Samara O'Shea

Archive for May, 2011


Thursday, May 19th, 2011

The folks at The Alliance of Pentaphilic Curators in Chicago were happy with my eulogy, but they asked me to add a few more juicy examples of letters. Who can blame them? I found some fun ones and had to share. Admittedly, I wanted to turn it around quickly so I headed over to Letters of Note for all the material. And with this project we prove that the intrigue of letter writing will never die!

Below: The first paragraph is in the original, the other two are additional:

Addendum to the Eulogy

Many an important moment has taken place on the precious pages of the letter. In October 1793, Marie Antoinette used the letter to say her final goodbye to her sister in law, hours before going to the guillotine. A March 1827 letter captured 17-year-old Edgar Allan Poe’s teenaged angst as he told his foster father he was leaving the house and never coming back. On March 12, 1901, Andrew Carnegie wrote a generous letter to J.S. Billings and announced that he would be happy to finance the building of sixty-five branches of the New York Public Library—costing $5.2 million total, which Andrew had, of course, in cash. In December 1909, James Joyce wrote a series of letters to his wife Nora in which he described, in great detail, his fondness for her flatulence. So you see, no topic is off limits.

A December 1945 missive saw Ernest Hemingway at his most forthright. He wrote to Ezra Pound’s lawyer, declaring that “He has not been normal mentally for at least the past ten years.” On January 20th 1961, while President Kennedy was giving his inauguration speech, Jack Kerouac was writing to Timothy Leary describing his recent mushroom trip. He said, “Mainly I felt like a floating Kahn on a magic carpet with my interesting lieutenants and gods.” At the end of the decade, on February 27th 1969, 20-year-old Andy Kaufman wrote a fan letter to Elvis. He stated plainly and truthfully that, “You are Elvis Presley. I am Andy Kaufman.”

A few years later, in April 1974, author E. B. White wrote to the children of Troy, Michigan, at the behest of its librarian, and told them how wonderful books can be. He said, “Books hold most of the secrets of the world, most of the thoughts that men and women have had. And when you are reading a book, you and the author are alone together—just the two of you.” The same is true of letters! In 1996, 13-year-old Sarah found herself alone with Director Quentin Tarantino. He responded to her fan mail with praise, “Thank you for your very lovely letter. It’s the best letter I’ve gotten all year long. It’s cool to hear a girl into horror flicks.”

The Eulogy

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

If you recall, I was asked to write a Eulogy for the letter, and I have done so! This will be read (by someone other than me) on Sunday at the funeral for the letter. Of course, we don’t really believe she’s gone. But! This project was so fun and creative I couldn’t say no. Reader Mike put it perfectly when he quipped, “Stealing from Mark Twain –

‘The news of my death have been greatly exaggerated.’

The Letter”

Eulogy for the Letter
By Samara O’Shea

Good afternoon, we are gathered here today to say goodbye to our good friend, the missive. Also known as the epistle, also known as the note, but most commonly known as the letter. Her age will remain a mystery to us all, and her influence is immeasurable. The work she did spanned centuries and affected the lives of Kings, Queens, Emperors, Presidents, prominent business men, fashionable women, as well as we, the common folk, who simply had a message to send.

Throughout history, the sweet and savory letter was our once only means of communicating over long distances. She made her way across deep oceans and vast countryside. She carried words of love, of gossip, of ridicule, of sadness, of death, and of danger. You name the emotion, and I promise that at one point the letter held it on her light yet profound pages. Whether your message was dire and urgent or simple and mundane, the letter let you confess anything and everything you had to say. She did not judge. Those who received the letter may have judged, but she did not. She acted as the quiet messenger—kindly and openly receiving the thoughts of her creator. As Lord Byron once said of her, “Letter writing is the only device combining solitude with good company.” Yes, one could sit all alone in a room, while having an uninterrupted conversation on paper with a lover, business partner, or even a stranger.

One of the letter’s most extraordinary characteristics is her ability to effect the reader again and again. If I were to eagerly unfold a letter from my lover—anxious to read his tender, reassuring words—only to find him confessing that he no longer feels the same and he doesn’t wish to see me any more, then my heart would surely fall to the floor and smash into one-hundred pieces like a vulnerable vase. And if I were to read the same letter five years later, I might laugh and think “Oh. I completely forgot about that guy.” If I were to read the same letter twenty years later then I might smile—remembering fondly my young love and how I thought I’d never survive this broken heart. Perhaps someday my 13-year-old granddaughter might read the same letter. She might find it in a dusty box in my attic and she might feel a new connection with me—one she never thought possible. She’ll now know that I was once young and I, too, know what a broken heart feels like. This has been the cache of the letter all along. It never gets old, because the eyes that read it are always new.

Many an important moment has taken place through the letter. In October 1793, Marie Antoinette used the letter to say her final goodbye to her sister in law, hours before going to the guillotine. In March 1827, 17-year-old Edgar Allan Poe wrote his foster father a vicious letter saying he was leaving the house and never coming back. On March 12, 1901, Andrew Carnegie wrote a letter to J.S. Billings and declared that he would be happy to finance the building of sixty-five branches of the New York Public Library—costing $5.2 million total. In December 1909, James Joyce wrote a series of letters to his wife Nora in which he described, in great detail, his fondness for her flatulence. So you see, no topic is off limits.

And now, at least 100 years later, we have all of these letters in print to read and learn from. We can’t say the same for text messages. Or tweets. Or IMs. Sure, e-mail can be
preserved, but who goes to the trouble of preserving it? And so, we may bury the letter today, but I have a feeling we’ll dig her up again a few years from now, when we realize there’s nothing quite like her, and that quick communication does not always mean genuine communication. But that has yet to be seen, and it seems at the moment that people prefer the instantaneousness of it all. So today we say goodbye to our friend the letter. Our confidant. Our messenger. Our form of expression in both good times and bad. Goodbye sweet epistle. You have literally made us laugh and cry. So long, Farewell, Sincerely, Cordially, Affectionately, With highest regards, All our best, Be well, Parting is such sweet sorrow.

A Glimpse into Their Lives

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011


As promised, I went to the Morgan Library’s exhibit on diaries. Not as promised, I went on Sunday rather than Saturday. Also, not as promised, I am writing on Tuesday rather than Monday. I’ll get my groove back one of these days.

In any case, the exhibit was intimate and extraordinary. It was in a small room and there were 60 or so diaries on display. I walked slowly, trying to fully absorb each one. It’s incredible to come face to face with the sloppy handwriting of someone you admire who left the world long ago. I copied my favorites passage of the day—some from the diaries themselves and others were posted on the wall throughout the exhibit:

“My journals are callow, sententious, moralistic, and full of rubbish. They are also hard to ignore.” ~ E. B. White

“There are two things in the world—life and death. ‘Art’ is life. ‘Not Art’ is death.”
~ Stuart Davis

“Life piles up so fast that I have no time to write out the equally fast rising mound of reflections.” ~ Virginia Woolf

“I have tried to keep diaries before but they didn’t work out because of the necessity to be honest.” ~ John Steinbeck

“The truth strikes us from behind and in the dark, as well as from before and in the broad daylight.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

[The best aid to memory] is “reading intently—and reading with a pen in your hand taking note of the passages that most forcibly strike you.” ~ George Augustus Sala

Postcards from Exotic Places

Friday, May 13th, 2011

Happy Friday. I’d like to share some of the ephemera I received while I was away . . .

Reader Masa sent me this postcard. Postcards from Louisiana look like they’re from another country. Charming! I find postcards are a fun way to keep in touch with people you see regularly. They are text messages that go through the mail. Short, sweet, I’m-thinking-of-you messages that warm the heart of both sender and recipient.

Masa also sent me this photo. Apparently this woman pronounces her last name “po’shea.” I wonder how she pronounces Samara . . .

I received another postcard from the Mystery Traveler. This time he writes me from Banjul, capital of The Gambia, where the people are “very nice and hospitable”. Sadly this will be his last postcard from Africa for a while. He’s finished with his work there. I hope he continues to write me from wherever he heads to next.

Had to include a close-up of the stamps. Script on the left says, “Musical Instruments of the Manding Empire.” I bet they make precious music.

This weekend, I am off to Manhattan. Tomorrow I’ll visit the Morgan Library’s exhibit on historic diaries. Can’t wait! I’ll have a full report on Monday. Enjoy your weekend.

The Time Has Come

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Okay, I’m back. Sorry about that. I wish I had gone somewhere or done something worth writing about, but that’s not the case. Everything just came at me at once. You’ve been there.

It’s too late at this point to offer in-depth commentary on the royal wedding and the assassination, so I’ll say something short. There’s an adage that “bad things happen in threes.” This time, good things happened in threes (or A three). First, the Birth certificate was released (no he never should have had to show it, but it shut everyone up and knocked D. Trump out of first place for Republican presidential nominee), then the royal wedding (it is nice when the world gathers to watch a joyous event), and the assassination (in this case, the end justified the means). I am very happy for President Obama. I’m happy for the nation, too. This gave us a nice morale booster. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts!

Now, what has me excited at this very moment? The May issue of Psychology Today. I’m going to pick up a copy this afternoon . . .

Something Suddenly Came Up

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

I apologize for my absence. I’m not back—just sticking my head in to say I got busy all of the sudden. I’m working on several projects at once and there’s no time to blog. I’m sorry not to be blogging this week when interesting things are going on in the world. I will write if I can. It’s all unpredictable at this moment. Everything is fine—nothing to worry about. I’ve just been caught off guard, and I shall return.

Quickly, some amusing Tweets I’ve come across regarding our country’s recent success:

~ “Is there anyway to fly flags at twice mast?”

~ “I have never wished a man dead but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.
– Mark Twain”

~ “A prince gets married, the bad guy is dead. It’s a real Disney weekend here on earth.”