Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Write Stuff

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I've never really had a problem with words. Yes, I've been shy -- and couldn't speak up -- but give me a piece of paper or a computer screen and let me at it. If I'm writing a letter, the words will tumble out, sometimes not fast enough. It's like I'm unwinding a spool of thread and seeing how far it'll take me.

You're probably like me -- finding it easier to transfer your thoughts onto paper than in person. Of course, you don't have to watch for facial expressions and body language when you write a note to someone. The physical distance that paper or screen allows adds a sense of ease when you try to get the words out. At least it does for me.

I was always a notorious letter writer, and like many of my blogs, my letters were detailed. People embraced those details, rather than roll their eyes and toss the letter aside. And when I couldn't keep up with lengthy letters, my regular recipients were most disappointed. Yes, letter writing has always come easy, yet, like keeping a journal or a blog, it becomes almost like a chore because you know that, although the words come easy, you still use your editing thought processes to work through your words, adding qualitative and quantitative time to the equation. And time is something you don't always have.

I thoroughly enjoy writing thank-you notes to people, and I guess it shows. When I wrote the handfuls of thank-you notes, after my engagement party, shower and wedding, I looked forward to doing so. I knew that a part of me would go into each note, my personal touch would be imprinted in each card; I wasn't writing a form-letter-style note; I was personalizing each one. Add that up for every simcha, and it takes a toll.

And with three children and countless bris and baby gifts, the thank-you notes were also countless. But once again, I made each word I wrote count; my words captured the gift and the person who gave it.

I've had family friends and my own friends come up to me YEARS LATER after they received a particular thank-you or all-occasion card or birthday card or a simple letter, and tell me that they still had such-and-such a card among their things because it was so special.

Knowing that makes me very happy indeed. Knowing that I put a smile on someone's lips...a smile that lingers long after the person initially read the card...pleases me to no end.

Sadly enough, I've had to write several condolence cards in the latter years. And just like I do with simcha cards, I personalize each card, telling the recipient what it was about that person that touched me and my life, even if I didn't know the person all that well. Sure, I can phone in a donation to some organization or good cause, and have them send out a sympathy card with a brief message from me, and I often do that, but I'd much rather write a note from the heart.

When I felt moved to write to the parents of a former classmate who passed away at the age of 27, I talked about the memories I had of her from when we were little. I even dug up a yearbook our class had made when we were in grade 4 and sent the parents a couple of pages that their daughter had designed, as well as the "My Impressions" page that someone had written then about their nine-year-old daughter.

Some years ago I designed an ad for myself that I considered running in the local Jewish newspaper: I was planning to call my business (even back then!) "Pearlies of Wisdom" and I was going to advertise speech writing and writing, specifically letter writing. For some people, letter writing is such a chore and something to avoid; for me, it's a pleasure, so I thought why not let some people take advantage of this opportunity. Unfortunately, I never went ahead with the ad because I had no clue what kind of rates I should charge for such services.

But if any of you have a business letter to write, a "Dear John" letter to compose, a wedding speech to come up with, a tribute to someone on a special anniversary or birthday, consider me and my Pearlies of Wisdom, 'cause I think I've got THE WRITE STUFF!

Minding the Message

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I am a pack rat! Once upon a time it was newspapers and ticket stubs, and tourist attraction brochures and all my old personal address books, all birthday cards, copies of letters I wrote to people, and the letters I received back. The list goes on and on. You'd think I grew up in a mansion, allowing space for all these "collectibles".

Then I became a pack rat of child-related material: pregnancy information, feeding information, day care information, then school related stuff. Saving things regarding children is not a bad thing...but when you save it three different ways, one per child, then you've got a problem.

These days I'm into modern technology pack-ratism: I keep files and files of correspondence I have with people -- both professionally and privately. You never know when you might need to retrace your online steps and track down some info you shared with others. I also have a bad habit of keeping phone messages in my system, and re-saving them again and again every two weeks when reminded, so I don't lose them.

Of course I don't keep EVERY phone message, but I have maintained several in my cache. And it's interesting because our message machine is internal, part of our Bell telephone service that we pay for. When we moved over two years ago, I'd already been saving messages on the system and had to figure out how to somehow transfer these messages to our new neighborhood, to our new area code and to our new phone number. I was so leery it wouldn't work and these messages were important to me. But they did, and I keep saving them.

1. The interesting message is from April 2000, from Frania Rubinek, actor Saul Rubinek's mother. She played in Avalon together with her husband, Israel; I then later saw her in January 2000 in Liberty Heights. I'd written to her in hopes of lining up an interview with her about her life: she was hidden in Poland during the war, she was an actress and had an actor son. Her phone call was a confirmation that she'd received my letter and would love to meet me.

Long story short, I never managed to reach her again, and a few weeks later, I read in the Jewish newspaper that she'd died...a day or two after she left me the message. For the longest time, I tried to contact Saul Rubinek, thinking that perhaps this was the last time his mom had spoken -- I have no clue if she had a heart attack, but it had to have been sudden -- and maybe he wanted to hear the message. I'm still wondering at that...

2. I have a message left on March 5, 2000 -- a friend of ours singing "Siman Tov un Mazel Tov" when he heard I gave birth for the 3rd time to a son, followed by a very warm and welcoming message.

3. I have a message from circa 2002, December, when that same friend put on an accent, that of an old Jewish lady (he did a good job of it too) and took on some fake name and was calling to wish my husband and I a happy anniversary.

4. I have my father's voice singing "Happy Birthday" to me.

5. I have my husband's and children's voices, as well as my mother's.

6. I have my mother-in-law wishing my husband a happy father's day.

7. I have positive feedback I've received for work well done.

People may read this and wonder, "Pearl seems a little weird...saving all those messages." But I have this to say: "In hindsight, don't you now wish you'd have saved some of your past phone messages? Aren't there voices you might've liked to hear again, some pleasant messages that you would've liked to hear again?"

So, next time, if ever, you choose to call me, please be sure to leave a message. And I'll make sure to save it!


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This affirmation arrived in my mail slot at work, as a caption atop a 2006 calendar:

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take,
but by the moments that take our breath away.

Here's wishing you many breathless (in a good way, of course!) moments...