In times of upheaval, I think we often return to basics. We turn to what we know well, to what is comfortable and familiar. And what I know are letters. So it’s maybe no surprise that, when everything suddenly shut down in mid-March and I felt completely disoriented, the one thing I could think of to “do” was to begin writing letters.
Probably like many people around the world, for weeks this spring I felt a sense of paralysis. I quickly adapted my classes for remote learning, I helped my kids figure out their remote learning situations, and we turned our attention to basic things like making detailed menus and grocery lists each week to make sure we didn’t have to leave the house very often. Any big-picture thinking went out the window. But letters seemed manageable, and not only manageable but also an important thing to do.
So now I write Pandemic Epistles, one letter each day, to someone, somewhere. I use paper that I learned how to marble with Ayesha Durrani, and I photograph them before I send them but that is the only documentation. The work appeals to me right now on so many levels. The ephemeral quality resonates with me, as I think about these letters dispersed into the world, a social engagement project across time and space. There’s the surprise element, too, as I think about the letters arriving unexpectedly; someone I wrote to early on told me that she cried when she received my letter. As with any correspondence, there’s the potential anticipation, too, on the chance that someone might respond. And there’s the durational element as well: I’ve never sustained any kind of daily practice before, but this feels like something I want to continue. Today is already day 87.