Letters from Friends--Funks, Writing, and Connection
by Jennifer Paros
Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
I’ve been in a funk lately. I entered it unwittingly and have had trouble finding the exit, and when I do, difficulty remembering where it is. I don’t like to use the word depression, which makes me feel blanketed – as though it’s wall-to-wall sorrow. There are always corners and areas where all is clear.
The other day, I was rooting around my work area and opened a drawer mostly forgotten. Inside was a large envelope filled with letters from about three decades ago. They were from friends – some with whom I’m no longer in touch, some with whom I still have contact, some with whom I remain close. As I read, the letters helped me spot those clear areas in me. The letters, at least for that moment, helped me remember.
We often focus on remembering. We like to remember the good: special occasions, landmarks, graduations, birthdays, vacations; and we also choose to ruminate on what feels bad, what we consider failures, betrayals, scary things, and pain. We tag these groups with either like (good) or dislike (bad). But the kind of remembering prompted by the letters stood outside of those two categories. For the moment, I didn’t have my end of the story: the letters I had written. I had only the words of friends. And from the act of reading them, hearing from those striving to connect, came a sniff of clarity. It wasn’t what they said; it was that they wanted to say it. In reading the letters, I wasn’t really remembering the past or specifics. I was remembering the feeling of connection.
I have lived long enough now and been blue enough times to understand that I feel better when I mentally allow everything to just be, including me. And it is in this state, this dropping of my side of the story, that my sense of connection can be more easily restored. This takes deliberateness. It’s not something I’m likely to experience if I let my thinking drag me around a circuit of hot, reactive topics. When I was reading the letters, I wasn’t joining my own narrative; I was outside of my story, so the story couldn’t bring me down. I found relief in the open space in which I wasn’t the one doing the talking.
Let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
When my oldest son Max was little, he had an imaginary friend named Egg. Egg was calm and composed with a palpable goodwill. My husband and I knew this because from time to time our son called upon Egg to mediate difficult situations. Once we were in an argument with him, and Max suddenly stopped and asked whether we’d like to speak to Egg. We agreed. He then lightened his tone and spoke as her. She was delightful and remarkably level-headed. She negotiated the situation, everyone came to an agreement, and that was that. In the midst of tension, Max called upon an energy of friendship he had come to trust. And that energy worked wonders. He decided to let “someone else” do the talking and drop his end of a contentious narrative.
When I was nine, I found a small, black plastic folder (previously home to a scratch pad) in the wastepaper basket. I was so excited I spent the next half hour cutting paper, punching holes and hunting for a fastener to construct a new pad that would fit inside the folder. It felt as though I had found a gift – a wonderful opportunity. That was the start of a lifetime of keeping journals. From the get-go writing to myself seemed like talking to someone or something else as well; I was being fully heard and spoken to. Writing felt like the dynamics of true friendship.
In rooting around drawers and waste paper baskets, I found a gift. I received something available to all of us. We get to deliberately choose what part of a narrative we explore, what part we don’t, and we get to find and play the parts that lead us to those clear spaces and a feeling of connection. We get to write and receive letters from friends any time. Not only can a story, an essay, or a poem be a friend to one who finds herself in search of clear space, but so can the reason that calls her to write.
Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle. Please visit her website at www.jenniferparos.com.