I often feel a desire to stop, or at least slow down. And I know I am not alone in this. So many friends are taking themselves off of social media, even those who a year ago, were totally addicted, measuring their self-worth by the number of likes or comments on their posts, how many new subscribers they’ve gotten this week. More than a few have taken the plunge and removed themselves from Facebook completely. I’ve tried to do just that a few times now, but have not been successful.
Something inside me feels rebellious against being pushed too hard, too fast, in ways too compromising to my natural glacial-pace state of being. On any given day, we communicate via an ever-expanding number of platforms. Email, Hangouts, Messenger, Instagram, Twitter, What’s App, Voice, Skype, Meetup messages, Telegram, Slack, Snapchat…and who doesn’t nowadays catch themselves feeling more and more fragmented, their limbs being stretched and pulled like Gumby-dolls in every direction?
When the majority of communication nowadays is written on a tablet, phone or computer, delivered over cyberspace, can I ask you when was the last time you held a hand-written letter in your hands?
How did it feel, to hold in your hands something made by the hand of another? To be the recipient of their loving intentions? When was the last time you wrote a letter? Do think that writing a handwritten letter is becoming a lost art form? What has been lost in the process?
I remember being given a collection of postcards written between my grandmother and her sister during the occupation. There were hundreds of these postcards, kept together with rubber bands now disintegrating from age. Delicate, beautiful pieces of communication, loving wishes between two sisters who missed each other dearly, separated by war and politics, later by years and an ocean in-between. Written in Latvian, the handwriting delicate and feminine and flowery, in that grammar school cursive of another era. On the opposite side of the postcard, a painting from a State Art Museum, the painting info set underneath in an all-caps heavy-serif Cyrillic.
I never really knew my grandmother. I only met her twice, and I never met her sister, but nevertheless these are really all I have of my history. But I count these, as well as other handwritten letters, as my most-prized possessions. One, in particular, from my friend Judith, was written over the course of a couple of weeks and took on almost a journal-entry feel. Reading it feels intimate, like she is letting me into her everyday, daily life, journaling details and events and random thoughts that come to her mind.
The real gift that these letters gave? The gift of just being, the intimacy of being open and authentic. And it was eye-opening to me. Let me explain; for over twenty years my work had been in visual art. Painting, installation, environmental art, performance art, forms where I could hide behind a non-verbal visual vocabulary. But I felt a secret desire to not hide any longer; I wanted to create a work that was the most authentic thing I could possibly make, although I had no idea how to make that come into being or what form it would take.
I realized that to get there I’d have to open myself up, to let people in. Yikes. To allow yourself to become completely, utterly, vulnerable, to be willing to lay your deepest thoughts and feelings and fears out on the table, to me that is one of the scariest things in the world you can do!
I thought, well, why not start with writing letters? Letters not written for any other reason other than to let people into my everyday life, into my joys and struggles, as I was traveling the world volunteering, teaching, studying martial arts, attempting to finding my way in life and a place to call home. And so I began writing these letters, not knowing exactly where I was going, or where it would take me, but just allowing growth to happen.
In a letter, it felt like I wasn’t just writing for myself. It felt like the person on the receiving end of that letter was in a way holding me accountable, even though most times they didn’t even know a letter was coming. But it kept me going. I had been living out of a suitcase for close to three years at that point, and writing letters was a way to make traveling alone feel less, well, solitary. Not only did I grow as a writer, but the practice of writing spurred personal growth as well. It became a meditation. It gave me a sense of perspective, a way to gain distance from the everyday things that usually trip me up and throw me through a loop.
And that is how my book Harnessing Light came into being. It started out as a journal entry-style letter, a love letter that ended up being over 300+ pages long. And I loved letter-writing so much I started other letters, writing to friends and family, sometimes with the intention of sending, sometimes not. Sometimes the letters were filled with small poems, and sometimes—when I got lucky—the letters themselves started to feel like poems. I hope that it in some small way moves you; even to write a hand-written letter of your own, if for nothing but the sheer joy that it brings to both writer and recipient.
Read review of Harnessing Light here.