The Letter Project

November 22, 2009

Special Delivery (40)

Filed under: Mailart — Theresa Williams @ 1:47 am
Tags: , , , , ,
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



  1. Theresa,

    You’ve often talked about “deep truth” in writing, but this particular letter “landed” in the aHA!! region of my brain. I used to say I had to’ learn to lie’ to write fiction. Your advice to Rae (writing within my “vision of the world” and not worrying too much how a story should be) gives a perspective that muffles the negative inner voice, the one that questions whether I have the right technical skills to be a successful writer.

    Now the other aha: Your intriguing Mail Art lead me here! The power is in the pictures!
    Thanks for posting your work. Your advice here was worth my spending half an hour trying to remember and recreate my password.

    Comment by sagewriter — July 19, 2011 @ 8:13 pm | Reply

  2. Theresa, glad you pulled this out of the archives. I love this particular submission.

    Comment by sagewriter — April 4, 2013 @ 2:57 pm | Reply

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