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The habit-practice-compulsion


Last week’s letter (we are the well into the 11th year of a weekly note to Ellen) never made it to a door side mailbox before it was read.  Reid opened his within minutes of the email attachment arriving at his London office, and Ellen read the post days before her letter arrived by postal delivery in St. Paul.

The habit-practice-compulsion (it is whatever you wish to call it) just keeps rolling along.  It has its own energy and sense of momentum.

But it consists of the energy of one.   Momentum-less is the original dream: prod non-letter writers (parents in particular) to adopt regular letters as a legitimate low-tech means to simply stay in touch with their kids.  The sense here is almost no progress has been made to move even a small number of people from Point A to Point L (letters).  That failure is a super-duper-sized elephant in the room.  Case in point: subscribership remains low.  I’m not reaching parents at the logical separation point when kids flee for college and the nest is suddenly empty.  That’s when writing a letter might seem to be a viable thing.  The dream, it turns out, is nothing more than a pipe dream.

Other factors may be at work.  My blog itself could be suspect or ill-created/managed/promoted or worse yet, just flat-out uninteresting.  Likely on those counts and others.  Maybe the forest is too close and I can’t see through all those infernal trees.  But I wouldn’t label this as a wholesale rant or whine.  Instead, it’s recognition that the formula isn’t working.  One thing for sure, I’ll keep trying.  Someday the light will come on and I’ll spring forward with an approach that is more viable.

So the blog remains essentially a running, public diary of correspondence between me and my two.  Maybe that is enough.

This morning’s letter to Ellen and Reid is freshly minted and won’t be posted until next week.  The same-week release of last week’s letter on the excursion to the Bridger Wilderness in Wyoming used up whatever free pass I had on that score.

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Covering a lot of ground…


Page one of my uncle Henry's letter. Despite all he faces, he's still sharp and insightful.

Last week I retyped in this space a letter from my uncle Henry in Portland, and to a good response from several of you.  Thanks much.

I responded in kind to Henry.  That letter is shown below.

Although my letters to Ellen and Reid are evolving as we speak (see “Behind the woodshed”, October 29) what Henry will read is a product of necessity.  He will read a little bit about a lot of things.  Since I don’t write to him very often there is an urge to cover a lot of ground.

—————–

November 3, 2010

Mary and Henry: Henry, you have to be careful in what you wish for because here’s the latest installment of my church newsletters.  It was only eight pages this month because A) there just wasn’t as much news and B) I ran out of steam as the issue deadline approached.  But people still like it, and you’ll like that in November, I’ve persuaded my Pastor to take part in a Pastor vs. Pastor column (the title will likely change) (eds. note: http://www.caldwellpresby.org/news.shtml) where he will face off against some other Presbyterian minister on some pressing issue of the day.  They won’t so much take opposing sides as just write differing views.

Thanks for your handwritten letter that arrived a week or so ago.  It was a wonderful read.  If anyone has had a lifetime of experiences, it’s you.  I’m impressed that your handwriting is legible enough for the average person to read, and doubly impressed that you confess to not using e-mail and the other avenues of Internet communication.  If I hand wrote my September letter to you, you’d still be trying to decipher it to this day.

It looks like us Democrats took a licking in yesterday’s election.  I just don’t get the voting public.  In 2008 they put a black man in office, but with their short attention spans and what-have-you-done-for-me-lately mentality, they forget the prior eight years of economic and diplomatic sins that cannot possibly be overcome in the space of two years.  I think we get what we deserve.  There just seems to be more of a mean-spirited, attack dog approach these days.  I didn’t turn on the TV or radio last night or this morning to listen to the talking heads talk, talk, talk.  That’s not reportage.  Things seem to turn on very shallow, small picture issues.

I’m trying to persuade Tom and others to join me on a backpacking trip in Wyoming next summer.  He said he, Eli and Ben rode their bikes past the very spot where we would propose to enter the high country.  If the people who say they want to go actually do go, we may split into two sub-hiker groups.  I’ll take the slow pokes and Tom and Reid can take the faster crew.  We’d both end up in the same places but at different rates of speed.  I’ll really be excited to have Tom up there.  He’ll like it.  It’s not like the Cascades or Olympics, but drier with good views.

Thanks for calling mom.  That seems to greatly lift her spirits.  She really seems to be doing better these days.  Ralph has her with a doctor who has throttled back her medications and that has evened things out a great deal and removed her moments of anger.  I’m not quite sure what the doctor did but we all ought to be very appreciative of it.

Well, my nose had better get back to the grindstone so that everyone here perceives I’m holding up my end of the bridge.  It was wonderful to get your letter and I hope this one finds you hale, hearty and well.

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Behind the woodshed…


A tough morning for Ellen's adoptive dog Henry. Hey, I'm with you, pal.

I have had an epiphany.  Actually, the light bulb came on in the half hour I was taken behind the woodshed for a good old fashioned ass kicking.  But no writer has deserved the punishment more.

Administering this private flogging was my friend Betsy who, thankfully, had the nerve to tell me A) the letters to Ellen and Reid are too shallow, B) the letters sent to my mom should be segregated in a different space, perhaps a different blog, C) there are too many rants against technology on this space and instead I should delve more into what is written to Ellen and Reid and why.  None of her criticisms stung in the slightest; I think she was spot on yet her counsel was in part self serving.  If she was going to spend her precious time to read the blog and the letters, she wanted content worth reading.

This reaches well beyond this blog to the core of the letters themselves.  Because Betsy has seen the letters over time (this is the 125th post) – each with one or more letters on display – she spotted what you may have noted, too; a disturbing trend of short paragraphs about the same things over and over again.  The weather.  Tomatoes.  The bike.  Golf.  Why not, she said, open up about losing my first job ever (at the age of 60) and how it shook me to my core?  And that’s just the tip of the topic iceberg.

Betsy thinks I don’t give the kids enough credit for being adults who want to see a deeper side of their father.  I couldn’t agree more.  The letters hadn’t matured as the kids grew.  Why or how it took hundreds of letters until the deficiencies were uncovered might seem a mystery.  Yet even as she began to outline her case, the points she raised were no strangers to me.  Most had already crossed my mind through the years.

So I’ll pay a long overdue visit to the drawing board.  It may not be wholesale change but there will be change.  Will it mean tossing aside an approach that has worked (or has it?  Do Ellen and Reid share Betsy’s view?) on upwards of 500 letters ?  Could be.  I am about to find out if there is a middle ground.

——————

Of course, Betsy’s comments about depth do not apply to letters to my mom.  Here is today’s letter to her.  Betsy did point out that the letters to my mother (along with prior letters to my mother and father when he was alive) don’t necessarily fit a blog about letters to children.  She suggests parental letters be housed in a whole new blog.  I’ll toss that one around.

October 29, 2010

Mom: They have put me in a new job at work and if I didn’t feel pressure before, I sure feel it now.  But hard work never hurt anybody, least of all me.  I’m glad for the challenge and its fun.

I see from the weather than you’ve had your first cold snap and frost.  That’s really pretty late for you guys up North.  We haven’t even sniffed a day in the 30s just yet but it appears we’re in for that sometime in the next week.  The Indian Summer here has been just glorious.  The weather couldn’t be any better than it is right now.  Lots of people here locally say this is their favorite time of year.  As for me, I like April and May.  That’s the best time.

I’m starting to see a few more deer begin to move around the neighborhood.  They have to learn how to dodge cars if they’re going to survive.  I don’t think the deer grow quite as large as they do in Nebraska but there sure are a lot of hunters around here.  There’s a lot of forest area around Charlotte and the Carolinas so there’s no shortage of spots to shoot a gun.  They hunt a lot of quail down here, too.  My shotgun is with Ellen’s husband Tim up in Minnesota.  I don’t want to hunt down here.

I’m supposed to play golf on Sunday, but if you saw my real swing on the course you would be disgusted.  It’s really bad, and it makes me not like golf very much.  It’s been such a big part of my recreational activity for so long that it’s kind of hard to think about giving it up, but I am.  I’ve been doing a lot of walking these days and that’s almost enough workout for me.

Your other son says you went to the dentist the other day and things went pretty well.  He says you have some more dental work ahead of you, and he’ll do a pretty good job of keeping me up to speed on how things are going.

Tomorrow Nebraska plays Missouri in football in Lincoln.  I’ll videotape the game and if the Big Red wins, I’ll watch it.  By the time this letter reaches you, you’ll already know if they won, too.  They’re doing about as well as can be expected.

Reid was in San Francisco last week and he seems to have had a good time.  He likes Chicago a lot but it wouldn’t surprise me if didn’t think hard about moving out to California.  But it’s so expensive to live out there.

Well, that’s enough for today.  I’ve got to put my nose back to the grindstone, but watch for another call real soon.  And keep that fleece on because winter is coming.

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