Letter from Friends--Funks, Writing, and Connection
by Jennifer Paros
Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
I’ve been in a funk lately. I entered it unwittingly and have had trouble finding the exit, and when I do, difficulty remembering where it is. I don’t like to use the word depression, which makes me feel blanketed – as though it’s wall-to-wall sorrow. There are always corners and areas where all is clear.
The other day, I was rooting around my work area and opened a drawer mostly forgotten. Inside was a large envelope filled with letters from about three decades ago. They were from friends – some with whom I’m no longer in touch, some with whom I still have contact, some with whom I remain close. As I read, the letters helped me spot those clear areas in me. The letters, at least for that moment, helped me remember.
We often focus on remembering. We like to remember the good: special occasions, landmarks, graduations, birthdays, vacations; and we also choose to ruminate on what feels bad, what we consider failures, betrayals, scary things, and pain. We tag these groups with either like (good) or dislike (bad). But the kind of remembering prompted by the letters stood outside of those two categories. For the moment, I didn’t have my end of the story: the letters I had written. I had only the words of friends. And from the act of reading them, hearing from those striving to connect, came a sniff of clarity. It wasn’t what they said; it was that they wanted to say it. In reading the letters, I wasn’t really remembering the past or specifics. I was remembering the feeling of connection. more...
Do You Speak IT
by Cherie Tucker
I taught a class at the University of Washington last quarter and had to learn a computer program called Canvas. I had to call the IT folks a couple of times to find out how to do something, and what I discovered is that the language they speak in IT is not quite conversational English.
My first question came when I wrote an announcement to my class, and then searched the screen for something (anything) that would say “Send.” I looked from top to bottom of the screen and from side to side. Nothing. So I called IT and told the fellow who answered what my problem was.
“Oh,” he said, “just click ‘Save.’”
Save? That to me said that that page would be there if I ever needed it again, but it didn’t seem to mean that anyone else would get it. But “Save” worked, and I nearly made it through to the end of the quarter without having to call them again. When I had to turn in my students’ grades to the UW, however, there wasn’t anything on the screen to tell me how to do that. more...
Our Power to Say No
by Noelle Sterne
Saying “No” can take as much courage as saying “Yes.” We’ve all had the experience of squeaking a mousy “Okay, sure” for something we didn’t really want to do – drive twelve kids to the water park in the Mini Cooper, agree to Sunday dinner with new acquaintances when the conversation had already stalled at “Hello,” go with a friend to a football game when we’re allergic to fans in painted faces.
I always take heart from authors who’ve proclaimed an emphatic No to other pursuits or activities in favor of writing. Their difficulties and hardships, and the agonies of their decisions, shouldn’t be minimized. But they had the courage and recognized their power to say No. A few examples:
-- A new writing friend withdrew from teaching middle school to start writing and blogging.
-- A well-known, highly successful woman turned from hotshot attorney to spiritual and career coach and self-help writer.
-- A corporate drone left the cubicle and water cooler to peddle his comedy scripts.
-- A classmate in graduate school stopped after the master’s degree to write novels – and became world famous. (I dutifully trudged on to the doctorate.)
All these people, and many others, had to buck disapproval, friends’ incredulity, relinquishment of prestige and titles, disappearance of steady money (sometimes a lot), and exposure at holiday dinners to relatives’ downturned mouths, dire warnings, and protracted head-shaking. Not to mention the writers’ own fears. more...