Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Introducing "The StudentAffairs.com Writing Project" - Entry #1

Last month I posted a quick note on my StudentAffairs.com Facebook page about how seldom I write notes and letters to individuals.  I was referring to pen to paper missives, not emails.  In our computer-dominated world this type of activity has become a lost art.  The response to my short post, while not overwhelming, was quick—people agreed and lamented this fact.  One of our University librarians also sent me a message, asking if I had ever read the book, “365 Thank Yous:  The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life.”  Intrigued with the title, I took out a copy from my public library.

The book, by John Kralik (now a Superior Court judge in Los Angeles), described his goal of writing 365 thank you cards in a one year period as a way to change his rather downtrodden life.  His small law firm was going under, he was twice divorced, estranged from his grown children, overweight—not a pretty picture.  By examining what he had to be thankful for—no matter how big or small—he hoped to transform his outlook on life and, possibly, change for the better.  The process to achieve this goal was through the writing of thank you cards.

While I would hardly characterize my life as in distress like Kralik’s was before he wrote the book, my interest was piqued about the challenge to send some type of handwritten correspondence each day for a solid year.  I thought back to the quick farewell cards I, along with the other staff in our suite, signed for our departing student employees.  These undergraduates were so integral to our office’s day-to-day functioning.  Did I ever thank them?  Yes, but maybe via a quick verbal aside or with a pithy email.    How many other people in my personal and professional life had I taken for granted or lost touch with?  Unlike Kralik, my proposed Writing Project would not be for self-redemption, but it would be a way to connect with individuals in a more personalized manner.  Sherry Turkle, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who studies computer culture, recently wrote that “we live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection.”  She is referring to how our face-to-face interactions have suffered in our Internet-dominated world.  However, I would expand her lament to the written word itself.   

So, branching off from what John Kralik accomplished, beginning May 25, 2012 and ending May 24, 2013, I will be sending out a written communication at least once a day.  They may be a basic thank you card, a congratulatory note, a holiday card, a lengthy letter, or an appreciative acknowledgement.  Recipients could be family members, professional colleagues, student employees or volunteers, friends—both current and long lost ones, and even complete strangers whose stories may have touched me.  The one constant for this yearlong project--whatever I send out—will be handwritten.  Yes, this is a challenge to myself—will I have the patience and perseverance to see this Writing Project through to the end?  Will there be 365 people to send correspondence to?  But, more importantly, I am seeing this as a way to connect.  Kralik states it succinctly:   “A handwritten note just feels like sincere gratitude.  It conveys your physical presence to the receiver.  You are right there, not far away...”

T minus 9 days.

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