Let us introduce our fun-loving, cool, smart and beautiful cousin, Juanita. She is participating in an awesome letter-writing project in the month of February and graciously wanted to share it with you all. Here she is:
February: The Month of Letters
Author Mary Robinette Kowall decided to disconnect herself from the Internet for one month. She informed her friends and family that they could still reach her by mail. She writes about how her decision became a yearly celebration in her life, and it’s now become a yearly challenge for anyone that cares to participate.
Because I’ve always loved carefully composing letters and constructing elaborate packages to send to my close friends, Kowall’s idea immediately appealed to me. Of course, twenty-nine mailings could become very difficult to keep up with, so I was determined to set myself up for success by starting the month with a) two packages instead of letters and b) the most effective brand of motivational guilt I know: when you know you really should – in the most ultimate, scale-expanding sense of the word – be doing something good, the sheer objectiveness of the obligation makes it nearly impossible not to procrastinate. But, because inaction is The Wrong Thing To Do, in this circumstance, the compelling power of this kind of guilt increases exponentially with each passing second until you’re finally forced to acknowledge that the limit has shot off towards infinity. For me, infinity happens to be ALRIGHT, ALRIGHT, JUST FREAKIN’ DO IT ALREADY.
…Yep, I sent them to my mother.
To be fair to her/fill you all in, I was supposed to send my mother some things once I settled in after a recent move. That was June. So I think my mom deserves the first two days of my Month of Letters. And knowing that she’ll love receiving anything with my name on it keeps me motivated to put extra thought into the presentation of my letters and packages. Since it’s now the 3rd of the month, I can only show you some of the stationary I’ve compiled for the rest of the week’s mailings.
It’s amazing how “before” images always excite me like nothing else: materials spread out like freshly fallen snow ready for sculpture. But they’re not anything in particular right now, just an array of paper and clipped pictures I’ve kept squirreled away for months; so the heart flutter surprises me. Why exactly am I so enthusiastic about this project?
On the way home from weekday errands, I listened to Brené Brown’s interview on The Smart People Podcast. She’s an author and authenticity researcher who specializes in the study of wholeheartedness, shame, and vulnerability as the birthplace of creativity. I am a huge sucker for enumeration, linguistically meticulous descriptions of the abstract, and that’s exactly what Brené does. (I have a feeling she might also get starry-eyed when she talks about the flexibility and precision of the English language.) Eleven minutes into the podcast, she says:
“…there’s some quote that says, ‘In my twenties and thirties, I worried about what everyone thought; in my forties and fifties, I stopped worrying about what people think; and then in my sixties, I realized no one was even thinking about me to begin with.” Here’s where we have to start with that: we are absolutely hardwired for connection. It is why we’re here … we are neurobiologically, at a cellular level, wired to be in connection with other people … When there is a lack of connection, when there’s disconnection, there’s always suffering – I don’t care if we’re talking about in a personal relationship or in an organizational culture, in a family, when there’s disconnection, there’s always struggle, there’s always suffering.”
She then goes on to define shame and creativity in the context of the vulnerability of human connections for a grand total of forty-one minutes that I, for one, will definitely spend on this interview again. By the time I pulled into my driveway, I had magnified my enthusiasm for this project under a lucid, focused lens of understanding.
A hand-written letter is a method of interpersonal connection. By constructing, composing, and adorning messages to my friends, I am re-presenting myself to them creatively. Each packet is something I’ve made that will become part of my connection to my friend as soon as they receive it. I hope these items carry my presence, as if I were standing right in front of them, handing them my letter personally, a bizarrely specific postmistress with the best job in the world.
All the while, I had been dwelling solely on the recipients. Even though The Month of Letters is for others, it is not something you can complete without realizing that the sender is an equally important entity. Who am I and why would I do this?
Last year, I wrested a bachelor’s degree away from an intensely competitive college, leapt out of my cozy Bostonian nest of friends, and immersed myself in a firmly established office culture – none of which can be considered transitional moves. In fact, they were simultaneous. I felt almost as if I had been watching one movie, fully engrossed in the plot and happily munching on snacks, gotten up to drizzle more butter-flavored sauce over my popcorn, and accidentally walked back into a different theatre playing an entirely different movie with the same actors. I’m only just now aware that this is not the story I thought it was, and keeping up has been so mentally demanding that I hadn’t taken the time to look around and realize that my friends weren’t in this theatre. I am ashamed to say that I hadn’t noticed that, underneath my active attention, not only have I been missing them dearly, but I’ve also become a neglectful friend through inaction, monopolizing the super-sized bag of popcorn because I wasn’t vigilant about staying within their reach anymore.
This is what The Month of Letters is about for me: putting forth extra effort to strengthen my connection for/with/to other people. Twenty-nine of them, to start. I encourage everyone to give it a shot, if only for a week. Even just jotting down a list of recipients can get you started, ideas snowballing into creation.