The Letter Project

October 3, 2010

Special Delivery (67)

Filed under: Letters — Theresa Williams @ 5:53 pm
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Joan Fraser writes to her daughter, Caitlin Griscom, about her own love of literature.  (TW)

2/22/10

Caitlin,

Shampoo in the hands washing the hair. That is how this letter begins. Have you ever noticed how much you think about things when your taking a bath or shower? It’s amazing. I thought about the church bells I heard early this morning and the line “…for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee” came to mind (John Donne). Before I knew it, I started to think about how often we use literary references everyday.

Then I thought of your letter waiting to be read. I decided to save it like you would a desert…to be savored at a time when you can enjoy it. I imagined what it would say and felt quite confident that would contain references to writings.

Mind continued wandering…thinking about the influence of poetry and literature, how it touches our lives. I remembered my mother taking me to a poetry reading at BGSU when I was young (junior high or younger). A woman read a poem about a friend who had committed suicide in her apartment. The writer shared her anger that her friend had left blood stains. She wrote with such clarity that I understood her hurt and anger. Not that her friend left blood stains, but that her friend had left her and had left a reminder of the loss. The power of poetry.

Memories coming back like fireworks on the 4th of July….Remember another time a discussion about literature changed my life. This story requires a trip back to May of 1980. I was approaching graduation. I had a tendency to date men older as I didn’t fit in with boys my age. I liked thought provoking conversations. In May of 1980, I was asked to care for my visually impaired uncle as he had recently had a heart attack and my aunt felt she could not leave him alone but was required to take a trip. After many days, I returned to my home. I crawled into bed around 2:30 a.m. glad to be in my own beds. I woke to my mother gently shaking me around 5 a.m. and telling me that I needed to get ready, “We’re supposed to go river rafting this weekend and your brother isn’t going, I’m not going to waste $40.” I got up, dressed and threw some things in a bag. Off we went to the New River. There was another group of people who joined us. While our group set up camp, a man approached me. The conversation felt forced….until we talked about literature. I remember that we talked of Kafka, Camus, Vonnegut, and others. I enjoyed the discussion. We went separate ways for the remainder of the trip. He called several days after the trip as he remembered my last name and found it in the phone book. 3 1/2 years later we married. And it all began with a discussion about literature.

2/23/10

I opened your letter today with great anticipation. I was amazed at how it paralleled a discussion that I had will Bill last night. He found me sitting in front of the computer typing away. He apologized for interrupting me and literally backed out of the room. I called him back and related that I was writing a letter to you. He and I then began a discussion about the letters I was writing to you and how they naturally lend themselves to revealing personal information that you may not have known previously. Similar to the “confessional” qualities that you talk about with Wright.

My entry for yesterday (funny, the use of the phrase “entry of yesterday” as though I was writing in a diary: another correlation to your letter) made reference to a poetry reading I attended. I’m not sure if you know that I use to write short stories and poetry on a regular basis (confession, I still do). I had no idea that it was interesting until I began to read for my classmates. In Junior High, we would sit in the back of the gym at lunch time and I would read my stories or poems aloud to some of my closet friends. They particularly like the short stories.

I was selected to go to Girls State at the end of my Junior year in high school. Girls State is a program that involves developing a mock government. Girls from around the state would write an essay and send it to their local Daughters of the Revolution club for review. Their committee would then select a girl to represent them. I entered the contest only to see if I could write something they would select: I had no desire to participate in Girls State. It truly was about wanting my essay to be selected. Well, mine was selected. I was so happy and had a brief delusion that writing would be a big piece of my career. I was contact by one of the committee members. I asked how may other girls had entered and was quite dismayed to find I was the only one….so much for the elation I had been feeling.

As so I went…I found myself crying in my dorm room (It was held at Capital University) after my brother Dallas dropped me off. I felt alone. And here is something you wouldn’t expect…I lit a cigarette and sat by the window. Breathe….It is true. I had dabbled in smoking when I was under 18. The forms for acceptance to Girl State allowed parents to give you permission to smoke there. Yes, to your question: I did have consent of one of my parents, my dad. Let the shock sink in. Now my confession. My father was distracted at the time. I handed him the paper along with other consents: he signed it not realizing that it allowed me to smoke at Girls State.

I quickly decided that I didn’t want to have a miserable week in the program so I snuffed out the cigarette and went out into the hall to begin that awkward dance of meeting people. I’m not sure how it came up that I wrote stories and poems, but one night there was a rather large collection of girls sitting in the hallway sharing what we had written (Yes, you may be an English nerd but I was a writing nerd. I took my short stories and poems with me…we’re nerds in kind). I was so touched that they liked what I had to contribute. For the first time, I found a group who could understand my poetry. It was a very rewarding experience.

Someday I tell you about the ride home with Uncle Dallas and his friend and how we were caught by security as we tried to get into an entertainment event without a ticket (I really was innocent here). It was that experience that began my “see it in a headline” experience. As they talked about climbing the fence I saw the headline, “Girls State representative from Risingsun caught breaking the law.” Later in life, it became, “Mother of two….(enter your activity here).

I have now finished your letter in it’s entirety. You know that a letter has been meaningful when, upon it completion, you find that you have smiled, shed a tear, and felt that you have been connected to another. Your letter touched me.

I loved the way you wrote about “…purging of thoughts onto the page and the ability to fold up those thoughts neatly into an envelop…” I often write “invisible letters.” Sometimes they take the form of a letter in my head; sometimes typed and saved for only me.

As we continue this journey of writing, I need to share some things. I have often worried about how others perceive my writings. I worry about a critical appraisal of their content, formation, and overall correct use of the English language. I don’t want to languish over each one and worry about typos or ending a sentence with a preposition. I need the freedom to write without regard for proofreading to perfection. I write this because I want to be able to write freely and I know that you have a proofreaders mind. I admit openly that I will purposefully use punctuation in a way that suits me, not scholars.

And the last… I had decided with the first letter that I would write to you as an adult, not a child. I entered this knowing that I would use it as a way to share who I am with you.

I love you and thank you for including me in this experience,

And now I will read your letter once again,

m

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