Rainy Day Musings

Sunday, May 7, 2019

Dear friends,

It’s been raining at my house on and off for days now. A little over a year ago, we moved into a new-to-us house on the outskirts of town where we are surrounded by trees and grass, and it’s very peaceful. On rainy days, I like to be especially quiet and maybe open a window or two so I can hear the rain fall.

Our old house was the very last townhome built in a neighborhood full of them, and there were not many quiet days, even in the rain. The main road of the neighborhood was a long, slow, downhill slope, and we were at the very end of it. There was a storm drain in the parking lot, but it was often blocked by trash bins, children’s toys, and other debris that washed or rolled down the hill. Children from all over the neighborhood lost basketballs and other playthings that ended up blocking the storm drain, littering the grassy commons in front of our house or washing into the woods. The rain would trickle from the top of the hill, form a small stream in the parking lot, be rebuffed by the blocked storm drain, and form a rushing river down the broken sidewalk.

It was there that I last played in the rain, nearly ten years ago, shortly after Chris and I moved into that house. We were renovating the whole place ourselves with some help from friends and family, but most of our time at home was spent laying tile, building a deck, demolishing old drywall, replacing studs, patching and painting. The to-do list was epic. When we got our first good storm, I stood by the front door, gazing out in astonishment. There were actual rapids. It would have been dangerous for a small child. Someone’s tricycle was pushed by the stream all the way down past our door and up against the retaining wall we’d built to try and prevent our little slice of land from washing out from under us, as the property ended in a steep hill that plummeted into forest. At that time, I felt the pressure of adulthood descending upon me as I realized I’d just willingly taken on a debt I’d probably never see the end of — ain’t home ownership grand?

I was certain our neighbors would not like us much. At our first courtyard cookout, I drunkenly told our neighbor my mostly uncensored feelings about the Catholic Church only to learn that she and her family were practicing Catholics. I was also pretty sure they’d heard us having sex with the windows open one afternoon around the time all their kids were coming home from school. I didn’t think I was doing a very good job of adulting. That day when we got our first real rain storm in the neighborhood, I was briefly taken by an impulse from my inner eight-year-old. I stood in the rushing stream on our sidewalk laughing and dancing like a crazy person while Chris stood just inside the door, sipping his coffee and questioning my sanity lovingly.

I only stayed out a few minutes. Playing in the rain is not the same when you’re an adult. For one thing, I couldn’t stop thinking about the potential parasites in the mud around me. Lots of our neighbors had dogs, and the grassy area in front of our house was a favorite place for walking them. Not everyone was consistent with picking up after their pets.

It’s also more fun when you have someone to play in the rain with. As a kid, I had my two friends Justin and Drew with whom to actually do stuff in the rain, like fight. We would find a particularly wet sinkhole in someone’s yard to fight in. Or we would just … run around. No direction, just glee. Me and Amanda played on her swingset in the rain. Her mom was really mad about that one. It was either hailing or sleeting. She said it was too cold to be out in the rain, but I don’t remember it being cold. I remember the exhilaration of absurdity — how good it felt to do something so out of the ordinary.

Back then, I couldn’t understand why adults didn’t want to play in the rain. Everyone complained when we had rainy weather. They’d call it ugly, dreary, gross, and bad. That made me sad because I thought rainy days were just the best. What an amazing opportunity, you know? And adults were not only passing it up but scorning it —  running to their cars to get out of the rain but splashing their pants along the way, and carrying stupid umbrellas that helped a little but then dripped on everything in the car and in the house. It seemed to me that everyone was just determined to make a bad thing out of something beautiful. It would have served everyone better to just enjoy the rain.

I asked my friend’s mom why adults never wanted to play in the rain, and she said it was because, “then you’re all wet,” and I was like … that’s the point? But she said it’s a pain when your clothes get all wet because you have to wash them. Also if you’re out running errands and you go into stores, you track water everywhere, and it’s just a big mess. Plus the air conditioning is on in stores so you’ll get cold. And also, you don’t want to get the inside of your car all wet and muddy. She did have a pretty convincing point about how car seats would feel gross when you’re all wet, but I didn’t see how any of these things should stop a person from enjoying rainy days. On the other hand, I didn’t do my own laundry back then.

I’ve gotten a bit more practical about when I’ll play in the rain, but only because I had to. For example, right now, I will not play in the rain because I’m very comfortable sitting here at my desk with a blanket over my lap, sipping coffee, and day dreaming about the best parts of childhood. Also, it’s Mother’s Day, and my mother-in-law will be coming over soon, and I don’t have time to play in the rain and take a shower and then still help cook lunch.

I have had some chances to hang out in the rain lately, though, thanks to these on-and-off storms that roll through spring. My derby league had a round of headshots done in the rain, and we’ve had some after-practice parking lot beers in the rain that have been super high quality hangouts. However, much to my inner Ramona Quimby’s chagrin, I have always stayed under an umbrella, except for the few brief moments when I  modeled for the camera and did a handstand in the rain. She really loved that part.

But the main reason I won’t go out is that it’s still a little chilly outside, as we’re not quite half way through spring, and I am a summer person. I thrive on heat, and nothing makes me happier than a downpour on a sweltering day. I am so looking forward to summer. I can’t wait until the Renaissance Fair starts — the fair grounds are within walking distance from my house, and on rainy days it’s far less crowded, and I will be there, ready to maximize my enjoyment of the people, the shows, the trees, the fresh air, and every drop of rain I can catch.

I wonder what it’s like where you are, my friends. If you’re close, are you in the city or the woods? What does a rainy day feel like for you? Or are you in a place where it’s very dry? Would rain be a welcome change for you? What does the air smell like where you are? How does your environment embrace you, and you it?

I ask these questions knowing I most likely won’t get responses. I always tell the recipients of my letters that they don’t have to write back, and that’s true. But it’s not for lack of curiosity about them. I love getting letters back, but I also know sometimes it’s enough to have received a letter, and for me, it’s enough to have written one.

Thanks for reading. May you always play in the rain,

Mary

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This is My Letter to a Slightly Smaller World

A letter from the desk of Dirt.

Weds. Feb. 27, 2019

Dear Friends,

Recently, I tried an experiment to break a heavy creative block that I’ve been carrying around for years, and I asked people to volunteer to receive letters from me. I wanted to write letters to people who I knew were (a) open to receiving them and (b) theoretically interested in whatever I might have to say. Doing so was creatively freeing for me, and it provided a feeling of connection that made writing much easier. One of the reasons I have found it challenging to write over the past few years is that I don’t know my audience, or I’ve been writing for an audience of “everyone,” and that includes a lot of people who probably don’t care one whit about me. “Everyone” also includes my inner critics, my parents, my college advisors and mentors, my entire grad school community, and a massive chorus of internet commenters who only read headlines before forming their very important opinions. It is extremely hard to write for such a broad and hostile audience. In the age of the internet where everything has to be entertaining and the best way to succeed is to go viral, it felt like a disservice to myself and my craft to try and write in a way that would appeal to literally everyone all the time. I know there are people in the world who don’t like me or  “my kind,” whatever that means to them. I know there are and will be people who think my ideas are shit, my execution is sloppy, my research is lacking, and that I am too emotional, too subjective, too … whatever. I am no longer sorry about not appealing to those people. Instead I just want to connect with those who are willing to receive a sincere letter from a real human being without a promise of being entertaining or clever. I don’t have any big ideas to spread except that of connection — being human together by sharing genuine thoughts, feelings and experiences.

So far, I have I found this practice to be deeply healing. It has helped me to remember that I am writing not just for myself or for a monolithic audience but for real individual human beings. I make no promises about the quality of the work, just that I will write each person a unique letter, and that they can request that I write about certain topics. With each letter, I included a note that the recipients were not required or expected to write back although return letters are welcome and appreciated. Not many people write back, and that’s just fine. After all, we do live in a busy world and everyone’s got a lot going on. It’s a simple honor to be allowed however briefly to be part of the lives of these friends, acquaintances and strangers.

To be clear, these letters are not for sale. These days it seems like everyone is preoccupied with monetizing everything, as though anything people won’t pay for is inherently lacking value. While I do like to get paid for my work, I give myself permission to focus on the connection and the creative act — both with the letters and with my other current creative pursuits. Specifically excluding money from the letter-writing experiment helped me to feel  more connected to the people I wrote to. And yes, I was still receiving something from them in exchange for my letter. I received their trust when they gave me their personal mailing address and names (especially those social media friends who don’t know me in “real life”). I also received their time and attention when they read my letters. And perhaps most valuable, I received permission from them to show up on the page and in their mailbox, just as honest, vulnerable, thoughtful, and sincere as I could manage to be. That part was priceless. And in a few cases, I got very sweet, thoughtful, and inspiring letters in return. It felt great to know that those who did choose to write back did so out of their own desire and not obligation, again creating genuine human connection.

On the whole, the letter writing experiment was hugely successful in helping me set down that big concrete block of self doubt and move forward with greater creative freedom and a real appreciation for my audience rather than a fear of them. Since I started it, I’ve had a renewed inspiration in other areas of life and have been making more zines, collages, and other artwork. In addition, perhaps you’ve noticed, I’m finally blogging again. It feels so strange and new, yet old and familiar at the same time. I think for the first time in my writing life I have begun to understand the concept of audience on more than an academic level.

I hope to continue writing letters to friends, acquaintances, and strangers on the internet. If you want to receive a letter from me, I invite you to comment here with your request or follow me on Twitter where I occasionally as around for volunteers. The expectations are the same as before: You provide your name and address, and I will write you a letter. You can suggest or request a topic, but I make no promises about the quality. If you don’t specify a topic, I’ll just write some reflections on the world, my personal experience, or something that I hope will interest you based on what I know about you. If you let me know how to look you up on social media, I’ll take a peek at what you’re sharing in order to know a little more about who I’m writing to, but if you don’t want to share that info, that’s perfectly fine.

In closing, I would like to say one last “thank you” to the people who invited me to send them my thoughts and ramblings. You may not know exactly how much you’ve helped me with your participation in the project, and I don’t know what impact my letters have for you if any. However, it’s my wish and intention that each letter brings at least a little bit of joy into your life because we all need joy, and we are all in this together. So with all my heart, thank you, and good luck.

Sincerely,

Mary

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