Tag Archives: art

Month of Letters: Wrapping Up

The month is over, and I accomplished my task: one letter every day.  It was sometimes a struggle; I would realize it was 1 AM and I didn’t have anything, so I’d grumpily sit down and bang out an ugly postcard or something.  But often it was a pleasure to write, and to fashion an envelope–I think, though I can’t remember exactly, that I never used an actual pre-made envelope, only ones I made myself.  The two most beautiful ones, in my opinion–one which I sewed, and fastened with a button, and one which was made of black and white card-stock sort of origamied together–got returned to me, and uglified by the post office, the former with printed postage stuck on in the worst possible way, the latter covered with a bunch of unncessary tape.  In most of the letters I included a few doodles or illustrations; one of them was written on the backs of a series of watercolors of imaginary moths.

The interesting thing about writing every day, by hand, so that no record exists, is that I barely remember what I wrote in any of them; they blend together.  Normally I have a sort of spatial sense of memory, but I’m basically unable to be voluntarily creative or productive before sundown, so almost all of my letters were written in the same situation: the letter written sitting up in bed, the envelope made at my desk.  There are a couple of examples that I remember a bit better than the others: to my minister friend, I wrote about the early Christian church; to my dancer friend, about the Ballets Russes; to my historian friend, I wrote in a pastiche of Gibbon.  But what about the others?  I think I wrote about La Jetée to someone: who?  What did I write to my friend Erin, who lives in St. Petersburg, or my friend Lis, who lives in Palau?  No idea.

I’m not sure if practice made my letters more perfect, although I certainly could cut an envelope in short order by the end.  One great benefit was that over the course of the month I accumulated more of the, I guess you could say, “incidental” art materials which I had abandoned in my last move: Crayola crayons, colored pens, glue stick, that sort of thing.  There’s also nothing like a deadline for getting you past certain silly roadblocks: every night I had to push aside the stuff on my desk to make the envelope, which sounds like nothing, but it’s the kind of minor inconvenience which can stop me dead before I even start to draw or sew something.  And so today, for example, with the precedent established, I shoved everything aside to make an attempt at a hat for a doll–the idea of which I had while writing one of my letters and staring at my box of incidental art materials.  So, even if I hadn’t, by writing all these, communicated with over 20 friends I’ve been in more or less bad touch with, I would feel the exercise was very rewarding.  And the fact is that there is nothing quite like recieving some love and regard in a paper letter.  I will definitely do it all again next year, and I encourage you to try it too.

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Month of Letters: Week 2

It’s another Sunday.  The first full week of “LetterMo” is over.  I’m feeling pretty good.  I had a bit of a setback–not concretely, but mentally–last Monday when I tried to send a letter in an elaborate envelope, which I will probably post a picture of soon, as I assume it’s arrived by now.  Anyway, I put it in the mailbox, but when the mailman came the doorbell rang.  “I love this, but it will never go through,” he said.  “It’s unmachineable.  You’ve got to take it to the post office and mail it as a package.  I saw that one you made with the map the other day, really cool!  But this, I know they’ll send it back.”  It was really great to hear his enthusiasm, but I was surprised, because it was really not that weird.  It was the size and shape of a regular envelope.  Back in college, I sent (and, especially, recieved) much more strange items, for standard postage, as far as I remember.

The worst part was that at the post office the ugly postage printout thing wouldn’t stick where it was supposed to, so they had to stick it on in such a way as to completely uglify my beautiful envelope :( Hopefully it just peels right off and the recipient can see what it was meant to look like.  Anyway, the whole thing was a bit of a momentum-breaker, right at the beginning of the week.  I also had very little resources in terms of art supplies–I’ve just moved, and all the various papery bits, half-exhausted markers, stickers, worn-down crayons, and so on, got left behind.  So my intention to make the letters, and particularly the envelopes, beautiful was really putting me to the test.  I cannibalized everything I could find, and hopefully the results were OK, but I was really getting worried that I would have to recycle envelope ideas, whcih I didn’t want to do.  Especially since the mailman was noticing!

Luckily this weekend I got to go to the craft store and I got some stuff, and in writing my first letter to a relative stranger I came up with a ‘format’ which will hopefully get me through all of those while still being entertaining.  It’s a little weird, but that’s fine.  I didn’t expect to write anyone I didn’t know this month, so I had to wing it!

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Month of Letters: Week 1

Three days in and feeling fine.  Something makes this so much easier than the “30 Days of Creativity” challenge.  I can identify some of it: the privacy, the fact that there is a recipient depending on me.  But there seems to be some other mysterious reasons why to be amorphously “creative” every day was such torture and these letters have been pleasant.  Really, writing them has not gone that well: they feel a bit stilted and uncomfortable, where I’d like them to float and soar.  But the physical process makes up for it: I love decorating and embellishing the letters and the envelopes, and pushing the possibilities of mail.

I’ve been reading some of Virginia Woolf’s letters, so perhaps I have set too high a standard for myself for the writing.  She never seems to have written a clumsy word in her life.  The funny thing about books of letters (I have several) is that the longer, more personal, more composed letters are rarely the ones that interest me the most.  Often the most fascinating are letters asking for money, or making appointments, that sort of thing.  I have a book of Delacroix’s letters, with one or two examples of his letters requesting certain colors from Mrs. Haro’s; though he was one of the few artists who could write compellingly about art, these businesslike paint orders are at least as interesting.

Another thing that’s interesting in books of letters is that, even in those epistolary ages, one of the most frequent themes is “write me back!”  I’m always self-conscious, even in e-mail, of asking for a reply, and of writing again to someone who hasn’t written me back yet.  But people were quite shameless about this in the old days, it seems, heaping comic abuse on their lazy friends for not writing, begging and pleading for mail, writing several times without a word in reply.  So perhaps I shouldn’t be so worried about it?  I don’t know.  In any case, I take comfort in Samuel Johnson’s saying, in a letter apologizing for not writing to Boswell, “Do not fancy that an intermission of writing is a decay of kindness.”

Really, the same sort of worries that make my writing on this wretched blog so bland have been getting in the way of these letters, and I hope I will shed them soon.  The only thing I have discovered about art in my life is that fear kills it: fear of incomprehensibility, fear of sentimentality, fear of bad taste, fear of pretentiousness, fear of anything.  I hope these letters to be something of a training regimen, for throwing away that fear.

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30 days/365 days

I think I’ll do this “30 Days of Creativity” challenge that’s been going around.  There’s nothing like a deadline to get things done, and that would be 30 of them.  Sounds like fun to me.

Once upon a time, in September, 1998, I proposed a challenge to my friend Tim: we would write a haiku a day, and send it to each other by mail, real mail, for a year.  It could be an attempt to capture the essence of the Japanese form or just a pop-culture, 5-7-5 syllables of silly poetry, didn’t matter.  In practice, the haiku part was really just an excuse to make art and send mail, and a minimum of what could be done.  The majority of the things we sent were pictures, collages, silly found materials; I got one haiku painted on a sock, and in another case rather than an envelope my haiku was sent in a puppet.  (The envelopes were also almost always elaborately decorated.)  But if we were too tired or busy or whatever we could always just write a dashed-off haiku on a scrap of paper and send it off and consider our obligations met.

It was a great experience.  For one thing, getting mail every day is an amazing feeling, especially when you’re in college.  I would stop by the campus post office on my way to lunch, send my letter, pick up my mail, and display it ostentatiously in the cafeteria for everyone to ooh and ahh over.  Good times.  For another thing, as Tim and I have noticed since, it was a kind of mindfulness exercise, every single day.  In the middle of freaking out about this or that, writing papers and working on schoolwork, we had to sit down for at least a minute or two and write something, about someting that had happened that day or how we were feeling or what we were thinking about.  That year seems in my memory to have been outrageously eventful, but that’s probably because every event and emotion was documented in art.

30 days, in comparison, should be no sweat, although I want to be more ambitious this time.  The plan is to make a bunch of clothes and costume designs, with possibly some other things as well, maybe record a song or two, make some fine art or illustration drawings.  I’ll document it all on this blog, although it’s not a 30 Days of Blogging challenge, so I’ll blog it when I get the chance, not every day, probably.

If you’re doing this challenge, let me know!  I’d love to see what everybody’s working on.  (I’m not on Twitter, so it’s going to be a little tricky for me to follow along, I think.)  Things get started on June 1st!  I can hardly wait.


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