Friday, November 19, 2010

Luck of the Draw

One of the things I love about The Letter Jar project is its randomness. I resolved at the beginning not to write my letters in a particular order, knowing that I would choose "easy" recipients -- former work colleagues, teachers, my favorite authors -- first and postpone the more emotionally complicated letters to family, close friends, ex-lovers.

So each day I pull a name from the jar. Over the past week I've written to my mother, a fellow stepmom I met through an Internet chat board, my 14-year-old nephew and a competitor at my first reporting job.

Never knowing what -- or, more accurately, whom -- I'm going to get when I open the jar means I also don't know what kind of mindset I'll require when I sit down to write. Will I plumb the depths of my emotions as I realize I'm now the age my mother was when she made major life changes? Or will I write a less challenging, but still gratifying, letter to simply acknowledge how the skill and ambition of my former competitor forced me to up my game and made me better at my job?

Your Aunt Lynn is working on a project to write 365 letters in 365 days,  I wrote to my nephew. I know it sounds crazy -- why wouldn't I just use e-mail or Facebook or a text to get in touch with people? I've always written letters, though, ever since I was pretty young. And I really enjoy it. There is something about the process of putting pen to paper that helps me really tell people how I feel about them.

While my Letter Jar method could be aptly described as "the luck of the draw," it also seems there is luck in every draw -- for all my relationships, and in all the ways they have taught and enriched and strengthened me, I am lucky indeed.

THE LOST ART: Thanks to Jackie at Letters & Journals for linking to a story in The Guardian about "comedian and serial tweeter Sue Perkins, who is fronting a campaign to get people back into the habit of writing to one another." Write on!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Roll Call, Part II

Several months ago I posted about where my letters have been going. As I approach the 200-letter mark, I was curious once again as to the distribution of letters from The Letter Jar:

Illinois 54
New Mexico 30
Iowa 28
Colorado 18
New York 12
Indiana 8
Florida 5
California, Minnesota, Ohio, Virginia 4
Kentucky, Michigan, Oklahoma 3
Arizona, Texas 2
Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Nevada, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin 1
Alberta, CANADA 1

Of course, the majority of letters are still destined for the places I've spent the majority of my time -- Illinois and New Mexico as an adult, Iowa as a student, Colorado and New York as a child. But seeing all the other places too reminds me how blessed I have been to know people who hail from all around the nation (and beyond, in the case of my friend T in Canada), and who, like me, have moved about the country as well.

Seeing this list reinforces the subtle excitement I feel when I address a letter, envisioning it winding up in a mailbox -- an actual, real, physical mailbox, not a cyber one -- somewhere 20 or 200 or 2,000 miles away.

CAN'T WAIT: National Public Radio has put out a call for letters -- love letters, fan mail, notes from relatives -- as part of an upcoming story on the U.S. Postal Service. This project has produced a few I'd like to upload (find out how you can too -- click here for NPR's Facebook fan page, where you'll find the post about letters). This letter-writing junkie looks forward to hearing the story.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Who knew that letters to 194 people could teach me so much about just one:


I just finished a letter to P, a woman I met in college. About 13 years ago, I set P up with J, another friend of mine. P and J married one week after I wed my first husband.

While our union lasted five years, and theirs just five months, I still see in P a kindred spirit -- she and I both acted in good faith when we chose to wed, believing we were in love and had found someone with whom to fulfill our dreams.

Turns out we were wrong. Certainly about the dream fulfillment part; perhaps as far as love was concerned, we simply overestimated its power to make everything else right.

As I wrote to P, and thought about our weddings a decade ago, I felt as if I was retracing my steps. I found myself looking for -- and finding -- clues, little bits of answers to questions I wasn't even consciously aware I had: Why hadn't I given more thought to getting married the first time? What made me leap, with nary the most cursory look around?

Oh, that a six-page letter to a friend could fully answer those questions. But writing still put me in touch, however briefly, with the girl I was back then -- through a new lens I examined my youth and naivete, my eagerness to please, my need for security and the approval of others.

Learning more about myself certainly wasn't a primary goal of The Letter Jar project, but is perhaps an outcome I should have anticipated. After all, I haven't lived my life in a vacuum; the events of my life are populated with a widely varied, and in some cases highly influential, cast of characters. And, in that way,  writing to them becomes an opportunity to recognize not only who they were and are, but also, interestingly, a way to explore who I was and am.

NEXT READ: I can't wait to get my hands on Script & Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting by Kitty Burns Florey, a fascinating history of handwriting and its effect on our creativity, understanding of language and daily lives. Listen to Burns Florey discuss her book on the public radio show "Here and Now."