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Who Are You Writing to? The Lost Art of the Well-Written Letter
Choosing Your Intent and Your Audience
It never fails to amaze me in how many infinite directions the creative process can take a person if you let it. In the 11 months that I have been working on this essay, it has taken me down many unexpected rabbit holes. The original seemingly very simple idea for a quick posting became 3 separate essays based on three questions examining Intent, Flow and Audience, but the content of each has quite kept me entangled in a game of “musical chairs” - or maybe more like a vipers’ nest of “assorted word usements” with no structure at all. (Thank you Steve Martin) Now that these knotted word usements are now decidedly untangled and the anatomy of the external and internal creative flow have thoroughly examined in 2 distinct essays, it now appears that “Intent” and Audience” are much more related than once believed. So these 2 questions: “What is the nature, purpose to intent for your writing?” and “Who are you writing for?” will be the focus of this latest examination of the applications for the pen and the keyboard as my list in either category are so similar.
What is the Nature, Purpose or Intent for your writing?
My writing has many purposes for many different parts of my life, personally and professionally.
Workplace product and documents
Medical, financial, legal documents
Reduce vagueness in my emotions or finances when making big goals & decisions,
Studying a new piece of recovery or medical literature or integrating new ideas
Situational or recovery inventories and weekly/monthly/annual reviews for my personal & professional goals and medical progress
Processing spiritually or emotionally vexing experiences in life and with other people
Emotional and physical healing
Spiritual transformation and nurturing the Inner child
Generally speaking, whenever I need to remain objective and detached, already know what I need to say, or need to produce a clean hard copy of a permanent, formal document and mail to an institutional body and/or keep that document in file as evidence, then I use the keyboard. This not only ensures correct grammar and punctuation and organization of ideas, but I also have copies to file in my computer if I need to print them later or to keep in my electronic files. This includes all workplace products and medical, financial & legal documents. Another reason for this is I often use bullet points and outlines, or otherwise combine ideas into smaller groups with sub headings; perhaps by time period or doctor seen. This makes it so much easier to visualize the ideas and saves time, such as when I am in an appointment with a doctor. If I need to write other letters to different doctors or institutions with different specialties, I may need to use similar content from other letters, then adapt it with others details to suit the recipient. In this case it is most efficient to simply cut and paste sections, or have a template/letterhead on hand that can be updated quickly.
However when it’s time to evaluate my subjective viewpoints, in depth feelings or process the internal nuances involved in working through to final answers that I have not integrated or am not quite clear on yet, I use pen and paper. This would include everything else on this list. Journaling has always been an important tool for sorting thru my jumbled mass of thoughts and feelings. Something about the physical contact of hand to pen to page completes a circuit in my psyche and helps me connect the conscious mind with unconscious emotional process and details from memory images to sort thru the vagueness and distortion. All the infinite nuances I experience on a daily basis come into clarity and determine which side of that nuance I am on and how it all fits into the big picture. After all of that I am in a better place to make healthy decisions and set the kinds of goals that will actually make forward progress. Whether or not I can follow thru on those in the time allotted or when I will actually take action on that decision is an entirely different matter, of course
Who are you writing for? Who is your audience?
As a performer, the significance and value of having an audience became clear to me early on that I felt more comfortable having some defined entity to express myself to. In college sitting in a dark dorm room with insomnia late one night (was I trying to write a paper?) suddenly I had an enormous moment of clarity (or “spiritual awakening” as us 12 Steppers like to say): my purpose in life was to communicate myself to a large anonymous audience or to individuals in a one on one encounter. [Funny how it took 25 years to finally do that with writing!] Therefore I needed to express my archetypal identifications on stage where it’s more appropriate and has larger influence. Not for the purpose of being powerful or popular (although let’s face it, I have ALWAYS wanted to be famous), but because my inner life is so HUGE and profound that it simply needs a larger space and a proper forum. Trying to discuss my weird ideas with just anyone or unload it unto one single intimate relationship has certainly caused me a lot of alienation: it’s just too much for The Other. So I had to learn to put it in a place where it belongs: on the stage or in a Tarot reading. Later on it became simpler: I just feel like I perform better when someone is watching, or I know they will be reading it. I always like to invite people to watch dress rehearsals and writing letters or physics lab reports to one specific person seemed to produce a better and more immediate flow of ideas than essays. Boy, I always stumbled over trying to write the thesis statement first! Having that audience on the other end again just completes a circuit thru which my superconductivity can fully manifest. Similarly to my intent behind “intent,” the keyboard is used when the material has already been integrated psychically, is less emotional, needs more detached objectivity and I’m ready to admit it someone else, or share it with my audience. It’s at this point when true objectivity is really possible, is it not? However, when I first need to start with admitting it to myself or God; do my weekly/monthly /annual reviews; journal about some new recovery concept from literature or a deeply personal difficult recent experience, going from the grounded handwriting place of the pen is more comforting and helps me come out of “terminal vagueness” about whatever it is that has been recently neglected and my emotional sobriety is doubtful, I use the pen. And so it stands to reason that throughout my life and trial and tribulations, my audience has taken many forms, and happens to resemble my previous list:
My hub audience
Communicate with coworkers and clients
Letters to “Argue my case” with medical, financial, legal professionals and family members (same as men)
Trying to talk to Men!
Letters to friends and lovers
Myself and god
Discovering and nurturing the Inner child
When my audience is online or in the workplace, such as with my Hub audience or communicating with coworkers and clients with less personal interactions and more intuitional pieces, or then I write on the keyboard because my audience is online. This has an obvious practicality, not only because the computer is the way to access the internet, and everyone else’s productivity in that context is also electronic using their computers, but this kind of material is verbally organized. Additionally, getting paid creates a higher level of accountability when income is determined by quality structure and professionalism.
“Never underestimate the power of a well written letter.” Jane Austen Book Club
Writing letters are an essential form of communicating difficult concepts or issues and I use this format with all my relationships. Letters to “argue my case” with medical, financial, legal professionals and family members is usually in a typewritten format as a final draft, on hard or electronic copy. Because of the cognitive impairments form my many chronic illnesses, I often drop words without knowing it during speech, resulting in confusion. Meanwhile, especially with my parents regarding the extremely emotional topic of my medical condition and income status, they are usually reacting to their own inner fears and can’t deal with my emotion; the situation quickly becomes escalated and even more confused. Those typed words enable me to review and edit and my speech for maximum clarity and they have time to process it in their own space without error. Actually this is a bit of a fantasy, because they usually don’t take that time to objectively evaluate and blast off a hasty, hostile reply. But at least in this case I have a tangible document that I take to my therapist or trusted confidante to bear witness, and I know I did my due diligence. Either way, the first step is to take notes in my medical notebook from the last appointment and journal about my recent experience in the office with the doctor by hand to come to my own conclusions, then type and print a formal letter or outline to communicate back to my parents and other doctors in session or sent in advance.
Similar things can be said about trying to talk to men, probably because the previous paragraph references mostly interactions in a modern Western context, which is still heavily masculine in type. I had a conversation with a woman from my Moon Circle many years ago who had a high level leadership position in one of our city’s many banking headquarters and worked primarily with men. She was sharing some recent research about the listening habits of men towards women. There is something about the shape of a man’s ear that can’t hear sound of a higher pitched woman’s voice. Is it timber and tone? Or do they just hear what they feel and react to what’s in their head instead of actually listening to the words, facts and details I’m actually saying? Or do they just tell me what they think I want to hear to get themselves out of an uncomfortable situation as soon as possible and block the rest out? I have found myself in countless situations where I have had very long and in-depth conversations with a man and relief and gratitude at coming to an agreement, only to turn around one day or week later and it’s as if that talk never happened and nothing has changed at all. They seem to have no recollection of this exhausting encounter whatsoever. To counteract this with my last boyfriend, we briefly began an email correspondence focused on one or two brief questions or needs. The idea is to exchange two emails each replying to the difficult topic at hand then discussing it in person or by phone. I like this idea because it keeps the heavy issues in a detached location to be worked out in a separate space, leaving most of tangible face to face interactions for fun and leisure. I actually still believe in this great idea and still waiting for a man who will joyfully participate in it. Men are mostly tactile and visual, though so their emotional connection may feel blocked by only words on a page.
Unless verbal abuse is involved: many years ago while working in the peer tutor lab across the hall from the computer lab, I was checking email before dance class and read one from a guy with whom I had a mutual, but conflicted attraction with for many years. Prior to finally having email as resource, we actually did enjoy writing very intense letters to each other, as he lived a couple of hours away. But I was frustrated by so much passiveness with his replies, because it took forever to get or find a stamp or around taking it to a mailbox and it just sat there. Then email came along and it was on!! At the moment I don’t remember at all what this email said, thought it was surely something arrogant and completely inaccurate, and I found myself skipping a whole dance class typing my response. I was finally so angry with being jerked around and dragged along, that at long last I bypassed my usual people pleasing concerns and niceness and told him exactly what I thought in no uncertain terms. He responded immediately and we continued our emails for a long time afterwards. For some reason, I got more response by letting him have it and all my anger over something stupid he said or did, than otherwise waiting for phone call or letter. Several years later I tried the abuse tactic again on purpose with another fella and with similar results. THAT worked. Go figure. Jane Austin would be intrigued.
On the other hand, letters to friends and lovers to clarify misunderstandings mend relationships can increase emotional intimacy and sincerity with an old fashioned hand written letter or card. There is something special about receiving one of these in the mail, as the sincerity has more focused power to the heart of the recipient. It’s nice to have that moment to realize the time it took to pick it out and write it by hand (usually after a messy draft first) and something about that connection of my hand to the page; the depth of my feeling comes thru in a more tangible way. Perhaps this is due to the fact, fonts notwithstanding, typewritten letters have more uniformity, from any generic computer and printer. Whereas a person’s handwriting is unique and more individual to them: I can see the type of ink form their pen on the page and can imagine them writing it to me
4th Step: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5th Step: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.
When it comes to 12 Step Recovery work, the audience becomes more personal: I’m writing to god, to myself or my Inner Child, and the game changes a little bit, as there is a distinct difference between these persons. When evaluating a new 4th step inventory of my character defects and assets, or a “situational 10th Step” of a recent event or encounter, generally or situationally speaking, the use of the pen is for “admitting these to ‘to god and to myself’ first the exact nature of my wrongs” or the situation at hand, especially when tackling it for the first time. You see, getting straight with me, and then god, is the hardest part and usually comes after things have definitely not been straight and many distortions and lack of clarity are present. It’s time to gain awareness around something hidden that has yet to be acknowledged until now. Processing my inner or outer clutter by hand in my very private journal helps me get closer to god, Her guidance & insights and my true intuitive solutions & internal resources. Things are not as bad as they seem. The act of working it all by hand has become the 4th Step action for me, which becomes part one of the 5th Step. Then I have hard copy to share with “Someone Else” to make that complete.
Discovering and nurturing the Inner child is even more specialized, as non-dominant handwriting provides access in a way that both hands equally on a keyboard cannot. Here is where once again, I remember the Kundalini double serpent of “Ha” and Tha” yoga. The 2 two energetic serpents sleep entwined with each other in a single coil at the base of the spine, and when awakened in a balanced person - as with a Hatha yoga practice - they rise energetically upward in a spiral motion around the spine up to the crown on opposite sides. I will have to go back and double check my notes to be sure, but the Left side of the human anatomy is generally considered “Female,” so the male snake rises to balance that side, which is hot, solar, linear, direct, and active. Therefore the Right side is “Male,” and the female snake rises here to awaken cool, lunar, intuitive, indirect and receptive energies. Since our Western Patriarchal culture has systematically denied anything that is female or intuitive and supported only what can be proven or declared by someone else, and denies whatever we ourselves “know “ to be true by “direct cognition” or intuition, most of us are walking around with only one snake risen usually only on the right side to support the male. This is why for so many decades, “Right handedness“ was the convention and anyone who was born Left handed was forced to write with the Right. All of this is an argument for another essay for another time. For today’s purpose, whatever is our Dominant hand, it is that energetic snake coiling up that one side predominantly that defines our conscious voice and adult way of dealing with the world. So doing formal exercise writing with the Non-dominant hand is such a powerful way to access the Inner Child, who became invisible and lost their voice. That’s why it’s also so deeply personal because it’s so deeply internal residing in the shadows of our True Selves. The pen is required for this experience since that it’s specific to one hand and has such a tactile connection to the body and its energy. Then responding with the other hand produces an internal dialogue where the Inner Child is cared for appropriately by the Loving Inner Parent and can begin to be freed by the tyranny and abuse of the Critical Inner (or Outer) Parent(s).
My conclusion to day is a bit more straight forward. I am reminded that the artistic work- in this case the writing- has its own life and needs to reveal itself to a certain form, regardless of whatever other form I was mentally trying to impose on it. Sometimes it’s very difficult allowing that form to come to the surface, particularly if I really wanted it to be something else. Secondly, the process of writing this one (Three!) essay(s) has really helped me get clearer about and apply a more consistently intentional process to begin the work and define for myself the many ways which I do practice loving self-care and how many of those ways I created from all my seeking’s and resources gathered there. During this time I saw how much I missed that formal journal practice with my higher power and have been doing a lot more of it. Because of this I am actually starting to feel like that dominant handwriting is over used and my non dominant handwriting practice is suffering from great neglect. I can also see how the writing I do for my Hub audience is different still, and while this is unfolding in a beautiful way and its original purpose is now finally beginning to be fulfilled, it is still no substitute for the private journaling I do for keeping up with my personal inner awareness from daily living and fulfils a different emotional need. And neither is s substitute for that time spent connecting with my inner child. All three need balance and my baby steps are taking me there.