the youth of any culture, with the exception that what you remember as adolescence has extended its way out into about 30. College is the new high school and grad school is the new community college. You have entered into a world of lost souls who are connected to each other twenty four hours a day.and consider that to be the norm. You will also find this thing called Facebook which, without going into detail, has swallowed global identity and social interaction whole with the clatter of laptop keys being the soundtrack as we slid down its gullet. Be careful before you sign up. While it will make it easier to find friends you may have lost touch with, you will also be open to everyone in your past to find you. EVERYONE. Just know, you have been warned.

Oh yes, before I forget, you really need to know about Youtube. It has replaced television. Unfortunately you missed the golden age of the website as it is now filled with commercials and copyrighted material is taken of quickly. Still you will most likely spend the bulk of your now free time watching (or listening) to this site. Videos of animals, mostly pets, are the new religion on that site. However, all you need do is drop a laydel into the cauldron of human thought and desire and you can find it on Youtube.

But if you cannot find what you desire there, all you have to do is ask the ruling god of all information and communication: Google. Ask it any question and you will receive an answer, any answer actually. This is the problem: this omnipotent oracle allows you to chose what is the truth. Be careful when you go there as you can get lost as easily as you learned how to breathe.

I must go now. I promise to write more soon. Dare I say you are going to need it.

Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers as I need them, I always have and I always will.

Know that you shall forever be carried with me as well and that the bond we share as veterans of this strange life.

With Deepest Friendship and Music,
Michael







Friday, August 23, 2013

Dante, Hemingway, and F. Scott Walk into a Bar..

Here is a letter from Hemingway to F. Scott Fitzgerald about Heaven and Hell..... I think Virgil was the bartender on this one:

An Afterlife NOT in Paris, nor at Midnite

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Okay, the Dallas Show!!

Just just let everyone know again, yes I will be at the Dallas Pen Show in one month! There will be a Saturday Seminar on Letter writing. You will get free custom made (by me) stationary and envelopes as well as time to write a letter in class. It is free and will be 90 minutes to allow time for everyone to write and discuss all matters concerning this amazing art form.

Here i the Facebook page for the Show

So here is an amazing letter from Dallas.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Letters of John Cage woven with the Amazing Music of Robert Moran

There is an amazing composer in Philadelphia by the name of Robert Moran. Years ago, I was introduced to his work via the WNYC show "New Sounds" when they played part of his choral work, "Seven Sounds Unseen". Part of what they are singing are excerpts from letters he received from his dear friend John Cage.  The work is stunningly beautiful.

You can buy it here.

He also wrote a p;ice for children's choir for the tenth anniversary of 9-11. It is one of the most beautiful pieces I have ever heard. You can hear him talk about it here.

Much to my joy, Robert and I have been friends for quite a few years and, yes, we have corresponded.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Letter from Agnes...

One of my personal artistic heroes is the painter Agnes Martin. Her views on creativity helped reinforce my own path. She was one of a kind and here is a letter written to her by Joanne Hunt and the reply. Stunning.

A letter to and fron Agnes Martin

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Janis Joplin's Letters

My band used to do a cover of "Piece of My Heart" years ago at bars in the area. While Janice did not write the song, her version has enough passion to set a city block on fire.For all her image, she was shy and introverted. (Read "Just Kids" by Patti Smith) So I am so glad that they did a musical based on her letters (years ago):Janis Letters

Monday, August 12, 2013

My Luck Running True to Form.....

I was driving home after getting some stuff to try to fix my lawnmower and I heard THIS about writing on WHYY radio. I wanted to call in and discuss matters with the guests BUT it was a repeat episode and they were not taking calls nor emails.

My thoughts, in brief, is that writing a memoir has attached to it the concept of Fame, of being known by the masses. Like it or not, that is the truth. My "memoir" Not the Yearbook You Expected was written as an article. If you write with the hope that the world will see it, the writing, while still a craft, becomes a performance, something no longer exclusionary to the act itself.

Personal letters are a conversation, a private (perhaps even sacred) conversation, between ONLY two people. The word, I believe, is called, "Intimate".

Let us never confuse motion with progress. The personal letter is sensual and intimate and carries a weight all its own. It is not journal writing or diary keeping or blogging. It is in a league of its own.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Okay, FINE! Hi, my name is Mike, and I use a manual typewriter...... AND SO DOES TOM HANKS!!!!!!!!

Yesterday at the pen show, I was blown out of the water by the beautiful writing of everyone who attended.

For the record, I CAN have nice writing, but I usually am so rushed that my handwriting looks like someone spilled  a can of Spaghettio's. So, in my correspondence, I have used my father's 1950's Royal typewriter when writing letters for many years. Well,..........

The award winning actor Tom Hanks ALSO loves typewriters and writing!
Tom Hanks Rocks his Underwood!

Of Dallas and DC....

Thank you everyone for coming to the seminar at the DC Pen Super Show yesterday. If you would like me back again next year, PLEASE email Mr Johnson at bjohnson@pencentral.com as soon possible.

I am really looking forward to the Dallas show. I will be doing the seminar on Saturday and will be making even more improvements to the presentation. So please come by if you have the chance. I hope to be posting much more before the show.

Again, my thanks to everyone who came out.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

THANNNNNNNNNNNNNNNK YOU ALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!

My deepest thanks o all of you who came to the seminar today in DC and made the seminar a huge success. It is really late and I need sleep so...... I am off.

Thank you again for coming to the seminar.

More to follow soon.

Letter Examples for the DC Pen Show August 10, 2013

Example Letters for Pen Show Seminar

The following are sample letters taken from my upcoming project with the Fractal Ensemble to be released later this year. I am using these as examples of architecture for letters between two people. Please note the commentary after each exchange.

(All contents copyright Michael Kovacs 2013)

****************************************************************************

June 2, 1996


Dear Rena,

My deepest apologies, but....


Do you remember me?

Sincerely,


Sebastian

*******************************************************************************

And the reply:

My Dear Friend,

DOOD! Of course I remember you?!

I’m so glad you found me in the middle of Europe! How have you been? How long has it been since we last spoke? Okay, let’s just call it too long and start from there...

What is going on with me? I’ve been here in Europe for a while trying to finish up my degree or at least get enough credits to finish it up at home in a year. When I got here I hated it but then it began to grow on me. Now I love it. I just got back from an insane trip to Semana Santa in Seville. The incense, candles, trumpets, drums, and INSANE costumes (someone should talk to them about those... hoods?)

Life here is so different from the states. people seem to know how to live. I can get use to that, ya’ know? It isn’t like it is at college in the states. People still know how to party but still get to work and have a respectable GDP.

So what is going on with you these days? How have you been? The last time we met was a party over on the North Loop , no? That was a C-R-A-Z-Y party! How they got that gazebo onto that pick up truck is beyond me! (Wait was it the other way around? Damn absinthe!) I tried to find you at the end of the night , right after Tom fell down and broke his arm from falling down the stairs. Can you believe I dated that loser? I spoke to Susan (remember her?) and she said he is still looming around town. Live and learn (or at least let’s hope so.)

So what have you been up to? How have you been? Where are you working? Still at the... okay, I forgot where you are working. TELL ME! Are you still living over by the hardware store/supermarket at the corner of Drag Queen and Homicide? Take care, okay? That section of town is strange! You can get gunned down in front of that low budget comedy improv theater just around the block from you. Not that some of those performers do not DESERVE to hospitalized after their horrible performances, but still....

Okay. Take good care and THANK YOU FOR WRITING ME!!!!!

Love,
Ri
...

PS: I wouldn't mind if you would write me back! (HINT WINK HINT)



And the volley:


June 23, 1996
Minneapolis,MN

My Dear Rena,

Hello and thank you so much for remembering me AND for writing back so fast. I got your letter on the 19th and am finally able to write you back on the only free day I have anymore: Sunday. I had to pick up a small part time job (along with my ever secure regular one) and never seem to stop being in motion.

Italy..... could you have picked a worse place to go to college, like, say Hawaii? I have never been out of the country and can only imagine what it must be like. I should go to the library after work one morning and see what books they have of your area. Is it anything like the Fellini films? The place would seem perfect for you, full of life, love, and the realm of the senses. Are you having a good time? (Knowing you, the answer would be, “Duh, yes.”) How much longer do you have to be there? When do you graduate? Alas, I know very little about architecture other than the basics. Tell me more, if you would be so kind...

As for my life, since you asked, I will tell you. My grandmother died in May. She was ailing from cancer and, believe it or not, SHE called me and told me to come out as soon as possible. Strength was that woman’s middle name. So I told my boss that I would need some time off for a family matter and flew out. I made it in time and the funeral was held soon after. I stayed with my mother for as long as I felt she needed me and flew back. The stream of habits that are my life here were awaiting me and I stepped back into the waters to be carried along.

But,...

On the flight back, I thought of you and remembered that you gave me your address the last time we saw each other, at the party.

Just so you don’t feel like you have all the fun, it has been god forsakenly hot here the past few weeks. So WE have have the sun and warmth too! Okay, granted, you have about two millennia or so of architecture, culture, and a deep Catholic culture with even deeper lustful pagan roots. We have..... Prairie Home Companion and First Ave. Face it, you may have everything else, but here we have Husker Du, the Replacements, and Prince!

Give me some more details of your life and I will write you back as soon as I can. In fact, I will drop this off at the post office at the end of Marquette Ave. tomorrow after work so that it gets to you as soon as possible.

Thank you again for writing back and remembering me.

With Hopes to hear from you soon.

Sebastian


*********************************************************************************

Okay, so what do you notice?

The first letter was a simple request of memory and acknowledgement.  There was no plea, just a simple hello.

The reply was personal and inviting, thanking the writer for taking the time to send the note and desiring more communication.

His reply was a slow exposition and a play upon their mutual knowledge of each other. It sounds like a verbal conversation between friends opening up in slow motion.

And some more...

September 3, 1996

My Dearest AMAZING Friend,

I just got your latest letter in the mail. Damn you give good letter, I mean that was some of the best letter I have ever got! I know, I’m sick, sorry. I got the cookies and the poster! THANK YOU!

Life here has been just running out of control, like a cab being driven by Helen Keller through a soccer match. Today, for example. I got up early after staying out too late, cleaned (clomping around my apartment with dirty mop water and black boots like some depressed Euro club girl) , ran to the train to go to yoga (given by a fascist masochist Stalin-esque yoga instructor) after  my class three towns away......... only to have rushed to the college to find the class cancelled and then, after eating a huge breakfast, decided to not go to Pol Pot Yoga. So, I am writing you on a train back to my apartment. Some strange looking stoner chick next to me is making a bracelet of some sort. Let’s where where this goes, shall we?

Classes at the university are in full swing and I am drowning in work. Still, I cannot help myself but get out there and be with my new friends. It turns out that there is a girl here from the university we went too. Her name is Holly and she is a totally badass chick. She plays guitar, loves the Indigo Girls, and is just too cool for any school. We hang out and sing whenever we can. We became best buds immediately!

Your letters! Ouch! What is going on with you Sweetie?! You must take better care of yourself. Is your job really that stressful? I am sorry about your allergies. You must try to get some sleep!

I have to ask you a question. Do you think I’m attractive? I guess I am sorta cute, but what’s been happening here is making me question reality. It seems here men are falling all over me in ways that are boggling my mind. Do I have some sort of hypnotic beam coming from my chest or something? My new boyfriend, Julian, likes me a lot, but that is in a “high school” sort of way. He’s nice and smells good, but I am trying to figure out what is going on. His friends are hitting on me, guys on the bus, etc.! Okay, fine, I am an American chick in Europe, but r-e-a-l-l-y? The men in this country are like wolves.

On a different note, I got a job tutoring some German girls in English. They are nice and the pay is decent so I have a little less to worry about financially.

Well, here’s something interesting. The kinda strange girl who was next to me on the train making the bracelet, we wound up talking and she was really nice. She even gave me me the thing she was making!

Well, as you can surmise, I am not on the train now, but back in my apartment. I need to get some studying done before I meet up with some friends and we go out into the Summer night and go dancing till we can no longer stand. So I’d better go. I miss you so much and cannot wait till I get back to see you again! Thank you so much for the letters! I LOVE THEM! (but not in that “High school sort of way” ha ha) Take care of yourself, Sweetie, and I will write more soon.

Love,
Ri
**********************************************************************

And the Volley

September 8, 1996

My Dearest Rena,

I am sitting here at the table near my window reading your letter again and again. It was awaiting me yesterday when I got back from my long Saturday.job. So now, in the sweat box that IS this studio apartment, I write you this letter.

While I suppose I could may go to the Laughing Cup Cafe and write this in an air conditioned space, I just do not feel like moving around anymore. My knees have been sore and stairs do not appeal to me very much. Maybe not the stairs, but the amount of roaches I would have to stomp as I ascended and descended the stairs. I will do my weekly cooking session later this afternoon when the temperature cools down to the melting point of lead. But now, I just need to write you. So, armed with my typewriter, radio, and pot of coffee, I am ready.

How your letter of September 3 got here so quick I have NO idea but I am not gonna complain. Postal karma? As for me giving good letter... (turns away and blushes, takes cowboy hat from head, wipes brow with back of rough weathered hand) Thank ya’ Man. We don’t get pretty women like you around here so I’m..uh... glad I could be of service to you in this town. There’s plenty more of that if you would enjoy it. Anything for a woman such as yourself. (Puts hat back on, tips brim, and leaves the emotional saloon.)

Okay, so that reminds me. You want me to tell you if you are attractive? If you wish me to answer without censorship, here you go: Duh, yes. I fear saying much more on this but here goes.

You are a very pretty woman. From the moment I met you I could see that. Even though you were on crutches trying to hobble down the stairs by the dining hall wearing a ratty Rolling Stones shirt and unwashed hair, you were stunning. When we met that time later and you were bathed, in tye dyed  and no longer in need of medical appliances for mobility, I was floored. Someone that looks like me rarely gets someone like you to talk to them, much less pounce on them with a hug. ( For the record, your hair smelled good.)

As for the men around you desiring you at all turns? Well, all I can say is: Duh, yes.

You are an attractive American girl in Italy! You are exotic to them like .... Pearl Jam and Twinkies and, I don't know Marlboro cigarettes and hot dogs?!?! But you may have to suck it up and deal with your attractiveness. Sorry, but you did ask....

And of my life here? Work. And Work. I go food shopping sometimes when I am not working. And on my way to work I will stop off at the library. Monday mornings I drop off your letter at the post office on my way to work. Did I mention I work? Okay, fine, I do not work that much but I have been running around trying to help out my friend Frank during the days before I go into work.

Oh yes, I have to tell you about a book I just bought. It is called “The Pugilist at Rest” by a guy named Thom Jones. (NO! NOT THE SINGER! THAT IS T-O-M Jones!) I heard some guy read his story “A White Horse” on a public radio show one Sunday and I was blown away. Stunning work. You have to get it. The stories deal with the Vietnam war,  boxer dogs, Schopenhauer, Jaguar cars, and epilepsy. Please get his book if you can.

Oh lord! What time is it? I am sorry but I have to get running. I am running out of coffee and they are playing a live concert of a Beethoven symphony on the radio soon and I need to unplug my phone,  lay down on my futon and listen to it with my eyes closed. I may pass on cooking tonight all together.

Don’t worry, even though he was German, I shall be thinking of you in Italy and using that as a soundtrack.

The streets outside are calm and the sun is almost set. Thank you so much for your wonderful letter. I will write more next Sunday, I promise.

With all my gratitude and friendship,
Sebastian


Much later on in the correspondence, things grow deeper and this letter is written:

My dearest friend,
            I just received your two letters and CDs 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 going to clubs. 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 Rome 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 shirts, 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 dawn.
   
Their 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, Maria. 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 Lucia and Paolo, 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 Dianas. 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 I'll keep.

            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......

Ri

***************************************************************************

You can see here that the language and intensity has changed. This is some time down the line. The conversation is thicker, richer, more intimate. However, it is not forced. Both people write about the same amount.

Always keep in mind to never sound like anyone else in your writing. Be yourself. If you wish to improve your writing style, a creative writing course may help, but how one transcribes their inner voice is as unique as each person. The author Hunter S Thompson re typed the classic novel “The Great Gatsby” before he attempted writing so he could “feel what it was like to write a great novel” So, you could also re-copy paragraphs you like from books, descriptions, observations, turns of phrase.

To quote Christopher Hitchens used to say that when he was a writing teacher he would tell his class, “Anyone who can talk can write.” Then, after a pause, he would have their souls fall by asking, “How many people in this class believe they can really TALK?” One must always strive to find one’s own voice and I cannot think of a more natural place than the personal letter.

Finally, I hate to bring it up again, but must state that the letter is a conversation and has all the same mercurial states. Sometimes letters are just letters. Sometimes someone is just not that into you. Sometimes you are disappointed, very very disappointed. Other times, a letter can rescue you from the bottom of a deep depression, have a deep impact on someone’s life in a positive way that can be revisited again and again.

But in the end, there is nothing like the letter, what it can bring and what it can pull from our own selves. Nothing. 

Handout for DC Seminar August 10, 2013

The Art of Personal Letter Writing
 Keeping it Alive and well in the Digital Age
by Michael Kovacs
(This  seminar is dedicated to my dear friend and fellow letter writer Theresa Clark.)

(NOTE:Thank you very much for coming to this seminar. We will be exploring personal letter writing, NOT romantic letter writing. If you want to apply the techniques and suggestions here, that is great. I just want to state that here so as not to disappoint anyone.)

Poor tools require better skills” (Marcel Duchamp).

One could start by saying something like:

Since the start of the mechanical reproduction of written language and art, all communication has become more and more an indirect process. The culmination of this is the present digital  age where all forms of communication have been reduced to the absolute uniformity ( and by proxy, anonymity ) to all written (read “typed”) correspondence. When a  form of communication, once intimate and individual, becomes monochromatic, immediate, and without any value, what is left is a simulacrum of an experience which no longer contains the true essence of what it was created for and can offer. (i.e. The stunning reality of people playing sports using a video game console versus the act of actually playing the sport.)

Well, you COULD start it off like that.......

Hello and thank you for coming to the Seminar on the art of letter writing. In this brief session we shall go over the basic parts of letter writing and hopefully write a letter  during the session.  Please note that the handout you have covers more ground than will be discussed today simply due to time.

Why are you here? Why are you reading this? Why aren’t you texting? Calling? Putting a picture of this page on Tumblr? For the sake of all things mauve, COMMENT ON THIS CLASS ON TWITTER!!!!!!!!!!!! #ink_kills_machines or #nib_revolution_matrix

We are living in an age where almost everyone is communicating ALL of the time. It seems to me that every gas station attendant, mini mart employee, coffee shop patron  and every person from age 15 to 30 has their head buried in their smartphone at all times.

Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr/and every other social media site has updates happen at the speed of light and everyone is sharing their thoughts with everyone else, much of the time with absolute strangers. Judging by this observation, it can be easily stated that what everyone seems to be craving is someone to listen to them and someone to reply to them. This need to communicate goes deep. How deep? Well...

I Describing the History of Water to a Fish

If you are reading this than you are in either one of two camps: You are already a letter writer and want to gain a new insight into the art form, or you have never written a letter and wish to know how to do so. Both approaches have the same question at their core: What exactly IS a personal letter?

The personal letter is a form of written communication between two (or perhaps, but rarely  more) parties where a non- verbal monologue (?) is transcribed into written form and entrusted to its recipient(s). But if communication is need or desire to express thought, then the beginnings of the letter predate language.,

The oldest known cave art comes from the Cave of El Castillo in northern Spain, and may be more than 40,000 years old. The drive to make what is internal external, therefore, is at least as old as the Neanderthal era.

Scientists too have shown that writing, not typing, uses a different part of our brain. 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. Also, in the field of psychology, therapeutic letter writing is used to help people deal with certain traumas. The voice within needs the letter to be heard and validated.

While it would be silly to say that texting, calling, emailing, posting on the many social network sites is NOT communication, it should then be said that the act of letter writing produces a UNIQUE form of communication. As stated before, linguistic digital communication is (at least at present) without any personal characteristics other than perhaps unique language manipulation. The personal letter (or note or postcard for that matter) all have the human touch involved, that unique expression of ourselves.

We communicate, we transcribe the inner monologue we have, because we cannot help ourselves. Without going into anything too deep, all of nature (birds, bees, plants, animals, and even a chosen few reality television show stars) communicate outside of themselves and to each other. Written language, that amazing attribute to humanity, is something we should never take for granted and use to its fullest potential.

II So, Mr. Lecture Guy, what makes a great letter?

When I was giving this seminar earlier this year, I asked the group to remember the most amazing letter they got, the one that just knocked their socks off. Much to my sorrow, the crew of people in their 20’s looked back at me blankly and said, “No. Sorry. I never received a letter like that/” AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
Okay, that is very bad, though in thinking about it, was not surprising, Those raised in the digital age are perhaps the only generation in hundreds of years to not receive physical mail. So, we must get down to the base line and ask: What does make a great letter?

A personal letter is NOT a monologue! If you are filling up two legal pads of single spaced writing and mailing it off to someone every few days, you are most likely NOT going to get a reply. We all have that one person we know where, when we get a call from them or meet up with them by accident say, at the taxidermy clearance sale,  they just talk and talk and talk a..... and within three minutes you have officially turned off all receptors of language and start envisioning them as a life size twinkie. You may really care about them, but you get really angry because you cannot get a word in edgewise. This is not to say we all don’t call on a friend when there is a crisis to listen to us or do that for those we care for. I am saying that the same rules that apply to letters applies to the art of conversation.

And what is one of the biggest rules of conversation: LISTENING. IF you receive a letter from a friend and they confide in you  about how they are in a financial crisis due to medical bills due to chemotherapy, it may be bad form to totally ignore that and say what a bad week you had because you could not get the new iPhone or could not sleep because the movie “Ernest Goes to Ancient Rome” was a let down. If they shared something with you, comment on it.

Then again, for those who do not have a major crisis every other nanosecond like I do, questions can be proposed on common interest, a common passion on life, hopes, dreams, etc.

I have been blessed to have been part of quite a few amazing conversations, both in voice and through letters. I thought I was all alone in this but was so relieved to read Christopher Hitchens say in his last book “Mortality”

“A conversation is the only human equivalent,  the realizing that decent points are being made and understood, that irony is in play as is elaboration,  That a dull or obvious remark would be almost physically harmful.”

Granted, these magical moments do not happen all the time, but one must feed the soil of friendship with consideration, acts of kindness and selflessness, and honesty. Therefore your letters in content will most likely vary with who you are writing. An obvious point to be sure, but one that should not be overlooked.

And finally, I am getting a bit cranky at those who say this to me all the time: “Oh I miss getting letters but nobody writes them anymore.” and two “There is just no time.” Both rest on the fact that somene needs to start writing letters for the conversation to begin.

If you miss getting letters, you must ask the next question, “When was the last time I wrote a letter?” You will not GET one unless you WRITE one. And before you start screaming about how you never get replies, I have news for you,  Hemingway used to complain about the same thing! H-E-M-I-N-G-W-A-Y!! So let’s just admit that we enter into letter writing with the reality that not everyone will write us back. Sad and disappointing, but true.

As for the “No TIME” issue, I will state the following: you cannot allow expectation and imagination get in the way of doing something. You may not have time to write an eight page letter as you so much desire. Fine. You have time to write a postcard, no? And, the answer is, “Yes, I do.”

I will be the first to admit that I have sacrificed many many many many hours to the god of Google. I will want to get something done, like this handout, and the next thing I know I am on the search engine trying to find a quote then to how soap is made then to how Katharine Hepburn died to whatever happened to that girl from “Different Strokes’? And then, looking at the clock in the lower right part of the screen as it mocks me for having wasted away yet another portion of my life that I will never get back with things that I will never remember.

I have written letters while waiting for takeout food, on trains, on busses, in hospitals, and pretty much any place that has a table or simply a chair.... or just some place to sit down. I do my best to write every week. Even when I was writing my book, “Not the Yearbook You Expected” and spent hours at the keyboard, I would find it refreshing to sit down and write a friend a letter. Perhaps I am lucky in that writing is something I love. The quality of it I cannot comment on, but it is something that has carried me through the darker climbs on my existence, and the letters I would receive from friends were nothing more than a lifeline out of the darkness.

IV Enough Talk, Let’s Do This!

Okay, let me begin by saying this about the form of letter writing: THERE ARE NO RULES!

The form the letter has taken is simply out of necessity and desire. You could make up your five page letter into a jigsaw puzzle and have the recipient put it together or write it on the soles of shoes (which you can legally mail) or in Pig Esperanto in microscopic font on a Valium. You can and good luck in what will be sent back to you. (I am assuming some sort of Morse code on acrylic French toast, which you can also mail. Please, don’t ask how I know this.)

Please note: The assumptions made for the following letter are this: you already know the person and are already in some sort dialogue with them. Introductory letters that are done for pen pals and the like must start off more expository than usual (many things about yourself and even more about the person you are writing) and of a very general emotional nature.

Step one: Where and when

Please, please please put the date and where you are somewhere on the top of the page. If for nothing else it gives an organizational tool for later on as well as the setting for the scene. Writing it from a library in Dusseldorf should paint a different picture than a motel in Detroit or Camden. Even just the town will do. (Milan or Trenton... the IS a difference).The date also helps the reader know right out of the gate of the possibility of letters have crossed.

Step Two: The Salutation

We always start off our letters with “Dear” and that is fine.Is in general and does not have any huge weight or direction. The wonderful author David Rakoff used to address his emails, “Dearest....” That has such a wonderful spin to it which is no wonder as he was a brilliant writer and by all accounts a sweetheart of a guy.

“My Dear” , “My Dearest”, can obviously be followed by the persons name or nickname. “DOOOOOOD!!!” “Baby!” and “To the person who refuses to apply to infested area,.” (to quote Steve Martin)  This is an intimate conversation between you and someone else. Inside jokes are a must!

But I cannot stress enough the importance of this part of the letter. As someone who has been writing and recording Music for the past forever, the opening notes of any piece are some of the most crucial. The opening chord to the Beatles, “Hard Day’s Night”, the opening notes to Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”, the opening of the song “So What” by Miles Davis, and so on. This rule also applies to film and fiction. The entrance sets the tone. Use this wisely.

Step Three: The Invocation....kind of

I always suggest that after the basic hellos, you tell the other person what was the last letter you received and/or refer to the last time you were in communication. Besides giving context, it also allows the reader to know of their last letter was received. If a letter was mailed to you about how they had a car accident and lost their job and are in an emotional crisis with their relationships and all you talk about is how much fun your new meerkat's laugh is, there is going to be some emotional dissonance. Mention where you are connecting from in terms of time and information. That will help.

Step Four: Off to the Races with a Camera

If you already know what to say, fantastic. However, it may be a good idea to take a step back and tell them what is around you.  Describe the table, the coffee, the person next to you or perhaps some guy in the room wearing a strange hat who is a carrying a guitar. Whatever. You are giving the other person a movie. Set the scene. “I am at a pen show and I just got this new Pen.....”

Then....

Before you go into your dissertation about how the boss at your new job has made you love the novels of Chuck Palahniuk in a deeper fashion, talk about what THEY wrote YOU. At least for a sentence or two. You can always come back to it later. If they confided in you something important, make sure you let them know that. Remember, they did not have to write you back...

Then....

If you have nothing to say, then give them the gift of a memory or a thought or a hope.

My friend Ilana (as well as my friends Alyssa and Michael) have said that, for the most part, my letters tend to be meditations. I suppose I just start writing and, because they are such close friends, I just keep writing. The process of writing a letter places the author in a meditative state, closing out the outside world to focus only on what is within. I also find that listening to Music helps get me in the right frame of mind to write. To me it is the soundtrack to the movie I am transcribing. That being said, one can also include a CD of Music with the letter, giving them the soundtrack you had when you were writing it. While I don’t do this as much as I used to, it was de rigeur for some time.

Then...

Discuss matters of the other person. Give them advice, a kind word, Again, this is conversation between friends and not a James Joyce postal therapy session only benefitting one party;

Step Five:Place All Seats and Thoughts in their Upright Position....

Make sure you take the time to wind things down. Saying what you will be doing after you complete the letter is often quite wonderful as it keeps the story going after the words have finished. It also makes the other party feel like they are being carried with you within the silence.

Last step: Conclusionary Rites

How you conclude the letter is just as important as how one begins it. And this can get a bit tricky as how one leaves in this conversation gives context and tone to everything that preceded it. “Sincerely” and “Yours” are good and nice standard closings. “Love, “ however, well, that can spin out of control faster than Courtney Love on ice skates after a three day bender. I am not saying to avoid it, but just be careful with it.

“Yours Always” “With Hopes to Hear from You Again”, “With Deepest Gratitude and Friendship” are all good closing lines, not to mention, “Your Friend”

Just pay attention to how you end your letter. Again, there are no rules, but you are writing the closing seconds to the movie you have written. It matters. (Just watch the ending of the movie “The Graduate” or  “The Usual Suspects” if you doubt me.)

V And So...................

And so, here we are, at the theoretical end of matters. You will most likely note that I did not include any tips on stationary making in the handout. While I make my own stationery via my own methods, the advent and popularity of scrap-booking has produced a plethora of books on the subject. I am always pleased when someone buys my stationary on Zazzle as it makes me think that someone will be writing another person on my stationary.

In the end, I care more about content than presentation. Please do not get me wrong. I LOVE getting letters on amazing stationery (thank you, Sabine), I cherish the words more than the paper. Some of the most amazing letters I have gotten have been on notebook paper.

And please, do not waste any time. When you write a letter....

JUST SAY IT!

This artform, the personal letter, has changed the course of human history and its need and presence within human interaction remains unchanged. Never forget its power to remind others that they matter, that they are remembered. We like email, but we LOVE the letter. The email and text feed only one of the senses: sight. The letter illuminates the trifecta: sight, touch, and (if you wish, by physical presence) smell. 

I owe a great deal to those who have written to me and allowed me the honor to write to them across the years. While I have done Music, prose, fiction, non-fiction, multimedia, canvas art, and poetry, I still find the Letter to be the easiest and most joyful expressions of creativity. But it is an art form made for an audience of one.

Just today I asked someone I have written to for over twenty years what should say about letter writing. She said that my letters were meditative and honest. Perhaps it falls back on what Christopher Hitchens said that there is no greater gift than when a reader feels you are talking just to THEM. And the letter does just that. We are addressing the reader, placing before them our offering of words.

So I hope you write letters and the unique Joy that it brings. Ironically, I have sent out postcards to every person who has ever come to my seminars and have never gotten a reply. (Okay, I sent things out to all the addresses I COULD READ!  PLEASE WRITE CLEARLY ON THE MAILING LIST!!!!!)

Letter writing has been a part of my life for most of my existence. I believe it was wonderful preparation for my life in the arts, as the meditative state I get in when I write music or prose or  do visual art is the same. All of those things require the same mental state, to be disengaged from the outside world and focused on crafting from the internal desire to say something. Letter writing is not a performance art. In the end all that matters is the honesty and clarity of the word and nothing else.

But to me, the personal letter deals with the conversation that binds friendships together, that slowly built cathedral of words sent by courier. But in the end there is nothing else like it. If you get the chance, please watch the play “The Best of Friends” with Sir John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, and Patrick McGoohan. It is an epistolary play based simply on the letters of the author George Bernard Shaw, museum curator Sir Sydney Cockerell  and abbess Dame Laurentia McLachlan. The play shows the weaving of the threads that become an unbreakable rope of friendship between them all, mostly through the written word. Friendship, true friendship, is a reflection of the Divine.

Now get out there and write more letters. You are at a PEN SHOW! Strike up a conversation and see if you would like to write each other. Or go through your address book and write five people you used to write to, Or, if you are so inclined, go online and find one of the many letter writings sites where you can be connected such as the Letter Writers Alliance. Just try. The opportunities, and desire to connect using this amazing art form, are out there.

My deepest thanks to everyone at the Pen Show for allowing me to give this seminar, Steve Hayes for amazing help and getting this thing in the best shape, Laura Chandler and everyone at Pen World.
Alyssa (Just Alyssa), Michael Eppel, Ilana Stern, Marta Quinones, EIleen Leary, and Chelsea Frost for keeping the letters alive in my life, and to my wife Christine for sewing it all together with words and actions of love and support.

And thank you all for coming and taking the time to listen and write.

With Deepest Gratitude,
Michael Kovacs

PS: If you wish to be in touch, my address is:Michael Kovacs PO Box 200 Old Bridge NJ 08857
       My book “Not the Yearbook You Expected” is available for download at Amazon.
       My writing blog is ww.meditationsinink.blogspot.com and my stationary is available for sale
       on Zazzle.com at PostModernLetters
  
  All original content copyright 2013 by Michael Kovacs






Friday, August 9, 2013

PREVIEW OF SHOW!

Hey everyone! Just a head's up about tomorrow.

Come to the seminar and you will receive free custom made stationary and an envelope! Why?

I will be discussing the art of letter writing and everyone will write (or at least start) a letter in class.

There will be  a discussion about why letters are different than anything else, why they are needed and why they will always be around!

There will be an "advanced class" for those who wish to do something different in their letters.

Class time is 3 PM at the DC Pen Show, and it is FREE!!!!!

So please come on out!!!

Friday, August 2, 2013

3 PM, AUGUST 10 AT THE DC PEN SHOW!!!!!!!!!!

Yes! Ladies and gentlemen! I will be giving a free letter writing seminar at the DC Pen Super show on August 10! The time was just confirmed for 3 PM!!!!

There will be a handout and well as free stationary and envelopes!

Come in with an idea, come out with a letter!!!

I am looking forward to seeing all of you there!!!