Sunday, June 14, 2009

Letters Part Two

The main reason I posted Mr. Jenkinson's article as the first post is due to the fact that I do share the same sentiments as he had so articulately expressed. His article is certainly candid and reflective as he shares his attempts at being a long-distance father through his letter; offering whatever a daughter needs to hear and learn from her father.

It certainly strikes a chord when he muses that his daughter will not treasure the significance of his letters as it is a 'little more than a continuous attempt to find new ways to say I love you and I am thinking about you today.' The rationale behind such a routine activity stems from his own experience of how he treasures the letters he receives. Perhaps, when he is gone, the only physical manifestation of him for his daughter would be his letters. In these letters, she will see snippets of her father: his handwriting, choice of ink and stationery and his train of thoughts. Letters are time capsules that encapsulates the essence of the writer which is why when one passes on, it is sometimes hard to read their letters for they are 'too raw with soul' .

Reading his article certainly threw me back into the 'backcountry of despair' for I realised that no one values this form of communication anymore. I did try to revive that habit by sending a few emails, in which the enjoyment I draw from is far from that of sending an actual letter, to some of my friends but it never seem to last. Well, not that I blame any of them for the winds of the future does take us to many places at a fairly quick pace but it is always nice to stop once in a while and just take it all in.

The efficiency of communication that we experience now gives us many opportunities to communicate and such an excess has certainly let us to say much less when we want to communicate much more. It often leads to us being lost in translation. Thus, writing a letter results in a more sincere means of communication for we forced to say all we want to say within a page or two. This therefore means that we often put down thoughts and feelings that are truly important.

Having said so much, I thought it would be befitting to implore my gentle readers through a letter...

Dearest Reader,

Thank you for spending so much time reading through the article as well as my lament on the impending death of letter-writing. I do urge you into giving some thought in reconnecting to your friends by writing a thoughtful letter to them, even if it is through email.

We often have so many places to go at one time and as such, the pace of our hectic lives often makes us lose friendships and relationships if we don't hold onto them. At the end of the day, we may achieve so much... alone. So pick up a pen, or log into your email account and start dedicating some time to the shrine of friendship and never let the well of love run dry.

As for those who have recieved letters or emails and were too busy to reply to them, do take some time to do so. You'll be surprised what turns out.

Yours Truly

Letters Part One

In order to avoid putting you guys through a potentially long post, I shall compose it in two parts. Before I write any further, I would like to borrow the words of Mr. Jekinson for your consideration. The following passage is taken from his weekly columns which you can read from the website,

And Then There Was Skype
by Clay Jenkinson
February 1, 2009
My daughter lives in northwestern Kansas. She is 14. Her life is as busy as it could possibly be. Whatever my tired heart has to give, has been freely given to her, and there is no other child, no other claimant.

So I live and breathe for her, which is of course insane, for she is 14, and she was born, like every other child in the world, to pull away in her second decade of life. The pain of this would be unbearable, except that I know she cannot become the adult I am so eager to meet unless I hold open the door and call after her to wear mittens and phone home whenever she can.

We see each other at least once a month, without fail. I call her (cell phone to cell phone) every day, 350-plus days per year, often several times per day, and we now text too, which is just a high tech and inexpensive way of telegraphing a wee message of affection.

It's amazing how a "Hey, Papa, 'sup," can make my day and keep me from drifting into the backcountry of despair. I write her a couple of actual letters per week, hand- or typewritten, and send them in a big white envelope, with something called a postage stamp. It's very odd, this phenomenon.

For about 50 cents, I can get a trained professional to come to my house and pick up a very small item and then carry it 751 miles to a young woman far away. She infallibly gets the little package in three or so days - for less than 50 cents!

As you can see, I regard the U.S. Postal Service as little short of a miracle.

My daughter, however, looks upon my letters as a quaint Paleolithic affectation, a very late and low-tech echo of something you might read in "Little Women" or a novel by Charlotte Bronte. She senses, I think, that I write these letters as much for me as for her. Maybe she is right.

It always settles my heart to put a blank sheet of paper in front of me and take half an hour to compose a letter to her. It means that for that half hour I am thinking solely about her. I try to guess what it would please or comfort her to read from her absent papa. It gives me a chance to try to imagine the rhythms of her life, the moments of unreserved laughter, the many plaguing anxieties of adolescence, the little feuds and misunderstandings with equally constipated classmates, and the first waves of possibility that come in these years and fill a young person simultaneously with eagerness and dread.

I went underground when I was 14. I literally moved into the basement, and much that was most compelling in my life never again found its way to the dinner table. Where is she with the subterranean, I wonder, and look up from the page with my own wave of anxiety.

She gets it that my writing actual letters to her should be regarded as something special, and she puts them, when she is not too rushed with "practice" and Scholar's Bowl or the game against the hated cross-county rival, in a special little box.

Perhaps some day she will read them through in a single night, looking for clues, remembering the days of her childhood, taking a transfusion from the unmistakable, unceasing expressions of love they contain. My letters are little more than a continuous attempt to find new ways to say I love you and I am thinking about you today.

In the mythology of my life, actual letters-in-an-envelope are one of the supreme pleasures. I don't receive many letters any more and don't write many either, given how easy it is to stay in touch by other and more efficient means. We can lament this as much as we please, but it is not likely to change. I fear the day when the last piece of traditional mail is delivered in America and the last newspaper thumped up on the porch at dawn.

The best letters I ever received came from my mentor and closest friend. I keep them treasured up in a special box. I open the box and glance into them now and then, but I cannot really read them, because they are too raw with soul. I used to write and receive love letters when I used to love.

My father, who lived at the other end of the loquacity spectrum, for many years sent me what I called "terse notes." He somehow expressed all he wanted to say in a couple of bone-lean paragraphs. I reread those terse notes now and then and smile and sometimes laugh out loud, but mostly I just miss him and wish he were around so that I could share this portion of my life with him, and put my daughter at his feet.

My daughter doesn't understand this meaning of letters - and really why should she? That was then and this is now. It's like asking her to enjoy old time radio drama or the Grand Ole Opry. She has been typing since she was 6 and she has never lived without access to a computer.

When I was struggling to produce a PowerPoint lecture a couple of years ago, I called to say goodnight, and wound up discussing my frustration. "Oh, Daddy," she replied, "let me walk you through it." Which she did.

Now we have discovered Skype. Skype is an Internet communications technology created by a team of software developers based in Tallinn, Estonia. It allows free online phone calls (ho hum) but also video conversation. Now a few times a week my daughter and I "Skype up," as she puts it, and talk for a few dozen minutes face-to-face across 751 miles.

It's so magical that it is scary. Last night, she "called" pretty late and I had to shake off my bleariness because of course I was "on camera." She wanted to talk about Homer's "Odyssey," but also about her friend Jess who is being a brat.

To see her mouth quiver just a bit, almost imperceptibly, as she tried to brazen it out and say she didn't care if Jess "ever, ever" apologized, was worth all the postage stamps ever printed.

We live in a fabulous time and we must embrace the new world that is bursting like fireworks over our heads. But I'm still going to write those letters.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Dressing Room: A Sanctuary of Love

As a performer, one of the best aspects of performing that is not known to the audience is the dressing room. Amidst the madness of preparation, it is a sanctuary of love. Nothing brings me back more than a little trip to AC's dressing room after a dance performance.

The plan was to meet my friends who were performing to congratulate them on a job well done but I did not manage to do that because the dancers had a long farewell celebration on stage to mark the end of their run. Instead, I was overwhelmed by love, joy, happiness and sincerity. What greeted me in the dressing room was a glaring mess of multi-coloured post-it notes, cards and slips of papers stuck all over the walls and mirrors. They bare the well-wishes, many thanks and expressions of love from each other as well as friends. It was like a neon sign on Broadway that screams I LOVE YOU FOREVER!

It made me realise that such an act, while it may appear to be a tradition, is done in a communal feeling of sincerity in wishing the best for each other as well as a shared love for the stage. It is a heartening assurance that whatever happens, happens to all of them together and because they are together, everything will be fine. In a life that is full of ups and downs, I guess such an assurance is all that is needed.

As I revel in such a scene, I couldn't help but smiled as I went down memory lane and recalled the hours I took to write all those cards by hand and coming up with novel ways to surprise the recipients of my cards. Such a feeling certainly compelled me to run back to the stage, perform again and to receive as well as to give those cards again. In that communal experience, I'm sure the dancers will agree that nothing matters anymore but to be there with each other on stage...

If the notes can truly heal all wounds, I would spend every minute of my life to write those cards and send it to everyone.