Letters written, sent, savored

To say what letters contain is impossible. Did you ever touch your tongue to a metal surface in winter — how it felt not to get a letter is easier to say . . . In a letter both reader and writer discover an ideal image of themselves, short blinding passages are all it takes.

- Anne Carson, The Beauty of the Husband

Is there anything better than a letter – for both writer and reader? I've always loved correspondence, the handwritten kind that takes time to unfurl.

I wrote my first letter to my grandparents who lived three states -- and a world -- away. I was 6, and I would dictate to my mother what I wanted to say. I would then copy her version onto my own paper, in my own hand. My grandma always responded right away (and my grandpa, too, with his own short postscript), and even included primitive, playful drawings of the Washington farm where they raised my father.

As I got older, penpals joined my address book. They were bookish, earnest girls like me, who lived in places I'd never been: Wisconsin and Texas and other exotic locales. No deep friendships formed, but I was happy to write cheery letters on specially purchased stationery. I was even happier to receive a letter in return.

How are you? I am fine.
Do you live by the ocean? Do you have a brother?

I have a dog we call George, but her real name is Georgina.

Later, letter opportunities increased: my best friend moved out-of-state, a boyfriend went to college, I moved across the country. I was jubiliant with the possibilites, but aware that my fondness for letters carried the melancholy themes of loss and change. After all, correspondence is created in absence. With each departure, there is sadness at the parting but happiness in the possibility that deeper selves might emerge across messy pages of real feeling.

But it's too much to ask, really. Letter writers are rare.

For over 30 years, my grandma and I regularly exchanged letters, until she died two years ago at the age of 95. My post office box is empty now but my email box is full. Though I'm grateful for any form of genuine connection, it's just not the same.

I miss letters, the way they slow time to invite thoughtful reflection for both writer and reader. I'm looking for gentle gestures these days, the curve of letters, the slope of a signature, the cross-out in mid-thought. Letters are tender reminders that feeling is first, just as e.e cummings says. One must pause, read, and then read beyond.

In a letter, writer and reader share a special language. In each envelope, we seal a message unsaid: I look for you in the pages, and see my own reflection, too.



There’s no end to the treasures to be found while trawling the web. My latest discovery (thanks to Portland writer Michelle V. Rafter) is Wordle, a website that generates “word clouds” from text you provide, or — as I tried, at right — words lifted from your blog entries. You can then tweak the results by altering fonts, layouts and color schemes.

I know, what will they think of next? As if I didn’t have plenty of procrastination techniques to keep me from the actual work of meeting deadlines and writing responsibilities. Still, this is fun.

And free.

And creative.

And because I love words, I consider it my job to spend a minute (or 10) indulging in somewhat mindless, art-ish, literate fun. Don’t you?


Sandra says

“I think it’s important for writers to teach — not so that we sow more and harvest more writers, but for the real reason we write — we write to save lives, our own and the lives of others. I think we should be of service, teaching or doing something in the community to put our writing to use.”

- Sandra Cisneros, excerpt from The Writer’s Chronicle, Summer 2006.
Cisneros is the
author of The House on Mango Street, and numerous other novels and poetry collections.


Write On!

Pens are poised and journal pages are fresh. Let the writing groups begin!

It’s the season of alarm clocks and cafeteria surprises. Lockers and
gossip and a few classes in between. I’m revved up for a year of student writing, and happy to expand activities to the young set, students in 3rd, 4th and 5th grade.

The Waldport Community Learning Center, Seashore Family Literacy and I have teamed up to offer three great writing groups and I’m looking for eager kids and adult volunteers. No writing experience necessary. Just a love of reading, writing, and the magic that happens when you put pen to page.

Here’s the lineup:

Happy Hour — for Young Readers & Writers
(3rd, 4th, 5th grade)
Meets Wednesdays, 4:30 to 5:30pm
Literacy gets fun in this hour of structured reading & writing games, one-on-one reading, library visits, and storybook tales. This group is offered through the 21st Century After-School Program. Parents may register students when completing school registration forms, or by calling Melaia Kilduff, Center coordinator, 563-3476.

The Writing Club – for middle school students
(6th, 7th, 8th grade)
A fun and engaging way for students to explore creative writing through writing games, walking field trips, word-art crafts, poetry and prose.
Meets Thursdays, 4 to 5:30pm
This group is offered through the 21st Century After-School Program. Parents may register students when completing school registration forms, or by calling Melaia Kilduff, Center coordinator, 563-3476.

Young Writers Group – for high school students
(9th, 10th, 11th, 12th grade)
Students generate fresh poetry and prose during this free, weekly dose of revved-up writing practice. In this supportive setting, young writers share their work with the group, and enjoy feedback from adult mentors.
Meets Thursdays, 6 to 8pm (includes dinner)
This group is offered by Seashore Family Literacy. Students may register by calling Drew Myron, instructor, 547-3757. Class is limited to 12 students.


Collaboration. Combination. Crossover.

Call it what you want. I just know I like it. It’s fresh and invigorating and blooming all over: the cross-pollination of art and life. Art and politics. Art and poetry. Art in the everyday.

I love it.

We don’t live vacuum-sealed lives, with clear divisions between topics and concerns, passions and hopes. Why should art? Or poetry? Or politics? I say, take it out of the courthouses, the museums, the academic books. Blast poetry across busses and airplanes, write it across sidewalks and on grocery store floors. Wrap buildings in color, landscapes in cloth (e.g. Christo). Blend words and art and ideas together. Explore the push and pull of emotion and movement, reason and whimsy. Let it get messy and interesting and fun.

That’s just what a group of Denver artists have done with Dems Do Denver. To celebrate the Democratic National Convention in Denver (August 25 – 28, 2008), a handful of notable Denver artists have created donkey-themed, limited edition political buttons. The collectibles are just $4, with 10 percent of the proceeds going to the Denver National Convention Host Committee. (My faves are by Tracy Weil and Hadley Hooper.)

These aren’t the staid buttons of the past. It's politics retooled to reflect today’s willingness to try new things. With these buttons, and in many artful collaborations, there is a suggestion of hope, a willingness to see things in a new light.

Though really quite simple, these crossovers have the power to make real and tangible change. Art invigorates the soul, strengthens the mind and helps generate other art forms. Ideas are born and an audience grows. A momentum feeds movement and, ultimately — hopefully — a greater good.

And all that for just four bucks.