Living Letters: excerpt from a book in progress


I want to live letters, not learn them. I want to dance and sing them in both strident and harmonious tunes.  What else can we do but write like we mean it;  like it is the most important thing to do, as if our lives depend on it?  Mine does.  How else can I cope with waking to the din of city cries, the endless loop of grim and mawkish news, the parched earth desperate for water and  human mercy.  With pen in  hand I turn to the familiar forms and begin to write until I don’t remember the paper or pen, only the feeling of connection between heart, mind and body.  Words tumble out of my head unbidden but welcome, and I write them with the same care as if they were uttered by the wisest poet,  the most revered artist. I can do nothing more but mark my way through the world I inhabit, however humble, recording the ebbs and the flows, the tears and joys, the wonderful terrible mystery of it all. The ink flowing, pen and heart are linked to the common cause of writing what I know, being who I AM.

Get out your pen, tap your foot, open your mouth, stand up and YAWP! Feel your heartbeat and write to it’s rhythm, fast or slow, and laugh at the wobbles, and the hesitancies and the groping and flailing lines that emerge.  Curiosity is our guide, not judgement, the mysterious marks and lines emerging in unrecognizable patterns a refreshing change from the familiar ones.  Oh, NOW I get it. The forms taking shape are the sounds the grackle makes, its squawks and screeches; the feeling of sadness that pervades my body when my daughter leaves; the undulating lines and shapes of the plant before me. I follow the lines and they take me within and outside of myself, revealing my nature and the endless possibilities of responding to it.

I write, therefore I am connected–to myself and my surroundings. The letters live when I let them out to play. They know the rules and how far they can be bent.  And yet I am compelled to leave them,  run away and get lost, to  risk  it all, to stumble in darkness, groping blindly for a vision or guide while the cacophony of critical voices inside my head attempt to crush my effort. Letters which were once my guide, are replaced by vague images, undefined and seemingly unknowable.  The messy page of thick black marks and muddy colors pull me into deeper confusion and unrest until I remember what I know: I smile,  and paint over it with gesso. The emerging palimpsest of workings-through and experiments thinly veiled in white become the ground for words to explain the experience. Delicate penciled capitals, bending and swaying to the rhythm of my musings, bring order, peace and coherency to the chaotic rumblings underneath. I come back to a blank page and reach for my pen and fill it with colorful gouache. My heart is beating, my mind is clear and I write with a feeling of prayerful devotion. The Romans and Italics that greet me are different than before: they are less self-conscious and  cumbersome, and much more confident in their stride. And what’s this new script that they have birthed?

The letters have been there all along–stalwart and steadfast– patiently waiting to be ignited by my new discoveries.

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