Monday, 30 April 2012

Letter 29

After over six months of concertedly writing and sending a letter every week, it seems to me that letter-writing is almost an automatic part of my life. And I think that's a nice thing.

One of the newest developments with my family life is that my Grandpa has just moved into a residential home permanently. With all occassions like this it is positive and negative in turns. He has demetia and neither me or my Mum live nearby so he needs to be somewhere where he will be safe. It is a big change to make and you can't help but feel you're not doing enough, even if you know that you are. But discussion of care for the elderly and how families cope with demetia is not for here. If you want to watch a really good documentary about it, look to the latest Louis Theroux.

What I have been trying to do is write to my Grandpa each week, simply saying what I've been doing, asking how he is and trying to keep him up-to-date. As the weeks roll by, I think that maybe I'm doing this for me, rather than for him. Is it because I feel less guilty if I write that I've not got enough spare cash to drive down and visit as often as I'd like. Probably. But I do know that he likes to show people letters and cards that he receives, and he gets pleasure from that interaction. And that's the main thing.

I guess my point this week is that it is not neccessarily the reading of the letter that is important, but the communication in other ways it then inspires.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Letter 28


That's a letter that no one wishes to write and no one wishes to receive. A little while ago I was trying to think of the types of letter that everyone will write during their lifetime. Thank you letters, cover letters for jobs and perhaps letters of condolence were high on my list.

Grief, you would think was universal, so therefore writing to show someone that you care *should* come naturally. However, I certainly found it difficult to find and use all the right words. I wanted to give a lot of thought to what I was going to write (as you may have realised someone I knew passed away) and did something I've never done before. I bought a self-help book.

'The Art of Condolence' is a book I saw in the second hand bookshop down the road from me several weeks ago. I ummed and ahhed and left it on the shelf. More recently I returned to see if it was still there. Apart from collections of letters, it was the first book I'd seen that focussed on how to write letters. Very specific letters - a whole chapter is dedicated on what to write on the death of an Aids victim (the book was published in the US in 1991). It is written by two grief counsellors and is much more sensible in its approach than I expected it to be - although some of the sample letters are bizarre. Or they might just be American.

After reading 'The Art of Condolence' and thinking long and hard about what to say, I came up with a summary of all my research and thoughts, so when writing a letter of condolence, here's my top few tips:

  1. Acknowledge the loss. The simple structure of 'I was really sorry to hear ...' gets the elephant out of the way. It's also honest, you can follow it up with 'I shall miss them' or if you didn't know them 'from everything you've said it sounds like they'll be missed very much.
  2. I think writing about a special time or conversation you had with the deceased is a good thing to move on to. After my Grandma died, for ages I couldn't remember anything at all as to how she was like. Putting a little sentence down of they said this and I always remembered it, is special.
  3. A practical offer, a gift or something specific is good. It's no good saying 'Ring if you need anything' as, well if you're like me, you'll think I can manage fine. I would be much more likely to do something about shall we meet in six weeks. A treat, like gift vouchers, can buoy people up.
Also remember, that it's OK if you start writing and then find it too difficult to finish. That doesn't mean you are a bad or careless friend, just that you find it hard to discuss. That's fine. Everyone is different. Telephone. Pop round.

That's it. There's a lot more detailed advice available and there are lots of examples of how to do it online, but I think the important thing is that it comes from your heart.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Letter 27

This week I decided on two things. One was to get back to my having a coffee in some peace and quiet and making space for myself manner. The other was to combine my other blog with this one. You will soon see ...

The first goal, I went to the cafe at the end of my road and had tea and a teacake. For breakfast. Yeah, luxury!

The secind was to write to my Auntie Sheila for Lincolnshire offal recipes, sepcifically how to make the top of her Pig's Fry go crunchy and sticky. This is because I am on a year-long quest of eating meat in more sustainable fashion. So offal it is. I'm writing about it here. I won't have a regular cut of meat until January next year. This knowledge has mostly made me fixated on bacon. In the words on Gandalf "None shall pass" and I'll be unable to enjoy it for many more months.

The upside is that I love black pudding and kidneys and liver and my diet is a lot of adventurous. I have also eaten a lot of slow cooked stew. This is a good thing. I like stew. I've got also got more people talking about offal in my circle of friends and I know a few people have tried some more things/bought liver instead of steak as a result. I think that is a good thing. Liver has bare loads of nutrients in it. So yes, the offal and the letter-writing have come together. I really want to collect more regional offal recipes before (to be frank) the people who habitually cook it pop off this mortal coil. So my intention is to write to Women's Institutes, because I'm sure they like letters and I'm sure they like offal. That didn't happen this week, but it will do soon!

Lastly, I have a sad thing to report. As you see above I like to write on multi-coloured A5 paper from Paperchase. I usually buy five sheets at a time to keep my supplies topped up. In there the other day the guy at the counter asked me what I was going to do with them - I said I was going to write letters. Then he said with great novelty in his voice "you must be the last person in the world to write letters" - I thought that was very sad - he clearly hadn't had a letter in a long time! I know I'm not the last person, not even the penultimate person, and that is a GOOD THING TOO.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Letter 26

Well. Here we are. Half way through this project. Hooray!

To celebrate, I joined an organisation that promotes the art of letter-writing - the Letter Writers Alliance! You get a badge and a membership card and the twelve-year-old inside me was super excited at being in a group again. When I was younger I joined the Royal Mail Penpals Club and that was very exciting!

You can see all their wondrous work here. They run a penpal exchange, and also a letter exchange, and I'm sure a host more projects. Including a ravelry one. That one is quite exciting to me as I love crocheting, but find it hard to find the time to just make things for myself. If I have a goal, then I can get going with a bit more determination. I'm probably going to sign up for all the projects, just to see what else I can achieve in the other half of this project!

What have I learnt so far?

Letter-writing is good for the soul, but can induce a certain amount of navel-gazing.

Sometimes, the letter-writing is more about the writer than the reader.

Everyone loves post.

In lots of ways, the internet is fueling the hand-written, physical exchange of writing and sending parcels. This is through things like 52 Weeks of Mail, Postcrossing, Foodie Penpals, and I'm sure loads of other sites and exchanges! If you know of any you think I'd like, please let me know!

My letter this week was a letter to a friend, for their birthday! A letter is a present in itself (of course). I would say, I'm going to try and write letters to all my friends for their birthdays, but I know this to be an undertaking I shouldn't even really think about. Mostly because I know the intention won't last. A couple of years ago, I had the intention to send all my friends framed photos for all their birthdays. I think I got to the end of January with that. Then I stopped, not purposefully, just due to time pressures and all of that! It's understandable. I do wish I was the sort of person that could follow that through. But I am following this through. So that's ok.

On the subject of navel-gazing, this song has been stuck in my head:

Hypnotic, don't you think?

Letter 25

I've been a bit apprehensive about approaching the half-way point of my Letters Through the Year project. I started to feel that all letters that I write are a bit the same, and though the intention is good. The format of 'Dear ...' doesn't vary.

Why am I thinking this though? I'm sure years ago people only worried about the content of their letters, not the lay-out and design. The fear that a letter by itself isn't exciting enough. Whatever these fears are, and whatever motivates them, I do firmly believe that experimentation is a good thing. So this week I experimented and produced by first photo-letter.

My version of this photo-letter phenomenon that I have invented just now, is that for each day of the week, you take a picture, print it out and then write on the back of it how that day was. I guess it's part letter, part-diary. I'm not sure I got it quite right, and I got very busy so some days got written all at once. Also, sometimes the back of photos is quite hard to write on. Certainly not Basildon Bond paper, but I think it sort of gives a different dynamic to the letter. I'll publish the photos, when I know the letter has arrived, because I don't want to spoil the surprise for the recipient. It's the sort of thing I would like to receive, so I'm sure other people would like it too.

For me, and as we've discussed before, the writer does get something from the process of creating the letter, it made me realise how very busy and how all over the place my weeks can be. I think I need to slow down. In a way it was slightly self-defeating as I was so busy printing pictures, I didn't have time to indulge in what I try to do which is to sit down and have a cup of tea out somewhere and cogitate.

The point is, I changed the format, broke out of the box and hopefully wrote a nice thing for someone to receive. What this space for the reaction!