Embracing Vulnerability by Expressing Your Inspirations, a Conversation with Rhea Abramson

Rhea Abramson of Devoted Diarist and Mail More Love is a card whisperer, letter writing artist, and our beloved pen pal. We are overjoyed to bring her back to our blog to talk about how she taps into vulnerability and gratitude to reach out to people (strangers, family members, famous people, authors, and activists) who inspire her. As to be expected this interview is chock full of rich, actionable insight. Pour yourself some tea, sit down, and enjoy!

Let them know they inspire you, a conversation with Rhea Abramson | Of Note Stationers

We designed our inspire card as an invitation to embrace vulnerability, to lean into gratitude, and to reach out and let someone know how they've inspired you. This is something that you already do regularly. Can you tell us a bit about your motivation to use letters to reach out in this way?

First, thank you for designing the inspire card.  I really need this card in my stash so I will have to buy a stack of them!  My mother deeply impressed the idea of writing thank you notes to me as a child, i.e. nagged me until I had written a note to Aunt Gerry for my birthday gift : ). 

Gratitude is one of my core values and when someone inspires you, I think they should know that they made the world a little bit better place. I get great joy when people tell me days, months or years later, “hey that thing you said really helped me”.  I try to pass that along.  It does take vulnerability to do that and there is no greater skill to hone than expressing your vulnerability in safe environments.  Letter writing is my artist way.  It’s my medium for bringing out the joy in my heart and soul.  I was recently given the honor of hosting a letter writing event at The Morgan Library in NYC to coincide with an exhibit on display now called The Magic of Handwriting.  When my contact called me the “teaching artist” I realized – yes that is what I am….a letter writing artist!

What types of people do you reach out to in this way? 

I reach out to friends, family, colleagues, famous actors/writers/activists, acquaintances, people I meet very briefly.  I don’t have to know them at all to communicate my feelings.  Here are some examples of the way it has happened across these types of people.

Someone I met very briefly: 

In December I hosted a letter writing workshop at my favorite boutique in St. Croix, Adorn.  One of the participants got REALLY into it.  She was the sister of a friend of mine but we had never met before.  As I was collecting all the outgoing mail that the group produced, I jotted down her name and address and the next day wrote her a letter telling her how much I enjoyed having her in the group, and that her mail art skills had really inspired me.  She is a lawyer who lives in San Francisco.  Fast forward 7 months, we exchange 3-4 letters per month and have ignited in each other new creative paths of making cool mail, generally enjoying each other and opening ourselves up to new things.  She’s got me really interested in camping!

Family: 

I was recently prepping for the arrival of a hurricane that turned into a tropical storm and as I waited to get money at the ATM machine, I had the thought that I didn’t need to get too much money because I could always get some from my Dad.  As the day went on, I kept thinking about all the things my Dad could help me with if the storm hit.  That got me thinking how lucky I was to have such an inspirational and uber-organized Dad.  So last week I wrote him telling him all of that and at the end told him I got money anyway so I wouldn’t be hitting him up : ).

Famous Person:

A few weeks ago I was putting together some recommendations for a friend who is traveling to LA and was going through a travel journal I made on a past trip there.  I started to realize that all my trips to LA for the last 8 years have been AMAZING because of one person – Gwyneth Paltrow.  I was an early GOOP adopter and used Gwyneth’s LA suggestions for restaurants, activities and shopping.  Gwyneth gets a bad rap from a lot of people so I decided to send her a letter letting her know how she has shaped not only my trips but my entire life.  I have seen her twice in real life (a story for another time) but don’t actually know her, and don’t expect a response.  I don’t even know if she will read the letter but I hope she does, because she may get the letter on a day that she isn’t feeling so hot, and there is nothing better than finding out you unknowingly made someone’s life more magical.

How to let someone know they inspire you | A conversation with Rhea Abramson | Of Note Stationers
There is nothing better than finding out you unknowingly made someone's life more magical | share your inspirations with those who inspire you | Rhea Abramson x Of Note Stationers
Leaning into vulnerability to let someone know how they inspire you, a conversation with Rhea Abramson | Of Note Stationers

Author (s): 

In May I read the book The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas.  I couldn’t put it down.  I loved it so much that I went with my friend Caroline to get her a copy.  And then I wrote letters to my two closest bookfidants : ) and told them to read it.  They both LOVED it.  I knew the minute I finished the book that I would write to Ms. Wolas.  The book resonated with me so deeply.  When I finished it, I actually missed being in the place the book created in my mind.  I read A LOT so when I feel this way, it is special.  I had to tell Ms. Wolas how much I loved the world she created.  It was also her first book and I wanted her to know she has to keep writing.

I found the book at Books are Magic in Brooklyn, an absolutely MAGICAL bookstore, owned and operated by author Emma Straub.  When I go into that store, I feel like Emma has curated the selection to have only books perfect for me.  I read one of Emma’s books years ago and LOVED it.  After I finished The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, I wrote to Emma Straub to say congratulations on creating the absolute perfect bookstore, for naming it so appropriately and for being so awesome. 

Activist:

After listening to one of Oprah’s Super Soul Podcasts with a man named Bryan Stevenson, I downloaded his book Just Mercy on Audible.  For eleven and a half hours of driving, cooking, and drawing, I listened to Mr. Stevenson’s story of advocating for the wrongly convicted on death row in the south.  The book moved me to tears more times than I would have liked.  I learned so much and was in awe of Mr. Stevenson’s dedication and selflessness.  As soon as I finished the book I began working on the envelope for his letter.  I had to tell him how much he had inspired me, taught me and made me want to be a more thoughtful and kind person.  I wanted him to know his impact on me and the world.

Other letters in the ever long to be written list:

Christine Nelson, Curator at the Morgan Library; Sarah Jessica Parker; James Benton, someone who made me see my home through a different lens; Ashton Bertrand, a man who was instrumental in helping me with an insurance claim.

Walk us through your process, how do you get from "I should write them a letter" to sealing the envelope and posting it?

I think you can tell my process from the examples I gave but essentially, it’s a feeling that I want someone to know how they sincerely they touched me.  Then I start drawing their name on the envelope, figuring out how I will get it to them and then I write the letter when I am feeling really spacious and have time – mainly on a weekend.

Rhea's Letter Writing Tools and Tips for Embracing Vulnerability and Expressing Your Inspirations with the Handwritten Word | Of Note Stationers
Making it easy to let people know they inspire her, a conversation with Rhea Abramson of Mail More Love and Devoted Diarist | Classiky Box | Of Note Stationers

Is there a particular environment that you like to write these types of notes in? 

At home on a weekend with lots of beautiful paper and my pencil sharpener close by.  I quickly exceed the space of a card.  What can I say, clearly I am long winded : ).

Does your process differ at all if you are writing to a friend/co-worker versus a "stranger"?

Probably just more personal and casual when I know the person but I’m pretty transparent so not too different.

Letter writing in general is a reflective activity, what kind of thoughts/questions run through your head as you write these inspiration notes? 

I just let my thoughts pour out on paper.  My poor hand can’t keep up. 

Engaging in this way forces you to get a little vulnerable. Do you have any advice for dealing with the discomfort of this vulnerability? 

I think if you struggle with vulnerability, the best place to start is any of Brene Brown’s books.  If you are hung up on the discomfort of vulnerability you probably will never get the letter finished.  Our vulnerability is our magic.  So take the risk.  Just ask yourself “what is the intention of this letter” and “is this person a safe recipient of my gratitude."  If so, you are off to the post office!

Our vulnerability is our magic | Letting people know the inspire you | Rhea Abramson | Of Note Stationers
Vulnerability and letter writing a conversation with Rhea Abramson | Of Note Stationers
Lean into your vulnerability to express gratitude to and for the people who inspire you, a conversation with Rhea Abramson | Of Note Stationers

A common roadblock when writing to "strangers" is not being able to find their mailing address. Can you share some tips that help you sleuth out the addresses?

Authors are easy you just look on the publishers website and the address to send mail to is easy.  Celebrities also all have managers and agents so you can write to their agents and ask them to pass the letter on.  You can easily find this info on the internet.  Strangers can be tough but it depends if you have some way to see them or someone who knows them who can pass on the letter.  I’m a big believer, where there is a will there is a way.  If you are at a total loss, brainstorm with a friend who loves puzzles and challenges. 

How does writing these types of letters nourish you?

For me it is energy in my heart that needs to be expressed. If I don’t get it out, it keeps coming back.  I also feel like it frees more space for me to be inspired by other people.  Expressing gratitude for inspiration seems to solve the equation with that person once it is conveyed.  It’s a gratitude letter for me because my life got a little richer. 

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who'd like to start this type of practice, what would it be?

Don’t write to someone because you want a response back or expect one, especially if you write to a celebrity.  These people are crazy busy and have to have good boundaries to have healthy lives.  Don’t expect a response even from someone you know.  Write because you want to share a piece of yourself with no expectation.  You may be pleasantly surprised and get a response. But just releasing your letter means the job is done.   

People tell me all the time that when they write to friends and family and don’t receive a response it frustrates them.  50% of the people I write to in my general correspondence don’t write back.  I don’t write to those people for a response, I write to them to share my love, experiences, and questions with them.  And because I miss them and wish they were close enough to talk to in person.  Last week one of these people sent me a picture of the card I sent and said “I can’t tell you how much your letters mean to me”.  My heart soared.  She is my best friend and I write her a card once a month and she never writes me back.  But I write because that is the way I demonstrate my love.  If you are writing someone to get a response, contact The Letter Writers Alliance, become a lifetime member for $5 and ask to get matched with a pen pal.  Writing to someone who wants to have an active pen pal-ship is the way to get great mail. 

Write because you want to share a piece of yourself with no expectation | Vulnerability and letter writing | Rhea Abramson with Of Note Stationers
I write because that is the way I demonstrate my love | Letter Writing, Vulnerability, Inspirations with Rhea Abramson on Of Note Stationers
Rhea's one piece of advice for starting a "Let me tell you how you inspire me" letter writing practice | Rhea Abramson on Of Note Stationers

Need more Rhea in your life? Learn more about her letter writing practice and the letter writing challenges we've done with her here

Rhea Abramson | Devoted Diarist | Mail More Love | A conversation with Of Note Stationers

Connect with Rhea

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Recognition. Affirmation. Gratitude. A Conversation with Alexis Girvan

This winter Alexis Girvan emailed us after coming across one of our definition cards in Nesting. She knew we were soul mates..."handwritten notes - on real paper, with real ink - are my love language, and a huge driving component of my dreams, personal mission and life vision."

We couldn't turn down the opportunity to connect in person, so she came out to Western Mass for tea and a studio visit. We loved learning about her Recognition, Affirmation, Gratitude initiative (RAG for short) and knew it was ripe for spreading. This practice is implemented by small business teams, in classrooms, and within larger corporations around the country. We're sharing it with you today because we believe it is a wonderful practice to use as a support for your personal relationships as well. 

Now's the time to put away your phone, silence your computer notifications, close your extra tabs, so you can fully and deeply enjoy this conversation. 

RECOGNITION. AFFIRMATION. GRATITUDE. A CONVERSATION WITH ALEXIS GIRVAN

You have a long history with letter writing, can you share a bit about your relationship with this practice and what it means to you? 

Growing up, my family would often talk about the love languages and how powerful it is to receive love in the language you speak it best. Knowing that words of affirmation was mine early on, I discovered just how powerful both the receiving AND the giving of intentional, poignant, well-worded affirmation really was. My dad and I would write each other notes and leave them in each other’s lunch, friends and I would keep notebooks documenting life through HS, and I had a number of friends across the world I’d connect with regularly with actual hand written letters. So early on I just fell hard for the power of words, especially handwritten. All those notebooks, journals and notes passed in the hallway are still tucked away in my closet back home and are treasures I often dive into! 

As an adult, the power of the practice has only deepened. In a culture where things are digitized, screen-mediated, always backlit and buzzing - it seems like such a rarity that we would write or receive anything on paper, with ink, and send it via anything that takes more than seconds to go through! But gosh, what a treasure it is when we do! I think I can safely say at this point now that my love language is paper and snail mail! 

The Positive Impact of RAG notes, a conversation with Alexis Girvan | Of Note Stationers

Tell us about RAG, what is it and how did it come to be? 

My senior year of undergrad, I wrote my thesis on the power of language and the handwritten note. I dove deep into the capacities of language to name the struggles of humanity, identify the longings of the human heart, and ultimately speak courage to the deepest parts of us! Along with the thesis, I designed my own line of notecards specifically to celebrate the ordinary. I wanted so much to help people recognize that we didn’t need an occasion - a birthday, a holiday, an event - to celebrate, affirm and practice gratitude for one another, but that encouragement and intentional affirmation of one another is crucial in the everyday, ordinary moments of life! Often that is when it matters most!

My first job at out of college, I sat under one of the most inspirational leaders I’ve met to date. During the first year of work, he challenged each of us to come up with something that would build into the fiber of our culture as a team. It was the perfect space for me to activate what I’d spoken about hypothetically in my senior thesis! Thus - RAG (what was then called WAC, created in collaboration with my dear college roommate and coworker) - was born. Very simply, each month, every team member would choose another team member’s name out of a hat. During that month, they had to either write them a small note of encouragement, buy them a small gift particular to who they were, or just sit for a moment and share in person one thing they truly appreciated about the other teammate. It was incredible to watch the impact of it all. Such a small thing - yet - small things are easily done, and easily not done. When we do them - it truly can shape someone’s day, week, month, life! 

The Power of Intentional Affirmation, a conversation with Alexis Girvan | Of Note Stationers

Since then, WAC has been on a 10 year journey of innovation, collaboration and LOTS of iteration - being taken into numerous small teams across a number of different industries.  As I moved on from that first team to work with lululemon, WAC iterated a bit. In an effort to streamline the concept RAG was born! A catchier brand, a solid tagline (Recognition. Affirmation. Gratitude), and a concept with a potentially disruptive root, in the most positive of ways. (Usually when people think of ragging on one another, there is negative connotation. To RAG on someone here turns the typical on it’s head and articulates how someone has shown up for you, been there for you, just BEEN. And been fantastic at it. ) 

Along side mailboxes for each team member, I knew I wanted to provide inspiration for teams to know what to look for in their teammates. Each RAG board now includes a space for whatever team or company it’s established in to spotlight one of their core values, and share a question, quote or thought provoking statement to help us recognize that value in action. In a culture where engagement and retention is a steady struggle, this has provided some serious value add to the RAG structure!

Currently RAG is operating in a number of small teams, classrooms, and offices around the country. There is lots more to go - but I’m grateful for the organic life of it’s own it’s taken on thus far! 

What advice would you give someone new to RAG writing?

Advice I would give to someone just being introduced to the concept of RAG would be, first, catch someone doing something right! It’s  so easy for us to see what we don’t like, what’s different from the way we do things, what to complain about. But really, what a GIFT it is when we take a minute to recognize what someone has done well - and just call it out!! 

And second, you don’t have to be a writer to write a note that makes an impact. The simplest of words can often times go the furthest. So often I will hear people say, “I’m really not good with words” or “I am a terrible writer.” Reality is, we use words every day, often times haphazardly. A willingness to get intentional, think for a moment about what someone else may need to hear, and just share it can have an impact way beyond what we might expect. It may take effort,  yes - but is worth its weight in gold. 

The Impact of Written Affirmations, a conversation with Alexis Girvan | Of Note Stationers

How do you feel RAG notes positively impact people's lives? 

I’ve watched so many of these little notes shape peoples days. It is a gift to watch people’s faces light up around someone recognizing them not just for what they are accomplishing - but simply for who they are! One thing particularly interesting to note with RAG is how deeply it shapes both the receiver AND the writer. It’s easy to note the impact felt when you receive what someone sat down and intentionally took the time to celebrate about you. But what’s even crazier is to watch the way practicing gratitude for others actually cultivates more joy in the person that wrote the note! I’ll often say, gratitude is a muscle. If it’s rarely exercised, it cannot grow. BUT, when it IS worked, just like when our muscles are worked, it grows, massively. We begin seeing things with a lens of energy and excitement around the discovery of things around us (and in others!) we never even knew we were grateful for! 

Do you incorporate the RAG ethos into your life in other ways? 

Two of my top 5 core values are authenticity - making space for others to be fully themselves - and communication - using the written and spoken word to affirm life and redeem time. Both of those things, if I’m staying committed to them and living into them well, require me to get present with others, set aside my own distractions and mind chatter and listen, deeply, to what others need. I feel like it’s a lifelong journey for me - but everyday my heart’s prayer is that I might do just that. Listen to my life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is!! And ideally, to be the fragrance of love (Christ!) to those around me. Sharing intentional moments of recognition, affirmation and gratitude with others is definitely one method for doing it well. 

I’m also a journaler. Writing is like breathing for me, and ever since I was 12, I’ve written daily. Over the last few years, as the practice of gratitude has profoundly shaped my life, I’ve started guiding my daily entries through the lens of gratitude. I found that so often, I was coming to my journal and just emotionally throwing up, tossing everything on the page and just letting it sit. There is a time and place for that! However, I wanted my daily practice to be more intentional about growing that muscle of gratitude and helping me see life through a larger and more thankful lens. Now, each of my journal entries start with 5 things I am grateful for that day and expands from there. 

Which Of Note cards would you suggest using for RAG?

Of Note has so many cards that do exactly what I hope for RAG to do  - celebrate the ordinary!! Because the intention of RAG is really to help commemorate simple moments and celebrate the individual for who they are rather than anything achieved or accomplished, I love both ‘PSST’ and ‘REMEMBER THIS’. I’d say my all time favorite though is, “I think of you often’ … the original Of Note card!!!

If you haven't yet mentioned your annual gratitude notes can you say more about them here? 

YES! This has become one of my favorite annual reflection and review practices. At the end of each year, I like to reflect categorically on my life. In the Physical, Mental, Social, Spiritual, Vocational, Professional, Financial and Recreational categories, I take stock as to what went well, how it was shaped and what I can press into in the coming year. As I do that, usually a few key people bubble to the surface as having impacted one of two of those areas pretty strongly. 

So, now, each year I Practice writing 5 letters, asking the question: Who had the greatest impact on me this year? I then take a day to sit and write each of them a handwritten letter to tell them so. And gosh, I’ve just realized how healthy this practice is - slowing down to appreciate who is shaping my days and articulate it to them, rather than just acknowledging it myself and moving on. And often I realize it is people who didn’t know how profoundly they shaped my season of life. They certainly aren’t expecting a gratitude note on the 1st of January telling them how much they were valued in the year previous! So, it’s a fun, and at this point, meaningful practice for me each year. 

Anything else that you'd like to share? 

How much I adore ofnote? haha - That. :) -

AND - RAG is in a (very slow) process of becoming. In the meantime, I’m happy to hop on the phone and connect with anyone who may want to bring the concept of RAG to their team, and create a regular, programmatic, systematic way of recognition and affirming team members, etc. Relationship, in corporate culture, can so often be sacrificed on the alter of execution. Reality is, it’s our relationships and depth of communication that can accelerate our alignment, execution and productivity 100 fold! Checking out the blog - www.lifeinanote.com - or shooting me an email at hello@lifeinanote.com will do just fine. Of course a note in the mail would be just fine too :) 

Recognition, Affirmation, Gratitude, A Conversation with Alexis Girvan | Of Note Stationers

Connect with Alexis 

Website | Instagram