Dear L A Pen Show,
Thank you all so much for being an amazing crowd! Just about a seated capacity crowd! You were all amazing and I hope you had as much fun as I did!
Just to show you that letters are still alive, this found me:
Will post pictured soon.
With Deepest Gratitude,
Saturday, February 15, 2014
IN CLASS PROJECT INSTRUCTIONS
L A PEN SHOW SEMINAR 2014
Last year at the seminar we used quotes as a way to start getting the creative ways flowing for letter writing. This year we will be doing lists!
The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one's self of the chains that shackle the spirit. ~ Igor Stravinsky
Please make sure you take TWO pieces of stationery as well as an envelope and a blank piece of paper. They have been made with lines cutting them in half for organizationa/architectural l purposes.
Think about the person you want to write to and, on the blank piece of paper, write down a list of three things you have never told them. It does not have to be anything too deep or emotional if you wish.
3 great/interesting things you saw at the pen show
3 places you have always wanted to go
3 places you regret going
3 memories from your childhood
3 pieces of art that you love
3 books that changed your life
3 songs/pieces of Music that changed your life
If you can’t think of 3 then do 2. No worries
Now, put that to the side, and start the letter by:
1) Placing the date and place in the upper right hand corner
2) Giving the salutation (Dear...)
3) Start the letter with a greeting and be sure to mention the last time you spoke/wrote to each other. Also tell them you are writing from the pen show!!
4) Now, segue into it by saying something like, “Ya’ know, I want to let you know a few of my ‘___________’ “ and write down your first thing from the list and write about it. How and what you write depends on how close you are to this person. There is no wrong or right answer for this.
“Okay, so I am now going to tell you about a few insane things that happened to me recently. I was playing a show a few days ago where I finally debuted as a spoken word artist at a capacity crowd at a bar near here and afterwards, some guy I did not see since graduating 8th grade shows up! I barely recognize him. We start talking and he says he remembers that I played a red guitar in 8th grade and how amazing he thought I was because I played ‘Smoke on the Water.’ Okay, this is insane because I cannot ever remember having a red guitar and I never liked Deep Purple! Yeah, okay, I played guitar but I would swear it was during the Summer of 8th grade! I didn’t want to debate the guy, but it is very bizarre when someone else remembers more about your life than you!
“The next thing was just sad. Chris and I went into NYC to see ‘Waiting for Godot’ with Patrick Stewart. During intermission, I saw guys huddled together around their cell phones mumbling things like ‘dead,’ ‘drugs,’ etc. I asked what was going on. They said that Philip Seymour Hoffman had died in NYC from a heroin overdose. I returned to our seats in a heavy fog. The second half of the play which deals with the question of continuing on regardless of despair seemed to hit a bit hard. It was a long train ride home under cold grey skies.
Finally, on my way back from the studio where I was being evaluated for voice overs, I saw a clown car get into an accident with a group of anti-vegan pink pong protesters outside a pet store that sold only used crickets. Things got crazy when a bus of nuns got involved... did I mention I have been drinking too much Red Bull and not slept for almost a week?”
Use the last sheet of stationery (take more if you need it) and write out your conclusion to the letter with your final salutation wishing them well and hoping they will write soon.
Final Salutation and signature and you are done.
All original contents copyright Michael Kovacs 2014.
PO Box 200
Old Bridge, NJ 08857
L A Pen Show 2014 Sample Letters Handout
The following are sample letters from my project “A Month of Sundays” and appear, with music behind them, on the debut album “Seasons... and other Imperfect Circles” by my new project The Fractal Ensemble.
April 17, 1996
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!!!!!
PS: I wouldn't mind if you would write me back! (HINT WINK HINT)
July 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 bad ass 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 am 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 REALLLY? 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 had 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.
September 23, 1996
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 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, 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 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......
December 4, 1996
My Dearest Friend,
I was very touched to stumble upon your beautiful gifts,true to your spirit and generous heart.
Your mix is playing as I write, so your presence is all around me mixing with the falling snow outside the window . As you can see from this letter, my waiting,the forces of my mind, is scattered.
My life is on quite an upbeat these days. I've spent some major quality time alone and with my parents and life and love have never been sweeter with my boyfriend.I'm collaging, drawing, and writing a book about where I am now, how I got here, and what I am planning. It's really helping sort things out.Distill life's wisdom and to also get-through-the-night-stuff.
One of the broadest wisdoms with which i am arming myself with on this departure is about letting go. I have recently spent a lot of time with a dear friend who is tangled up with a selfish married woman. He means so much to me,but as Peter Gabriel just sang, "I let go...." He doesn't write much, but I know that the love and lessons he helped grow in me will be with me always, even when our daily chatter is a memory.
I've been a selfish hermit mostly. I'm moving from a quiet torpid sheltered life to quite the opposite. I wonder how it will all compare to my expectations?
Thank you,my friend, for thoughtfulness and your damned intensity.I am not quite done learning everything you have taught me, but I know that the lessons are in me,waiting to be understood, you know? There is a vain, glamorous, passionate,and painful part of me that you never failed to touch,forcing me to face it. It is a childish part of me that I laid aside at the end my last serious relationship and all the adoration that came with it. I like to think that I have achieved a humbler, realistic me. But you proved to me that I never laid down my mermaid's comb and mirror .As much as I have struggled against it,you kept me honest and whole.
I hope this letter made sense.
I am sorry if I ever hurt you.
All original contents copyright Michael Kovacs 2014.
PO Box 200
Old Bridge, NJ 08857
2014 L A Pen Show Letter Writing Seminar
by Michael Kovacs
Thank you for coming to my seminar and for wanting to keep the art of letter writing alive. This seminar will be different from my past seminars over the past year and a half as I would like to examine the act of writing in general as well as approaching the form of the letter itself.
1) Begin at the non-ending
We are living in the age of digital communication and that is a fact. Embrace that. Years ago I had the honor to interview the filmmaker Godfrey Reggio who has tackled technology’s presence in the modern age for the past 40 years. He has stated that we live within technology like fish within water and there is no way around it. Even if one were to move off the grid but still wish to keep in touch with others via any means outside of smoke signals or carrier pigeons raised on home grown feed.... technology is going to be there, especially in the mail system.
The personal letter can and does survive within this digital sea. Just as all motion does not always yield progress, the new limitless communication does not lead to better personal communication. With Twitter’s short writing style on the seemingly infinite rise and Instagram getting ready to eclipse even that via non-verbal communication, there would seem to be a death knell towards the long form written word.
Well, the fact that you are reading this via attending a fountain pen gathering shows that letters are very much alive. Also, I would like to add, that the act of journal writing seems to be gathering steam. Take one step back and note that the availability of self publishing has made the publication of books hit unprecedented numbers. So, let us not take our eyes off the reality that PEOPLE ARE WRITING!
2) Writing What Exactly...?
I would like here to briefly differentiate between the diary and the journal. There seems to have been an explosion of personal journal writing. The amount of these books on Amazon is staggering. I have had people at shows tell me, “No, I don’t do letters. I do journals.” making it sound as though the two were kindred spirits or something.
A journal (and let’s throw the concept of “diary” in here as well) is a transcription of one’s thoughts into one collective space that is not intended for any immediate reception of any outside party. A journal is a closed system, but I state that with a serious caveat: Some people will write journals with the absolute intent or silent hope that, at some point it time, it will be read by others, somewhere between 1 and 4,000,000 and how the movie rights are optioned.
I will confess here that I have never been able to keep a diary or journal with the exception of doing such a thing as a long form letter to a few select friends at certain points in my life. While I will not say anything against diaries or journals, I will say that they do not resonate with me.
The letter is unique because it is an act that is meant to be shared, a piece of written work that is, by definition, to have an audience, albeit a private one. This seems to be where the intersection private conversation and art connect.
If someone writes a journal for the hope that, at some point in time, the world will be exposed to one’s writings, there lacks an immediacy and marriage to the words. The journal can be read and re-read and then edited or even discarded. With the letter, while the acts of editing and discarding are possible, it is unlikely that one would do such a thing on a regular basis. The personal letter has an immediacy to it: thought to pen to paper to post office.
There was an interview on a radio show about the therapeutic uses of journaling as well as the rise of it in modern culture. It seems that we have become a society where everyone is writing down their thoughts with the hopes of having the world see it and cashing in on our views, that our personal thoughts are so well written and unique that we will all get the elusive prize of fame and fortune. My proposition is this: can anyone write down ANYTHING intimate if it is meant for the world to see? Having written a memoir and self published a memoir myself, I can say that, yes, there is an intimacy but it is not like the personal letter. Names have to be changed, certain things cannot be said due to legal concerns, things must be deleted for space, etc. There is an editing process for the memoir if nothing than simply for time.
3) And what about the letter?
If the memoir is a broad based canvas which is painted over long stretches of time, the personal letter is a snapshot.
The closest approximation to a letter is a verbal conversation, the live act of communicating with another person. While one can take classes in becoming better at the art of conversation, it is an improvisational art form that is done in real time without any real ability to control what the other is saying, and thereby the absolute path of the ___________.
Change the word “listen” to “read”. and this is the same line as the act of personal correspondence. However, it is the non-immediacy of the interaction that, strangely enough, makes it more personal if not valuable. It is almost like the interactions between characters in a play by Samuel Beckett or the guitar notes of a solo by Jeff Beck or the notes of a piece of music by Erik Satie or Arvo Part. It is the distance between things that makes the weight of each greater.
Steven King (amongst many many many others) stated that one must lock oneself away when writing and have no distractions. This makes sense as it is a conversation with the elusive Muse. However, this is also true of the letter. You can text while driving. You cannot write a letter while driving. (Trust me on this one, okay?) The intimacy comes within the silence and the focus one gives within the communication.
Letters are also physical documentation of the invisible narrative of our consciousness. In this digital age, some things MUST STILL BE PRESENTED ON PAPER. It is these things that matter: the birth certificate, the marriage license, etc. Letters give a physical weight and presence to our communication with others.
On the darker side of original presence, I recently had a beloved friend pass away after a seven month scourge of cancer. We spent over half our lives as close friends, the beginnings of which were done via letter writing. While I would write her just about every week since her diagnosis, her chosen form of communication was texting due to the chemo causing havoc with her ability to write and focus. I still have all of her texts on my phone, but the one thing that struck me was that while I could spot her writing style via the messages, her messages physically looked like everyone elses. I missed those letters of hers, the way she would write and the small ornamentations she would do on the borders, her unique handwriting, etc. While I loved hearing from her in any way possible, her stretch of presence seemed so much wider and deeper when I could hold her words in my hands. Now that she is gone, that weight is even greater.
FInally, letter writing is more intimate because it engages more of the senses, more that makes us human.Receiving the personal letter is an act that engages three of the senses (touch, taste and smell) and perhaps four if you count licking the stamp and envelope or... eating the letter. Phone calls get one sense: hearing. Texting and emailing get one, but with a diluted presence. Emails and texts are uniform, their egalitarian essence making them without uniqueness. Hence why it has more weight.
In the same way that we do not talk the same way to everyone we know, we do not write everyone we know the same way. Like each conversation, it is a delicate dance of trust and exposition, of the exchange of emotional currency. Yet each of us seems to know when we are venturing into new territory or the other has crossed a line. All welcomed communication, in any form is welcomed and embraced, affirming our humanity and presence in the cosmos, regardless of the form. However, let us not underestimate the power of engaging as many senses as possible within the experience.
4) The Form: Freedom Because No One is Looking
This seminar will not discuss the art of formal letter writing as it is far too big a subject to cover here and, for the most part, is an act of communication that is meant to meet specific needs.
The death of the personal letter, has, quite literally, been announced for the past several hundred years. As with any form or act of creation that becomes part of a culture, rules begin to be created and the form solidified until someone chooses to break from it. My view of the contemporary personal letter is that so few people are doing it, that there is no longer any required form, or to be more precise, any real expectation on the recipient’s end as to what they will be receiving. Letters between friends, jjust like conversations, take on a life and structure all their own. Poets write sections in poetry form, artists include drawings within their letters, etc.
I started to make my own stationary because I was tired of writing out the redundant existential drama of my life on stationary with cows on motorcycles on it (see the stationery maker Paper Moon for that if they still exist). I wanted the visual to match the verbal. I have written letters as scripts, short stories, and long form poetry. So this reflects my creative bend, sometimes simply as a matter of being silly and and others trying to express the darker tones. I would strongly suggest that you experiment with different approaches at some point. If someone wishes to no longer write you back because you sent them a letter stuffed within a ballet shoe, well so be it. Their loss, no?
While one cannot critique a letter for formal content (since it is not a formal document), one can examine what makes a great written work and take it from there. All great written works engage the reader, transport them to be within the words, in the page. Describing where you are and what you are doing helps set the backdrop for your letter. “I am having an amazingly bad cup of coffee” means one thing if you are at a Starbucks in New York City, another if you are at a cafe in Ecuador, and even more if you are starting your stay in a minimum security prison. So take nothing for granted to the reader.
Also, make sure you tell them that you are replying to the last thing they sent. Letters get lost in the mail and re-affirming to them that it has been received helps. Linking up to your last bit of conversation also helps as you cannot be called out for news you did not yet receive.
5) Form Follows Function
Letters, like a music score, are organized delivery systems of information. Please feel free to write your long letter in a big circle or in the shape of a piano, but know that the less direct the delivery system, the less impact your message will have. (Example: Announcing the death of your beloved sister handwritten on white paper will have a different impact that written in red crayon in the middle of a drawing of a clown’s nose from a childrens book.)
The personal letter should contain the following:
The date (and perhaps place) when you are writing it. Normally in either the upper right or left hand corner of the page.
A salutation: This is the opening of the film, the first measure of the song, the tone setter. “Dear....” is the ultimate neutral opening, the khaki pants/saltine cracker/Lionel Richie of openings. You can go anywhere from here. “Dearest...” has weight. “My Pookie Headed Yum Yum” well, you can take it from there. Just make sure you do not take this first step for granted.
The Introduction: This is the jump out of the gate and where you lay down what is about to happen and link conversations. The same way you would ask a friend when meeting them how they are and ask a few questions about THEIR life, you may want to start this the same way. Please mention the last letter you received here. That way they know and and can relax.
The Body of the Letter:: If you have not done so already, please say where you are writing from here. Above all else, just let the words happen and do not try to think too much. I cannot stress this enough. You may sit down thinking you are going to write about something but go to something else entirely when you are in the act of writing. This is one of the greatest gifts I have found about writing letters. You just let go and see what happens. You may wind up writing it like a script, a recipe, a movie review, a poem, etc.
Summation/Stepping towards the door: Make sure you make a nice exit from your narrative. Like it or not, you ARE telling a story and, unless you want the letter to end like Magnolia or The Quest for the Holy Grail, take a few sentences to wrap things up. Wishing the other person well here, even if it is for the second time, is a nice touch here. Saying what you will be doing after you are immediately done writing helps give a sense that the narrative continues even within the silence of the end.
Endings: Keith Moon, the drummer from the Who, said that all anyone ever remembers is your entrance and your exit. So make you exit count. Why? It gives context to everything you wrote before it! “Sincerely” is the Tom Hanks of endings, perfect for all occasions. “Yours,....” is good, a tad more personal (like Ray Romano?) “Always....” is good.
Be careful of “Love...” as that can be perfect (like Anderson Cooper) or spin a million ways if you are unsure of anything you wish to express (like Kathy Griffin). So please pay attention to how you use this and, like your intro, do not take it for granted.
6) A Few Random Thoughts
I am, for the most part, a musician and composer. My approach to the letter is the same as to what musicians call “jamming” where you just get into a room and start playing and see what happens. Some bands jam live for forever on stage such as The Grateful Dead, Phish, Dave Matthews Band, and Charlie Sheen. I am not in the habit of re-writing letters as I like the fact that they are an instant art form, like a photograph. To me, the greatest moment is to write the perfect letter, to have it ride within a perfect arc of flow within the moment.
Also, the hardest part about writing a letter, if not for ANY writing, is to JUST SAY IT. So please try to do your best to just say what it is you want to. Be careful not to cross the line, but be sure to say what you need to. Hemingway used to write personal letters after he stopped writing for the day or when he got into a spot where he couldn’t write anymore. He also said that he wanted people to write him back more. People, if Hemingway did not have people writing him back all the time, I think we need to realize that we will not get as many letters back as we hope either.
F Scott Fitzgerald’s personal letters go for huge amounts of money these days. I am not sure that the same will be said of the emails of today’s authors. There is certain value to letters that we cannot really ever figure out. And that is a good thing.
Also, please note that you need to write letters in order to get letters. Patience is the name of the game when it comes to letter writing.
If someone told you twenty years ago you would be spending hours a day staring at a computer screen, you would have told them that they were insane as you do not have hours of free time to spare. If someone said twenty years ago you would be spending an extra $50 or more a month on a cell phone, you would have said not a chance, I do not have that kind of money to spare. We now know where the road has led, don’t we.
Letter writing is like going to the gym or eating better: you just have to do it. Always you will not get a personal letter if you do not write a letter first. Get out there and do it. Just do it. A stamp is only forty nine cents. So get out there and do it! Write!
Thank you for your time in coming to this. I hope you had a great time. If you wish to be in touch, please feel free to do so.
PO Box 200
Old Bridge, NJ 08857 or (gasp) email: firstname.lastname@example.org
PS: It is dedicated to my dear friend who I wrote to for over half my life, Theresa Clark, who passed away last year.
All original contents copyright Michael Kovacs 2014.