birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Dear ____

I write two letters a month. I don’t use a pen or pencil—my handwriting is atrocious. I type them, but I print them out and put them in an envelope, and mail them when I can. Sometimes I can’t find a mailing address and have no choice but to send an email, but I much prefer to send a real, letter that can be held.

And most likely, crumbled up and thrown away, but that’s okay.

Two letters.

The apology letter. I used to call it my Fifth Step letter or my Ninth Step letter. I got the big ones out of the way already. Some of the people I owe apologies to are dead. I wrote them, anyway.
I’m no Mother Teresa. I write these letters because I’m selfish. It makes me feel better to do it. If it makes the other person feel better, too, that’s a bonus.

The letter of admiration. I first did this many years ago, when I wrote to Sandy Duncan after seeing her in Peter Pan when I was fifteen. Then there was a gap of many years until my friend Kerry encouraged me to write an author I admire, just to tell her so. “Don’t ask for anything in return. Just say thanks.” I do it every month now, and don’t limit myself to authors. Friends, coworkers, authors, NPR hosts, composers, classmates. Some of them write back, or acknowledge the letters in other ways, but that’s not why I do it. I do it, so I don’t hate myself if I don’t do it. I waited too long to write to Mary Martin, and now I can’t. I’m glad I didn’t wait too long to write to Maurice Sendak (who didn’t write me back) or Isaac Asimov and my fourth grade teacher (who did). I do this for the same reason I writhe the other letter: I’m selfish. It makes me feel good to do it. If it makes the other person feel good, then it only adds to my joy.

I want to stress again, I’m not a saint, I’m not doing this because I’m such a great guy. I’m not, and each of the people in the first two group above will attest to that. As I write this, I’m worried that I’m coming across as a smarmy, Ophra-esque new-age jackass.

I was feeling especially jackassy the other day.
Then I checked the mail
Someone sent me a letter of admiration. I hope he felt as good writing it, as I did reading it.

Letters, Past and Future

A Note From the Past, Addressed to the Future