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THE ARTS THE 10 LETTERS PROJECT Article: Jess Witkins Photo: Bella Cirovic

with people.” In today’s world, we have a wealth of ways to connect with friends near and far. We can call them up on cell phones. We can Skype. We can text. For Lee and Manley, it was letters. “It was important to me that I have a way of archiving this. Telling Tim about what I was feeling was as much for me, and my processing, as it was sharing with him,” explains Lee. The concept was simple. Write a letter with two components: I want to tell you about... and I want to ask you... Now, Lee is on another tour, inviting makers to write their own letters. So that’s what we’re doing. Each month in SEVEN, Deborah Nerud and I will exchange a letter. The receiver won’t see it until the issue comes out, same as you. The other will reply in the following issue. If you feel so inclined or inspired, we hope you join in, too. To learn more about the project, visit Jess Witkins is a writer, blogger, and sometimes funny. Her mission: making pathetic look cool since 1985. She can be found in the coulee region’s many coffee shops and wordmongering at


August 12, 2015 Dear Jess,




Today, somewhere between putting on eyeliner and slipping my feet into my broken-soled Danskos, I felt like I didn’t really want to leave the house to do the thing I told myself I was going to do (sit, read, write—either at Jules’ or the Root Note). I’m ready to go. I have things I need to accomplish, and I know these tasks would find creative purchase in different environs outside my apartment. I’m working on two different articles for two different magazines, I’m gearing up for a new improv show (‘Creature Feature’) with the Coulee Region Unscripted crew, I’m about to start a new job at the end of the month, my kids are with their dad for the weekend. And yet here I am, writing to you, sitting at home, getting quietly overwhelmed by a mounting to-do pile. I wouldn’t say I’m in a rut, nor am I a recluse. On the contrary, as a part-time extrovert, I get a lot of good energy when I’m around others—whether I know them personally or not. I flourish in a group, I love performance, and I soak up new experiences like a thirsty competitor at a cracker-eating contest. Conversely, as a part-time introvert, I’ve discovered I can spend days without so much as a peep to anyone but my children, choosing to remain alone—whether on the trail for my morning run (I’m currently training for a half-marathon; the further I go, the fewer people I have to run with, I’ve noticed) or when I’m deep into a writing jag. Maybe I’m a saltine eater all the time, only satiated when silence is foiled by sound (forgive the sibilance—I love a good bit of alliteration). Attaining the balance between inside/outside, venturing boldly versus staying safe at home, has always been a big challenge for me—at times proving crippling, restricting inertia or motivation to a roped-off, padded room, where there are only a few soft toys to play with. Eventually, as the teeter-totter of desire balances out, the restricted energy grows fangs and teeth, and power and movement and cravings for human contact set me free from the body-brain-bind of introversion, and I thrust myself back into the public. Maybe it’s less a teeter-totter and more of a pendulum…

SEVEN | Issue #3 | September, 2015

It was a night filled with what one participant described as “wild, succulent energy.” That was the mood in the West Salem living room where a dozen local artists and writers—makers— gathered with New York storyteller and filmographer, Jen Lee. She was talking about her latest collaboration, “The 10 Letters Project: A Year of Art and Friendship.” A longtime fan of creator stories, Lee grew weary of listening to interviews from people after they’d achieved success. The questions were always the same. How did you get to where you are now? What did you overcome? Fair questions, sure, but the answers glossed over the experience of getting there. Lee was touring with her documentary, Indie Kindred. And fellow storyteller and artist, Tim Manley, was just releasing his first book, Alice in Tumblr-land. They had an idea. What if they each wrote one another ten times, tracking the process, experiencing all the emotional highs and lows with one trusted friend? Their letters became the foundation of “The 10 Letters Project.” “I fear sometimes we’ve forgotten how to be a friend,” Lee says. “It becomes the thing we only have time for after the laundry is done, or we’ve gone to the gym, or we’ve cooked dinner. Yet, all my work is inspired by conversations I’ve had

What about you, Jess? As a writer who works in the public, you and I have a lot in common, and I’d like to hear about what gets you out, what keeps you in, and how you deal with the struggle of balance between the two. I’m closing this letter, wishing you well, no matter where you read this, and I’ll have you know that I’m choosing to go out the moment I finish this letter. All My Best, Deborah Nerud

photo: Jen Lee

SEVEN September 2015  
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