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Dialogue as Art

This evening, thanks to my friend and colleague Natalie Shell, I learned the story of two Irish artists who have created an unusual work of art …

Here is the story in their own words:

In April 2009, we sent a personal, handwritten letter to each of the 467 households in the small Irish village of Cushendall. We hoped these unsolicited letters would prompt neighbourly discussion, spreading across the town, promoting community curiosity.

The art work consists solely of the discussion between the recipients about what on Earth these letters are, who sent them and why, etc.

Lenka Clayton & Michael Crowe

Owritingn their blog website, Mysterious Letters, you can watch a video news story about their venture and also see a number of the letters – in themselves also a work of art. :) You’ll need to be patient, because it’s a long page and will take some time to load – but it’s worth the wait!

A fascinating story that left me with many thoughts whirling around in my head tonight.

Encouraging folk to talk to one another as a form of art. I love that idea.

I imagined folk who previously hadn’t exchanged more than a word or two with one another finding themselves in longer conversations – connecting, speculating and wondering. I imagined a buzz of conversation filling the air across the village, helping folks make connection and find synergies with one another beyond their shared experience of the letters.  Like an electric current of energy travelling through a grid and lighting up the atmosphere.

But isn’t it kind of sad to hear some folk were ‘scared’ to receive a friendly letter because it was from someone they didn’t know?

I also find myself wondering how many of us actually know enough about our neighbours to personalise a letter to them – let alone to do so for over 400 people in our neighbourhood.

And how many of us take the time and trouble to hand-write anything these days?

But … creating curiosity, wonderment and conversation. From where I sit, that is indeed art.

How would you have reacted to such a letter?

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Why Does Writing Matter?

I’ve just finished reading Anne Lamott’s book Bird By Bird.

Anne is a published author who also teaches others how to write. Bird By Bird is a distillation of what she has learned about writing and ‘being a writer’ throughout her life.  It’s a witty, warm and practical read for anyone who writes – or who wants to write.

The last segment of the book resonated so strongly for me, that I decided to share it here.

When Anne’s students ask “So why does our writing matter, again?”, this is her answer:

boat_in_stormBecause of the spirit … Because of the heart. Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on the ship.

For me her words were an affirmation and a confirmation.

So I’ll keep writing, keep reading – and have my shot at dancing with the absurdity of life.

Who wants to sail and sing with me? :)

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Wordplay with Wordle

I’ve just discovered and begun playing with Wordle.  Ok, so I’m a latecomer. :-) I’m sure most other people have already been there and done that.

One thing that really struck me about Wordle is how it can lead to new ideas or fresh perspectives. It’s a “word kaleidoscope”, in which words are tumbled and turned to produce new patterns, new synergies – and perhaps new insights.

For example, here’s a Wordle of my Music and Memories post.  I loved finding “Dad determined musical horizons – listen“.  There was whole new stream of reflection for me in that one short sentence!

Music and Memories Wordle

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A Breath of Kindness

As with other forms of writing everywhere, it can at times be a little nerve-wracking to post to a blog.

We take a deep breath, hit ‘publish’ and trust that some folk will enjoy reading our outpourings, while others will at least be constructive in their criticism. :)

Even with brief ventures into the written word, such as as updates to Facebook or tweets on Twitter, we may sometimes click ‘send’ with a slight catch of breath.

‘Who will read it? Will anyone read it? And if they do, what will they think of what I’ve said. Or of me?’

Of course not everything we write causes a nervous flutter. Sometimes we launch our thoughts blithely into the public arena without a single tremble or backward glance.

But sometimes it’s more deeply personal than that. We recognise we’re actually sharing a piece of ourselves when we write. And in that moment of clarity, our hands may pause over ‘submit’ or ‘send’ and we’ll feel a shiver of anticipation.

Not that we want everyone to agree! After all, it’s from different perspectives that we gain new insights or understanding. But if others don’t like what we’ve said or don’t agree with it, we hope they’ll attack the ideas – not the writer. :)

Here’s a poem that was first published in the novel A Life for a Life by Dinah Mulock in 1859. A long time ago and a very different world from ours!  But I think its words still ring true in our fast-paced, networked world:

Sift What is Worth KeepingOh, the comfort —
the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person —
having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words,
but pouring them all right out,
just as they are,
chaff and grain together;
certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them,
keep what is worth keeping,
and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.