I was so excited when I received your letter on the very same Katherine Watson stationery I gave you for Christmas. I think this may be my new trick: giving people the stationery I want to receive as a gift so that, every time they pass it, they feel pressure to sit down and write me a letter. I keep a stack of stationery on my desk for this exact purpose: so that every time I feel so compelled to write a letter, I can write down, shuffle through my stack of cards and postcards, find one that suits, and send it off without any delay.
Sometimes, I’ll sit down to write a letter to one person and come across a card that reminds me of another and then, the next thing I know, I’ve spent two hours writing half a dozen letters. Those days are always followed by the best days: when I get to drop off a thick stack of postcards and envelopes stuffed to the brim with words.
This letter, admittedly, is long overdue. I started writing it in February and then lost the words. That happens, sometimes, my words leaving me. There are times when I feel like I have to write as much as I have to breathe. And then, other times, I can’t find the words to write even a single sentence and it feels like I’m suffocating. When I was in high school, the words would go for weeks at a time. Then in college, for months. In my twenties, sometimes they seem to go for years.
I did this event last month called Create-a-thon. It’s a volunteer event where local designers get together and do pro-bono work for non-profits in twenty-four hours. We had an informational meeting at the beginning of April where we got to meet our team members and the non-profits we’d be working with. When I showed up they organizers said “we’re so excited you could make it! You didn’t RSVP so we weren’t sure you were still interested but we’re glad you’re here because we definitely could use more writers.”
“Oh, um, yes, I can write,” I said because I was caught off guard and I have a tendency to blurt out asinine things when I panic. I didn’t absorb any of the information from the informational meeting because my Catholic guilt was working overdrive wondering if I should confess that somehow I had misrepresented myself because I am not a writer.
Not a real one, anyways. Not one who has a business card or a Twitter bio or a Linkedin tagline that says “Madelyne Adams, writer.” I mean, maybe I once was, when I got my English degree, or when I wrote those manuscripts that were very politely rejected by literary agents, or when I published that short story that one time, or even a few years back, when I first started Good Letters and I’d write a letter a week. I had applied to this event as a designer because I was present-tense designer and a past-tense writer.
I’ve always felt like I had to be all in on something, that you got one title after your name, one chance to represent yourself so you better make that postscript a good one. Madelyne Adams, writer. Madelyne Adams, painter. Madelyne Adams, esquire*. For being a middle child, I’m not very good at riding the middle ground between all or nothing.
Up until I showed up for Create-a-thon--and maybe even a little bit after while my attendance was being documented with a Before photo--I wasn’t entirely certain that I would follow through with my commitment and not fake a sudden but debilitating food-related illness. After an hour or so, things started to fall back into place. It’s simple when you get down to it: writing is just one word after another after another.
I’m trying to get better at being in the middle of things without being pulled too much in only one direction. I’m trying to get better at finishing things, like letters I started in February, and not waiting for them to be perfect. I’m trying to get better at finding the words and coaxing them back out with practice. Thanks for giving me an excuse to practice with this letter!
*Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and any legal advice I provide is probably inaccurate and non-binding.