It seems to me one of the impediments to letter writers is the fear of embarrassment. It can terrorize budding authors as they stare at a page or quake at the thought of saying something wrong (heaven forbid). If you can’t corral your anxiety, it can cripple what should be a pleasant endeavor. If you fret too much about “did I say this right?’ or ‘what will they think of this?’ you’ll never get past word one. Writing is a practiced art. The notion of embarrassment will ease as you find your style and your comfort zone. In all honesty, I cannot recall a single instance where I had a moment’s doubt or angst about ‘what will Ellen and Reid think of this?’ Not once.
Every good writer sets aside or comes to grips with the idea of exposing themselves to folly. They are all too willing to try a new word or toss out a new phrase or push the literary boundaries in some other way. None of this (or us) will ever be perfect. You’ll be surprised at how liberating freedom-from-turning-red can be. As for your recipients, they are by and large a kindly audience. They’ll just be glad to know you sent them your very best.
My counsel to help you over the speed bump of self consciousness: let it go.
Here is today’s letter to mom and dad. 550+ words in about 11 minutes. The momentous news is in the first paragraph. All the rest is window dressing.
February 26, 2010
Mom and Dad: It was good to hear that you two have been talking about another living situation. Honestly, it is probably time. After the rough winter you’ve endured and all that goes with pushing snow aside let alone maintaining the place, we can do better to make things a good bit easier for you. I know this sounds like a broken record, but the best decision I made after coming down here was to get a small place where none of the toil and upkeep was onerous. It’s just a matter of perspective. No matter where you are you can still watch TV, heat your tea, read and lounge about. I’ll help out however I can in terms of helping downsize and/or get your place ready to sell. You guys have no mortgage, so the sale issue isn’t all that big, either. A few years ago I wrote a column for the Chicago Tribune on ‘move managers’, the unbiased people who come in to help decide what goes and what stays and get a new place settled to approximate your prior situation. It’s a pretty good concept.
Went to the store last night, list in hand, and spent $134. But the big news is I saved $122 on the total order. Literally everything in the cart was on sale or two-for-one or buy-one-get-one-free, and the rewards card that is scanned at the checkout station keeps tabs on the total savings. The bad news is that I now have 39 cups of yogurt in the fridge, and untold pounds of beef and turkey in the freezer plus 27 boxes of cereal in the pantry. I hope the independent audit verifies my count of pasta boxes. The only guy who can probably help me is Dr. Phil, and he’d probably turn down my kind of problem because I am so far beyond help. How can one guy spend $134? That’s a rhetorical question that does not demand an answer.
Well, the lettuce (Romaine) is in the ground, if you count a dirt-filled shallow pot on the front stoop as counting for “ground.” Used my finger as a dibble to poke holes in the soil for the seeds. It occurred to me that this was the first real gardening – faux gardening, if you will – I’ve done in better than three years. It felt good to get my hands dirty. Now if it will just sprout and grow. Bought a couple of trellises for the English ivy. Even though it wants to crawl on the ground, it’s gonna damn well be trained to climb upward.
As you can guess, this weekend will be golf. My friend Mike and I will have a grudge match over two days, and scarcely a civil word will be exchanged although it will all be in good fun. I have to grant the thief three shots a side, which is borderline criminal. That’s why I never win because he rigs the games. He’ll will be reminded as such as the round progresses.
Ellen’s couch arrives this weekend and she is as antsy to have it as a cat on a hot tin roof. The thing is really delayed, but it feels like a victory because it’s coming in sooner than predicted. No word from Reid, but what else is new? It’s a guy thing.