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In a way, you are poetry material; You are full of cloudy subtleties I am willing to spend a lifetime figuring out. Words burst in your essence and you carry their dust in the pores of your ethereal individuality.

– lovely words by franz kafka, taken from his letters to milena jesenská.  my favorite part is the bit on cloudy subtleties.  those nuances that make people/things unique.  unlike kafka, we’re not always willing to spend a minute, much less a lifetime, figuring them out.  why not?  part of it could be not caring enough, being too busy or maybe just being scared of what we might find underneath the uncertainty.  whatever the reason to avoid it, we should remember that within those subtleties are the materials needed to better understand the world around us and the people within it (yourself included).


spending time on cloudy subtleties

05/07/13 2 Comments

ted kooser, “a birthday card”

04/29/13 1 Comment

A Birthday Card
by Ted Kooser

In her eighties now, and weak and ill
with emphysema, my aunt sends me
a birthday card—a tossing ocean
with clipper ship—and wishes me well
at forty-four. She’s included
a note—hard-bitten in ballpoint,
with a pen that sometimes skips whole words
but never turns back—to tell me
her end of the news: how the steroids
have softened her spine, how
every X ray shows more shattered bone.
Her hasty words skip in and out,
their little grooves washed clean of ink,
the message rising and falling
like short-wave radio, sending
this hurried S.O.S., with love.

via poetry mag.  two things that struck me about this:

  • sometimes birthdays are a sweet vacation from reality.  a time to gorge on salutations & strawberry cheesecake because for 24 hours, you’re the most special person in the world.  the former poet laureate brings things back home with his “birthday card.”  the poem gives us something more somber than celebratory, more sad than joyous, and yet still manages to uplift and inspire a smile.  if it’s not a more “honest” birthday card, it’s at least a more balanced one.
  • love how the last lines (“Her hasty words…with love.”) build on earlier imagery (e.g. sending short-wave radio s.o.s. & the earlier clipper ship on a tossing ocean) and speak for things larger themselves (the aunt, the poem, life).

who gave you your most memorable birthday card?  what made the card stand out from the rest?

related: facing the waves of life


the coolest resignation letter ever?

04/23/13 2 Comments

tumblr_mlnz3ixrqj1qa79lmo1_500 copywriter nino gupana left the ad agency leo burnett with class and a personalized bottle of jack daniel’s.  spotted on hyc.

update…nino reached out and provided some background on the bottle:

I came up with an idea to give my resignation letter a little twist as I am dead nervous to approach my Chief Creative Officer Raoul Panes. Everyone knows in the office that Jack Daniel’s is my favorite drink so I decided to play with its iconic design and typography. When I handed it out to my boss, he didn’t notice the texts in the bottle. He thought that it was just a post-Christmas gift. Then I told him to read the label. He was surprised. Then there, we talked about the serious matter. We talked about the whys, whens, wheres and hows. Before I left the room after the talk, I blurted out, “Sir, one for the road.” So there, I think my anxiety mellowed down and the mood lightened up a bit because of the bottle of Jack.
bonus: here’s another contender for the title.

seat 29e

01/07/13 1 Comment

do you have any airline horror stories?  one passenger wrote about his from an ill-fated seat on a continental airlines flight.  check out his hilarious letter (transcribed as written) + illustrations below (via letters of note).  also, share some of your worst travel tales in the comments:


FH#888/500 → HOUSTON

Dear Continental Airlines,

I am disgusted as I write this note to you about the miserable experience I am having sitting in seat 29E on one of your aircrafts. As you may know, this seat is situated directly across from the lavatory, so close that I can reach out my left am and touch the door.

All my senses are being tortured simultaneously. It’s difficult to say what the worst part about sitting in 29E really is? Is it the stench of the sanitation fluid that’s blown all over my body every 60 seconds when the door opens? Is it the wooosh of the constant flushing? Or is it the passengers asses that seem to fit into my personal space like a pornographic jig-saw puzzel?

toiletfumesI constructed a stink-shield by shoving one end of a blanket into the overhead compartment — while effective in blocking at least some of the smell, and offering a small bit of privacy, the ass-on-my-body factor has increased, as without my evil glare, passengers feel free to lean up against what they think is some kind of blanketed wall. The next ass that touches my shoulder will be the last!

I am picturing a board room, full of executives giving props to the young promising engineer that figured out how to squeeze an additional row of seats onto this plane by putting them next to the LAV.

I would like to flush his head in the toilet that I am close enough to touch, and taste, from my seat.

Putting a seat here was a very bad idea. I just heard a man GROAN in there! THIS SUCKS!
buttinface Worse yet, is I’ve paid over $400.00 for the honor of sitting in this seat!

Does your company give refunds? I’d like to go back where I came from and start over. Seat 29E could only be worse if it was located inside the bathroom.

I wonder if my clothing will retain the sanitizing odor…. what about my hair! I feel like I’m bathing in a toilet bowl of blue liquid, and there is no man in a little boat to save me.

I am filled with a deep hatred for your plane designer and a general dis-ease that may last for hours.

We are finally decending, and soon I will be able to tear down the stink-shield, but the scars will remain.

I suggest that you initiate immediate removal of this seat from all of your crafts. Just remove it, and leave the smouldering brown hole empty, a good place for sturdy/non-absorbing luggage maybe, but not human cargo.

click here to see the airlines’ response + a handwritten copy of the letter.

we have listened long enough to the pessimists

06/26/12 1 Comment

via letters of note:

In March of 1906, unable to preside over a public meeting of the Association for Promoting the Interests of the Blind, deafblind activist and author Helen Keller instead sent the following stirring letter to her good friend, Mark Twain. On the day of the event, Twain, who was chairing the meeting in Keller’s absence, read her stunning letter aloud to all attendees and later included it in his autobiography, predicting that it would “pass into our literature as a classic and remain so.”

It’s very easy to see why.

Wrentham, Mass., March 27, 1906

My dear Mr. Clemens:

It is a great disappointment to me not to be with you and the other friends who have joined their strength to uplift the blind. The meeting in New York will be the greatest occasion in the movement which has so long engaged my heart: and I regret keenly not to be present and feel the inspiration of living contact with such an assembly of wit, wisdom and philanthropy. I shall be happy if I could have spelled into my hand the words as they fall from your lips, and receive, even as it is uttered, the eloquence of our Newest Ambassador to the blind. We have not had such advocates before. My disappointment is softened by the thought that never at any meeting was the right word so sure to be spoken. But, superfluous as all other appeals must seem after you and Mr. Choate have spoken, nevertheless, as I am a woman, I cannot be silent, and I ask you to read this letter, knowing that it will be lifted to eloquence by your kindly voice.

To know what the blind man needs, you who can see must imagine what it would be not to see, and you can imagine it more vividly if you remember that before your journey’s end you may have to go the dark way yourself. Try to realize what blindness means to those whose joyous activity is stricken to inaction.

It is to live long, long days, and life is made up of days. It is to live immured, baffled, impotent, all God’s world shut out. It is to sit helpless, defrauded, while your spirit strains and tugs at its fetters, and your shoulders ache for the burden they are denied, the rightful burden of labor.

The seeing man goes about his business confident and self-dependent. He does his share of the work of the world in mine, in quarry, in factory, in counting room, asking of others no boon, save the opportunity to do a man’s part and to receive the laborer’s guerdon. In an instant accident blinds him. The day is blotted out. Night envelops all the visible world. The feet which once bore him to his task with firm and confident stride stumble and halt and fear the forward step. He is forced to a new habit of idleness, which like a canker consumes the mind and destroys its beautiful faculties. Memory confronts him with his lighted past. Amid the tangible ruins of his life as it promised to be he gropes his pitiful way. You have met him on your busy thoroughfares with faltering feet and outstretched hands, patiently “dredging” the universal dark, holding out for sale his petty wares, or his cap for your pennies; and this was a man with ambitions and capabilities.

It is because we know that these ambitions and capabilities can be fulfilled that we are working to improve the condition of the adult blind. You cannot bring back the light of the vacant eyes; but you can give a helping hand to the sightless along their dark pilgrimage. You can teach them new skill. For work they once did with the aid of their eyes you can substitute work that they can do with their hands. They ask only opportunity, and opportunity is a torch in the darkness. They crave no charity, no pension, but the satisfaction that comes from lucrative toil, and this satisfaction is the right of every human being.

At your meeting New York will speak its word for the blind, and when New York speaks, the world listens. The true message of New York is not the commercial ticking of busy telegraphs, but the mightier utterances of such gatherings as yours. Of late our periodicals have been filled with depressing revelations of great social evils. Querulous critics have pointed to every flaw in our civic structure. We have listened long enough to the pessimists. You once told me you were a pessimist, Mr. Clemens, but great men are usually mistaken about themselves. You are an optimist. If you were not, you would not preside at the meeting. For it is an answer to pessimism. It proclaims that the heart and the wisdom of a great city are devoted to the good of mankind, that in this, busiest city in the world, no cry of distress goes up but receives a compassionate and generous answer. Rejoice that the cause of the blind has been heard in New York, for the day after it shall be heard around the world.

Yours sincerely,

Helen Keller

on personal tragedy: hemingway’s advice to fitzgerald


i just watched midnight in paris a few days ago so it was cool to come across this letter that ernest hemingway wrote to f. scott fitzgerald. the letter offered great advice and insight into the authors’ lives, but it was this quote that resonated with me the most:

Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it—don’t cheat with it. Be as faithful to it as a scientist—but don’t think anything is of any importance because it happens to you or anyone belonging to you.

when i started writing poetry, i knew that people would see my poems as the most wonderfullest in the world because they’re real, they’re how i feel, yadda, yadda, yadda. there’s a narcissistic misconception behind some of that delusion though. assuming that people will feel something solely because of what it means to you can make you a lazy writer which in turn, undercuts your ability to truly connect with your audience.

as hemingway pointed out, it’s great to tap into your feelings and experiences because history has proved them to be deep reservoirs of greatness. however in doing so, make sure that you really do them and yourself justice.

my dungeon shook by james baldwin

08/16/11 2 Comments

i caught this excerpt from james baldwin’s the fire next time on dream hampton’s blog.  while it was written as a personal letter to the author’s nephew, it gives outsiders an idea on how much things had changed between blacks and whites “on the hundredth anniversary of the emancipation.”

“Dear James:

I have begun this letter five times and torn it up five times. I keep seeing your face, which is also the face of your father and my brother. Like him, you are tough, dark, vulnerable, mood—with a very definite tendency to sound truculent because you want no one to think you are soft. You may be like your grandfather in this, I don’t know, but certainly both you and your father resemble him very much physically. Well, he is dead, he never saw you, and he had a terrible life; he was defeated long before he died because, at the bottom of his heart, he really believed what white people said about him. This is one of the reasons that he became so holy. I am sure that your father has told you something about all that. Neither you nor your father exhibit any tendency towards holiness: you really are of another era, part of what happened when the late E. Franklin Frazier called “the cities of destruction.” You can only be destroyed by believing that you really are what the white world calls a nigger. I tell you this because I love you, and please don’t forget it.


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