Letters to The Healing Place of the Soul #FillingTheVoid – Write to Us

Public Art Participation Project – WRITE TO US NOW!

We live in extraordinary times.  We will gladly receive your (emailed) letters to FillingTheVoidProject@gmail.com. We will miss the immediacy of your handwriting and your envelopes, the physicality of the letter, but we will gain the immediacy of your lived experience of these times. We are extending and re-opening our project, but as an online experience, given the implications of Covid-19 – so email us instead.

Tell us what is happening day to day. How have things changed? What is different but good about the changes? What is it that is making you anxious? What and whom do you miss? To paraphrase the French avant grade artist Georges Perec, what is happening, when nothing is happening? 

The motto over the door of the historic Robinson Library in Armagh translates from the Greek, as The Healing Place of the Soul.  We are looking beyond these times. In March 2021, when we celebrate 250 years of the existence of the library, we will mark with a new site-specific dance theatre piece, AT THE MARGINS, based on the letters project and the participation of those who sent us their words. Join in – this is a place to tell us all of human experience in these challenging and unusual circumstances. Let the words talk, and let the words travel the distance, from you, to us.

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In our last iteration of this project, we had hundreds of beautiful, intimate and heartfelt letters in response to our call-out for #FillingTheVoid https://mariamcmanus.wordpress.com/2019/10/30/write-us-a-letter-filling-the-void/. Our writers wrote to the future and to the past, to people they love and about things that matter most. They made us laugh, they touched our hearts and they made us think. They also made us realise that through writing their letters, the opportunity to reflect, record the everyday, and connect with each other, is responding to a deeply held need to communicate.

The letters came from Australia, Spain, the UK and all over Ireland. During Georgian Festival we had many  visitors to the library on the day, and those that came also wrote letters – some were posted there and then, to friends and family from the beautiful Georgian letterbox on the street outside the Robinson Library, and others were left with us for the archive.

This is a time for reflection and a time when we need to connect. We are navigating  new uncertainties about the state of our world and where it is we find ourselves now, individually and with each other. 

This project is creating a contemporary epistolary archive written by citizens – especially the citizens of Armagh, but also from all over Northern Ireland, the border area, the island of Ireland, Britain, Europe and the whole world. Everything in a letter tells something –  the handwriting, post marks, the subject matter, the demographic and concerns of the writer: the letter is a  point in time pen-portrait.  We are also interested in receiving correspondence which for some reason has personal significance to the donor.

Letters are welcome from people of all ages and ethnicities, from anywhere in the world, on any topic they may wish to record. Then we will include it in our archive in the beautiful Armagh RobinsonLibrary for posterity and consider all letters received when were are devising our site specific dance theatre piece – AT THE MARGINS, in March 2021.   

  • If you wrote the letter you wanted to write, to whom would you write it?
  • What would you write about? A letter to your childhood home, the parent you’ve lost, your old lover, those pesky politicians, your heroine/ hero, the generations yet to come, the child in your arms, or in your womb, your idol, the lost, the prodigal, the fictional, the historical?
  • Who would be the object of your letter? We live in such uncertain and turbulent times. What do you have to say …what is the ‘thing’ you can write about in a letter, but just can’t say any other way?
  • Is yours letter to the masses, or to just one person?  To your older self? Your younger self? Your braver self – something for the record.

Letters from anyone, about anything are welcome. 

  Email us : FillingTheVoidProject@gmail.com

Maria McManus (Poet) is the author of Available Light (Arlen House, 2018), We are Bone (2013)The Cello Suites(2009) and Reading the Dog (2006) (Lagan Press). She has collaborated extensively with others producing performance pieces for choir (18, with composer Keith Acheson) dance (TURF and DUST with Eileen McClory) and multi-art form collaborations. She is Artistic Director and curator of Poetry Jukebox, an on-street audio installation of contemporary poetry.

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Splendid Liberal Lofty – Launch 29th Nov All Welcome 6.00pm Armagh Robinson Library

Come to the launch of the soundscape, letters and visual art project with me, Simon Waters and Helen Sharp, at the Armagh Robinson Library

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Correspondence… about ‘Correspondence’

In response to the photo-montage I posted about the Old Post Office in Clones, Catherine Love had some observations and interesting things to say. which set me thinking too, so I have decided to post the discourse as this blog. Feel free to join in!

Catherine wrote, ‘

You have also got me thinking about letters. What a revelation it is when we find an old letter, to ourselves or between the pages of a book belonging to ancestors? The presence of the human hand in the ink and the paper, the unique nature of the piece. Letters are revered in museums. We can say things in letters we are too shy to say face to face. After 25 years on a computer my once beautiful handwriting is shot, and people think I’m weird because I prefer email to phone or text, the quietness of it. But this does not have the tactile qualities of the letter, which is so much of its value. The letter is rarely seen.
Perhaps I should work on my handwriting.

Did you post about the experience of sending and receiving letters, and what was different about it..’

My response:

Yes Catherine – in a way, there are many things I am tuning to in the whole process, but I haven’t quite worked it all through yet.

I was resistant to using social media to promote the project, but after three or four months of getting little or no traction on it, I resorted to Facebook and then Twitter, before I was able to even identify people who might like to receive a letter. So there’s an irony: the digital ages undermines the letter…… but, for the project to work, I needed to go to social media to get some momentum on it.

What I notice is that when I sit to write a letter, I am mindful of the person who is to receive the letter – in that way, it is a sort of meditation or a way of being present with or to the other, even when I am not in their actual presence.

Another thing I am more aware of is the presence to what is going on with me – internally, and with an awareness to what is going on around me – so something happens which is also about tuning into the immediate environment and sense of ‘here and now’ of what is going on with me. I like this; it is a way of slowing down in the world – a world that I find fast and overwhelming. I have really valued this aspect as developing a sense of something I need for myself – to be that slow, intentional and ……well, gentle for a while. Isn’t the world too fast?

Handwriting is interesting. It is so personal and while there are clearly trends and characteristics which appear to be broadly related to geographical locations and the norms of how handwriting was taught, I also notice generational things – how my parents’ generation differs from my own and my children’s generation.

The process of writing by hand is also interesting – my hand will get ahead of my head……I can’t premeditate that and the writing that results is often different in its intensity and intimacy, and personal in a way that writing on the computer can’t be. Handwriting is an art form – personal and distinctive to each individual – it is personal and evolutionary: characteristics remain over time, but somethings change, because in general we write less than we used to, by hand.

Handwriting has a different impact on the hardwiring of the brain in childhood development – what does it mean then that children write less as we move into the digital age? What does it mean for the rest of us as we age, if we too write less by hand?

I wonder if handwriting will be the new hieroglyphics: do we struggle to read handwriting more now, because we see it so much less? Personally, I love to write with a fountain pen ( not a fancy one), but I love writing with a fountain pen. I like the sound and the feel of it.

I get complaints about my handwriting – many along the lines of, ‘ don’t get me wrong – it looks lovely……… but I just can’t read it.’

I recognise script at times. I got a card from my grandmother: she is 102 now, but the card was to me for my wedding last September – it is so beautiful to see her handwriting, and that while it is distinctly hers, it was so moving to see the impact of time and age on it, a vitality remains in spite of the evidence of tremor.

In recent writing workshops that I have facilitated, I concluded the workshops by getting my participants to write a letter to themselves, which I promised to post to them at some point in the future …….. they will have received their letters now and I wonder how that was as an experience for them.

At one point in this whole process I realised that I had no postal addresses for either of my daughters. I could text, phone, Skype, Facebook, Twitter’em……… but I couldn’t send them a card or a letter, or a gift in the post. I couldn’t send a taxi to get them!

They are both at university. I know where they live and I could go to their houses – I know where to find them……. but I had no addresses for either of them – so I put that right in the course of this project. In saying that, it was weird to realise that I didn’t have this information as a conscious thing, documented and share-able!

Postal services are suffering too. A letter to a friend in Ghana too more than three months to reach its destination. A letter to a friend in South Africa was handwritten, but photographed onto What’sApp and sent to her that way…… because there was a postal strike and her advice was that it might never get there otherwise….. so that one was a curious hybrid of handwriting and the immediacy of technology.

I am still exploring through the project and I have roughly 1/3 of the letters left to write. I am struggling to keep momentum on it at times……it takes time, focus and to be intentional and undistracted. Making time is tricky; it has to be deliberate. I have to choose to sit and write letter rather than do something else.

Letter-writing is about delayed gratification too. We have to give it time to be written and we have to give time for it to travel to the other person and we have to wait for a response…… and then some! I write to people but I have to forgo any expectation that I will get a response. Sometimes i get a text, or an email. Sometimes i get a letter. Sometimes I get a pattern of reciprocation for a while and then it tails off. Now I am actually beginning to wonder to what extent getting a personal letter might be experienced as an intrusion by the recipient – I simply don’t know, but that too has to be considered as a possibility…… do some people end up feeling badly because they don’t/ didn’t respond …….. that isn’t my intention, but it might happen just the same!

The project isn’t over yet, so it is too soon to know what it will mean in its entirety, but it has been and continues to be interesting…….. perhaps you and I should resort to ‘snail mail’ for a while!

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The Old Post Office – Clones

The latest instalment of my ‘Correspondence’ project. I’ve written 230 of those 365 letters I pledged to write on the project. Clones is proving to be a very rich experience.

I’ve been taking some images of the Old Post Office – which is now used by some artists as studio space.

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Telephone switchboard from the Creighton Hotel, Clones

Telephone switchboard from the Creighton Hotel, Clones

Offbeat Antibes #3 Cats, Champers, Cute Cars & the Haberdashery

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As gestures towards Christmas decorations go – who wouldn’t want cats walking on their hind legs and bringing a pudding? There is so much to see here in Antibes. I have been here consistently since the end of October and have still not developed the urge to go elsewhere – to really settle and take in the small details of this place is more than enough.

We went to Cannes once. It was enough. We spent about 2 hours. In Cannes I was amused that the posters of a lost cat was  a very posh cat with a lot of hair – a large white Persian type of cat, that looked like it was smelling something so awful it was on the brink of puking its smoked salmon dinner into a gold plated spittoon, but the butler was delayed and it was resisting spewing. It was no ordinary cat – it was a posh cat. Similarly, the police drove casually down a street and reminded a weary looking hippy type, that he needn’t think he could stay sitting there and needn’t think he was going to get a chance to hustle – he could move along. Smartish. Now. The discarded wine bottle, chucked at the bottom of a large potted tree in a pedestrian area, was an empty bottle of Champagne. It was not Buckfast.

In Cannes, they still have winos, and lost cats. They still have hustling hippies, like other cities in Europe – it is the same… but different. It is rarefied and tacky in a tinsel-town way.

Antibes on the other hand, is a wonderful mix of the ancient and the modern, the hip, the chic, the tasteful and the trashy. It  also is homely. Antiboise are proud to be from here, of here and take little time, to mention this. It is perhaps easier also to connect to the real local people at this time of the year, when there are fewer tourists and visitors.

Remarkably, there are some businesses here which have all but disappeared from towns and cities at home. Take for example haberdashery. It’s hard to find a haberdashery shop in many towns and cities….. but there are a number here.

Madame Marchitto a third generation haberdasher, was unwilling to be photographed, but was happy enough that I could take some photos and that I would write about her shop.  It is a pity as she was very photogenic…..Her shop is at #9 Rue Fourmilliére.

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It’s a wonderful shop – full of all manner of unexpected things. from ribbons to bias binding, motif badges, pom-poms, tassels, wool, fabric and such an abundance of buttons……. I was tempted to stand and ask a host of, ‘ Would you have a……….?’ questions. I expect that after a brief rummage. M. Marchitto might well produce it….. including rabbits and hats.

I intend to return to Rue Fourmelliére – it’s off the main drag to anywhere, but has a fantastic combination of businesses: hairdressers, barbers, restaurants, domestic houses…… a novelty shop about which, more another time….. and a (posh) burger bar called The Big Moustache.

Elsewhere in Antibes – these are for sale, and because Santa is watching, and just in case it’s possible, I want to let him know… I want one……………. please.

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As for the mystery missing Posh Pussy of Cannes……… I’d say it was the Butler wot did it, and I’d say he nicked the bottle of Champers and swigged it in the street, before chucking the bottle away and telling the cops it was the Hippy wot had it in for the kitty….. (still with me?)

More later, mes amis……….daughter the older  is about to arrive for Le Weekend……

PS. Letter  100 was posted today.

Offbeat Antibes….. #2 Correspondence

There are so many things I am appreciating about being here. It is an incredible gift to me.

I get out and walk everyday and just take time to notice the environment around me. Yesterday morning, when I was on the way to the station, I noticed an orange had fallen from a tree and was impaled on a fine wire of the very high fence around a beautiful but clearly private property. I took the orange as a wee gift to myself and enjoyed eating it when I was sitting at the station. The oranges are all coming into season – they grow on trees in some of the streets – but the picture below is from a market stall.

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The local architecture is fascinating – the doors, door furniture and shutters, are so different to those at home and it is the ‘up’ side of being here out of season, in that there are fewer tourists and therefore a much slower pace, less human clutter, less mental clutter – so I get to see more.

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Some letters are coming in bit by bit. It makes me realise how much I appreciate it when I  receive something back. It isn’t a requirement, nor a condition that people do write back, but it means so much to me when people do.  I am far from home, content to be far from home, but the letters are like an umbilical cord, a tangible connection to the people with whom I belong in some way.

The phone rarely rings, there is an occasional text, some Facebook messages and, rarely, a Skype call.  It is as I need it to be just now. I need the peace, and can’t bear noise to any great extent. I am out of circulation, not on tap, and need it to be like this. It feels like time to heal, for peace and to nest.

The letters I have written,are in a number of subcategories –

The Unsolicited – I write to some people, just because they are on my mind and I have things I want to write and say. This is a combination of old friends, and people I need to thank, and in one instance a friend gave me the heads up about someone – a prompt to write.

The Requested –  These are in the majority……I write to people because they have asked, in response to my offer to write to anyone who wants a letter….. that remains an open offer and a letter is unconditional….. there is no need to respond, but it is especially nice when it happens and I get a letter back.

The Reciprocal – people who also write, and not because they feel obliged, but just because they also like to…. so the chance to exchange and to explore a bit more, to experience writing as a ‘mode’ for a while..

Responses have come in a number of ways……. actual letters, some cards, some postcards, a number of Facebook acknowledgements and the odd What’s App message.

For me, the experience of writing the letters has been about the chance to bring someone to mind in a sustained way for the 20 minutes or so that it might take to sit and write something. In an odd way it is a meditation often about the person to whom I am writing, but also a way to be with present with them and share something of what is going on, even when I am not in their presence. ( Still with me? Somehow this feels to be incredibly important ……. exploring……) It is also a way to share something about the minutiae of daily life ….. I can handle minutiae…somehow it feels like that is where meaningful things are….. in the small, the ordinary, the quotidian.

So many things to write about……. like the void….. and boundaries & high-maintenence people…. and reflecting on life……….  knocking on doors within.

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Offbeat Antibes…. if quiet is how you like it…..

It’s pissing down outside. Last night’s light-show – a brilliant storm, has subsided and in its place the sky has all the appearance of a tired old used-to-be-white towel. Things could be worse. My total of letters written in just a month is nearing 100, which has been a huge boost to the project overall. While I have been writing letters – I have not felt able to write Christmas cards: funny that. I can’t see me putting that right anytime soon. I think I will just persist with letters and forgo Christmas cards.

Last night we sat in the dark to watch the lightning. We’d gone out earlier – to walk, to familiarise ourselves  more with the place, to hardwire a mental map of the streetscape into us, just by walking. The town is quiet out of season. There are not so many visitors and we have a sense that what we are seeing and experiencing, is an organic, stripped back version of Antibes.

Mid-week, the Provencal market continues, though with fewer stalls. It is easier to take in because it is less busy. It is still abundant, with fruit, vegetables, olives, lavender, meat, oils, cheese, flowers.   I like the pace  and the characteristics. of the streets…. oranges on the trees along the pavements, ‘on the run’ dogs, the beautiful  doors  and entrances – heavy wood, carvings, brass and iron findings of the doors – in the French style. Wrought ironwork on the windows, shutters, the proportions of doors and windows. The architecture, which is particularly beautiful above street level, but many places in the old town have businesses sit cheek by jowl with houses – commercial areas are also residential and domestic. The soundscape is not corrupted with amplified music. People sit around and talk, but it is not raucous.

Antibes has been slow to jump on the Christmas bandwagon. I appreciate that very much. The lights in town were switched on just before the weekend and that has been time enough. The shops are modest in their window displays and there is no soundtrack of Christmas music……… it actually feels good. We can slowly orientate ourselves and not feel bludgeoned by racket, frenzy, spectacle and hype.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I am going to do a Perec-style observation on Antibes on the ‘offbeat’- out of season, and give it some close attention. More later, people!

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