“I have read somewhere of an old Chinese curse: ‘May you be born in an interesting time!’ This is a VERY interesting time: there are no models for ANYTHING that is going on. It is a period of free fall into the future, and each has to make his or her own way.”
This quote is even more accurate today than it was when Joseph Campbell wrote it in 2013 in his essay collection Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine. We are in a time of great turmoil and change and it often feels as though no one has been here before or experienced what we are experiencing. One thing that I’ve found to be a great comfort is a series of books by Shaun Usher called Letters of Note which compiles letters throughout history from people both famous and ordinary.
Founded in 2009, Letters of Note began as an online museum of correspondence. In 2013 Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience was published by Chronicle Books and after wide success, was quickly followed by Volume Two in 2015. Both are beautifully designed tomes with facsimiles of many of the letters and accompanying photographs of the writers.
There are letters from movie stars, presidents, doomed queens, and slaves. My favorites include a letter from E.B. White’s dog Daisy, a love letter from a soldier to his lover, David Bowie’s response to his first fan letter, and an aspiring screenwriter’s creative take on a cover letter.
Usher has also published collections of important historical speeches called Speeches of Note and a book of lists called Lists of Note. Six more books will be coming later this year, smaller collections based specifically on love, war, music, cats, art, and mothers.
In the meantime, if you’re craving more, you can visit the Letters of Note blog where Usher has archived hundreds of letters, faxes, telegraphs, and memos from years past. Usher also began a series of live productions called Letters Live where different actors perform various letters. Past casts have included Benedict Cumberbatch, Russell Brand, and Ian McShane. There will also be a podcast coming out this year called Letters of Note: Recorded Delivery.
There is something very comforting in reading the words of people who have also been through complicated times and felt the things you have. Even if, as Campbell says, we are in an unprecedented time, we can still look back across the years and take comfort in the fact that this is not the first tumultuous time in history and it certainly won’t be the last.