The Letter Project

November 22, 2009

Special Delivery (43, 44, 45)

Filed under: Letters — Theresa Williams @ 2:40 am
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Hart Crane is the subject of the following letters written by Jacob Moore to his Aunt Cindy.  The letters are part of a writing assignment I gave to my Modern Poetry students at BGSU. 

In addition to exploring Crane’s sexual identity and how it affected the man and his poems, Jacob also examines Crane’s “ability to break through the despair in life and progress beyond to ecstasy.” –TW

I asked Jacob to write his own bio.  Here is what he said:

It is so silly to write about oneself. You can ignore the false starts, but I figured I’d include them for humor, and for you to see what happens when I’m posed with the question, “Who are you?”  

Jacob Moore is the Self who Acts*.

Jacob Moore is the I AM I.

Jacob Moore is a sentence that ends with a period.

Jacob Moore is also Jacob Moore.

Jacob Moore is currently a senior at BGSU majoring in Creative Writing with a minor in English. He studies Rosicrucian and arcane philosophy, and is training to become a Kundalini yoga instructor. When not knee-deep in esoteric tomes, he focuses on social activism and bringing conscious awareness into everyday life. His penultimate goal is to distill the whole of esoteric cosmology into something actually comprehensible by the lay person, and also to become a librarian.

* That is to say, radiates outward

Letter I

Dear Aunt Cindy,

 I hope you’re doing well—you are receiving this letter because in our Modern Poetry class, instead of writing essays, we’re to write letters about a poet (chosen for us by our teacher), and send them to a friend or relative.

 The poet I was given is Hart Crane. He was a poet in the Modernist period, which peaked in the 1920’s. As I read more, I find that, even though the time didn’t have a real established gay culture, Crane was constantly struggling with his desires and the pain that comes from those unexpressed desires. I wonder if she chose this poet for me for this reason? He grew up with what some say was an extreme dissatisfaction with his life, which is understandable. Especially with the gay poets, there is an acute agony in the inability to fit within the normal sexual schema—one feels alienated and completely separate. Walt Whitman was the same way, and Garcia Lorca, and what this seems to do is help the poet reach a transcendent state. You should look up the poem “Royal Palm,” in which he takes a palm tree and compares it to his mother (he is known for such odd symbols—who else would compare a palm tree to his mother? It certainly doesn’t seem to be an appealing analogy), but the last stanza is extremely striking:

“Mortality—ascending emerald-bright
 A fountain at salute, a crown in view—
 Unshackled, casual of its azure height
 As though it soared suchwise though heaven too.”

The second line there, “a fountain at salute” is just so fresh, and the last two lines turn, changing it from just a tree to something that touches on immortality.

 This is the strength of poetry, certainly.

 Much Love,

 Jacob

Letter II

Dear Aunt Cindy,

So, for this letter we are instructed to write about the poet’s biography and a poem or two.
 

First, Hart Crane was born in 1899, in Garrettsville, Ohio, which is a place not too far from our home in Newton Falls—and his father was the one who invented Life Savers. All I can think of is how horrid it was to grow up in those small Ohio towns as a gay guy. After his parents separated, he left school at 17 and tried to work for a while, but found himself to be completely unsatisfied with his life, and then finally went to New York and met a man called Emil Opffer; this inspired him to write, but still the tragic seemed to be the glue uniting his life.

Along with these feelings (for men), one of the most difficult things is that of the want—the desire—to fit in, to be “normal” and just live. I still am frustrated with how—in the field of Love—things are stacked against me. It’s depressing and the one true thing that brings me down. But, through his poems, one can learn to break through the despair and actually be free. He sadly died when he was 32 from suicide. He jumped off a boat in the Caribbean Sea.

I’m reading a review in the Boston Review called “Grand Failure,” and I really think it touches deeply on his work. I really like one of the first things the author remarks on: “Crane didn’t know how to restrain himself (we find the same pattern in his drinking too).” This really reminds me of Theodore Roethke, another ecstatic poet who was possibly bipolar or manic depressive. Roethke also turned to drink.

And while I have never turned to drink to cope, what I do that hides me from that pain is lose myself in my dreams and phantasms and illusions. This reviewer portrays Crane mostly like a child, “one who begins a drawing and, showing his mother the beginning lines, is inspired by her praise to continue.” He would send unfinished poems to friends for advice. The reviewer praises him in “Praise for an Urn”

“Still, having in mind golden hair
I cannot see that broken brow
And miss the dry sound of bees
Stretching across a lucid space”

The reviewer revels in the use of the words “lucid” and “dry” and I agree, but then he goes on to say that the poem (a six part series) “Voyages” was too banal about mortality and too sentimental about Love. I disagree completely, especially when the fact is that this series was inspired by one of his gay lovers. The first section immediately reaches out and seizes me; the last stanza warns gay men against the “cruel bottom of the sea,” which might be interpreted as the harsh cruelty of Love or the heart.

 “O brilliant kids, frisk with your dog,
  fondle your shells and sticks, bleached    <—- obviously sexual
  by time and the elements; but there is a line
  You must not cross nor ever trust beyond it
  Spry cordage of your bodies to caresses
  Too lichen-faithful from too wide a breast.        
  The bottom of the sea is cruel.”

I leave you with this, Much Love
                Jacob

Letter III
Dear Aunt Cindy,

In my previous letters, I more focused on the homosexual aspects of his poetry, but, after I read his biography again, something really stood out. Rather than using the homosexual context as a means to its own end, it rather was emphasizing another, stronger point in his poetry—that of the ability to break through the despair in life and progress beyond to ecstasy.

In class we have been discussing poets of ecstasy, like Whitman, Dickenson, and Roethke, and how they seem to take the binary of birth and death (or sex and death or love and death), and break it down, finding ecstasy behind it, rather than just a hopelessness that most people find. In his biography, Hart Crane states that he really writes poetry “as a counterstatement to The Wasteland,” a poem by T. S. Eliot. I feel that Crane, at the very least, wanted to give hope to everyone else. If he couldn’t make it (and he clearly didn’t), perhaps others could.

His poem “Black Tambourine,” focuses on a black man, dwelling in something he calls the “mid-kingdom.”  The man is compared to a beast, and Aesop (Aesop’s fables) is invoked in the poem, because the black man is forced into that space by his oppressors. The last stanza is most poignant

“The black man, forlorn in the cellar,
Wanders in some mid-kingdom, dark that lies,
Between his tambourine, stuck on the wall,
And in Africa, a carcass quick with flies.”                                                         

Not only do I feel that this is indeed about racism, and how racism puts people between a rock and a hard place, but also about his own experiences with homosexuality. The last line reflects the embroiled and raw sexual nature of homosexuality and the cellar, the degenerate place foisted upon him/them: something dirty and, almost in a way, hidden and secret. A literal reading is straightforward and clear, but if one takes the images as symbols, the meaning changes entirely. Even in the second stanza, when he brings forth Aesop, the tone changes, and with the inclusion of the word “Heaven,” a light seems to burst forth from the poem:  “Aesop, driven to pondering, found / Heaven with the tortoise and the hare; /Fox bush and sow ear top his grave /and mingling incantations on the air.”

There is hope; it shows us that it is entirely possible to escape this oppression:  to transcend it and become “incantations on the air.”  I hope he doesn’t mean the release that comes in death; this would not be an answer I would be satisfied with at all.   

And in part (section) III of Voyages, there is a stanza “and where death, if shed/ Presumes no carnage, but this single change,–/ Upon the steep floor flung from dawn to dawn/ The silken skilled transmemberment of song;”

Here Crane seems to say that if we remove death, and death is an illusion, we can see what truly lies behind it, more life, wrapped tightly like a spool of thread. Also, as an aside, only Hart Crane could use the word “transmemberment” in a poem.

And with section III, as with most all of his other work, we can see him stepping beyond—Hart did Not like this world—at all. There is no reason, then, why his poems would dwell in this world. He went looking for the veil that led to the behind-of-things, and he found it and he stepped through*. I just got the image of his death into the Caribbean seen as his final parting of that veil rather than simply a suicide. It is a fitting death, either way.

* I feel like a mediaeval monk, inserting a point like this, but, even at the beginning of III, it reads, “Infinite consanguinity,” words again that clearly characterize Hart, but also describe a unity that is possible within all of us. That is where his poems lead me and I hope you find the same pleasure in them.

Much Love,

Jacob

Special Delivery (42)

Filed under: Letters — Theresa Williams @ 2:32 am
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This is what Zach Tarvin has to say about the following letter he wrote to J. K. Rowling: 

I think the only thing I can think of to say about the JK Rowling letter is that I’d always been a fan of the books. They certainly helped me open up in school. In July of 2007, I was going through my seventh surgery just as the seventh book was about to be released. I wrote the bulk of this letter one night in late April 2008, thought there was more that wasn’t fully unlocked, then finished and sent it when I was home for the summer.

I received a response from her publisher a few weeks later, saying it had been sent on to her offices in Edinburgh. The first week of August, I received a letter from her PA saying she’d received it, but was currently unable to respond personally. That week, Amazon/Scholastic announced the release of  “The Tales of Beedle the Bard.”

The day after Thanksgiving, last year, I received a letter from Arthur A. Levine Books (the imprint at Scholastic responsible for Harry Potter) that said they’d received a copy of my letter, and were touched. They invited me to apply for a summer internship with them via Scholastic’s Summer Internship Program. Unfortunately, the program was cancelled for summer 2009, due to the economy.
Dear Jo (if I may),

            I wrote to you once, at a very socially awkward age near the release of book five, but I think I actually have something meaningful to say this time.  More than anything, I wish to say a very heartfelt thank you because if there are any books I can resolutely say changed my life, they were the Harry Potter books and the Bible. 

            To start, I have to include that I was born just over twenty years ago with what’s called a craniofacial anomaly—born without part of the frontal bone in my forehead.  Eighteen years ago this June I had reconstructive surgery to artificially replace this bone, but the swelling was extreme and the muscle that would normally have operated my eyebrows snapped.  By the time it was done, in addition to a permanent scar that runs from the tip of my ears across my forehead (rather like a bizarre pair of headphones), I would also have to have surgery to implant a sling to make my eyelids function as a normal person’s would.  Until a sixth surgery in the summer of 1999 they were without a fold at all, and still can only be opened even with the artificial fold only by lifting my eyebrows and activating the artificial sling.

            We’ll just say that I’m more than familiar with the types of stares and snide remarks Harry encountered throughout the series—I endured similar from as early as I could remember.  Not everyone was horrible to me as a kid, but there was a very “scar head” attitude about things.  Always having to sidestep the question “What happened to your eye?” question and not being able to give an answer.  As I got older, it got harder.  After hitting my head on a playpark piece one of my slings came out.  And then, worst of all, just before I hit puberty the decision was made that the original work done to my skull needed touched up—to fill in the then nonexistent bridge to my nose, recessed temples for structure.  It was done the summer before I transitioned to the most soul shattering event in the American education system—junior high school.

            In four years, beginning in 1998 I had two surgeries—the aforementioned “touch up” and almost a year later an operation to make the sling that works my eyelids more permanent (ten years now—knock on wood).  It wasn’t until I was ten or eleven that I knew the reason I was put through all of this—what my deformity was called.  It had never been a hindrance to me, I accepted it, but when my peers and I were entering our teenage years…well, it felt a bit like Order of the Phoenix for me. 

            Throughout my childhood, most memorably the year before and the year I was told by my mother what was, essentially my story, I had been creating stories in my mind to be lived out on the playground or on paper as a method of escape.  Literature and Language Arts were always my favorite classes.  My mother bought me the first three Potter books in late 1999, and though I somewhat timidly will admit that I didn’t read them right away, when I started them in the summer of 2000 I raced through them—loving each one.

            In October 2000, I decided to put the story that had been playing around in my head for two years to paper, handwriting over a hundred pages before the month was out.  It was therapy, a personal narrative about what it would be like if I were the equivalent of a Merlinified King Arthur.  On a personal level, this was important to me because the main character had a craniofacial anomaly.  I am not sure that I would have ever committed to telling the story without the influence of Harry Potter.  Finally there was a character with which I wholeheartedly identified.  In fact I was told by almost everyone in my school that I looked like the Harry on the cover of the American Goblet of Fire.  Clearly we are not entirely alike—maybe only linked by a simple little scar.  But your books, your characters, helped me immensely at a very confusing time and continued to help me share understanding.  As I got into high school, particularly in the first two years, I was ridiculed to hellish extent, in the face of everything I tried to explain.  It got to a point where I felt genuinely alone, utterly, completely hopeless.

            After enough torment in high school I confided in a teacher who was able to resolve the situation by sitting myself and what would equate to a then Draco Malfoy, I explained my entire story in detail.  I told him the full truth, including the tid-bit I had only recently discovered from my mother—most children born as I was with a craniofacial anomaly and pouching of the brain are severely mentally handicapped.  The sit-down left us both shaken, I think him more than myself, but I was not convinced anything would change.  But I kept reminding myself of the Quibbler article.  And things did change over the rest of that year.

            Surgically though, my journey was not over.  Though my overall appearance was relatively normal, I was left with a chronic underbite that as I grew made it increasingly more difficult to chew.  By the end of my first year of college in 2007, I was barely able to eat chicken without cutting it into tiny bits first.  July 18th I underwent massive surgery to remove the excess bone from my lower jaw and to receive cheek implants (for my cheekbones were fairly weak) to support it all.  The resulting surgery left me unable to chew for nearly three months.  But, more importantly, I was afraid I would miss the launch of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

            I’ve taken a lot of flak for being a college student who loves Potter, and I still refuse to let it bother me.  I had waited patiently since February—reserved my copy and all.  I had not missed a midnight launch since my local bookstore started them with Order of the Phoenix—and I attended that the night before departing for Europe as a student ambassador.  The conclusion of the series meant as much to me, sentimentally and symbolically, as the completion of what would be my seventh and final planned surgery.  It was the seventh surgery, in the seventh month, seven years since I had been genuinely hooked on Harry Potter, and the seventh book was due out shortly after. 

            And even though I had only been discharged nine hours before, I was there at midnight.  I was doped up on several different painkillers, leaning on my mother for support, but I made it and was damn proud of it.  I had to listen to my audiobook to prevent my proper copy being ruined from the drool (my face was swollen to about triple the normal size), but I had it.

            There was nothing more I could have wanted than to have the medical transformation chapter of my life close with the aide of the closing chapter of Harry’s story at my side while I healed.  Funnily enough, the themes of a mother’s love and sacrifice really hit home for me—mine was having to find all these non-solid meals for me, and often having to take a towel to my face because I had no feeling in it, and couldn’t tell it was covered in applesauce, custard, etc. These books helped me be more open, more myself, able to share the story of what happened to me, and raise awareness against judging someone for being different.

            Jo, I never stopped writing—not once.  It was always the same overall plot, first as one book, then as a trilogy, and now as a series of four books.  The characters were transplanted form middle school, to high school, and now to college as I have.  But more importantly, what you and the series have done for me is shown me the ways in which a writer can make a positive difference.  The ways in which these books have personally affected me are one thing, but the way you’ve campaigned for multiple sclerosis (which claimed my maternal grandmother) has inspired me for years—driven me to tell this story, and others in the hopes that one day, even if I am long dead, someone takes away a similar message as I have with Harry Potter.  I am currently seeking a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in creative writing with the hopes of becoming an editor as I continue writing in my career—the dream being as I stated above.  As for the previously mentioned book? Almost eight years later I have a good outline sketched out, and hope to have the first volume finished by the end of the year. 

            I cannot imagine where I’d be right now, were it not for Harry Potter, I really can’t.  I want to be a writer, and if I can’t support myself on that alone, I want to edit as well.  If a book I write, or a book my press picks up, can do for someone else, what your work has done for me, I will die a happy man.  I’ve started on the path to this, recently I’ve been made Co-Editor-in-Chief of my university’s undergraduate literary journal, and Technical Editor of our international literary journal Mid-American Review.  I am at a complete loss to even describe how absolutely grateful I am at the opportunity, and how it came about.  Because if there was ever something I read that made me decide, this is what I want to do, I want to write, I want to edit, it was the Harry Potter books.  And though some may label it an odd obsession (and I really don’t care if they do), whenever I think back on what got me through some of both the hardest and the best times of my life, it will be inextricably linked with Harry Potter.

            I believe the story is the greatest single unit for fostering understanding and growth, it’s why we tell our kids stories (and I can assure you, if I have children, Harry Potter will be on their shelf as soon as they’re old enough).  Your personal story, and the story you have created have had a tremendous effect on me, and so I say again, thank you, thank you a thousand times over, for both your time in reading this letter and sharing Harry with the world.

Sincerely,

Zach Tarvin

P.S.  Amazing speech at Harvard, the Plutarch and Seneca quotes have gone on my Facebook…

Special Delivery (41)

Filed under: Letters — Theresa Williams @ 1:51 am
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This is my response to Wayne Barham’s November letter [see letter #39].  –TW

7 November 2009

Dear Wayne,

I so enjoyed your November letter about authenticity.  The story you mentioned—the one about the young man working in the convenience store—I believe I remember it.  It was a story you submitted to Bill Hallberg’s workshop.  That was the semester you used to follow me out to my car and we’d talk about just about everything.  We’d talk as we were walking and as I loaded up my car for the trek back home.  We were filled with a lot of naïve hope back then.  Of course, I had no way of knowing how conflicted you were about your identity.  I was drawn to your energy, intelligence, and kindness.

Thank you for letting me post your letter at The Letter Project.  At first I was glad that you gave me permission to shorten it.  But as I began typing it, I found I couldn’t let lose of a single word.  I became more and more intrigued by the settings and how they played along with the theme of your letter.  Here you were in a courtroom (the whole truth) and then a Laundromat (come clean).  You wrote of school (intellect vs. identity) and also Disney (playing the part).   And I thought—how exciting.  Your letter was like reading a great short story about someone coming to terms with the meaning of art in his life.  I will take what you said about courage to heart.  I’m ever trying to be more courageous in my writing.  It’s a hard thing to do, but I tell myself if I can’t do it—ultimately—why bother to write at all?

And I thought, this is the way all good writing happens.  We think we’re simply presenting facts (I’m in a courthouse) but the unconscious is smart.  Without knowing it, you were writing of much deeper things.  And this is how we write our stories, too.  We begin by outlining something that happened.  Gradually meaning begins hovering over our pages, little ghosts of our primordial selves.  We begin to make connections, find ways to deepen the experience of narrative for our readers.  So…as I typed your letter, I realized each detail of your letter was linked to your theme, and I couldn’t take anything out!

What happened in your letter is fundamental to all good writing, and it’s why I’m sad that people don’t write letters anymore.  In letters we find our deeper selves.

This is all I will say in my November letter, Wayne.  Just that I’m thankful for our friendship and that I thank you for renewing our contact with one another.  I’m thankful for your willingness to share your letters at The Letter Project.  And I want to encourage you to write stories as you’ve written your letter—without a thought for any deeper meaning at first.  You’ll find the connections as you write! 

Love,

Theresa

Special Delivery (40)

Filed under: Mailart — Theresa Williams @ 1:47 am
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Nov. 12 004

Front of Envelope. Munch's "Puberty" and photo of Vaslav Nijinsky. Photographs, rubber stamps, paint, stamps.

Nov. 12 005
Back of envelope. It opens to reveal the rest of the letter.

Letter to Rae Hallstrom.  Written on a recycled envelope.  Text reads:

7 November 2009

Dear Rae,

This note is in response to your recent letter about your fiction and your dream that your projects are your babies.  I’ve had the same dream (many times).  I thought I’d also say that we’re not only the mothers of our creative work.  In Munch’s painting “Puberty” I also see myself, my fear of vulnerability, nakedness.  It’s said that fiction is “the lie that tells the truth,” but I often think fiction is in no way a lie but the truth as the imagination sees it.  As for the photo of Nijinsky (who is on my mind because my poetry class just read the William Carlos Williams’s poem inspired by Nijinsky and because Theodore Roethke sought “the secret of Nijinsky”), he is there to represent freedom and courage.  In a recent letter to me, Wayne Barham writes about shredding an old manuscript of his because it was untrue in the most important sense of being untrue.  [see letter 39]. 

For both of us, I think, truth has little to do with what happened but more so with who we really are.  Authenticity.  All of our work must grow out of our vision of the world.  I believe what we have both come to realize is that the hardest thing about fiction is telling the truth.  Rae, it’s hard to do because we spend our whole lives hiding the truth, even to ourselves.  We must dance, like Nijinsky–even if others find our dance scandalous.  Learn from other stories but find your own truth, your voice.  Don’t write with a mind of how a story “should be” because then you are using your head too much!  My friend Wayne wrote of over-intellectualizing when he wrote.  But fictional truth comes from a much deeper place.  As I’m fond of telling people, I feel the truth in my gut. 

Tim O’Brien said it this way… You experience stories in your body, not your head.  As Wayne discovered, too much of the intellect kills fiction.  Write of what’s dear to you, Rae, and tell the truth.  Good luck with your writing life–love your babies but also dance, dance, dance. 

Heart, Theresa

Special Delivery (39)

Filed under: Letters — Theresa Williams @ 1:43 am
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When I e-mailed Wayne to ask him if it would be okay to post the following letter to The Letter Project, he told me I could edit the letter, making cuts as necessary.  He thought the letter too long and said that much of the information seemed mundane to him. 

I chose not to edit anything; rather,  I love the meandering quality of Wayne’s letter.  Years ago I used to write meandering letters in odd places.  I remember that once during an extended wait in my car, I wrote to one of Allen’s aunts:  I had no paper with me, so I wrote the letter on a napkin.  

The settings mentioned in Wayne’s letter intrigue me:  a courthouse, a laundromat, a college fiction workshop, and Disney.  Each setting makes a contribution toward Wayne’s main theme:  authenticity in writing. 

Wayne also references Lee Martin’s letter to Amos (see letter #27) and the importance of writers’ letters in general in terms of showing us we are not alone. –TW

October 20, 2009

 Dear Theresa,

You’ll never guess where I am right now…jury duty!  Since I’ve done this before, I know that there is a lot of waiting around, so I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to write my October letter.  I don’t have a laptop so you get the joy of deciphering my handwriting—I”ll try to write as legibly as possible (which means not writing too quickly).  It’s been at least fourteen or fifteen years since I’ve written a letter manually.  I kept up a brief correspondence with Robert Early after he retired to Spain with his wife Mercedes.  Back then I even purchased a nice stationary and pen just for letter writing. 

Well, so far three panels have been called and I haven’t been called yet.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed for early release—It’s a bit like Shirley Jackson’s “Lottery.” Okay, maybe not that drastic. 

The 22nd will be my two-month anniversary at Disney.  I enjoy it but it has been an adjustment.  My previous job was basically an office job, and I have found that working in a restaurant is much more physical than I had expected.  There is a lot of lifting involved, and then standing on one’s feet all day.  In the past, if I stood for more than an hour or two,  my lower back would start hurting, but I have adjusted physically, even my back has strengthened—I don’t even have back pain any longer!  Throughout the day we rotate to various jobs, which is nice, keeps me from getting too bored.  I prefer the jobs with more guest interaction.  It’s fun talking to people from all over the world.

Of course my fellow cast members (yes, it’s all a stage) are from all over the world, especially those in the College Program—South and Central America, the Philippines, lots from China, the Caribbean.  I get along well with the college students, go figure, though their little concerns and interactions are often rather amusing to me—wait til you get in the “real” world. 

Not that Disney is the “real” world—at least not for guests.  The goal at Disney is to create a place where guests can forget for awhile that the outside world even exists.  When I announced on Facebook that I had gotten a job at Disney, I got various responses from local friends, all the way from “Oh no, not Disney…run!” to “Disney will like you, a lot!”  I wasn’t sure what this last one meant until I went to orientation and training (the longest I think I’ve ever had for a job).

Well, they’re sending the rest of us left out for lunch.  I would have had more written by now, but strangely enough, I actually knew a couple of other people who had also been called for jury duty, so I’ve spent some time talking.  They’ve both been called for panels, though.  They still might not be selected for juries.  I’ll be back.

Since I had already eaten a snack, I decided to just explore the various artwork collected throughout the courthouse (I did that last time I was here for jury duty as well).  They have a wide variety—bronze and ceramic sculpture, paintings, woodcuts, lithographs, linoleum cuts, etc, many by local artists, a couple of whom I’ve met—Barbara Sorenson and Grady Kimsey.  Sorenson often does large columnar totemic pieces in clay.  I think you would find Grady Kimsey’s work very interesting, google him sometime.  He does multimedia sculptural pieces, most often with figurines set up in a stage-like tableau (his term).  He sculpts the heads and arms in clay; then adds fabric and other accoutrements to create the figures.  He often incorporates painting and found objects as well.  The gallery where I sometimes volunteer (and where I exhibited in the past) features a lot of his work, so I met him a couple of times a few years ago (I’m not sure whether he’s still living or not—I think so, though he is fairly advanced in years.  A very nice guy.  I would like to get one of his pieces if I ever have any extra money (good luck on that!)  The pieces aren’t really all that bad, if one has the money to spare. 

Before I diverge too far, I’ll finish my last bit on Disney (left it hanging), then not bore you further with it.  The reason Disney “would really like me” is because I already live my life by what they call “The 4 Disney Basics”: project a positive image and energy, show respect to every one, go above and beyond—all of which I’ve always done.  (The other one is to stay in character, relating more to the “stage” aspect of Disney)  Anyway, enough about Disney.  Except to say that this adjustment has left me tired enough, not to do much else, like write haiku or to paint, but I feel ready to start back up again.

Fall has finally arrived—it got all the way down in the 50’s.  Everyone was acting like it was so cold!  (The breeze out of the north was rather chilly in the shade.)  I was laughing at them.  It felt good after all the unseasonably warm weather in the upper 9’s that we’ve been having.  Of course it doesn’t last—we’ll be climbing back into the 80’s the rest of the week.  After a few winters down here you start forgetting that winter even exists unless you see it on the news:  “Three feet of snow blankets the Midwest (or Northeast or wherever).”  All we ever get is what most places would call Fall (without much of the change of colors).  There are seasonal changes here, but they are much more subtle:  though many of the trees never go leafless, they do change throughout the year, losing about ¼ to 1/3 of their leaves in the winter, sending out fresh, bright green leaves in the spring, which gradually shift to the darker shades of Summer.  Various plants flower and fruit at different seasons of the year.  Bird behavior alters—the courtship of Spring, raising families and protecting territories of Summer, flocking together in Fall/Winter with the Spring and Fall migrations adding their varieties to the mix (a lot of more northern birds winter here, particularly waterfowl and shorebirds).  While the temperature/weather are our most obvious seasonal markers, the others are there, waiting for the careful observer.  I’m guessing that you’ve probably already had some “brisk” weather there?  Actually, Floyd and I haven’t seen snow since Nov. of 2000 when we were loading up the truck in Durham, NC to move down here, until April of this year when we were flying back from visiting friends in San Diego, and almost got snowed in at the Denver airport by a late snowstorm—we just did get out (five hours late) during a brief lull.  The few times that we’ve visited family in NC during Christmastime there hasn’t been any snow.  The coastal areas rarely, if ever, have a white Christmas.  I don’t remember a single one growing up there.  We generally didn’t get snow until mid to late January, if even then.

They finally let us leave at 2:30 which is good since I seem to only have brought 2 sheets of paper with me.  I’m continuing this at the Laundromat, drying clothes (our dryer has been broken for a year but we haven’t been able to get it fixed).  It’s been a rather interesting couple of years for us financially.  We also have just one car and share a cell phone.  I used to ride my bicycle to work every day—it was only three miles—and really enjoyed it; it’s so relaxing or maybe meditative is a better word for it.  Not like getting in a car and dealing with traffic.  Now I have a 25 minute commute in the car, which [I] don’t really mind since I give myself plenty of time so it’s also rather meditative/reflective; Now Floyd rides his bicycle to work which is around three miles away (or maybe less)  He works downtown at an Embassy Suites hotel.  Time to start folding clothes already; didn’t get much written.

Oct. 23, 2009

Woah!  Here it is Friday and I still haven’t finished writing my letter for October.  Looking back over what I’ve written so far, it seems a bit mundane, sort of a “day in the life…”  My new job has been dominating my life a lot lately.  Though I don’t show it, getting laid off from a job I’d been doing for 8 ½ years was quite traumatic to my equilibrium, and I’m basically having to start all over again with something new.  Fortunately, I’m a fairly fluid type of person and can go with the flow.  Still, it takes a lot of effort to build something new from scratch.  Of course there are a lot of others in the same boat.  The economy does seem to be slowly turning around though.

As far as writing about the mundane, I think I’ve always been intimidated by the idea that I have to be “profound” in my writing—way too much pressure!  (and probably the cause of most writers block).  In Lee Martin’s letter to Amos Magliocco posted on the Letter Project, I liked his comment that Richard Ford “taught me that the individual life matter[s] and would be of extreme interest to a reader if I treated it with respect, if I didn’t turn away from its simultaneous ugliness and beauty [which I would call being honest], and if I wrote with forgiveness.”

Do you remember the email I sent a couple months ago where I said that I had come across some short stories from a college workshop, which I promptly shredded for being so hideous?  It was the dishonesty of one story in particular that I reacted so strongly against.  Even as I write this, my stomach clenches (I rather loathe dishonesty, especially in myself—I’m more forgiving of others).  The story in question was loosely based on an incident that had happened to me while working a summer job in 1981 at a convenience store in Winter Haven, FL.  The first version I had turned in focused on a young man who has gotten sidetracked from his college career by his increasing responsibilities and income as he moves into an assistant manager’s position, buys a sporty new car, and generally becomes seduced by suddenly having expendable income (since ha has no “real” personal responsibilities, i.e. Family).  This changes after an attempted robbery, which I expanded from a minor incident where someone pulled a knife on me, said, “turn over the money,” and P pulled back, said “Don’t scare me like that!” and laughed slightly.  I don’t know if he was serious or not, but he ended up just laughing and running out the door.  In the story, the young man gets hit on the head with the butt of a guy because he has no real access to much money—we always dropped anything more than $5- in the till down a slot in the floor, and of course had no access to the safe.  This incident causes the young man to reconsider his career options—pretty innocuous, nothing really dishonest about it, but trite, the observations of someone who hasn’t lived much life yet (though I’d lived through a lot more than I was willing to face at the time.)  The second version submitted to the workshop kept the better parts of the setting developed and some of the quick portrait of incidental customers, while the “attempted robbery” became just the minor incident described above.  The focus of the story shirts to what was actually the most significant thing that happened to me that whole summer—an obscene phone call that I received at work.  One evening a guy in his late 30‘s, maybe early 40’s, came into the store and stayed for at least thirty minutes, moving from one section to another (and the place isn’t all that big), watching me.  I wasn’t really worried that he was casing the joint because he didn’t seem the type:  dressed in business casual, driving a Mercedes, just your typical businessman.  But I couldn’t figure out what he was doing (though I think subconsciously I knew he was “cruising” me.)  He finally left, but about fifteen minutes later the phone rings, at first all I hear is heavy breathing on the other end.  I repeat my greeting and ask “How may I help you?”  A man’s voice says, “I want you.”  “What, I ask in surprise.  “I want you,” he repeats.  I hang up the phone with no reply.

In the story I submitted the story devolves into a homophobic diatribe and ends.  It was this dishonest response that sickened me when I reread it all these years later.  In actuality, this event sent me into a period of anguished soul-searching about my sexual identity (which I already knew, but couldn’t accept at the time).  I guess this is one of the problems with writing autobiographical fiction—how much are you willing to reveal about yourself?  I wrote the story a couple of years after the event, and while I had more or less accepted my sexual identity by that point, I hadn’t actually “come out” to anyone yet.  I think honest in one’s writing is probably the most difficult aspect—it requires such courage.  It has never really occurred to me before what courage it takes to be an honest writer, even when faced with such obvious, and extreme, examples, like Salman Rushdie or others who have put their lives in danger in order to write honestly.  Not that most of us are going to be in that kind of danger, but that doesn’t diminish the other “risks” of exposure that writing honestly might entail.  This is probably why the support systems that we find in the letters between various writers throughout history are so important—there is added strength in numbers, in comradeship.

I am always glad to hear that you’ve finished a short story (or two), made progress on your novel, or completed an essay (maybe I should consider writing some non-fiction).  Keep writing, and I encourage you to be courageous!  You have many friends to lend support.

I hope you have been able to decipher my handwriting (in what has ended up as a rather long letter).  It’s your fault for handwriting your last letter—just kidding—your handwriting is much more legible!

Here’s hoping everything is going well for you.  Looking forward to your next letter.

Love,

Wayne

November 12, 2009

Special Delivery (35, 36, 37, 38)

Filed under: Mailart — Theresa Williams @ 12:23 am
Tags: , ,
Nov. 12

To Judi Heartsong

Nov. 12 003

To Ryan Wilson

Nov. 12 002

To R. J. Equality Ingram

Nov. 12 001

To Zach Tarvin

Each year I make it point to remember November 12–the date that the poet Theodore Roethke took a walk in the cold Michigan woods, lost a shoe, and later said he’d been searching for the “secret of Nijinsky.” 

This year I mark the date by sending  four hand-made cards  to four creative people … Judi, an artist in MD; Ryan, a poet and college instructor in Georgia; R. J. a young student with whom I recently had a discussion about Vaslav Nijinsky; and Zach, a senior writing major at BGSU.

I remember November 12 because it represents the moment in Roethke’s life when everything changed.  The incident might have destroyed him and perhaps it nearly did, but he continued to make spiritual progress  in his life through his poems.  He inspires me because of  his willingness to lean to new beginnings, no matter how frightful.    –TW

“We think by feeling.  What is there to know?”  –Theodore Roethke

November when we pray for the dead
For souls not quite risen, or drawn too
Closely to the pull of the earth – reluctant to
Cast away ties so carefully woven.
–Marian Veverka, from the online journal, Pirene’s Fountain

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