How We Speak to One Another


Dear Governor Ducey,

I’m at the Tucson Festival of Books at a workshop teaching people how to write letters to Governor Ducey.

Not really. Actually, we are in a session called How We Speak to One Another—an Essay Daily Event named after the anthology Ander Monson and Will Slattery put together from essays we wrote on the Essay Daily Website.

The idea behind the workshop is to suggest to students that one of the most generative forms of writing is the letter. This is an idea I can get behind since this is letter #115 in the series of letters I’ve been sending you for two years now. I told the students that a primary catalyst for writing is being mad enough to write a letter to the editor. Admittedly, sometimes I talk myself out of being mad as I write. Usually, I spend enough time in the letter to lose some of the vitriol and start imagining how you would take my argument. By the time I start talking about my kids, I am thinking about your kids. By the time I start explaining how much my students mean to me, I think of you as a student, how you must have had one or two teachers who made an impact on you. The letter writing is generative but it generates toward empathy. By the time I’m at the end of a letter, the thought of you has flowered in my heart.

The students were receptive, immediately putting pen to paper. Ah, how I love to teach. I I love to convince people to act. The smallest detail the writers could think of the better. Perhaps this is a little meta but, to give an example of how the small detail brings us together, remember the letter I wrote to you about fractions? Remember the one about dog hair? The one about fly fishing? Oh, dear Governor, almost any small detail of the word reminds me of how I want you to act. Maybe one day you’ll put pen to paper to write me back and although you might be mad at me in the beginning, perhaps by the time you get to word 363, you will begin to soften. Think of where I’m coming from. Perhaps get a little behind my point of view.

The students wrote letters to the board of directors and to ABOR and to the writers of Disney fairy tales. They wrote letters to Stephanie Meyers and to the Three Little Pigs. To get people to write when they don’t know me, when they could have a hundred better things to do on a Saturday. It’s inspiring. The whole Tucson Festival of Books is inspiring. Tent after tent of book publishers. Hundreds of people milling about, listening to writers, talking to each other, buying books. NPR is broadcasting live. The Tucson Book Fest is the third biggest in the country. Thousands of people descend on Tucson, spending money, buying art. The Northern Arizona Book Festival might be one of the smallest in the country but we still bring in a thousand people to downtown to spend money, to buy art.

So much of the work behind these festivals is volunteer work. I sometimes wonder, Governor Ducey, if you think people who volunteer are nuts. Why would people put on workshops, host guest writers, put together panels for free? What is in it for us? I think the same thing is in it for us as is in it for you. To make the community a better place. It’s our definition of ‘better’ that differs but still, I can imagine you don’t want books and art but you must love people to buy stuff. I imagine that as subversive as art may be, the money people spend is as ideologically acceptable as any other money spent on food and drinks and hotels. Sometimes, the National Endowment for the Arts gives seed money to book fests–not enough to replace all the volunteers with working positions but enough to pay for some big name writers and some committed organizers, enough for the seed to secure itself and for those volunteers to come in and help it bloom. Without the seeds, there are no flowers of art or flowers of money and I know that although you may say you don’t need the former, the latter is where your heart lies. If you have any say in saving the NEA, I ask you to follow your flowering heart.

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