It first started with Letters From a Stoic by Seneca; he would write letters to his close friend Lucilius, providing admonishment on living a meaningful life, paying attention to the building of friendships, lessons on stoicism, philosophy, generosity, education, and more. It is said that he “turned his hand to practically everything which can be made the subject of study — speeches, poems, letters, dialogues of surviving.” That makes sense: those mediums often provide the rawest form of communication, a deep focus on providing the richest and truest of advice, one that we would want to tell to our younger selves. The way a letter is written differs than, say, a blog post or an email. It’s a deep meditation, an honest and raw conversation, from one soul to another.
After reading many letters from many walks of life, I realized that they contain a plethora of wisdom, often delivered in a heart-warming way.
In 2006, an English teacher, Ms. Lockwood, from Xavier High School in New York, gave her students an assignment to test their persuasiveness in writing. They had to write to their favorite author and ask them to come to the school. Five of the students chose Kurt Vonnegut. His reply was the only one that the class ever received.
The advice he offered that class is one that I champion daily, both in life and in my writing.
What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.
Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.
(You can find the original letter and inspiration for this post here; a blog that I recently added to my reading list.)
This deeply resonates with me because writing has been an vehicle of soul-searching and reinventing. I write to learn, to understand, to project my thinking outward and to critically examine my shortcomings and delusions.
By practicing any art — writing, dancing, drawing, designing, teaching, etc. — we may be pursuing mastery and paving the road to a more meaningful life, but we’re also experiencing the act of becoming. The relentless practice of an art can serve as a wellspring of self-awareness, humility, understanding, purpose, and joy. By committing to it everyday, we learn about ourselves, slowly expanding the edges of our comfort zone while fostering an understanding of our abilities especially when we fuse passion, love, dedication, and an unquenchable desire to master our craftsmanship.
The pursuit of mastery is, indeed, a pursuit of letting your soul grow, of finding what’s inside you, but more importantly, an obligation to be generous and to encourage the ones who feel stuck or lost that we’re all capable of such pursuits. It is just a matter of starting, committing, and most all, believing.