Friday, May 28, 2010

Open Letters are great.

I totally have an ongoing love affair with open letters. I write them, I read them, I find them to be cathartic literary jewels that call out to my eyes for attention - and I give it to them freely.

The first open letter I ever wrote was in the 9th grade. It was an "open letter" to Jean Valjean (from the book, not the musical). I'm not sure why I wrote him a letter, except that it was some kind of English assignment. I remember writing the letter, and then giving it to my dad to read and copy-edit. He's actually the one who added the "open letter" title to my piece. The comment from my teacher with an arrow pointing to the title was, "Oooooh, nice!" As though she were impressed that a 13 year old would know what an open letter was. Too bad I actually didn't know.

But now I do ... and in case any of you are confused about the term, here's the definition:

A published letter on a subject of general interest, addressed to a person but intended for general readership.

One of the first blog posts I ever wrote was an open letter to Canada, where I plead, ask, demand, and attempt to guilt the great country of Canada into giving me a work visa. While this letter did not give me what I was asking for (damn you, Red Maple Leaf!), it did allow me to blow off some steam. Lots and lots of steam. In fact, Canada, your people are very good at writing letters expressing their outrage. I'm really good at writing letters expressing my outrage. Why can't we merge, eh?

I digress. (I digress a lot around here...)

A friend of my Monkey's sent her a link to a website called Timothy McSweeney's - it's a website of "open letters to people or entities who are unlikely to respond." In fact, you can send your open letters to Timothy for publication.

So why am I so emphatically excited?


March 26, 2010
- - - -
Dear Aging Hippies Dancing at the Tinariwen Concert,

There is not a culture in the world honored by your whack-ass dancing. You, woman with the long grey hair, dancing right in front of the stage, don't do that, what you're doing there. It's not good. And you, next to her, same thing. I know the music is good, but this is no way to respond. They are like wizards casting a spell on us. You should be mesmerized, rocking hypnotically, but you are doing some weird kind of twitch.

Notice how the band is dancing. Small movements, practiced movements, deliberate movements. They are elegant. Yes, they are moving their limbs and you are moving yours, but there the similarities end. You are not doing the same dance they are doing. You are not one with them, they with slight tilts of the hand, dips of the shoulders, you with some hand-over-hand-like-you-are-unrolling-toilet-paper-over-your-head dance. And you, lady next to her, you look like you are trying to flick cobwebs off your fingertips.

Why do I care? Because you are making me look at you, because you forced your way to the front just like you do at every single concert you go to. Then there is the look on your face, which is so goddamn smug, which you force me to look at, which you force everyone here to look at, because you are dancing right in front of the stage. You didn't discover this. You want us to know that you are worldly because you are dancing to this music, and you want us to think you understand the Tuareg and their traditions, and you share in their struggle because look at how profound your face is and aren't you just one with the music. No, you're not.

And then there is you, guy in the middle of the crowd. Why are you flapping around like that? Why are you taking up so much space? There are other people who would like to be close to the band. Yeah, the band is looking at you, of course the band is looking at you, but not because they see some kindred earth-brother. They see a spazzmatic ass. And why are your shoulders up around your ears? Unless you are dancing in a Bollywood musical, your shoulders should not be up around your ears.

You, guy in the back of the room, you're cool. Your dance is awful but you force it on no one.
Oh, lady, do not gesture to the rest of the crowd to "get up." It is not your place. This is not your show. I did not come for you, but you are stealing my attention. You have no right. Just because you probably went to Kenya ten years ago does not give you the right to speak for this band from Mali. They have earned the stage. I will listen to them. They have done everything and you have done nothing. I will get up when they tell me when to get up.

Hey. Hey! What is wrong with you? Look around. Notice anything? Everyone else is clapping! Why? Because the drummer who has practiced his ass off in a tent in the desert and who has worked so damn hard to make a life for himself has asked us to start clapping. So we are clapping. What are you—oh, my God, are you pretending to play the guitar? Is that what that is? It looks like you are strangling a swan. Lady, listen, there is no guitar right now. Why? Because the guitarist is clapping his hands!

Why do you think you can have this? The moon landing wasn't enough? Hendrix at Monterey wasn't enough? You have to be in front for this, too? Why do you think you are entitled to everything? Why do you think this is all yours? Just get out of the way, please. Move to the back, please and let us dance in front of the stage. We dance better than you.

OK, guy with the shoulders, why are you jumping? No one else is jumping. This is not jumping music. Stop.

Matthew Robert Lang

Now. If that didn't make you literally laugh-out-loud at least once, then my sense of humor is so much better than yours.

But a word to the wise: While all of the letters have a cute/funny/sarcastic/humorist vibe - they are not all butterflies and red velvet cupcakes. In fact, two out of the five I read made my eyes tear quite thoroughly. One is an open letter to a man's inoperable brain tumor, and the other is an open letter by a mother to her relatives concerning her child's fits from Asperger's Syndrome. Don't say I didn't warn you.

What I love about these pieces, is that open letters require intelligence and poise, humor and self-deprecation to be pulled off effectively. Most "journalism" or media stories are completely uninteresting to me; stories for the sake of sensationalism and shock value. "Fear this!" "Be angry at this!" "Believe this!" "Worry about this!"

My answer to that: NO. I will not.

I will, however, take great delight, empathy, love, inspiration, and raucous laughter from my fellow human beings; reveling in their triumphs, failures, stories, pleas, observations, and griefs. Because we're all a lot more alike than we'll ever care to admit.

I hope you like them too.

Oh ... and just a little something because I love you:

You're welcome.


QueenFee said...

LOVED the letter to the dancing hippies! Lee would appreciate it mightily, and he usually directs a rant (just so he and I can hear it) to the hula-hooping hippies that clutter up the folk fest each summer. I will definitely check out the site, and I, too, am an open letter fan! P.S. you really do write a good one, Polar Bear of the South! xoxo

Bathwater said...

What a wonderful idea, just when I was searching for something different to get my creative juices flowing again.