For ten years, Birdy and I have been writing letters to one another. I collage with paper and glue stick; she collages with bees’ wax hardened with dammar resin mixed with oil paint, a process called “encaustic.” We exchange our own creations and the art work of others. Birdy found that during treatments for breast cancer she especially enjoyed receiving handwritten letters. It meant not having to expend energy by sitting at the computer. (If you’d like to see Birdy’s mixed-media art, visit

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI love getting letters too. While we still have mail delivery to our home I listen for that familiar metal click of our mail box on the fence. It if doesn’t click that means the mailbox is so full of letters and packages that the lid won’t close.

In Writing Home (the book I wrote to accompany the mentoring program I offer), I wrote that “I think of Writing Home: A Whole Life Practice to be a long letter to myself.” When we write letters we usually have a recipient in mind, and yet we’re really tuning into a remembering of ourselves. (The book also contains letters on the theme of “home” from women who were in my writing circles in Ontario.)

In the midst of other people in the lounge at the Vancouver Island Lodge (run by the Canadian Cancer Society) in Victoria and with the television on, I found a corner and wrote a letter to Birdy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Remember, the entrance door to the sanctuary is inside of you,” Rumi said and writing a letter helped me to enter that sanctuary. (You can’t quite see the words of Rumi on the textile art shown here but they’re there!)

I felt as if I was sitting with Birdy telling her what’s going on. I know as she reads my letter, she’ll sit down and decipher my words, sip her tea, muse on what I’ve shared. She may begin a letter back to me that she’ll add to as the days go by.

Sometimes she’s in a different setting away from home, as I am now, away from people I know well. I do talk to the people in front of me but to do that “remembering” of myself I have a need to connect to the friends who know me well.

When I was sorting through belongings and packing to move across the country in 2005, I sent my friend Sandy’s letters back to her. She’s a multi-media artist in Calgary and I figured her ten years of correspondence with me would be grist for the mill so to speak. They would have described the events of her life as well as her emotional responses to them and the questions she posed for herself through the years.

As I mentioned, when I wrote Writing Home it was a long letter to myself and I’m quite certain many writers would say the same. They’re writing to unravel something or they may be acknowledging to themselves, something worth repeating to themselves.

I’m thinking of poet Rainer Maria Rilke who wrote Letters to a Young Poet. In letters written between 1903 and 1908, he advised a young poet: ”Seek those [themes] which your own everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, passing thoughts and the belief in some sort of beauty – describe all these with loving, quiet, humble sincerity, and use, to express yourself, the things in your environment, the images from your dreams, and the objects of your memory.”

While letters are written to someone else, they’re not going to be judged as submissions to literary journals are for example. As Rilke recommended to his reader about the poems he may write: “You will see in them your fond natural possession, a fragment and a voice of your life.” (My copy of Letters to a Young Poet is a translation by M. D. Herter Norton (W. W. Norton & Company, 1934).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPoet Lorna Crozier modeled her 2013 Margaret Laurence lecture on Rilke’s book and called her lecture, “Letters to a Younger Poet.” In it she quotes Anne Michaels who apparently said she writes and reads to hold another human being close. “Couldn’t be a better reason,” Lorna said.

And don’t we also hold ourselves close while doing so? Being in Victoria during the week with people who also have cancer of some sort, we mention aspects of our lives but we don’t know one another well. When I ran into a fellow poet on the street one morning, I was so elated to step into the memories of that important part of my life remembering when Sue and I attended poetry retreats with Patrick Lane.

I wrote the above when I was in Victoria during the week and now that it’s the weekend, I’m home. Yesterday when I was at the grocery store, I ran into someone I only knew for a week at the lodge in Victoria. She’s now back in Nanaimo, finished with treatments. It was a pleasure to see her as well. It was a reminder that, this journey too, is the voice of my life.