If you’re like me you enjoy a great many things, but I wonder if you’ve cultivated some of those favorite things into full-blown passions. It’s great to enjoy a subject, but it’s quite another thing to make that subject your own by developing rituals around it so it becomes more . Once a subject becomes a passion it offers us so much more delight.
I love to discuss my passions with friends. Why? It’s because sharing doubles the joy. One of my passions easily shared in letters is my passion for food – cooking, baking and entertaining with food. Is food one of your passions too? Even if you don’t enjoy working with food yourself you probably enjoy eating it, so reading food stories or recipes in letters just may make your mouth water and keep you entertained. And if the subject of food delights and amuses you as it does me then finding like-minded pen friends will make your day.
I have a number of such like-minded, food-loving, happy cooker/baker-type pen friends. There’s Shari, a gal I met through a friendship book many years ago. Shari lives in Wisconsin. And I’ve met a number of wonderful foodies through The Letter Exchange: Amelia in Minnesota, Maureen in Massachusetts and Tracy in England just to name a few. These gals share their favorite recipes with me as I share mine with them.
Shari loves salads on hot Summer days: Pizza Pasta Salad, Guacamole Chicken Salad, Cranberry Salad and Chicken Noodle Salad. What? You only ever heard of Chicken Noodle Soup? Well, live and learn.
Recently Amelia sent me a recipe for Spicy Roasted Brussel Sprouts. Yum! All you need for this recipe is olive oil to coat the sprouts, a few pinches of kosher salt, red pepper flakes to taste, a little bit of honey, and of course, brussel sprouts. Mix ingredients together, place in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes and the sprouts will become soft, caramelized and delicious!
Tracy, my English pen friend, loves tea and tea treats as you might expect. Sharing doubles her joy as well as mine. She offers me little escapes regularly as she describes the charming tea houses she visits in villages in and around Guildford, England. Recently Tracy sent me a recipe for Seed Cake. I can’t wait to try the recipe. I remember watching one of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple films where Seed Cake was discussed. The characters were saying they hadn’t had Seed Cake for ages and they were thrilled to see it on the menu. Soon Seed Cake will be on the menu at the Sharing Teas I host regularly and I’ll be using an authentic English Seed Cake recipe too. This makes an afternoon tea lover like me quite excited.
I have a feeling my pen friend Maureen was named for the famous Irish actress, Maureen O’Hara. I say that because Maureen’s mother was born in Ireland and her father was first generation Irish-American from South Boston (Southie as Bostonians call it). Back in the days of Maureen’s father’s youth, living in South Boston was just like living in Ireland – at least that’s what Maureen tells me. Her parents met on Saint Patrick’s Day in Southie. Is it any wonder Maureen sent me a delicious and wonderful recipe for Irish Soda Bread? I must share it with you so next Saint Patrick’s Day you can make this tea time treat and dazzle all your friends. You can tell them the recipe is “pure Irish” for Maureen said she couldn’t be more Irish if she were a leprechaun.
Maureen’s Irish Soda Bread
Ingredients: 4 cups of all purpose flour, 3T. sugar, 1 T. baking powder, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. baking soda, 6 T. butter, 1 1/2 cups raisins, 2 eggs, 1 1/2 cup buttermilk
Process: 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 2 quart round casserole dish. 2. In a large bowl mix first 5 ingredients with a pastry blender, or by hand. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. 3. Turn dough onto well-floured surface, with floured hands knead 8-10 strokes mixing thoroughly. Shape dough into a ball and place in casserole. In center of ball cut a 4 inch cross about 1/4 inch deep. 4. Bake 1 hour and 20 minutes (check after an hour) or until toothpick inserted in center of loaf comes out clean. 5. Cool in casserole pan on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and finish cooling on rack.
Though every personal letter is special, having pen friends who share one or more of your passions makes letters even better. Any letter received from these soul mates will be extra special and great fun. Don’t take my word for it. Reach out and you’ll be sure to find kindred spirits who will make the Art of Sharing in letters one of your very favorite things. Sharing may even become a passion in its own right.
I love music, many kinds of music, but I’m especially fond of piano music. As I’m writing to you I’m enjoying the piano music of Frederic Chopin. I’m imagining he’s in the next room playing the piano just for me. Never mind that Chopin was born in 1810 and died in 1849. To me his spirit is alive and well and he speaks to me through his musical compositions.
Chopin is one of my many “dead friends” and as you may already know, “dead friends” are people I get to know and love by studying their letters, biographies and work.
It’s good to have an imagination you know, and I am blessed with an excellent one. I exercise it regularly. Do you exercise your imagination too? You should, for an imagination is a terrible thing to waste!
With imagination it’s possible to enjoy the company of all sorts of extraordinary people, people who may be living now or may have lived long ago. Time matters not. We read their books and letters, listen to their music, study their art, and it’s easy to imagine these people are with us. They are with us, perhaps not in person, but definitely with us in spirit.
It’s that way with letter friends too. We may not have the pleasure of meeting letter friends in person, but through their sharing of dreams, passions, yearnings and ideas we get to know them quite well. And these letter friends enliven our world of thought with the stories and information they share.
I’m thinking of my pen friend James Gilbert and the wonderful letters he writes. James is an artist and he is also quite knowledgeable in music. Ah music! That’s an art James and I both love, have studied, and appreciate. Do you love music? Do you speak music? By that I mean can you read musical manuscripts? Even if you don’t speak music, perhaps music speaks to you. I hope so for music is wonderful!
Well, James and I have had some very interesting musical conversations in letters. Let me share just one of them with you. James writes:
“A while back we were discussing Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Procession of Nobles”. That’s the one that they used to use as the theme music for the Channel 8 News out of Cleveland. You said you didn’t remember but could I write some of it down, so that’s it below.
I wrote it from memory but I’m pretty sure it’s right. It’s a rondo. There’s a little trumpet fanfare intro, and then the A section comes in (first three staffs). It is a very transparent piece of music, I think. Rimsky-Korsakov was largely self-taught, so there is a certain naivete about his work. Listen to the playful way he uses rhythm! Even though it’s in triple time, he sometimes straddles the bar line to give it the feeling of a march in 4. His use of tonality is so exotic! It’s not really written in a major key because he never uses the A sharp or the E sharp; it’s modal, and that gives it a very Russian feeling. Can’t you just see snow falling in the courtyard of the Hermitage when you hear the B section? The orchestration that he uses is quite exquisite. A lot of harp, which is probably intended to conjure the sound of a Russian folk instrument.”
After playing through the musical notation that James shared I did indeed remember hearing this piece at the start of the evening news way back when. What fun it was to discuss it in letters. Perhaps you know this piece. If not, take the musical notation to your piano and read through it, and if that’s not possible, go find it at the library or on the internet. Listen to it. “Procession of Nobles” really is a neat composition as are a lot of Rimsky-Korsakov’s works.
Having letter friends who share passions as James and I share our passion for music really makes the letters we write and receive extra fun. Letter writing is not only a great physical, social and spiritual activity, it is also a wonderful source for intellectual stimulation.
Life is what we make it. Each interest and friend we have enriches our life experience. I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine my life without pen friends, and “dead friends” too for that matter. I suspect a great many people have neither and I think they’re missing out on a lot. I hope you enjoy both because they each have so very much to share, and you know what I always say, don’t you?
“I don’t know what I think until I see what I write.” Those are the words of Flannery O’Connor, the American writer and essayist. As backwards as this idea might seem, I feel exactly the same way each morning when I sit down to write my first letter of the day.
There I am with my first cup of coffee and the letter I plan to answer. My mind is still rather blank after a good night’s sleep. The day hasn’t yet had its chance to invade my thoughts, but, as I read through my friend’s letter, ideas begin to flow. That letter I’m answering may tell me a story of love, report a discovery, or describe a challenge, and reading of such things will then conjure up my own similar experiences – or lack of them – and such reflections will start my mental ball rolling.
Once my thoughts are activated, it’s not long before my creativity kicks in and my letter response is off and running. Where it ends up is anyone’s guess!
Sark, in her book “Succulent Wild Woman” writes, “A story can travel without you and inspire many. The tiniest story in your life can deeply touch another. You cannot know the effect your story might have.”
If you keep this idea in mind when you write letters, your writing will become more than a simple free-time activity: It will become a way you can make this world a better place just by being you and sharing the best parts of yourself – your ideas, enthusiasm, faith, hope, compassion, lessons learned, and things loved.
Sark also says, “Creativity thrives in solitude – not isolation. As creative women we need community.” I suggest women aren’t the only ones who need community either. Everyone needs community.
No man is an island. Letter writing is a wonderful activity because though we may be enjoying the peaceful, luscious solitude of our home or the pleasure of our own table in a crowded coffee shop we’re alone in one way, but we’re not entirely alone. We have the companionship of our letter friend.
My best intellectual and/or creative conversations seldom happen while chatting with friends in person, even though I’m lucky to have many intelligent, creative friends. Maybe it’s just me, but when I get together with friends it’s more like a party, and conversations tend to stay light and festive.
In-person friends are forever jumping into each other’s thoughts with asides and comments. The topic is constantly changing. It’s great fun, but entirely different from conversations in letters. In letters there are no interruptions and the tone often becomes more serious and thoughtful.
In writing a letter, one has the chance to form all thoughts slowly and carefully, getting them all out before a word is written in reply. Therefore these written thoughts have a chance to develop more completely. By the same token, our letter friend has plenty of time to digest and reflect upon our words before responding to them.
Modern life and modern communication does not encourage these slow, thoughtful exchanges, and this is a real shame, for most people don’t even know what they’re missing. As with so many things, one must experience good letter conversations in order to understand how they can enrich our lives.
If you are a thoughtful person who enjoys shared reflection, I would think you’d love letters and letter writing, for, with the right correspondents conversations will occur that add depth to your intellectual life. Good letters tell stories. They describe comings and goings, explore feelings, and capture and preserve personal essence.
Letter writing helps us reflect upon and examine our stories and the stories of others, something busy modern life does not encourage us to do. Reflection is good. Shared reflection is even better. It’s important. Lord Byron wrote, “A life without reflection is a sad affair.” I agree. Don’t you?
So reflect upon your story, then write lots of letters sharing your most outstanding personal tidbits. You will tingle with awareness and eagerly await letter responses from your pen friends. You will feel like a real writer – and for good reason. You will be one!
“A story is a medicine that greases and hoists the pulleys, shows us the way out, down, in and around, cuts for us fine wide doors in previously blank walls, doors which lead us to our own knowing.”
Clarissa Pinkola Estes American poet, post-trauma specialist and Jungian psychoanalyst
Ever since I started making a lot of new friends through letter writing I noticed I’ve been a lot happier, for though I thoroughly enjoy my own company, I seem to experience an irresistible and intoxicating lift whenever I find myself with interesting, supportive people, people who could be described as kindred spirits. Spending time and sharing with these special people doubles my joy and divides any sorrow I may be experiencing.
You may also have discovered the lift obtained from the presence of kindred spirits in your life, even just one. Having the right people to talk to makes a big difference to most people’s happiness. But did you know there’s a scientific explanation for this fact?
In the book, “Happy for no reason”, Marcia Shimoff tells us,
“When you surround yourself with relationships that supports you, your energy expands. According to the latest research, women’s biochemical wiring makes them more likely than men to seek out relationships with others for though men and women both release adrenaline and cortisol when under stress, scientists found in a landmark UCLA study that in order to buffer those stress chemicals women’s brains release oxytocin, the bonding hormone. This is why women who are going through a rough time often want to gather with other women or have a good, long yak-fest with a close girlfriend. Researchers call this behavior “tending and befriending”. It is stimulated by oxytocin and in turn creates more oxytocin. The more women “tend and befriend”, the more oxytocin they release, producing a calming influence and further lowering their stress.”
Stress doesn’t have to be caused by a deluge of disasters and bad news either. Sometimes having a full, wonderful life, just a little too muchwonderful, can make us feel frazzled and destroy that feeling of calm and control which most of us need in order to enjoy our days.
And even if we’re feeling absolutely fine with no stress in our life at all, there’s still something about having a yak-fest which makes most women feel better yet, even fantastic! So, tending and befriending seems to be a very intelligent activity (especially for women) to include in our regular list of “to do’s” if we want to be our happiest.
But you do need to find kindred spirits and this is not always so easy. Sometimes finding a kindred spirit is a little like looking for a needle in a haystack. To find a kindred spirit we must get busy meeting people in any number of ways. We can join clubs, get involved in community activities, do volunteer work, become active in a church, join a political party, OR…
We can join a letter writing organization like The Letter Exchange (www. letter-exchange.com.), sit home in our easy chair with our feet up, a favorite drink at our side, and in this most comfortable manner reach out to people all over the world in search of friendship. I’ve made quite a few very special friends through The Letter Exchange and I’m sure you would too.
As a letter writer one can have a yak fest any hour of the day or night because writing a letter doesn’t demand your friend be available to you at that precise moment. And it seems there’s a little magic involved in finding and connecting to kindred spirits through letters, for unlike the friends we select through in-person meetings, the friends we gain through letter writing associations seem to come to us in a more mysterious manner. We reach out, but it’s sometimes a surprise who reaches back to us, and I like to think that meeting these people is not an accident of fate, but rather fate directing them to us for a reason.
In the book, “Celestine Prophecy” written by James Redfield it is suggested that nothing is a coincidence. When we meet a person either we have something to offer them or they have something to offer us or it could go both ways. It’s up to us to share meaningful conversations, yak fests, with these people, in order to find the true purpose of why we were brought together.
I like this idea. It makes every person I meet important to me, and because people are important to me, I love to meet new ones every chance I get. Is it this way for you too?
I’m always open to in-person introductions, but I also love to meet letter writers from around the world via The Letter Exchange. I submit ads seeking new pen friends and answer ads from others as well. It’s often a surprise just who pops into my life.
Let me give you just one example. I’m thinking of a particular ad I answered which was placed by a woman living in France. Because I love French food I thought it would be grand getting to know this gal. It was my hope that she would share her favorite French recipes and tell me stories about French cuisine.
But in receiving her letter I was quite surprised to learn this gal wasn’t French at all. Though she truly was living in France (since she married a Frenchman) Milantra was actually born and raised in Thailand. What fun! After all, I liked Thai food too, and though I hadn’t been searching for a Thai pen friend at that time, I was delighted that a Thai pen friend found me.
When we’re reaching out in friendship, ‘the powers that be’ will send us exactly those people we need at that time in order to cultivate the richest life possible for ourselves.
So, if you want to be happy, or happier, for the rest of your life cultivate friendships with people who are kindred spirits. And remember, kindred spirits can come to you in the form of pen friends just as well as in-person friends. Write lots of letters. They are yak fests set to paper. Feel that oxytocin lift your spirits as you write. To letter writers the whole world is a friendly neighborhood in which to find kindred spirits. Tend and befriend. This is a sure-fire recipe for happiness.
There are those who say they love getting letters but they don’t enjoy writing them. These people seem to think writing a letter is a difficult task. Maybe they just need practice sharing their hearts with others and cultivating greater interest in their fellow men.
I certainly understand the pleasure of receiving letters, especially good letters that have something to say and say it eloquently. If letters are beautiful, if they have a lovely look, they’re even better. But to me, the best letters of all are those that not only entertain, inform, and share the writer’s true feelings, but also show interest in me. (We won’t even talk about the “letters” we see, often at holiday time, in which everything is about the writer and no thought is given to us, the letter’s recipients).
Now Rebecca West, 20th century author, journalist, literary critic and travel writer, says there is no such thing as conversation. She says there are only monologues, that is all. Do you agree with her? I don’t. In fact, I feel a little guilty writing to you here and now because it’s all about me and my thoughts. Since I’m a letter writer first and foremost, I’d really like to know what you’re thinking too. Maybe you’ll leave a comment, or better yet, maybe you’ll write me a letter one of these days. But even though this particular message from me to you does happen to be more a monologue than a conversation, a letter should always be a conversation. The writer should share his thoughts but then refer to the person to whom he is writing. He should ask questions, comment on his friend’s ideas and show he cares about his friend. It’s the give and take that makes his missive a letter and not an essay.
I’ve heard some say they have nothing interesting to say in letters and that’s why they can’t write them. I suppose this could be true, but if this is truly the case I wonder why these people aren’t getting busy finding places to go, people to see, and new things to do for their own sake. Even if they’re captive at home for whatever reason there are still so many subjects they could explore, books they could read and PBS programs they could watch, enjoy, and later discuss in their letters. We all owe it to ourselves to fill our lives with fun activities and fill our minds with stimulating ideas. That’s what living richly is all about and sharing all this makes letter writing fun for sharing doubles the joy and divides the sorrow.
But maybe some of these people who hesitate to write letters really are quite interesting and have a lot they could be sharing. Maybe they’re just not giving themselves enough credit, not realizing the positive impact they could have on others if they would share their personal thoughts and stories and show a sincere interest in the thoughts and stories of others.
Some letters are bursting with news, but even if a person has no news to report, that need not stop her from writing a good letter, for though it’s always nice to read what’s happening in the lives of others, the best part of a letter is the sharing of a person’s true feelings. Sharing our feelings on any number of subjects makes our letters personal and human and its this sharing that is the magic ingredient of true friendship. We all have thoughts and plenty of feelings so why not make a point of sharing them? We should, for when we share good things come back to us – Friends!
Let me tell you about one of my friends, one of my “dead friends”, Her name is Charlotte Bronte. I knew of her, but I never really knew her. I’d heard about what she did and where she went, interesting information for sure, but it’s not until I read Charlotte’s letters that I really began to know her, and it’s not until I began to know her that I could connect with her and consider her a friend and kindred spirit. She now is a source of inspiration to me.
Though Charlotte lived long ago and far away, by discovering her letters, I now feel I know her better than a lot of the people I see in my world every day. Personal thoughts and feelings shared will make people feel close. Whether we’re happy or sad, inspired or bored, comfortable or under stress, sharing our thoughts and feelings in letters, whatever they happen to be, and being interested in the thoughts and feelings of others, is really what makes letter writing socially and intellectually exciting.
Though Charlotte was a clever interesting woman and a successful novelist, she thought her life was very dull and this often put her into a funk, a real letter writing funk, but she kept writing letters. Why? I can hear you now saying, “It’s because although she had no joy to share at times, sharing also divided the sorrow.”
Well, this is true, but let Charlotte tell you in her own words exactly why she wrote letters, funk or no funk. By reading just a bit of one of her letters you’ll begin to feel close to Charlotte as I do and you’ll understand why many say letters mingle souls. Charlotte writes:
I feel it was almost a farce to sit down and write to you now, with nothing to say worth listening to; and, indeed, if it were not for two reasons, I should put off the business at least a fortnight hence. The first reason is, I want another letter from you, for your letters are interesting, they have something in them; some results of experience and observation; one receives them with pleasure, and reads them with relish; and these letters I cannot expect to get, unless I reply to them. I wish the correspondence could be managed so as to be all on one side, the second reason is derived from a remark in your last, that you felt lonely something as I was in Brussels, and that consequently you have a peculiar desire to hear from old acquaintance. I can understand and sympathize with this. I remember the shortest note was a treat to me, when I was at the above-named place; therefore I write. I have also a third reason: it is a haunting terror lest you should imagine I forget you – that my regard cools with absence. It is not in my nature to forget your nature; though, I dare say, I should spit fire and explode sometimes if we lived together continually; and you, too, would get angry, and then we should get reconciled and jog on as before. Do you ever get dissatisfied with your own temper when you are long fixed to one place, in one scene, subject to one monotonous species of annoyances? I do; I am now in that unenviable frame of mind; my humour, I think, is too soon overthrown, too sore, too demonstrative and vehement. I almost long for some of the uniform serenity you describe in Mrs. ____’s disposition; or, at least, I would fain have her power of self-control and concealment; but I would not take her artificial habits and ideas long with composure. After all I should prefer being as I am.”
We know if someone is alone and lonely, receiving a letter could be a great comfort as it was for Charlotte. Writing letters to show we care about a person, even if we have nothing particularly interesting to say, can make a huge difference in someone’s day. It’s not important to be a brilliant writer, nor do we need to have an exciting life in order to write good letters. It’s just necessary to care about others and be willing to share ourselves with them.
We don’t have to be alone or lonely to enjoy letters either. In the book “A Woman of Independent Means” Eizabeth Forsythe Hailey writes, ” Though my own life is filled with activity letters encourage momentary escape into other people’s lives and I return to my own with renewed contentment.” Whether we’re an introvert or an extrovert, as long as we care about others and are willing to share our life with them letters should be as much fun to write as to receive.
So if you’re one of those people, (or you know one) who would love to receive letters just start, or keep writing them. Human expression is precious and personal touch is more important today than ever for it’s in short supply these days. What the world needs now is love sweet love, and writing personal letters is one great way to spread that love and friendship around our weary world.
William James, the 19th century American philosopher once said, “As long as there are postmen life will have zest” and I completely agree. It’s not that most postmen have such good looks and winning personalities. It’s that they are the ones who deposit delightful treats in my mailbox. Letters! Big ones, small ones, letters in all colors of the rainbow, with exotic postage stamps and cute little stickers. Ah! The pleasure of a letter addressed just to me. There’s practically a radiance to it.
The other day I ran across a line by William Wordsworth. He wrote, “My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky,” – a nicely turned phrase, but for me, it’s letters in my mailbox that make my heart skip a beat, leap up and dance for joy.
It’s a sad day when my mail consists of nothing but catalogs, bills and material addressed ‘occupant’. Luckily, such days are rare for me because when you give (and I give) good things come back to you. I write a lot of letters so I receive a lot of letters in return. How many letters do you receive everyday? How many letters do you write every day? There’s a correlation, you know.
Letters are wonderful, a physical art form and a great venue for social interaction. But besides that, when we write and receive letters we’re enriching our intellectual life for ideas expressed and discussed stimulate the mind and offer us food for thought. In letter conversations we can explore any number of subjects and in that exploration we can inspire others and be inspired ourselves. We can teach and we can learn.
Many of my letter friends delight me by sharing the passions dear to their hearts. Some of their passions are my passions too and discussing these favorite subjects is always great fun. But I’m equally delighted to hear about whatever makes people light up and come to life. Life is what it’s all about and letters are a wonderful vehicle in which to reflect upon the life we lead.
Ah life! We only have one life to lead, but as we meet and get to know a variety of people we can experience, like second hand smoke, a variety of passions. Even if we don’t share these passions we are broadened by our awareness of them.
My pen friend, Evelyna, not only shares my enthusiasm for The Art of Letter Writing, but she also shares my passion for TheArtof Living. Evelyna “walks in the beauty way” as the Navajo would say.
Though modern life is busy for most of us, and sometimes stressful too, Evelyna and I are kindred spirits in that we try very hard to cultivate rituals which downplay the dreary aspects of daily life. We each make a point of stepping out of our work-a-day world at frequent intervals in order to rest, reflect, and focus on whatever beauty might be around us. Not everyone thinks of life as an art form in itself, but art it can be if we’re willing to become the artists of our lives. This requires effort, determination and attention to carefully cultivated rituals. Evelyna and I enjoy sharing whatever rituals we invent. Why? You know. Sharing doubles the joy. And though the sharing of ideas is the prime glory of letters, the stationery we create for those letters does add an element of enchantment. Consider this photo note which Evelyna whipped up for me:
Evelyna’ celebrated her love of lavender by creating this photograph for her letter paper. She decorated lavender paper with a portrait of herself wearing a lavender gown. She added a garland of flowers and ribbons in her hair and posed holding a basket of flowers and baked goods. What fun she must have had creating this cover photo. You might think only 19th century ladies would be seen this way, but Evelyna is a 21st century Romantic. Romantics might be rare these days, but they do exist. I know because I am a Romantic too.
Do you have any Romanticism in your blood? If you do, you would love a pen friend like Evelyna. Not only are her letters beautiful, but because they focus on the beauty of life they are very positive and uplifting. Also, like any good letter writer, Evelyna makes a point of showing her appreciation for her letter friends. Finding one of her letters in my mailbox always has the power to put a smile on my face and a bounce in my step.
I’d like to share a bit of one of Evelyna’s letters with you. Reading her words will help you understand why my heart leaps up when I behold one of her letters in my mailbox. Imagine this letter was coming to you. She writes:
“…Do you know what I most enjoy about your letters? Reading them seems to give me some moments of quiet respite from my interminable deadlines. Although you are every bit as busy and productive as I am, your days and activities seem to move at a much more relaxed and leisurely pace. You seem to have more freedom within your schedule to do things you love when you want to, which seems like such a luxury to me. While reading your letters, I find a sense of slowing down within myself, like a 78 record being played on 33 rpm. This is good for me. Of course, it also helps that when I see a letter from you, I don’t just tear it open and start reading it. I set it aside while brewing a cup of Earl Grey tea in a porcelain pot. I then sit down in another room or in my garden, open the envelope with my art noveau letter opener, then revel in what you’ve written while sipping and dreaming and reading. You see, once again, it’s all about creating a ritual, if only for five minutes. It’s up to us to find moments of peace and beauty in our lives, and if they aren’t readily available, we must create them for ourselves. On that note I will close with a word of appreciation for our friendship and a wish for moments of beauty throughout your day.
p.s. from CarolAnn Do you now understand why William James and I believe as long as there are postmen life will have zest?
Having a pen friend, a kindred spirit, helps us focus on, and be true to, the way we want to live. Articulating our ideas to each other helps us define and refine those ideas. Sharing offers support and encouragement.
Whether we share information on our favorite subjects or discuss and describe favorite ideas, the writing, the reading, the musing over words contained in letters, stimulates our thinking and as a result, enriches our intellectual life. What subject would you love to discuss in letters? There’s probably someone out there with the same desire. What are you waiting for? Find that person. Join The Letter Exchange and start sharing.
If you’re like me you are a person who enjoys a great variety of things, but even though a great many of these things warm my heart, nothing makes me feel as wonderful and content as meeting and getting to know good people. People make my heart sing and I guess that makes me a people person. Are you a people person too?
When I meet someone who makes my heart sing I like to take action, hold on to them – not literally of course, but I try to keep them in my life, for as you may have discovered not everyone out there is a keeper. Some people are grumpy and others are a bit too in love with themselves to need you or me. Then there are those bored souls, bored with life even though the world is so full of a number of things, and because they find everything so boring they themselves become boring. I wish these people well, but I don’t invite them into my world unless I can help them in some way. If that doesn’t seem possible I move on.
But when I do encounter a person I really like, well, there’s always room for one more friend. That’s how I feel anyway, how about you?
I have learned not everyone thinks as I do though, and I learned this the hard way – through personal experience.
When I first moved away from home I was given the name of a person, a friend of a friend, and I was told to look this person up, give her a call. I telephoned this gal with great anticipation, but was I surprised when instead of being friendly she gave me a very cold reception and actually told me she had enough friends and wasn’t interested in meeting me.
That encounter was quite pitiful for sure but it did teach me a thing or two. I learned not everyone is a people person and I now realize why some cautious or fragile souls never reach out to strangers. There is definitely some risk, it’s true, but I’m happy to report I never met anyone so unfriendly ever again, in fact, I’ve met many wonderful individuals, quite a few by chance, and a good many of them have turned into lovely friends.
So If you’re looking for a few more in-person friends or pen friends I suggest you keep your eyes and heart open as you travel through your daily life. Simply by sharing a smile and then engaging in conversation if that smile is returned, wonderful, friendly things can happen. They happen for me and they can happen for you too.
There was the time I was sitting on the porch of the beautiful Red Lion Inn In Stockbridge, Massachusetts and I noticed a young woman with her parents and her small, sweet son. Her son reminded me of my own sons when they were young so I said hello and struck up a conversation. In the days that followed I ran into Carole and her son, Ewan, a few more times. The subject of letter writing came up as it always does with me and it was decided we’d exchange addresses and keep in touch by letter. Now, years later and many letters later, we’re still communicating, and one of these days I’d love to meet her once again back at The Red Lion Inn because it’s still a favorite retreat to both of us.
Speaking of Stockbridge, I met another most interesting and talented person while there. I was visiting The Norman Rockwell Museum and began talking to one of the museum’s docents in Rockwell’s studio. It was the end of the day and he asked me where I was from, a question I’m sure he asked all the visitors, but we were both amused that my home was near the place he grew up.
The museum was quiet so we chatted for a time and I learned James was an artist in his own right. He pulled out some photographs of paintings he had created and I was quite impressed with his skill. In fact he had created a large painting of The Red Lion Inn that was hanging in its lobby. I in turn told him all about my love for The Art of Letter Writing. We had many appreciations in common so it seemed tragic to meet and then as quickly lose touch forever, so keeping in touch through letters seemed to make sense. We became pen friends.
Not only was James a fine artist but he wrote wonderful letters too. This was not surprising to me because some of my favorite correspondents have been men. Not many men in our modern world think of writing letters, but of those who do, many are quite masterful. The content of James’ letters was always thoughtful, and most interesting, but what was even more wonderful was the art work he included. Being an artist, James illustrated many of his letters and though I’ve gotten lots and lots of very artful letters in my day, no one until James had ever illustrated their letters to me.
I could tell you stories of so many lovely people, kindred spirits I encountered in chance meetings, people who lived far away from me, but for one brief shining moment our paths crossed. These people could have slipped out of my life forever, but because of letter writing, these meetings continued in a personal and artful manner, blossoming into real and meaningful relationships.
Such a meaningful relationship developed between me and this lady, Evelyna, a most talented baker. There she was selling her delicate cookies at a craft show and they caught my eye because I too dabble in the art of patisserie. When I’m not writing letters I enjoy whipping up goodies and inviting people in for afternoon tea. The custom of Afternoon Tea, like The Art of Letter Writing, is a forgotten pleasure in today’s world, a pleasure I encourage and promote.
I knew anyone who could and would create such lovely bits of edible art was someone I needed to know so I struck up a conversation with Evelyna and not only that, I invited her to one of my teas. Evelyna accepted my invitation and from that day forward we kept in touch, often by letter even though we live in the same city. Evelyna’s letters are truly as artful as her bakery and I’m so glad I acted on our chance meeting not letting the opportunity for friendship escape.
Then there was the day I was visiting my son who was in graduate school at UCLA. We decided to lunch at Cafe Marcel on the Promenade in Santa Monica, California.
This charming French restaurant was the scene of yet another chance encounter which turned into a warm and lovely friendship.
Deborah sat across from us with her sweet little daughter Amelia. I asked Deborah to take a picture of me and my son and a few words were exchanged, then a few more. Deborah, a social worker, wife, and mother with loads of responsibility and stress in her life was like most modern people today. Busy, busy busy! And like most people she was not into The Art of Letter Writing and not even used to strangers like me starting conversations with her, but by the end of lunch when I suggested we keep in touch she graciously accepted the invitation. But, after a few letters, she admitted to feeling a little leery of this very friendly stranger, me, reaching out to her in friendship that day a few months ago. After all, who does that sort of thing? Answer: I do! And I hope you do too, or will. As my friendship and letters with Deborah continue (with one in-person visit back at the cafe in the meantime) I think she is realizing just how beautiful and valuable The Art of Letter Writing and chance meetings can be, especially to the busy, modern day person. Here’s an excerpt from one of Deborah’s early letters:
“Forgive me for not responding sooner to your gracious letter. Truly, I was very moved by your kindness, almost to the point of tears. Simple acts of kindness, of taking the time in a slow way, are so rare in this day and age, in my world anyway, that I was struck by your appreciation of me and my daughter. It is sad that there is so much distrust, almost paranoia in the air, that just being a nice, loving, open person like you should disarm, but it does. And I think this is the first time I’ve received a handwritten letter that was not a card or a thank you note or some such, in a long time. I can see the importance and the power of your epistolary movement. I think there is research on the merits for brain development, of eye-hand co-ordination, of learning to think and consider, in writing by hand, most importantly for children – instead of typing. It’s particularly scary to think how many children are going straight to computer in elementary school. Handwriting is a filter for the mind and soul.”
Deborah is sure articulate, as well as lovely to behold, wouldn’t you agree?
I could go on and on telling you of many more people I’ve come to know and love because of chance meetings and the extra help of The Art of Letter Writing, but it’s time I run along and write a letter to a young fellow who sat next to me on a recent plane trip to San Francisco. This amiable fellow, Sergej, was from Switzerland. He was a law student there. On the five hour ride through the air we spoke off and on discussing his studies, my love of letters, and many others things. When I finally asked him if he would write back to me should I send him a letter, he replied, “Of course, it’s only polite to do so.” So I shall now say hello to Sergej and goodbye to you. But ’til we meet again, remember to be open to those kindred spirits who pop into your life. Just because they may live far away from you needn’t be any reason to give up on possible friendship – just suggest you continue your initial conversation by letter. and If these people are reallynice you can suggest they write to me too.
I am a schnauzer. I assume you are a human. I have big brown eyes and whitish grey hair as you can see from my picture. I wonder what your name is and what you look like.
I usually write dogs, cats, turtles and fish, but I do like you humans too and that’s why I’m writing to you. Do you have any interest in becoming my pen friend? It’s nice to stretch and grow by getting to know a lot of different people and creatures, viewing life from various perspectives. I learned that from my human friend, Carol Ann.
I usually view life from a big, plush, gold cushion that sits in front of a large glass door in our enclosed porch. It’s from this place that I watch the world go by – people in cars and trucks, people walking dogs, people on bikes, and all sorts of runners. I watch them travel Streetsboro Street, my street, in my town of Hudson. I watch them and I wonder where they are going, what they are thinking, and if they’re dreaming dreams as I am. Yes, I’m a curious schnauzer. Are you a curious human?
What things keep you busy? Do you work outside the home? I take “business” trips every day. Oh yes! These trips take me all around my historic town of Hudson, Ohio. I think Hudson is a charming town and I think you’d like it. It was founded in 1799 by Connecticut people. They called this northeastern part of Ohio “The Land of the Western Reserve” for it was part of Connecticut’s great western expansion way back when. Walking through my village you’d think you were in Connecticut because the old architecture has a real New England look to it. My house was built in 1853. We love old things, Carol Ann and I. But I digress.
I love the sights and smells I encounter as I scamper along on my walks and I especially love the smells. My “business” trips combine work with pleasure. Aren’t we lucky if our work can do this? Do you find pleasure in the work you do? Oh, I hope so.
I don’t take off on my “business” trips alone. I take Carol Ann with me. Carol Ann is my very special human friend. Do you have many special human friends? Carol Ann protects me from losing my way and darting out into traffic. I protect her too — from everything and everyone else. If anyone comes near her, they’d better watch out. I bite! Some say I’m a bit over protective, but I say ‘better safe than sorry’. Do you have someone special in your life too, someone you love and watch over?
Now let’s talk about fun. Do you have any? What does it involve? I love to eat. How about you? Besides my basic cuisine of Purina Moist and Meaty dinners, I just love broccoli and carrots. Vegetables are good for us and they taste good too. I hope you eat your vegetables. I love to eat, but I never learned to cook. You?
I also enjoy following Carol Ann around the house. That girl hardly ever stays in the same place. Upstairs, downstairs, from the kitchen to the bedroom to the library she goes. I like to keep my eye on her, keep her in my sight, because she tends to sneak away from me — sometimes for an hour, but sometimes for a week or more. I hate that! I get so lonely without her even though she sends in a caregiver to keep me company. I probably need more hobbies, but there’s only so much a dog can do, even a smart dog like me. I’m not making excuses for myself, but I hope you humans appreciate all the things you can do and take advantage of them.
I do like when people come to the house visiting. Do you like company too? Unfortunately for me, I get a wee bit too enthusiastic with our guests. I could just “eat them up’ – literally! I like to nip at them even though it gets me in big trouble, like the time I took a tiny little nip out of one of Carol Ann’s piano students. You’d think I bit her head off! Jeepers! How some people overreact. I barely scratched the girl’s surface. I’ve heard some humans take a little nip every now and then too and those nips can be just as much trouble for them as mine are for me.
But let’s get back to the subject of enthusiasm. I personally think it’s better to have too much rather than not enough. Do you know the Greek roots of the word enthusiasm are en = in and theos = God? Yes, it’s true, so I figure the more enthusiasm I have, the better my chance of getting into heaven. Are you a spiritual thinker like me?
Other things I like to do are loaf around the house and sleep. You? Carol Ann wonders how I can sleep so much of the day and still sleep through the night. I tell her, “It’s easy!”
One of my favorite authors, Paul La Fargue, a very smart human of the 1800’s, wrote an intelligent article entitled “The right to be lazy”. I’m with him!
Another very clever human, Oscar Wilde, wrote: “Inaction is noble”. He wrote an essay in 1890 called “The critic as artist”. In this essay he said,
“…to do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual … it is to do nothing that the elect exist. The contemplative life, the life that has for its aim doing nothing, but being, and not being merely, but becoming —this is what the critical spirit can give us – the gods live thus …”
You may have known that dogs are smart, but you may not have been fully aware of just how much intelligence and critical spirit we really have, nor for that matter, been aware of our skill in writing interesting and thought-provoking letters. Well, now you know. I can’t speak for all dogs, or all animals, but I am an artist. I heard someone define an artist as someone who is in constant touch with his true nature – well, that’s me. Might you be an artist too?
It’s been a delightful pleasure writing to you, but now I must go, more “business” to do, but I hope you enjoyed my letter. Feel free to write back to me. I’m like Carol Ann. I’d love to hear from you anytime.
So aarrf arrff and toodle loo from me, Alexander.
ps. If we get to be good friends you can call me Alex
Are you an animal lover? Do you have a pet dog, cat, bird, fish, duck, rabbit, or other lovable creature? Have you ever considered finding a correspondent for your furry, feathery or scaly friend? My pooch, Alexander has had some very nice correspondents.
What? You think that’s strange? Nonsense! Lots of people, some famous, carry on with their animal friends just as they do with humans. Beatrix Potter was known to talk to Peter Rabbit all the time, and he wasn’t even real! Imaginary animal friends are one thing, but we’re talking about real, living, breathing pets. That’s quite different.
A cat we know by the name of Alice not only has written to Alexander, but she has her own Facebook page. I’ve been writing to Alice’s human friend Kathy for years; she and Alice are not only very nice, very normal females, but they also write very good letters. They’re both very articulate.
Maybe you know someone who is crazy about their pet. Don’t you think they would be thrilled for that pet to be graced with a letter? Sure they would.
Alexander’s first pen friend was a miniature poodle by the name of Mister Bundles. Alex and Bundles exchanged letters regularly. These letters shared stories about their favorite things, about places they liked to go, and the funny, quirky things they liked to do — and yes, they loved to write about their playful wonderful masters.
Of course, as you may have guessed, your pet will need a little help from you to compose a good letter — after all, he never went to school as you did (well, maybe obedience school, or if he’s a fish he might’ve traveled in schools, but letter writing is not taught in those places.) Helping out is not much to ask of you and you’ll be surprised how much fun it can be. Really!
It’s very good for us to step out of our own shoes now and then and view the world from a different perspective, from the eyes of someone else. Why not view life through the eyes of your beloved pet?
You know what your pet is thinking much of the time, don’t you? I bet you do, so why not share their thoughts and stories with other pets and pet owners who can probably relate? Sharing doubles the joy you know, and this sort of sharing will exercise your creativity.
Of course, your pet will need his own personal stationery, but that needn’t be a problem. Anything will do in a pinch, but for Fido to make the biggest impression on others it’s nice to select papers that relate to him in some special way. Stationery shops might have animal motifs in their inventory, but if they don’t you and your pet can have lots of fun creating one-of-a-kind stationery. Take some photographs of your pet doing what she loves to do. These pictures will personalize her writing paper nicely. (This works for you and your personal stationery too.) You know what they say — one picture is worth a thousand words, saving you both a lot of time describing how she looks and what she’s doing.
If you have artistic talent (or even if you don’t) you could draw your pet. Have you ever tried? Now might be the perfect time.
Try using water color pencils (especially appropriate for fish stationery). The drawings don’t have to be 100% realistic. Have you ever seen portraits painted by Picasso? I remember reading something Picasso’s wife said about her husband’s portraits — how if you ran into a person who looked like one of those portraits you’d fall over dead!
Tasha Tudor, the famous author and artist of children’s books, would paint mice from real life … well, not “exactly” real life: She would find mice drowned in her rain barrel, retrieve them, freeze them, and when she was ready to paint, she’d thaw them out. Now that is a little strange. You trying to draw your pet from real life is not strange at all. It’s actually quite wholesome and sweet.
Why not stroll through a craft store collecting animal stickers to use for your pet’s letter or cut pictures from magazines, pictures of anything your pet loves. Some dogs like to chew shoes so making a picture collage of various shoe styles could be the perfect lead-in to a yummy, though naughty story.
Such stationery would be just thing for my friend Susan’s dog Sweetie. On a recent visit to Sweetie’s house, this adorable, friendly (though naughty) white pooch stole one of my shoes and had a great time chewing its heal before anyone noticed the mischief she was doing. Not too good for my shoe, but the makings of a good story for one of Sweetie’s letters. Alexander will have to write Sweetie soon telling her that her incident made it into this material. He’ll also have to ask her what mischief she’s gotten into lately. You know your pet has lots of adventures. These adventurous stories will inspire his letters and his stationery.
When it comes time for a signature, make that special and personal too. Your pet can sign his or her letters with a simple mark — a paw pressed onto an ink pad and then onto writing paper. It’s trickier for frogs, snakes and birds, but I’m sure you can come up with something wonderful and original.
It’s good to exercise your creativity. As you do, your creativity will flourish. Letter writing with your pet is just another way the two of you can enjoy each other. There’s more to life than playing fetch after all. (I really don’t know how you play with fish or turtles or other animals, but I’m sure their owners do.)
In sending pet letters you’ll also be doing a good deed for your postman. He must get pretty tired of delivering boring mail. Think of the smile you’ll be putting on his face when he glances at a letter addressed to Alexander, the dog. Your postman will be as entertained as you are with these pet letters coming and going from your house.
Our weary world needs to lighten up a bit and maybe you do too. If helping your pet write his or her letters won’t enlighten your heart I really can’t say what will. Have a chat with your favorite animal pal. See what she thinks of this and then give these letters a try. Letter writing will take on a whole new dimension for you. Your pet just might become quite popular, if not famous, in the process. I guess it depends how good his letters are.
These words were first attributed to Walter E. Washington, mayor of Washington D.C. in 1971 and I agree with his sentiments completely. I’ve told you before that I find The Art of Letter Writing to be a complete treat because it speaks to the physical, social, intellectual and spiritual aspects of our lives simultaneously. I’ve shared some of the physical aspects of letter writing with you already, but now let’s begin discussing its social aspect.
If you are already a letter writer you know the important role people play in correspondence. Without people you’d be journaling not letter writing. But if you’re just thinking about getting into letter writing you might be wondering to whom you should write. The answer is simple. You can write to anyone and everyone, really, but today let’s start with the obvious, that is, your family and friends. Letters to certain of these people could actually change your life. That’s what happened for me. I might not be married today if I hadn’t been a letter writer years ago writing to family and friends, especially one particular friend named Bill.
Allow me to share my story. I met Bill in Boston and really liked him, hoping our friendship would blossom into something more, but I had a teaching job in Cleveland. Bill did not have much hope for any long-distance romance, even ours, but then he didn’t know who he was dealing with – a letter writer!
I left Bill in Boston and went off to my teaching job in Cleveland, but I wrote him every day – and not one letter, but two ! I would send one letter to his office and another would be waiting for him at his apartment at the end of his day. He couldn’t forget me if he TRIED! Of course we planned regular visits to each other too , every other week we’d fly back and forth, but without those frequent letters the visits might have stopped. Letters, especially love letters, are unusual these days and they were equally unusual back then. This is part of the reason why they had such an impact.
Prince Rainier of Monoco would agree, for he began his courtship with Grace Kelly by letter. Letters worked for him as they worked for me. Only 150 letters plus 6 in-person visits and Bill and I were engaged to be married.
Bill wrote letters to me during our courtship, too, some on handsome monogrammed stationery, no less! He wrote other letters using silly cards. I loved and kept all his letters and he kept mine. All these years later Bill and I are still together and we have all those old, wonderful letters to reread whenever we need a little romantic boost. So you see why I say letters can change your life. They really can!
Besides writing Bill, I wrote a lot of letters to my parents when I first moved away from home. My mom would write back to me too, and she included recipes in her letters for I was learning to cook in those days. Thank goodness for those recipes, or I might not have saved any of mom’s letters. We so often don’t appreciate everything and everyone until we lose them. Both my parents are gone now, but I can pick up mom’s letters, letters written in her very own handwriting (so precious!), and as I now read what she and my dad were doing it’s easy to imagine my parents are still with me. George Sand said it is extraordinary how music sends one back into memories of the past and it’s the same with letters. Save your letters. Unlike a lot of material things, letters become more precious with the passage of time.
Fast forward to our sons going off to college. That’s an emotional time for most parents and for some young people too. Letters can really help with separation anxiety. Being an avid letter writer by that point in my life, I used letter writing as a most helpful therapy. Perhaps I was an itty bit excessive, but I wrote my sons a letter every day the first year they were away, and my pen friend Markel’s mother did the same thing!
By our son’s second year of college I was much more adjusted so I wrote them only every other day. Their third year?… You guessed it, a letter arrived in their mail box every third day, and by their fourth year away, well, I had to continue what I had started, didn’t I?
Now that I’m quite accustomed to their absence, I write them like a “normal” person, every fifth day. I have to chuckle though when I hear people say that they send their college-age kids a card at Valentine’s Day or some other specific time. They ask me if I ever thought of doing such a thing and I say, “Why yes, the idea had crossed my mind… about a million times!“.
Did our sons write back to me? No. Did they read my letters? I think they read most of them eventually. Did they find the gift cards I included in those letters? Of course. But, regardless of their lack of enthusiasm, did I enjoy writing to them? You bet!
And I think in years to come my sons just may appreciate my letters more, as I now appreciate my mom’s letters. If not them, maybe their wives or children will be delighted to have my letters. The bottom line is that writing to my sons helped me cope at a time of emotional transition.
Writing family is an obvious choice when looking for correspondents, a choice you probably thought of on your own, so go ahead and write those people you already know and love.
Corresponding with friends, friends who have moved away, is another obvious choice. I find it most interesting that some of my oldest friends are not those folks who remained living near me, but rather those who moved far away. Because we wrote each other across the miles and over the years we kept in touch and preserved our friendship. Most of my local friends who stayed in the neighborhood and were quite available gradually were taken for granted, and in most cases faded off into social oblivion. I guess there’s truth to the line that absence makes the heart grow fonder… at least if you’re a letter writer.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t write to people who live nearby. I now have many pen friends who live across town or even in the same town where I live. Though these locals friends might meet me for coffee, lunch, or afternoon tea we still enjoy writing letters and notes to each other. In some cases we don’t even bother using the postal service to deliver our letters. We will draw our own version of a postage stamp on our envelopes and tuck the letters in our friend’s front door. Why not? It’s fun! The telephone is often an interruption, but letters sit quietly until the time is right for them to be read.
I’m sure my local friends and I are not the only people who enjoy writing letters to those we are able to visit in person. Henry Miller, the novelist, was quite a scribnomniac. Even when he lived in the same house with Laurence Durell they often exchanged letters. In fact, for most of Henry’s life he wrote dozens of letters a day to people he could have easily engaged in conversation, and did! As it is to all writers, writing was life and breath to him, as it has become to me – maybe with you too. Erica Jong said Henry put out words as a tree put out leaves. Many people put out a great many words by mouth every day. They might find putting those words down on paper to be as pleasurable an experience if not more so.
Family, far-away friends, friends who live nearby… these are all people to whom we can write, and in doing so we will enhance our relationships, but there are more – lots more people who are just waiting to hear from us, and I can’t wait to tell you who they are, but that will have to wait till next time.