Monday, July 11, 2011

Monday Letter Lore: "I Dont Know What Art is All About"

Georgia O'Keeffe, 1918
There are careers, and there are passions, and then there are the friends who help you sort them out.

I've been told I'm very good, and I'm fairly compensated, in my career in non-profit member communications. And while I do like my job, I can't say I love it.

What I love is handwriting letters to friends and family and endeavoring to inspire others to do the same. These activities are my passion, but I often do wonder, am I really any good at them? (The inspiration part, I guess. I'm willing to believe that I'm pretty good at writing letters.)

I felt a little bit better about my self-doubt when I read the subject of this week's Monday Letter Lore, a letter from legendary artist Georgia O'Keeffe to a friend in New York. (This letter is yet another from the simply extraordinary America 1900-1999: Letters of the Century.)

At the time O'Keeffe had spent several week in her beloved New Mexico, the new home that inspired some of her most amazing work. In the letter she recounts reading an art book--one that features a profile of her and is the lone piece of printed material she has brought along:

July 31, 1931

I dont know what it is all about. I look through the rest of the book and decide that frankly--I dont know what Art is all about--

Georgia O'Keeffe didn't think she knew what art was all about. Georgia O'Keeffe--one of America's most important modern artists and a celebrated cultural icon--doubted she knew what ART was all about.

Reading her words, I realized two things:

  1. I ought not let my worries about whether I excel at my passion keep me from pursuing it.

  2. How precious is the person or people in our lives to whom we can admit anything, even the seemingly self-incriminating.
 For me, one of those precious people is a bestselling author friend. As I have struggled to establish my own writing career, she has encouraged me, serendipitously put me in touch with people who could help, and most of all served as a role model for never losing sight of your true passion, no matter what other accomplishments you accumulate along the way. (She was a successful interior designer before becoming a multimillion-dollar selling author.)

My friend once said to me that I have this dream--to write with the intent of helping save the art of handwritten correspondence--because it is attainable. I'm not dreaming about being an astronaut, or a supermodel, or a Supreme Court justice. I'm dreaming about something that is within my abilities to achieve. I took the opportunity of a letter to thank her for those special words, which have pulled me through many of my own "I don't know Art is all about" moments:

You're right--I had the dream because I'm supposed to fulfill it. So, so amazing ... thanks for being a reason to believe that dreams can come true, that dignity, class, dedication and faith will prevail and the universe is listening more closely and actively than we know.

When I've pondered my life's work--What it should be? How can I do it? Do I really know how to do it?--there have been seemingly endless resources to help me sort it out. Life coaches, websites, seminars and books have all helped, but nothing can replace the words of a friend who knows me and knows what I'm trying to achieve, and has spotted at the end of the tunnel the light I thought had long since been extinguished.

I'm reminded, too, that inasmuch as my friend was my cheerleader, I may wittingly, or unwittingly, play the same role for someone else in my life. It is a privilege and an honor I can't take lightly.

Write on.

DID YOU KNOW LETTERS & JOURNALS MAGAZINE HAS A FACEBOOK PAGE? If you're like me and can't get enough of lovely stationery and journals, you'll want to become a fan and watch for the regular, lust-inducing giveaways offered along with news and curiosities from the world of handwritten correspondence.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Precious Time

Lately, far more often than I'd like to admit, I've found myself thinking, "I don't have time to write a letter today," or "I'll write tomorrow" or "Maybe I'll find time this weekend."

It's not that life hasn't indeed been busy. A family member was recently hospitalized. My toddler--despite being on the run and up the walls and down the stairs all day long--never seems to get tired. Expanded responsibilities and new technologies challenge me at my job.

No, it's not that extra time and energy aren't scarce. Rather, it's the conclusions I draw about that reality--that somehow, using some of my precious minutes to write a letter is either too relaxing (shouldn't I be cleaning the refrigerator instead?) or not relaxing enough (why not just unwind with some channel surfing and chardonnay?)

But when I do compose a note, as I did recently to my friend L from college, I am reminded that letter writing offers both discipline and release. Sure, putting pen to paper is a mental exercise requiring a bit more time and physical labor than texting, but, done right, it's a spiritual practice too. I suppose some letters for some people are a blood pressure-raising experience, but I have chosen to devote none of mine to settling scores with adversaries or hashing out bygone dramas with estranged relatives. Instead, my letters to friends and family reminisce on shared good times, recall old jokes and recognize how enriched I am by the blessings my relationships have bestowed. Like I told L:

I am so glad we have kept in touch through our Christmas cards. I look forward every year to your letter--I so enjoy hearing about your travels and your charity work, and I am so inspired by your sense of adventure and optimism.

It's when I'm most busy, my days filled with opportunities and obligations, that I most need a practice that encourages me to slow down, be thankful and think abundantly. While letter writing can seemingly threaten to leave me with less precious time, in the end it helps to make more of my time precious.

Write on.

MUCH MORE THAN COOKIES: More than a dozen women who were Girl Scouts together almost 40 years ago have kept their friendships strong. I am inspired, and a little nostalgic for our my own fond memories of Camp Wood E Lo Hi.