What Happens When We Choose Both?
I jumped ship to this platform after the last newsletter I sent apparently arrived with a radioactive warning not to open it, (apologies to anyone who got that, and thank you for letting me know). So this is my Newsletter 2.0, with a new bonus feature: future posts will include a Truth & Dare. It’s based on a workshop I developed and taught during the pandemic, when nobody could gather together in the same room. The Truth comes in the form of a writing prompt and the Dare is an artistic gesture or action. It’s an invitation to participate in creative interventions in the world and to pay attention in a new way. If you decide to do the prompts, you have the option of reporting back about it in the comments section. And if you are a teacher/professor of any subject, (I’m sending you a psychic fruit basket right now), feel free to use these ideas in your lesson plans and classrooms. This will also be the place to learn of my upcoming writing workshops, occasional readings or events.
Today’s Truth & Dare combines the writing prompt and the gesture in one, inviting you to write 30 letters in 30 days during the month of April. It’s National Letter-writing month and spring is a great time to stick your head out into the fresh air and clip some outgoing postcards to the letterbox.
Experiments With the Letter
As I mentioned in my last post, this spring I took a break from teaching to rest up after a surgery. I’ve recovered now, but as a result, I didn’t offer my usual Letter-writing workshop at Lewis & Clark College, so I’m putting out a DIY version for free to you now, (please feel free to share it with others). I’ll link to examples of letters I use in workshops at the bottom of this post for inspiration, but for now, here are a few tips that I like to do when taking the 30 Letters in 30 Days challenge:
- Print off a simple April calendar template (free on the internet) and fill in the days with names of people to write to, (the living and the dead, the ordinary and/or the famous, those you’ll mail off and those you’ll burn)
- Gather cool stamps, postcards, envelopes and things to stick inside them
- Think about a favorite poem or image or original drawing to send, (see my poem-at-the-ready hack below – it takes away any fear of having to fill a giant white sheet of paper)
What Letters Offer
Clarity: Writing a letter or a postcard requires us to make time for a moment of lucidity — whether we are describing what we see out the window or catching a friend up on our news, our thoughts come into focus sentence by sentence.
Catharsis: A letter can be the great unloading, a Letter to Self (or someone you’ll never send it to), a rant, an open letter, an op-ed to the newspaper, a letter to the world stapled onto telephone poles all around the city. It’s pure postal purification.
Rest: Writing to someone is the ultimate slowdown, the chance to catch your breath and focus only on the thread of ink your pen leaves behind. Sending a poem, a piece of art or a favorite quote is an invitation to another person to slow down as well.
- Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay have great spring poems
- Samantha Chang’s poetic “letters” try to make sense of her parents’ biographies in Dear Memory, and understand her own history
- Natasha Tretheway’s poem “Letter” is terrific and you can watch her read the (gut punch of a) poem, “Letter to Inmate #271847”
- EB White writes a hopeful letter to a penpal who fears for the future
- James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Rebecca Solnit each have examples of using the letter form to get at difficult truths – also read Solnit’s essay on letters
If you’ve read this far, you deserve a real fruit basket. Good luck on the letter-writing and keep in touch.