The Letter Project

August 9, 2009

Special Delivery (11)

Filed under: Letters — Theresa Williams @ 3:29 pm
Tags: ,
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.




1 Comment »

  1. Wayne, you may have taken some of my money at one time or another. I love The Book Exchange. One of the few bookstores I’ve heard people talk about all over the country.

    Comment by Al Maginnes — August 9, 2009 @ 8:26 pm | Reply

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