Monday, April 23, 2012


In Praise of Things Still Done by Hand 

Dictionaries describe correspondence as a communication by exchange of letters, the letters themselves, or any instance of similarity, analogy or agreement. Wikipedia describes it as “non-concurrent, remote communication between people, including letters, email, newsgroups, internet forums, [and] blogs.” Sigh. As a lifelong sender, receiver and lover of letters, I fully understand that this most imperiled of outdated activities involves two people writing at different times in different places, but those words “non-concurrent” and “remote” make corresponding sound about as deeply enriching a process as paying your bills online.  That said, I daily contribute my share to the debris of words floating through cyberspace.  I suppose any communication nowadays is better than none at all. Furthermore, I am not here to bury technology but to praise all things still done by hand.

From Brazil with Love
The handwritten letter is a lost art. That suits me fine, as the only remaining practitioners are serious about what they do and damn good at it. This morning I have two letters on my desk in need of a reply. One is from Brazil, one from South Dakota. Both arrived with what modern parlance and habits would render as “attachments,” but in this case included miniature artworks made by my correspondents and sent with their letters as part of the package. Here are my words, they seemed to say, but here as well is something tangible made by my hands for you to hold in yours, made specifically for the occasion of this letter.  And it struck me that having these little unexpected unsolicited objects tumble out of the unfolded sheets, as if tearing open an envelope and finding the sheets themselves were not delight enough, did indeed make the letter an occasion of sorts, an event even.

Unexpected Delight
Finding a letter in my mailbox – or, oh indescribable joy, a package! – is one of those things that can still cause me to squeal and clap my hands like a child.  One of those things I know will be so deliciously fun, I play cat and mouse with it, attempt delayed gratification, and eventually allow myself to be overcome by my own curiosity and appetite.  But once I sit down with a letter – often choosing a special time and place to do so, as if to do honor to the experience with my full and best attention, I enter into a conversation with its sender that feels anything but remote or non-concurrent. In fact, as I read their words written in their own hand, I am transported right back to the moment and setting of its composition. I find myself thinking along with the writer as they set down their thoughts, enjoying the journey of their words as they fill the page not knowing what will happen next. And in the case of these two letter writers to whom I owe replies, I have never heard them actually speak, but I can honestly say I have now heard their voices, their inner voices, the ones they use only with themselves. And I can sense them as physical beings also. Perhaps I am overly impressed by simple realities that others have long since accepted and become insensate to, but it still blows my mind to think that I am here in another time zone, in another country even, holding in my hands something touched by someone so far away. That a letter can be dropped into one slot and appear via another slot connecting people who have never met face to face. It feels as if I am shaking hands with them across the miles, with the letter as our intermediary.  It feels like a small miracle every time.

Miracle in a Mailbox 
When I read a beautifully and thoughtfully crafted letter, I think of the great history of letterwriting, once the only way to connect people over long distances, once as much a vital information resource as a social exercise. Soldiers at war had only the occasional letter from home to know there still was a home. Great thinkers countries apart formed intellectual friendships through correspondence and provided what we now cherish as highly personal accounts of the times and places in which they lived. Letters of introduction, letters of safe conduct, even postcards and thank you notes - correspondence is a necessary part of the preserved literature and history of all cultures. It may not reveal all that was going on, but it does show how people were thinking and feeling, often in ways not available outside such a private medium. Implicit in the creation of a letter is the intention not just to convey something but preserve it, to set it down in such a way as to make it worth holding onto, going back to, for years to come. 
A Life in Letters
For me, replying to a beautifully and thoughtfully crafted letter requires me to meet the correspondent on common ground, and give as good as I got. I try to send the sort of letter I myself would love to receive, and almost hate to leave my hands. Choice of paper and ink and what little unexpected and unsolicited items will be tucked inside to surprise and delight the recipient is just as important as the content, over which I have far less control. As I follow the journey that the expression of my thoughts takes down the page, I imagine that the next time this way is traveled there will be two travelers on the journey together, making everything familiar by being shared, and everything new with their different perspectives and experience. And on that day although I’m alone, I’ll feel someone take my hand.


Special thanks to Crissant and Patti, the two magnificent correspondents to whom I dedicate this post.

Friday, April 6, 2012


Green Plate for a Green State
Today I bought and affixed to my car, which is newly spattered by the effects of a particularly Vermont condition that falls between winter and spring known as “Mud Season,” the license plate pictured above. These plates, sales of which benefit the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund have been on sale only a few weeks and according to today’s local paper reached the 25,000 mark yesterday, hitting the halfway point of a projected million dollar fundraising goal.  I’m proud to have this plate on my car, and I’m looking forward to proving in everything I do as a Vermonter that its message is more than a clever advertizing slogan. I think I have a head start, in that much of my life has been about triumphing over adversity and emerging with a surprisingly good attitude.  So, it turns out, I’ve been a Vermonter all along!

Local & State

I’ve only been living here for four months, and it has not only lived up to my expectations, but exceeded them. Life is not easy here, never was, and never will be in a state that depends so much on that least reliable of phenomena, the weather, for its economic survival, but perhaps because of that, there is a pride and resiliency here that I have not encountered anywhere else.  I want to be around that. I want to be part of that. And now I am. 

 After the Flood (from: Cracks Hold Us Together : A Series)

Last summer, to add insult to injury, while staggering under the same economic downturn as the rest of the country, as well as its own unique issues with specific industries like farming, marble, maple and ski tourism that are all subject to mood swings even in generally good economic times, Vermont was hit by Hurricane Irene, a natural disaster, unprecedented in most residents’ lifetimes, whose damage can still be seen in the erosion of roads and rivers, the wreckage of bridges and buildings, and FOR SALE signs on homes and businesses. But soon after the flood waters receded, people were already cleaning up and rebuilding. If anything, it made communities stronger, and being a Vermonter something to be proud of, even in the worst of circumstances, after which there is nothing to do but work hard to make them better. 

 Building Blocks

Of course, this may be the romantic view of an outsider.  That might be the case if I were one to view anything romantically without a healthy sprinkling of cynicism to cut the sweetness. In my brief time here I’ve also seen the sadness and frailty of Vermont, the kind you find anywhere humanity is present and allowed to descend to its own worst level. I’ve opened my mind and heart to the good and the bad, and I still find myself not wanting to be anywhere else. In more ways than one, Vermont is recovering, and I want to be part of that too. 


Here in the States, it’s a double holiday, with both Passover and Easter falling on the same weekend.  These two very different celebrations both have to do with liberation, the one from slavery, and the other from the bonds of death itself, and whatever religion you choose to follow, even if the answer is “none of the above,” there’s a lesson in the spirit of these holidays that can benefit anyone. For this writer at least, it’s about maintaining faith during, and eventual triumph over, the worst of circumstances.

Once again, I offer thanks to all of you who continue to follow this blog , even as  I have allowed other things to get in the way of keeping up with yours.  Speaking of comebacks, things on the jobhunting front are beginning to look favorable, and, as you can see from Brian’s recent post, I’ve been hitting the trails again for some long distance walking, one of my passions that has been quite literally left by the roadside for far too long.  With a little hard work and continued good faith, things can only get better. 

Wishing you all a great weekend!