letter-writing, writing

Living My Letter-Writing Largo

largoLargo. Not being musically inclined, it was an unfamiliar word. It drew my attention in a recent essay headline related to living at a slower pace.

largo articleThis week I began the arduous, yet delightful task of working with an editor on my creativity book. The seeds of this book were planted in my heart a long time ago, shortly after my mother passed away in 2010. The completed manuscript was submitted last May. As much as I am hurried and impatient to see a finished product, I’m also keenly aware that an entire chapter in the book is devoted to the concept of “slowing down.” I’ve often lamented my inability to slow down, just “be,” relax and savor moments, and envied that ability in others.

In her essay, Christina Capecchi  elaborates on the musical term: “Largo as an art form comes after the practice, once you turn off the metronome and play what you love.” 

She goes on to say that she discovered an invitation to slow down, in the form of a handwritten letter that was sent to her. With that, she had my rapt attention.

In our busy modern world, to sit down and write someone a letter is a powerful affirmation of that person’s dignity,” she writes. “The recipient is worth each pen stroke, each thought written for her and her alone.”

Letter-writing; an invitation to slow down? Why was this such an epiphany for me? After all, I’ve been a letter-writer for as long as I can remember. I still have the letters my parents and siblings wrote me in 1978 and 1979 (in response to letters I’d written them) during my freshman year at college. I also have several binders filled with hundreds of articles and essays I’ve had published since 1988.

What if all those years of hand-writing, letters or otherwise, has been my method of slowing down? What if writing is playing at what I love?

Largo has another meaning. It derives from the Latin word largus, meaning abundant. Writing has indeed contributed to my abundant life. When I sit down to write an essay, or work on a manuscript, it requires slowing down. Pausing to think. Taking time to pray. While hours can pass as I write, I enjoy the flow so much, it feels like minutes.

When I write a letter, I’m thinking about the recipient, even to the point I’ll choose stationery and stamps with them in mind. I guess there’s a reason it’s called snail mail. Not just because the delivery is slower than electronic delivery, but because of the time taken in the writing.

I get a thrill of excitement just seeing that unopened package of butterfly paper in that bottom drawer full of stationery. And if you get a letter from me with one of those 10-cent “Letters Mingle Souls” stamps attached to the envelope, count yourself special. Those are the only stamps I paid more  than face value for. All the others were purchased through discount postage lots on eBay.

I love my wall rack filled with notecards and greeting cards. This area of my house is my happy place. When I’m relaxing in my recliner for those treasured “slow” moments, I can glance up from writing or reading and see things that bring me joy, like this rack, or the teddy bear my mother made, sitting on the trunk next to it. Downsizing for a move last year put a dent into my collection of paper and cards, but I’ve somehow managed to replenish the supply. And though I sometimes miss my desk, I manage to keep my letter-writing supplies well organized in a small shelf that sits atop my record player.

I’ll be sharing both my wealth of supplies and love of the snail mail habit at several events I’ve scheduled at my workplace this fall; a Saturday in late November for a day-long retreat lauding the benefits of letter-writing, followed by a Saturday afternoon card-making event and three Saturday mornings devoted to Snail Mail Socials, when coffee and pastries will be served at morning gatherings for those who want to work on their Christmas cards, address cards to soldiers or cancer patients, or just write letters. When better to enjoy some slow down moments than the busy holiday season?

In the meantime, I think I can stop berating myself for not slowing down more.

A letter a day can keep the guilt away~

letter

Note: Christina Capecchi, the author of the “Living in Largo” column mentioned here is an award-winning journalist from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. She is the author of the nationally syndicated column “Twenty Something.” Read more about Christina at christinacapecchi.com/

 

 

 

 

beautiful things, books, garage sales, letter-writing, paper, stationery, stuff

The Life-Changing Magic of Moving

“I tried that Japanese decluttering trend where you hold each thing you own, and throw it out if it doesn’t give you joy. I threw out all my vegetables and the electric bill.”- Mindy Kaling

“Does it spark joy?”

That’s what Marie Kondo asks in her book Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and in the Netflix show Tidying Up With Marie Kondo. The KonMari Method, with a revolutionary category-by-category system, promises a calm and motivated mindset inspired by determining which items in your house “spark joy.” It is not merely a set of rules on how to sort, organize and put things away but a guide to acquire the right mind-set for creating order and becoming a tidy person. By the time the suggested course of action is complete, the person is surrounded only by the things they love, a concept I found helpful last year when I moved from a four-bedroom two-story home to a two-bedroom, 760-square-foot house.

It took me several weeks of sorting, dozens of trips to a donation center, and two garage sales, but eventually I’d sifted through nearly everything in my house to determine which possessions would accompany me in the move.

Kondo suggests beginning with clothing in the tidying-up process. I went through my closet with ruthless abandon, selling or donating half my wardrobe. I was also forced to deal with the last box of my late husband’s clothing I had hidden out-of-sight in an upper shelf of my daughter’s closet. When my sister Joan offered to create something from the material, I gladly surrendered the shirts. The resulting creation of beautiful hand-crafted Christmas stockings will be enjoyed for years.

After clothing, Kondo suggests dealing with books. Because my new job was program coordinator at a spirituality center, it made sense that the majority of my mother’s religious books ended up in my work office, leaving room in her cabinet for my own. Except, I had books all over the house; filling one shelf in my bedroom, two solid oak shelves in my office, and even spilling onto my desk.

Gulp. My daughter Rachel was a great help in this overwhelming endeavor, having weeded out her own book collection some time before. “Hold each book in your hands and ask yourself if it brings you joy,” she instructed in a soothing voice. “Will you read it again? Do you love it? Do you look at it and smile? If not, let it go.”

The first time I weeded my books, I made $150 from a haul to HalfPrice Books. That encouraged me to dig a little deeper, become more discerning. Unfortunately, there was no room in my future home for my two oak shelves or desk, even  though they did, indeed, bring me joy. There was even a heartwarming story behind the desk. It was very difficult to part with a piece of furniture that seeped in memories of someone who loved me and believed in my writing.  I posted this on my Facebook page the day the desk sold:

“It’s just a desk,” I remind myself. Just a desk. Just the oak shelves I’ve loved since I’ve acquired them. Just 1000 books. A recliner. In a few days, this house I have lived in since 2008 needs to be empty, and I’m moving to one less than half its size. I’ve been cleaning, sorting, and downsizing for weeks in anticipation of that move. “It’s just stuff,” I told myself. “There won’t be room for it.” And for the most part, it’s been less painful than I thought it would be. But the desk…there’s a story behind the desk. One that involves marriage, and love, and what it is to discover a renewed relationship through cancer. The desk has remained in the same spot since I purchased it, painfully obvious now that it is gone, since the wall was painted without moving the wooden beast, and now must be repainted. Solid oak, it served as a formidable symbol of a solid marriage.

I couldn’t help the buyers carry it outside, but could at least remove the drawers to make it lighter. The bottom drawer was stuck on something. I heard a crinkling noise as I tried to free it. Feeling behind it, I gripped a piece of paper. I pulled it free, and my breath caught in my throat. For a moment, I couldn’t breathe. It was a sheet of personalized stamps I’d purchased before David died in 2012. I suddenly wanted the couple, and the desk, out of my house as quickly as possible. I wanted to be alone, to cry. 

But I don’t need the desk to remind me of what I once had. I hold that memory in my heart.

stamps

Despite having to give up some furniture I would rather have kept, there was never a doubt that my parent’s cabinet was coming with me, even if it had to be in my bedroom, which is exactly where it ended up.

cabinet
The original contents of the cabinet were mostly things of my mother’s, very few of them sparking joy, outside of a few pieces of funky vintage dishes in a pattern I loved just as much as my mother had. I offered other pieces to family members. I eventually weeded my books down to those shelves in my office at work and this cabinet in my home. These books were the keepers out of thousands.

If you’re an author reading this and your book remains among my signed copies in either location, then count yourself blessed. Your work survived the great purge of 2018. What we won’t discuss is the growing pile of books next to my recliner. Old habits die hard and somehow, despite my good intentions, more books seem to be finding their way into my home.

Which brings us to Kondo’s last category, which happens to be my biggest downfall; that of paper. As I prepared for my move, it soon became obvious there was not going to be enough time to sort and organize all my paper “stuff.” I did manage to sift through years of report cards, greeting cards, letters, children’s drawings, and other miscellaneous paper items, shredding and burning many documents. Most of what I moved with me is neatly organized in the bottom shelves of my cabinet or a compactly filled trunk. The cabinet holds my journals, loose photographs, my mother’s Memory book, high-school annuals, five binders filled with clippings of thirty years of writing, candles, and a lovely decorated box with David-related memorabilia, what my children once called my “sad box.”

The trunk holds letters, children’s drawings, my mother’s original book manuscripts, greeting cards, and other paper paraphernalia I can’t bear to part with and I’d like to organize in a manner they can be enjoyed. It would have taken me weeks to give the letters the attention they deserve for de-cluttering and organizing purposes so most of them moved with me, though I did sort through some of the greeting cards, disposing of those that had no personal note inside. I have a box filled with letters my mother had written my grandmother in the 1960’s. Someday, I want to scan them and share them with siblings. Another box holds letters I’ve received from loved ones throughout the years, including my mother, and even a couple from my dad. My goal is to eventually sort them by year and file in binders.

One of my most first purchases for my new home was an addition that definitely sparked joy; a drastically reduced rack I spotted at Hobby Lobby, where I store my still-plentiful supply of stationery and greeting cards.

stationeryI wonder sometimes what this process would have been like if it hadn’t been done by necessity (a move to a smaller house), but by desire (for a more tidy space). I suspect it would have been more enjoyable and less stressful. I also suspect I would have kept more things, and had fewer regrets. Would the day-books have survived, and the decorated lab coat remnant from my high-school Advanced Science class have been burnt instead?

The daybooks were not journals. I’ve kept those. No, the daybooks detailed the minutiae of a busy mom’s day; 98-degrees and humid… went shopping and saved $48 in coupons… sent four letters…went out for breakfast with David… four more days until my due date…

And the reason behind the decided disposal of them; what I did not want to leave as a legacy, too many  hastily-written entries along the lines of “I’ll go stark-raving mad if I don’t get one minute to myself. Is it too much to ask to be alone in the bathtub?”

The daybooks. My mother’s table. The desk. Those beautiful oak shelves and the leather-bound books I’d collected. Whenever I feel a pang of regret, I remind myself they were just things.  Things that did not aways spark joy. The short matching chairs that came with my mother’s table caused leg cramps and my desk collected clutter. I did the majority of my writing in my recliner, which most definitely accompanied me to my smaller house. The shelves were extremely heavy and the leather bound classic books looked pretty, but I’d never even read the majority of them.

As for my vices of paper and books, I’ve discovered a bonus to living in a larger town. There are stores, like TJMaxx, that sell lovely legal pads, and a bounty of thrift stores where I discover things like this small shelf with three basket drawers, baskets that are just the right size for…

…you guessed it…paper.

Marie Kondo would not approve.

letter-writing

Doing My Part to Save the Postal Service

The U.S, Postal Service is in trouble. The postmaster general claims that the USPS is on the brink of default.

But I am doing my part to ensure their survival.  My outgoing mail today looks like this:

These are mostly Homeschool Newsletters going out in the mail.

Why even bother fixing the postal service, Kevin Williamson asks in a recent NationalReview.com editorial. He claims the only thing USPS delivers is junk mail.

I beg to differ.

At least in my household, a good mail day means a letter from a friend, a book arriving from PaperBackSwap, a magazine, or a check from my writing. I look forward to the mail. No e-mail will replace the feel of a letter written on stationery, a greeting card, or even a short note from a friend. My friend. Mary, and I have been writing letters for almost 25 years, and we rarely e-mail.

Can e-mails be put in a pretty box, to be pulled out later?

Sure, if we want to print them out and file them, but who is going to do that?

What about the stack of letters from our now-deceased mother written to her mother, detailing her years of raising children in the 50’s and 60’s? Despite the ugly box, they are a treasure-trove of history.

Our letters today are the history of tomorrow.

Why didn’t I just e-mail the latest homeschool newsletter?  For one thing, you can’t stick an e-mail onto the refrigerator as a reminder of the upcoming picnic. For another, I intimately know the joy of pulling a letter, (a real letter!) out of the mailbox.

I like being part of that joy.

I’m not the only one who thinks like this. Check out this webpage for information about “The Note Project.” From their webpage:

The Note Project is a global movement to make the world a million times better by inspiring people to share notes of appreciation. Our goal is 1 million notes! The project was founded by Mike O’Mary, and was inspired by the reaction of people to his video and “The Note” gift book.