I started writing because I met a girl*. At a wedding. We sat on a bus stop bench outside of the hotel and talked until the early morning hours. There was a brief kiss, and then I headed home to Portland, Oregon and she to the ocean as the leader of a salty, summer-long, summer camp kayak trip for high school girls.
We wrote letters. I wrote letters. Every day. From the back yard, tucked into my bed late at night, on the bus home from work. Such an intimate way to get to know someone. More so, to share yourself. There is the power of the time that lapsed between my writing and her reading. Something safe about the physical distance, a way to dampen any embarrassment or bravely battle any attachment to how my words are received. The distance both removed the caring, and heightened it. The length of time a question remains unanswered. And the magical ability to pen your life, to pain the picture however I choose. True, but curated and intimately hand-selected with purpose The arms length and the time lapse. The ability to structure a message with care. The ability to send a message of care, even if few words are enveloped in that folded, sealed paper bearing the stamp. [Sidenote, as I re-learn my “appetite” for how much interaction I want to hand with real people in real life, a Jane Austin-style correspondence via post is my favored form of relationship, in my humble opinion. Thanks to Suzi Banks Baum for putting this concept into writing so elegantly.]
I started writing because I had a reason, but more so because I had an audience. Letters are perfect like that. More than an personal journal, less than a journal article. A captive audience. A reason to write without narrative purpose. Through this desire to connect, and this audience audience of one, I developed (albeit unwittingly) a practice. A writing practice.
I find it hard to write without an audience. Not that I write in order to be read, but because it’s easier to write when I can picture a face or person or name who be on the other side of the words. Usually that face is the reflection I see in my computer screen. I primarily write for me, to iron my ideas into the smoothness of something wearable.
Still, the concept of an audience serves as some small motivation to take the ideas out of my head and plunk them on to paper. To keep going. I know that I am usually my best (and only) audience. And I love me, so this is quite often sufficient. But sometimes, when there is no aching and gnawing inner crisis or dilemma in me, or when I am dulled, I don’t serve as my best audience. My best motivator. Sometimes it’s nice to just imagine writing for someone else. Even if they don’t care. Even if they won’t read it. Even if it only means a fraction of a percent to her as it means to me. The thought of an audience serves as motivation to simply pick up the pen, to be accountable.
Hence, the love letters, the audience of
one two. Each parcel sent was addressed to an address in Maine, ending in the following notation:
Hope, ME 04847
Each of the parcels, composed, bundled, sealed, addressed, stamped and hung on the mailbox by a binder clip was a letter to me, more than to her. Each was a manifestation of my hope, my desires, my efforts to synthesize my expectations for life into written form, and send hope to me via a camp in Maine to a kayak in the waters off Nova Scotia. That summer, I learned more about what I wanted out of life than I have in years. I also learned that we weren’t right for each other, and that she wasn’t the right person to fit into this garden I was cultivating through letters. (She is now married to a dear friend from my college days, and they welcomes a beautiful son into their family last year).
And back to the writing, it truly is a practice. The more I spread the ink over the page, the easier it is. The more fluid my dreaming whirls become my waking thoughts become my early morning notes and essays. It is like meditation, like exercise, like training. My brave letters opened a door to a writing class, and a writing group, and oodles of confidence and life-long, dear writing companions who each sail her own brave kayak of words among a whirling ocean. So blessed to have these comrades on the journey.
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I have a pile of letters in my underwear drawer. Each a messages to myself. Things to remember. Notes in a bottle. Often sent at the end of a journey, mailed back to my house or a waystation, to be received and read in the future. At the end of a cross-country bike trip, I sent mail back to my PO box in New Haven. Writing from the water-level pier on the Willamette River in Portland, I sent letters to my future, graduate-school-bound self at my parents’ house.
Dear Self. I love you. Don’t forget that. xo, me.
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*In all truth, I started writing in my journal when I was in elementary school. I still have these journals, bound in puffy plastic, pink paper with wide-set white lines. my writing then may have been more regular than any other time in my life, up until the fall-in-love-correspondences on that summer. Writing has always been in me, or writing has always come out of me.