How many of us think of a letter as media? Do we consider writing a letter as part of a conversation?
If we don't, we should.
In 1960, pioneering American artist Sol LeWitt and sculptor Eva Hesse met for the first time and became close friends. In 1965, Eva found herself facing a creative block during a period of self-doubt, and told Sol of her frustrating predicament.
LeWitt replied with this letter read by Oscar-nominated, Golden Globe-winning actor Benedict Cumberbatch. The advice sounds similar to what we would give:
Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder, wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping, confusing, itching, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, numbling, rambling, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, bitching, moaning, groaning, honing, boning, horse-shitting, hair-splitting, nit-picking, piss-trickling, nose sticking, ass-gouging, eyeball-poking, finger-pointing, alleyway-sneaking, long waiting, small stepping, evil-eyeing, back-scratching, searching, perching, besmirching, grinding, grinding, grinding away at yourself.
Stop it and just
And when we're honest with ourselves, we may even discover that self expression —in business and in life— beckons us, regardless of what anyone thinks. LeWitt-Cumberbatch says, “Learn to say ‘Fuck You’ to the world once in a while. You have every right to.”
It's important not to overthink:
… stop worrying about big, deep things such as “to decide on a purpose and way of life, a consistent approach to even some impossible end or even an imagined end.” You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty.
Then you will be able to
But also not to underestimate the importance of practicing our craft by doing the work. Because we may discover that it is through the work that we bring ourselves to the fore:
… don't think that your work has to conform to any preconceived form, idea or flavor. It can be anything you want it to be. But if life would be easier for you if you stopped working — then stop. Don't punish yourself. However, I think that it is so deeply engrained in you that it would be easier toDO
This conversation with self-doubt is something we all have. The best to keep practicing it through our work, because as we do it, we create enough dots to connect in looking back:
It seems I do understand your attitude somewhat, anyway, because I go through a similar process every so often. I have an "Agonizing Reappraisal" of my work and change everything as much as possible — and hate everything I've done, and try to do something entirely different and better. Maybe that kind of process is necessary to me, pushing me on and on. The feeling that I can do better than that shit I just did.
After a while you can see some are better than others but also you can see what direction you are going.
And when we have enough dots to connect, a picture starts to form of the human experience. The picture tells us the story of this experience through our personal lens, it shows us patterns in what we've accomplished, and we can take control of our direction, make it better by making it ours.
Letters are a form of media where we engage in conversation with ourselves via the communication with another. Putting our problems and doubts to paper allows us to consider them ourselves. Once we can look at even what we might think of as the most difficult of circumstances, we diminish their power over us. There they are, ink on a page.
The beauty and power of the letter as media reside in the ability to be sincere because of the relationship between sender and reader. Which puts listening, reflecting, and connecting within the safe space of intimacy. In the process of this exchange empathy and compassion meet, “to see us at once beautiful and brave,” as poet R. M. Rilke would say.
Doing the work is one of the ways we live into our answers.
[via letters of note]