Creative Nonfiction

What Can We Steal From Ander Monson’s “Letter to a Future Lover”?

Title of Work and its Form:  “Letter to a Future Lover,” creative nonfiction
Author: Ander Monson (On Twitter: @angermonsoon)
Date of Work: 2012
Where the Work Can Be Found:  The piece was published in Spring 2012’s Issue 39 of Brevity, a very cool online journal of short creative nonfiction.  Check out the “Letter to a Future Lover” right here.

Bonuses:  Wow…the New York Times Sunday Book Review really likes Mr. Monson!  Perhaps you would like to visit DIAGRAM, the literary journal Mr. Monson edits.

Element of Craft We’re Stealing: Material

Mr. Monson bought a copy of Gary Snyder’s Turtle Island in a thrift shop and found a three-page inscription in the volume.  (In case you’re curious, the book won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1974.)  One lover wrote to someone he or she has lost, lamenting the dissolution of a special relationship.  The experience led Mr. Monson to consider the real nature of our legacies to others: “A codex is a door…Codices have histories.”  Just like the lover who inscribed the book, we’re all simultaneously an open book to those who we love and a method of transformation that changes them into something new.

What is writing but an attempt to understand our own lives in the context of those of others?  It would be easy to look at a long inscription in a book and simply ignore it and to go about your day.  Instead, Mr. Monson demonstrates that he lives the true life of a writer: he sought to understand the person who wrote in the book and tried to understand his own life in the context of someone else’s bare emotion.

Mr. Monson wrote a beautiful little essay because seeing the inscription inspired him to address a future lover in hopes of avoiding the problems encountered by the inscriber.  Mr. Monson stole the events of someone else’s life and created a creative work out of them.  You can do this, too!  Check out the site Post Secret.  Folks around the world create a postcard that confesses a secret they would otherwise never share with the world.  One parent confesses how hard it is to care for an autistic child.  That’s pretty harsh, isn’t it?  It’s also HONEST, in the way our own writing should be.  What is it like to be the father?  The autistic child?  Is he a single father?  What will happen in the future?  There are so many “what if”s and you can steal this man’s confession and turn it into your own fiction.

Another depicts a bobby pin on a night stand with the text: “I left a bobbypin on your nightstand on purpose, so she would see it.”  Crazy, right?  You could tell the story of the “other woman,” you could tell the story from the wife’s perspective.  You could also follow Mr. Monson’s example and simply strip your emotions bare and write a nonfiction piece in which you consider the nature of monogamy and the strength of the vows that bind us.

The piece appeared in Brevity, a nonfiction journal dedicated to evoking great meaning in as little page (or screen) space as possible.  Mr. Monson makes every word count and is still playing with very big ideas.

What Should We Steal?

  • Consider the meaning of the small and strange experiences that happen to you.  The fateful connections that touch our lives make us part of the tapestry of humanity.  Revel in these coincidences.
  • Appropriate the real-life stories you find as you explore the world.  Any time you hear a crazy real-life story, feel free to steal any of the elements you like.
  • State your point quickly.  Brevity is the soul of wit.  (I thought of that.)

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