Sunday, September 27, 2015

“Write Back Soon!: Adventures In Letter Writing”

Tucked inside the book, a handwritten note. “As a resident of Chico from 1984-1988,” Karen Benke writes, “I have fond memories of that sweet and artistic town.” The book is “Write Back Soon!: Adventures In Letter Writing” ($16.95 in paperback from Roost Books), part of Benke’s series on creative writing, including “Rip The Page!” and “Leap Write In!”

The new book, just published, aims to restore the art of physical letter writing. “E-mails may have instant impact,” she says, “but letters have lasting impact.” The book is a series of prompts drawn from Benke’s own life transitions or the work of some of her favorite writers. Poet Sam Hamill passes along a note that “writing by hand is a far more contemplative act than writing on a keyboard. I love shaping each letter of the alphabet …”

The startling work of handwriting can come with a simple postcard. “In my neighborhood,” Benke says, “there’s a man who I’ve never seen crack a smile and who frequently yells at his dog. After attending a benefit for the Tibetan Society at which His Holiness the Dalai Lama spoke about kindness, I arrived home and decided to make a mental adjustment” and reach out to “Mr. Grouch.”

So: “Pen a sentence or two that contains a compliment for someone who could probably really use it. The grouchiest person in your neighborhood, say, or an elderly person who may not get out much. Leave your note under their porch mat, secured to the windshield wiper of their car,” wherever is appropriate.

There are over a hundred whimsically thoughtful ideas, such as sending a note to a teacher (“Dear Ms. Gambetta, Because of you, I love traveling to Ashland for the Shakespearean Festival”), writing a postcard to your younger self, listing what you miss (“how my nana smelled of lemons and roses”), overhearing a conversation “you can retell, expand on paper, and share with a friend later.”

And don’t forget the list of stuff you can actually send through the mail, like a coconut, a hat, a plastic bottle (“put a message inside”). The message from the author: Write soon! (And she includes her address.)

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