The Letter Project

November 22, 2009

Special Delivery (39)

Filed under: Letters — Theresa Williams @ 1:43 am
Tags: , ,

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.




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