I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter

tl;dr – I’m looking for penpals, or people who would be interested in getting a letter from me! No promises.

June 16 2020 update – I’ll be happy to accept folks who want to be penpals indefinitely! I’m very much enjoying sharing correspondence, so don’t worry that it’s too late!

The older I get, and the longer we live in the digital era, the more I realize that I was born in the waning phases of another civilization. When I was a girl, methods of communication were different. I was thinking about this, as we’re all trapped without libraries right now. Adam and I have approximately 12 big tupperware tubs of books in our basement at the moment, because he’s in the process of building bookshelves for our hallway. In addition to those tubs, we have books in every room of the house: fancy books, cookbooks, gaming books, paperback novels, kids books, comic books. I confess, I bought two books just today.

Growing up, entertainment was much scarcer. 13 channels on tv. VHS tapes. Your parents bookshelves – and the library. Plus the radio. (Folks – I’m talking so long ago this was before you could get NPR in Washington State.) Trust me, I knew what time Paul Harvey would be on, and waited for it. If this had happened then, we would have both been better prepared for the boredom, and also had many fewer resources for dealing with it. I had read every even slightly interesting book in my parents bookshelves (blech – regency romances and naval sea battle fiction!) My sister and I had read through our classroom libraries (much less a thing), our school libraries, our town library (the librarian was very shirty and didn’t believe we could possibly be reading as much as we took out) and made monthly trips to our regional library.

In another example, I know how to navigate with a map. I know how to get unlost if you’ve gotten lost (lots of practice with my sister). I have driven across country with a Road Atlas and a AAA Triptik, the route highlighted by the patient woman at the counter who put it together from vast drawers that spanned the whole country.

But the one I’m thinking about today is the letter. I LOVED writing letters. I recently got some of my boxes of letters from my parents (they’re trying to clean out our crap) and there are so many of them. Half of the people whose letters I saved I don’t even remember. I’d pick up pen pals wherever I went. I ran into an exchange student from Indonesia while I was at summer camp (he was just visiting the campus) and we wrote to each other for YEARS. I wrote to my uncle. (All his letters were on yellow legal paper. Half the fun for me was my extensive stationery collection.) I wrote to whatever guy I was dating at the time. I wrote to the concertmaster of my orchestra. I wrote notes in code to the other girls in my class, cleverly folded to make their own envelope. I wrote to my grandmother. I wrote to the paper. Heck – my very first job in college was “email correspondent” to write letters in this new fangled technology. (I made the job up. It worked.) And I loved it. I think, looking back, that I was writing as many as 3 – 4 letters a week.

This was my all time favorite stamp. You had to lick it. The pixels gave it a lovely texture.

And I loved it. I loved finding and buying stationery, and picking just the right notes for the recipient. I loved the 19th century air of sitting at my desk “tackling my correspondence”. (I’ve always had a weakness for paperwork which is simply inexplicable.) Sometimes I’d steal my mom’s carbon paper (I AM SO OLD) and experiment with it. I loved going down to the post office and selecting stamps, saying with the sagacity of a fourteen year old that “pretty stamps are the same price as boring ones”. I remember when stamps went from 22c to 25C (it hurt my budget) and from there to 29c. Of course, the very best part was getting a nice, thick letter back in the mail, full of news and notables, or maybe stickers, or drawings. You just never knew, until you opened it.

I held on to mail for a very long time. As a young adult I bought about a billion rubber stamps with which to make cards to send out. Over time, it’s gotten harder (and more expensive) to buy stationery. You no longer find packs of colorful or saccharine or coffee-themed paper and letters in every drug store and bookshop as you once did. You only find single (expensive!!!) cards and a handful of increasingly lame packets of thank you notes.

I’ve never fully stopped sending letters. Sending a letter to everyone I know is a huge part of my sacred Christmas rite. But I’ve somewhat run out of people to send general letters to. But here we are, in this strange time, where we harken back a bit to those earlier eras. I’ve discovered the best way for me to pay attention in Very Important Business meetings is to … color. So I’ve been coloring in pieces of art, and stamps. And then during social Zoom calls, I’ve been crafting them into note cards. And on beautiful evenings and weekend days, I’m sitting in my back yard or my front porch and writing letters.

I’m working through my Christmas card list, and sending notes to folks as inspiration strikes. But even that list hasn’t kept up with the making of new friends. So here’s the offer – if you’d be interested in getting a letter from me, send me an email at brenda@tiltedworld (dot com) with your address. I make no promises that a letter will actually be forthcoming. If you get one and are moved to write me back, I’d love that! But you’re under no obligation, either.

Know yourself

Here on Thursday, I’m on the downward slope of this week of rest. I don’t have that panicky feeling I sometimes get late in a vacation “Hurry up and relax already! We’re almost out of time!” This has so far been a gracious, joyful and relaxed week.

Yesterday, with thunderstorms in the forecast, I just spent the entire day in my cabin doing the quiet and contemplative things I never have time to do. OK ok I played Civilization 6 almost all day and barely squeaked past the Congolese empire for my Scythians to win a cultural victory. I also wrote a section of ghost story and read a book cover to cover. This morning I snoozed my alarm, except apparently I actually turned it off. I woke up when my body was ready to arise, which was waaaaaay later than I had planned. But I didn’t, you know, miss anything. It was fine. I’m headed to White Lake today with a chair and a book and I’ll make a campfire and maybe rent a kayak. Tomorrow will be the real closing ceremonies, with a planned ascent of my beloved Mt. Chocorua. I’ll have Saturday, which looks fine, in which to do any things I feel like I should have already done. But honestly, I’m feeling pretty fulfilled.

I’ve also learned a few things about myself, in this quiet and space.

1) I only write in the first person autobiographical
I really love to write. I have been blogging for a very, very long time – almost twenty years (if not all on this platform). In fact, if you go back to my oldest (converted) post on this platform, you can hear the same longing for and love for the mountains I’m still trying to express today. (Although I’ve come around on New England mountains.) But I am like a body builder who has focused on one particular rep – one particular muscle group. I write as me, in the first person. Even when I write fiction, it’s the same voice and the same skills. The same perspective. I usually have such trouble finding time and space to get to a keyboard and get my thoughts down, I haven’t realized it. I’m an unbalanced writer. I’m not sure I *can* even write in the third person, or from a different point of view character. Now, I am fully allowed to leave myself in that state. I write for the joy of it. But noticing this makes me want to tackle it, and as gracious as this week is, I have trouble writing more than 2000 – 3000 words a day. Maybe this will be a fun thing for me to tackle and freshen my writing in the coming year.

2) I am not afraid
I’ve long known that I’m more motivated by hope than by fear. I’ve also generally known that I tend to be less afraid of stuff than our culture expects of women. But I didn’t really realize just how fearless I am. To be clear – I can still be very anxious. When I consider the destruction course our civilization is on, I’m deeply anxious indeed. But I’m not afraid of being alone in a cabin in the woods. I’m not afraid of scrambling up slick stone chimneys. I’m not afraid of falling. I’m not afraid of heights. I’m not afraid of ghosts. I’m not afraid of bears. I’m not afraid of the dark or the quiet. I’m not even nearly as afraid of ticks as I thought I was. I’m not a reckless person. I don’t go after adrenaline hits. I don’t usually take unnecessary risks or do wildly dangerous things. But it’s not because I’m scared – it’s because I’m cautious. Because I am not afraid.

3) I am physically strong
There’s a great line in “The Princess Bride” (ok, they’re all great lines) where Fezzik says as he tosses a boulder “I don’t even work out”. I don’t think of myself as “a fitness person”, and with my 40th birthday a happy memory, I am no longer young. But put me on a hiking trail with a full pack of water, and somehow my legs are indomitable. I felt powerful and euphoric in my body, cresting mountain saddles and breaking into the light. Even after rigorous ten+ mile days, my feet itched for more. I’m not coming to this entirely sedentary – I run 3.5 a few times a week when I can. But I also don’t do any weight training (I know, I should) and am physically best described as, uh, curvaceous. It’s so empowering to discover that under all that curve is muscle, sinew and will.

4) I like the things I thought I liked
My regular life is, by my own design, very busy and full of people. I cook and eat. I gather. I play games. I am with people a lot. Adam and I mused extensively on how I would do in this week of solitude. Would I go crazy? Would I try to fill the quiet spaces with busy-ness, like I do my regular life? Would I be bored and realize I’d misunderstood my own desires? But before I began to live my adult life, I would have described myself as an introvert. I spent most days mostly alone (as a girl I didn’t have many or close friends), with the company of my books and my thoughts and the mountains. I am not lonely in my aloneness. There’s a big caveat here though. I will get to spend two of these hiking days with dear friends, which breaks up the silence. And there is the internet, which for all its flaws is a lovely connection to the people I care about. But I like both things: the people and the quiet.

There’s also some reassurance in what I haven’t discovered. My journey through the week shows me that I am living the life I want, with the people I want. Only I want more hiking. (I’m trying to convince Adam that this week should become a tradition – he’s such a loving guy he’s going along with it.) The course of my life is the right one, and I can hold to it authentically and joyfully. These are all good and welcome discoveries!

Now, to White Lake!

Daydreams of time

What would you do if you had more leisure time? I’m sitting outside on a glorious Sunday afternoon, cool in the shade and warm in the sun, listening to the sort of rock music meant for summer. I’m edged in a short hour between my Pastor Nominating Committee meeting & follow up emails and when I need to leave to catch a plane for Chicago for work for the next few days.*

Real life: Sunday morning soccer

My life is filled with meaningful and joyful work, almost all of which requires me to sit at a computer. Funny that, isn’t it?

But I’ve lately been having fantasies of what I’d do if I actually had real blocks of unencumbered time in which to do stuff I wanted to do (as opposed to the stuff I already decided to do – I’m a lover of novelty!). I’m quite sure I’d end up filling those hours (if not quite a packed as they are now…)

Real life: Counting the proceeds from our “change drive” for Heifer in my Sunday School class

My fantasy life isn’t what it once was. This may be partially because so many fantasies of youth have come true. I am married to a guy I totally dig, and who seems happy with me. I have two happy, healthy children. I’m working my dream job. I have a D20 tea mug. Hard to improve on this.

But lately I’ve been daydreaming a lot about writing, and history.

Real Life Saturday: foraging in the Fells

Anyway, a recent fantasy has to do with being an author. I have wanted to be an author since I first realized that a) you had to have a job b) writing books was a job. Unfortunately, I have never written a book. This puts a damper on one’s authorship. But I’ve recently come to imagine what series of books I want to write. I always wanted to write fantasy novels a la Tolkien. But it turns out I’m terrible at it. As I’ve sunk into true belonging into this amazing town I live in, though, I’ve discovered all this phenomenal history, and remarkable stories. You’ve heard me talk about this before, but it seems like every few months I find out something new and amazing about the town.

The most recent discovery came when I did a tour of Lindenwood Cemetery only to learn that Stoneham was *apparently* a hotbed of the Spiritualist Movement.

Mind you, not everyone was a fan of spiritualism.

So my latest brilliant idea is to write a series of mystery novels, loosely set in the history of Stoneham. It would start with the naked sailors & wolf attacks of the early 1700s. It would wind it’s way through the blood and suffering of the Revolutionary War. We’d get Jacob Gould’s murder, of course. The Spiritualists would follow. Perhaps then the Civil War and the Underground Railroad. That would be followed by the pugilists on Spot Pond & the mysterious “Where Shute Fell” marker in the roaring 20s (even the cursory research for this post points out that the marker far predates the prohibition prize fights!). We’d dedicate time to the great Pan Pacific Race, where Stoneham was wrongfully denied it’s place in history by cheating.

I might stop there, coming at that point to close to living remembrance to steal so boldly. Or it might be, in doing the depth and research of learning I would have to do to write these books, I’d uncover even more rich stories in the interstices. I imagine the books being threaded together by the lives of the people who span them. Silas Dean would show up often, in fact or in memory. Elizur Wright might be the hero of the Civil War book. Maybe there’d be two Civil War books – same time, two perspectives. Honestly, I might be a happy woman for decades just doing research until I felt like I knew enough to start writing. (Although given my personality, I’d probably start writing and then get sidetracked on the research.)

Doesn’t that sound like fun? Can’t you see my notebooks spread out before me, a look of concentration on my face? Can’t you imagine me hovering over the library’s microfiche machine? I imagine falling into long digressions with Dolly in the library, following heretofore unknown threads of history. Consider the hikes in the Fells to see _that spot_. The joy of unearthing just the perfect picture from forgotten archives. The maps that would need to be made and adjusted for each one of these moments in time. The cast of characters set and threaded through books.

For example, while I was writing this, Dolly sent me this picture of my neighborhood (Nobility Hill) c. 1900

Then imagine the books actually get published, to some degree of success. (Let’s be clear, this falls well into the realm of utmost fantasy.) Imagine the sectional in the library touting the local author! The tour of local sites by the Historical Commission! A book signing at the Book Oasis (where the patrons thrill to imagine the courage of the Underground Railroad travelers and conductors on the very spot where they now stand)! Imagine my sleepy town rising from the backwater of history to claim its place next to Concord and Lexington. (OK, probably not that much, but maybe people would have heard of it?) Imagine citizens walking past Silas Dean’s house with a sense of awe and ownership.

It’s a pretty good fantasy, as fantasies go.

So, you ask, what would it take to do it? The reason it’s a fantasy is because I have some idea what it takes, and I don’t have it. I’d guess it would take an hour a day, four weekdays a week. Then probably a 3 hour research block + an hour a day writing time on weekends. Obviously there could be breaks & vacations, but I find the momentum & continuity pretty critical to writing a coherent work. That’s time I simply don’t have. Last time I did Nanowrimo, my whole family felt neglected and left out. They’re my first priority, so that just won’t work. Maybe someday I’ll have that extra hour a day I need, but I don’t see that day anytime soon.

Until then, you’ll just have to continue to be my writing outlet, dear friends!

What about you? What daydreams do you hold on to? What mighta-coulda beens while away your pleasant thoughts?


*A friend commented how remarkable it was that I always took precisely the 10 – 11 hour on Monday mornings to write my blog post. Let me clarify – I write the post over the weekend and schedule publication. The timing is so that people actually read it, since posting on a weekend is a great way to have a readership of 10.

My truant pen

In many ways it’s ironic that I’m such a happy denizen of the internet. I have this great and passionate love affair with paper and pen. For example, the other day my husband and I went on a date to Borders. (What? You’ve probably done the same thing.) While there, I purchased a gift for my 16 year old self. It’s a black leather journal embossed with a Celtic knot. 16-year-old-me went nuts over it, and promptly began writing poetry about how very alone I am, interspersed with overwrought descriptions of rain. (What can I say? I was raised in the Northwest!) You think that I started writing when blogs were invented? Hardly. I just switched from paper journals to blogs.

In some ways I prefer blogs. Paper journals never talked back.

In other ways, I miss the beauty and tactile fulfillment of paper and pen. There is an intense satisfaction to page after page of imprinted Bic writing in my even, if unlovely hand. The feel of a journal, with secrets, in your hand, lends your words a feeling of weight. You build, literally, upon the pages of the past.

I remember I always had problems when writing my journals with audience. I always wrote TO people. With a journal, I just never knew who those people were, although I pondered. My unthought-of children? My future self? My biographers? Now I know. I write to YOU.

There is a pen at the top of this blog. This is not a coincidence. It is an expression of my fancy and fantasy. I will likely now never write anything of great consequence with a pen. It is far too slow compared to the flying dance my fingers do over the keyboard. But I dream of ink, of creamy blank paper, and of the filling of space with words of import.