Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Letter Anxiety

I love to travel. I love the feeling of complete freedom as I wander from town to town, ride on buses with locals, or finally uncover that wonderful smelling bakery in an alley on cobblestoned streets. Traveling brings on a constant feeling of wonder and surprise, as you are quite literally seeing every building, street, river and mountain for the first time. I'm not content to store all this wonder away for myself, so one of my favorite ways to bring my travels to the ones I love is through letter writing. Postcards of Scottish castles, letters written from the roof of a hotel overlooking Lima, or local art sent from San Cristobal de las Casas. Most often, these are the gifts I share before I return with the awkward clay pots, shawls and other souvenirs from my journeys. Traveling is an easy way for me to feel alive so I can then share that life with others.

Unfortunately, I've been in a bit of a traveling dry spell since my journeys of 2010. I run to stay in motion, I hike to explore new corners of the Cascades and Olympics, I try new activities to meet people who otherwise wouldn't cross my path. However, most of my time is spent in the same handful of locations, wearing down ruts into the routes I traverse daily. If I think about this for too long, an itching, nagging anxiety starts to claw at my chest and I feel depressed and stifled. I've read too many books on spirituality and gone through too much counseling the past two years to allow that anxiety to rear it's head for too long. No, best to find local ways to fill the needs that traveling feeds while cultivating a thankfulness for this period of rest and healing.

And so I turn to letter writing and its partner, envelope decorating.

By writing letters to friends and family, I have the freedom to show my experience of Seattle to someone new. I may have to work harder, but there always seems to be something - a building, a drawing, a new turn of an autumn leaf, or the ground covered in shattered chestnuts - that I haven't noticed before. Can I capture this image in a few sentences to loved ones? Can I use my box of 24 Crayola crayons to capture this moment on the envelope? Sometimes I get one right without the other, sending decorated envelopes filled with fall leaves hoping the recipient will understand the gesture and accept the leaves as letter enough. But then again, maybe I'm like those eccentrics in the park feeding the ducks and muttering to themselves... instead of ducks and muttering, I recluse in my apartment and send decaying tree matter to people who may or may not have once given me their address. Oh dear, am I on my way to becoming the crazy bag lady?

And so in comes the new anxiety. In an age where you can voyueristically find anything about anyone in under 5 seconds without actual contact, is letter writing too intimate, too archaic? With every envelope I decorate and letter I write, I run the risk of the receiver just not getting it. Whether this is a fault of the postal service machines munching your letter to bits before delivering 10% of the original to the recipient, or incorrectly assuming the person would receive the letter as a friendly hello instead of invested love interest, or even more incorrectly still, becoming that reclusive bag lady sending really odd things to people who may read the dying leaves as a threat against their lives. Is my letter writing manipulative, clingy, or even threatening?

On top of that, writing letters and coloring envelopes takes a lot of time. Each package is like a tiny masterpiece being released into the world and placed at the mercy of the postal service and recipient. Will I get word the envelope arrived safely and is well received, like a nervous parent waiting to hear their child reached a desired destination without catastrophe? Not liking to send the same words or images to two different people, I have to worry about pairing the recipient with the right letter. Will they see the value of the letter or open it, read the contents, and throw the whole mess away? Maybe this is why very few artists make their medium envelopes. Maybe I should see this as part of my personal process to better let go of the impermanent and cultivate deeper stability in myself without response from other people.

But seriously, who wants to do that? Instead, I take a picture of the envelope so I can have some record of the idea, the art, before sending it out to the unknown. In 2009, I called the collection of pictures "Letters Without Lovers" because at the time, it was a new exercise to send letters to family and friends rather than the all encompassing and time consuming significant other. Now, I wonder if this title better captures my anxiety of sending a letter to someone who may not love it as much as I do. Perhaps this collection is a way for me to love my art regardless of the response from the recipient, and hold a piece of it close while also sending it away to bless the world as only beauty and imagination do. In that spirit, I share my envelopes here for your amusement. Not because I'm searching for some form of validation, but because I think they are beautiful. If I had all the time and crayons in the world, I may find a way to send an envelope to all of you.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful. The pen of power, the crayon of choice.