A good friend’s mom recently died, after a long struggle with cancer. At her funeral she was eulogized by her children and oldest grandchild, with such love. One son recalled a Passover tradition she had. When packing up all her special plates from her family’s Seders, she would write herself a letter and tuck it on top of the Seder plate, along with letters from prior years, to be read again upon opening the box for next year’s Passover events.
This ritual moved me, particularly for a woman who was described as such a giver, so generous and open hearted. Within her Seder tradition, which was inherently a group activity, she imbedded some time with herself to reflect on her own life, in her own words.
I have never hosted a Seder but I do unpack and repack our Christmas decorations each year. Perhaps I will include a letter to myself as a way of recording the highlights of my family’s holiday season, to slow down and remember the richness of our lives because honestly, Christmas can sometimes feel like too much, too fast, and then its over. What a smart way to start off the following year’s season, with a hand written reminder to myself of what I love.
As a student of communication, I have had a lot to think about since the presidential election results of 2016, particularly how commercial and social media contributed to the election of Donald Trump. Of all the myriad ways that I believe Trump to be unqualified to be President, the one that kept me up all night on November 8th is what an awful role model he is for children. As a parent and educator, I am appalled that a thin skinned bully who uses language and actions in vicious ways, the kind of person we try hard to teach our children NOT to be, has won. Apparently I am not alone. A group of parents started a letter writing campaign for children called “Dear President Trump: Letters from Kids about Kindness.” According to a Washington Post article by Amy Wang about the project, parents have been posting their children’s letters on social media (including Trump’s bully pulpit, Twitter) with the hashtag #kidsletterstotrump. To the letter writers and their parents, thanks for trumping hate with paper love.
The U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (USDAC) hosted an event on January 2nd at Brooklyn Museum’s First Saturdays, that caught my attention.
The U.S. Department of Arts and Culture is NOT a government agency. It is the nation’s newest people-powered department, founded on the truth that art and culture are our most powerful and under-tapped resources for social change. Radically inclusive, useful and sustainable, and vibrantly playful, the USDAC aims to spark a grassroots, creative change movement, engaging millions in performing and creating a world rooted in empathy, equity, and social imagination.
In the museum’s beautiful Beaux-Arts Court the USDAC set up a range of art making activities conceived to imagine the future of New York City, which is currently in the midst of an unprecedented affordable housing crisis. There was a Letters to the Future station, where people could write to a friend or loved one in the year 2036, telling them how they helped to keep New York City affordable. While the solutions to our housing crisis are so much more complex than the actions of individuals, posing the question is valuable. What kind of a city do we want in the future and what can we do collectively to make it so?
Viva Snail Mail lives! We were hacked and had to be rebuilt but thanks to tech savvy, ceramic artist Nathan Gwirtz, we are back. Phew.
So some film-makers in England are making a short film called Eduardo Munez and they need a lot of handwritten, interesting letters to use as props. The mysterious main character receives a lot of mail. Want to make some mail for a movie? A movie about mail? Here are all the details you will need to send mail to Eduardo Munez.
Viva Snail Mail!
This kid. This project. His name is Jacob Cramer and he started Love for the Elderly, an anonymous letter writing project that sends mail to senior citizens. His mom must be proud. If you would like to participate in Love For the Elderly you can get information on their website and Facebook page.
Ok its a stretch to post a link to the Three Miles episode of This American Life on VSM but it explores an issue very close to my heart, educational inequality. And there IS a reference to letters! Students from two very different high schools in the Bronx, just three miles apart, exchanged letters to learn about each other’s lives. But that’s just the beginning of the story.
Its really worth a listen.
My sister teaches 2nd grade and initiated a Flat Stanley project with her students. Are you familiar? The idea is based on a 1964 children’s book, Flat Stanley, by Jeff Brown about a boy who gets squished by a bulletin board and then is flat enough to slip under doors, be flown like a kite, and best of all, be mailed in an envelope.
An adorable Flat Stanley, colored with crayon, and a letter arrived in my mailbox in October with a request to take the paper boy on an adventure and write back to the students about the experience. The idea is to help children learn about different places around the world. So great. So up my alley.
Despite being Ms. Paper Mail, Ms. Make Mail, I let the letter languish in a pile of unanswered mail. For months. Yes, we’re all hypocrites sometimes.
But I finally got my act together in May and sent the students an absurd and fictional letter about why my response had taken so long. It had to do with Flat Stanley escaping on the subway and reuniting with us many months later. In the process I shared lots of details about my family’s life here in Brooklyn and some of the ways we spend our time. It was so fun to write and the students apparently loved it.
Even hypocrites can turn things around.
Viva Snail Mail!
Along with the passing of Dr. Maya Angelou this week, we also lost designer, Massimo Vignelli. The two icons died a day apart, both building inspiring lives in to their 80’s.
As Vignelli’s life was winding down, his son put out a request for “Dear Massimo” letters and people from all over the world sent mail, telling Vignelli how his life and work inspired and informed who they are. Such a beautiful tribute, one that Vignelli was able to experience in writing. A living memorial is such a gift.
Maya and Massimo, thank you both.