My Wobbly Bicycle, 49

Posted by on Nov 13, 2013 | 12 comments

letter writingI am supremely glad to have Keats’ letters. Hemingway’s. Even T. S. Eliot’s. Soon there’ll be no letters from writers to illuminate their work, their thoughts about it and about other writers, and their lives. Saul Bellow’s letters were published a couple of years ago, William Styron’s last year. Maybe the dying gasps.  

I was reading a book review by Mason Currey in the NY Times. He’s more concerned with what the dearth of letter-writing is doing, not to its faithful followers and researchers, but to creative writing itself. He says “Letters were not only a way to stay in touch with colleagues or test out ideas and themes on the page, but also a valuable method of easing into and out of a state of mind where they could pursue more daunting and in-depth writing.”

I think lately the blog is covering some of the same territory. Emails aren’t. I use emails for transactions, mostly.  I even use them to invite people for dinner! What I like about email, being somewhat of a hermit myself, is that it requires less in the way of human connection. It allows me to do a lot of work, make a lot of plans, without having to exchange pleasantries to do it. Is that mean of me? I don’t think so. It protects me from trivia overload. I like very much spending time with people, I hasten to say, but I need space between those times. blog

As for this blog, I suspected even before I started writing it, that it would be JUST the medium for me, that it would allow me to do what Currey says in his NYT piece—ease in and out of the state of mind where I need to tackle more daunting material. It revs the engine and keeps it idling.

I often tell students that they need to cut the first stanza, or the first few paragraphs, from their work. “That’s just you, warming up,” I tell them. “It’s served its purpose. Now you can get rid of it.”  I don’t want to denigrate the blog to that extent, but writing it does provide a place to put some of the material my head’s swimming with that doesn’t belong in the more formal expressions of poetry or the developed essay.

Granted, letters from one writer to another are more intimate and often more revealing than these bloggy Letters to the World, which, interesting enough, is how Emily Dickinson begins one of her typically intimate poems. (“This is my letter to the world.”)  If you know you’re being read by a lot of people, many of whom you don’t know, you change registers. You’re on stage. This is the loss from the lack of letter-writing. What we gain is “letters” from a whole lot of quite good writers that we might never have gotten to read in our lifetime.

A lot of the best writers I know don’t want anything to do with a blog. Some, like Albert Goldbarth,  hole up, refusing to use a computer at all.  But some are writing blogs. Some of what’s out there is crap, but this is true of what’s in the bookstore, too. You have to sort for yourself.

The risk, for me, of blogging—and I’m sure I share this with other writer-bloggers—is that I’ll get too dependent on instant gratification. Write and “publish” every week. And the time I take to blog I could be using to buckle down to the hard stuff that won’t see the light of day for some time, if ever.

The advantage–another one–is that I am less likely to lose a sense of audience. I don’t think I keep audience in my conscious mind while I’m working, but I need to feel the breath of living beings just outside the perimeter.

Nothing mattered more to my writing life than this blog during my chemo and radiation this year. There are so many therapeutic reasons, of course, why that might have been true, but beyond that, actually the cancer was just another subject, one of burning interest to me. How is that different from what I’ve been doing all my writing life—coming to whatever burning interest presented itself to see how it might work itself out in words?

That it wanted to express itself in the prose of a blog might have been a measure of how prosaic it all felt, at the moment. The Treatment Mill causes the mind to slog through sucking mud, nothing of the lyric in it. After the fact, the lyric, the music, may have permission to return.  

papersMy “Papers” are housed at the University of Delaware. What about these blog posts? What shall we do with them?  They’re my rapid-fire thoughts, as polished as a letter I might send to someone, another writer, whose own work I respect enough to want to express myself with care, even if more fleetingly than in the poems and essays.

12 Comments

  1. Dear Fleda-
    I share your concern about the loss of letters as a mode of communication. I still write them, but not like I used to, and by this I don’t mean that I write fewer than twenty years ago (though I do). Instead, the quality of my mind while writing a letter seems to have been infected by the pace at which I compose emails and other electronic posts! This is not a good thing, even if it turns out that I can be truly prolific as a result of the speed of these methods, and my mind that races to keep pace.

    I think I will seize this moment to challenge myself to write more about my work as a poet in those letters I exchange with other writers. For some reason that is not often a subject, though it burns very close to my private heart, so it should be something shared. In any case, I do need methods and means of easing in and out of the harder work of poems and long form prose. Thanks for the reminder of one of the ways to do this.

    Thank you.
    Holly

    • I don’t know, Holly, it seems that few writers want to talk about their work. I don’t talk much about mine. I am interested in what other people are doing and like sometimes to talk about that. Or, the raw details, the walk in the woods, the plane crash, the things we latch onto that will later become poems. Very interesting to read this later, I think. Following the trail back to its source.

    • P.S. Thank you for your wonderful, thoughtful engagement with whatever I write about. Love to you. F.

  2. Whatever we commit to informs the rest of what we do and who we are.

    Jacqui

  3. Fleda,

    I agree with your assessment about letter writing. I have folders of letters to and from my father, who was born in 1895 and died in 1976. They are a treasure. He was friends with of one of Zane Grey’s secretaries and we have letters from her. I’m told that the Corbett name made it into one of his novels, but have not yet found it.

    My son, Charlie, writes to us now in hand-written form, while he is in his year of discernment–a priest in training. Those letters seem more in depth than the emails he used to send. And we are grateful for them. He can no longer use his I phone, or computer, and is probably the better for it.

    Thank you for letting us be part of your journey of struggle and recovery through your blog. I have read most of them. And, of course, because of them you have been in my thoughts and prayers.

    Bill

    • Thank you, Bill. I dream of having those things taken away from me. I suspect I’d be a lot better off, in the long run.

  4. You certainly addressed concerns I have. Letter writing freed up private sentiments and fledgling ideas, encouraged rigorous exchange with others–and at times got me into trouble since it was on paper and thus, not deleted with a click. The mention of how blogging could delay work on more serious pieces struck a chord. I have found that gradually I write more for the blog than for journal submissions. I too often avoid hours of diligent revisions of longer projects. It is a dilemma I am trying to address by scheduling time for both. I hope I stick to it and before blogging I was writing with perhaps more disciplined efforts and less care for the “audience.” Thanks for your words.

    • I don’t know, Cynthia, I’m still conflicted about whether this is taking time from my other work, a diversion, a laziness. But it does have some legitimacy on it own, a genre on its own, I think.

  5. Blogging covers some of the same territory, Fleda, as you note, but there are other aspects of letter-writing that it doesn’t cover besides the intimacy of one-to-one correspondence. With a friend who writes letters to me and to whom I write letters in return, most of these with pen on yellow sheets from legal pads, there are questions and concerns raised in one letter and answered or addressed in the reply and often revisited in subsequent letters. Often our letters cross in the mail, both of us feeling the need to connect without regard to whose “turn” it was to write. I began my main blog in September of 2007, and a few friends were regular visitors and left comments for a few years but then dropped from sight, while others have joined me more recently. While I value them all, the blog lacks the continuity of a correspondence that goes back to the late 1980s. I have a trunk full of letters!

    As for how to preserve your blog, I know it’s possible to have a printed “book” produced by the people who run one’s blogging platform. For you, in light of your literary legacy, I think it would definitely be worth having that printed record.

    As for writers who blog and writers who don’t, whoever can imagine that all writers would ever conform to any single rule? Do you ever write a draft blog post and then not hit PUBLISH? For me that can be as important as sometimes writing a draft e-mail and deciding not to hit the SEND button.

    I’m very thankful to you for keeping this public journal. Your thoughts about life, illness, aging, and especially writing enrich the lives of the rest of us.

    • Pamela, talk to me at some point about how to get a blog in print. I don’t know if this is a worthwhile project, but some people seem to think it is.

      • Fleda, I really don’t know anything about it, but another blogging friend said her children had offered to have her blog turned into a book for, if she so chose, so I know it can be done.

        • That might be done, but at the moment, I’m just writing away, way too UNconcerned with publication, I suppose. At least for now.

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