“You have to sweep the temple steps a lot in hopes that the god appears.” ~ Dean Young

Winter Time by Piotr Krzackowski

“What does the new savagery
require of me? If I pound a nail
into the wall, the wall is my heart.” ~Dean Young

Poet Dean Young needs a heart transplant as a result of a degenerative heart condition: congestive heart failure due to idiopathic hypotropic cardiomyopathy. Please visit the website listed and share this information where you can:  National Foundation for Transplants: Fund for Dean Young.

Fellow poet and Young’s best friend Tony Hoagland posted an appeal letter on the National Foundation for Transplants website in which he praises Young’s work and refers to his “reckless and uncompromised vision of what art is.”

Seth Pollins recently shared a letter that he once received from his uncle Dean during their ongoing, sixteen-year correspondence. I asked Seth if I could reprint the letter, which appeared on Pollins’s blog The New Savagery, and Pollins graciously gave me permission.

I had wanted to post this letter as it is the kind of letter that so many of us who aspire to work with words would love to have received at some point in our lives. Young’s words to his nephew are heartfelt and honest; they acknowledge the doubt that plagues those who try to create, while still imparting a sense of hope and belief in possibility: “In my experience, the people who become writers are the ones who keep writing through the yards of silence and the years of discouragement . . . you can’t sustain inspiration, you can only court it.”

                    

2/17/98

Dear Seth,

I was very happy to get your letter, and my mom sent me your story which I want to get to but things have been so busy lately, what with school here and all those demands, and I’ve been flying around doing readings, and always feeling that I’m not devoting enough time to anything, even my cat, I figured I’d better write you soon, even if it was before reading your story, because I guess you’re off across the seas soon. I don’t know if I can really help you through your uncertainties, but I think I understand what you’re feeling, and wondering, and maybe doubting. As far as missing out on life because of devoting your time to writing, I don’t think you need to worry about that: life will happen to you no matter what you do. There will be joys and celebrations. There will be nights crossing bridges you don’t know the name of when some unspeakable beauty envelopes you. There will be nights looking from windows upon the staggered lights of some town when some unspeakable sadness envelopes you. There will be people you love who you can no longer find your way to. There will be new discoveries, new clouds that resemble strange and terrible things, tangerines and hangovers, and long, long telephone calls made of almost entirely silence. There will be enormous pains and small pains that are almost pleasurable. There will be haiku that suddenly make sense, and the feeling that something has been taken from you, and songs, always songs. So don’t worry about missing life, it’s like missing the sky, you can’t, you’ll always be under it and in it and sometimes high in it, but often just on the ground, moving from thing to do to, needing, crying, making people laugh, although it’s hard to tell what they’re laughing about because it seems you were just talking about how terrible life is. But one thing that won’t just happen to you, like life, is teaching yourself to write well. So whatever time you spend doing that, can stand to spend, and need to spend, all that time that seems wasted and those rare moments that seem volcanic and so sure, is the time that must be spent, otherwise you’ll never become the writer you want to become. And there’s a funny thing about that, too. One is that you’ll never become the writer you want to become. You’ll never be satisfied, never really know if you are any good. You’ll never be certain. I mean to you it probably seems I have some sort of certainty, I’ve published some books which sometimes show up in used bookstores right down there with Yeats and John Yau (who?) and just in the last couple of years or so people have started to hear of my work, of me, and now I’m teaching at this la de da writing program and poets who I think of as giants are treating me as a friend, which is, I admit, great, but there is flattery and there is the truth and one can never tell where one stops and one begins. My own sense of my my own writing is what have I done lately? It’s the writing-nowness of it that matters, and in that we’re all equals in the fog, each of us with a single flashlight with the batteries only lasting so long and we’re not sure if we should signalling to some landing airplane or is that the galloping of horses we hear coming our way, or should we be just trying to find house again, that place where we were born, where some huge, beneficent force would lift us from our groggy tatters and fit us into a voluminous bed. So don’t worry, Seth, you’re feeling what you have to feel, and as John Ashbery says, The reasons that religions are great is that they are founded on doubt. So you have to be the religion of yourself, which surely Walt Whitman said somewhere, and it sounds like you’re finding your way. Because it has to be YOUR way. Certainly there are teachers who can help you with things like dependent clauses and plot formation and run-on sentences (yikes), but all the hard play and work you must do yourself, which means above all else doing it. In my experience, the people who become writers are the ones who keep writing through the yards of silence and the years of discouragement. I think you may be worrying about things more then I did when I was your age. At least about writing. I knew it was a thing I did. I started writing poems in the third grade, and although I’m disappointed I’m not a lot better, it is something I do and therefore part of who I am, and cannot be reft from me. Perhaps I was too stupid or stoned or drunk or distracted or comfortable, or it was another world of skinny-dipping in the Bloomington quarries with a group of friends most of whom were trying to write well, with stupid jobs, and reading Frank O’Hara. I guess it was something I had faith in. It was later, by the time I was in graduate school, that the real ambitions (and poisons) of trying to get published and all that came into play. By then, well, it was too late. It was what I did. Remember, Seth, you can’t sustain inspiration, you can only court it, and here’s the thing: it happens WHILE you work. It’s not something to wait around for. You have to sweep the temple steps a lot in hopes that the god appears. Go back to college. It is a good place to try to teach yourself to write and to be surrounded be fellow blockheads that love books. Now I must get back to working on a poem I have no hope for because it is important to keep writing even when you aren’t writing worth shit. There’s a lot of luck involved in being struck by lightening, so you you want to make sure you’re holding a pen when it happens. Write again soon, dear nephew. Allow yourself to be uncertain, but don’t let your uncertainty turn to despair. It can be wonderful to write when you’re sad and full of the dark bouquet of doubt, but misery leads itself to silence and one must get out of bed every morning and prepare for the great celebration of one’s own imagination, even if it doesn’t happen that day.

Love,

Dean

                   

To make a donation to NFT in honor of Dean, click this link. If you’d prefer to send your gift by mail, please send it to the NFT Texas Heart Fund, 5350 Poplar Avenue, Suite 430, Memphis, TN 38119. Please be sure to write “in honor of Dean Young” on the memo line.

More later. Peace.

The Art of the Thank You Note

Thank You cards from PaperCrave

Sample Thank You Cards from Papercraft.com

 

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” ~ Cicero

I haven’t had time to post anything new in several days, but by this time tomorrow, 11th grade will be over for Brett. Can I get a big hallelujah from the chorus?

Next big item: Graduation for Eamonn at 3:00 on Monday. His announcements finally arrived a couple of days ago, and I got all of them addressed and mailed yesterday. The deal is that he cannot have (as in take possession of) any graduation presents until the Thank You note has been written. I hope that he realizes that I’m serious. He needs to learn that thank you notes are a must.

I still remember that Alexis never sent out all of her thank you notes for her graduation gifts, which I was very unhappy about, but that was a very bad time in her life, so I suppose that I should just be grateful that we made it out of that dark period. But I’m a firm believer that sending out a short note is the least that you can do when someone takes the time to think of you, to remember you, regardless of the circumstances as to why they are thinking of you.

I was appalled when I read in one of those advice columnists about how someone had received a generic e-mail as a thank you for a wedding present. The writer wanted to know if this was the “new way of doings things.” Not in my world. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but weddings are a significant event, and the people who buy wedding presents usually (except for regifters, of course, but it’s still a gift) put a lot of thought into getting something special for the new couple. To send out an e-mail thank you is better than nothing, but not by much. To send out a generic e-mail to an entire list of people is just plain lazy, and boorish to boot.

Yes, our lives are full and busy, and there never seems to be enough time to do all of things that need to be done. But taking pen in hand and writing two to three sentences in a card does not take more than a few minutes at the most. And a handwritten thank you note or card still means more. At least, I think that it does.

Perhaps I am really revealing my generational influences here, but it pains me that we are raising children who rarely put pen to paper. From the moment that children begin to write, they are on computers. Now that part I agree with. Keeping our youth up-to-date on technology is good for them and good for our country.

But learning how to form letters, how to write words—nothing can replace that.

Besides, how did those newlyweds respond to people who don’t use e-mail? There are still people out there who don’t, anachronisms though they might be. There is a generation that for the most part knows little to nothing about computers. I’m thinking of my mother’s generation. My mother doesn’t even know how to turn on a computer, let alone open an e-mail.

Did the tech-savvy couple just ignore the people without e-mail addresses, or did they deign to send along a one-size-fits-all form letter?

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” ~ John F. Kennedy

I love that we are connected to people everywhere through today’s technology, but I hate that we have an entire generation of young adults who don’t know how to write letters. It concerns me.

Just think of all of the wonderful revelations we have had throughout the years when someone stumbles upon a box of letters written by someone of note: Hemingway, Kennedy, Whitman, Woolf . . . Personal letters reveal so much about the letter writer, and they are a wonderful piece of history. I, for one, am always impressed when I see the penmanship of past generations, the swooping cursive capitals, the care with which the writers crafted their missives.

 I suppose that it is my romantic self that cannot abide electronic communication, but of course, I am just as guilty as everyone else of using e-mail all of the time because of its convenience. But nothing beats receiving something in the mail with a cancelled stamp. And few things beat a thank you note, handwritten and full of gratitude.

The ability to say thank you to those who have given of themselves for our purposes: that is a talent that every child should be taught as soon as he or she is able to write.

Much more later. Promise. Peace.

Mr. Postman

I never thought that I would miss my computer so much, which leads me to the subject of this blog: my dependence on computers for writing and how little I actually put pen to paper any more. In the past two weeks, I have had my annual bout of bronchitis, which, if any of you are sufferers know, makes typing quite hard as coughing fits plague you every two minutes or so. I’m down to the occasional annoying lingering cough, and I opened my laptop only three days ago two catch up on e-mail and Blackboard for school since I was facing a midterm in my much-maligned E-publishing Infrastructure course. Having survived last night’s midterm, of which we shall not speak, I can now get back to the business of blogging.

So these are my thoughts: Writing, I mean actual writing, as in putting pen to paper, is a dying art form. I love to look at old letters and see the beautiful script of our predecessors, how it artfully loops and slants across the page. You will find no hearts or smiley faces above the lower case i’s. Each letter is carefully crafted and adjoined to the next, a marriage of letters and words, the page itself a thing of such beauty that at first glance it is wondrous to behold, even without the reading. But then with the reading: people of letters hundreds of years ago wrote of even the simplest things with such meaning. I remember reading excerpts from Samuel Pepys diary, which told so much about life in 17th century London, but his writing was full of character, even when writing about the mundane. People don’t write with character any more. I don’t believe that they know how. I think that it’s because we are such an abbreviated society: email, text messaging. Who actually writes in complete sentences? I hate statements such as r u 4 rel? It makes me shudder. I know. The English instructor in me is showing. but is that all?

Am I alone in bemoaning the lack of words in our communication? Am I the only one who misses receiving printed mail in my mailbox? I remembr receiving my first real letter. It was from a friend of mine who had moved away in the 8th grade. Her name was Jan Farber, and she wrote to me once her family was settled into their new home. I have no idea what the letter said, but I remember receiving the letter with my name on it, in an envelope with a stamp. It was a momentous occasion. Correspondence via U.S. mail with handwritten addresses, pre-typed labels was lovely. Stationary that you bought in boxes and didn’t run through printers was lovely. I remember one particular present that I received from friends that I loved, and they knew that I would love: a Cross pen set and a box of heavyweight cream stationary with a hunter green border. Maybe some of you might find that to be a truly lame present, but those of you who know my ongoing love affair with paper realize just how much that present meant to me.

Why don’t we write to one another any more? Why do we settle for email? I know that I am one of the worst offenders of my own accusation. J’accuse! My reasoning is purely for physical reasons, and I should try harder: it taxes my wrist to write with a pen; I could rest my wrist, though, couldn’t I? My handwriting is slovenly, and I am embarrassed by it, though. When I look at those old letters, even when I look at my father’s handwriting, I am embarrassed by my generation’s penmanship. The free-spirited 70’s produced a generation of counter culture people who wanted to do everything differently from their parents, right down to the way they wrote, so we all tried to write uniquely. In my parent’s generation, their is a similarity in the penmanship. Even my mother and father wrote similarly, even though my father spoke English as a second language. That generation was schooled in penmanship. Not us. For us it was a free-for-all, and my left-handed penmanship reflects that, so typing was my salvation. Hence, my awe of old penmanship.

I owe a very dear friend of mine a long overdue, long letter. He wrote to me and shared something last fall, and has been very disappointed that I did not respond. That I did not respond had nothing to do with his confidence but with the timing of it. I have been keeping him in the back of my mind for months now, promising myself that I would write when things in my personal life settled down. Obviously, that is never going to happen. So now I will promise myself to find a quiet moment this weekend, and to sit down with my new pens and some of my lovely writing paper and to write him a long, reflective letter so that he will know just how much he means to me and how he has never been out of my mind.