Things are going swimmingly at Branch Hall this morning. I’m in a very good mood.
I’ve been painting all morning; doing art always makes me happy! It’s so green outside; we’re on our second day of drenching rain . . .
It’s dark and stormy, blustery and windy outside the windows; I put on my Wellies and took the camera outside for these photos. Everything is beautiful, our thirsty lawn is so happy, and our new dogwood tree is in its first full, pure white bloom!
Joe made us a fire in the fireplace before he left for the gym; it’s cozy and warm here in my studio with the rain pattering against the window, blurring my view of the picket-fence garden … so what better time to add a little post to this blog. The subject lately, at least in my mind, is always one thing. Packing! I could drone on about packing all day; I’ve got the orange shoes, the yellow raincoat, my dinner clothes, the diary, my pens and watercolor paper, the teacups, my books, all packed, for our trip to England via the Queen Mary II (in case you’re coming to this blog for the first time, we’re inviting you to come along, via this website; leaving from New York on May 4th! For two months! I’ll be posting photos of Beatrix Potter’s House; tea rooms, cottages, small towns, and gardens!!!) — but you all know what packing is like. You don’t really need to hear about it do you? At least, not until it’s all done! I ordered perhaps my last thing from the internet this morning; these WONDERFUL little push-button razor blades I keep in my purse to cut inspirations out of magazines with. My other ones were about 200 years old! So organized! (Ha! her inner voice laughs sharply, knowing the real truth.)
So anyway, instead, today I’m going to talk about How To Write a Good Letter! Won’t that be fun?
I haven’t done a How-To kind of post in a while; but one of our girlfriends, Heather, wrote me a couple of days ago . . . she has a daughter named Olivia; they live in California, and Olivia is going away to college in August. Mom and daughter have decided to correspond “the old-fashioned way,” as she put it, with letters. They’re making a diary of Olivia’s college years to last forever. Priceless. Heather asked for ideas on writing good letters . . . I told her I would think of some and thought yay! Relief from packing news. Saved by the bell.
So this won’t be about business letters, there’s plenty of that out there on the internet; I’m more interested in letters between friends, like these planned between Heather and Olivia; moms and daughters, sisters, and best friends; Mother’s Day is coming soon; mom’s love letters from their children. (As a hint, your child could read this post. )
The one thing I remember when my mom first taught me about letter writing was never to use “I” in the first sentence. I don’t know if it’s a real rule, but it stuck in my head and I pretty much can’t write a letter any other way; if I start with “I” I feel my mom over my shoulder. A letter should always begin by making the person you’re writing the focus and main subject — just a little thing like, How are you? How have you been? What have you been up to? Then you can say, “I loved your last letter — you have no idea how you made my day.” Now the receiver is totally in love with you and you can say everything else you like. ♥
A letter is a gift; so if you think of yourself as “giving,” you will make your letters just naturally more interesting to the person receiving them. Ask yourself ”what can I give (my person) that she would like?” Such as the name of a good new book you are reading, a recipe, a detailed description of what was served to you at a restaurant, what you wore, a movie review, what your new shoes look like, a great web store for clothes, a funny conversation you had; details make a letter come alive. Little inclusions like a page of stickers, a fall leaf, a cartoon from a magazine, an article you think the receiver would be interested in, the name of a website or blog you love to visit, a bookmark, a CD, a dried flower, a photo, or a drawing in the margins can, of course, add a lot to the gift of a letter and make it into a kind of art. They turn your letters into “keepers.”
In front of me on the table while I’m writing, when possible, is always the last letter I received from the person I’m corresponding with. I take care to answer any questions they may have asked; respond to what stories they have written, comment on their new shoes, their new adventures, their hopes and dreams, to keep the thread going, so they know I’m “listening.” They also spent their time writing to me, and I want them to know I am grateful so they will do it again!
Sometimes I have so many things to say I even write the subjects down ahead of time so I can remember to include everything… such as: the bird feeders, what Jack did, tea with the girls (what’d we eat and wear, who said what), what Joe is doing, and a trip we’re planning. I always ask about their own families and friends, moms, and children; their new house, their upcoming party, etc. I don’t want the letter to be all about me. The idea is to put a bit of sunshine into an everyday world of vacuuming, ironing, grocery shopping, dinner making, the regular old routine. I want my letters to make someone stop, put the kettle to boil for tea, get a cookie, and have a mini vacation in the day.
Pretty stationery is fun to write on, but it isn’t necessary; lined school paper is fine too . . . and perfect handwriting isn’t necessary either; typing is OK, but
everyone does love a handwritten letter; “There ain’t (as Thomas Edison said) no rules around here; we’re trying to accomplish something!” Despite all the “rules” I’ve just given you, your own heart will be the true dictator of what should or shouldn’t be included. A letter should be like your spoken words, imperfect, honest, straightforward and real. Do your best with spelling and grammar but don’t fret about it. The only thing that matters is the connection, and that happens with flow of words, and sharing of life experiences.
I keep my favorite correspondence in a basket with a lid; as I’ve always said, a phone call is nice, email is OK too because it’s the way of the world and staying connected is the most important thing, but an old-
fashioned letter can truly be a work of art and a voice for the ages.
There actually is one steadfast rule in letter writing: never, ever send a letter in anger. If there are words you feel you must say, go ahead and write them, as strongly as you choose, get everything out of your system; then put the letter in a drawer for at least a week. I guarantee that when you read it again you will tear it into a thousand pieces and be so happy you never sent it. All conversations such as these are best done in person; you will not need a letter like that floating around in the world.
I’m about to face the extreme letter-writing challenge: how to make postcards interesting with so little space to say anything and no envelope to put anything in! Usually I choose a card with a picture that tells one story, while I pick a subject of the travel that’s different and try to be as detailed as possible, expressing the flavor of the place; such as, “We’re sitting in a sidewalk cafe, at a table for two with wire back chairs that are bent into heart shapes; the sun is shining, there are big white clouds, red geraniums in pots are everywhere; the awning over our head is black and white striped; in front of me is a tall double-decker red bus stopped to pick up passengers, and I’m writing YOU. Joe is playing with his camera, we’re sharing a plate of “chips,” which I’m tearing up and tossing to little wrens hopping around under the table. It’s a wonderful trip; miss you; wish SO MUCH that you were here, love you, xoxo. ”
Well, I guess that’s all I can think of about the wonderful world of letters. Hope it’s helpful. ♥ And to you Heather and Olivia, enjoy your letter-writing project!
One last thing — this kind of goes along with letters; I keep hearing that Congress is trying to do away with the Post Office (!), and that in fact they have begun to close some of them. If you feel, as I do, that this is going too far (since, for one thing, we have the nicest people in the world working at our post office), would you please email your representatives and ask them not to do this? Remember how quick they can do this kind of thing so that we don’t even realize what’s happening until it’s too late? Now is the time to tell them that we would prefer they keep their rotten little paws off the post office (you probably shouldn’t quote me ). They have closed tons of Post Offices in England, so we know it can happen. It’s so sad, and we are the only ones to save ours. If you don’t know who your representatives are, just Google it (like: “Your state name, congressmen and senators”). And then, for example, let’s say your senator is Mike Smith, just Google “Mike Smith Contact” and you’ll get their email address; tell your senator to vote for bill #S1789 to save the Post Offices. I knew you would want to know. ♥ xoxo
OK, Girls, off I go . . . Just loving the “Angelique” tulips now in bloom — Rainy Days and Mondays Never get me down! Not when they’re as pretty as this one is! OK, off I go, gotta go pack! Have a wonderful day! ♥