a letter writer’s heritage

Heritage

I just received this WhatsApp message, “Would you please write another generic and/or personified donation letter for us on this new school project?” I cannot remember when I have stopped writing my own formal/informal letters. The last time I wrote was for someone else for charitable donation. As usual, when I receive a letter writing request I need all information of the project and meditate for a number of days, sometimes weeks. I could look at the numerous letters and newsletters I have received to find tips if any. But since they have not persuaded me to donate there is really no point looking at them.

In my recent month-long trip to clear a house of old stuff so that it can be put up for sale, I found and carried back some old books. They are mostly books printed in the 1950s. I asked for permission to keep some for myself. Here is one which I quite like: Ladies’ & Gentlemen’s Letter-Writer, printed in Great Britain, 1953. 

I cannot resist taking the liberty to quote the following sample letters. Enjoy.
All the names are fictitious of course.

November 20th
Dear Sylvia,
Here is a cheque for £5. I know just how difficult things are these days. In fact my own account is nearly overdrawn, so try and let me have the £5 promptly at the end of the month.
Love,
Pamela.

December 12th
Dear Sylvia,
What about my £5? Be a dear, and let me have it as soon as you can, since I’m getting rather short myself now.
Love,
Pamela.

December 20th
Dear Sylvia,
I wrote on the 12th, asking for repayment of my loan (which you promised to repay at the end of November), but I have heard nothing from you. I hope you haven’t spent all your last salary on Christmas presents, because I really need that £5 very badly. Could you send it by return?
Love,
Pamela.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hard times then and now. History does not change over mankind and circumstances. We now use digital ways to communicate instead of physical paper and ink. We gain speed. We can even delete our side of the record. But the mark is there on the other side unless he/she deletes too. In the house where I just cleaned up I found tons of paper records, old letters, magazines, books, exam papers, certificates, pictures, children’s school books, drawings, manuscripts, boxes and boxes of them. Some magazines are still in their original wrappers as though they have not yet been read. When I return to my own abode after a long absence, I too find many magazines (from some faithful mutual funds) in wrappers. I just do not have time to read them. The worst is that they come in two languages so I get two per month!

Many years ago I made a decision to get rid of my papers. So I gave away books. I burned my papers, pictures, certificates, thesis, whatever. Yet, many years later when I see some old pictures in my siblings’ collection I take a photo of those which depict me as a very young person. I find one such group photo lately. In those days people were expected to be respectfully serious and close their mouths when not talking. When all mouths were dutifully closed, me at five was captured in history with my mouth gapping, staring at the camera. Was it a premonition that one day I would do such verbose talking on screen?

“Every body allows that the talent of writing agreeable letters is peculiarly female.”
― Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

“Every body at all addicted to letter writing, without having much to say, which will include a large proportion of the female world at least…”
― Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

“Andy: But they gave us an out in the Land of Oz. They made us write. They didn’t make us write particularly well. And they didn’t always give us important things to write about. But they did make us sit down, and organize our thoughts, and convey those thoughts on paper as clearly as we could to another person. Thank God for that. That saved us. Or at least it saved me. So I have to keep writing letters. If I can’t write them to you, I have to write them to someone else. I don’t think I could ever stop writing completely.”
― A.R. Gurney, Love Letters*

*Love Letters is a lovely play. Quoting from online sources:

A new Letter begins
In the age of instant communication, iPhones and Twitter, Love Letters is bringing memories of a simpler time to Broadway in 2014, helmed by Tony-winning director Gregory Mosher. The limited engagement includes appearances by Carol Burnett, Alan Alda, Candice Bergen, Stacy Keach, Diana Rigg, Anjelica Huston and Martin Sheen. The first celebrity pair in the new revival is Mia Farrow and Brian Dennehy, who will reprise the role of Andrew. “[Love Letters] is an extraordinary piece,” Dennehy told Today. “You cannot stage a play more simply than this, and yet it’s about everything in life. First love, loss of opportunities, loss of life, loss of love…It’s a beautiful play, and all you do is speak it.” But there’s two things the play won’t include: “Tweets and twerks,” Dennehy joked. “There are no twerks in this play.”

writing about life in crisis

Crisislife in crisis
Lately I realize the more I look at life being lived by others the more I value my own. Writing about others’ lives is not a pleasant task. Often we see the imperfections and the should-have-been scenarios. Before the explosive and swift takeover of the world by digital technology which broke through all geographical barriers and rendered all physical boundaries useless in terms of sharing of instant visual and audio thoughts and perceptions, we read news which were not news. But today we read news as they come into being somewhere faraway and yet real, real suffering, discriminations, and hate crime being perpetrated by evil right in front of our eyes manifesting digitally.

I may ask, who are these people? Why do they hate so much? We read of who they are superficially in the news. What are the factors that drive them to killing out of hatred? We read of the usual socio-economic-racial-religious-class-color-power distribution factors. All these factors cannot answer the question why others under the same categories do not hate or kill others, and why the particular person or group of persons hate and kill innocent people.

The rules of war have been altered as each national boundary has been invaded through borderless ideologies and beliefs. When we read further and ponder the issue deeper we realize that it is the borderless infiltration of the mind that is the culprit. How do we close our mind border? This is the real question today.

This picture was taken in a winter in a foreign land. The bush/grass had lost their life giving green color. The birds continued fishing in the shallow brook. They co-existed. The bush/grass continued to shelter the birds. I just read that a young person stabbed to death 19 people and injured 26 in a stabbing spree at a facility for disabled people. It was reported that the young man who was a former staff considered them unfit to live. They were deemed disqualified to live because they were not as perfect as he wanted them to be. Where did he get the idea who are perfect to live? Where did he see pictures of physically perfect people whom he worshipped as idols/icons?

I remember the book Lord of the Flies, a 1954 novel by Nobel Prize-winning English author William Golding about a group of British boys stuck on an uninhabited island who try to govern themselves with disastrous results.In the midst of a wartime evacuation, a British plane crashes on or near an isolated island in a remote region of the Pacific Ocean. The only survivors are boys in their middle childhood or preadolescence. The book portrays their descent into savagery; left to themselves in a paradisiacal country, far from modern civilization, the well-educated children regress to a primitive state.

This is a prophetic book that tells of a future-today’s world in crisis.

Nightmare and memory

Nightmare
hassam_tuileries_gardensparis cafeWH Smith Paris
What was I doing that sad night when it happened to the “City of Victory”? I tried to recall. It was just an ordinary night and I was thousands of miles away from NICE (its name means victory). It was meant to be a day of national celebration. I then remembered the day July 14, a certain long gone year, when I was in Paris. That was my first Bastille day.

A colleague with the name Henriette(Pronounced “On-Yet”) called and told me they were going to watch the parade. “Please come. I will meet you at the Champs-Elysées Clemenceau Metro.” She met me and explained to me the excitement I should see that day, “The French national holiday on July 14th is a huge celebratory event in Paris. From morning to night, a raft of exceptional events make this anniversary an especially festive one. With a military parade, evenings with dancing, and a fireworks display, there is something for all tastes and ages.”

It was a fun day. Henriette was helpful and tried her best to be a good guide. I was new to her country and she was determined to play the hostess that day. We had ice cream and snacks. We bought paper periscope so we can view the parade through the mass of human walls. We watched all sorts of street performances. She told me that the folks from the provinces came too as a special day out for the family. Later we decided to find a spot at a cafe along the street at Champs-Elysées and just rest our feet. We walked miles that day. There were crowds of mixed nationalities everywhere. I could hear many different languages being spoken. Henriette told me that there were many from many parts of French colonies in Africa. Of course, most of them spoke French. I was tired and decided not to stay for fireworks.

I went alone later to the Tuileries Garden towards the evening. There was music in the air. Then I regretted not going to WH Smith, the largest English bookshop in Paris since 1903. I had a studio near the Eiffel Tower and the Tuileries Garden. I went to the garden every Saturday and sat there, just reading. There were always some old people round. I was probably the youngest person in their midst. But we were regulars and we greeted each other. The ground in spring time was covered with tiny yellow flowers. One day I decided to buy a pot of African violet as recommended by my South African colleague Gillian. The violet flower lasted until I was ready to leave Paris.

Coming home my dreams have always been sweet and gentle. I cannot recall a nightmare with Paris. The books, the cafes, the gardens, walks and the people are sweet and gentle in my memory.

Writing with a passion

Matthew 9 copyWriting is like being in love. There must be an unquenchable passion. My experience is that great writings come with passion. They are no longer mere words being grouped together to form something. They are lives. The lives of real people. The lives that matter to real people.

Writing is passion for life.

When I feel a coldness I cannot write. I just look at the screen and sigh. Then I shut it down.

Where does passion come from? Passion can only come from life. Only by living we can acquire passion. It does not come automatically. It has to be hunted down, discovered or uncovered. It hides in life itself. It comes in many shapes and sizes, colors and sounds. It can be seen or heard or sensed or touched or just perceived in the heart or soul…

A reader can differentiate between whether the writing is alive or dead. The writer can try to fake it. But if he does not have life he cannot give it. His coldness will show. How do I select something to read? I look for the life in it. When there is none, I put it back to its display shelf in the bookstore or on the web page of Amazon or whatever bookstore online. I would leave it alone.

I do the same for blogs too or pictures in the blogs. Leave it alone. Go for the ones with real lives.

Life and goodness require courage and strength to grow and hold fast. Be strong. Be courageous. Hold fast to the Source of goodness. Passion for life is contagious. Be contagious with a life of good words.

Quoted from a dictionary:
The joy of giving life to a child: existence, being, living, animation; sentience, creation, viability.
He is full of life: vivacity, animation, liveliness, vitality, verve, high spirits, exuberance, zest, buoyancy, enthusiasm, energy, vigor, dynamism, elan, gusto, brio, bounce, spirit, fire; movement;

To name or not to name? written under pseudonyms

agatha-christie-26-cool-hd-wallpaperDoes a male name give an advantage in terms of acceptability and readership? History shows that it does make a difference. Many famous writers used pseudonyms. Women writers used male names in a society that discriminates women writers. Even today this advantage still shows. Here are some examples.

E. Annie Proulx, born August 22, 1935,-E is for Edna, which she never uses, and Proulx rhymes with true. She earned two degrees in history, lived in New York City and the Far East and 13 different towns in Vermont, founded a small-town newspaper “The Vershire Behind the Times”drifted through out-of-the-way places in her pickup truck, learned fly fishing, fiddling, partridge hunting and how to build a house. Once in a while, she wrote a short story. She was past 50 when she found out that what she had become was a novelist. Starting as a journalist, her first published work of fiction is thought to be “The Customs Lounge”, a science fiction story published in the September 1963 issue of If, under the byline “E.A.Proulx”. She pursued, but did not complete, a Ph.D. In 1999, Concordia awarded her an honorary doctorate.
Quote from Proulx
“When I first started writing stories and trying to place them in the outdoor magazines, they insisted that it be E. A. Proulx so the guys who read these magazines wouldn’t think it was a woman writing them. Sexist editors. The ones who suggested it were from a small Vermont publication, and I got back this awful letter, full of bad spelling and clumsy syntax, suggesting that I should change my name to initials. Very tiresome. I went along with it, and then it became E. Annie, and then finally I got sick of writing E so it just got dropped.”

Joanne Rowling (J.K. Rowling) …
The Brontë Sisters (Ellis, Acton, and Currer Bell) …
Alice Bradley Sheldon (James Tiptree, Jr.) …
Nora Roberts (J.D. Robb) …
Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot) …
Louisa May Alcott (A.M. …
Ann Rule (Andy Stack)

Louisa May Alcott: Prominent 19th century writer Louisa May Alcott began her career under the male pen name A. M. Barnard. While her most famous work, Little Women, was published under her real name, she gained considerable notoriety as Barnard in the mid 1860s.

Nelle Harper Lee: Writing under the abbreviated name Harper Lee, Lee’s pen name does not necessarily disguise her identity, but does make her authorship fairly androgynous. Harper Lee became wildly famous for her novel To Kill a Mockingbird. This novel is on every high school reading list in the United States and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize soon after its publication.

Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin: Born in Paris in 1804, Dupin is known in history almost solely by her male pseudonym George Sand. Her first novel Indiana was published in 1832 under this pen name as well as every subsequent publication that followed.

Charlotte Bronte: As the author of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte is one of the most celebrated female novelists in all of history. Many, however, do not realize that this quintessential English novel was originally written under a male pen name. Charlotte Bronte published her works under the name Currer Bell.

Emily Bronte: Publishing under the male pen name Ellis Bell, Emily Bronte is most widely known for her only novel Wuthering Heights. She and her two sisters chose to write under masculine pseudonyms to deter any bias on the basis of their gender.

On the other hand, Agatha Christie still ranks number two in the list of best selling fiction authors. (William Shakespeare ranks number one.) Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie, Lady Mallowan, DBE (née Miller; 15 September 1890 – 12 January 1976) was an English crime novelist, short story writer and playwright. The Guinness Book of World Records lists Christie as the best-selling novelist of all time. Her novels have sold roughly 2 billion copies, and her estate claims that her works come third in the rankings of the world’s most-widely published books,[3] behind only Shakespeare’s works and the Bible. According to Index Translationum, she remains the most-translated individual author – having been translated into at least 103 languages. “And Then There Were None” is Christie’s best-selling novel, with 100 million sales to date, making it the world’s best-selling mystery ever, and one of the best-selling books of all time. Christie’s stage play The Mousetrap holds the record for the longest initial run: it opened at the Ambassadors Theatre in the West End on 25 November 1952 and as of 2015 is still running after more than 25,000 performances.

A male name may get some authors somewhere, but contents do matter.