Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Serendipitous Deliveries

Some time has passed since I've written a letter or in the The Letter Jar blog. First work took me away,  then I was so sick I could barely lift myself out of bed, let alone lift a pen to paper.

The two week hiatus wasn't that long, but still long enough that the prospect of returning to my correspondence was starting to feel foreign.


A couple well-timed and thoughtful responses to letters I sent, and my love of the handwritten note has been reignited. Reading each reply was a double blessing, as I learned how my letter affected the recipient and also savored for myself the act of holding someone's thoughts and sentiments in my hand, feeling connected across miles and years.

Today I received a letter from M, an editor of mine at my first newspaper reporting job. In my letter I had thanked her for being a tough boss:

I'm not going to lie to you, M -- when you first came to the paper, I resented you. A lot. You pushed me out of my (oh-so-comfortable) comfort zone and demanded more from me ... I may not have liked it at first, but damn if it didn't make me a better reporter ... That I'm no longer in newspaper doesn't diminish the lessons. No matter what career one is in -- news reporting or toilet scrubbing -- one can, if she is being honest, say whether she has given all, the best, 100 percent. Thanks for helping to instill that idea early and often.

M wrote back that she was "floored" to get a "real letter:"

I've delayed writing back because I've been thinking: How many years has it been since I've received a "real letter?" I'm pretty sure it's at least 10 ... What will happen to history with the loss of writing on paper? We can see how Lincoln edited his speeches, how Hemingway wrote his novels -- but we can't see the deletes and editing in an e-mail, assuming the e-mails even survive.

A few days ago I received a letter from J, a county attorney who, serving as he did as a source for many of my stories at that first reporting job, was someone else I needed to thank:

It was clear you always expected me to do my homework before talking to you ... I would think I'd done everything I could to shore up answers and fill in background, but quite frequently you could point out where I should have been looking for something or could have found my answer. I became better at my job as a result of being challenged by sources like you.

J wrote that he was "pleasantly surprised" to receive my letter.

I am touched to have been in your letter jar. Thanks for your thanks -- and an accurate reading of my expectations.

M's and J's letters came at exactly the right time -- just when I and The Letter Jar project needed some reinforcement. I so delighted in finding personal letters in the mail, so enjoyed the anticipation I felt in wondering what the senders had enclosed inside. Seeing their handwriting and reading their words, I got such a boost -- one I am once again committed to giving others.

ACCIDENTALLY ANTISOCIAL: Thanks to all my new Twitter followers and Facebook fans and please accept my apologies for my lack of acknowledgment to date. I appreciate your interest in The Letter Jar, and I hope you'll see that my recent inactivity is uncharacteristic; I love to write letters -- that's why I started The Letter Jar project -- and I love talking about it here. And I look forward to hearing what you think too.