Thursday, August 12, 2010

In Short

Shakespeare wrote that brevity is the soul of wit.

I am learning--and perhaps The Bard knew this as well--that brevity is also, at times, the soul of a good letter.

This thought occurred to me as I wrote to J, a college friend. J and I met very shortly after arriving as freshmen, and ran with a pack of friends from the university's honors program--yes, like good nerds we often studied together, but just as often you'd find us sharing dinner in the cafeteria, pondering life's big questions: "Do you think this fish filet is shaped kind of like Minnesota?" We had a standing date for Saturday Night Live, trekked through the snow together to late season football games and, as typical college students, enjoyed a party or two or seventeen (hey, even geeks have to cut loose).

What I really wanted to say to J--and the reason I put his name in the jar--was thanks for being a friend at a memorable time in my life--the start of my college years. I came to school knowing no one, but thanks to "the pack," it wasn't long before I felt right at home.

People are what make our memories real, I told J. Sure I remember the places I went, the places I lived, the classes I took and the jobs I had. But they really don't serve to cheer me or warm me or make me smile until I think about the people involved. I'm so lucky to have known some wonderful people in my life--more and more I understand that life's treasures are not material but instead the relationships and connections we form with one another ... Even as many relationships--like ours--were mostly transient and tied to a certain period in time, they still make up part of my history and part of who I am. They have had an effect on me that is lasting--and I believe positive.

Maybe the phrase "relationship was mostly transient and tied to a certain period in time" should have been my tip off that I didn't have a lot to say to J beyond the simple thank you. And yet I still felt the need to write more. "Quality over quantity" just wasn't occurring to me as I sat, pen poised on paper, wondering what to possibly write next. Maybe I thought I needed to justify sending a real letter? I mean, heck, if I was just going to pop off a few words, why not just write an e-mail?


As someone special remarked to me tonight, the beauty of a handwritten letter is not in how many words are written--it is in the words themselves, the spaces between, and how they are recorded and preserved on paper. "Just a couple sentences, depending on what they are, could be considered a beautiful letter," she said.

She's right, and fortunately I came to my senses before my writing-turned-babbling (wrabbling?) got out of control. I finished up the letter to J with a quick update on myself and an inquiry into how he was doing (I remembered him wanting to be a filmmaker, and he now lives in LA, which makes me wonder if that dream came true--just a few sentences back from him regarding his career could indeed be an interesting note).

J's letter isn't the first time I've found myself starting to "wrabble," as if I'm somehow getting more letter value by increasing the ratio of words written to postage paid. So I'm thankful for the reminder to refocus on the real point of The Letter Jar project--to tell people how I feel about them and the impact they've had on me. Those are sentiments worth expressing, whether it takes 20 words, or 2,000, or 20,000, to do it.

A RELATIVELY GOOD EDITOR: As a writer I've worked for a lot of different editors in my career, but none has ever been so kind--or so subtle--as my mother, who rightly observed that my blog post from earlier this week could have benefited from a little more work before it was published. "I liked your post about M," she said. "I did notice a few errors in grammar, which is very unlike you. I assumed you must have been very tired."

Leave it to mom to hit the nail on the head: yep, I was tired, and when I went back to reread the post, I cringed--describing my mistakes as "a few errors in grammar" was quite charitable. Thanks for reading, mom (and I did fix the post, and I promise I'm going to bed soon).

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