The Letter Project

August 30, 2009

Special Delivery (18)

Filed under: Letters — Theresa Williams @ 12:18 am
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In this letter, Lauren, of The Letter Project, responds to my last letter to her (#17).  She assures me that, despite some doubts about her situation,  her creative life is in tact:  “the world is incredible! How could I not be a writer? I need to spin these experiences into some kind of word-weaving, or explode.” –TW

mid-August  09

Dear Theresa,

When I received your letter I read it right away, standing at my window, reading very fast. Then I put it back in the envelope and put the envelope in my desk.

It’s just that when I finished reading it I felt very warm and whole –a smile spread across my face. So many good words. I think I had to put them away for a little while, keep from… getting lost, I suppose, in the wholeness/closeness I felt.

See, when I spend time away from people –friends, family, Ryan even –I find myself growing distant, scabbed over, callous. It’s easier to stop thinking about people when they aren’t there physically in front of me. Maybe a self-protecting impulse, to fend off sadness. Maybe a flaw in my character.

Sometimes even phone calls aren’t enough; phone speakers drain so much from familiar voices, make them alien.

So written words really get me. The knowledge that somebody cared enough to set aside time for me, wanted to communicate, trusts me with their thoughts. It means a lot to me –so thank you, so much!

In terms of my writing: I’m proud of how I haven’t faltered. Since May I’ve written seventy-odd pieces, some crap, some not. I’m experimenting, I’m developing my voice, my imagination.

Generally I trust writing and shake off my doubts. Doubts creep up, though, especially when I read great poems (I’ve been reading more poetry than I ever have) –some pieces inspire me, but others bring on a cold, shaky feeling. I fear I won’t ever attain… oh, what to call it? Power? That stirring in your heart when you read something exceptional. That opening of your imagination. God, it’s amazing! And I fear that I won’t stir anyone. 

But this writing business isn’t about pleasing other people, is it. More of a personal journey, an exploration. Risky stuff, and difficult.
O, I do love it.

So. This limbo is not a bad state for me, don’t worry about me. This summer is a helluva lot better than last summer, even last winter. My keel is even(er). I can deal with the intermittent loneliness (though often I have more company than I need). I’m doing my best to deal with being away from Ryan; we talk every night and visit when we can.
How I see it: I’m a boat crashing on to some destination, fragile and full of mysterious cargo. There’s some holes in my hull, but I’m staying afloat. I’m well. I’ve got birds of good omen straggling up, winging their way towards me.

Plus, summer brings introspection. Well, any season does, but I have a lot of time to myself now, when I can flatten out the crumpled polaroids of my interior life. My journal is good for that. I try to have a non-multitasking moment every day, too, where I go outside and simply take in the scene. A couple weeks ago I was crossing the train tracks on Ridge Street. There were these drying weeds, color of sand and rust, with the grey corrugated metal of the warehouse behind them, the gold afternoon light on everything. Wish I’d had a camera then.

And a few days ago I saw this large dead cicada in my backyard… watched it fade from green to brown. Nothing ate at it. Perfect husk.

And the day after that I had the most blissful plum while sitting outside in the still, dusk heat, insects rattling around me, birds shrilling and darting around…

The world is incredible! How could I not be a writer? I need to spin these experiences into some kind of word-weaving, or explode. 

All summer I’ve been thinking of something that Goethe wrote (in a letter!): “Everything is forcing itself upon me… everything comes to meet me…”

I love that feeling! Openness to the world.

Anyway. Life is progressing in some direction(s). Eventually I’ll be back in school, doing the academic thing again, but for now I can be a little bit of a wild animal, foraging and scuffling and living without a set time-line. And that is good, for now.

All for now. Love to you.
Lauren

ps. I have read “Journey to the Interior,” but think I’ll have to read it again. Been awhile.

Also I have a children’s book that was my father’s –Little Pictures of Japan, I think it’s called. Forties’ era illustrations accompanying Basho poems. I don’t think any of them are lineated as haiku, though; heaven knows who translated them, back then. I’ll have to show it to you sometime.

pps. Uber excited for the Microlettes.

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Special Delivery (17)

Filed under: Letters — Theresa Williams @ 12:13 am
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In this letter to Lauren, I share some of my thoughts on finishing a college degree and moving out into the world.  –TW

August Day, 2009

 My Dear Lauren.

How are you this August day?  I remember my feelings when I finished my college degree.  I had a kind of loneliness because I had always been in school (except for two years when I was first married).  I hardly knew what to do with myself, what to think, how to act.  I sometimes wonder if you feel that, and if you are sad that you and Ryan are separated. 

I hope you are giving plenty of time for creative reflection.  The last three years I have become intensely interested in short forms and especially Haiku.  I have been gathering books on the subject (have just ordered a few more) and I find that practicing writing Haiku helps to keep me connected to my creative life every day.  I think I like Basho best.  Please read “Narrow Road to the Interior” if you have the chance.  Sometimes the title is translated a little differently—just try to find books on Basho.  Issa is also a big favorite of mine.  I also have a book of Haiku written by people just before their death.  These are fascinating. 

I have periods of intense focus and creative bursts and in those times I get good work done.  It takes so much out of me that then I must rest.  I must do something fun—just live—or read something that fills me up again.

It has felt so good to me to return to doing artwork.  I quit for so many years.  I realize that when I took my art classes in college I had no idea what I wanted to do.  There was little that moved me about what I was accomplishing.  But now I feel so excited about my ideas.  It makes me feel so alive and happy.  My new camera will—I hope—be another tool to keep me connected to my creative life.

I know I said I was just going to write you a postcard but the more I thought about writing the card the more I had to say.

You will go through fallow periods and times of great doubt.  Remember that human beings have always created art:  it is natural and right to do so.  And when we don’t, that is when we are not living right…not the other way around.

I love the letter you sent, the illustrations and also the painted print.  The letter reminds me of some of the letters that Van Gogh sent to his brother.  I remember the one in which his heart was so moved by a streetlight that he drew a picture of it so his brother might experience it.

My heart is full of love for you, Lauren.  And I believe in your journey as an artist. 

Theresa

Special Delivery (16)

Filed under: Letters — Theresa Williams @ 12:10 am
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In this letter to me, Brett Pransky looks forward and back, and in just a few words portrays what it means to learn and to teach. –TW

Theresa Williams
Re: Letter Project
Dept. of English
Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green, OH 43403

Theresa,

I had a number of different subjects in mind when I began, but for some reason, I kept holding down the Delete key after every few lines.  Since I plan to be a frequent contributor, I suppose I’m looking for a good start.  Nothing has yet struck me as a beginning.

Maybe this will work.  As you know, but your readers do not, I was a student of yours a number of years ago.  I remember myself as a talent-but-no-drive kind of kid.  I felt out of place quite a bit.  A scared pessimist most of the time, I ended up proving myself right, finding reason after reason to neglect my studies until the university had enough of me and sent me packing.  Among my few successes, though, I managed to get A’s in English 111 and English 112 – both courses taught by Theresa Williams.

Now, this isn’t one of those “I owe it all to you” letters.  I’m not really into clichés. This is much simpler, realistic, and therefore possesses more truth.  I performed in your classes because I never doubted your interest in the subject and your interest in my work, and I doubted pretty much everything in those days.  Someone told me I could write, and I believed her.  Even twelve years later, when I decided to finish what I had hardly begun, that belief was still with me through the failures.  The hard work is mine.  The late nights, long days, academic successes and less-than-successes, the whole daddy-student thing – that’s all me.  But the spark, that undying thing that told me I could do it if only I got up off my ass … well, I think I gotta give you that one.

I just finished my third degree, an MA in Rhet/Comp (to go with BA’s in English and Philosophy) and I have officially claimed the title of scholar, in the minor league sense of the word, at least.   I’m teaching at Ohio University, where I see myself sitting in at least a few of the chairs every class.  I try to speak to me, get me to believe I can do what I say I can do, that I can write and succeed and be passionate and still be cool.  I want to shake me and tell me to shape up and not to waste so much time, but I know me, and I wouldn’t listen, so I hold back.  I’ll come around eventually.

Someone told me I could write, and I believed her.  Now, I spend my time making more believers.

Sincerely,
Brett Pransky
Teacher

Special Delivery(14 & 15)

Filed under: Letters — Theresa Williams @ 12:09 am
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Jill Grunenwald is a 2004 BFA graduate of Bowling Green State University and a 2008 MLIS graduate of the University of Kentucky. She lives in Cleveland, where she works as a librarian in a minimum security prison. The second letter, below, was written to her friend Melody, whom Jill has known since middle school. The first letter, below, was written to her ex-boyfriend (now friend), Bo, whom she has known since they were students together at BGSU.

Saturday | 5.31.2009

 My dearest Bodysseus,

            On Twitter you mentioned how you were going to be starting your first Margaret Atwood novel, Oryx and Crake, today. I know I don’t have to tell you that is my favorite of her books. As someone who started writing at a very young age, how I identified with the line “They spent the first three years of school getting you to pretend stuff and then the rest of it marking you down if you did the same thing.” (Like that other writer I love, Chuck Palahniuk, Atwood always has one line in each novel that strikes with the raw truth of life. In The Blind Assassin she writes, “The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself.” Interesting perspective, given that this letter will be seen by at least one other person than the writer and intended reader.)

            It has been so many years since I wrote a proper letter to anyone, and I certainly never typed one up. But you know me: I am too much of a perfectionist to send off anything but a final draft. I attempted, several times in fact, to write this long-hand, and was surprised at how difficult a task it turned out to be. One or two paragraphs in and I could see the errors, the misspellings and misplaced commas. Forgotten thoughts and phrases. I was thisclose to grabbing my red pen before I just decided to type the letter. I’m still undecided on how I feel about it.

            Oryx and Crake is your first Margaret Atwood novel. Cat’s Eye was mine and I was in seventh or eighth grade. The truth is, while I did read her that young, I didn’t start to really read her until much, much later. After high-school, even after college. As much as I love her now and have almost half a shelf on my bookcase dedicated to her works, I’ve been a fan (how I hate that label) for a relatively short period of time. And yet it’s hard to remember a time when I wasn’t reading her.

            As a junior I took Modern Poetry. Wylam taught it, and I think you might have been in the class with me. It was held on the second or third floor of Moseley and we had one of the Norton Anthologies as our textbook. To this day it’s the only college book I regret selling back at the end of the semester (although, I think I’ve seen it on your bookcase, so perhaps all is not lost). It was in that book that I first read the poetry of Ted Hughes, which, of course, inspired my play Crow Songs. There were also some Margaret Atwood poems in the anthology. We didn’t read them as part of the class curriculum, but I was always flipping through the book during class. And while “Postcards” has since remained one of my favorite poems, it was years before I connected the dots: from the copy of Cat’s Eye that I checked out of the public library as a middle-school student, to the poetry I discovered in college, to the eight books taking up that half-shelf on my bookcase.

            (When Amy was a sophomore or junior at BG she took a Women’s Studies course. One day she called me up and asked if I’d ever heard of the book The Handmaid’s Tale? Imagine her surprise when I told her, not only had I heard of it but I owned a copy.)

            My dinner is cooking as I’m writing this: stuffed bell peppers from my tofu cookbook. The whole time I was preparing it, all I could think was I can’t wait until I get to cook another dinner for you. (I also kept thinking about how I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on the book tonight.) Quite the domestic I’ve become since we started dating! Prior to our relationship, such an idea – the want, the desire, to cook dinner for you on a regular basis – would have challenged my sense of being a feminist. But, somehow, like the last name discussion, it doesn’t. It is an addition, an evolution to the label. Not an exception from. And, somehow, I think that explains why I like Margaret Atwood as much as I do: she doesn’t necessarily challenge the standards of being a feminist, but she certainly presents varying versions of the ideal. Each time I read the book, I change my mind about Oryx’s position. Is her attitude about her past healthy or ignorant? Shouldn’t she be angrier? Or has she reclaimed herself and is now at peace? Is it better to stay hard and bitter or to accept the past and move on? As a self-proclaimed feminist whose favorite t-shirt bears the Playboy bunny logo and whose book blog bears a reading mudflap girl, I’m sure I present an image of juxtaposition and make other feminists question my values. Is it wrong of me to call myself a feminist while wearing eyeliner and high-heels, or is it wrong of other feminists to judge me for it?

            Sometimes I wonder if Oryx really is the little girl from the video, or if she just plays along because that’s what Jimmy wants from her. (And what does that say about women in relationships?)

            Margaret Atwood has a new book coming out this fall. September, I think: The Year of the Flood. From my understanding, it’s a parallel novel to Oryx and Crake, dealing with the group God’s Gardeners (have you met them yet?) in the same post-catastrophe world that Snowman is in. I like the idea of seeing that same world from a different point of view, and, of course, I love the idea of Margaret Atwood returning to that world and, by extension, my own return.

            Until then, however, I will merely wait for your return to me.

 Love, from Cleveland,

Jill

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Sunday | 6.7.2009

Melody,

            I first have to tell you how much I’ve loved seeing Cate’s pictures on your blog. When she is older and able to appreciate and understand the blog, I’m sure she’ll love being able to go back and look through the older entries. What makes it so great is she’ll also be able to read what you and Eric were thinking at the time when the moment was captured on film. Photo albums don’t always allow the story to be told, at least not in real-time like the blog does. I was thinking about it, and I’m pretty sure the last time we saw each other was when we met up at Newport. You had just found out you were pregnant, too, and now Miss Cate is over a year old. Where does the time go?

            As I’m typing this, I’m listening to the Original Broadway Cast Recording of the musical “Wicked.” Have you ever read the book it’s based on? The whole series is wonderful: “Wicked,” “Son of a Witch,” and the most recent, “A Lion Among Men.” The musical changes some things, but that usually happens with adaptations. Growing up, I was never a big fan of the film “The Wizard of Oz,” although I did read the book several times when I was in fifth grade. But that was really only because the edition in East Wood’s school library had the most beautiful illustrations. Over the past few years I’ve been trying to find the same edition, without much luck.

            Truthfully, I didn’t like “Wicked” the first time I tried to read it. But a few years later, at the urging of someone who did like it, I opened it up again. This time I fell in love, and ended up reading some of Gregory Maguire’s other books, like “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister.” I love the idea of taking a classic story that most children grew up hearing, whether it be Cinderella or Snow White or The Wizard of Oz, and turning it on its head.  

            “Wicked” is about Elphaba, a little girl born with green skin. (Her name is sheer creative genius: L. Frank Baum wrote the original Oz series. LFB. Elphaba.) She, as you can probably guess, grows up to be the Wicked Witch of the West, and the book is the story of that evolution. The Oz that Maguire creates is darker than the one I grew up with as a child, and yet he stays true to many parts of the original series. He just looks at it from a different angle, more shadow than light. It’s also fascinating seeing Dorothy’s visit from the other side of the rainbow, as it were.

            Considering the shade of Elphaba’s skin, so much of the book is about acceptance, especially acceptance of yourself. It’s about not letting anyone – not boys, parents, the popular girls – dictate who you are and how you feel about yourself. Given the age group you teach, I’m sure it’s something you see at your school: the teasing, the taunting. And, as the mother of a young daughter, it probably hits home that way, too. I remember the cliques at HHS, although I think it was even worse in middle school. In this age of blogs and social networking, how fast things travel through the internet and across cell-phones, I can’t imagine being a teenage girl at this point in history.

            With you as her mother, I’m sure Cate will grow up to be a big reader. From the pictures posted, it seems like she’s already started having a love for books. I hope it continues for her. I still continue to voraciously put away books, as I’m sure you have, and still love curling up with a good novel. (It’s supposed to rain today, and I’m strangely looking forward to it so I can stay in bed all day with my current read.) While you’re off this summer (I am so jealous of my teacher friends!), if you’re looking for something to read, I definitely recommend “Wicked.” It’s a good, fun, fantastic tale. Perfect for summer reading.

            I’m looking forward to our dinner in a few weeks! It will be fun to get together with you and Cecily – how far we’ve all come from our high-school days! I hope your school year ends well, and you have a safe trip up this way.

 

Jill

August 16, 2009

Special Delivery (13)

Filed under: Letters — Theresa Williams @ 12:01 pm
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In this letter Jacqueline Vogtman talks to her friend and fellow worshopper Anne about summer reading and writing.  Jacky also dreams about what the cover of her first novel will look like and discusses why writing by hand adds something to her creative work.  Jacky will be a second year MFA student at Bowling Green State University this year. –TW

July 1, 2009 (Hackettstown, New Jersey)

Dear Anne,

It feels good to finally sit down and write a real letter, after so much electronic communication with people. Lately I’ve also been writing my poetry and short-shorts longhand, and I think it adds something, a physical connection with the words and paper. I’ve taken a few weeks’ break from my longer stories—I was stuck on the last one I tried to write, so I though a break might help, and writing poetry instead might free up whatever’s blocked. How is your novel-writing going? And the poetry—are you finding yourself more comfortable writing it? I did enjoy your first workshop poem.

I feel like I’ve gotten a decent amount of work done on my “book” this summer (have to use the quotation marks, since it still seems hypothetical to me), and I hope to finish more before it ends. As I think I told you, I’ve got a solid idea, now, of the shape of the book. There will be 3 sections, each containing 3 longer stories and 3 short-shorts that act as epigraphs for the longer pieces, in an oblique way. I’ve “finished” the first section, and hope to be done with the second section by the end of summer. I even found the perfect painting to be on the cover of my book if I ever get it published—a Waterhouse painting—but of course I’m dreaming; I don’t even know how much say an author has in the cover artwork. But it’s still nice to daydream. Anyway, I’d love to hear more about your novel and what you think your thesis will be like, when you get the chance.

So as I said, I really wanted to write to you about 100 Years of Solitude—loved it! I can’t believe I let all these years go by without reading it, and I can see why you said you loved it, too. I’d only read Love in the Time of Cholera before, but I think 100 Years is so much better. After years of hearing that Marquez was the major figure of Magical Realism, and being told that I was doing MR too, I feel like, finally, after reading this book, I know what the term Magical Realism means. But of course I think the aesthetics of the book go so far beyond that term. I was definitely inspired while reading it, and I felt more freedom that ever to move fluidly between the magical and the real and also to go off on tangents.

Maybe it was the tangential quality of Marquez’s writing that struck me so much. I think, for awhile, I’d been trying so hard to tell one story that I harnessed my writing, made it too tight. But Marquez is always going off on tangents; he starts on one track and goes off on so many different tracks, ultimately circling back to the original subject. I find that style so interesting—it seems very authentic to how we really tell stories, and in a way it keeps stories from ever really ending, because there’s always something branching out—to quote Marquez, “ending at every moment but never ending its ending.”

Another thing I found interesting about the book was the use of the parchments—how, by the end, when Aureliano is deciphering them, it’s suggested to the reader that the parchments in the book sort of are the book; what’s written in them is what we’ve been reading the whole time. So, in a way there’s some post-modern sensibility there, but it’s subtle. That’s something I’ve been thinking about playing with just a little bit in my own work. But enough with post-modern aesthetics: what I really loved were the gypsies, the yellow butterflies circling Meme’s head, Remedios the Beauty, the ghosts, the plague of insomnia, the deluge that lasted years…too much good stuff to go into here!

Anyway, now I’m reading Calvino’s Cosmicomics, another one I think I’ve heard good things about from the people of BG. If you haven’t, you must read “The Distance of the Moon”—it’s amazing. I love how in these stories Calvino can create such bizarre worlds, such strange and unfamiliar landscapes and yet give his characters such psychological realism and create these true and believable family dynamics.

So how is Anna Karenina going? I remember I liked it a lot; Tolstoy has a lot of compassion for his characters, I think, and I remember feeling that. One of the details I remember about Anna are her rings—they’re always described as glittering and shimmering on her fingers. Whenever I wear a lot of rings, I always think of her.

Well, I hope you’re enjoying your summer to the fullest and that all areas of your life are going well—but especially your writing life. I wonder how hot and humid it is in the south. I love that weather—maybe if you write back, you’ll send along some of it with your letter to me up north.

Take care!

–Jacky

Special Delivery (12)

Filed under: Letters — Theresa Williams @ 11:50 am
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Melody Riggs teaches 8th grade English at a suburban Cincinnati middle school.  She keeps a family blog on which she writes about life with her husband and daughter.  In the bio she sent to me, she admits she does not share a lot of her personal writing and that this letter to Jill, a junior high friend, was both terrifying and fun to write.  –TW

6-10-09 (Cincinnati, OH)

Jill!

I thought about writing about a young adult book since that might be a genre you’re not as familiar with.  But no young adult book or author has really influenced my life—my teaching, yes, but not my life.

So I scoured my bookshelf and thought (and thought some more) and kept coming back to the same woman—Anne Lamott.  Maybe you’ve read her, maybe not.  I highly recommend her though.

I first encountered Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird, in college.  The subtitle is “Some Instructions on Writing and Life.”  If I had to describe Lamott based on her books, I’d describe her as a middle-aged, hippie, single mom w/ dreads (she’s white) who has a great sense of humor and an uncanny ability to write openly & honestly about both the serious and the mundane.  She can be totally random—which I love—and completely blunt—which I’m often afraid to be.  Bird by Bird reads like a collection of essays.  Most deal with being a writer and the rest with, you guessed it, life in general.  As someone who enjoys writing, but doesn’t really aspire to be published (other than my blog, I keep most of my writing to myself), Bird by Bird showed me what a gift it can be to “publish,” even if that “publication” is just sharing one piece of my writing with one person.  So while I’m still hesitant to share my writing a lot, I do find myself, every once in awhile, sharing more than the boring narration of my day to day life on my blog.  A poem for Eric.  A short story for my students.  A journal of letters I’ve started for Cate & hope to give to her when she’s older (don’t know what age yet).

Aside from her writing advice, I also love her stories about her son, Sam.  She writes about him quite a bit in Bird by Bird, but I really enjoyed her stories about him more in Operating Instructions.  I’m not sure where it comes from within me—and I don’t think it’s worth the money in therapy to figure it out since it’s not that big a deal—but there is a part of me that, as a mom, has this need to be “perfect.”  Going back through Bird by Bird   then reading Operating Instructions, [I noticed that] Lamott writes detail after detail about her imperfections & shortcomings as a mom.  I almost feel like she’s granting me permission to screw up a few times—or even more—as a mom.  And it’s okay.  I think maybe I’m too hard on myself sometimes and it’s something I’m working on.  Kind of like sharing my writing more—did I mention this letter has been really hard for me to write?  Not because I’m afraid of you or anything—You’ve known me since middle school—but b/c sharing such personal writing is something I have such a hard time doing.   Okay, I’m rambling now, back to Lamott.

I guess the last way she’s influenced me is spiritually.  Her faith memoir, Traveling Mercies, was one I read when I was sort of at a spiritual crossroads.  Lamott is a sort of feminist Christian.  She often refers to God as a female and isn’t afraid to share where she has doubts or when she is angry with God.  While I don’t agree with her on everything, I did take away the importance of finding a spiritual community to really build into and to question, question, question as long as I’m seeking answers to those questions (something I was brought up never to do—questioning religion, that is).

So I think that’s it.  No other author has had the impact that Ann[e] Lamott has had on my life.  She’s written a few novels too, but I’ve only read one and didn’t enjoy it as much as her nonfiction.  If you haven’t read anything by her, then as a writer and a reader, I suggest starting with Bird by Bird.  And if you have read her before, then I’m not really surprised (I mean that in a good way)  🙂   Happy Reading & thanks for sharing the Letter Project with me. 

[Heart]

Melody

August 9, 2009

Special Delivery (11)

Filed under: Letters — Theresa Williams @ 3:29 pm
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This is a letter I recently received from a long-time friend.  He and I met in an undergraduate fiction workshop in 1983.  In the letter, he explains why he was out of contact with me so long.  It seems that he was out of contact because he feared the inevitable question, “How is your writing going?”  And the fact was, he had stopped writing.
 
We recently found each other at Facebook and have committed ourselves to writing each other once a month. 
 
E. Wayne Barham received an MFA in poetry from BGSU in 1990. He has been working with clay at a city-operated pottery studio since 2001 and was one of two clay artists represented by COMMA Gallery in Orlando from 2002-2008. He curated a pit-fired pottery exhibit for them in April 2003, and was part of a group exhibit at the gallery in June 2006. Also in 2003, he was included in a clay exhibit at the Orlando Museum of Art as a result of the exhibit at COMMA. He is currently represented by ClayBodies, a gallery which focuses only on pottery.  He will be posting his work soon on Facebook.  –TW

August 2, 2009 (Orlando, FL)

Dear Theresa,

It is so good to get back in touch with you.  I have thought of you and Allen many times over the years and have missed you tremendously.  I googled your name once-in-awhile to see if anything came up and discovered that you had published a novel. (Congratulations by the way!)  I’m also glad to hear that you are working on a new one.

I think that the reason I hadn’t seriously tried to get back in touch sooner is that I dreaded the question whether I had continued to write, which I was too embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t.  You had always been connected with my literary life (or lack thereof).  I have to admit that I have always felt a bit of a fraud as a writer, even while I was still at BGSU.  The words have never wanted to flow out of me, like some huge dam is holding them back.  Sometimes I have thought that maybe I’m afraid to look inside too closely (or even at the universe at large) for fear of discovering an existential abyss.  While I have always consciously chosen positive forces in my life, I don’t like the trite sentimentality that this usually leads to in art.  I know that a human life is both light and dark–and even accept this within myself–but how to wrestle this onto a page!  Okay, this is getting a bit more confessional than I usually go, which is probably the real problem.  I’ve always been too shy to really reveal myself, except to a select few.

I have pursued some artistic interests over the years, predominantly pottery (most can’t “read” pottery to get at the inner life of the potter, so it’s safe), and a little in painting (which can suffer from the same problems as writing).  I’m starting to get more into the painting side, which I know will eventually mean delving deeper; but right now, I’m still more at the mastering-the-techniques stage.  I have also been considering giving writing another try—strangely, I’m getting braver as I get older.

Since leaving Bowling Green, I have worked two jobs.  The first was at an independent bookstore, called The Book Exchange, in Durham, NC, which also supplied textbooks for local colleges and universities (including Duke).  I enjoyed this one immensely; though it got insanely busy during “book rush” at the beginning of semesters since we supplied textbooks for three undergraduate schools and four law schools.  Some days I literally stood at the cash register (which was an old push-button one from the ‘50s and didn’t calculate the change due back) for eight hours straight.  (This was mainly because I was the only one who could do this with a smile on his face the whole day.)  The bookstore had opened in the latter 1930’s, so it had a huge collection of books, mostly of the literary or scholarly kind.  It was a great place to browse.  Needless-to-say, I bought way too many of them, but it was too hard to resist when I could get them at cost.

In 1996, I started dating a new guy, named Floyd (that’s a whole other story), and in November 2000, we decided to move to Orlando, FL, because he had lived his whole life in NC and wanted to try something different.  (Yes, though we voted in NC, we were here for the “hanging chad” debacle that put a certain President in the White House.)  Here I have been working for a small company that manufactures dollhouse miniatures.  Not really that interesting, but they paid me well just to keep me.  Unfortunately, business has been gradually declining over the years (who really collects dollhouses anymore?), and I got laid off in June, so I’m job-hunting again.  No luck so far.  I have been helping out at an art gallery, though, which is inspiring me to get busy painting.  It doesn’t pay anything (unless I happen to sell something), but it gets me out of the house for awhile.  I have exhibited pottery there in the past, even curated a pit-fired ceramics show for them several years ago.  Orlando isn’t really much of an “artsy” place, but that’s gradually changing.

It sounds like you and Allen had a wonderful odyssey out West—the pictures you posted are great.  We were in San Diego back in April, but it turned out to be rather awkward trip because the friends we were visiting were on the verge of breaking up.  I did spend a lot of time down at the beach though (mostly by myself), bird-watching and exploring the tidal pools.  I grew up in Coos Bay, OR until I was ten, but hadn’t been back out West since a trip with my family over Christmas break of 1971-72, when I was twelve.

It is interesting to see in your photo albums on facebook that all your sons have grown up—they were just kids when I last saw them.  Of course, I now have nieces and nephews who are having children.  Time just won’t stop for anyone. I will be joining the 50s club in December, and haven’t decided what I think about that yet (actually, I try not to think about it at all).  For some reason, 30 was hard for me, but 40 wasn’t.  Go figure.  I guess it has to do with where you think you are in your life.

I would love to catch up with everything you have been doing (some of which I can gather from your facebook page).  Your suggestion that we start a correspondence through the mail sounds like a good plan.  The problem with email is that it’s ephemeral, disappearing with the click of a delete button; whereas, a mailed letter has a certain permanence.  You are right about writing letters—I can already feel the words stirring more than they have in years.  It is difficult to work in a vacuum.  With pottery, I go to a city-owned studio, and I find that I am much more productive while there, than I am at home, something about the creative vibes bouncing back and forth between those there at any given time.  I’ve found this to be the case with painting as well—even when your styles are drastically different.  A couple years ago, I got a bunch of videos from the library on various Impressionist painters, and the thing that struck me most was how often they got together to paint in some location outside Paris, sometimes for weeks or months at a time, even painting their own interpretations of the same subject.  Of course, they became famous for their alternative exhibitions together, challenging those of the Academy.

I’m looking at getting laid off from work as the kick-in-the-pants that I needed to actually pursue the artistic life that I’ve always craved, but always set aside for practicality’s sake.  This is now the advice that I would give to any young person bitten by the artistic bug:  pursue your passion, no matter what others might tell you—and there will be plenty of naysayers, parents being the most difficult to “disappoint.”  (They’ll come around when you succeed, usually.)  No, it won’t be easy, but it will be fulfilling.  Surround yourself with others of a like mind; they will provide some shelter from the forces in the world that would snuff out every spark of creativity that can’t be bent to corporate greed.  I get so tired of those whose only valuation of a college education is to get a job, not to broaden their experience and their minds, and whose only idea of “success” is how much stuff they’ve accumulated.  (I know this last is “old hat” in academia, so I’ll get off my soapbox.)

Now that I’m really starting to ramble, it’s as good a point as any to close.  I’ll be watching the mail avidly for your first letter.  Take care.

Love,

Wayne

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