cafe mama

finding magic every day

a letter to my friend, the writer . a story from AWP 2012 . march 04 . 2012

poe and sy safransky at the sun reading
This is a letter to my friend, Poe Ballantine.

You are a writer. I know because you have written about it so beautifully -- strike that, so fully and deeply and in such a real way -- that you do not always say to yourself when you walk into the world, "I am a writer," but you are a writer and your writing proves that and your reading of your writing proves that. Do you know that a tear comes to my eye? You do not need me to tell you but I will tell you that your writing is worth much, and every time a person who is perhaps drunk or sleep-deprived or in any way unwise comes to ask you your story you should, in a gentle and laughing way, say that it is in your writing.

Say this because: I knew you before I met you and this is the greatest gift a writer can give the world, the self, painful and bare and tender and with love and gratitude and sight that opens all our eyes.

And I would also like to thank you, for this gift, and for others of hands-shaking and such, and this letter is my recompense.

This is a letter to my friend, Frances Lefkowitz.

I have only just met you and talked to you so briefly that it is perhaps presumptuous to call you my friend, but I have also read in your writing and your voice (spoken and on the page both) a kindred spirit of upbringing, of being at some point a square pinion in a svelte, curvaceous world. And I see that you are still proudly yourself, originally angular, and yet you have found a fit in the other worlds and I admire this in you and I admire your book.

This is a letter to my friend, Cheryl Strayed.

What can I say to you but, "you have never done anything unbeautiful"? I sometimes wonder or doubt or am afraid to pick up a new thing that you have written and it is always, unfailingly, heartrendingly, beautiful. It brings me high and it shatters me at the bottom and then, as I think I will never put the pieces together again if I can even find the pieces, I am swooped up, again, up, and I am crying and it is for pain and wonder and awe. I look to find a cliche or a trope or a criticism (because I am critical; because I believe in always wearing those glasses that help me see clear; because I doubt those who love their friends' work unflinchingly) but I cannot. It is always beautiful.

And you do not need to apologize, you know.

I have known all this since the first time I heard you read, at Powell's Hawthorne. It was cramped and hot and I had left my second baby behind and I was late and I was uncomfortable in this new world of other writers and then you began reading and I was transported. I am reading Wild, now, and I am transported again. Thank you.

This is a letter to my friend, Courtney Santo.

We knew each other before. But I had forgotten: I had forgotten all the reasons I felt you and I were kindreds, too: I had left that behind me with the dirty shame that was Washington and Lee. This was not your fault of course, nor the fault of the institution nor of the professors. It was one person's fault, I told you about him this week, one person's fault that I have pushed too much beneath a dark surface of grief and the very worst kind of love. Love is not pain. I know that now. I did not then.

But, love is here, in a new way that rises into my throat and chokes me for a moment until it jumps out into laughter and wise conversation and easy companionship. I appreciate what I forgot we had and what we have now, which I will not forget, for I am writing it down and I know that it is not a lie that badly smears over the truth.

I am glad for the serendipity that led us to the same college and, fifteen years later, the same conference, the same table. I cannot wait to read your book.

And thank you for the beer.

This is a letter to my friend, Nuria Sheehan.

I have only known you in this context, this exuberance of writing, this celebration of writerliness, this extravagance of writers. I have only known you as a hostess of sorts, as I enter your territory -- the Midwest, the land of MFAs -- that is not foreign to me but neither is it homeland. It is familiar but a little awkward, still, the way that, as a sophomore at college, you are still getting used to the way the streets are laid out and the favorite professors and the menu at the restaurant the townies prefer. Not you-specific, you-general; YOU, Nuria, are a graduate student in this hypothetical institution of Midwestern purveyors of fine arts degrees in literary writing.

I am glad that you have taken me under your wing and I will remember how easy it is to trade passionate oral essays on the things we believe over a table that holds the now-empty mugs of beer and the overflow of our ideas and beliefs and stories. To share those stories so immediately with almost-strangers is how we all are, now, in the world, not the people who hold back the answers to the awkward questions nor the people who call "private" the most uncomfortable bits of human experience.

No, we, with eyes and mouths open, make a game of calling essay topics, prepare to turn the words we are all turning over together in an almost-empty restaurant in the artsy neighborhood of Chicago into works of revelation, works of exploration, works of art, themselves.

This is a letter to all of you.

You buoy me up. You, by the simplest interactions and the most expansive introductions, by the easiest "hello"s and the time when you describe in detail how it is you feel about my writing, give me faith in myself. Give me strength and resolve and passion and inspiration. Give me energy, give me a writer's food: that feeling that I am a part of this world, that I one day might belong on a stage instead of in an audience, that I can finely, artfully navigate this world of creative literary writing without a masters of fine arts.

You give me hope; you give me something to think about; you give me a smile on my face as I type. You give me the gift of your conversation and of your reading my work, and that is, after all, the greatest of all gifts.

Thank you.

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read my previous post . this is what I learned while breaking up a fist-fight at the bathroom sink . february 20 . 2012