Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Letter Lore: "A Quarter Century's Worth of Thanks"

If The Letter Jar project has had one consistent theme, it's gratitude. At times it has seemed there are as many reasons to be grateful as there are names in the jar (a wonderful situation indeed). I've thanked:

*A former employee for his dedication and creativity

*A one-time presidential candidate for treating me with respect when I interviewed him as a cub reporter

*My son's daycare teacher for her extraordinary support and skill

*The public defender who made me a better reporter

I've thanked an airline customer service agent who made a difference for me at a crucial moment, favorite musicians for sharing their gifts. Old flames for teaching me how to have fun. My parents for raising me well.

The dozens of thank yous I've penned have humbled me -- I've wondered at times how an average gal like me gets so lucky and deserves such riches. However the letter below, discovered through the truly amazing Letters of Note website, shows that not even the most "un-average" among us are above acknowledging help. Here, on the 25th anniversary of the lunar landing, the first man on the moon thanks the makers of his "EMU," or Extravehicular Mobility Unit:

To the EMU gang:

I remember noting a quarter century or so ago that an emu was a 6 foot Australian flightless bird. I thought that got most of it right.

It turned out to be one of the most widely photographed spacecraft in history. That was no doubt due to the fact that it was so photogenic. Equally responsible for its success was its characteristic of hiding from view its ugly occupant.

Its true beauty, however, was that it worked. It was tough, reliable and almost cuddly.

To all of you who made it all that it was, I send a quarter century's worth of thanks and congratulations.


Neil A. Armstrong

The perfect thank you -- humble, heartfelt and even a little humorous (the "almost cuddly" EMU?) Who doesn't have someone to thank for working for us, for giving us a lift when we needed it, for a boost in our critical hour?

Write on.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Monday Letter Lore: "In the end you are sure to succeed"

Today marks the debut Monday Letter Lore, a weekly offering of  memorable letters in history as fodder for our imaginations, grist for our mills.

At times throughout The Letter Jar I have found myself writing a letter of encouragement -- to a friend or and family member facing illness or infertility, even simple indecision. While I sometimes struggle with what to say, I always feel better stumbling over a few well-intentioned words than saying nothing at all. I know that when I am hurting, it makes a difference when someone tells me they're thinking of me. And while any comfort through any medium is welcome, there is a special feeling that comes from knowing  someone took the time to pen a note and find a stamp and a mailbox.

For George Latham, a friend of one of Abraham Lincoln's sons, that someone was the would-be president himself. While Lincoln probably didn't have to find the stamp or mailbox himself, and indeed didn't have the option of firing off a quick text instead, it is nonetheless remarkable that he, while campaigning for president in July 1860, reached out to George after learning that the young man had been unable to get into Harvard.

My dear George

I have scarcely felt greater pain in my life than on learning yesterday from Bob's letter, that you failed to enter Harvard University. And yet there is very little in it, if you will allow no feeling of discouragement to seize, and prey upon you. It is a certain truth, that you can enter, and graduate in, Harvard University; and having made the attempt, you must succeed in it. "Must" is the word.

I know not how to aid you, save in the assurance of one of mature age, and much severe experience, that you can not fail, if you resolutely determine, that you will not.

The President of the institution, can scarcely be other than a kind man; and doubtless he would grant you an interview, and point out the readiest way to remove, or overcome, the obstacles which have thwarted you.

In your temporary failure there is no evidence that you may not yet be a better scholar, and a more successful man in the great struggle of life, than many others, who have entered college more easily.

Again I say let no feeling of discouragement prey upon you, and in the end you are sure to succeed.

With more than a common interest I subscribe myself Very truly your friend,

A. Lincoln.

(Special thanks to for the text of the letter. Check it out for much more history of and wisdom from our 16th president.)

"... In the end you are sure to succeed." Words with power, whether uttered by one of our most famous American statesmen to a family friend, or just you or me to someone near to our hearts.

Write on.

STILL TIME TO ENTER LAST WEEK'S MIDWEEK MOTIVATION: I've started my letter to S, my running companion and confidante. To whom are you writing to this week, and why? Comment through tomorrow for a chance to win a set of notecards from the chewytulip etsy shop.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Winner, Week 1

Congratulations to "chewytulip," an artist and etsy shop proprietor who is the first randomly chosen winner after leaving a lovely comment in response to last week's Letter Jar Challenge:

I used to make postcards regularly and send them to my grandfather. The cards would be bright, colorful,and weird. He didn't ever say much, but he displayed them all on his coffee table. :)

What a wonderful memory! Indeed, displaying your postcards "said" more than words could convey.

Thanks also to LisavVi and Karen for your comments. I appreciate your interest in The Letter Jar project!

As for me, I've been sick enough that rest has taken priority over writing, so no letter to report this week. However, I certainly wasn't going to let Wednesday pass without picking my first winner and issuing a new Midweek Motivation (that makes two letters for me this week):

I've pulled from the The Letter Jar the name of  S, whom I met while training for a half-marathon six years ago. I'm friends with S on Facebook, but have never really expressed how much her companionship during those training runs meant to me. Of course we cheered each other on, but we also just talked (being able to keep up somewhat of a conversation, of course, being a way to keep overexertion in check). And what I ended up talking about with S was my dissolving marriage -- I wasn't ready to talk to the friends and family who had attended my wedding, but this new, neutral friend was a sounding board and confidante whom I'm never forgotten. I look forward to thanking S for all she did for me, more than I'm sure she ever knew, just by listening.

Do you know someone who seemed to appear in your life just when you needed him or her, someone you've been meaning to thank for their help, their friendship, their contribution?

THIS WEEK'S PRIZE comes courtesy of chewytulip's etsy shop full of fun, original postcards and lettersets, as well as animal magnets, paintings, scarves and a line of pickle-themed schwag. I'll be ordering a set of owl notecards for myself, and this week's winner will also be treated to a set of chewytulip notecards that strike his or her fancy.

Write on!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Introducing The Letter Jar Challenge

I've discovered the answer to the question I posed in my last blog post -- now that I've spent a year writing letters, what do I do next?

Of course. I'm going to encourage others to join me.

In the letters I have written to family, friends, old coworkers, teachers and all order of long lost mentors and pals over the last year, I've referred to The Letter Jar project as "one woman's crusade to save the dying art of the handwritten letter."

But must it really be the crusade of just "one woman?" Surely there must be others like me and my friend T, who in a recent letter back to me referred to himself as a "post-Luddite -- one who eschews technology and is yet high tech." In fact, I know there are others like us -- letter-writing bloggers like The Missive Maven and Jackie from Letters and Journals.

And who else? That's what I hope to find out.

Let's start a letter-writing movement.

Let's put down the iPhones, if even for a moment, and pick up our pens.

Let's write to our mothers, our dear friends, our old teachers and bosses.

Let's tell them what we remember about them, how much they mean to us, what we learned from them.

Let's be brief and witty or long-winded and soulful.

Let's write on our best lined paper or that stationery with frogs on it, that we just couldn't ever find a use for.

Let's express our thoughts in handwritten waves, seal them up in envelopes and send them on fantastic voyages.

Then, let's talk about it here. You don't have to name names, or reveal exactly what you wrote. But how does the person to whom you wrote fit into your life? How did writing the letter feel? Were you thankful or joyful or wistful or pensive? Why did you choose who you did? Why -- or why not -- do you think you'll hear back?

Any good challenge needs a worthy prize. Let's kick off our first week with something every letter-writer can use: postage. From all the comments I receive through next Tuesday, March 8, about the letters being written -- and the people writing them -- I'll choose someone at random to receive a book of first-class stamps.

With further ado, let me issue the inaugural Midweek Motivation. I'm pulling a name from The Letter Jar and it is ... B, a former work colleague who was not only a good collaborator, but also a friend who still inspires me to be my best professionally and personally.

Who is a current or former coworker who has had an impact on your life? Have you ever expressed just how that person influenced you? What might you say to thank him or her?

Write on!

ALREADY DONE? WANT TO WRITE SOME MORE? Then check out the love letter contest that author Kristina McMorris is sponsoring to promote her debut novel, Letters From Home. Her  prize is a WWII memory box full of gorgeous stationery, a fleur-de-lis wax seal and nostalgic goodies. Contest ends March 31 -- get the details here. Letters From Home comes to bookstores this month.